June 21, 2014

3 Ways to Navigate Anxious Thoughts with Self-Compassion

3 Ways to Navigate Anxious Thoughts with Self-CompassionFor so many of us when we start having anxious thoughts, we get self-critical. We berate ourselves for our worries, sweaty palms and all-over shakiness.

We call ourselves names. We become ashamed and embarrassed.

What is wrong with you? You’re an idiot for getting anxious over something so small!

When we’re distressed, our inner critic starts roaring, which only heightens our anxiety and perpetuates its intensity and severity.

A more helpful response — both to anxiety and life in general — is self-compassion. Self-compassion includes speaking kindly to ourselves, being accepting, being honest with ourselves, acknowledging and validating our feelings and supporting ourselves to find helpful solutions.

In his book The Compassionate-Mind Guide to Overcoming Anxiety: Using Compassion-Focused Therapy to Calm Worry, Panic and Fear psychologist Dennis D. Tirch, Ph.D, shares many valuable tools, tips and techniques around self-compassion and mindfulness.

Here are three strategies from his book for responding to anxious thoughts with compassion.

1. Pretend you’re talking to your best friend.

According to Tirch, we tend to apply harsher standards to ourselves that we do to others. That’s why pretending like you’re supporting your best friend (or really any loved one) can help.

First, he suggests asking yourself what’s going through your mind right now. In a sentence or two try to capture your thoughts.

For instance, you might be thinking: What if I lose my job? What if I don’t meet my deadline? What if I have a panic attack? What if I can’t sleep?

Next ask yourself: “What would I say to a good friend who was faced with this same situation?”

If your best friend was stuck in traffic and worried about being late, Tirch writes that you might say:

“That kind of situation can be so frustrating. As much as you can, remember that the traffic is not your fault and is out of your control. You’re probably one of hundreds of people stuck on the same route. If you can, let yourself off the hook on this, and just call your office to let them know you’re stuck.”

2. Assess the benefits and costs of your thoughts.  

Take out a piece of paper. Again, ask yourself what’s going through your mind right now. Then consider: “What are the advantages and the disadvantages of buying into this thought?”

On your piece of paper, draw a vertical line down the center. At the top of one side, write “Benefits.” At the top of the other, write “Costs.”

After you write down the costs and benefits, Tirch suggests asking these questions: “Do the costs of buying into this thought outweigh the benefits? Does it help me to buy into this thought? If I did believe this, how would I behave? Do I want to hand my behavior, and my life, over to this kind of thinking?”

Consider if the thought will lead to self-compassionate behavior. If you decide it’s more costly to buy into this thought, focus on being compassionate and accepting and see the thought for what it really is: “an event in the mind.”

Then try to focus on a “compassionate alternative thought that will help you behave in a compassionate, effective and kind way.”

3. Gain some distance from your thoughts.

Imagine you’re in a beautiful theater, sitting in the balcony. You’re watching a play. After some time, the protagonist is acting out feeling distressed. You’ve been watching the play for a while so you really feel for him or her.

As Tirch writes, “…you’ve developed empathy, compassion and warm feelings for this character. Imagine now, though, that the character you’re watching is actually you. The play you’re seeing is a play about exactly the same situation you find yourself in right now.”

Then consider: “How might you respond to the negative, anxiety-based thinking that you sometimes notice within you, in this compassionate view from the balcony?”

Tirch points out that anxiety isn’t your fault. There are many factors that contribute to your anxiety, which you didn’t choose, such as your genetics, your history and the situation you’re in.

However, fortunately, we can learn to respond to our anxiety in accepting, compassionate ways. The above tips may help you start.

Psychology Around the Net: June 21, 2014


We have everything from social media to consumerism in this week’s Psychology Around the Net.

Facebook “Likes” and Twitter Followers Predict Personality Traits and More: Recent research has used social media traits such as Facebook likes and Twitter followers of friends, products, and photos to identify or predict substance abuse, relationship statuses, and even sexual preference.

Should a Mental Illness Mean You Lose Your Kid? In 2012, a presidential commission report found that “parents with psychiatric disabilities experience the most significant discrimination when they attempt to exercise their fundamental right to create and maintain families.” One woman’s story exemplifies just that.

Could Ignorance of Illness Be Better for Mental Health? One study takes a look at how people rate their health when they do know — compared to when they don’t know — they have a health condition.

Identify One Thing You’re Grateful for Every Time You Buy Something: Northeastern University research notes that identifying one thing you’re grateful for can help you exert self-control the next time you’re considering a purchase.

How to Create a Happy Future by Accepting the Present: By working in the present moment, you can make what you truly want for your future come to fruition.

This Is Why You Stay Awake All Night When You Know You Need To Sleep: Chances are you know about insomnia, but do you know about “bedtime procrastination”? Researchers are starting to take note of this phenomenon, defining it as “failing to go to bed at the intended time, while no external circumstances prevent a person from doing so.”

June 01, 2014

Is It Ever Right For a Therapist to Cry?


During my morning surf for psychology stories, I came across this one at the BBC asking "Is it ever right for a therapist to cry?"

I wondered as I sipped my English Breakfast Tea (a perfect coincidence) why this was a worthy subject the BBC felt needed covering. Surely, people know that therapists cry. Especially if a patient's narrative is moving, upsetting or emotionally tragic. Right? The article, though, reported that some patients were surprised that a therapist might tear up in a session, finding the response off-putting and even unprofessional.

The BBC article brought into view a recent study by San Diego psychologist Amy Blume-Marcovici, PsyD, who wrote that approximately 75% of the psychologists surveyed cried at least once while with a patient. Of these psychologists, 30% had cried within the past four weeks. This data didn't surprise me, being a trained psychoanalyst. Empathic attunement and countertransference are but a few of the psychoanalytic principles I've spent hundreds of hours studying as a training analyst, experiencing as a practicing therapist and writing about as an author.

A lot of multitasking goes on in therapy. As a therapist, you listen deeply with your patients, index your own thoughts and feelings as they talk, register what threads to grab to explore further, and dwell in the experience of it all as it unfolds in real-time. Sometimes, a patient's narrative moves you. Sometimes it takes your breath away. Other narratives may upset you, make you laugh or raise a sense of worry, just to name a few. Whatever the emotional response, therapists are trained to deal with them in productive ways for the patient being treated. Sometimes therapists may share them, sometimes not. But when they do, it's with the intention of sharing a genuine experience to empathize, connect and validate.

Tearing up while bearing witness to a patient's unimaginable loss or a painful memory is not a rare event for me. Because I specialize in depression and trauma, I often work with individuals who have endured unimaginable events. As my patients and I work in sessions toward recovery,  I consider the range of ALL my emotional responses to be an integral part of the therapeutic process. And so does research. 

While many think it's unprofessional that a therapist cries, being emotionally open is often just what a patient needs from a therapist.

So, the answer to the question of is it right for a therapist to cry, is a resounding, "Yes."

Questions About Correlations

One reader writes: "I just finished taking the research methods quiz, and I think the answers to two of the questions might be wrong. On the one question, I am thinking that the weakest relationship is indicated by -0.74 (c), and not +0.10 (a) as given in the quiz answers. For the other question, I am thinking that the strongest relationship is indicated by +0.79 (b), and not -0.98 (d) as given in the quiz answers. Or maybe I am simply missing a point."...

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May 31, 2014

How to Deal With Procrastination

overcome procrastination

Procrastination is one of those things that even the most well-organized and punctual fall victim to at some point or another. Think about the last time you found yourself watching television when you really should have been doing homework. While common, procrastination can have a detrimental impact on your life, including your grades.


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May 30, 2014

Sign Up for the Free Psychology 101 E-Course

free psychology class

Have you ever wanted to learn more about psychology, but weren't quite sure where to begin? Whether you're preparing for a class, supplementing your study or simply interested in the subject, this free ten-week class can provide you with a great overview of psychology. Get started by signing up for the Psychology 101 e-course!

Focus On Prenatal Development

Prenatal Development

The period of time from conception to birth is full of dramatic changes that can have an impact on future growth and health. Learning more about the earliest developmental processes provides a basis for understanding later childhood development. If you have ever taken a course in developmental psychology, you can probably remember spending the first few days of class discussing prenatal development as well as issues such as inherited diseases and environmental factors that can influence fetal growth. Whether or not you plan on ever becoming a parent, understanding prenatal growth and development provides an essential foundation for further learning in developmental psychology.


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May 26, 2014

Get the Latest Psychology Updates on Facebook or Twitter

Psychology on Facebook

If you have a profile on Facebook, you can follow the About.com Psychology page to get all of the latest news stories and updates. You can also follow me on Twitter.


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May 22, 2014

Is a Career In Counseling Right for You?

counseling careers

Do you enjoy working with people? While there are a wide variety of career options available to students of psychology, counseling is one area that is particularly popular. Counseling can be an exciting career path, especially for students looking for a job centered on working directly with people to help solve real-world problems. If you are thinking about pursuing a job in this area, start by checking out some of the many specialty areas that are available. While school counseling and mental health counseling might immediately come to mind, there are lots of other options including marriage and family counseling, vocational counseling and additions counseling.


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May 19, 2014

A Closer Look at Intrinsic Motivation

intrinsic motivation

When was the last time you did something just for the enjoyment of the activity itself? Some examples might include painting a picture, playing a game, writing a story, and reading a book. When you pursue an activity simply for enjoyment, you are doing so doing so because you are intrinsically motivated. Your motivations for engaging in the behavior arise entirely for within rather than out of a desire to gain some type of external reward such as prizes, money, or acclaim.


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May 16, 2014

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

It is said that at least 1 in 4 Americans have a mental health diagnosis at any point during a year, and yet there is still so much stigma around mental illness.


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May 15, 2014

How Do External Rewards Impact Your Behavior?

extrinsic motivation

When you want to get someone to do something, such as getting your kids to do their homework, what is the best way to motivate them? Many people might start by offering some type of reward like a special treat or toy. This is a great example of what is known in psychology as extrinsic motivation, since the behavior is motivated by a desire to gain an external reward. Unlike intrinsic motivation, which arises from within the individual, extrinsic motivation is focused purely on outside rewards.


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May 08, 2014

Help! I Don't Understand My Assignment!

Cynthia writes: "My psychology teacher has told us to write a paper, but I don't understand the topic or what she wants us to write about. I'm so confused and I'm scared that I'll mess up and get a bad grade! What should I do? Can you explain this assignment to me?"


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May 06, 2014

Happy Birthday Sigmund Freud!

Sigmund Freud

Today marks 158th anniversary of the birth of Sigmund Freud. Or at least, today marks the day most frequently identified as the day Freud was born. The day on which Freud himself believed he was born. The traditional date differs from the one given in town records where he was born, which list March 6, 1856 as the correct birth date.


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May 01, 2014

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

I'm Blogging for Mental Health.

In honor of May as Mental Health Awareness Month, I'll be giving away 2 autographed copies of my award winning book "DEPRESSION AND YOUR CHILD: A GUIDE FOR PARENTS AND CAREGIVERS."

