Thursday, March 31, 2011

Getting better

Since last post I have been vaguely concerned about my state of hazy mental health when I happened upon a new game. It’s a seduction of sorts, not a classic one, more a winning the hearts and minds of the people type game. As I started thinking about the game (always tonguing that point on my canine tooth, like I do when considering something deliciously devious), I immediately started feeling better.

I started wondering whether the mental strain was not just a direct result of trying to be something I am not for too long. Last time it happened, it was because I wore a mask too long, tried to do too much to the point of being totally ineffectual and then poorly handling the fallout. This time I was putting my nose to the grindstone and doing a little bit too much legitimate work, not leaving any time for pleasure. “All work and no play…,” and all that rot.

So I’ve decided that I am going to go on a fast from real work and go on an all games diet, or at least that is the goal. Most likely I will have to do some work, but will be sure to include a steady and heavy dose of games into my daily routine, at least until I start feeling better.

I really should have known better. It’s like running a marathon, steady intake of water and calories. Instead I did a mental version of that time I stayed too long in a sauna and woke up having apparently passed out in a public shower.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

No limits

I have a tendency to not know my limits, either from big things like going 10 days with my appendix ruptured before I finally passed out and was rushed to a hospital, to smaller things like having nicks and scars all over my hands from recklessly handling cooking knives. I eat rotten food and have no real sense that I should stop. I have driven too fast, pushed too hard, lied too much, and turned the screws on people so hard that they snapped. I don't know what it is, I am blind to certain boundaries, certain warning signs that I need to back off of whatever it is that I'm doing.

Another small, but illustrative example -- when I was a child, my parents used to monitor what I ate and in what portions. When I first started eating by myself, it took a while for me to understand not to eat until I vomited. I had no desire to overeat, I wasn't even eating sweets or anything particularly desirable. It was more like I either couldn't feel the sensations of being full, or that I was somehow able to override those sensations, to ignore them and keep eating then promptly wretch it all up into toilets, backyards, parks, parking lots, etc.

These past couple months I pushed myself very hard, particularly mentally. Now I feel a little broken. I can feel that I have hurt myself. I am mentally not all there. I don't feel bad, I just don't feel right. When I go to say something, it's like someone else is saying it, and not what I meant to say. There is a disconnect between me, my conscious self, and the me that is talking and acting like me in the world. I feel like I have a very mild form of alien hand syndrome, but affecting my entire body and mind. The inner me has to some extent vacated the premises, leaving the rest to survive on evolutionary autopilot.

This has happened at least once before for different reasons, and I recovered, but was never quite the same I don't think. I wonder what will happen this time. It's odd thinking that my mind and body can take so much punishment, that I can subjugate my will in so many ways, but that there is finally a breaking point where something will just snap -- an irreparable injury. When I was reading that article about Elon Musk, I found an interesting quote from him, an explanation of why his marriage failed: "I went from working hard to working ridiculously hard. And stress breaks things."

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Seeing more

From a reader:
Thank you.

I have been lost with who and what I was for most of my life. At an early age all of the therapists couches I ever haunted, the basic conclusion was always the same, just a simple case of manic depression. I never really had the ability to come clean on the mountains of issues I hid behind that fact. For me it was enough, I never saw the logic behind all of that honesty anyways. I was under the impression that there was some slightly different inside of me. I made it my entire goal in life to control my urges as much as I can. Besides just manipulating people just for sport I would also spend hours of my young life practicing emotions. I got so incredibly good at pretending that sometimes I would lose my self-inside of the fabrications. It was so easy for me to make friends and get into relationships with women. I had to create a code of conduct I needed to follow that encompassed almost every situation I would ever find myself in.

To me all of this was normal until I opened up to a friend and was informed that no one was like that. Like being taught that masturbation was a sin at an early age by your church, I spent the rest of my life ashamed of what I was. The worst was I was never really ashamed, I just told myself that I was. I have never been able to feel most emotions directly. I knew what emotion I should feel in any situation and would convince myself that I was feeling it. I have always said the easiest person to lie to is yourself.

After getting older I have come to a massive amount of conclusions on the subject of my self-identity. Thanks to this web site and what you have posted, I found the courage to openly admit to my family and friends what I was. I feel so much better. Not treating myself as an enemy has done wonders on so many other facets of my life.

