Friday, December 31, 2010

Risky business

I was never really conscious of being a big risk taker when I was younger, although I ended up in urgent care facilities more than average, have woken up to medics and oxygen masks, etc. All growing up my parents made me take extra safety precautions that even my siblings did not have to do take -- helmets while skiing, mouthguards for sports, elaborate buddy systems, and emergency contact information on my person at all times. All my instructors and guides would laugh when my parents warned them to keep an eye out for me. I was a bit of a daredevil, but it was more than that -- I would often take risks that people wouldn't even have considered to be an option, wouldn't have predicted the need to warn me about.

It makes me wonder, are sociopaths risk-seeking or risky? Risk-seeking would mean that they are willing to take bigger risks for bigger payouts. For instance, between two choices of a 100% chance of winning $10,000 or a 1% chance of winning a million, a risk-averse individual is more likely to choose the former and a risk-seeking individual is more likely to choose the latter. The difference between the two becomes more stark when losses are involved, for instance a 1% chance of losing a limb vs. a 100% of breaking a limb. Which would you choose? A risk-seeking individual is more likely to choose the small chance of losing a limb and a risk-averse individual is more likely to choose the certainty of breaking a limb.

In contrast, a risky person takes illogical risks just for the sake of risk. For instance, a risky person might choose a 1% chance of winning only $500,000 rather than a 100% of winning $10,000. Likewise, a risky person might accept a 3% chance of losing a limb rather than the certainty of breaking a limb. A risky person may behave this way because (1) they are incorrectly assessing the risks and payouts involved, (2) they are correctly assessing the risks, but get some other benefit from the risk itself (i.e. psychic benefit from the risk itself), or (3) a mixture of 1 and 2.

Of course most choices we make are not as simple as 100% of $10,000. Even for a choice where you are certain you will either lose a limb or break it, everyone will value their own limbs differently and in different situations. Assuming two people are similar in every way but one is a sociopath and the other normal, I wonder what exactly would make them different when it comes to risk.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The good son

Excerpts from a reader's email:

I've never exposed myself in this manner before, but some of your readers' words struck a chord with me. So here I am.

I've known what I was ever since I was around 4. That is the first time I molested a female friend. Growing up, I've molested several of my childhood friends. I am much older now, and just recently molested and anally raped a woman whom I seduced at a bar. She took me to her place and passed out. The next morning, it was as if nothing happened. I am a sexual sadist at heart.

My knowledge of my inner being advanced after I realized I would nail mice to wooden planks, grind kittens' heads into cement with my foot, and brutally beat my dog's face with my fists until they bled. I was around 7 when I started, I believe. The feeling would be hard to describe: a rush mixed with uncontrolled rage and ultimate satisfaction. I torture and kill animals to this day, whenever there is a chance.

Everyone perceived me as a very well adjusted, loving, compassionate, intelligent child. But for the most part, it was an ingrained response to veil my pleasures. I was raised by an extremely loving, responsible, and intelligent mother, and more than willing relatives that thought I was simply a joy. I knew my "good side" rendered positive feedback, which in turn lessened culpability. I was never caught, or even suspected of anything. I was a good kid. Today, I am still capable of goodness, however that can be taken.

My motto is "Self-preservation, above all else." I've never been in a physical altercation, and rarely, if ever, have been provoked. Being known as a fighter leads to suspicion. Also, being in a fight could cause permanent injury and even death, if your opponent is more skilled. This infringes on the very framework of self-preservation.

I am a very good-looking, very intelligent, and very capable young man who takes care of his ailing mother and volunteers helping the sick. I publicly advocate the rights of women and am sensitive to every woman's needs. Quick to forgive, slow to fight. I am...perfect. Too perfect. At least for a while.

I am the most dangerous of monsters. I can't be stopped. I won't be stopped. I am in plain sight. If you're not extremely vigilant, subconsciously on the watch…I will tear you to pieces, if it is to my liking. I can also be your saving grace, your best friend, if it is to my liking. It's all about control, which is a bit ironic because I never seemed to be able to control my own impulses to harm others.