Research shows that children, even babies, experience depression. The clinical term is called Pediatric Depression, and rates are higher now than ever before. In the United States alone, evidence suggests that up to 1% of babies, 4 percent of preschool-aged children, 5 percent of school-aged children, and 11 percent of adolescents meet the criteria for major depression.

Suicide is significantly linked to depression, so early diagnosis and treatment of Pediatric Depression is not just extremely important – it is life-saving. 

Depression is a serious, but treatable condition, but only 38% of adults with diagnosable mental health problems and less than 20% of children and adolescents receive needed treatment.

Learn the signs of pediatric depression and ways to get help. Treatment offers recovery, healing and most of all, hope.

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Goodreads Book Giveaway

Depression and Your Child by Deborah Serani

Depression and Your Child

by Deborah Serani

Giveaway ends May 31, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

May 31, 2014 Update: Congratulations to the winners named by Goodreads! 
I am sending your books out in Monday's mail. 

April 14, 2014

Why being selfish can be good for you

Truly being in touch with yourself and knowing what's important to you is crucial in order to live your best life. If that requires a little time out and putting your own needs before others, some may consider that to be selfish. If that's the case, I'm all for selfishness, and wrote a piece on the importance of selfishness. Once you're in touch with your needs and desires, you'll be better able to express them to others, and will enjoy more authentic and meaningful relationships as a result. Just don't be a jerk while taking time out for yourself, and then selfishness may not be such a dirty word.


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April 12, 2014

April is National Autism Awareness Month

Celebrated by the Autism Society since the 1970s to spread awareness about autism and now autism spectrum disorders (ASD), April is National Autism Awareness Month.

Have you wondered about what early warning signs for autism are? Researchers are finding that screenings can be done earlier than previously believed, and a simple questionnaire can help identify children at-risk for autism as early as at their first birthday. This article discusses 7 red flags of autism and provides information about this easy questionnaire as well.


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April 06, 2014

Are you in a relationship with someone who is shut down?

As a psychologist trained in Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples, I happen to see couples all of the time who are struggling with one of the common problematic relationship patterns in which one partner tends to shut down and withdraw.


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March 13, 2014

When sex is painful

Many years ago I was asked to review a small qualitative study for a healthcare journal. It focused on women talking about painful sex. They had various phrases to describe the pain that occurred during and after intimacy. Sometimes they knew what the pain was caused by (infections, particular positions, post birth recovery) other times they did not. But what struck me most about the study was while pain upset the women, most did not tell their partner about it nor seek further help. Most continued to have sex regularly even though it hurt them.

While I thought the paper was worthy of publication with revisions, I don’t believe it was ever published. Which is a shame as painful sex continues to be an issue in relationships and yet the focus tends to be on the biomedical and physical rather than the psychological and practical reasons why people experience pain, whether or not they seek adequate help for this, and why they continue to have sex when it hurts.

In my experience of being an Agony Aunt (writing advice columns) painful sex is one of the most common questions I’m asked about. And why I picked it to answer in my first column at The Telegraph around eighteen months ago. At the time friends and colleagues were critical of the approach I took in my answer, saying it focused too much on medical issues and less on psychological and personal ones. They also pointed out that many of the problems that can be linked to painful sex aren’t always sex specific. So you can experience pain whether or not you have sex if you’ve got something like cystitis. While a focus only on pain can also distract from problems like chlamydia that may be symptom free (at least in the early stages of infection).

This got me thinking why in media advice giving do we recommend medical solutions as a first port of call? There are several reasons. To cover ourselves in case there really is a serious cause of the pain, to acknowledge sometimes physical problems can be the reason for pain, and because it’s easier to focus on the medical and physical symptoms than explore and unpack the more complex issues around intimate relationships that may lead to sex being painful or unsatisfactory.

One colleague also explained this medical narrative as “it may be safer to go straight to the medical response because the idea that a someone isn’t becoming aroused to order, in the ‘correct’ way, is just too complex to contemplate. I think people put up with a lot of sex that they’re just not really into, just because ‘you’re supposed to like it because all the magazines said so’ and they would feel inadequate otherwise. I think people put up with all sorts of pain to avoid that shame and keep the relationship, and then blame themselves”.

The same question keeps on coming
It’s assumed with media advice giving that if you answer a question in a generic way with clear links and sources of support then others who’re facing similar problems can also get help.

Not so. What usually happens is people who are experiencing problems are triggered by a reply to ask for advice for themselves – even if the advice you’d give would be pretty much the same as what’s already published. In the past when problems went out in print media or on air asking for the same issue to be covered was understandable for those who’d previously missed the information. With advice available online you might think this no longer is the case. Instead what I’m seeing is people find your reply while seeking an answer to their problem that prompts them to write in and ask the same question.

Unsurprisingly over the eighteen months since the first reply went live the most common question I’m sent on a weekly basis continues to be about painful sex. This echoes experiences at other advice columns I’ve worked on. And is mirrored by other’s who’ve worked as Agony Aunts including my colleague Leonore Tiefer “This is the same question most popular when I was a columnist at Playgirl magazine in 1976. You tell me times have changed!”

Because of the volume of questions on this topic I decided to return to it again – this time exploring more about the psychological, social and personal issues that might contribute to genital pain during and after sex.

Feedback this time was more positive, although colleague Bruce Maybloom reminded me “It may be helpful to expand on the STI section to really spell it out eg safe sex and dodgy looking dicks. Also need to put a bit in about odour, secretions and pain when not playing around. Are pap smears up to date. Other things to consider: previous or recent pelvic trauma or operations. Blood in the urine as well”

There are more questions than answers
Reflecting on my replies to questions about painful sex made me realize, however, there were still more limitations with talking about this issue in media advice giving.

I’ll start unpacking them here but I imagine this will be a blog post that I continue to update with new resources and information. If you have further links to advice or comments about thinking critically around painful sex please email me info@drpetra.co.uk and I can update accordingly.

I’m hoping this will be useful to you if you’re worried about painful sex, if you write about this topic in the media, or if you’re a therapist or healthcare provider.

Men and pain
As mentioned, while pain and sex is probably the most often asked question I get from women world wide, I also hear from men about this topic too (albeit in smaller numbers). Within the media painful sex, when it is talked about, tends to be in women’s media and talking about women’s bodies.

The replies linked to above about pain and sex to a degree addresses men’s needs but there are other issues that can contribute to sex being painful for men.

This can include feeling anxious or afraid about sex, a past history of sexual abuse, recovery following surgery (either to the genitals or nearby parts of the body). Being unsure what is arousing or feeling unable to express what is enjoyable – including not feeling able to tell a partner when something is not pleasurable can also play a part in men experiencing painful sex. Stereotypically we may expect men to either not have sexual problems or to not have any difficulty talking about their sexual needs which overlooks the difficulties men may have in discussing pain and ways to avoid it. Shame, embarrassment, fear or bravado may all play a part in preventing such conversations.

Because research in this area, where it exists, focuses more on clinical problems it may be we know far less about the psychological and personal reasons why men of all sexualities experience painful sex. Assumptions about gender and intimacy may mean media coverage fails to acknowledge men’s painful sexual experiences, brushes aside concerns they may have or turn such issues into a joke. While some studies exist around issues of painful sex for gay men this is mostly located in the literature around sexually transmitted infections – the needs of all men who experience pain that are not related to infection, and particularly men who are bi are not adequately addressed.

Men can experience pain in their penis, urethra, testicles, bum, stomach or thighs. Pain may occur during arousal (and can hamper ability to get/stay hard), and/or during or after sex. This may be caused by the factors highlighted above or:

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
Penile and testicular cancers, or bowel, anal, bladder or rectal cancers (symptoms of pain aren’t automatically a sign of cancer, if in doubt speak to your doctor. More information on sex and cancer here and about prostate cancer and sex here)
Urinary Tract Infections
Peyronies – often noticed due to a bend/curve in the penis (explained more in this piece with additional information on preparing to talk to a doctor about genital pain and problems).
Penis fracture
Lack of lubrication during masturbation, or vaginal or anal sex
Bruising to penis, testicles or bum

The most common causes of pain for men I hear about relate to Foreskin problems – when the foreskin’s too tight to pull over the head of the penis (phimosis) or where the foreskin gets stuck behind the head of the penis (paraphimosis) (information on both available here) or tears/cuts to the foreskin. Even here the focus in media advice giving tends to be on what causes the physical problems and clinical cures rather than looking at how this impacts on pleasure, sex and may contribute to other psychosexual problems (particularly erectile difficulties).

The way we write about men and sex, either in sex features or problem pages tends to either reinforce ideals of masculine sex – deep/fast penetration over as long a period of time as possible and delaying ejaculation. There is seemingly no thought these might ever be problematic or painful (or even not what men want). Sex tips for men tend to focus on positions and performance and lube is not a main focus. When it is discussed it tends to be in relation to women not being aroused rather than men needing or liking lube.

How painful sex affects Trans* or Intersex people
If we only talk about painful sex in terms of women and men we may overlook the questions and concerns of Trans* people. In writing about this topic I’ve come to realize I have rarely expanded questions to think about the needs of those who’re genitally diverse.

Inviting colleagues to reflect on this with me led to some useful insights about what information may be needed to improve media and self help discussions on sex and pain for Trans people.

Christine Burns “Firstly, trans women (like all women) is a wide demographic. It includes people whose vaginoplasty may have taken place 50 years ago and those who underwent such treatment yesterday. Techniques have evolved considerably but competence always tends to have lagged, with the result that some outcomes may fall very short of ‘state of the art’. In particular there was an age when many surgeons thought that any old hole would do, without any consideration of either cosmetics or function.

Neovaginas can also be fashioned in different ways. One technique involves using former penile (and possibly scrotal tissue). None of this has the capacity for natural lubrication and it is only relatively recent that surgeons have sought to do much about the hair follicles in that tissue, with the result that there are many trans women with hair growing within their vagina … hair that is then impossible to remove and which can result in huge pain during penetration. The other kind of tissue sometimes used for vaginoplasty is a section of sigmoid colon. This has the capacity to lurbricate (embarrassingly when the owner smells a fresh meal) but the tissue is more fragile than the former variety.

