Irreverent Skeptics Podcast Episode 8 – Bizarre and/or Amazing Psychology

Another long-awaited episode! We’re only just over two months behind on this one…

Dissociative Identity Disorder (per Wikipedia)  

(DID), previously known as multiple personality disorder (MPD),[1] is an extremely rare mental disorder characterized by at least two distinct and relatively enduring identities or dissociated personality states that alternately control a person’s behavior, and is accompanied by memory impairment for important information not explained by ordinary forgetfulness. These symptoms are not accounted for by substance abuse, seizures, other medical conditions, nor by imaginative play in children.[2] Diagnosis is often difficult as there is considerable comorbidity with other mental disorders. Malingering should be considered if there is possible financial or forensic gain, as well as factitious disorder if help-seeking behavior is prominent.[2][3][4][5]

DID is one of the most controversial psychiatric disorders with no clear consensus regarding its diagnosis or treatment.[3] Research on treatment effectiveness still focuses mainly on clinical approaches and case studies. Dissociative symptoms range from common lapses in attention, becoming distracted by something else, and daydreaming, to pathological dissociative disorders.[6] No systematic, empirically-supported definition of “dissociation” exists.[7][8]

Your memories aren’t what you think they are.

People tend to think of their memories like recorded videos, or files saved on a computer. But as research has learned, this is not the case. The notion of a perfect memory is a myth, said Joel Voss, an assistant professor of medical social sciences and of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Everyone likes to think of memory as this thing that lets us vividly remember our childhoods or what we did last week,” Voss said. “But memory is designed to help us make good decisions in the moment and, therefore, memory has to stay up-to-date. The information that is relevant right now can overwrite what was there to begin with.”

Donna Jo Bridge, a postdoctoral fellow in medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine says that to help us survive, our memories adapt to an ever-changing environment and help us deal with what’s important now. “Our memory is not like a video camera,” Bridge said. “Your memory reframes and edits events to create a story to fit your current world. It’s built to be current.”

A study conducted at Feinberg showed participants 168 object locations on a computer screen with varied background,  and asked the participants to study the pictures. The participants were then asked to place the object in the original location, but on a new background. Participants would always place the objects in an incorrect location. “People always chose the location they picked in part 2,” Bridge said. “This shows their original memory of the location has changed to reflect the location they recalled on the new background screen. Their memory has updated the information by inserting the new information into the old memory.”

In a study conducted by Harvard University and the University of Virginia, participants were asked to study pictures of an individual accompanied by five facts. Testing the motivation to remember or MTR, participants were told before being presented with the pictures, after, or not all that there would be a reward for each correct fact recalled after studying the information. The study concluded that there was a significant increase in retrieval of facts when the participant knew beforehand that he/she would be compensated for each correct answer. This supports the idea that our motivation to remember at the time of commitment to memory plays a large role in the veracity of our memories.

Stockholm Syndrome

Named after the Norrmalmstorg robbery of Kreditbanken in Stockholm, Sweden, in August of 1973. Several bank employees were held captive in a bank vault while their captors negotiated with police. During this time, the captives developed an emotional bond with their captors. They even rejected assistance and defended their captors after their release.  Coined by a criminologist and psychiatrist, Nils Bejerot as “Norrmalmstorgssyndromet” but is known abroad as Stockholm Syndrome.

Stockholm Syndrome is a form of traumatic bonding in which hostages express empathy and sympathy toward their captors. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness.

One commonly used hypothesis to explain the effect of Stockholm Syndrome is based on Freudian theory. It suggests that the bonding is the individuals response to trauma in becoming a victim. Identifying with the aggressor is one way that the ego defends itself. When the victim believes the same values as the aggressor, they cease to be a threat.

Some famous examples of Stockholm Syndrome:

  • Patty Hearst – Kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army in 1974, Patty Hearst voluntarily participated in a heist of the Sunset District branch of the Hibernia Bank in San Francisco. She was arrested, tried, and convicted for her part in the robbery, but her sentence was later commuted after 2 years by then president Jimmy Carter.

  • Jaycee Lee Dugard – Lured from a bus stop in 1991 at the age of 11 by Phillip and Nancy Garrido, she was held captive in their home for 18 years. In that time she gave birth to two children, daughters, who were ages 11 and 15 at the time of her reappearance. Phillip Garrido was sentenced to 431 years imprisonment; his wife Nancy to 36-life.

  • Mary McElroy (No relation to Michael McElroy … presumably) – in 1933, Mary McElroy was kidnapped and held for ransom by 4 people. After being released unharmed, Mary mistook the kidnappers lack of abuse for friendship and suffered bouts of guilt when ¾ of her captors were given maximum sentences (one including death) going so far as to defend them.

  • Elizabeth Smart – Kidnapped at age 14 by Wanda Barzee and Brian David Mitchell, Elizabeth was held for 9 months in a makeshift shelter in Dry Creek Canyon, Salt Lake City, UT. Whether or not Stockholm Syndrome was in play here is speculative as it tends to be an assumption. Skeptics speculate that Elizabeth would likely have put up more of a fight when authorities took her from her captors.