No one has ever known about me and my little secrets, and no one ever will. They will be kept locked away forever; away from counselors, parents, friends, and strangers alike. No one will ever know what I truly am...and that is the beauty of it all. Pure anonymity and elusiveness. I truly resent your labels and terms. Like attention-seeking whores, you gossip, solicit yourselves, and indulge your own fantasies of being a monster, a "sociopath". I understand myself completely, but what makes me dangerous is my complete understanding of those unlike me. I understand I will never stop raping; will never stop torturing; will never stop destroying.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Sociopaths in media: Cyndi Kristoffer from Penny and Aggie

From a reader:
I wondered if you'd heard anything about a webcomic called Penny & Aggie. One of its characters, Cyndi Kristoffer, has pretty much been defined as a sociopath. In the latest arc she goes missing, presumably abducted.

Here's the start of the arc.

The middle part, which might fill in a bit more about the other characters.

The conversation between abductor and abducted

To me Cyndi is a really good portrait of a young evolving sociopath, who has decided that she enjoys playing social and verbal games with people, and she is going to continue to do so until it gets boring. She’s developed as a character over the last couple years of this webcomic. Before the most recent storyline, there aren’t more than ten or twelve strips that blatantly flaunt her sociopathic behavior, because the writers have taken time to build her. They’ll show her giggling in the corner of one panel at someone else’s pain. Or they’ll have her engaged in a genuine conversation, without making it obvious that she’s just pulling strings. The comic has been patiently working towards the current arc.
This is how Cyndi's part of the kidnapping arc ended.

My first instinct was to smile in relief when I saw the last panel. But I wondered what you would think. I imagine that if a sociopath facing psychiatric evaluation and confinement felt anything, they would feel a sinking sensation, or the sudden feeling of being trapped.

And I wonder if Cyndi will learn how to fake being normal, and come back more dangerous than ever.
My response: I think Cyndi would feel trapped. It's actually hard to pretend to be normal, particularly in a sterile situation where people are not giving you the benefit of the doubt, e.g. a mental institution. Cyndi can get out of there through three primary means (in order of attempt): (1) charming or forming an emotional/manipulative bond with her doctors, (2) getting her parents or doctors to doubt themselves just enough to feel like they are monsters for keeping a poor defenseless girl locked up, or (3) provoking some sort of public scandal with her doctors, parents, or the institution such that she will have to be let out to appease the masses. Sociopaths view their victims a little like etch-a-sketches -- victims just need to be shaken up a little to erase whatever lingering impression they may have had of the sociopath.

I hope Cyndi makes a reappearance in the comic eventually, though. There aren't that many fun socio characters.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Falling in love with a sociopath

From a reader:

I'm about 99% sure my dear friend is a sociopath. He's the most charming, funny, and well-loved person in our community. Yet, he has zero work ethic and is basically a leech entirely when it comes to work. Nothing wrong is ever his fault. He lied countless times to me when he pursued a relationship, and never seemed genuinely sorry (regardless of the many "I'm Sorry's" and "I understand's.") And he has this weird thing with eye contact. He also has lots of tricks I've picked up on, so I know he's very attentive to me when we're "on-again" and likes to protect himself. He knows how to get to me, using humor, my dreams, and sympathy play. I just wanted to write about how loving a sociopath happens, regardless of knowing so clearly what went wrong (many people don't understand -- I get that) and about why I wanted him back.

I forget it's bad because I'm having so much fun. He's funny, sweet even. He brings up old jokes, memories, and conversations that almost make me forget why I hated him so much in the first place. Somewhere in my mind I know he's not safe, or solid as a foundation, but I feel at home with him anyway. I can see the tricks he's reusing and I can say out loud the things he did to me, the terrible games he played with me. But between my head and my heart there is literally a break in the connection, because I love him.

I also want to point out that going back to him went something like this; it's easier to join forces and be friends than to be on the opposing side. Though we didn't actually fight (verbally or physically) ever really, because he only admitted he lied once, we were in a war. He made himself known, but we weren't speaking. He was everywhere I needed to be, and eventually even crept into my dreams and haunted me in my sleep. It was impossible to go without him. So, regardless of the hours of counseling and catharsis conversations with friends, he's back.