Both kinds of surgery are susceptible to stenosis … a narrowing at the suture lines which are inevitably required in the patchwork of finding enough donor tissue to line a vagina. Surgeons vary in how careful they are to remove enough of the erectile tissue in what was the root of the penis … as this surrounds the urethra and can lead to incontinence if too much is removed. On the other hand, leaving too much spongy tissue behind can mean painful erectile sensation near the mouth of the vagina, where the blood no longer has anywhere to go. Finally, depending on the patient’s build and the size of their partner, there could also be discomfort if the neovagina is not deep enough or if penetration results in pressure on internal organs such as the bladder (above) or the colon (behind). So, there are a multitude of reasons why penetration could be painful for a trans woman … not exclusively down to the competence of the surgeon and the time when the surgery was performed … but largely influenced by those factors plus the type of donor tissue involved. And I’ve not even got on to the topic of sensation and pleasure”

Anon “I agree with Christine that the variation between different techniques and surgical skill is a major factor. I could tell you my own experiences but they will probably not apply to others…Depending on the technique I think the time healing takes can vary wildly. I suspect there’s a correlation between the time it takes for discomfort to cease to be an issue after surgery and the eventual amount of sensation ie. more successful rearranging and consequent neural remapping may take longer to settle down … even up to two years or more … but end with a better result. There can be a degree of lubrication from the bulbourethral gland though again I’m sure this varies between individuals and surgical technique. Regular maintenance is important and I suspect that inadequate HRT may also often be an issue.

What I really do like is your reference to problems arising as a result of “numerous issues from relationships issues to partner problems and lack of confidence”. I think a lot of trans women tend not to anticipate the importance of these issues. I don’t know how to put this without sounding sexist but to me there are major differences between having sex influenced by testosterone or oestrogen and between male or female genitals .. to a degree a difference between action and reaction … and actually ‘getting in the mood’ which can take time to fully adjust to.

I think sex for trans women is somewhere in the pre- Masters and Johnson era and it’s a real shame there’s not more objective data on outcomes. I often wonder about the number of trans women who say sex doesn’t really matter to them. If your experiences are negative, there’s no support I know of out there except to talk to other trans women. It’s easy to give up and that seems a real shame.

I think it would be a wonderful resource to collect the sexual experience of trans people, young and old, early and late transitioners, different orientations and put them online. From my own limited knowledge there’s so much variety of experience. What tends to happen is that an individual will take it upon themselves to generalise from their own subjective experience, their surgeon, their particular sex drive and decide that that’s the way everyone should be.

Some may exaggerate the upside because of the emotional investment and because trans people feel themselves so beleagured by cisgenderist expectations of doom. But just as likely some may minimise good outcomes or not speak about them because it’s clear that some outcomes are very much better than others. Perhaps anonymising responses might overcome this. To be able to access a collection of honest different accounts, different experiences might be very comforting to those looking for answers”

Christine Burns “Incidentally, another point worth keeping in mind is that pain during intercourse for a trans woman may be a reminder of the need to think about protection. As the tissue in a neo vagina may be (a) more fragile and (b) less well lubricated, the possibility of bleeding exacerbates the risk of infection. This is a reason (I’m told) why trans women prostitutes run a higher than average risk of acquiring STIs. Also trans women in general may feel pressured into unprotected sex as lack of confidence and the desire for validation may combine to leave them less assertive about demanding protection. Hard on the heels of making sex more enjoyable for trans women is the need to ensure they can negotiate these issues with partners

Well one of the problems immediately faced by trans people is the historical experience that any questions or issues with sex after surgery were (still are) likely to be met with “well, what do you expect?”. We hear of trans women with quite routine urological problems being referred to gender clinics (because mainstream clinicians want the right to throw up their hands and have nothing to do with all that) so it is routine for any issues to become over pathologised from the outset. Thrush? Ooh, you’ll need to see a gender specialist about that!”

Meg Barker “For me an important point is to say ‘for those who have had such surgery’ re trans women given that not all have, and remembering that some trans men an non binary folk have penetration as well as trans and cis women. ‘People with vaginas’ can be good language”

B “Don’t forget some trans guys don’t get lower surgery but do stay sexually active”

In general discussions around pain and sex tend to focus on primarily cis women, overlooking Trans women and cis men, Trans men and those who’re intersex or gender queer are talked about still less. These guides on sexual health for Transmen and women are useful but still don’t address in full some of the more complex psychosexual issues around painful sex. Nor the more common ones of thrush, UTIs etc that may contribute to difficulties in sex but are seen as a more acute problem in Trans* or Intersex people than cis (see comments above). There are good reasons for focusing on sexual health information for Trans* people but we also need to be mindful of what issues (and genders) we focus on and who may be being excluded or sidelined.

We need more understanding of diverse experiences across genders around what we mean by ‘pain’ and ‘sex’ along with thoughtful training for practitioners to ensure care is given when needed but we don’t medicalise or pathologise commonplace problems. Or dismiss physical concerns because they are related to sex. This applies to those giving media advice and the practitioners who they’ll be referring their readers to. It’s not unusual for health practitioners to view sexual worries as frivolous or secondary to physical issues – or to find talking about pleasure difficult or embarrassing. Finding ways to overcome this in both healthcare and media is important, as is ensuring we focus on a range or reasons why pain might be experienced, acknowledge genital diversity, and present a variety of solutions.

Western solutions to worldwide problems
Painful sex is not limited to the UK or US where most media advice givers are located and where most mainstream media features on this topic reside. In fact I would say in this digital era a significant proportion of the questions I get about painful sex come from people in the global south.

If we consider the standard advice to pain and sex – as illustrated by the two replies of mine at the start of this blog post – then the focus tends to be on highlighting what could be the cause of pain, giving ideas about how people might overcome this for themselves, and signposting them to support services if they require further help.

This works well in countries where healthcare services are easily available and free, or for people who can afford healthcare in countries where accessibility is limited. If we consider much media advice in this area states ‘see a doctor’ as the first response to any mention of genital pain during/after sex this only works if you have a doctor you can afford and access. If taboos exist around seeking help for genital problems or if you require permission from family or spouse before you can see a doctor your ability to get help when sex is painful is less likely. And even if you can get help in many countries psychosexual services or secondary care for serious illnesses are limited. Practitioners may not consider painful sex to be much of a problem if they are facing more complex and widespread health issues and/or poverty. Products like lubricant that may assist in avoiding painful sex may not be considered a priority and may be expensive and difficult to obtain. Stigma relating to sexual health – particularly HIV may lead to people avoiding seeking help. Or they may feel there’s nothing that can be done so simply don’t ask for help.

Alternatively in media coverage we may suggest that people who experience pain due to a lack of pleasure might consider masturbation alone or with a partner to find out what feels good, to use a lubricant, or to identify what arouses them and to share that with a partner. We might suggest they buy and try sex toys. Together we encourage them to explore pleasure that they both enjoy.

This works in interpersonal relationships where such communication is possible, and where sex toys and lube (if desired) are available and affordable. And in cultures where talking about sex in terms of pleasure and enjoyment is commonplace. In cultures or communities that find this alien, disturbing, immoral or threatening, talking about pleasure as an antidote to pain may be difficult or dangerous.

Aside from putting the person providing such advice at risk it also puts those considering acting on said advice in potential danger of partner or family violence, or judgement from spouses, healthcare providers and other advice givers.

Even if we want to explore options around communication, exploration and desire in media this can be difficult or impossible if sex is associated with fear, shame or suspicion. Telling your partner you want to try something new is always interpreted in Western media as a healthy treat nobody could pass up on. Whereas in other cultures (or even in problematic relationships in the West) it might be taken as a sign of infidelity or a criticism of a partner and have adverse consequences.

Simplistic approaches of suggesting sex positive models of Western mediated sexuality transfer to all of us, but particularly those in the global south need challenging. Alongside this, media and self help examples of how we might talk about pleasure for those experiencing painful sex in resource limited or gender unequal communities would be of use. Again if you know of such approaches that are community driven and not just Western inspired bolt-ons I’d appreciate hearing about them and can add them here.

When we respond to questions about pain and sex the immediate reaction is that pain is bad and requires urgent assistance. Clearly when people are in distress and require help thinking about pain and how to solve or avoid it is important. However in pairing pain and sex in a consistently negative way we can reinforce the sense that the two do not belong together. Colleagues have questioned whether this in turn pathologises those who enjoy consensual BDSM.

That question is worth exploring, but perhaps misses an additional question for those who enjoy BDSM but still experience sex as painful. In such cases seeking help from the media, therapists or clinicians can be difficult if pain is assumed to be solely related to BDSM rather than other causes (all of which are listed/linked to above). Equally problematic would be media coverage or health/therapy professionals who are so keen to welcome alternative sexualities they don’t question whether the way someone’s engaging in BDSM may be contributing to unwanted pain. A lack of awareness of BDSM within media, therapy and healthcare providers can result in inappropriate advice or care being given. Wider training to address sexual diversity could go some way to address this and has had some success in therapy but remains unusual in healthcare and almost unheard of in media.

What is ‘sex’?
Where painful sex is discussed in media it’s usually assumed, but often not stated, that pain is caused by penis in vagina sex. In gay men’s media occasional discussions around penetration focus on anal sex but usually within the context of STIs rather than other issues that might contribute to pain. Features in mainstream media and advice about anal sex for straight couples tend to operate from the position that anal sex will automatically be painful (for the woman) with suggestions about how she may learn to like it. Advice on penetration of men by their girlfriends remain limited in mainstream media. Where features on anal sex exist the focus is on technique, toys and positions rather than communication about what people would like to try and what feels good or painful.

Because we take this approach it means if someone writes to us describing painful sex we usually assume they’re heterosexual and they’re a woman finding penis in vagina sex painful. We don’t think about pain that happens during arousal, masturbation or getting oral sex regardless of a person’s gender or sexuality.

Moreover we assume when someone says to us that sex hurts that they must mean their genitals, whereas they might be talking about other physical problems, mobility issues or disabilities that cause sex to be painful in other parts of the body.

It might equally be that painful sex is not about a physical pain but related to emotional distress – perhaps due to past or current sexual abuse or relationship violence, a traumatic birth or dealing with bereavement. To make things more complicated these issues may in turn aggravate physical symptoms.

In radio or online advice giving where conversation is possible clarifying what ‘sex’ and ‘pain’ means would be useful – as it would in therapy and healthcare. However for print or broadcast media where you’re working from a problem with limited details there will be many more unknowns. Broadening out answers to include what pain and sex may mean might ensure a wider audience of people with problems are reached.

Focus on couples
When we give advice the reply is usually aimed at the person with the problem, and good media advice usually includes ideas for better communication with a partner and suggestions for both of them to try to ensure sex becomes more pleasurable.

We assume therefore the person experiencing pain is in a long-term monogamous relationship – which they may be. But if their relationship status isn’t stated and they simply tell us that sex is painful they could also be single, or have recently met someone, or is in a non-monogamous relationship. We may also miss that many people avoid relationships because of a fear of pain.

It may help in writing about this to not assume this is only a problem affecting people in relationships and widen our discussions to those who’re in different situations and who may or may not be sexually active at the time of seeking help.

Many media features on sex routinely recommend condoms and lubricant as part of contraception and/or sexual health advice. This may ignore how allergies to latex or some ingredients in lubricant can make problems with pain worse. It is rare to see advice and media features pausing to ask readers if they need to check for allergies to condoms and lube. This can be particularly an issue in cases of vaginal dryness causing pain (for example during breastfeeding) where an additional irritation from lubricant can worsen the problem. Because the media and medics recommend lube and condoms without always clarifying the potential for irritation this may mean people continue to think the pain is related to other factors and keep on using the very thing that’s causing the problem. (You’ll notice in the replies I’ve recently written about pain this is something I neglected to mention and a colleague had to point this omission out to me).