Diogenes Syndrome

A condition characterized by extreme self neglect, reclusive tendencies, and compulsive hoarding. It’s generally associated with senior citizens, associated with senile breakdown, and is exploited on television for entertainment purposes of those with nothing better to do than watch metaphorical train wrecks and make smug, condescending remarks about the subject of said television show…

Abstract of clinical study – “A study of elderly patients (fourteen men, sixteen women) who were admitted to hospital with acute illness and extreme self-neglect revealed common features which might be called Diogenes syndrome. All had dirty, untidy homes and a filthy personal appearance about which they showed no shame. Hoarding of rubbish (syllogomania) was sometimes seen. All except two lived alone, but poverty and poor housing standards were not a serious problem. All were known to the social-services departments and a third had persistently refused offers of help. An acute presentation with falls or collapse was common, and several physical diagnoses could be made. Multiple deficiency states were found–including iron, folate, vitamin B12, vitamin C, calcium and vitamin D, serum proteins and albumin, water, and potassium. The mortality, especially for women, was high (46%); most of the survivors responded well and were discharged. Half showed no evidence of psychiatric disorder and possessed higher than average intelligence. Many had led successful professional and business lives, with good family backgrounds and upbringing. Personality characteristics showed them to tend to be aloof, suspicious, emotionally labile, aggressive, group-dependent, and reality-distorting individuals. It is suggested that this syndrome may be a reaction late in life to stress in a certain type of personality.”

Aboulomania

A disorder in which the sufferer displays pathological indecisiveness. Typically it’s associated with anxiety, stress, depression, mental anguish, and trying to complete Fallout New Vegas on any given character path. Sufferers may become overwhelmed by too many pieces of information when trying to make decisions, regardless of the importance of the decision. They will generate numerous reasons that their decisions will turn out badly, causing them to over-analyze leading to “paralysis by analysis” (is that a real thing?)

Taijin Kyofusho

Most widespread in Japan (hence the name?), this condition is characterized by a crippling fear of social interaction. There seems to be some question about whether or not this is a Japanese culture-bound syndrome. From a letter to the editor of The American Journal of Psychiatry: “In the indigenous Japanese diagnostic system, depending on the content of the patients’ fear that they will displease or embarrass others, taijin kyofusho is classified into four subtypes: sekimen-kyofu (the phobia of blushing), shubo-kyofu (the phobia of a deformed body), jikoshisen-kyofu (the phobia of eye-to-eye contact), and jikoshu-kyofu (the phobia of one’s own foul body odor)”

Riley-Day Syndrome

Also known as Familial Dysautonomia, a genetically inherited disorder, is a syndrome that affects the autonomous nervous system. Symptoms include:

  • Breath holding spells (that can lead to loss of consciousness)

  • Constipation

  • Decrease in sense of taste

  • Diarrhea

  • Dry eyes

  • Feeding problems

  • Lack of tears when crying

  • Long and frequent periods of vomiting

  • Poor coordination and unsteady walk

  • Poor growth

  • Repeated fevers

  • Repeated pneumonia

  • Seizures

  • Skin blotching

  • Sweating while eating

  • Unusually smooth, pale tongue surface

Most notably though, persons afflicted by this disorder are almost entirely insensitive to pain and temperature change. It’s seen almost exclusively in Ashkenazi Jews and is inherited in an autosomal recessive fashion, which is a bit complicated and I won’t go into the explanation here. If both parents are carriers, there is a one in four chance with each pregnancy for an affected child. Worldwide, there have been approximately 600 diagnoses recorded since the discovery of the disease, with approximately 350 of them still living as of 2004.

Capgras Delusion

A condition where a person holds a delusional belief that an acquaintance, usually a spouse or other close family member, has been replaced by an identical looking impostor. It’s most common in patients with schizophrenia, although it occurs in those who suffer dementia or have suffered a brain injury.

“Capgras syndrome is what’s known as a delusional misidentification. It’s the opposite of déjà vu. People with Capgras syndrome think that their spouse, family members or even their pets have been replaced with doubles. Imagine how disconcerting it would be to have someone who looks like a loved one sit down with you and know intimate details about your life, even though you’re sure that this person is a trickster.”

Capgras was first described by two French doctors, Joseph Capgras and Jean Reboul-Lachaux. It used to be considered rare, but more recently professionals think it may be rather common. The more they learn about it, the more they recognize the symptoms in more patients/clients.

Hirstein, William and and V.S. Ramachandran have proposed that Capgras Syndrome is a problem of memory management. They give this example: Think of a computer. You make a new file and save it. When you want that information, you open the old file, add to it, save and close it again. Perhaps people with Capgras keep creating new files instead of accessing the old one, so that when you leave the room and re-enter, you are a new person, a person who looks like the one who left, but slightly different — maybe your ears look bigger, or your hair a different hue. There’s still a lot that science doesn’t know about the human memory.

