“In one case, the subject travelled to New York, demanding to see the ‘director’ of the film of his life, and wishing to check whether the World Trade Centre had been destroyed in reality or merely in the movie that was being assembled for his benefit. In another, a journalist who had been hospitalised during a manic episode became convinced that the medical scenario was fake and that he would be awarded a prize for covering the story once the truth was revealed. Another subject was actually working on a reality TV series but came to believe that his fellow crew members were secretly filming him, and was constantly expecting the This-Is-Your-Life moment when the cameras would flip and reveal that he was the true star of the show.”
“Our understanding of how suicidal thinking progresses, or how to spot and halt it, is little better now than it was two and a half centuries ago, when we first began to consider suicide a medical rather than philosophical problem and physicians prescribed, to ward it off, buckets of cold water thrown at the head.”
Anthropologist James Rilling of Emory University and his co-workers scanned the brains of those scoring high in psychopathy after these individuals experienced having their own attempts to cooperate unreciprocated. The scientists discovered that, compared with “nicer,” more equitable participants, the psychopaths exhibited significantly reduced activity in the brain’s emotion hub, the amygdala. This diminished activity, suggestive of a muted emotional reaction, could be considered a neural trademark of “turning the other cheek,” a response that can sometimes manifest itself in rather unusual ways.
“John Edens, a clinical psychologist at Texas A&M University, has cautioned against spending money on research to identify children at risk of psychopathy. “This isn’t like autism, where the child and parents will find support,” Edens observes. “Even if accurate, it’s a ruinous diagnosis. No one is sympathetic to the mother of a psychopath.”
This vintage stunt from a 1962 episode of Candid Camera makes for a good laugh. But it also captures something important about human psychology — something that social psychologist Philip Zimbardo, famous for hisStanford Prison Experiment, describes on a website related to his 2007 book The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. He writes:
One of the most popular scenarios in the long history of Alan Funt’s ingenious Candid Camera programs is “Face The Rear.” An elevator is rigged so that after an unsuspecting person enters, four Candid Camera staff enter, and one by one they all face the rear. The doors close and then reopen; now revealing that the passenger had conformed and is now also facing the rear. Doors close and reopen, and everyone is facing sideways, and then face the other way. We laugh that these people are manipulated like puppets on invisible strings, but this scenario makes us aware of the number of situations in which we mindlessly follow the dictates of group norms and situational forces.