Healthcare referrals
When someone tells you they’re in pain during/after sex, particularly if they have other symptoms like bleeding, even if you outline many possible causes and self help solutions it does make sense to recommend seeing a doctor (although not necessarily as the first action needed). But this assumes that healthcare is available and healthcare providers have the time, skills and confidence to talk about pain and sex.

It’s not unusual for medics to find such topics embarrassing or difficult to discuss. Or that they prefer to focus on the clinical but not wider lifestyle issues. For example women with recurrent cystitis or thrush may well find this contributes to painful sex. Yet practitioners may never ask if the condition impacts on someone’s personal life. If pain is reported as getting in way of sex the solution often offered by practitioners is to give up sex completely or avoid penetration. Practitioners can also be unwilling to refer cases of genital pain to specialists if the patient is expressing concerns over their sexual lives, seeing this as a less valid reason to try and fix an issue.

Because we don’t address this adequately within healthcare training it means practitioners may not be aware of possible treatment options and often ignores how important sex may be to people. The flip side of this of course remains the pressure to have sex when you do not want to means people get help to address physical symptoms but perhaps there is no effort made to explore the reasons why someone may not want sex – something that is difficult if consultations are time limited and practitioners have few referral services to use. This is another reason why focusing on the medical in media replies can mean we don’t actually ask people if they want sex or not.

And so…
The issue of painful sex is one that’s commonplace and concerning to many people of all genders and sexualities worldwide. Currently in media advice giving we only go so far in answering their questions. We leave out more people than we include and many of our proposed solutions are out of reach to those who need help. The challenge remains of how we can be as inclusive and thoughtful as possible in our answers in often time/space limited contexts while ensuring we fulfill editor’s briefs and the needs of our wider audience.

Increase your luck before St. Paddy's Day!

I remember listening to a radio interview about luck with Richard Wiseman over 10 years ago, but I didn't catch his name at the time.

Wiseman has been named "arguably the most interesting and innovative experimental psychologist in the world today," by a Scientific American columnist. His work and research is wide ranged, but today, because St. Patrick's Day is around the corner, I want to share his 4 ways to improve your luck.


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March 09, 2014

Another great resource for your relationship

There is so much great information out there on how to have a healthy relationship, it's hard to keep up with it all! This is good news for all of us.


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March 07, 2014

Creating and maintaining a strong and healthy relationship

A lot of my work revolves around helping people with their relationships, so naturally I like to write articles about relationship health. After all, strong relationships are so important to our health, and it's recently been shown that healthy relationships even change the way our brains respond to pain and distress...

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February 25, 2014

A little bit on therapy

Have you been thinking about seeking therapy?  Therapy can be a wonderful and life changing process.  It can be intimidating to find a therapist, so when you're looking, make sure you know the surprising most important factor in choosing the right therapist for you.


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February 20, 2014

Going stir crazy this winter? Here's what to do!

Is this the longest winter ever?

Here are 7 great tips that you can implement to beat the winter doldrums.

If you're going stir crazy or worry that spring will never arrive, check out these  7 tips so you can make the most of the remaining days of winter and preserve your sanity!

February 18, 2014

Stress in America - and what to do about it

The American Psychological Association conducts an annual survey about Stress in America.

Some of the results from 2013's Stress in America survey are not surprising: Americans continue to struggle with stress.

Of note, however, is the concerning fact that teenagers are taking on as much, if not more, stress as adults.


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January 22, 2014

Take part in sex research

One of the main questions I’m asked is ‘how can I be in a sex study?’and I’ve blogged about it on several occasions (with most of those discussions linked to here).

There are numerous studies into sex and relationships currently running worldwide across a variety of academic disciplines, within health and outside within communities and run by people with an interest in our sexual lives. Regardless of where they take place or who runs them the quality and content of research can and does vary and some studies most certainly are more carefully thought out and run than others. Where studies are well run, most participants say they enjoy taking part and find the process entertaining, informative or helpful.

To ensure research is representative the more diverse a range of people who fit the study criteria who take part the better. So if you feel you could help out it’s always worth asking if you can contribute. If you’re uncertain about what might happen in a study there are links that explain this in the link above.

Not everyone does want to be in a sex or relationship study, but those who are keen may struggle to find research they can take part in. That may be because studies are usually looking for specific participants to fulfil a particular role. Or because people aren’t sure where to look. Or that studies are not promoted in an accessible way.

The problem of finding out what studies are out there has been tackled by Social Psychologist and sex researcher Dr Justin Lehmiller who has created a list of available sex and relationships projects who are seeking participants. The Kinsey Institute also highlights when it wants participants for research. If you are someone who’d like to help out with research keep checking those pages and see if there’s something you could assist with. Alternatively if you’re running any form of research on sex/relationships let Dr Lehmiller or the Kinsey Institute know and see if they can add your study to their list.

You may also find calls for research shared via social media, through charities and health/social care settings. In the UK the Sexual Health Research Network both share calls for research but also connect researchers together. Critical Sexology doesn’t recruit for research but does aim to bring together all those with an interest in learning more about our intimate lives. And the recently published Enduring Love? project will continue to look at people’s relationships long term.

I hope these prove useful to you. Extending these calls to the global south and pushing all of us to undertake research carefully, critically and ethically is something I hope these more accessible calls for participants will enable.

January 10, 2013

Deanne Bray’s Rude Awakening

Deanne Bray stars in an informative video produced by Deaf Hope, outlining the basics of domestic violence. Learn about the war zone of domestic violence, reflect on the sad truth that every year more women die from domestic violence than soldiers die in the Mideast, and commit to educating your own daughters about domestic violence.

November 14, 2012

On Deaf and Little Person Identities

Shira Grabelski Opens Up: Take a few minutes to watch this video straight from the heart of a Deaf woman who is also a Little Person. Shira’s forthrightness and honesty about how she identifies herself will pull you right in and remind you that whatever identities define us, the bottom line is, we are all human and the same. Thank you for your candid and open words, Shira. You have brightened more people’s days than you may realize!

August 23, 2012

Most clients have abnormal daily routines

We base our assumptions about normality on our own experience and risk mistaking the norms of our immediate social circle (or movies and TV) for demographic reality.

I was asked to help stroke ward staff manage a patient who took his bed very early in the evening and woke correspondingly early in the morning. Most hospital patients have difficulty being woken at 6am: this gentleman was up at 4am. The concern was that the stroke had damaged his body clock. In fact, he was a farmer, following his normal sleep routine of sixty-eight years!

Most people work 9–5, apart from farmers, students, factory workers, children, supermarket staff, retirees, taxi drivers, cleaners, restauranteurs, post office workers…

Working 9–5, Monday to Friday is a pretty middle-class, professional schedule … and maybe not even that: hospital nurses, medics and other staff (e.g. radiographers) work shifts and anyone employed by an international company may be required to keep the hours of their colleagues in another time zone.

An “abnormal” daily schedule — in the eyes of their therapist — can reduce the chances of a client engaging in therapy. Continually offering a single mother an appointment at the time school ends turns therapy into one more stressor. Therapy may even have to take a break during the school holidays.

Sleep or meal times at odd hours — long distance lorry drivers may be eating their dinner at “breakfast time” — can make a diet sheet or sleep diary difficult to interpret and may, if not fully understood, lead to impractical advice being offered.

Sleep and work routines may form as much of a culture as race, nationality or ethnicity. There are people who have worked night shifts for decades: counselling disruption of their longstanding routines could be as “culturally insensitive” as challenging any taboo about food, dress or physical contact.

Making the daily routine an initial interview question can help maintain awareness that your “normal” day may not be your client’s (or your colleagues’). You may not know your client’s schedule when you offer the first appointment, but there’s little excuse for not knowing when to offer the second.

March 18, 2012

Kool Ade Acid Test Geraldine Penny

Kool Ade Acid Test Geraldine Penny

Kool Ade Acid Test Geraldine Penny

HASH: 677dc43b423b9a26d5fb6fc93c1111b4c52ade04
*Kool Ade Acid Test - Geraldine Penny.zip
+01 - Kool Ade Acid Test - Doggies wiggle.mp3
+02 - Kool Ade Acid Test - Dr. Brain is back.mp3
+03 - Kool Ade Acid Test - Sugar bliss.mp3
+04 - Kool Ade Acid Test - Ms. Peaches.mp3

September 11, 2011

War, Sacrifice, and the Media

posted by KT


 In honor of the 10th  Anniversary of 9/11 and in lasting solidarity with all the victims of both the original tragedy and its costly and controversial aftermath,   we thought we’d rebroadcast our episode on War, Sacrifice, and the Media this week.  We don’t seem to have blogged for the original episode – somehow that got sacrificed.  But here is a fresh one for your consideration.

Whenever America is involved in a war in a distant land,  we’re often  involved in a war, closer to home.   This second war isn’t fought with tanks or bombs or missiles, but with ideas, words, and images.   I’m thinking of the struggle over the narration and representation  of war --  its meaning,  its cost and benefits,  its victors and vanquished,  its combatants and non-combatants.  He or she who controls the narration and representation of war controls the public perception of  war.   

Now if you are the cynical sort,  you might well think that ’s pretty obvious who determines what gets represented and how it gets represented?  Elites -  moneyed elites,  political elites,   media elites.   War comes at us through a top-down system of politically, economically and culturally condition representations designed to make us feel sympathy for our side and antipathy or indifference for the other side. 

That seems true enough,  but it’s also true that the so-called elite – of which John  and I are card carrying members,  by the way  --  doesn’t always speak with a unified voice.  And top-down efforts to control thought and manipulate sympathy through the means of mass representation hardly ever succeed, not in a fractious  and boisterous democracy like ours – at least not in the long run.   Thankfully,  in the age of the internet,  people  do  have access to alternative sources of information that offer a different take on things.  Even the most repressive and controlling regimes can’t keep competing narratives completely out of the public square.   Remember those brave Iranian students tweeting from the barricades?   And more recently the popular uprising in Egypt seems to have been sustained,  at least partly by the ability to mobilize, inform, and organize over the internet.

Still,  it would be a serious mistake to underestimate the power of top-down narration.  In the early days of the Afghanistan and then the Iraq war, the so-called mainstream media bent over backwards to tell the story of the war in terms pretty much dictated by the administration.   There were dissenting voices – but they were pushed pretty far off center stage.

But there’s a deeper question here. Are different narratives just different or is it possible for one to be true and one to be false?  How do we go about determining which is true and which is false?  And who should determine what gets represented and how it gets represented?

The realist in me wants to say that of course there can be narratives that are more true to the facts and narratives that are less true the facts.  A narrative of the Iraq war that focuses on the casualties on our side and leaves out the death and displacement we imposed on the innocent citizens of that country is incomplete and less true to the facts.   Is there any question about that?

