In the aftermath of a shooting rampage in a Colorado movie theatre that left twelve people dead and fifty-eight people injured last July, the widow of one of the victims is suing the psychiatrist who treated the suspected shooter. In filing the lawsuit against psychiatrist Lynne Fenton and the University of Colorado, Chantel Blunk maintains that Dr. Fenton was negligent in her treatment of the suspected shooter, James Eagan Holmes. Holmes, a graduate student in neuroscience at the University of Colorado Anschutz Campus before dropping in June reportedly been displaying bizarre behaviour and making threats of potential violence despite having no previous criminal history.
On July 20, 2012, James Holmes entered the Century movie in Aurora, Colorado which was then running a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. Holmes, who had reportedly dyed his hair orange and wore makeup similar to the Joker movie character in the previous movie, strategically propped open an emergency door before returning wearing commando gear, including a bulletproof vest. After setting off gas grenades, he then began systematically firing the weapons he had been carrying. Police arrived at the scene shortly afterward and Holmes was arrested next to his car with no resistance. He is currrently being held without bail and is facing more than 150 charges including multiple counts of murder and attempted murder and has yet to offer a plea in the case. While he has made several suicide attempts since his arrest, he is currently considered fit to stand trial.
According to the complaint laid against Dr. Fenton, Holmes had reportedly stated that he fantasized about "killing a lot of people" while under her care. Despite concerns about her patient's potential for violence, Dr. Fenton failed to place him under a psychiatric hold though she advised campus police about her concerns. In her complaint, Chantel Blunk claimed that "the psychiatrist knew that James Holmes was dangerous" and "had a duty to use reasonable care to protect the public at large." Under Colorado law, a psychotherapist has a duty to breach confidentiality and notify authorities if a significant threat to a third party exists (based on the 1970s Tarasoff Decision) although there is no specific obligation to issue warnings to potential victims. Colorado statutes also provide immunity from civil claims resulting from patient violence except when the patient provides the therapist with a threat of imminent physical violence against a specific person or persons.
In responding to the complaint, a representative of the University of Colorado stated that the university "has great sympathy for the victims of the Aurora theater shooting and their families. But in our initial review of the case, the university believes this lawsuit is not well-founded, legally or factually." The lawsuit may be only the first of at least eleven other possible lawsuits from victims' families though the deadline for filing has since expired.
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Have you ever tried to solve the nine-dot problem? Basically, it involves nine dots arranged in a 3 x 3 square matrix which you are told to join using four consecutive straight lines without lifting the pencil from the paper. Most people trying to solve the problem waste time drawing four lines within the square. Solving the problem means having that “aha!” moment and realizing that you need to think “outside the box” by extending the lines beyond the square to allow all nine dots to be joined.
Along with being a popular thinking test used by management consultants for decades, the nine-dot problem also represents a way of understanding how human insight works. According to researchers studying the “aha” moment and the cognition underlying intuition, the “aha” process usually comes in one of three ways:
Though studying human insight is relatively straightforward since human subjects can provide verbal feedback about how their thought processes work, what can researchers learn about how animals solve problems? Are animals capable of having “aha” moments as well? And how could we even tell?
To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post.
One of my favourite I Love Lucy scenes features Lucy going door to door pretending to be taking a public opinion poll. At one door, the woman answering looks at Lucy with suspicion and asks, "Your name isn't Kinsey, is it?".
Though situation comedies during the 1950s could only get away with snide references like this, the social and cultural revolution launched by Alfred Kinsey's groundbreaking studies into human sexuality was already shaking American society to its roots.
In a real sense, there was nothing new about exploring sexuality from a scientific perspective. Along with early sexologists such as Richard Krafft-Ebbing, Havelock Ellis, and Magnus Hirschfeld, various psychoanalytic and anthropological resarchers attempted to present sexuality as a natural part of human behaviour although they tended to be largely ignored by the mainstream culture. While Margaret Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa was a bestseller when first published in 1928, her (now controversial) findings seemed to have little relevance for the Americans of her generation. Various animal behaviour studies showing similar findings were also largely dismissed as not being generalizable to human beings,
And then came Alfred Kinsey...
Although his early devout Christian upbringing showed no indication of the path he would later take in life, Kinsey's fascination with science and nature led him to pursue an academic career in biology. While this meant defying his father, an engineering professor who insisted that his son study engineering as well, he eventually managed to graduate magna cum laude from Bowdoin College with degrees in biology and psychology. Continuing on to Harvard University, Kinsey did his graduate work almst exclusively in entomology (specializing in gall wasps) and received his Sc.D. degree in 1919.