Thank you again and I look forward to seeing more.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Qaddafi the Narcissist

New York Times columnist David Brooks wonders how Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi has remained in power for 42 years. After chronicling behaviors that clearly suggest Qaddahi has narcissistic personality disorder, the column concludes:
Yet this very megalomania seems to be both the secret to his longevity and to his unhinged nature. The paradoxical fact is that if you want to stay in office as a dictator, it is better to be a narcissistic totalitarian than a run-of-the-mill autocrat. Megalomianiacs like Qaddafi seek to control every neuron in their peoples’ heads and to control every aspect of life. They destroy all outside authority and civil society. They personalize every institution so that things like the army exist to serve their holy selves, rather than the nation at large.

They are untroubled by doubt or concern for the good opinion of others since they already possess absolute truth. They are motivated to fulfill their World Historical Mission and have no interest in retiring peacefully to some villa.

Jeane Kirkpatrick was right years ago to make the distinction between authoritarian dictatorships and totalitarian ones. The totalitarian ones are both sicker and harder to dislodge. Qaddafi’s unhinged narcissistic oddness seems to be the key to his longevity. So remember: If you’re going to be a tyrant, be a wacko. It’s safer.
It's not only safer for a tyrant to be a narcissist, it can also be better for his people, at least if you believe in the principles of Realpolitik (which approach I was pleased to see a frank NY Times article not only addressing openly and honestly with regards to Libya and other recent uprisings, but was also essentially endorsing that pragmatic approach to diplomacy).

Of course, a sociopath would be even better at ignoring conflicting global moral considerations in favor of "his people's needs." But I'm afraid most sociopaths simply do not have the motivation to stick with politics long term, as opposed to selling out and "retiring peacefully to some villa."

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Going places

From a reader:
I just wanted to thank you for writing your blog. I've only read a handful of posts so far but it helps to know someone out there has ASPD and is willing to write about it. Not those guys who think they are badass and have no feelings. You really understand the disorder as do I, also your post on sociopaths loving helped me realize I'm not crazy and other sociopaths do love just like I have.

The briefest way to explain my story would be that ever since I can remember I never felt like everyone else did. I remember being a child and watching people in real life or tv shows always with real people trying to mimic the way they react to certain situations. I understand complex human emotion fairly well and can mimic it perfectly at times I just don't feel it. In fact i'm so good at it sometimes I stop and think to myself, wow do I really feel that and the answer is always a slight chuckle and a no. I'm only 20 so I'm young but I know if I don't start doing something with my life now I never will and it really doesn't bother me. I find I lack motivation I mean yeah it'd be great to have a job and go back to college and get a career and have a sucessful life but I don't really care. These things get people nowhere I think they just don't see that because they are driven by emotion. I do what I have to to survive beyond that why bother.

I just know that I will benefit from going somewhere in life.
I said:
I think it's harder for us in part because we see the pointlessness of certain typical endeavors like being an office drone for the rest of our lives. On the other hand, there are certain things that it actually does help for us to try to do or be better about, so I understand your desire to go somewhere in life. Did you see this post? It's what has worked for me. Other than that, I would say just try to use your skills of manipulation on yourself--incentivize yourself, trick yourself, make a game of life, that sort of thing.

Friday, March 25, 2011


Conversation with a friend:
Friend: Is he trying to manipulate me? In some sociopathic way?

M.E.: I don't think he's socio, if it's true what he said about feeling jealous during group sex with his ex-girlfriend.

Friend: Really? Are all socios not jealous? That can't be true, can it? Because jealousy can be about ego, largely, no?

M.E.: Ego, maybe, if a favorite of the sociopath seemed to prefer someone else, a sociopath might see that as a personal affront, but there's no real jealousy sexually -- no hang ups about seeing someone you like having sex with someone else if you know they like you better. It's just sex.

Friend: Well, he was specifically upset that she seemed to like giving oral sex to his friend. I can see how it's very different than just sex because she's actively doing something.

M.E.: Eh, I still don't think he's socio, and a lot because of the sex thing.

Friend: Do all socios hate sex?

M.E.: No, they don't hate sex, they just don't love the things about it that most people love. It's like golf.

