Sunday, February 17, 2019

Anticipating regret

I apologize, I forget who sent me this article highlighting some recent research by Joshua Buckholtz, associate professor of psychology at Harvard, and Arielle Baskin-Sommers, assistant professor of psychology and of psychiatry at Yale University. I think we've talked about at least Baskin-Sommers before. I wish there was a little bit better explanation of the nature of the experiment and how robust their findings were, but essentially what they found was that sociopaths are actually capable of feeling regret and disappointment -- essentially just a wish that things had gone differently than they actually did, perhaps because we had acted differently than we did.

This I find to be true to experience. Not just that, I see it in other sociopaths that I've met and still talk to and I think it underpines the inability of sociopaths to learn for experience. Take for instance a sociopath who has totaled on average .85 cars a year since she started driving. That's very high! But I actually know two separate sociopaths who have a driving history like this. I'm not sure if it's always true, but most of the accidents are caused not by weather conditions, etc., but by inattention to road conditions. Maybe some texting while driving, maybe some wandering mind. But totalling a car is expensive. This is something that you think people would start really trying to avoid. And the advantage of texting while driving or doing other things while driving is so low. If sociopaths were true rational actors engaged in a cost benefit analysis, you'd think that these people would have lower automobile insurance premiums. But they don't. Why?

Maybe normal people are better able to learn from their experience because they can anticipate the regret that they would feel. In fact, probably a lot of the source of normal people's anxiety and worry is really just an anticipation of regret or disappointment. Does this sound right normal people? And because those emotions are so negative and powerful, it directs the normal person to avoid the behavior that carries a high risk of regret with it. Not always, but more than sociopaths maybe.

According to the article:

“The assumption has always been that they make these bad choices because they can’t generate negative emotions like fear, or appropriately respond to emotional signals generated by other people … but we turned that idea on its head.”

Using an economic game, Buckholtz and Baskin-Sommers were able to show that while psychopaths have normal, or even enhanced, emotional responses in situations that typically elicit regret, they have trouble extracting information from the environment that would indicate that an action they’re about to take will result in the experience of regret.

“There are two components to regret,” Buckholtz explained. “There is retrospective regret, which is how we usually think about regret — the emotional experience after you learn you could have received a better outcome if you had made a different choice. But we also use signals from our environment to make predictions about which actions will or won’t result in regret. What differentiated psychopaths from other people was their inability to use those prospective regret signals, to use information about the choices they were given to anticipate how much regret they were going to experience, and adjust their decision-making accordingly.

“It’s almost like a blindness to future regret,” he added. “When something happens, they feel regret, but what they can’t do is look forward and use information that would tell them they’re going to feel regret to guide their decision-making.”

“These findings highlight that psychopathic individuals are not simply incapable of regret [or other emotions], but that there is a more nuanced dysfunction that gets in the way of their adaptive functioning,” Baskin-Sommers said. “By appreciating this complexity, we are poised to develop more accurate methods for predicting the costly behavior of psychopathic individuals.”

Using a measure of prospective regret sensitivity, Buckholtz and Baskin-Sommers were also able to predict whether and even how many times study participants had been incarcerated.

“Contrary to what you would expect based on these basic emotional-deficit models, their emotional responses to regret didn’t predict incarceration,” Buckholtz said. “We know psychopathy is one of the biggest predictors of criminal behavior, but what we found was that behavioral regret sensitivity moderated that, raising the suggestion that intact behavioral regret sensitivity could be a protective factor against incarceration in psychopathic individuals.”

While the study upends the pop-culture image of psychopaths, Buckholtz is hopeful that it will also provide a new direction for scientists who hope to understand how psychopaths make decisions.

“We actually know very little about how psychopaths make choices,” he said. “There have been all sorts of research into their emotions and emotional experience, but we know next to nothing about how they integrate information that we extract from the world as a matter of course and use it to make decisions in daily lives. Getting better insight into why psychopaths make such terrible choices, I think, is going to be very important for the next generation of psychopathy research.”


Monday, February 4, 2019

Diagnosing Logan and Jake Paul as sociopaths?