I have a strange compassion and love for him and sociopaths in general, I think. I don't know why they "tick" and work as they do, but they're just different than me. They're still sane, yes, but something inside drives their actions to be so different. They are like little power monsters at times, but they need love too...or so it feels. Is the beating I get worth it?
So far, I guess it has been (though, not to outsiders).

Still, he's my friend, and I believe that he needs love even if he can't feel it quite the same. That's weird, I know. Ha, this is going to sound stupid, but I was thinking about that while I was petting my cat today. She was purring because she liked it, but another way of her getting more petting was clawing at me. So I had to only pet her from a certain angle, so I could still show her I loved her, but not get scratched. Cheesy analogy? Completely. But I think it kind of makes sense for a lot of us that love sociopaths.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Femme fatale

From a reader:
I was watching one of Andy Warhols movies with Edie Sedgwick. When Andy was told Edie had died, he responded Edie who? Do you think Edie was a sociopath? She was so charming, and had everyone feeling sorry for her.. still.

I lived with a girl I suspect was a sociopath and my grandma as well. I think it is their mystery that is so seductive. I've seen my grandmother transform into a starry eyed seductress charming a doctor while laying in her hospital bed. She was beautifully monovisual in all photographs taken of her. Yet her very last words to my grandfather were "Don't touch me, I hate you" Edie's charm reminds me of their charm. The way she evokes pity yet seems so strong yet charmingly fragile...? "poor little rich girl"

Do you know any femme fatales? And if so, were you attracted to her?

"Andy said I should write a song about Edie Sedgwick. I said 'Like what?' and he said 'Oh, don't you think she's a femme fatale, Lou?' So I wrote 'Femme Fatale' and we gave it to Nico. (Lou Reed)"
My response: Interesting what you say about the poor little rich girl, faux victim effect that femme fatales seem to have. I just wrote to a female sociopath reader about whether she thinks that her victims are attracted to her because they want to be predated upon (i.e. want to be exploited)? Or because there is something vulnerable about her that they can't help but want to exploit? If the latter, I think femme fatales sometimes attract targets who would never otherwise be in that type of situation, like an open cash register sitting unattended in front of someone who doesn't consider themself a thief.

I have known some femme fatales and I always find them to be very attractive. I look at them and I think, this person could ruin me. It's all very exciting, this feeling of wanting to be destroyed just for the pleasure of that moment when they turn their complete attention to you, even if it is just to destroy you. But I'll have to check out some of Edie's films.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The switch

From a reader:
I think I may be a hybrid sociopath. I am very similar to my father in the way that I am comfortably able to adopt and change my personality with ease. I have the characteristic sociopath ability to identify and exploit vulnerabilities in people.

But I am also able to feel sympathetic emotions such as empathy and love, however I can also choose to not feel them. It's a strange sort of mental switch I have. When I was little the switch would turn on and off randomly, and in only 5th grade I thought I was madly in love with this girl. I would follow her around, but never talk to her (I basically stalked her). This was during the time when I was still learning how to interact with people in socially acceptable ways that would not reveal what I was. Anyway, I loved this girl for almost a year and then overnight I simply stopped loving her. I never felt that emotion towards another person ever again. Another case of my odd emotional switch was in 7th grade when my classmates and I found a dead opossum the size of a large cat. My classmates screamed, and some began to cry. All I could do was stare at it and wonder how a motionless piece of fur and flesh could be valuable or meaningful to anyone. But a week later, something reminded me of the lifeless critter and I suddenly felt a pang of sickening remorse for the creature. Of course now, I could care less about it.

It wasn't until High School that I mastered my control over the emotional switch in my mind. I could turn on my emotions and get all touchy-feely with girls when I wanted to seduce them, or I could turn them off and do anything I pleased and feel no guilt. I was not simulating emotions, I actually felt them. I find this talent to be very useful, the only side effect is a rare sudden outburst of emotion immediately after turning on my emotions after long periods of numbing them.

