It’s not that complicated! 6/21/08
You may have heard that 17 female students at a Massachusetts high school are pregnant after making a pact to have and raise babies as a group. Pundits all over t.v. are talking about this story and opining as to why these girls would’ve participated in such a stupid, short-sighted (and, I would argue, abusive to their children-to-be) plan. Some have argued, for example, that the girls were starved for love. But I had to laugh out loud when one prominent t.v. psychiatrist said that the girls were railing against the technological advancement of our society and affirming their humanity by procreating. Huh??? It’s not that complicated! It isn’t about technology — it’s about selfishness, attention-seeking, lack of parental involvement and guidance, and mimicry of perpetually-pregnant pop tarts like the Spears sisters (but without wealth to help buffer some of the consequences). If only the girls who made this pregnancy pact would develop consciences and some common sense in time to give their children realistic chances of growing up healthy by allowing loving, committed, well-prepared, married couples to adopt the babies!
In related news, I’m extremely sick of hearing that public officials who’ve had extramarital affairs, patronized prostitutes, maintained pornographic personal websites, etc., were acting “out of character,” which is generally followed by some convoluted explanation of how the pressures of office clouded their otherwise-good judgment. This isn’t that complicated either! Such behaviors are virtually never “out of character.” In other words, if someone’s doing it, it’s probably totally “in character” for that person, and if we’re surprised by the behavior, it’s generally because we just didn’t know how poor the person’s character really was until we saw it manifested in the behavior.
Legal “Trouble” 6/20/08
When Leona Helmsley died last year, she left $12,000,000 in a trust fund for the care of her dog, “Trouble,” and disinherited her grandchildren. The grandchildren went to court, claimed that their grandmother was incompetent when she made her will, and asked a judge to award them the money. This week, the judge gave the trustee authority to give a portion of the money to Helmsley’s grandchildren and a portion to charity while keeping approximately $2,000,000 in the trust to generate income for Trouble’s care. Obviously, giving $12,000,000 (or $2,000,000) to a dog is absurd, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that the woman was incompetent. Maybe she thought that the grandchildren were a spoiled bunch of ingrates and just wanted to send them a particularly humbling message. If so, the judge just completely invalidated Helmsley’s intentions for the disposition of her money, which underscores the value of preemptive competency examinations when big money’s at stake and lawsuits are likely. Such an examination by a forensic psychologist would’ve established Helmsley’s level of competency at the time she made her will and, assuming she was competent, defeated her grandchildren’s claims to the money.
In related news, the Supreme Court ruled last week that when mentally-ill people get themselves into legal trouble (i.e. are charged with crimes), judges can appoint defense lawyers to represent them, even if the defendants object. In other words, if a mentally-ill defendant says he or she wants to represent him/herself in court, the judge in the case can rule that the individual is incompetent to make the decision to forego counsel and appoint defense counsel notwithstanding the defendant’s wishes.
Who’da thunk it? 6/19/08
New research has confirmed what good guys have always known — women go for bad guys. As a young, single psychologist and good guy, I’m a little concerned that humans may be evolving backwards while all other species continue to evolve forwards (i.e. in every other species, the females pick the males that offer the best genes, most security, greatest chance for offspring to make it to adulthood, etc.). Who knows, if you fast-forward a million years, dogs may be running the show around here, and humans may be lucky if their dogs let them run around without shock collars!
And to keep you abreast of all the new research on how the sexes relate to one another, here’s a bodacious breakthrough in the psychology of men. A study has confirmed that men’s judgment goes out the window (i.e. they make poorer decisions) when they’re in the presence of bikini-clad women. Another shocker, I know!
Follow the money 6/9/08
Three prominent psychiatry professors at Harvard have been caught underreporting payments that they received from pharmaceutical companies for conducting research in support of prescribing certain drugs for conditions such as Bipolar Disorder in children. This kind of collusion between supposedly-independent mental health professionals and the pharmaceutical industry could get us to the same place with Bipolar Disorder that we’re in with ADHD, where we have millions of kids on medications who don’t need to be on them and don’t even really have the disorder (a Bipolar diagnosis is particularly problematic during the teen years when normal hormonal fluctuations produce emotional/behavioral swings that can easily be misdiagnosed as Bipolar). Adults on meds should take note too — recent studies indicate that millions of American adults are taking antidepressants that may not be any more effective than placebos and have negative side effects, and just this spring, it was revealed that pharmaceutical companies were hiring professional ghostwriters to rewrite reports of clinical trials ostensibly authored by doctors. When following developments in mental health treatment, we should be able to just follow the science, but to make sure the science hasn’t been corrupted, regrettably, we also have to follow the money.