I was aware of this at the time they came out but didn't have anything to really say. But I stumbled upon this article by Self , "What Mental Health Experts Want You to Know Before Watching the Buzzy New YouTube Series ‘The Mind of Jake Paul’,: that interviewed some of our friend researchers that I thought had some good information :

Although the word pops up in everyday conversation, it is not actually a medical term, Steven Siegel, M.D., professor and chairman of psychiatry and the behavioral sciences at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, tells SELF.

“We try to avoid the term because it just doesn’t have any formal meaning. It’s a colloquial word and it’s not used consistently,” Scott Lilienfeld, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Emory University, tells SELF.

“It has no clinical content,” Ronald Schouten, M.D., J.D., director of the Law & Psychiatry Service of the Massachusetts General Hospital and associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, tells SELF. “It’s used as an epithet.”

As Dr. Siegel explains, sociopath is generally a label that some people give someone they believe is a bad person.

Sociopathy is really an outdated, slippery term for what is known today as antisocial personality disorder (ASPD), according to the American Psychological Association (APA). As Morton notes in episode two, “The Dark Side of Jake Paul,” ASPD is the technical term most clinicians prefer to use today. (The terms are still sometimes used interchangably, according to the National Institutes of Health).

“Antisocial personality disorder is psychiatry's way of trying to classify people without using the pejorative or derogatory terms,” Dr. Siegel explains. “It’s a way of commenting on a pervasive pattern of behavior that spans someone's adult life and that may inform why they experience life the way they do.”
***
“personality disorders are notoriously difficult to diagnose,” Katherine Dixon-Gordon, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and assistant professor in the department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, tells SELF. “This diagnosis is a really complex thing to undertake, and requires these long interviews.”

Even having all the relevant information doesn’t always ensure a reliable diagnosis. “They are so complicated that even among psychologists and psychiatrists, we can’t agree on how to diagnose personality disorders,” Dixon-Gordon says. “Even when we undertake these incredibly complicated interviews with people, experts don't always agree.” She explains that two well-qualified clinicians could evaluate the same person and not necessarily come away with the same assessment.

In reality, the behaviors some experts may link to ASPD span a spectrum. “All of these personality disorders describe being at an extreme end of a spectrum of normal human behaviors,” Dr. Siegel says. Dixon-Gordon adds, “By definition, [personality disorders] represent maladaptive variance of normative personality functioning. So often that line between what’s adaptive and what’s maladaptive and what’s normative and non-normative is a difficult one to find.”

In episode two, Morton cites a statistic that one in 25 people is a sociopath. (This stat is arguably outdated and was derived from several studies dating back to the ‘90s.) While there are not many reliable epidemiological studies on how prevalent ASPD is—although several experts noted that figure sounds high—Lilienfeld argues that the stat is misleading for a different reason.

“Saying ‘one in 25’ implies that [people with ASPD] are different in kind, rather than in degree, from the rest of us,” Lilienfeld says. “In my view, there’s no real distinction in nature that clearly tells you [if somebody has ASPD or not]. There’s no categorical cutoff. It’s almost like asking, ‘How many people are tall?’ Depends on where you draw the cutoff for tall.”

Dixon-Gordon makes a similar argument. “In the same way that the cutoff for whether or not you have high cholesterol changes from year to year, these [diagnostic cutoffs] change,” she explains.

These complicated, nebulous aspects of personality disorders mean that attempting to diagnose them even in a professional setting requires extreme care and caution. “All of these things are reasons why diagnosis is so, so nuanced and complex and contextual,” Dixon-Gordon says, “and really requires [...] not jumping to conclusions.”

Interestingly some of the researchers quoted worry that the webseries is trying to glamourize what they describe as a "dangerous" disorder. But maybe watching were concerned about the opposite, that it was attempting to demonize and stigmatize. So much so that Shane Dawson included an apology at the beginning of episode 3:

“I do actually want to apologize because there was some backlash from people feeling offended and feeling like I was making a horror movie out of an illness or a disorder. And I 100% understand [...] to treat a person like a scary monster is like, not cool, and I shouldn’t have done that. So I apologize for that genuinely.”

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Hyperrational or sociopath?

I've met a couple people now where I half wonder if they're not so much sociopathic as hyperrational. A lot of them will sense the difference themselves, i.e. they're the ones telling me that maybe they're a little on the sociopathic spectrum or have similarities, but it's primarily on the hyperrational side. I got a recent email from a reader along those same lines, maybe we can get other people's thoughts?