Friend: Heh

M.E.: A lot of waiting for other people to finish . . .

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Science of Heartlessness

From the book "Quirk," by way of Salon, discussing the role of oxytocin in empathy:
[S]tudies are finding that oxytocin can increase the amount of money people will donate to a charity. One study in particular lent credence to the time honored method charities use to pull money from magazine readers: Feature a woebegone child in your advertisement. In the study, researchers had subjects watch a tearjerker film of a father talking about his son's brain tumor. They sampled subjects' blood before and after the film. Following the film the blood was awash in oxytocin, and their donations to charity rose 47 percent, compared to those of subjects who saw a film of the same father talking about a trip to the zoo. The tearjerker technique was more effective on women than men. Experiments wherein people sniff oxytocin to bolster the chemical in their brain show that the chemical may work in two ways. It may operate first by dampening our natural fear of one another. Oxytocin is very active in the amygdala, which monitors the world for danger. Extra oxytocin fights fear. Then, with that terror out of the way, perhaps it's easier to read another person's emotions and relate to them. People dosed with oxytocin make more direct eye contact, and they are better at describing the emotions portrayed on another's face. So extra oxytocin also helps us to empathize.
I found this description of mother vs. baby refreshingly frank, although it certainly is nothing new:
[A] mother -- every mother, whether snake, skunk, or sheep -- has biological aspirations above and beyond an infant. In her DNA she dreams of launching not one, but a dozen offspring down the river of time. And to do that she has to watch out for her own health and welfare.

All mothers and their infants engage in a battle over this issue, from the moment of conception. It is in the offspring's best interest to drag every nutrient and calorie it can absorb out of its mother's body. It is in the mother's best interest to hold something back so that she can raise future offspring. This battle continues after birth. An infant denied the opportunity to nurse does not quit without a fight. She'll let loose wails that in earlier times could attract deadly predators.

But no matter how sympathetic a mother might be, the infant won't gain the upper hand in this contest. Starvation remains a real threat to humans today, and the photographs that come out of refugee camps testify to the importance of motherly selfishness. Still strong enough to walk, mothers embrace their dying children. I'm sure they wish they could nurse their children, but evolution has outfitted them with bodies that will not permit it. When a female's body fat drops below a certain point, she can continue to empathize with her child's pain, but her body refuses to sympathize: Her body stops producing milk. And how could it be otherwise? Why would evolution reward a body that would give its last calorie to an offspring, then die and leave the offspring to starve alone? The offspring of such sympathetic mothers don't survive, and neither do the genes that would make a person so disastrously generous.

But neither could evolution produce mothers who would abandon an infant at the first sign of hardship. Evolution rewards those mothers who invest in their existing offspring but guard their ability to have more children in the future.
Why would that be? Why does evolution perpetuate both the pushovers and the pushers? Well, a personality that's low in sympathy or empathy is not a heartless block of stone. She just isn't so quick to assume the feelings of others. She does a better job of maintaining her boundaries and keeping a steady eye on her own future. Undistracted by life's melodramas, she's more likely to focus on facts and figures.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Famous sociopaths: Elon Musk?

