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exploding head syndromeI do not recall ever having heard of this sleep disorder before but apparently it is much more common than previously thought. At least by me, since to me it sounded like a”Jackass” stunt. This is an actual sleep disorder in which you are suddenly awakened by a loud sound akin to an explosion but there is no external noise in your environment. It is literally like an explosion in your head.

Here’s what the Daily Mail had to say about what exploding head syndrome is:

It’s estimated between 10 and 20 per cent of people have experienced this bizarre condition, in which a person is woken up by an abrupt loud noise they soon realize is imaginary, a study found. The phenomenon strikes as a person is dropping off to sleep. And the type of noise can vary from explosions and fireworks to slammed doors, the sound of a gun firing, an enormous roar, shouting, thunder or a crack of lightning. The noises start suddenly and last for a few seconds, and some people also experience visual disturbances, such as seeing lightning or flashes. The condition stops people from sleeping and leads to other psychological problems as they sometimes believe they are having a seizure or being attacked, experts said. For some, the condition is so bad it significantly impacts their lives.

Previously, the disorder was thought to occur in people over the age of 50 years old but a new study shows it also occurs in 18% of college students—that’s almost 1 in 5 young adults! And almost a third of those that had exploding head syndrome also experienced isolated sleep paralysis (awakening and being unable to move for anywhere from a second or two up to a couple of minutes). The author says that as people with exploding head syndrome disorder attempt to make sense of their experience, they can sometimes think they are having “a seizure or a subarachnoid hemorrhage”. Or, says the author, “Some people have worked these scary experiences into conspiracy theories and mistakenly believe the episodes are caused by some sort of directed-energy weapon”.

The researcher interviewed 211 undergraduate students (average age 19.7 years; 70.6% female; 59.5% White, 10.5% Hispanic, 9.1% Asian, 8.6% African-American, 1.0% Native American and 11.4% mixed-ethnicity or other) using the Fearful Isolated Sleep Paralysis Interview and the Exploding Head Syndrome Interview (which the author developed so it is not yet available online). Administration time for these interviews is about 20 minutes each. Here are some of their findings:

18% of the sample (of 211) were found to have experienced exploding head syndrome at least once and 16.6% had experienced it repeatedly.

Exploding head syndrome was equally experienced by men and women. (In previous samples of older people, exploding head syndrome was more common among women. The researcher thinks perhaps it becomes more common as women age.)

Exploding head syndrome was more commonly found in those also reporting fearful isolated sleep paralysis (41 participants in this sample).

The overall level of fear/severity during the experience of exploding head syndrome was moderate but some people (2.8%) experienced clinically significant distress and/or impairment in functioning.

Obviously, this would be a very frightening thing and those who experience it are often very secretive since they think they might be crazy (having never heard anyone else talk about it). There is no treatment, although one of the medications prescribed for it can “turn the noise down” so it is not as frightening. A case study on a 57-year-old Indian male says that simple education and reassurance could be sufficient to decrease reactions to the experience.

From a litigation advocacy perspective, this is an example of an odd phenomenon that is very real and more common than previously thought. Listening without judgment to (even unusual) reports of odd experiences from potential or existing clients can go a long ways toward building rapport. While there are likely times the reports will exist only in the other person’s mind, this is an identifiable condition that is “all in their head”—just not in an imagined way.

Sharpless BA (2015). Exploding head syndrome is common in college students. Journal of Sleep Research PMID: 25773787

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TJE_logoThe August issue of The Jury Expert is up and we think you’re going to want to see this. Here’s a rundown of the articles you’ll find at the website.

Demographic Roulette: What was once a bad idea has gotten worse. Authored by Doug Keene and Rita Handrich with a response from Paul Begala, this article takes a look at how the country has changed over the past 2 decades and our old definitions of Democrat or Republican and conservative or liberal are simply no longer useful. What does that mean for voir dire? What should it mean for voir dire? Two very good questions those.

If it feels bad to me, it’s wrong for you: The role of emotions in evaluating harmful acts. Authored by Ivar Hannikainen, Ryan Miller and Fiery Cushman with responses from Ken Broda-Bahm and Alison Bennett, this article has a lesson for us all. It isn’t what that terrible, awful defendant did that makes me want to punish, it’s how I think I would feel if I did that sort of terrible, horrible awful thing. That’s what makes me want to punish you. It’s an interesting perspective when we consider what makes jurors determine lesser or greater punishment.