Over the next few years, Alfred Kinsey expanded the gall wasp collection at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and wrote a widely-used high school textbook in biology which he published in 1926. He also married Clara McMillen in 1921 and they would eventually have four children together.
Though at the height of his career during the 1930s, Alfred Kinsey's abrupt transition from entomology to the study of human sexuality may not be as surprising as it seems. In his private life, he was bisexual with numerous affairs with both men and women (apparently with his wife's full consent given the open nature of their marriage). Part of his research into gall wasps focused on mating strategies which, combined with his own fascination with human psychology, led him to speculate on how scientific methods could examine human sexuality as well. Delivering his first public lecture on human sexuality in 1935, he denounced the "widespread ignorance" surrounding sex and the psychological harm stemming from "delayed sexuality", i.e. abstinence.
In a real sense, Kinsey's transition to sexology may have been spurred on by changes happening at Indiana University where he taught. When the university introduced a new course on marriage in 1938, Alfred Kinsey acted as the course coordinator with professors from different faculties (who all happened to be men) providing insights. In running the course, Alfred Kinsey added to his own knowledge of human sexuality by interviewing his students about different aspects of their sex lives. That included age of first sexual experience, number of partners, frequency of sexual activity, etc. It was during this same period when he first developed his classic Kinsey scale ranging from 0 for exclusive heterosexuality to 6 for exclusive homosexuality (X for total asexuality was added later). The concept that all humans fell somewhere on a continuum of sexual orientation was only the first of the startling revelations that Kinsey would reveal during the course of his research.
Along with interviewing students, Alfred Kinsey also read extensively on the subject of human sexuality and built an extensive library on available works relating to the scientific study of sex, many of which were extremely hard to find (sexuality being a largely taboo topics in those days). One of the most valuable libraries on sexuality in the world, which was part of Magnus Hirschfeld's Institute of Sexual Research in Berlin, Germany, had been destroyed by the Nazis just a few years earlier, in 1933.
To supplement his growing library and the information from his students, Alfred Kinsey conducted field trips to Chicago in 1939 to conduct more interviews and also interviewed inmates at the Indiana State Penal Farm and their families. Though the university backed his research (with some reservations), Kinsey already faced controversy from several colleagues who had decidedly different views on sexuality. One of them, Thurman Rice, was a professor of bacteriology at the same university where Kinsey taught. Rice had written extensively on sexuality and eugenics and regularly lectured to students on sex as part of a mandatory course in hygiene taught at the university.Very much part of the old mentality when sex was concerned, Rice's lectures on sex focused on issues of morality including the harmful nature of masturbation and premarital sex. He even provided separate lectures for male and female students. As you might guess, Thurman Rice was outraged by Alfred Kinsey's more liberal take on sexuality and argued that his new marriage course violated academic standards.
Rice also opposed Kinsey's attempt at a scientific analysis of sexuality since it maintained that it was a purely moral issue. Not only did he accuse Kinsey of inappropriate behaviour (such as asking female students about the length of their clitorises) but also demanded the names of his students so he could question them himself about possible infractions. His complaints helped stir up controversy and parents of students began asking awkward questions as well. Indiana University president Herman Wells finally offered Alfred Kinsey a choice: either continue teaching the marriage course or end his sexology research. Kinsey chose the second option.
Armed with a research grant from the Committee for the Research in Problems in Sex, Alfred Kinsey launched what would be a revolutionary research project into human sexuality. As far as the Committee was concerned, Kinsey seemed the perfect candidate for such a project. Not only was he an established scientist, but he was also married with children (his bisexuality being a carefully guarded secret). The Committee chairman, Robert Yerkes, was especially open to Kinsey's reputation as a serious researcher who could be counted on to carry out such a project to completion. Kinsey, for his part, had very definite ideas on how his sexual research should be carried out. He felt that most previous reseearh studies were either grounded in abstract theories with little real-world value (including Freud) or too afraid of offending morality to ask the hard questions.
In many ways, it was an ideal pairing. Both Kinsey and the Committee were a perfect fit and Alfred Kinsey's ambitious research project was fully funded. As the Committee's lead researcher, he would eventually receive more than half the research money in their budget and the sexual revolution that Alfred Kinsey would launch was underway.