People frequently ask me whether there are any "good" sociopaths or "famous" sociopaths, meaning any sociopaths that people might know and respect without necessarily knowing and respecting that they are a sociopath. Of course it's all guessing games because even if that person was aware that they were a sociopath, there is no reason why they would out themselves (just to be socially ostracized and professionally second-guessed). If you read between the lines, though, there are plenty of sociopaths out there doing things, like Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal, Space Exploration Technologies (which contracted with NASA to basically replace the Space Shuttle in servicing the Space Station), and current CEO of Tesla Motors. In a dated New Yorker article, which is unfortunately unavailable without a subscription, the following sociopathic characteristics or quotes are revealed (all are quotes from the article, the text in quotation marks are from Musk unless otherwise indicated):
  • "We're like a giant parallel supercomputer, and each of our brains runs a piece of the software" contrasted with "Most people don't know much."
  • "The people who know me generally have a good impression. Generally, if I didn't fire them, then they have a good impression."
  • He fell silent for two minutes, processing. Then he announced, "I'm going to call Dan Neil and say, 'What the fuck?' Starting with a negative conclusion and backiflling the facts is a classic dickhead move--and a classic human fallacy." Humans!
  • [H]e believes it's the duty of the intelligent and educated to replicate, "so we don't devolve into a not very literate, theocratic, and unenlightened future." As part of his program for Homo sapiens, the beta version, he reminds unfruitful employees,"You should have, on average, 2.1 kids per woman."
  • [Tesla Chief Technology Office J.B. Straubel] says, "As the company has matured, it has become more of a worthy adversary for Elon. He constantly wants everything we're doing to be really difficult, but he works really hard to make sure it's not impossible. He almost won't let us fail." Justine Musk observes, "I like to compare him to the Terminator. He sets his program and just . . . will . . . not . . . stop."
  • At times, between meetings, Musk finds himself daydreaming about building a supersonic electric airplane, or a double-decker highway.
The quotes suggest certain sociopathic traits, the overall tone of the article suggests even more, including an inability to commit to projects for more than 3-5 years, an aggressive risk-seeking that keeps Tesla simultaneously on the brink of bankruptcy and the cutting edge of the auto industry, and a narcissistically grandiose sense of "duty to save the world." Of course, he may not be a sociopath at all, but it is a good example of how sociopathic traits might be very good for someone's professional exploits and--as long as you value cheap and clean electric automobiles, transferring money easily via the internet, or efficiently supplying the space station--very good for everyone else.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Guest post: Defense Mechanisms - Tools of the Trade

Defense mechanisms are mental behaviors all of us employ to protect or defend ourselves from some "threat." More specifically, ego defense mechanisms are mental behaviors we use to "defend" our self-images. Aggressive personalities use a variety of mental behaviors and interpersonal maneuvers to help ensure they get what they want.

Denial – This is when the aggressor refuses to admit that they've done something harmful or hurtful when they clearly have. This "Who... Me?" tactic is a way of "playing innocent."

Selective Inattention – When engaging in this tactic, the aggressor actively ignores the warnings, pleas or wishes of others, and in general, refuses to pay attention to everything and anything that might distract them from pursuing their own agenda.

Rationalization or Minimization - A rationalization is the excuse an aggressor tries to offer for engaging in an inappropriate or harmful behavior. It can be an effective tactic, especially when the explanation or justification the aggressor offers makes just enough sense that any reasonably conscientious person is likely to fall for it. It's the aggressor's attempt to make a molehill out of a mountain.

Diversion or Lying – A moving target is hard to hit. Manipulators use distraction and diversion techniques to keep the focus off their behavior, move us off-track, and keep themselves free to promote their self-serving hidden agendas.

Shaming – This is the technique of using subtle sarcasm and put-downs as a means of increasing fear and self-doubt in others. It's an effective way to foster a continued sense of personal inadequacy in the weaker party, thereby allowing an aggressor to maintain a position of dominance.

Playing the Victim Role – This tactic involves portraying oneself as an innocent victim of circumstances or someone else's behavior in order to gain sympathy, evoke compassion and thereby get something from another.

Playing the Noble Role – This tactic is used to cloak their self-serving agendas in the guise of service to a more noble cause.

Seduction – Using charming, praising, flattering words or overtly supporting others in order to get them to lower their defenses and surrender their trust and loyalty. C

Projecting the blame (blaming others) – Aggressive personalities are always looking for a way to shift the blame for their aggressive behavior. Aggressors are not only skilled at finding scapegoats, they're expert at doing so in subtle, hard to
detect ways.
Which are your favorite covert or defensive tactics?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Blind leading the blind: impulse control

I saw this when it originally came out, but I recently re-read it and thought it was especially entertaining given what we have seen from Ma-Sheen. Almost exactly a month ago, Charlie Sheen gave Lindsay Lohan advice about how to curb impulses:
Charlie reached out to Lindsay Lohan during an interview on Dan Patrick's radio show today, offering the 24-year-old some words of wisdom.

Speaking out on the radio show, the 45-year-old, who is currently in at-home rehab, urged Lindsay to control her impulses.

You get Lindsay on the show, I will call in,' he said on the air.