First thing first, I'm sorry it's a long read, and since English is not my first language there could be some unclear passages, but I tried my best.

I admire your introspection, M. E. I found your book casually surfing the internet, while I was seeking info about personality disorders. I read it in a night, with my admiration of you growing page after page. I share some personality traits with you (sociopath traits), but at the same time, we have some big differences, which are leading me to question myself, and I am writing to you for this reason. Only recently, despite my young age, I came to realize that there’s something not quite right about the way I look at the world. I don’t have empathy, at all. There are really a few people I have feelings for, almost all of them close family members. After recent events, I realized that whereas other people suffer seeing someone else feeling pain, I don’t. I am incapable of feeling any negative emotion about someone else. I am glad to be this way. I look down on empaths, so emotionally unstable, feeling miserable just because of others feeling that way.

I feel no guilt, no remorse. I am ruthless, I have no moral code. To me, there doesn’t exist anything good or bad per se. It all depends on the point of view. One big difference with you though is that I usually don’t engage in behaviours risky for my life. Being dead is not a great way to succeed. I learnt to control my impulses and to be cold, especially if I sense some great danger. Usually, if I’m about to do something that others consider bad, I think twice about the pros and cons, and the likeliness of getting caught. I am cold and callous, and I don’t really care about other’s emotions and needs. The only person I truly care about is me. I dislike strong emotions. I get annoyed when someone around me is crying or yelling or complaining.

I consider others chess pawns in my hands, I maintain a relationship only if I can profit from it. If the bads outweigh the goods, I shut the door. I believe that everyone is completely replaceable. “friends” are no more than people I use, and I enjoy putting one against another. In fact, I plot in the dark and I instil doubt in people, unaware of my deep feelings. The best situation for me to act is war, conflict, enmity. When everyone is against each other my manipulation is more effective. I seek this situation, I try to create it trough suspicion and lies.

I don’t really like talking, communicating, if there isn’t a clear purpose. Most of the times I find people talking do me annoying.

I get easily bored of what I do, what I study. I have a boring life, and anything different than usual thrills me.  For example, a friend of mine has been recently diagnosed with BD, and although everyone else is sad about it, I find it extremely exciting. It’s out of the ordinary, it’s a new thing. I am interested in mental illnesses and psychiatric drugs, so I find an extremely positive thing for me. This is one of the facts that led me to this period of introspection: I am happy for a thing considered bad by everyone.

Until this point, I believe I met a sufficient number of criteria to be diagnosed as a sociopath. I don’t want to be officially diagnosed, that’s why I’m asking your insights. Anyway, the truth is, I often don’t succeed in manipulation this way. I am not the classic sociopath who can manipulate others and bend their will in any situation, but I was. Now I am the perfect sociopath just in my mind. Fantasies about controlling others are sweet as honey, they give me pleasure. Plotting itself is so satisfying. I am not so charming anymore, unfortunately.

The first experiences about manipulations were in kindergarten. Back then I was really good. Kids were really easily bent, especially if younger than me, and adults too, even if to a minor extent. Elementary school was also quite a proficient period. And here we come to the main reason I am questioning my sociopathy. After elementary school, I was not the same anymore. I started being inhibited, I wasn’t popular, I wasn’t charming, I was kinda shy. I became no one. I never had a good physical shape or strength, and given how was the “social value” of someone measured in middle school (and generally by teen population), this could be a reason I lost my charm. Now, more than half a decade later, I am trying to restore my social power. Even during those years, I kept not having feelings for others. But due to my lack of social prestige, I was down psychologically, maybe depressed, I don't know. This is really a thing I regret about my past. So I’m not immune to depression if it involves being socially powerless. Is this a relevant feature? I am not immune to anxiety either.

According to your book, you kept that charm and those manipulative skills throughout the whole childhood and adolescence. I wish I was like you in that sense.

I blend very well with society now, and in the past too, maybe because in the past years I wouldn’t even seem a sociopath. Maybe I wasn’t. Maybe I’m not. But my dark and cold heart Is difficult to ignore. I rarely disclose what I really think, who I really am. No one really knows me, maybe because there is nothing to know: I’m unsure about my identity, I don’t feel having one. People build a world around me starting from the chunks of information they have. I am well used to then become who the other person imagined. No one got the bigger picture yet, even if my lack of empathy was noticed sometimes. I try to conceal under layers of lies my real thoughts and what drives me.