I spend a lot of time trying to discipline my mind, so that I can mold it into what I want it to be. Creating one personality is easy. The hard part is developing two different personalities that you can interchange quickly and easily. There are actually two mental switches that you need to develop, one to go from your sociopath side to your emotional side, and another to go from your emotional side to your sociopath side. Usually I use an incredibly poignant memory to trigger my emotional side, and a very unnerving, desensitizing thought to trigger my sociopath side.
I responded: Have you seen this post? It sounds like what you are saying. Recently I've been starting to believe more and more that sociopathy is either an attentional defect myself or that attention plays a large part in how sociopathy manifests itself. This fits with your switch imagery -- if one's attention is directed at a particular emotion, sociopaths can feel the same sorts of things that normal people can. The difference is that it is not automatic, we have to make the conscious effort to focus our attention that way.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Small towns

There is incredible diversity amongst the sociopathic population. Although we share some physical/genetic/environmental characteristics, there are also many things that vary widely such as intelligence, ethnicity, race, age, socioeconomic status, gender, education, etc. These factors all affect the way our sociopathic traits manifest themselves making each one of us a special snowflake. In fact, when you consider the breadth and depth of influence that these factors have in a typical person, it's amazing that sociopaths are as similar as they are. One important environmental factor that I hadn't really considered before is the role of growing up in a small town vs. a larger city, and the stifling effect the former would have on sociopathic behaviors. From a reader:
I think focusing on impression management is key to the high-functioning part of "high-functioning psychopath". Nearly all of us mimic to give the impression that we are just like everyone else. Those of us who recognize that we can get more out of people if they want to give it to us just focus on our overall reputation a little more. Those of us who recognize that we can't control our baser urges every single time and may need some benefit-of-the-doubt cover, make a point to emanate safety and innocence.

I think the lack of understanding about the importance of impression management among others is probably due to one of three issues: One, the individual isn't a psychopath or anything like it. Two, the individual is not a high-functioning psychopath, and thus can't see the big-picture benefit. Three, the individual is a high-functioning psychopath, but has never lived in a small town or been part of some small sub-community within their city. I currently live in a decent-size city, and can see how easily anonymity is attained here. In a small town, most people know where most other people are most of the time, and what they are doing, so from a psychopath's perspective, it is a different world.

Being a child adds another complication. How you are viewed is inextricably linked to how your parent is viewed. Your power in the community derives from theirs. It was vital in playing my town--getting what I wanted when I wanted it--that my mother was viewed favorably. Now I'm doing the same thing for my spouse, who is in a career where image and reputation are very important.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sociopaths in media: Lie to me, Apt Pupil, Lolita

The episode "Beat the Devil" from season two of "Lie to Me" features a homicidal sociopath. Apart from the usual Hollywood sociopath stereotypes, there were some interesting insights into how a sociopath might react differently to emotional stimuli. Apart from this murderer of the week, the main character Cal Lightman is also sociopathic (at least enough for the other characters/viewers to sometimes wonder).

A reader had me watch the film Apt Pupil, which is based on a novella by Stephen King. The thing I liked about the film is that at any given time it is not clear who the sociopath(s) is/are or who is playing whom.

Speaking of which, I also just watched the Kubrick version of Lolita. I love the book. There is something so sensual about Nabokov's word choices, as if there were nothing more pleasurable than reading/writing the English language. The film was a bit of a disappointment, apparently because of censorship. The newer 90's version is allegedly more true to the book (and therefore presumably better). The best part about the film is that it has more of an omniscient narrator feel, so (I think) you get a better idea of the extent of Lolita's scheming. In the book Lolita is seems more of a victim.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Understanding very little

A reader writes:
I am wondering, do you watch "Lie To Me"? The latest episode of Lie To Me which I watched had an interesting ending, where Tim Roth's character (one "Dr. Lightman") wrote that he understood very little, least of all those close to him.

I understand very little. I see people and I know what they feel, happy, sad, angry, annoyed, aroused, excited. but all in all I understand very little. I know they are experiencing something, but I do not understand the "humanity" that occurs around me. I know I am required to do certain things at certain times, and I will do those things, but do I understand why. I know I must, or I will be viewed in a negative light that makes my life difficult.