Troubled: Lindsay Lohan recently pleaded not guilty to grant theft felony charges after allegedly stealing a $2,500 necklace from a jewellery store
'I've got some advice for her. I've got some things I would recommend she consider because I don't tell anybody what to do. Work on your impulse control. Just try to think things through a little bit before you do them.'
In the interview he also expressed his thanks to those who helped him after his now infamous 36-hour drugs bender.

'People need to understand how supremely grateful I am that someone stepped in here,' he said.

He touched on who was involved in the intervention, which followed an epic weekend of sex and drugs.
Asked if he was ready to go back to work, Sheen said: 'I'm here and I'm ready. They're not. Bring it.'

"I am a man of my word. I have a contract. They said, 'Get your act together,' and I did."

'[But] they didn't think it was going to happen this fast,' Sheen continued. 'I heal really quickly, but I also unravel pretty quickly, so get me right now, guys. Get me right now!'
I guess the television executives missed their split second window from him healing himself to him unraveling again. It makes you wonder, though, is it best for sociopaths to be asking advice from other sociopaths on impulse control? Maybe we should be talking to catholic nuns or something...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Guest post:Daredevils and unflinching professionals

1. Biology . the living together of two dissimilar organisms, as in mutualism, commensalism, amensalism, or parasitism.

Are empaths and Sociopaths capable of a symbiotic relationship? I guess the real question is: what type of relationship are empaths and socios capable of?

From an empath's side, it's often deeply damaging. From the socio's standpoint, it's frequently beneficial. But there's room for many things in between (or is there?). Many could be easily called parasitism, while others are intriguing and, not surprisingly, atypical mutualist relationships. This is to say sometimes people are good to each other, and sometimes bad. In a lot of ways. We could call it in terms of pathological or healthy relationships.

For a healthy relationship to work, both sides must benefit. Each person must walk out feeling better, greater, fulfilled. At least to some degree. Maybe there's a way to marriage the two expectations. 'Functioning psycopath' is a commonly used term. Some psychiatrists say sociopaths have good traits for law enforcement, firefighting and other risk-taking professions. They certainly make good thinkers. Often playing the devils' advocate and criticising society and its solipsismic morals, they have a distanced point of view that provides insightful counterpoints to societal inquiry.

The challenge: is it possible a society where sociopaths can be themselves without third party damage and empaths can cast aside the hipocrisy and the witch hunts?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Guest post: Partner in crime

Every sociopath needs a partner, somebody who a sociopath can act out their tendencies with. Someone who they can be themselves, or get the warm comfort from. I have multiple partners, all female. I love all of them. I have one who I call Wilson, based off of the House character. I have one I call Cuddy, another House character, another called Harley, based off of the Batman character.

My Harley is bad, she's sexy, and she's manipulative. I also whore her out. She has sex with guys for money, she doesn't have sex with me. She's a golddigger, my golddigger. She's loyal to nobody but me, she knows there's nobody better for her than me. I get enjoyment out of the misery she brings men, I like the fact she has sex with other guys, it turns me on that she can have sex with other men and always came back.

My Wilson, is smart, introspective and the main one I tell all this shit too. I tell her my thoughts, she's a mirror, I talk to her and I can see myself. She's also sexually interested in me so that's even better. She knows all about the shit in my life. She knows she is part of the system. She doesn't care, cause now she needs me.

My Cuddy, is smart, sexy, and most of all compassionate. It's nice to talk to a pleasant person, someone who doesn't act the way I do. Someone who is kind. Plus she is sexually interested into me. She is mostly kept in the dark about all the others. She calls me King, I am the King of her world. I love it.

These three keep me grounded. I can channel my diabolical energies into someone else, I can channel my thoughts into someone else, I can be loving to someone without thinking I'm going to get taken advantage of.

House is a sociopath, Joker is a psychopath, Batman is a psychopath, Christian is a sociopath/narcissist (sociopaths and psychopaths are completely different). All have partners that serve functions. Socios and psychos don't have "friends". We have complete partners. We are vampires. You see vampires with human minions all the time. We feed off their presence.

We are not exactly the type of people you be friends with. The people around us love our wonders and inhumanity and we love their plainness and humanity.

We discipline our partners. I have regularly disciplined mine with sociopathic lash outs. It helps me establish boundaries, to control behaviors.