Sign of the times on a busy Connecticut street 6/8/08
Last Friday, an elderly pedestrian was the victim of a hit and run accident while crossing a busy street in Hartford, Connecticut, and unbelievably, nobody stopped to help him. Think about that — an old man lying in the middle of a street, severely wounded and clinging to life, while dozens of motorists sped right on by (a few people did call 911, but nobody stopped). Now as a lawyer, I can tell you that there’s generally no legal duty to stop and render aid in a situation like that, and as a psychologist, I can tell you that it’s not totally unprecedented — the quintessential illustration of the “bystander effect” was the stabbing murder of Kitty Genovese in New York City in 1964, which was witnessed by dozens of people, none of whom did anything to help her. Some bystanders said they feared getting hurt themselves (which wouldn’t really explain last Friday’s incident) while others just “didn’t want to get involved” (which may partially explain last Friday’s incident). Psychologically speaking, bystander ambivalence is rooted, at least in part, in the phenomenon of “deindividuation” or “diffusion of responsibility” wherein no individual feels a personal moral responsibility to act so everyone waits for someone else to act. I think last Friday’s incident, in which there was no grave threat of harm involved in rendering aid as there was in the Genovese case, says two important and profoundly unflattering things about the state of our culture. First, I think it says that Americans are becoming more self-centered. Second, I think it says that American kids are not being taught basic moral lessons that used to be taught both in the home (when most homes had two involved parents) and in the schools (when teachers didn’t have to worry about being fired and sued for discussing moral issues and obligations). As I see it, there was a sign of the times on that busy Connecticut street last Friday — it was a warning sign, and we should all pay attention to it.
“Hogan Knows Best”? I think not 6/5/08
Despite the title of his reality show, Hulk Hogan obviously doesn’t know best when it comes to parenting. His 17-year-old son, Nick Bollea, has begun serving an eight-month sentence in a Florida jail for wrecking his car while drag racing on city streets and causing a passenger in the car to suffer brain damage. Although he was sentenced as an adult, Florida law requires that he be segregated from the general population in the jail until he turns 18 this July. Therefore, he’s being kept in a private cell in the jail’s medical ward until then. In a phone call to his mommy that was recorded with both parties’ knowledge and released to the press, the crybaby complained that he was in solitary confinement (which isn’t exactly true — he’s in the cell by himself 17 hours a day according to the sheriff who runs the jail), that it was excessive punishment, and that he just couldn’t take being in there because it was causing him “unbearable anxiety” (this after he defiantly waved his middle finger at reporters as he began his sentence). Cry me a river! Huge props to the Florida judge who just denied the spoiled-rotten little creep’s request to be released and serve his sentence under “house arrest,” at least until he turns 18. In eight way-too-short months, this jerk will be back out on the streets, probably racing around in a brand-new car, while the victim of his crime will still be suffering. Apparently Hulk Hogan was too busy pretending to kick other wrestler’s butts to realize that his own son’s butt needed a good kicking (figuratively of course). Maybe it’s not too late though — if Bollea’s still flipping people off when he joins the general jail population in July, he may find himself wishing he were back in “solitary confinement.”
A real American hero 6/2/08
How much better off would America’s children be if they idolized people like Ross McGinnis rather than people like Lindsay Lohan, Fifty Cent, Michael Vick, Britney Spears, Ludacris, Roger Clemens…? In my opinion, a lot better off! Today Private First Class McGinnis received America’s highest military distinction, the Congressional Medal of Honor, posthumously, for diving on a grenade thrown by insurgents into a humvee in Iraq, sacrificing his own life (though he could have escaped easily) to save the lives of four fellow U.S. soldiers. Now I’m not saying that athletes and entertainers deserve no admiration — their pursuits of excellence in athletics and the arts are applause-worthy endeavors. As a psychologist though, I’d like to see more American parents encouraging more American kids to revere those who pursue excellence in fields that improve the human condition in ways that go beyond amusing others. McGinnis died protecting Americans and the American way of life and helping a nation of often-ungrateful strangers. Meanwhile today, a surgeon actually opened Sen. Edward Kennedy’s skull, cut through the senator’s brain, removed a malignant tumor, and resealed the skull, while the senator was conscious and without damaging the senator’s normal brain functioning. Barely anyone knows that surgeon’s name; I don’t even know it. And across this country today, scores of unnamed and unsung police officers and firefighters saved people’s lives while a crew of astronauts, whose names most of us also don’t know, linked the space shuttle Discovery to the International Space Station hundreds of miles overhead. I believe that the current and future interests of America’s kids (and of their country) generally would be better served if they aspired to the patriotism and bravery of the soldier, to the education and skill of the surgeon, to the compassion and dedication of the first responders, and to the discipline and mettle of the astronauts rather than to the applause and lifestyles of the athletes and entertainers.