Indeed, it seems as if almost everybody I meet was handed a blue-print to behaviours, a list of requirements, of responses and of reactions. And it seems I missed that handing out, missed the instructions, missed that which is needed to be...well, human. This is how I viewed the world when I was younger, and how I have adapted.

As I said, I know but I do not understand. Human life occurs all around me, and I can not help but watch.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tell me lies

I've been amazed at the sheer amount of lying I've had to do recently with holiday parties, family functions, and work. I haven't had to be around people as much this past year, so my lying skills are rusty. Also I've been a little sloppy and unlucky, which means I keep getting caught doing compromising things, necessitating more frequent lying. For example, I have an odd habit of rifling through people's bathroom drawers. I did this recently at a party, certain that the sound of the music would muffle any excessive noise. Unfortunately my host was waiting right outside the door to use the toilet after me. Most people would avoid confrontation, but not her. She asked if I was looking for something. I immediately said no, uncertain of how much she had heard. When she gave me a certain look and I realized I was caught, I did a quick mental brainstorm for plausible lies and said, "You were out of handsoap." Luckily this was at least sort of true, true enough for her not to get angry at me.

Lying is a risky life strategy. The worst thing that could happen is to get caught in a compromising situation, lie about it, and then get caught in the lie. People get very angry at you when that happens, although everyone has been in that situation at least once in their lives.

Everyone has a unique relationship with lies/truth. I was emailing one of my exes recently about lying, an ex who happens to currently be in a volatile relationship with another ex. I said:
Maybe the biggest difference between you two is that sometimes you lie or give sugarcoated truths but other times you will just bluntly say important things that you think need to be said. In contrast, X will either be honest or refuse to say anything at all. This is a bad combination because you like and expect to be lied to for some things but want the truth for really important things (how you treat people) and X basically wants the truth all the time or silence, even if it means taking a break from the other person (how X treats people). Because X sometimes tells you the truth when you want to be lied to and you sometimes lie to X instead of being upfront, you both get upset.
I am not sure what my relationship with lying is. Lying can be very fun and exciting, particularly when lying to get out of a scrape, but it can quickly turn into a chore. The character Tom Sawyer learns through his fence painting scheme that "Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.”

Sometimes I daydream about what my life would be like if I didn't have to lie all the time, where people didn't expect to have their ego massaged, or to hear a rosy take on reality, or they were just generally more tolerant of the diversity of human behavior. It would be nice to be able to tell the truth more frequently. I would love to be able to tell certain people certain truths with zero repercussions. I guess I could always drop the mask(s) and eliminate the need to lie that way, but I doubt I will ever take that step. As much as lying can be a chore, I think the pros outweigh the cons for now.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Criminally sociopathic (part 2)

I ended up selling meth for a few years after all this. Amusingly the reason was I wanted to meet more people who were willing to commit real crimes like robbing armored cars or finding someone who would pay me to kill people and it's not like you can post wanted ads so I figured the easiest way to meet new criminals who weren't a bunch of stupid kids was to start selling drugs. I had been nonplussed by the kids I met in community service. Most of them were there for vandalism charges and none of them showed any real initiative.

So my criminal career after that mostly consisted of me selling meth starting from $20 sacks on the street to pushing pounds for a Mexican cartel family to cooking it myself interspersed with things like armed robbery of other dealers who had disrespected me (great excuse to go take what you want from someone and have some fun).

If you go to the court house and look at my record I have literally pages of charges that have been brought against me and a total of two convictions, one felony possession of meth and one misdemeanor 'being under the influence.' One of your posts mentioned this phenomenon. We might commit the crimes but compared to the poor saps who aren't sociopaths we don't do the time - we get off too often and leave early more often than not.

My first arrest on drug charges was stupid. I didn't know my rights well enough (though amusingly I'd taken a criminal law class at the local community college since my momma always said, "you have to know the rules so you can break them right"). After that first arrest I was on probation which meant I no longer had those protective rights that coulda saved me the first time which meant luck eventually got me a couple more arrests and on the last one the DA had actually realized I was someone he should pay attention to.