All my partners know what I am and how I operate. All of them love me. Most can't even escape me or resist me. Cause I am a vampire, dead to humanity, but a charming, thirsty drainer of life.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

BBC's Sherlock Holmes

I finally got around to watching the first few episodes of the BBC version of Sherlock Holmes. The show is fun to watch, but mainly for how the writers choose to portray a "high-functioning sociopath." For those of you unaware of the quote/scene in which BBC Sherlock outs himself:

Some have suggested that the BBC's Sherlock is not a high-functioning sociopath, but on the autism scale, probably Asperger's or maybe the more dickish Ass-perger's. The reasoning is that he doesn't seem particularly charming, nor particularly interested in wearing masks. But BBC Sherlock can act normally when he wants to, even charming, as reflected in this clip:

I don't think BBC Sherlock is an entirely accurate depiction of a high-functioning sociopath, but he is quite good, at least in broad strokes -- ambisexual, morally ambivalent, constant need for stimulation, ADD, obsessed with playing games to keep his brain from "rotting", unapologetically uses people, chooses to do "good" only because it's convenient and not because of any concern for the people he is "helping," incredible ability to compartmentalize, seductive, compelling, obsessive, flexible and ambiguous personality, seemingly inconsistent behavior or beliefs, actively cultivates and wields power, thinks the world of himself but is realistic about his shortcomings, mental maps of his physical and personal environments, manipulative, cunning, capacity for single-mindedness but also easily distracted, etc. The exact ways in which these traits are portrayed sometimes seem ridiculous, like this explanation of why Sherlock wouldn't know certain basic facts, like the make-up of the solar system, because he is so hyper focused on other things that he finds much much more interesting:

But most of television focuses on the outrageous and the exaggerated. If BBC Sherlock weren't so extreme in some of his sociopathic traits, he wouldn't be as fun to watch. But as a message to any BBC executives who may be reading -- if you're really interested in making BBC Sherlock as accurate as possible, I'm available for a very reasonable consultation fee.

Of course this is an essentially useless analysis of a fictional character, but it's heartening to see on television another sympathetic portrayal of a (presumably) self-diagnosed high-functioning sociopath, and of course people's relatively positive reactions to him.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Psychopath Test

Representing every stereotype about Brits, this is Jon Ronson promoting his upcoming book "The Psychopath Test," which actually doesn't seem to be that much about psychopaths so much as the "madness industry," or at least that is what I gather from Amazon promotional quotes like this: "Jon Ronson's exploration of a potential hoax being played on the world's top neurologists takes him, unexpectedly, into the heart of the madness industry."

Jon, if you're reading this, what hoax are you talking about? I'm getting a weird Charlie Sheen-esque vibe from your video, i.e. not quite sharing the same reality as the rest of us. Is the book any more believable?

(Or maybe I'm just trying to undermine your message because you've come too close to the real truth about "our" perverse manipulation of the madness industry!)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Institutions and rules

From a NY Times book review of Stanford Professor Francis Fukuyama's new book “The Origins of Political Order”:
“We take institutions for granted but in fact have no idea where they come from,” he writes. Institutions are the rules that coordinate social behavior. Just as tribes are based on the deep-seated human instinct of looking out for one’s family and relatives, states depend on the human propensity to create and follow social rules.
Without taking human behavior into account, “you misunderstand the nature of political institutions,” Dr. Fukuyama said in the interview at Johns Hopkins. Such behaviors, particularly the faculty for creating rules, are the basis for social institutions, even though the content of institutions is supplied by culture. Dr. Fukuyama sees the situation as similar to that of language, in which the genes generate the neural machinery for learning language but culture supplies the content.