The (percieved) chic of competitive mental disorders AKA the mental humble-brag

(ie “aren’t I a unique and superpowered individual, whose tendencies and preferences are deserving of recognition/praise/unquestioned obedience/admiration/deference/inflated social status” (despite the fact that such tendencies/preferences fail to meet  criteria for the claimed disorder (no clinically significant distress, diminished functioning, desire to regress to the mean, repeated failed attempts to reduce/eliminate target behaviors)

(ocd, add, adhd, sociopathy, psychopathy, autism, ass-burgers)

Attention Seeking Nuisance Disorder – Jon Ownbey 2014

This seems a bit like Munchausen Syndrome (in which one feigns, exaggerates, or create symptoms of illnesses in him/herself in order to gain attention, sympathy and comfort from medical personnel) only it’s post hoc attribution for status rather than sympathy.

A Quick List of Honorable Mentions

  • Cotard’s Syndrome – Where a person believes their body has died. Relevant and fascinating story: http://nowiknow.com/i-zombie/

  • Body Identity Integrity Disorder – Where a person has an overwhelming feeling that life would be so much better as an amputee. (some yahoo injected feces behind his knee so he could get an infection that would require amputation – it didn’t work so he used a table saw.)

  • Windigo Psychosis – Where a person experiences an insatiable craving for human flesh while simultaneously fearing becoming a cannibal.

  • Foreign Accent Syndrome – Where a person, following a severe brain injury, begins speaking with an uncharacteristic new-found foreign accent.

  • Trichotillomania – Where a person feels an urge to pull their hair out.

  • Mary Hart Syndrome – Where a person experiences seizures upon hearing the voice of Mary Hart…WTF

  • Paris Syndrome – Exclusively suffered by Japanese tourists(?) and is a form of extreme culture shock when expectations of the city don’t live up to the reality.

  • Boanthropy – Where a person believes himself/herself to be an ox or cow.

  • Autophagia – Where a person impulsively bites or chews on themself.

  • Alien Hand Syndrome – Where a person’s hand (generally left, I believe) appears to have its own mind and motivations. (Have you ever given yourself a stranger?)

  • Lima Syndrome – Which is the opposite of Stockholm Syndrome; wherein a hostage taker become sympathetic to the hostages.

  • Stendhall Syndrome – Where a person has an adverse reaction to art. 0_o

  • Reduplicative Paramnesia – Where a person believes that places or locations are duplicates of the “actual” place or location.

WUTs

Man’s DIY sex doll is just… well… – Brandi

Pat Robertson Explains Divine Genocide – Mike M.

QUOTE:

“Assuming you have a culture that has 1,000 really bad people in it — they’re murderers, they’re thieves, they’re rapists, they’re having incest, you name it they are doing everything horrible — now if they have children, what’s going to happen? Instead of having 1,000, you’ll have 3,000 or 4,000; then — nothing has changed them — then they’ll pass it on to the next generation and the next thing you know you’ve got 10,000 or 20,000 of them and if it keeps on going you’re going to have a million of them. So what’s the most merciful thing for a loving God to do? It’s to take the thousand and get rid of them. And that’s what He did.”

First off, let’s talk about the absolute lie about how he only took the thousand and got rid of them. This is what the Bible actually says:

(1 Sam. 15:2-3) “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.'”

They didn’t kill “the thousand” or whatever number were the evildoers. They killed them all.

Second, how does this not describe America today?

Third, he said something about how they were offering their children as sacrifices to their gods. Hellooooo. Abraham and Isaac ring a bell?

Fourth, how is that the most merciful thing a loving god can do? Is God’s solution to everything mass human tragedy?

School administrators apologize for menu of fried chicken, cornbread and watermelon meant to celebrate Black History Month

First World Problems – followup (A la Dumbass!)

The 21 Worst Things in the World

Links and Attributions

Skeptoid #361: The 16 Personalities of Sybil

Your memory is no video camera: It edits the past with present experiences

Misconceptions of Memory – The Scooter Libby Effect

Scientists Take on Misconceptions About Memory

You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself

Multiple Personality – Mental Disorder, Myth, or Metaphor?

Wikipedia Dissociative Identity Disorder

Top 10 Bizarre Mental Disorders

10 More Bizarre Psychological Disorders

Top 10 Little-known Mental Disorders

26 Strange, Unbelievably Bizarre and Weird Mental Disorders

Stockholm Syndrome: The Mystery of Loving an Abuser

Wikipedia – Stockholm Syndrome

Wikipedia – Patty Hearst

About Stockholm Syndrome

Kidnapping of Jaycee Lee Dugard

Diogenes Syndrome. A clinical study of gross self neglect in old age.

Wikipedia – Aboulomania

Is Taijin Kyofusho a Culture-Bound Syndrome?

Riley-Day Syndrome – NLM NIH

Wikipedia – Familial Dysautonomia

How Capgras Syndrome Works

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