So I left it all behind (leaving a certain minor cartel family with thousands of dollars in unpaid debt that I didn't feel like dealing with). I had decided that I had a problem. I didn't have the drug problem I played to everyone else to excuse my behavior - I had a legal problem. Doing the work I had been doing with search and seizure terms is illogical. It's not a winning game so I figured I'd drop it for 3 years and come back when I had my rights back armed with the knowledge I'd picked up on how to work the legal system. My one close friend (the same one I got in trouble with when I was 16) moved back to town and told me to get my shit together and actually really did a lot of work toward re-socializing me. She also helped me decided not to go right back to work when my probation fell off (since of course, I had been a model of good behavior).

So here I am. In the last couple quarters of a 4 year degree in an extremely technical engineering major. And I feel dead. Because nothing else carries any feeling with it. It isn't that I can't avoid getting locked up or that I can't make money legally it's that when I weigh the price of risking prison against the price of living out a life of dead affect and absolute boredom the choice doesn't seem difficult. Survival isn't worth anything when you aren't doing anything with it. If I'm a criminal it's only because some things I enjoy are illegal and I don't particularly fear the consequences.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Criminally sociopathic (part 1)

From a reader:
One common theme in comments on your site seems to be "only the stupid sociopaths get locked up, they give us a bad name, if they were better at being rational/smart they wouldn't be ending up in prison." Of course as someone who has a handful of arrests I can't help but take this a little personally so I'll do my best to explain why I disagree with the position.

I was a criminal sociopath. I was the kind of criminal who was there for fun. To this day I haven't yet found anything that compares to the fun I had then. Any crimes before I was 16 were boring - I'd get in fights but mostly I had to actively convince another kid to fight with me under the pretense it was just a game (to me it was.. I couldn't get why they didn't enjoy it) and then when they were injured I had to work to convince them not to tell anyone what had happened to them so I wouldn't get in trouble.

When I was 16 I decided with a friend to burglarize a business. Basically I got off work, went to where she was working and while chatting with her mentioned I'd figured out how to get into a local store and into their safe. She said "So lets do it" so when she got off work we went back to my house, got together what we'd wear (there were cameras so heavy jackets and ski-masks), we went to sleep, woke up at 4am and walked downtown to do it. I should add here that I didn't do it for the money, I had several thousand dollars in my bank account and still lived at home having graduated high school before turning 16 and working.

Long story short we got away with it beautifully - for about 7 days. Then the only other person in the world who knew ratted on us. This was my first lesson in how weak most people are and one of many cases where I've been surprised someone did something that seemed completely illogical to me. In the meantime though my friend and I rented expensive motel rooms and bought new cloths instead of going home or washing what we had. Experiences that made the whole thing worth it include sitting with my friend on the hotel bed counting thousands of dollars in cash in our robes, finding a crazy alcoholic homeless woman and her 12yo daughter and having them follow us around buying us alcohol, and walking out of the store we had robbed pulling our skimasks up into hats so the cameras never got a shot of our faces, and then casually walking down a major street downtown to go change clothes at the bus station.

Having no priors and being a minor I never even went to Juvi - after all, I was the nice white kid from the middle class family who had made a horrible mistake and was oh so repentant.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Life is a game

A reader sent this as a follow-up to the last post, a NY Times piece on gaming:
“Gamers are engaged, focused, and happy,” says Edward Castronova, a professor of telecommunications at Indiana University who has studied and designed online games. “How many employers wish they could say that about even a tenth of their work force?
In the past, puzzles and games were sometimes considered useful instructional tools. The emperor Charlemagne hired a scholar to compile “Problems to Sharpen the Young,” a collection of puzzles like the old one about ferrying animals across a river (without leaving the hungry fox on the same bank as the defenseless goat). The British credited their victory over Napoleon to the games played on the fields of Eton.