I don’t get upset easily, I am quite detached. There are a few people who can make me lose my temper. In that case, I can harm them verbally and psychologically – but not physically, I already said I am not at my best in that sense. There are many emotions I can fake, but I have a hard time crying fakely.

I think a lot about killing. I never even attempted, obviously. I have no intention in going to jail. But my enemies' destruction is a sweet fantasy. I wouldn’t mind sacrificing someone innocent to obtain the destruction of my enemies.

I am very intelligent, more than literally anyone I know. Probably more than you too. I was extremely precocious, my early infancy is totally relatable to yours. While other kids wondered about princesses and superheroes (kindergarten) I was already deeply aware of myself and my surroundings, and I was experimenting with every kind of scientific thing. At 4 I discovered that joining the two poles of a battery with a wire and touching the poles I would get a mild shock that made me drop the battery. Silly thing, but I was very curious. I learnt reading at 5, by myself. By the time I was 6 or 7, I would know more about science in general that someone entering high school. I used to read any sort of things, and I still do. I like knowledge. Knowledge is power. I learn just for the sake of knowing things. Of knowing more than others. I feel joy when I am the best, in every field. I had the habit of talking to myself too.

I am interested in people, in the relationship between them. In elementary school I wrote secret papers that contained strengths and (especially) weaknesses of everyone I knew, addressing ways to bend them and secret information I could use if my plans failed. I get a thrill about it just remembering. I have a good memory about people’s secret. I crave them.

I am not in university yet. Over the years I often had confused ideas about what I wanted to be. Right mow I want to be a surgeon. I completely relate with the trauma surgeon you wrote about in your blog. I don’t want to be a surgeon to do something good for patients. I just want to operate for the sake of operating, to interact with flesh and organs, to have power over someone. And to excel in what I do, be groundbreaking. Emergency surgery is what I like the most. I like the rush, the speed you have to make challenging decisions.

I will have success. It’s not sort of a megalomaniac and narcissistic delusion. I am born to be the best, to shine. I already had some personal successes, but I will not talk about it here.

I am sexually fluid, and I experience sexual love or lust. But they’re just superficial feelings, I believe, even if they are strong.

Generally, I understand what people want, even if others made me notice that I sometimes don’t recognise if someone is sad. One of the things I am so bad at is comforting people in grief. I am clueless, even if I know that is socially required to comfort sad people. If it was up to me, I wouldn’t even wanna know people’s problem unless I can use them to manipulate. I learnt to know people, but I still don’t understand them completely. I don’t understand how they can have such strict moral codes that they are unable to live their life freely but I suppose it’s better for us this way. It would be impossible if everyone was ruthless and cold-blooded. There can’t be only lions. There must be sheep too.

Concluding, this is the first time of real introspection in my life. I had a hard time getting to know myself, and I feel like I’m unable to grasp the majority of things anyway. And I don’t know what I am. I struggle in defining myself, I would seem sociopath if not for the negative emotions, I could be a malignant narcissist maybe? Or am I just a sociopath with some narcissist features? I need your opinion Ms Thomas, and I am thankful I found your book.
Thanks in advance 

My response:

I guess you are still a bit young, which makes me hesitate to say anything definitive, but I would say that you appear to be on the sociopathic spectrum. One thing that has surprised me as I've gone around meeting people is that I have met people that are less charming -- only like 2 out of 15 or something, but it is interesting to meet them, and yet still know that they are like me in a lot of other ways. It makes me think that there are sort of 12 traits of sociopathy and people sometimes have more of one and less of another. For instance, you seem to be high on conscientiousness to the point where you almost seem to be just hyperrational. And maybe you are, maybe as you continue to age and develop, that will be the more pronounced thing about you. But I feel like even hyperrational people are able to recognize the emotions of others (e.g. recognize when someone is sad), even if they don't have a ton of empathy. This suggests to me that there's something more going on then just hyperrationality. But should we post what you wrote on the blog and see what people say?

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Chicago this weekend?

Anyone in Chicago or southern Wisconsin this weekend (1/26-1/27) and want to meet up?

Thanks!