But it also seems to me that our narratives are bound to be incomplete, because they are always constructed from a particular and partisan point of view.  It’s just a fact that in a war the lives of enemy combatants count less than the lives of one’s own soldiers.  Our narratives of war are bound to privilege the lives and losses of our own and deemphasize the lives and losses of the distant other. 

You could say that that’s not a good thing.  It’s a bad thing that blinds us to the common humanity w share with our adversaries.   But on the other hand, It’s  a human thing. We are sort of biologically programmed to care more about those near and dear than about the distant other. 

Of course, biology is not destiny.   Whatever we’re biologically programmed to do, we morally ought to care about all human beings equally.  

But now ask yourself where would such “oughts” come from?  If humans are simply hard-wired to care more about the near and dear than the distant other,  would it really be possible anyway for us to treat all lives as equally worthy of our sympathy?

To be sure,  the reach of human sympathy isn’t just a product of unaided biology.  It’s also shaped by culture, society and politics.    In the right sort of political, social and cultural context,  we could have equal regard  for the lives of innocent victims of war everywhere.   Problem is, it is a little hard to imagine how to get from here to where it seems we ought to be.

Fortunately,  Judith Butler,  our guests, had and has lots to say  that provoked lots of thought on these topics and more.   And although she is sometimes known for being a forbidding and hard to penetrate thinker,  when it comes to her more academic work, on this topic she was clear, articulate, and forceful.   Listen in and   I’m sure your thoughts will be provoked in this time of national remembrance. 

September 04, 2011

Deconstructing the College Admissions Rat Race.

Posted by KT & JP


Getting into the college or university of your choice – especially if it's highly selective one -- has become more daunting and more stress-inducing than ever before. 

The odds are stacked against students from the start.  Consider Stanford.  This year we had just over thirty two thousand applications to fill about sixteen hundred freshmen slots.  So we accepted just seven percent of those who applied.

Those are astounding numbers.

And Stanford's not alone.  Harvard admitted seven percent of its applicants, while Yale admitted eight percent and Princeton admitted nine percent of the students who applied.

To be fair that’s not the whole story.  Many very fine colleges and universities admit a significantly higher proportion of their applicants.  UC Berkeley, for example, admitted twenty-two percent of the forty eight thousand who applied.   And the University of Michigan admitted just over half of its applicants.

It is a great thing about America, that if you want to go to college, there’s a school somewhere that’ll accept you, and it’ll probably do a good job of educating you.   But given that there’s a college out there for everyone and most colleges are pretty good, it makes it all the more puzzling why there's such intense competition over the relatively few spots in the so-called elite colleges and universities. 

The problem is our society is obsessed -- extra-ordinarily obsessed -- with pedigree and prestige.  Deep in their heart of hearts, many people believe that the prestige of the college you go to will make an enormous difference to the rest of your life.

Hardly anybody stops to ask whether that belief is true.  But whether or not it’s true, the bare fact of it gives selective colleges and universities a sort of perverse incentive to be even more selective.  Because people take selectivity as a signal of pedigree and prestige.   Which makes prestige-hungry students -- and their parents -- even more eager to apply.  And more crestfallen when they don’t get in.

It’s a vicious circle.  Increased applications means more selectivity, which means higher prestige, which invites more applications, which means…  well you get the idea.

It’s a costly circle too.  As the competition for admission has intensified, the pressure on students – pressure to be more and achieve more -- has intensified too. 

The pressure starts early -- as early as elementary school -- and continues without let-up, right up through high school.  I’m not sure it's an entirely good or healthy thing.

We’re  pretty sure it’s not a healthy thing.  It leaves many students, even highly successful students, stressed out and burned out.  

Or worse.  Here in Palo Alto, for example, there was a rash of student suicides a couple of years ago.  And while we don’t know that the relentless pressure to excel was a direct cause,  wewouldn’t be all be surprised if it played a role.

Somebody needs to stop and ask some tough questions.  We need to deconstruct the college admissions rat race.  What do we really get by subjecting our teenagers to such intense pressure to achieve in the first place?

Have we distorted their lives?  To what end?  Whose interests are really served by the way the college admissions rat race is currently structu red?   And is there a better way?    

We’ll ask these questions of our guest,   Mitchell Stevens, author of Creating a Class: College Admissions and the Education of Elites


August 26, 2011

Today: Schizophrenia and the mind.


Posted  by JP




Schizophrenia affects about one out of two hundred people.  It’s a serious mental disorder that typically involves distortions in perception, especially vivid auditory hallucinations, and bizarre and usually paranoid delusion.  Imagine trying to carry on a conversation with while at the same time you're surrounded by four other people, talking loudly to you, often about thoughts you might have considered to be private.  That’s an exercise support groups often use to suggest to family what it's like to be a schizophrenic.

 The best-known portrayal of a schizophrenic is probably the movie `A Beautiful Mind’.  Russell Crowe plays John Nash, a mathematician who won a Nobel Prize in Economics.  In the movie, Nash’s hallucinations are portrayed as both auditory, visual and tactile.  But that’s really not at all common, and wasn’t truly the case with Nash.  Like most schizophrenics, his hallucinations were purely auditory.

There is some debate whether schizophrenia is just a label for a bundle of commonly co-occurring symptoms, or a single underlying disease.  There are no laboratory tests for schizophrenia.  However, it is frequently associated with excess dopamine --- a neuro-transmitter in the brain.  On the basis of this, there are some pretty good medications.

John Nash in real life, and in the movie, preferred not to take medication.  That’s very common.  There are side-effects, and the schizophrenic also often sees the medications as part of a conspiracy.

Schizophrenia is interesting to philosophers for several reasons.  Schizophrenics often think the thoughts they're directly aware of in their own minds belong to someone else.  Sometimes they just mean that the thoughts come from the outside --- perhaps in radio transmission through their fillings, or some other bizarre way --- and they can’t control them.  But sometimes they insist that the thoughts actually and literally belong to someone else.

That challenges a very fundamental view in the philosophy of mind, that when you are aware of a thought, you know it’s your own; it makes no sense to be introspectively aware of the thoughts of another.

Schizophrenics also challenge a picture of thoughts that many philosophers find attractive.   Many philosophers feel thoughts are beliefs gained through perception, desires, and thought-processes.  In this view, to attribute thoughts to a person presupposes a certain modicum of rationality.  The thoughts you pick up from perception should be related to what you perceive in some rational ways.  Schizophrenics seem to challenge that picture.

Schizophrenia also poses ethical problems that have to do with this irrationality.  For example: we think it's OK, in the case of children, or old folks with dementia, to violate their autonomy --- the right to make their own decisions -- in various ways, including forced medication.  The schizophrenic may be motivated by extremely bizarre beliefs.  But, given those beliefs, their reluctance to take medication, or leave the house, may make perfect sense, and indeed be articulately defended.  Is forced medication a violation of autonomy, or something required to give them meaningful autonomy and a hope for a normal life?

 We’ll talk with John Campbell from the philosophy department at Berkeley, who has thought and written deeply about schizophrenia.




August 19, 2011

Health Care – is it a right or a privilege

Posted  JP


Posted  JP


I think when people say healthcare is a right, or ought to be a right, they don’t always have the same thing in mind.  I think everyone would agree that you shouldn’t be denied healthcare on account of race or religion or ethnic origin, or sexual orientation.  Well, maybe everyone wouldn’t agree, but it’s not what people usually dispute about.  The question is whether you can get healthcare if you don’t have money to pay for it.

 And you know that question is still not so clear.  Does it mean that you have a right to healthcare even though you can’t pay for it, but you still get billed and have to deal with it one way or another eventually?  That’s pretty much the current situation; if you’re broke you can go to an emergency room of a publicly supported hospital and get taken care of, and then maybe get a bill for $20,000 a month later. 

Or does it mean that healthcare is basically free, in the sense of covered by taxes with no debt or out of pocket charge to the recipient, the way it is in some other countries?

As I understand Obamacare, which hadn’t yet passed when we recorded this program, the basic answer the U.S. is going to provide about rights is that things stay unchanged.   You have a right to get healthcare, in that you don’t have to pay for it up front, but you still have to pay for it, or at least be in debt for what you get.

The big new change is that it's not going to be a right but a duty; everyone has to have health insurance.  So it seems to be that we have a right to healthcare without paying cash out of hand, but we have a duty to be able to pay for it, and this means having insurance.

But that is an important change, that affects our rights, namely our right to have health insurance.  You can’t have a duty to buy insurance, unless you can buy insurance.  And right now, we don’t all have that right.  Some people can’t buy insurance at all, and others can’t buy decent insurance at a reasonable price.  So if the plan is to make sense, the duty to have insurance will have to be paired with affordable, available insurance for everyone.

So our new right won’t be to healthcare, but to affordable insurance.  At least, that’s the outcome some people are hoping for.

In Western Europe, people by and large have healthcare covered by taxes.  We'll have something quite different -- healthcare covered by insurance; a duty to buy insurance; and a right to affordable insurance to buy.

There is still a lot of unclarity.  Given that I have the right to healthcare, the duty to buy insurance to pay for the healthcare I get, and the right to have affordable insurance -- still, there’s the issue of what level of healthcare I’m entitled to.  We include a lot of things under healthcare.  From setting broken arms to labia reduction surgery; from stitching up a child’s wounds to ten years of psychotherapy for a philosopher with writer’s block…

Consider the analogy with education.  Everyone is entitled to a high school education that covers basic subjects.  But some people, who live in richer school districts, or go to private schools, have smaller classes, and a wider variety of subjects.  Do we have a right to basic healthcare, like we have a right to a more or less basically adequate education?  Or does everyone have a right to healthcare that’s equal to everyone else’s?

It sounded so simple: right or privilege?  But it’s a mess.  We need help.

And we’ll have it.  Laurence Baker, a Professor of Health Research and Policy joins us in our conversation about right and healthcare.






August 12, 2011

Time, Space, and Quantum Mechanics




Posted by JP


Quantum mechanics developed in the last century to deal with the tiniest parts of nature.  It seemed that classical physics, which applied to everything from stars to grains of sand, should have sufficed.  But it didn’t.  A whole new theory was needed.  To it we owe modern bombs and modern computers.  It’s been called the most empirically powerful and accurate theory ever developed.

But quantum theory has been a pain, or at any rate a challenge, for philosophers since its beginning.  In the first place, the quanta turn out to be neither particles, or waves --- each of which classical physics could deal with --- but something that shares the properties of both, in a way that is impossible to picture.  This used to bother people more than it does now. There is a consensus that if we can understand things mathematically, or at least physicists can, we don’t need  picture them.

More worrisome is the strange role for the observer in quantum mechanics.  The idea seems to be that the systems move along from quantum state to quantum state  in predictable and unproblematic ways as long as there is no observer.  But these quantum states are just probabilities about what’s happening.  But as soon as there is an observer, things have to resolve themselves one way or the other.  And this seems to not be determined by the quantum state.