Neuroimagery and the Jury. Authored by Jillian M. Ware, Jessica L. Jones, and Nick Schweitzer with responses from Ekaterina Pivovarova and Stanley L. Brodsky, Adam Shniderman, and Ron Bullis. Remember how fearful everyone was about the CSI Effect when the research on the ‘pretty pictures’ of neuroimagery came out? In the past few years, several pieces of research have sought to replicate and extend the early findings. These studies, however, failed to find support for the idea that neuroimages unduly influence jurors. This overview catches us up on the literature with provocative ideas as to where neurolaw is now.

Predicting Jurors’ Verdict Preference from Behavioral Mimicry. Authored by Matthew Groebe, Garold Stasser, and Kevin-Khristián Cosgriff-Hernandez, this paper gives insight into how jurors may be leaning in support of one side or the other at various points during the trial. This is a project completed using data from actual mock trials (and not the ubiquitous undergraduate).

Our Favorite Thing. We often have a Favorite Thing in The Jury Expert. A Favorite Thing is something low-cost or free that is just fabulous. This issue, Brian Patterson shares the idea of mind mapping and several ways (both low-tech and high-tech) to make it happen.

The Ubiquitous Practice of “Prehabilitation” Leads Prospective Jurors to Conceal Their Biases. Authored by Mykol C. Hamilton, Emily Lindon, Madeline Pitt, and Emily K. Robbins, with responses from Charli Morris and Diane Wiley, this article looks at how to not “prehabilitate” your jurors and offers ideas about alternate ways of asking the question rather than the tired, old “can you be fair and unbiased?”.

Novel Defenses in the Courtroom. Authored by Shelby Forsythe and Monica K. Miller, with a response from Richard Gabriel. This article examines the reactions of research participants to a number of novel defenses (Amnesia, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Battered Women Syndrome (BWS), Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD), Post-Partum Depression (PPD), and Gay Panic Defense) and makes recommendations on how (as well as whether or not) to use these defenses.

On The Application of Game Theory in Jury Selection. Authored by David M. Caditz with responses from Roy Futterman and Edward Schwartz. Suppose there was a more predictable, accurate and efficient way of exercising your peremptory strikes? Like using a computer model based on game theory? In this article, a physicist presents his thoughts on making those final decisions more logical and rational and based on the moves opposing counsel is likely to make.

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spite voodoo dollWe’ve been down this road before and brought you the Depravity Scale, the Comprehensive Assessment of Sadistic Tendencies Scale, the Guilt and Shame Proneness Scale and the Islamophobia Scale. Now however, it’s time for a check on how spiteful you are. We all know spite when we see it. Dawdling in their parking space because someone is hovering, waiting to get in. Deliberately slowing down on the highway to irritate a tailgater. Spreading gossip that is perhaps less than wholly true because a co-worker angered you. My mother described it as “cutting off your nose to spite your face”. The list is endless. There is even an old Eastern European folk tale where a genie offers a man anything he wishes–providing his hated neighbor gets double the prize. And the spiteful man says, “Genie, put out one of my eyes.” Spite has been with us a long, long time. But now, it is possible to measure one’s spitefulness. Scientifically. In case we want to. Researchers have recently published a 17-item measure of spitefulness. As they developed the scale, they learned some interesting things.

Men are more spiteful than women.

Young adults are more spiteful than older adults.

Ethnic minority members were more spiteful than members of ethnic majorities.

And spitefulness is often accompanied by aggression, psychopathy, narcissism, callousness [low empathy and low kindness], Machiavellianism, guilt-free shame and poor self-esteem. (This one did not come as a surprise.)

However, spitefulness does not tend to co-exist with agreeableness, conscientiousness, self-esteem, or a tendency to feel guilt.

When we are upset, like about partisan politics (when our candidate is losing) or going through a bitter divorce–even agreeable people may have spikes of spitefulness. The authors describe spiteful suicides (intended to traumatize the person who finds them) and spiteful suicides meant to look like homicides framing someone toward whom they (obviously) felt anger and spite. They describe suicide bombers as motivated to get revenge on a hated enemy. Spiteful people are angry. Even if the anger becomes self-destructive. The researchers think the scale is useful in predicting behavior in laboratory settings but also in everyday life (where they see it as contributing to diagnoses of personality disorders and oppositional defiant disorder). They also casually mention applicability to the legal domain where spite has been defined as “the willingness of a litigant to reduce his payoff in order to reduce his opponent’s payoff”. These people would be difficult to mediate with, since they define their self-interest largely in terms of how much distress they can cause the opponent, rather than how much benefit they can achieve for themselves. You can look at the article itself for information on scale development (we will tell you it was scientifically sound) but here, we are skipping right to some sample items because we know you are curious. The scale is only 17 items long and here are a few of the questions used to measure spite.