But once puzzles and gaming went digital, once the industry’s revenues rivaled Hollywood’s, once children and adults became so absorbed that they forsook even television, then the activity was routinely denounced as “escapism” and an “addiction.” Meanwhile, a few researchers were more interested in understanding why players were becoming so absorbed and focused. They seemed to be achieving the state of “flow” that psychologists had used to describe master musicians and champion athletes, but the gamers were getting there right away instead of having to train for years.

One game-design consultant, Nicole Lazzaro, the president of XEODesign, recorded the facial expressions of players and interviewed them along with their friends and relatives to identify the crucial ingredients of a good game. One ingredient is “hard fun,” which Ms. Lazzaro defines as overcoming obstacles in pursuit of a goal. That’s the same appeal of old-fashioned puzzles, but the video games provide something new: instantaneous feedback and continual encouragement, both from the computer and from the other players.

Players get steady rewards for little achievements as they amass points and progress to higher levels, with the challenges becoming harder as their skill increases.

Even though they fail over and over, they remain motivated to keep going until they succeed and experience what game researchers call “fiero.” The term (Italian for “proud”) describes the feeling that makes a gamer lift both arms above the head in triumph.
The article makes a strange argument, essentially that if hardcore gamers saw real life more as a game, they might be more interested in real life. If that is the prescribed therapy for ennui or a persistent sense of the meaningless of life, then sociopaths have been self-medicating for millennia.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Cyanide and Happiness

A reader suggested this comic. Pretty charming. Can you read it? If not, go here.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Sociopath test: How to spot them before they target you

Everyone wants to know how to identify a sociopath, it's one of the most frequently asked questions I get. The problem is that no one has discovered a definitive means of identifying them, even in a clinical setting with trained psychologists, even with a brain scanner. For the average layperson, the advice for spotting a sociopath is as varied and unreliable as "evil eyes," social parasite/criminal, and (my favorite for being both too specific and overbroad) Martha's Stout's "pity play" litmus test. I had hoped that there would be physical manifestations of sociopathy, but the results, while suggestive of potential promising areas of follow-up (why don't sociopaths take cold medicine?), were far from scientific or conclusive. Still, from my own personal experience with sociopaths, I believe that there are some easily observable behaviors or traits that correlate relatively well with sociopathy. I came up with 12.
1. Sociopaths typically don't smalltalk about themselves as much as normal people do. They will direct the conversation back to the new acquaintance as much as they can.

2. A sociopath will reveal "personal" details about himself strategically, i.e. for the purposes of misdirection or a false sense of intimacy/trust. Revelations of actual truths are very rare and may be perceived as a small slip of the mask.

3. Sociopaths frequently hesitate before responding. It will be unclear to you whether they are bored, annoyed, lying, or all three.

4. No strong reactions to illogical hotbed political/social topics (e.g. Octomom or Catholic priest child molestation).

5. Monotone voice (I am told).

6. A tendency to take things too literally or otherwise not respond appropriately to small emotional cues.

7. Cold indifference to one or more family members.

8. Seemingly a different person when "distracted."

9. Disconnect between what the sociopath says and does, e.g. seems charitable but does not give money to homeless or vice versa.

10. Never shows signs of embarrassment. Easily wins over large crowds with confidence. "Poise" in this case = lack of nerves.

11. Does not fit stereotypes for gender, race, ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation, or career. Could seem foreign, bisexual, older or younger, pious, wealthy or poor, but may also just seem unplaceable.
12. Can flip flop between keeping a very low profile (the observer) to being the life of the party (the actor).
I don't think all of these would apply to all sociopaths, and certainly many of them apply to people who aren't sociopaths, however they all have the advantage of being directly observable by a layperson, at least without the aid of a brain scan or 10 page questionnaire. Also, because they're seemingly inconsequential and not directly related to the classic sociopath/antisocial traits, a sociopath would have less reason to mask them.

Do some of these seem particularly predictive or not? Any other suggestions?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Survey results

I copied the results below. I tried not to have duplicates, but I may also have inadvertently left some out. Some of the questions didn't really get enough responses to include. Some of the answer categories I grouped together, e.g. "eating to survive" included pretty much everyone who said that they typical just eat for the nutrients, although they may sometimes find pleasure in eating. Next time I'll make an actual survey form for ease of calculation. Of course this was far from reliable, but it was still interesting. I was surprised by some of the results, was not surprised by some. I'll let you speculate without tainting you with my own conclusions/theories.