So, to use Schrödinger’s famous example, you put a cat in a box with bottle of gas rigged up so that if a particle ends up in one place, it will be released and the cat will die, but if doesn’t’ end up in that place, the cat will be OK.

Quantum theory tells us exactly what the probabilities are, but not what happens.  But when someone opens the box and looks in, the cat is alive or dead.  Some how the observer forces the world make up its mind in some way the laws of quantum physics don’t.

            Well some physicists, and some philosophers, say that what happens is the world splits, with the cat living in some and not in others, matching the probabilities.  I think that is really weird.

            These problems have been around for almost a century.  Lately, in the past quarter century, attention has focused on yet another problem, entanglement.  And what some physicists say about entanglement makes us philosophers feel like we’ve been kicked back inside of Plato’s cave, that our familiar world, spread out in space and changing through time, is being downgraded to an illusion.

            Here’s how I understand it.  Suppose that Ken and I are particles generated by some subatomic process.  We fly off in opposite directions at close the speed of light.  After a while we each raise one of our hands---simultaneously, relative to an observer at the place where we began.

            It seems like there is a 50-50 chance we will raise the same hand.  But it turns out that we do so ¾ of the time.  Somehow, what one of us does depends on what the other does.  Our states are entangled, even if after a few minutes we are thousands or even millions of miles apart.  But how?

            We can’t be influencing each other, because no signal can go faster than the speed of light, and get from me to Ken, or Ken to me, in time to coordinate out actions.  It seems like this better-than-chance correlation would be a miracle.

            But that’s the way quanta really seem to work.  Quantum physicists know this.  But they don’t believe in miracles, so they are finding it hard to explain.

           And some of their attempts at explaining I really find upsetting.  Our guest, Jenann Ismael, uses the analogy of a kaleidoscope to explain one idea.

          When you look into a kaleidiscope, you see one thing --- a red piece of glass, say, in one position, and another exactly symmetrical thing in another position.  As you turn the end of the kaleidoscope, the symmetry remains.

             So you ask yourself how their positions remain coordinated ---- some hidden connection perhaps?  Some entanglement?

             But in fact, the hidden connection is just identity.  Because of the mirrors, you are seeing the same piece of red glass twice over. 

            So one idea, one I really find philosophically distressing, is that our life in space and time is a little bit like living in a kaleidoscope.  There are other dimensions,  ones we can’t perceive, and along those dimensions, things, like the Ken particle and the John particle, that seem after a few minutes to be millions of miles apart, are quite close together --- maybe they are even the same thing.

            It is like we live in Plato’s cave, or Ismael’s Kaleidoscope, seeing shadows or mirror images, with no way of knowing what the true relations between the causes of those images are.



August 05, 2011

The State of Public Philosophy


posted by JP


Philosophy Talk is devoted to public philosophy.  But we mean two different things by that.

OUR first aim is to encourage the public - our listeners and participants in our blog - to do philosophy, to engage in the ongoing activity.  That’s because we think it's something a lot of people enjoy, and that it leads to better discussions and decisions.  

The second thing we try to do is to present what influential philosophers of the past and present, are thinking about.  

The latter aim is definitely secondary.  We're mostly interested in what philosophers think about, because we believe our audience may want to think about the same things.

So given that, what are we worrying about when we ask about the state of public philosophy?

People sometime worry that modern-day philosophers don’t have the same impact on the public that philosophers have traditionally had, and continue to have in some other countries. 

That is what our experience suggests.  Lots of public radio stations and their program directors are startled to hear about a show on philosophy.  They're very skeptical that their listening public would be interested.  In fact, one of our motives in doing the program is to make philosophy more a part of public life.

But our experience also points the other way.  Many people are very interested in the topics and people we discuss.  And you know, just in my lifetime  I think I’ve seen an increase in the impact of those in our profession.  Think of philosophers like Daniel Dennett, Martha Nussbaum, or Anthony Appiah.  They're not only excellent philosophers, but also writers of widely-read books, who appear pretty frequently on radio and TV and in op-ed pages.

I want to make another distinction.  There's the wider public, and there's also the narrower public, I'm talking about researchers in other disciplines.  I’ve seen the influence of philosophy in this narrower public grow a lot of over the years I’ve been involved.  The ideas of thinkers like John Rawls and Michael Bratman are widely discussed and applied in laws schools, for example. 

 And philosophy has played a respectable part in the development of theoretical computer science, A.I., and cognitive science. 

But one place that we --- in the sense of American analytical philosophers like you and me --- don’t seem to have as much impact as one might expect, is with our fellow humanists.  

Philosophy of our sort hasn’t proven to be all that inspiring to our friends in literature, especially comparative literature, and cultural anthropology, and places like that. 

European thinkers like Derrida seem to have been of more interest.  And since, in a wider sense, all humanists are involved in the great philosophical enterprise, this seems surprising and rather sad.

Our guest today is someone who feels this lack of impact intensely.  He's Hans Gumbrecht, from the Comparative Literature Department at Stanford --- which was also the home of Richard Rorty in the latter part of his life.  

  Gumbrecht is a philosopher and a public intellectual who, like Rorty, is both influenced by and deeply skeptical about the prevailing approach to philosophy in America.  I’m really looking forward to thinking through these issues with Zepp, as everyone calls him.



July 28, 2011

Philosophy and Everyday Life.



Posted by JP

Sunday’s guest is Robert Rowland Smith, author if Breakfast with Socrates and Driving with Plato. These books explore how the sorts of events that happen to everyone can give rise to philosophical thoughts,  provide examples of philosophical insights, and be enriched by considering those insights.

From his picture, Smith looks to me like a young guy.  I don’t know how he has lived long enough to read all the philosophers he discusses.  He has really mastered a fascinating kind of essay.   He takes an ordinary event, like taking a bath, and finds all sorts of interesting things to  say about it.  The chapter ``Going to a Party’’ leads from Leslie Gore ---  of ``It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” ---to Machiavelli.

 As I read Breakfast with Socrates, it seemed to me that Smith and I seem to take exactly the opposite approach to philosophy.  I usually start with something people find intrinsically philosophical and mysterious and extraordinary, like personal identity or consciousness or freedom, and put a lot of effort into finding  that nothing all that fascinating is going on.  That’s not really how I think of what I do, but it’s how lots of other intelligent people react to it.  As if I were trying to make the philosophical into the banal.

 Smith, on the other hand, takes having a bath, or driving to work, which seem sort of banal, and makes them philosophically alive, examples of insights from Socrates to Sartre.

We have a sort of a plan for the program.  First, we’ll talk to Smith about the Socratic idea, which he has taken near the limit, that examining one’s life makes it more worth living.  Then we’ll look at how this plays out over an ordinary day.  And then, unless the conversation goes off some other direction, how it plays itself out over one’s life time. 


July 22, 2011

What Are Words Worth?

What Are Words Worth?

Posted by JP 


`Ilunga’ means a person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time, to tolerate it a second time, but never a third time. That’s a word I’ve just imported into English from Tshiluba.  A bunch of linguists voted it the world’s hardest word to translate. Then they gave us a translation.  I’m so happy to have this word.  It allows me to think thoughts that I couldn’t think before.  I wonder if Obama is basically an ilunga.  My wife is definitely not an ilunga.  She’s all over me after my first abuse.

 I don’t know about you, but I do most of my thinking in words.  If I don’t have the words, how can I have the thoughts?  And if you can’t have the thoughts, you can’t make plans.  Tonight I’m going to do some schoogling.  Until I learned the word, I couldn’t have had that plan.

While  schoogling sounds like something we can’t talk about on Public Radio, it’s just googling the names of old schoolmates.  It’s increasingly the cause of cylences.  Cylences: are  the long gaps in a phone conversations that occur when a person is reading e-mail or cybershopping while talking on the phone.  Or schoogling. 

I think there are lots of thoughts we can’t think without having the right words.  Or at least, wouldn’t be very likely to.  Different languages and cultures have different words, and hence have different conceptual schemes, and even see the world differently. 

One might suspect there’s less truth to this than there seems to be.  I just translated the word linguists found most difficult to translate, `ilunga’, with an English phrase about ten words long.  Before I ever had the word I could have thought, ``Ken is the sort of person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time, to tolerate it a second time, but never a third time”.  Isn’t that the same thought you I have when I think ``Ken is an ilunga”?  What’s the big deal?  I could invent the word, ``lexijerk” to mean ``radio personality who shows off by using new words in a pointless way” and offer it to Ken.  Then Ken can think ``John is a lexijerk”.  But it’s probably a thought he has had before, without benefit of this great word.  

But when a culture or a language or a co-host finds a word to be useful, it suggests that the phenomenon, for which the word stands, has some importance, gets at a distinction worth making.  The word ``Ilunga” encodes the insight, or at least possible insight, that the people it takes three offenses to truly anger form an interesting class; they may share other characteristics. 

On the other hand, I’m  told the French don’t have a word for ``berry”, just words for strawberries and raspberries and blueberries, but not a general word.  But they still recognize the class; they serve a nice compote made only of berries.

Most of these examples come from Geoff Nunberg, the Berkeley and NPR linguist who will join us on Sunday’s program.  Geoff is a thoughtful linguist, who will help us get beyond my amateurish speculations on the importance of words. 

July 08, 2011

Atheism and the Well-Lived Life.

Posted by JP 


An atheist is someone who not only doesn't believe in God, but believes, with some confidence, that there isn’t a God.  But ambiguity remains.  Does that simply mean rejecting the classical Judeo-Christian all-perfect God?  Or does it mean rejecting Hume’s much weaker criterion: that the world was created by some thing or things bearing some remote analogy to human intelligence?

I’ll call the more radical view “strong atheism”.  It says the world was not created by, and is not controlled by, any intelligence, or anything having any remote analogy to intelligence whatsoever.  There is not one all-perfect God, nor are there several less than perfect gods.  Not even the Great Pumpkin.  To be a strong atheist is to reject supernatural deities of all forms and kinds. 

Ken and Louise Anthony, our guest, both are, or are in the neighborhood of, being atheists of tis kind.  The more interesting point for this show is that they find it a rewarding, sustaining, and even inspiring point of view.  Let’s pose some questions, and imagine their answers. 

At first glance, it seems odd to find inspiration in the non-existence of something.  What’s it like to be converted to atheism?  We have many accounts of conversions to religion.  The world suddenly takes on new meaning; your sorrows are lifted when you learn that there is someone up there who cares.    But when you’re converted to atheism, the world goes from meaningful to meaningless, from caring to uncaring, from hopeful to hopeless.  It really sounds depressing -- the source of despair, not inspiration.  If Richard Dawkins are Christopher Hitchens set up a traveling revival show, to convert people to atheism, would the converts appear revived?  Or sort of depressed by their new-found belief in the  meaningless of everything?