If a neighbor complained that I was playing my music too loud then I might turn up the music even louder just to irritate him or her, even if it meant I could get fined.

There have been times when I was willing to suffer some small harm so that I could punish someone who deserved it.

I would be willing to take a punch if it meant that someone I didn’t like would receive two punches.

I would consider tapping on my brakes to scare a driver who was tailgating me.

And so on. The idea is that the more items endorsed in a spiteful direction, the more spiteful the person. That makes sense. It is probably true that most of us can be spiteful from time to time, but we know we are being naughty or dumb even while we do it. We don’t embrace it as a life strategy. The question is how often and whether it is a staple of our character. It’s an interesting idea and an intriguing scale to consider. Whether people high in spitefulness are more litigious is a question for future research but it’s an interesting concept to consider as you listen to that new client or applicants for an opening at your firm. Marcus DK, Zeigler-Hill V, Mercer SH, & Norris AL (2014). The Psychology of Spite and the Measurement of Spitefulness. Psychological Assessment PMID: 24548150 Image

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psychopath fmri 2013Recently, we wrote about how risk assessment measures do not work on the psychopath. So it seems only fitting we summarize a new article that explains psychopathic behavior using fMRI scans that purport to show how the defendant is not in control of his behavior because “his brain made him do it”. This is an article on whether we should allow the death penalty to be applied to the psychopath. While they don’t say that the convicted psychopath should not go to prison, there are some, according to this writer, saying “a psychopath’s personality neither allows him to care about others nor have empathy for his victims; therefore, juries should not punish a psychopath by imposing the death penalty”.

If you are not familiar with the literature on psychopathy, this article offers a good (and a little scary) summary of psychopathy and the behaviors exhibited by the psychopath. This is not a minimization of the failings of the psychopath–it is rather a summary of the literature on both criminal psychopaths and what the author calls “successful psychopaths” who live among us: “Some psychopaths function reasonably well–as lawyers, doctors, psychiatrists, academics, mercenaries, police officers, cult leaders, military personnel, businesspeople, writers, artists, entertainers….”.

Having made us question nearly everyone around us, the author then describes the various functional brain deficiencies seen in the psychopath (e.g., impaired impulse control, decision-making, and planning; lack of empathy and inability to take other’s perspectives; impaired emotional processing and lack of fear conditioning; among others). She also describes the structural brain abnormalities often present–which leads to the conclusion reached by a current popular singer, psychopaths are “born this way.” There is much disagreement in the research on structural abnormalities in the brain, however, and not everyone with the structural abnormalities in their own brain, is a psychopath. There is apparently a very complex relationship between the brain structure and psychopathic behaviors.

Neuroimaging techniques have been in use for some time now in research on the brains of psychopaths. The author describes the work of Dr. Kent Kiehl (perhaps best known among those working in this area) with fMRIs and the brains of psychopaths, as well as a few lesser-known researchers. fMRIs themselves have been at the core of controversial “his brain made him do it” defenses. The danger, say critics, is that participants view the lovely and brightly colored images and believe the colors really do represent the emotions and thoughts in the brain of the person being scanned. Most neuroscientists say the fMRI is really not ready for courtroom use (and most judges agree). The challenge, says this author, is proving “brain abnormalities identified by the scan actually correlate with psychopathic traits and behavior”. The question remains, do the brain abnormalities cause psychopathy or does psychopathy cause the brain abnormalities detected by the scans? The well-known “dead salmon fMRI test subject” study is discussed as a means of “exposing some of the problems associated with fMRI and brain disorders such as psychopathy….the data, while certainly not useless, is also fallible and tricky”.