To be continued
Two investigations published in a recent issue of Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology aimed to document motivation gains and losses (the Köhler effect and social-loafing effects) in real-life group work. Specifically, using archival data, motivation changes were analyzed from individual to additive group competition in collegiate swim, and high school track and field relays. Results showed that inferior group members had significantly greater motivation gains than noninferior teammates in preliminary and final swim races. Motivation gains also were significantly higher in the final compared to the preliminary race. Similar results were replicated with the track and field athletes with the weakest member of the team showing larger difference scores from individual to group competition compared to middle-ranked and higher-ranked teammates. On the whole, both studies provide ecological support for the Köhler effect, and that inferior team members showed the greatest motivation gains. No significant differences were found to support social-loafing effects within the same groups, but performances of superior group members tended to be slower.
This post marks the sixth anniversary of this blog and also marks more than one thousand posts submitted for your approval. The past year has also seen the launch of my new Psychology Today blog, Media Spotlight, as well as posts for the Huffington Post and the JREF Swift blog. I have some other projects underway but more on that as they develop. I've already provided a look at the top blog posts for the past year and traffic numbers seem reasonable enough (not that I ever had high expectations to begin with). My thanks for all of you who have checked out me posts over the past year and especially those who have weighed in comments, whether on the blog or through Twitter and Facebook.
If you have any ideas about things you'd like to read about in the coming year, please drop me a line to let me know.
Is there a psychology of humour? And is it even possible to develop a scientific understanding of what is “funny”? Much like Stan Laurel’s famous quote above, humour is often seen as purely intuitive with comics “feeling out” their audience to see what will make them laugh. Those brave academics who dared study humour serious are typically accused of missing the point completely. According to E.B. White in his 1941 book, “humor can be dissected as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the pure scientific mind.” Essays on the psychology of humour tend to be long and serious with no trace of the humour they are supposedly explaining. You’re certainly not likely to see Stephen Colbert or Jerry Seinfeld consulting then for helpful tips on entertaining people (then again, who knows?).
Bridging the gap between comedy and psychology takes a very special sort of psychologist. One much like Mitch Earlywine, in fact. Not only is he an associate professor of psychology at the State University of New York at Albany with specialties in addictions and drug use, but he is also a successful stand-up comedian which makes him a unique sort of ambassador between serious science and the not-so-serious world of comedy. In his recent book, Humour 101, released in 2011 by Springer Publishing Company, Earlywine carefully counterbalances existing research with his own experiences as a stand-up comedian.
To read more, check out my new Psychology Today blog post.
William Miller was never your typical doomsday prophet.
Born in Massachusetts in 1782, he was the son of a captain who had served in the American Revolution and spent most of his early life in Washington County, New York. Despite his solid Baptist upbringing, William Miller would later say that he always felt the need for a more personal connection with God but was never quite sure of the form that relationship should take.
After marrying and settling down to his life as a farmer, he likely would have had an uneventful life had it not been for the War of 1812 where he served as a captain. In 1816, likely as a result of his wartime experiences, Miller developed an obsession with the afterlife and the need to use the Bible to develop clear and accurate answers to all of the questions in life. He then spent the next fifteen years in a careful study of the Bible where he "found everything revealed that my heart could desire, and a remedy for every disease of the soul."
Along with his Bible study, William Miller also followed news of the various millenial movements that were springing up throughout the United States at the time. It is hard to say why people were so receptive to idea that the Second Coming was at hand in that part of the country. Whether it was due to anxiety over the worsening economic climate (the Panic of 1837 had led to a terrible recession), political uncertainty (the tension that would lead to the Civil War breaking out was already being felt), or lingering anxiety over New England's Dark Day, numerous religious figures came forward with their own message of coming doom and the need to repent.
Religious figures such as Jemima Wilkinson , Ann Lee and even the venerable John Wesley were proclaiming an impending judgment. Many of these inspirational preachers advocated postmillenialism with Christ returning after a thousand years of universal brotherhood and peace. Miller was deeply bothered by these teachings since he believed that the Second Coming of Christ would happen first with the millenium of peace following.
In a statement of faith which wrote to his brother, Miller said that Christ would come:
In the glory of God, in the clouds of Heaven, with all the saints and angels, change the bodies of all that are alive on Earth that are his, and both the living and raised saints will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air.
As for the ones "left behind" however,they would not fare so well. Miller maintained that the Earth would be "cleansed by fire, the elements will melt with fervent heat, the works of men will be destroyed, the bodies of the wicked will be burned to ashes." Not only would the wicked (i.e., anyone who rejected the Gospel) die but their spirits would be "banished from the Earth, shut up in the pit" and not be allowed to return to Earth for 1000 years. Along with Isaac Newton and a host of other Bible scholars, William Miller examined apocalyptic works such as the Book of Daniel and Revelation to calculate when the Second Coming would occur.