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Italy in 10 efficient days -- Padua/Venice (2 days)

Day 8: Arya and I took the fast train from Florence to Padua, but I'm sure there's a train from Cinqueterre or from Pisa too. We booked our tickets for the Scrovegni Chapel (otherwise known as Giotto wonderland!) like a week ahead, which is pretty much the minimum to book any of the places that require tickets. It's walkable to the chapel from the train station, but a good thing I kept losing clothes everywhere because after a week of extensive walking with Daniel and continuing to walk with Arya, this time I maybe had low grade plantar fasciitis. Arya and I just had backpacks, so that was easy, but also the chapel has a coat check that can handle even bigger luggage, so it is a very easy detour to/from Venice and one I absolutely recommend as the whole detour took just a few hours including lunch.

The Scrovegni Chapel is essentially like the pre-Renaissance (and my favorite artist's) Italian master Giotto's version of the Sistine Chapel. It's a miracle that it was preserved. Giotto pieces are super rare. Before this I had only seen two in the Louvre and two in the Uffizi. Now imagine an entire interior of Giotto. Wow. This was for sure the highlight of the trip for me and one of the main reasons I had wanted to go to Italy.



I wept in there. I wept before we even got in there from the video that we watched while we were getting dehumidified (overly moist air is a big problem in there because they're all frescoes and the land has underground water too). In the video (not the one above, I can't find it online) it talks about how the two layers of paintings are about Mary and Jesus's lives respectively and how underneath the main paintings are paintings of the 7 virtues on one side and vices on the other side.

Here are my notes from the video:

Each of us is called to choose between good and evil. This is the message of free will. 
He appeals to our sense of responsibility. He points us to the healing process that can make us better people. 

I think there are other things in Padua worth checking out, but we didn't. Also, it's expensive to stay there. For some reason I thought it would have been cheaper to stay in Padua than Florence, so my initial plan (before we got night tickets to see the David) was to train it up to Padua in the evening and stay there, but we ended up one more evening in Florence.

Weird side note about the coat check, after we were done we grabbed out back packs again, ate a snack, but wanted to check out the multimedia section (not that great, but it did have a video and dress up). BUT the crazy lady in there gave us such a hard time about having a backpack, even though we were the only ones in there, and insisted that we couldn't even be in the room with a backpack. Rather than re check the bags in the free coat check, we just walked back to the train station. That's a potential "gray rage" scenario (more on that later?), but luckily we had just been through the chapel so I was on a spiritual high!


That afternoon we took the train the final 20-40 minutes to Venice. There are two Venice train stations -- the one on the mainland and the island ones, make sure you're getting the right one. We stayed in some sketchy dive a short walk from the train station that nonetheless had the most beautiful grand canal view. We kept that window open the whole time, just listening to the boats and people outside. Gondola rides were 200 euros at night in cash. What?! But still, it's like pony up the cash because it's such a singular experience. Other than that and St. Mark's square, I don't think there are any things that you have to do. The churches are ok, but there's nothing unmissable, which is nice because you don't want to spend your time inside museums here, you want to spend it out on the streets and on the water.

Definitely get a little ferry pass (their version of a bus) for however long you're going to be there, otherwise there are certain places you simply can't get to. We went on the ferry to the little island and accompanying church of San Giorgio Maggiorre, which has a tower that you can get up to for cheap that is a very nice alternative to the St. Mark's one, which can often have a line. See below and above photo for the view from this tower. We also went to the Doge's Palace with the audio tour, which had entertaining amounts of blood and intrigue and prisons. Word on the street is that the Secret's of the Doge is a fun tour, but has to be booked so far ahead of time that we were not even close to being able to do that. 

We spent about 36 hours there, which I thought was great -- enough to see Venice in all sorts of light. If you are short on time, I think you can get the gist in even shorter amount of time. But do go! Because it keeps getting more crowded and flooded by the minute and it is such a different city, very singular and unmissable, I think. And because we went at the very end of summer, we didn't have any flooding or any similar issues.

We left that night by taking an overnight bus to Munich (Flix). Either Venice or the bus exposed me to a new bug that gave me bullseye bug bites that itched like crazy for 2-3 days and then disappeared. I don't think bed bugs, and I had it confirmed that it wasn't tick bites by my doctor when I got home. Other than that who knows. Maybe wear bug repellent. 
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