1. Do you have normal average blood temperature, run hot, or run cold?
12 Cold 4 normal 2 hot

2. Do you have normal blood pressure, run high, or run low?
13 Low 2 normal 6 high

3. What is your relationship to food?
5 love 1 like 17 eat to survive

4. Do you have corrected vision, i.e. glasses, contact lenses?
9 corrected 12 none

5. What is your tolerance to pain? Low, high, or normal?
17 high 5 normal 1 low

6. Have you ever had stitches or surgery that could have been otherwise been preventable based on lifestyle choices?
10 no 12 yes

7. Would you say you look about your age, younger, or older than your age?
11 younger 8 same 3 older

8. Do you take cold medication? How soon after a cold do you start taking medication?
17 no 4 some/sometimes 1 yes

9. Do you have trouble sleeping?
8 yes 12 some/sometimes 2 no

10. Which do you crave more, salty or sweet foods?
8 salty 3 both 7 sweet 3 neither

11. Do you wake up in the morning drenched in sweat?
4 no 5 sometimes

12. Do you abuse drugs like alcohol?
3 no 7 yes

13. Do you have great admiration for the aspergers people?
5 yes 3 no

14. Creepy stare:
6 yes

15. People oriented job:
2 no

16. Do you like sun and brightness?
8 no

17. Do you eat red/bloody meat?
5 yes 1 no

18. Are you involved in or have you been involved in extreme hobbies and activities?
3 yes 3 no

19. Do you like trying new things, or are you averse to change?
6 change

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Narcissists in the media: Jimmy Wales

I'll tabulate the results of the survey and post them soon, but in the meantime has anyone been to Wikipedia lately? There are a bunch of vanity shots of alleged "founder" Jimmy Wales (who once got caught editing his own Wikipedia entry for vanity reasons) begging people to fund his multi-billion dollar monument to himself, something that has traditionally been the province of only televangelists and politicians. It's so full of asshattery, I decided to post the entire plea:

I got a lot of funny looks ten years ago when I started talking to people about Wikipedia.
Let’s just say some people were skeptical of the notion that volunteers from all across the world could come together to create a remarkable pool of human knowledge – all for the simple purpose of sharing.
No ads. No agenda. No strings attached.
A decade after its founding, nearly 400 million people use Wikipedia and its sister sites every month - almost a third of the Internet-connected world.
It is the 5th most popular website in the world - but Wikipedia isn’t anything like a commercial website. It is a community creation, written by volunteers making one entry at a time. You are part of our community. And I’m writing today to ask you to protect and sustain Wikipedia.
Together, we can keep it free of charge and free of advertising. We can keep it open – you can use the information in Wikipedia any way you want. We can keep it growing – spreading knowledge everywhere, and inviting participation from everyone.
Each year at this time, we reach out to ask you and others all across the Wikimedia community to help sustain our joint enterprise with a modest donation of $20, $35, $50 or more.
If you value Wikipedia as a source of information – and a source of inspiration – I hope you’ll choose to act right now.
All the best,
Jimmy Wales
Founder, Wikipedia

P.S. Wikipedia is about the power of people like us to do extraordinary things. People like us write Wikipedia, one word at a time. People like us fund it, one donation at a time. It's proof of our collective potential to change the world.
This reads like the word vomit of a completely out of touch celebrity who is famous for doing nothing and can't stop talking about himself in the broadest terms possible. Where is his publicist? Can I donate some money to a public relations person? I feel like that would do Wikipedia the greatest good.

Other fun tidbits form his wikipedia article include: he loves the "philosopher" Ayn Rand, he has hotly disputed any claims from alleged Wikipedia "co-founders", and "[a]lthough his formal designation is that of mere board member and chairman emeritus of the Wikimedia Foundation, Wales' social capital within the Wikipedia community has accorded him a status that has been characterized as benevolent dictator, constitutional monarch and spiritual leader."
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