Entries in Psychological (6)


Children Carry Invisible Scars from Psychological Abuse

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Physical abuse of children carries undeniable marks of pain, but in many cases the hidden scars associated with psychological abuse may be more detrimental in the long run, according to an American Academy of Pediatrics position statement published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

Psychological abuse may be the most common form of child abuse and often the hardest to treat, according to the paper.

"This is an area easily overlooked because it's hard to articulate," said Ruth Anan, director of the early childhood program at the Center for Human Development at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich.

Many child health experts have grappled with properly identifying and defining the threshold for psychological abuse.

"We are talking about extremes and the likelihood of harm, or risk of harm, resulting from the kinds of behavior that make a child feel worthless, unloved or unwanted," said Dr. Harriet MacMillan, a professor in the departments of psychiatry and behavioural neurosciences and pediatrics at McMaster University's Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine in Ontario, and an author of the paper.

Psychological abuse can range from depriving a child of social interactions to terrorizing. Single events of repetitive yelling were not defined as psychological abuse, according to MacMillan.  Rather, abuse included ongoing events of belittling a child or consistent neglect, in each case "with or without the intention to harm," according to the paper.

Parents are most often the perpetrators and in many cases they do not know that their actions are considered abuse, many experts said.

The abuse, especially incurred within the first three years of life, can affect a child's development and lead to attachment disorder, delayed development, erratic behavior and socialization problems, according to the paper.

"The dose of abuse is an important factor to determine how severe the child's reaction will be," said Anan.  "The frequency of the abuse and also the perpetrator and how influential they are in the child's life also affects the outcome."

More severe effects of the abuse may not be apparent in a child until much later.

"Children who are victims of emotional violence may appear totally normal when away from the family," said Dr. Astrid Heger, professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of Southern California Medical Center.

Previous studies suggest that nearly 9 percent of women and 4 percent of men in the U.K. and the U.S. have reported experiencing extreme psychological abuse during childhood.

Even when such psychological abuse is clearly defined in a clinical setting, many experts said it's difficult for children to receive the necessary intervention.

"The systems charged with the protection of children like to have physical evidence that abuse is occurring," said Heger.  "They tend to see emotional abuse as nebulous and blurry and usually will not intervene."

A parent or other adults in the child's life are often the best people to help clinicians identify whether there is a problem, said Heger.

Some signals of abuse are detectable. Children exposed to psychological abuse are often hypervigilant or paranoid. They may also emulate the abusive behavior they are exposed to, said Heger.

"They also will react to other peers in the same manner that they are being treated at home," she said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Aurora Suspect May Be Delusional, Psychologists Say

Univ of Colorado Denver/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- As authorities are investigating the shooting rampage at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in an Aurora, Col., movie theater, details are emerging about James Holmes, the 24-year-old who allegedly donned riot gear and stalked the aisles with a rifle.

Psychology experts say it's hard to know what Holmes's state of mind was before the shooting, but emerging details suggest he was a deeply disturbed individual.

"He said he was the Joker," one law enforcement official told ABC News, referring to a villain from the Batman series.

Authorities report that 12 people were killed and 59 were injured. Holmes was arrested in the parking lot of the movie theater, looking like "a villain in a movie," a Congressional official briefed on the situation told ABC News. His apartment is filled with explosives and being searched by Hazmat teams.

Kaitlyn Fonzi, who lives directly below Holmes's Aurora apartment, told ABC News that around midnight, she heard very loud music coming from the apartment above her.

The "same techno song that sounded like it included gunshots was playing in a loop for a long time," she said.

Fonzi said the music abruptly stopped at 1 a.m.

ABC News has confirmed that Holmes was a PhD student in the neuroscience department of the University of Colorado at Denver. In a statement, the university said Holmes was in the process of withdrawing from the program after enrolling in June 2011.

It's not clear whether he had a history of violence or psychotic behavior, but Holmes's mother told ABC News that she felt that her son was likely the culprit.