But, our enthusiastic atheists will reply, conversion to atheism is not usually a sudden event.  It’s a more gradual process, and it comes in two parts.  First, it becomes clear to you that there’s no evidence whatsoever for God, and considerable evidence against anything like the Christian God, or any lesser version of God.  That can be depressing, we all must admit.  

But with more thought it becomes clearer that not as much depends on God as you might have thought.  You still have fun.  You still have friends.  Certain things still are valuable, others less so.  And, unlike what Ivan Karamazov thinks, not everything is permitted. 

 What about the afterlife?  Isn’t it depressing to give up that belief?

 Well, admittedly, there is no afterlife without some miracle worker like God to provide it.  But as Hume said, all the years before I existed weren’t so bad for me.  Why think the years after I die will be so bad?

But what about the question Dostoyevsky’s Ivan poses:  Why isn’t everything permitted for the atheist?  What sort of fact is it that something is wrong --- say that torturing innocent children is wrong?  It doesn’t seem like a fact of nature; nature seems all in favor of all sorts of undeserved pain.  It doesn’t seem like a rule of etiquette.  It seems like an objective fact about the world.  Who could the fact-maker be, if not God?

But what’s implicit in this question is the Divine Command theory of right and wrong.  Something is wrong because God says it was wrong.  But that’s not the only theory of objective right and wrong.  You might think there are just moral facts -- like mathematical facts -- without God having anything to do with it.  You might think that morality derives from perfectly objective facts about pleasure and pain, life and death, human nature, reason, logic, cooperation and the like.  The atheist has no shortage of answers to Ivan’s claim.

Granted all of that, doesn’t it still seem strange to define one’s life by a negative claim, by the non-existence of something.   You can become the village atheist, and make it your mission in life to tell religious people what idiots they are.  But that doesn’t seem very fulfilling.

To which Ken and  Louise Antony will reply, no doubt, that they don’t define their goal in life to rag on the religious, but rather to explore the joys of positive atheism.   I find atheism difficult to resist, but I'm not quite so sure I should be joyful unto the non-existence of the Lord.  We shall see.



QuickPost | TypePad.

July 02, 2011




Posted by JP

Lincoln is revered as our greatest President; he is virtually an American Saint.  In Sunday’s program, we look at his philosophical ideas --- both political and religious. 

 Some of these are disturbing.  The Second Inaugural Address --- the one that’s carved on the wall of the Lincoln Memorial --- is really quite chilling.  Especially if you think it really represents the philosophy of someone who has just pursued a path that led to the death of half a million people.

 It ends with a very moving statement:

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.’’

Those words express a noble philosophy: charity, fairness, compassion. 

But consider what comes earlier that in the address.  Lincoln basically suggests that American slavery was something that happened according to God’s plan, but then God decided  to stop it.  And God chooses to do so by this terrible war, in which every drop of blood spilled by the lash of the whip during the 250 years of slavery shall be paid for by the blood of soldiers.  That is a frightening picture, and a frightening image for our leader to have.  He is but the pawn of a God who designs things so that first innocent people are slaves for 250 years…  And then as payback, half a million folks - the vast majority of whom didn’t own slaves and many of whom were opposed to slavery - must suffer and die.  A chilling theology.

However, to be fair, the larger context of  this part of the address is a big question:  If this is what's going on, if this is all such a plan of God, then quote:

shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes   which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?

It’s as if Lincoln lays out this way of looking at things that might bring solace to the suffering believers --- it’s all God’s will --- but at the same time he really doesn’t commit himself to that.  It’s not clear Lincoln gives the answer to the rhetorical question that he intends to evoke in the minds of his listeners.

As philosophers, I suppose we ought to be impressed that an American President could write prose that posed such deep questions in such an artful way.  But that’s the whole mystery of Lincoln’s philosophy; a lot of at least these apparent contradictions.

 He lauds government of the people, by the people, for the people; words that echo the Declaration of Independence.  But that’s different from the idea that the union must be preserved, no matter what the southern states want.  Then there’s the devotion to life, liberty and the rights of citizens; but he closed down the newspapers in New York City and jailed the editors and suspended Habeus Corpus.  With malice towards none --- but he sent Sherman on his march through Georgia.

 Even though he was a stalwart and consistent opponent of slavery, he also expressed racist views. But perhaps the problem is not in our Lincoln, but in us;  we don’t understand what things were like, what options he saw.

 We will have some help thinking about this: Al Gini of Loyola University in Chicago, where he teaches a course on Lincoln and Leadership.


January 16, 2011

Quick deception links from December 2010

Here are the deception-related crimepsychblog tweets from last month.

Technology-facilitated deception detection (brain scans and machines that go ping):

Interviewing (deception detection the good ole fashion’d way):

  • Eliciting Cues to False Intent: A New Application of Strategic Interviewing http://retwt.me/1QhzA
  • Influence of Investigator Bias on the Elicitation of True & False Confessions http://retwt.me/1QhzB
  • Looks & Lies: Physical Attractiveness in Online Dating Self-Presentation and Deception. Communication Research 37(3) http://retwt.me/1QgIz

And some other deception-related stuff that caught my eye:

Quick links for December 2010

A round-up of December tweets from crimepsychblog

New Journal Issues

  • Women & Criminal Justice 20(4), articles on IPV, life sentences and risk http://retwt.me/1Qjtd
  • Justice Qtrly 27(6), articles on transgender prisoners, gangs, social learning theory, self-control, in-reach http://is.gd/jtBjs
  • Dec 10 issue of Learning & Individual Differences 21(1) has special section on education of children in detention http://retwt.me/1QjrH
  • Violence Against Women 16(12), includes special section on false allegations of sexual assault http://retwt.me/1QceY

See also:

  • Law Journal of the Month – Oxford Journals offer free access to all content for one journal for one month http://retwt.me/1QcYq

Deception and interviewing

Scholarly articles:

  • Thermal Imaging as a Lie Detection Tool at Airports http://retwt.me/1QhzC
  • Influence of Investigator Bias on the Elicitation of True & False Confessions http://retwt.me/1QhzB
  • Eliciting Cues to False Intent: A New Application of Strategic Interviewing http://retwt.me/1QhzA
  • Looks & Lies: Physical Attractiveness in Online Dating Self-Presentation and Deception. Communication Research 37(3) http://retwt.me/1QgIz
  • New research on fMRI-based deception detection measures’ vulnerability to countermeasures http://retwt.me/1QbCJ
  • New research: Improving efficacy of Concealed Information Test? “Denoised P300 & machine learning-based CIT method” http://retwt.me/1QbCC
  • Psychophysiological Response Pattern in Symptom Validity Testing Arch Clin Neurology http://retwt.me/1QbDE
  • Free access: The Polygraph and Forensic Psychiatry (Don Grubin) J. American Academy of Psychiatry & Law http://retwt.me/1QggR
  • Great write-up of a rare study of fMRI countermeasures (via @ResearchBlogs) How To Fool A Lie Detector Brain Scan http://goo.gl/fb/7oNFv

See also:

Video games and aggression

  • How interacting with aggressive virtual characters in video games affects trust and cooperation of players http://retwt.me/1QhBJ
  • Press release: “New study shows that depression, not video games, could be to blame for youth violence” http://retwt.me/1QbDr

Elsewhere in the forensic research literature

  • Howard Zonana & the Transformation of Forensic Psychiatry J. American Academy Psychiatry & Law 38(4) http://retwt.me/1QggM
  • Free access, explores propensity to blame female rape victims. Social Justice Research 23(4) http://retwt.me/1QggK
  • Free access, investigating psychological dynamics underlying demonizing (seeing others as pure evil) http://retwt.me/1QggH
  • Intelligence-led & traditional policing approaches to drug markets – comparison of offenders http://retwt.me/1QcYs
  • Free research article on traumatic brain injury in male young offenders in Neuropsychological Rehabilitation 20(6) http://is.gd/iCayc
  • Press release: link between an individual’s sensitivity to testosterone and aggressive behaviour http://retwt.me/1QbDp
  • Press release: Preteen conduct problems leads to teenage serious violence and delinquency http://retwt.me/1QbDw


  • In December’s APA Monitor: Researchers disagree about whether violent video games increase aggression http://retwt.me/1QdVa
  • Study fr Berkeley Ctr fr Crim Justice: Increasing Employment Opportunities for People with Prior Convictions http://retwt.me/1QbDD
  • Online interactions involving suspected paedophiles who engage male children http://tinyurl.com/3ygu8ls
  • ‘Impulsivity gene’ found in violent offenders. New Scientist 23 December 2010 http://retwt.me/1QgIB

See also:

  • Compendium of reoffending statistics & analysis – selection of papers summarising analysis by Ministry of Justice http://retwt.me/1QbDo
  • Call for chapter proposals – Police and Protesters: Motives and Responses http://retwt.me/1PZzP
  • “Scared Straight not only doesn’t work, it may actually be more harmful than doing nothing” via World of Psychology http://retwt.me/1PUpf
  • RT @vaughanbell Excellent @chriscfrench piece on how UK prosecutions have been based entirely on ‘recovered memories’ http://is.gd/hLwgP
  • New (to me) blog on false Confessions (HT to @cjprof) http://retwt.me/1Qhzu

November 22, 2010

Quick deception links

The news that made me happiest in the last few weeks is here: Government abandons lie detector tests for catching benefit cheats (The Guardian, 9 Nov):

The government has dropped plans to introduce controversial lie detector tests to catch benefit fraudsters after trials found that the technology is not sufficiently reliable. The Department for Work and Pensions has given up on “voice risk analysis” (VRA) software after spending £2.16m on trials to assess whether the technology can identify people who are trying to fiddle the system when it eavesdrops on their telephone calls to benefit offices.

Though obviously it would have been good if they hadn’t had to spend £2.16 million to find that out.