Working from Daniel 8:14 "Until two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed", Miller determined that the Second Coming would occur on March 23, 1843. Knowing full well that he would be mocked if he openly announced this to the world, Miller only told a few friends and likely would never have come to public attention at all if not for Joshua Vaughan Himes.
Himes, was the minister at Boston's Chardon Street chapel and also a zealous evangelist. Convinced by Miller's message, Himes invited him to give a sermon in 1839 which led to numerous other invitations from other ministers for Miller to speak. Not only did this lead to Miller's message being heard by thousands of people, other ministers (including Himes) began preaching the message of imminent judgment as well.
In addition to frequent sermons, Joshua Himes also published a series of magazines and pamphlets including the Midnight Cry and Signs of the Times. Though Miller and his supporters gained thousands of supporters, there was considerable public scorn as well. Newspapers began reporting on Miller's appearances and the crowds that inevitably gathered. Editorials blaming Miller for cases of insanity or suicide that they attributed to his message became common.
The sighting of an extremely bright comet in 1843 set off new apocalyptic fears and William Miller had more followers than ever. Oddly enough, Milller largely ignored the comet since he felt that the Bible alone provided all the information needed. He certainly had no intention of founding a new religion (why bother with converts when Judgment Day was just around the corner?). Most of his teachings were perfectly consistent with what mainstream Christian preachers were saying in their own sermons, hence his popularity with ministers inviting him to give guest sermons.
DespiteMiller's reluctance to pin down a specific date for the Second Coming, he and his followers eventually settled on April 23, 1843 based on their careful calculations. As the date approached, the crowds attending his sermons swelled and newspapers were alarmed by his message. Newspaper editorials warned that widespread belief in Miller's message might lead to social and economic upheaval if farmers decided not to plant crops or if craftsmen stopped producing goods.
When April 23 came and went with no Second Coming, William Miller went back to the Bible and started recalculating. Concluding that he had made a mistake by relying on solar years intead of lunar years, he recalculated the date as occurring in the spring of 1844. Despite their previous disappointment, the Millerites (as they were then known) decided to prepare for the new date in spectacular fashion. After purchasing an enormous tent capable of holding more than two thousand people, they went on a grand tour through New York and Ohio. Rumours also began circulating that the Millerites had prepared "ascension robes" that they could wear as they rose into Heaven. Though these rumours were likely exaggerated, some sources suggest that many Millerites prepared special robes for that reason (even though Miller never called for any special preparations).
March 21 came and went with nothing remarkable happening. Undaunted, William Miller insisted that the Second Coming was at hand but concluded that it would likely happen in the fall instead (though this time, he was careful not to provide an exact date). Another Millerite, S.S. Snow, floated the suggestion that October 22, 1844 would be the correct date since it fell on Yom Kippur (also my birthday but that was likely a coincidence). William Miller had his doubts but allowed his followers to convince him.
At the same time, there was also a growing disenchantment with Miller and his followers. Many of the ministers who had invited him to speak to their congregations were now ignoring him completely. Even the newspapers were doing little more than ridiculing the movement. Editorials predicted "mob scenes" and public disorder while many stores and shops were closed with signs saying "This shop is closed in honor of the King of Kings, who will appear about the 20th of October. Get ready, friends, to crown him, Lord of All." When October 22 came and went, the Millerite movement was essentially over though William Miller and Joshua Himes took up a new cause raising money for Millerites who had impoverished themselves by leaving their jobs and giving away their possessions.
Thus began the period known as "the Great Disappointment". While many Millerites tried to come up with varied explanation of which Christ failed to arrive (eg, Miller had his date wrong, Christ HAD arrived secretly, etc.), the anguish that many of the followers felt was immense. As one follower later wrote, "Our fondest hopes and expectations were blasted, and such a spirit of weeping came over us as I never experienced before... We wept, and wept, till the day dawn." Though the movement struggled on, William Miller was no longer part of it. Though devastated by the failure of his calculations, William Miller continued preaching until his eyesight failed him. He died on December 20, 1849, still convinced that the Second Coming would happen at any time.
The Millerite movement might well have petered out completely if it had not been for Joshua Himes. Refusing to give up on the message of imminent salvation, Himes and his son established the Adventist movement and launched a series of publications, including the Advent Christian Times. Himes eventually abandoned the Adventists and rejoined the Episcopalian church before dying in 1896 but, by that time, Adventist churches were well-established with various offshoots including the Seventh-Day Adventists and Advent Christians.