Institutions, though cultural, can be very hard to change. The reason is that, once they are created, people start to invest them with intrinsic value, often religious. This process “probably had an evolutionary significance in stabilizing human societies,” Dr. Fukuyama said, since with an accepted set of rules a society didn’t have to fight everything out again every few years. The inertia of institutions explains why societies are usually so slow to change. Societies are not trapped by their past, but nor are they free in any given generation to remake themselves.
I liked this. I liked thinking about how societies protect and reinforce themselves through stability and unity. I liked thinking about how the downside of stability, however, is rigidity and a lack of maneuverability, as anyone who has been in a very small boat versus a very large boat understands. The best thing that any society can do then is to diversify itself. No modern navy would be complete without stable aircraft carriers, sure, but nor would it be complete without sneaky submarines. Similarly, no vibrant, dynamic society would be complete without those who show a propensity to create and follow rules, nor would it be complete without those ultimates in human flexibility and adaptability -- our good friends, the sociopaths.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Guest post: Antisocial personality subtypes

Theodore Millon, Ph.D., D.Sc. from the Institute for Advanced Studies in Personology and Psychopathology defined the sub-types of Anti-social Personality Disorder. 'It is Millon's view that there are few pure variants of any personality prototype. Rather, most persons evidence a mixed picture, that is, a personality that tends to blend a major variant with one or more subsidiary or secondary variants.' This chart comes from here.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sociopaths in literature: Dangerous Liaisons

"Truth to tell, the longer I live, the more I'm tempted to think that the only moderately worthwhile people in the world are you and I."

Saturday, March 5, 2011


Are a sociopath's impulse musings as inane as everyone else's? Check it out @sociopathworld.

In other news, I'm still traveling, but at least now in country. Email me if you would like to guest post.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Empathy and self control

This is an interesting article about a study that suggests that the ability to empathize might actually decrease one's ability to exercise self control:
More and more research sug­gests that our brains have dif­fi­culty dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing between observ­ing an action and actu­ally par­tic­i­pat­ing in it. Empa­thy, for exam­ple, seems to hinge in part on our abil­ity to “take on” another’s emo­tions through vic­ar­i­ous expe­ri­ence. I always think of this when watch­ing a come­dian fall flat. I can feel the embar­rass­ment as if I’m stand­ing there on stage look­ing at a room full of blank stares.

A study in the jour­nal Psy­cho­log­i­cal Sci­ence inves­ti­gated this dynamic, but from a dif­fer­ent angle: researchers wanted to know if observ­ing some­one else exert self-control boosts or reduces one’s own self-control. Par­tic­i­pants were asked to either take on the per­spec­tive of some­one exert­ing self-control, or merely read about some­one exert­ing self-control. They were also asked to take on the per­spec­tive or read about some­one not exert­ing self-control.

The results: par­tic­i­pants who took on the per­spec­tive of some­one exert­ing self-control were unable to exer­cise as much self-control them­selves; those who merely read about some­one exert­ing self-control didn’t expe­ri­ence the energy drain. In other words, get­ting into the shoes of some­one mak­ing the effort wore par­tic­i­pants out as if they were doing it themselves.

On the flip side, par­tic­i­pants who read about some­one exert­ing self-control expe­ri­enced a boost in their own self-control, com­pared to those who read about some­one not exert­ing self-control. Read­ing resulted in a con­ta­gious effect rather than a vic­ar­i­ous one.

The dif­fer­ence between these results boils down to degrees of psy­cho­log­i­cal sep­a­ra­tion. Tak­ing on per­spec­tive reduces psy­cho­log­i­cal sep­a­ra­tion, and the more that gap closes the greater the vic­ar­i­ous effect. Read­ing about some­thing pro­vides more of an oppor­tu­nity to increase psy­cho­log­i­cal sep­a­ra­tion, which reduces the chances of vic­ar­i­ous effect.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Guest post: Turkeys

In his article, “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” Robert Cialdini claims two major premises, first that the brain is a wondrously complex and powerful device but still woefully unprepared to assimilate and process all the available information in a timely manner. His second premise is that the way modern society works is the cause of this problem.

Cialdini starts his article with a perplexing question from a friend of his. The friend wondered why some jewelry she was trying to sell would not sell at a reasonable price but when the price was accidentally doubled, it flew off the shelves.

In order to explain this phenomenon he brings up research regarding the behavior of mother turkeys. He states that turkeys will only nourish their young if the child makes the typical baby turkey noise of “cheep cheep.” This correlation is so strong that if the child does not make this sound then the mother will completely ignore it or even kill it.

Given this information, scientists wondered if the turkey would try to mother another animal making that noise. They decided to stick a recording of the young turkeys in a stuffed bobcat and surprisingly enough, the turkey took it under her wing as if it were her own young. Then they shut off the recording and the turkey seemed to realize it was a bobcat and began to flap and peck at it furiously.