Open access to Springer journals means you can grab some good deception research for free, but only until 30 November (so hurry) :

  • Interviewers outperform thermal imaging technology in identifying liars & truth-tellers. Great study, FREE til 30/11 http://is.gd/hxePN
  • Police Lie Detection Accuracy: The Effect of Lie Scenario from Law & Human Behavior 33(6) Free access til 30 Nov http://retwt.me/1Pl5J
  • The Reliability of Lie Detection Performance in Law & Human Behavior 2009, currently free access til 30 Nov PDF: http://retwt.me/1Pl6M
  • Outsmarting the Liars: The Benefit of Asking Unanticipated Questions in Law & Human Behavior 2009, currently free access PDF: http://retwt.me/1Pl6l

You can also bag a free copy of new research on trust and deception courtesy of Sage Publishing:

  • Carter, N., & Mark Weber, J. (2010). Not Pollyannas: Higher Generalized Trust Predicts Lie Detection Ability Social Psychological and Personality Science, 1 (3), 274-279 http://retwt.me/1PyQX

Not free (as far as I can tell) but looking interesting:

  • Jo Are You Lying to Me? Temporal Cues for Deception — Journal of Language and Social Psychology http://retwt.me/1PORv
  • In press: Role of dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in deception when remembering neutral & emotional events Neurosci Res http://is.gd/hxdN4
  • Neat new study on deceptive groups: Extracting Concealed Information from Groups in J. of Forensic Sciences. http://retwt.me/1PO2N
  • Aw, bless. New research in Psychol Science 21(10) shows 3-yr-olds have highly robust bias to trust what people say. http://is.gd/g5hB2
  • Fascinating in press article on how honesty is rewarded and deception punished across cultures, in Pers Soc Psychol Bull http://is.gd/g5h3s
  • Articles on reality monitoring, deceptive handwriting (ok, this one is free) & false memory in latest issue of Applied Cog Psy 24(8) http://is.gd/g5iAc

And some other miscellaneous articles and blog posts:

  • In The Job Hunt, People Do Lie, But Honesty Pays Off, Study Finds http://retwt.me/1PyQd
  • Misguided: Polygraphs provide false reassurance. Sigh. “Polygraph Testing Against Border Corruption” via Secrecy News http://retwt.me/1Pr4k
  • To detect lies it’s equally as important to be able to detect when someone is being truthful. http://retwt.me/1Pr3Q via @humintell
  • Blog post from @humintell on interesting new research: Are Children Good Liars? http://retwt.me/1Pr3k
  • Is It Always Bad To Lie? Review of a new book on deception, via http://retwt.me/1POR5

A month’s-worth of tweets, 25 Oct to 22 November

A month’s worth of tweets in one post (I know, I know, but I’ve been away).

New journal issues


  • J of Police & Criminal Psychology 25(2). All articles FREE ACCESS at the moment http://retwt.me/1PrUb

    Cambridge Journals offer FREE access to select papers in Psychological Medicine, incl some with forensic relevance http://retwt.me/1PwMb

  • Some good stuff here & all free: Open Access Journal of Forensic Psychology http://retwt.me/1PO2V Has been going since 2009 but new to me.


Journal articles that caught my eye

  • New research on traumatic brain injury in youth offenders – balanced press release here: http://retwt.me/1POQI
  • Psychological science & sound public policy: Video recording of custodial interrogations American Psychologist 65(8) http://is.gd/hwocg
  • In press: social status of drug procurers & their social distance from drug dealers affects sales, fraud & gift-giving http://retwt.me/1PyRR
  • Interactional norms in the Australian police interrogation room Discourse & Society 21(6) http://retwt.me/1PyQH
  • Women’s testimony on domestic violence in India & legal implications. Indian J of Gender Studies 17(3) http://retwt.me/1PyQg
  • Forensic evidence: Materializing bodies, materializing crimes. European J of Women’s Studies 17(4) http://retwt.me/1PyQf
  • Child abuse victims who blame themselves & families present higher rates of PTSD http://retwt.me/1Pr3i

New deception research and commentary:

  • Sanity at last. “Government abandons lie detector tests for catching benefit cheats” http://is.gd/gXtqI
  • Jo Are You Lying to Me? Temporal Cues for Deception — Journal of Language and Social Psychology http://retwt.me/1PORv
  • Is It Always Bad To Lie? Review of a new book on deception, via http://retwt.me/1POR5
  • Interviewers outperform thermal imaging technology in identifying liars & truth-tellers. Great study, FREE til 30/11 http://is.gd/hxePN
  • In press: Role of dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in deception when remembering neutral & emotional events Neurosci Res http://is.gd/hxdN4
  • Neat new study on deceptive groups: Extracting Concealed Information from Groups in J. of Forensic Sciences. http://retwt.me/1PO2N
  • “Trusting people make better lie detectors” from SAGE Insight. Includes link to free PDF of journal article http://retwt.me/1PyQX
  • In The Job Hunt, People Do Lie, But Honesty Pays Off, Study Finds http://retwt.me/1PyQd
  • Misguided: Polygraphs provide false reassurance. Sigh. “Polygraph Testing Against Border Corruption” via Secrecy News http://retwt.me/1Pr4k
  • To detect lies it’s equally as important to be able to detect when someone is being truthful. http://retwt.me/1Pr3Q via @humintell
  • Blog post from @humintell on interesting new research: Are Children Good Liars? http://retwt.me/1Pr3k

Research and resources on terrorism and counter-terrorism

  • Methods to Detect and Characterize Terrorist activity, report from Institute for Homeland Sec Solutions http://retwt.me/1POQO
  • Deradicalization: Literature review and comparison with research on anti-cult and anti-gang initiatives http://retwt.me/1POQN
  • The Impact of Emotion in the American Public’s Assessments of and Reactions to Terrorism, summary and link to full txt http://retwt.me/1POQL
  • via Resource shelf: Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism Suicide Attack Database http://retwt.me/1Pr42

Retweets and other miscellaneous links

  • @PhilipBecnel’s article in Pursuit Magazine called “A Private Investigator’s Take on Social Media”: http://bit.ly/cqfz0r
  • RT @vaughanbell What makes a psychopath? http://is.gd/hq2f9 The Economist on recent findings.
  • @navarrotells Four opportunities to detect deception in an interview: http://bit.ly/braLm1 in Psychology Today
  • Mental illness in US prisons – video via @channelNvideo http://retwt.me/1Pr41
  • The awesome @kfranklinphd explains what it takes to become a forensic psychologist at her new Psychology Today blog http://retwt.me/1Pr3l

April 30, 2008

You can always be misunderstood

There are two aims in any conversation: unambiguous expression of your own position and complete comprehension of the other person’s views. We should always remember that neither of these aims is a realistic goal.

A client told me of an ante-natal appointment at which her midwife said “So, your first child was deformed and your second child was killed: let’s hope it’s third time lucky, shall we?”

While it is difficult to imagine anyone not being offended by such insensitivity, it is equally hard to believe that the midwife was being intentionally cruel. If she thought at all about her comment, she may have imagined she was being warm & humorous: rapport-building.

While serving as a Member of the Finnish Parliament, communications researcher Osmo Wiio proposed his “laws of comunication”, including:

  • If communication can fail, it will
  • If communication cannot fail, it still most usually fails
  • If communication seems to succeed in the intended way, there’s a misunderstanding
  • If you are content with your message, communication certainly fails!

Clients are often mystified by someone’s negative reaction to what seemed, to them, to be a reasonable statement or request. In discussing such situations, we usually conclude that it is possible to misunderstand even the most clearly worded request and to be offended by even the most innocuous statement: what the speaker says may have little to do with what the listener hears.

Clients who are anxious or depressed may be less able to attend to either expression or comprehension with the same care & attention as their therapist. Therapists’ comments & questions, however clearly articulated, may still be misinterpreted because the client is not paying full attention or has information of which the therapist is unaware (but which the client may think the therapist knows).

Misunderstandings & unfortunate comments can be worked through given time and effort, but neither of these will be forthcoming from a therapist who thinks that their own communication is unambiguous.

April 20, 2008

One in five won’t work with depressed

‘ ONE in five people say they would not work with someone suffering depression, a new survey shows. The survey of more than 6000 Australians showed that men, the less-educated and migrants were more likely to attach stigma to depression. The survey in the Journal BioMed Central was part of research by Kathy Griffiths and Helen Christensen of [...]

April 16, 2008

Hispanics have different depression rates

‘Puerto Ricans 59 and older have higher rates of depression than other Hispanics living in the United States, researchers said. “Our findings support the hypothesis that the assumption of homogeneity of the prevalence of depression across Hispanic groups is not tenable,” said study researcher Dr. Yang of Hebrew SeniorLife’s Institute for Aging Research in Roslindale, Mass. [...]

April 14, 2008

Tai chi to help farmers fight depression

‘The ancient art of tai chi is helping bring peace and harmony in a place you would least expect it - Outback NSW. For the past decade the drought has put pressure on farmer’s livelihoods and well-being. So much so, that some farmers’ wives are afraid to leave their husbands amid fears of suicide. But Mate Helping Mate, [...]

October 19, 2007

TLC for Depression: Story on Youtube Broadcast of Watercooler Diaries

The Watercooler Diaries has just released this story on Therapeutic Lifestyle Change (TLC) for depression. See what you think.


Here are some additional links to TLC-related content you may find of interest:

1) Los Angeles Times story

2) In-depth piece in KU Alumni Magazine

3) Neuroscene podcast interview with Dr. Ilardi

4) Kansas City Star story on TLC, picked up by national newswires

5) Radio interview with Dr. Ilardi

October 15, 2007

Taking on the Depression Epidemic: A Promising New Treatment Approach

According to a sweeping epidemiological survey, roughly one in four Americans will now succomb to debilitating depressive illness by the age of 75. Sadly, the risk of depression is even higher among young adults (see chart below); it now looks like over half of all 18-29 year-olds will become clinically depressed at some point!

And we're talking about a disorder that robs people of their energy, their sleep, their memory, their concentration, their ability to love and work and play. It robs over 500,000 people each year of their very lives (via depression-linked suicide).

Bizarrely, the depression epidemic keeps getting worse, despite the fact that antidepressant use has gone up over 400% in the past two decades (150 million antidepressant prescriptions are written each year in the U.S. alone). The rate of depression in the U.S. is now 10 times higher than it was in the 1940s, before the advent of antidepressants. (And, no, this is not merely an artifact of greater public awareness or people's willingness to admit their symptoms; it's a genuine scientific finding.)

What's going on? I believe the answer lies in the fact that we were never designed for the modern sedentary, socially isolated, sleep-deprived, fast food-laden, indoor, frenetic pace of modern life. In fact, because the vast majority of human history was lived out in a hunter-gatherer context, it appears that humans are best adapted to that ancient way of life. There are many features of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle that - according to the best available research - confer powerful protective benefit against the experience of depression: abundant exercise, ample dietary omega-3 fatty acids, extensive social support and connectedness, sunlight exposure, 8+ hours of sleep each night, and engaging activity that prevents against the psychologically toxic process of rumination (i.e., dwelling on negative thoughts).

These antidepressant lifestyle elements not only fight depression, but they are capable of changing the brain as effectively as any medication.

Over the past few years, clinical research group of Dr. Steve Ilardi (aka, Psych Pundit) at the University of Kansas has worked hard to help depressed patients find a lasting cure by reclaiming these protective lifestyle elements from the past. We call the approach Therapeutic Lifestyle Change (TLC) for Depression. The preliminary results thus far (to be presented at next month's ABCT Conference in Philadelphia) have been enormously encouraging: 76% of TLC patients have experienced a favorable treatment response, in comparison with only 27% of patients on a waitlist who received 'treatment as usual' (mostly meds or therapy) in the community.

This work has recently received considerable attention in the national press, including an in-depth story in the November/December issue of AARP Magazine (readership: 30 million). As a clinical researcher, of course, I am eager to see the results of this work published in a peer-reviewed journal, and my research team currently has 4 articles at various stages in the publication pipeline.

In upcoming posts, I'll plan to give more details about the treatment program, as well as updates about scholarly publication as they become available.