Though the Adventists who followed after Miller and Hines tended to downplay Miller's message of imminent judgment, there were several other false alarms involving Adventist predictions of Christ's return. These included Jonathan Cummings' prediction that Christ would return in 1854 and William Thurman's prediction that it would happen in 1875. Despite attracting a small following, neither of them had the impact that Willam Miller did.
Miller's ultimate legacy was to discredit Doomsday prophets for a least another generation. Though other doomsayers would arise, it would a long time before any of them would work up the nerve to have their predictions put to a public test and risk the same fate as Miller and his followers. The "Great Disappointment" would cast a shadow on evangelist movments for decades to come.
An article published recently in European Psychologist challenges the assumption that later timing of sexual experiences is unequivocally associated with higher psychosocial adjustment. Data from two representative cross-sectional German studies conducted in 1996 and 2005 were analyzed to examine the psychosocial adjustment of young adults (age 20–29) who had their first sexual experiences early (before age 16), at an average age (between age 16 and 18), or late (later than age 18 or not yet). Early timing of sexual experiences was associated with lower educational attainment. Late timing of sexual experiences was associated with poorer social relations. Early and late timing of sexual experiences were associated with lower subjective well-being. Results were replicated across the two studies and controlled for sociodemographic characteristics and (in Study 1) early adversities, parental involvement, and pubertal timing. These findings show that not only early but also late timing of first sexual experiences can be associated with lower psychosocial adjustment in selected domains in young adulthood. Further research is needed to understand maladaptive correlates of late sexual timing.
In a controversial case that has already received wide publicity, a Minnesota couple have been charged with multiple counts of neglect and malicious punishment relating to their adopted eight-year old son. 44-year old Russel and Mona Hauer of North Mankato have been accused of systematically starving their child (who can not be named since he is a minor) and subjecting him to frequent abuse including accusing him of stealing food, giving him only liquid to drink, and placing an alarm on his bedroom door to keep him from stealing food. Prosecutors have also accused them of beating the child with a broom handle and making him sleep in the basement because he wet his bed and that he had been treated as the "Antichrist" of the family.
Child protection agencies were first notified when Mona Hauer brought her son to Mayo Clinic Health Systems- Mankato last October because she thought he had been vomiting blood. While she told doctors that the child had been regurgitating food for the previous three months, she denied any abuse. When the child was examined, he was found to weigh as much as a child half his age with a height of only 1 meter (3.5 feet) with visibly protruding bones and a distended abdomen. After doctors ruled out any medical explanation for his condition, he was transferred to a hospital in Rochester where he was kept for a month and grew five centimeters (2 inches) during his hospital stay. He was also diagnosed with brain atrophy, anemia, and delayed bone growth due to malnutrition. During interviews with child protective services, he reported that he had not been allowed to eat with the rest of the family and had been so hungry that he had foraged for food in a nearby compost site.
Although the Hauers were registered foster parents with a "fantastic" reputation in dealing with the children in their care, child protective services launched an investigation based on the hospital report. The other three children in the Hauer home were removed and subsequently questioned over how their brother was treated. They said that the boy was "naughty" and stole food. Once he developed problems with bedwetting, he was moved to the basement and given a bucket for a toilet which he was responsible for cleaning himself. The other children would hose him off two or three times a week with a garden hose. In testimony given to child protective service workers, they stated that their brother was "a liar and a thief" and was frequently punished. He was often so hungry he ate bird food along with whatever he could find in the compost heap. The children showed no fear of their parents and placed much of the blame for their being removed from the home on their brother.
According to records, the boy was assessed at the time of his adoption and a doctor recommended psychotherapy due to serious trauma issues. The Hauers ignored this recommendation and relied on a chiropractor for medical advice for treating their children since they preferred "holistic medicine" for treating their children. According to Mona Hauer, the boy was on a liquid diet on the chiropractor's recommendation and she preferred to treat the children herself (all of the children are home-schooled as well).
While the Hauers are in a court challenge to regain custody of their remaining children, the boy who is at the centre of the controversy has already been placed in a foster home in another city. In his testimony to the ongoing court hearing over the Hauers parental fitness, Sueur County child abuse investigator Victor Atherton stated he had never seen another case of this nature in his 21-year career. "The children were told that [the boy] was the cause of all the problems in the house. They called him a liar. He was the Antichrist of the family. Everything was very methodical," he added. The Hauers' attorney is challenging prosecution evidence and calling in neighbours to testify that the Hauers are "loving and caring parents."
The case is continuing.