Why does the turkey have such a strong reaction to what is in actuality poor information? Cialdini states that the brain of a turkey is incapable of sifting through the entirety of the stimuli that it comes in contact with every day and so, has conditioned itself with a few routine behaviors to carry out given a specific trigger. The cheep cheep of the young turkeys triggers the mothering routine in the older turkeys and mostly works out well. The end result of these programs is that the healthy young who make the noise are nourished while the weak or sick ones are not. Cialdini claims that the human brain works much the same way and that humans respond to the same kinds of triggers that the turkeys do.

In the case of Cialdini’s friend, the customers knew little to nothing about the jewelry being sold but did have past experience purchasing other items which had taught them that higher price means better quality. Thus they operated on incomplete information like the turkeys and came out losing.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Bernie Madoff asks: "Am I a sociopath?"

From an interview with the New York magazine:
“How could I have done this?” he asks. “I was making a lot of money. I didn’t need the money. [Am I] a flawed character?”

In some ways, Madoff has not tried to evade blame. He has made a full confession, telling me again and again that nothing justifies what he did. And yet, for Madoff, that doesn’t settle the matter. He feels misunderstood. He can’t bear the thought that people think he’s evil. “I’m not the kind of person I’m being portrayed as,” he told me.

And so, sitting alone with his therapist, in the prison khakis he irons himself, he seeks reassurance. “Everybody on the outside kept claiming I was a sociopath,” Madoff told her one day. “I asked her, ‘Am I a sociopath?’ ” He waited expectantly, his eyelids squeezing open and shut, that famous tic. “She said, ‘You’re absolutely not a sociopath. You have morals. You have remorse.’ ” Madoff paused as he related this. His voice settled. He said to me, “I am a good person.”

There aren’t many who would agree. For most of the world, Bernie Madoff is a monster; he betrayed thousands of investors, bankrupted charities and hedge funds. On paper, his Ponzi scheme lost nearly $65 billion; the effects spread across five continents. And he brought down his own family with him, a more intimate kind of betrayal.

Madoff, 72, is in prison with a sentence of 150 years, which seems more than just, given the enormity of his crime. Though the financial damage continues, prison seemed to conclude Madoff’s part of the story. Then, on the second anniversary of Madoff’s arrest, his son Mark, age 46, slipped a vacuum-cleaner cord over a pipe on the living-room ceiling of his Soho loft and tried to hang himself. When it broke, he tried again with a dog’s leash, and succeeded. This was the kind of cosmic retribution that might have been exacted in the House of Atreus, the suicide an accusation of a vast betrayal. It seemed a death designed to hurt the living—even a monster’s conscience must be moved by such a demonstration. After all, before he was exposed as a fraud, Madoff had been a family man.

After Mark’s suicide, I became interested in this most tragic of families and the elemental forces that had torn them apart. And so I began calling everyone connected to the business and the family. Soon a picture began to emerge. Madoff’s youngest son, Andrew, harder-edged and less prone to self-doubt than his brother, had been protected by his anger at his father’s betrayal. Mark’s rage consumed and overran him. Neither would speak to their father, even if their lawyers had permitted it. Their mother, Ruth, had to choose between her husband and her sons. She had chosen her husband of five decades—though after Mark’s suicide, she too no longer speaks to Madoff. After the death, Ruth rushed from her apartment in Florida—but wasn’t at the memorial service at his widow’s house. Most of the family didn’t want her there. Mark’s widow still won’t let her visit Mark’s two young children. Andrew, who hasn’t spoken to his father since December 10, 2008, the day Madoff confessed, is still largely estranged from his mother and distant from his brother’s widow, Stephanie. As he tells friends, his rage at his father, far from dissipating, has metastasized. To friends, he’d described his father as a bully and a gifted manipulator. Madoff was a family man, yes, but to Andrew, that was yet another manifestation of his narcissism. The family served the needs of Bernard L. Madoff.
Whine, whine, whiner. I think the author of the article has it right, Madoff is much more likely to be a narcissist than a sociopath -- completely delusional. But when you're committing fraud on such a grand scale, does it really matter what label society wants to slap on you?
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