The author then returns to Dr. Kiehl who says, “the legal system should treat psychopaths ‘like people with very low IQs who are not fully responsible for their actions’ because psychopaths have low emotional IQs”. Others, many jurors included, see the behavior of psychopaths as chilling and the author believes that “convincing a jury that a defendant’s psychopathy is a mitigating factor might prove difficult”. Multiple studies, according to the author, have shown that mock jurors view the psychopath more negatively than nonpsychopathic criminals and punish them more severely.

In conclusion, the author acknowledges “the deck is largely stacked against attorneys representing psychopathic offenders at death penalty sentencing hearings”. Still, she says, “the positive impact that a neuroscientist’s testimony coupled with a colorful fMRI scan might have on a death penalty jury is a defense strategy worth pursuing”. She also recommends that prosecutors prepare for a detailed cross-exam of this testimony with an eye to discrediting it, and that judges ensure jurors are not confused or misled by the fMRI images.

Overall, the article is a good overview of the literature–it doesn’t cover everything but it certainly hits the highlights, demonstrates the frightening behavior of the psychopath, and raises the question of whether we should apply the death penalty sentence to someone whose brain appears to be abnormal, and whose criminal behavior may be related to that abnormality. It’s a good question. Not as emotionally compelling as the fear and terror often elicited by hearing the specifics of a psychopath’s crime, but certainly a good question.

Phillips, KD (2013). Empathy for psychopaths: Using fMRI brain scans to please for leniency in death penalty cases. Law and Psychology Review.

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sadist-amanda-marcotteWe bring you various psychological questionnaires from time to time. You heard about the GASP scale here (a measure of how prone you are to shame and guilt). Let’s not forget we also told you about the Depravity Scale (when describing specific behaviors, just  how creepy, heinous, or depraved are they?). We’ve also shown you items from multiple other “odd” psychological measures but today we are topping them all by introducing the Comprehensive Assessment of Sadistic Tendencies (CAST) Scale. It doesn’t get freakier than this one.

This is a measure from one of the members of Paulhus’ research group. This is the research group that originally identified the “dark triad” of personality characteristics often used to describe those who grow up to be narcissists, psychopaths and Machiavellians. I read this research and I can’t help but to think of bad roommates and ill-advised romances. But there is a range, and one end of the scale gets pretty scary. To wit, sometimes they grow up to be serial killers. Now the members of this fun-loving research group are considering whether “everyday sadism” [which we wrote about earlier] should be added to the three personality characteristics to create a “dark tetrad”. That’s right– there is “everyday sadism”.

We ran across this measure when writing up an earlier blog post on every day sadism which used the VAST Scale (Varieties of Sadistic Tendencies). The CAST is a refinement of the VAST and, as such, we knew you would want to see it. Because when it comes to “everyday sadism”, we know you want to be totally up to date. Here are some sample questions from the measure.

When making fun of someone, it is especially amusing if they realize what I’m doing.

I enjoy physically hurting people.

I have the right to push certain people around.

In video games, I like the realistic blood spurts.

I sometimes replay my favorite scenes from gory slasher films.

In professional car-racing, it’s the accidents that I enjoy most.

There are multiple ways you could use a measure like the CAST. While it is unlikely to be something you can use during voir dire, it may have multiple other uses for your professional and personal life. When you’re interviewing candidates for key positions, you can’t ask questions this weird, but you can allow your radar to keep this spectrum in mind. In some criminal cases, this area of inquiry might be important to explore. And of course, when you are on a first date (or meeting someone your daughter thinks is date-material) it’s all fair game.

The temptations to joke around about this topic are really irresistible, until you think about the people who would agree with those statements. When you hear about people who have compulsive or addictive interest in first-person shooter video games later becoming mass murderers (such as Adam Lanza at the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and Aaron Alexis at the Washington Navy Yard), this sort of “everyday sadism” raises urgent questions. Keep in mind, though, that whatever might be said about players of these violent games, the men involved in these shootings were suffering from paranoid psychoses, not merely a preoccupation with violence.

What this research group tells us is that sadists are everywhere, to one degree or another. Sadists are much more common than we would like to think. They literally walk among us. Now…you have the tool with which to identify them. You’re welcome.

Buckels, E. E., Jones, D. N., & Paulhus, D. L. (2013). Comprehensive Assessment of Sadistic Tendencies (CAST). Unpublished measure, University of British Columbia.

Buckels EE, Jones DN, & Paulhus DL (2013). Behavioral Confirmation of Everyday Sadism. Psychological Science PMID: 24022650

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