"You have the right person," she said in a phone interview from her San Diego home.

As the investigation continues, psychologists say it's likely that certain parts of Holmes's life and behavior will emerge that point to signs warning of his actions. But those warning signs may not have been necessarily obvious indications of violence.

ABC News spoke with several psychologists, none of whom has direct knowledge of Holmes.

"This is not a person that gets in bar fights and hurts other people," said Dr. Stevan Hobfoll, a professor of behavioral sciences at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. "They're more likely to make statements about how they're going to get people. Those people are going to see they'll know who he is, and they'll be sorry."

"In general, these people tend to be socially inept and alienated from the mainstream," said Dr. Felipe Amunategui, an associate training director for child and adolescent psychiatry at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland.

Psychologists said shooters who go on rampages, targeting random people with no apparent motive, may or may not have a psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia. Rather, Holmes was likely living in a world of an alternate reality, suffering from delusions of threats and making plans to make right things that he perceived were wrong.

"The thing to realize is that within his own thoughts, what he was doing was completely logical. To him, he was accomplishing something worth doing," said Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, founder of the Treatment Advocacy Center in Arlington, Va.

Amunategui said it's likely that Holmes had been obsessively thinking about his plan until some unknown event spurred him to action.

 "There's generally an event or a situation where the individual feels he has to intervene or somehow drastic action is called for. And then you see the horrible event that you saw last night," he said.

Hobfell said the Internet can be an important tool in fueling a person's assurance that their alternate reality is the correct one.

"You can become part of a cult or way of thinking through a chat room and develop a whole mindset with a group of people online. They spur each other on, they develop a common language," he said. "The Internet and games, that becomes the world they are living in."

There is also speculation about whether Holmes may have drawn inspiration from the storyline of the movie itself. His clothing and appearance are similar to the villain in The Dark Knight Rises, Bane, who wears a gas mask, bulletproof vest and carries a gun. Others say it's impossible to know right now what factors drove the shooter.

Currently, nothing is known about whether Holmes had undergone psychiatric treatment or received a diagnosis of a mental health problem. But Torrey said he believes that the increasing numbers of shooting rampages -- Jared Loughner's 2011 attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the shooting at Fort Hood in 2009, the massacre at Virginia Tech in 2007 -- are largely the result of decreasing resources and funding for the mentally ill in state budgets throughout the U.S.

"This is just another tragedy of the many tragedies we're seeing like this. The sad thing is they are preventable if we treat these people," he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Verna McClain Like Most Infant Abductors, Fits Familiar Psych Profile

Montgomery County D.A.(HOUSTON) -- As details emerge on the kidnapping of an infant in Texas on Tuesday, psychologists said the woman who allegedly committed the crime seemed to fit a familiar profile of an infant abductor: a woman who desperately wanted a baby.

Verna Dean McClain, a 30-year-old mother of three, is charged with capital murder for allegedly shooting and killing a 28-year-old mother, Kayla Marie Golden, and kidnapping her 3-day-old son in the parking lot of a pediatrician's office outside of Houston on Tuesday. Police said she admitted committing the crime because she wanted a baby to mislead her fiance into thinking that she had recently given birth to his child.

Witnesses reported that McClain drove up next to Golden's pickup truck in the parking lot and, after a brief altercation, shot her several times before snatching the baby from his car seat and driving away, hitting Golden with the car in the process.

The baby, Keegan Schuchardt, was found alive and well six hours after the kidnapping in McClain's home.

Infant abductions are rare and differ from kidnappings of older children, who are more likely to be the target of sexual crimes and then murdered. Between 1983 and 2012, 283 infants were taken by someone other than a family member from hospitals, homes or "other places," according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Most were recovered unharmed.

But Ken Lanning, a retired FBI agent who has studied nearly all cases of infant abduction for the agency's Behavioral Science Unit, said the abductors usually fit a common profile.

"The perpetrator is almost always a woman who, for one reason or another, has some desperate need to have a baby," he said.

In some cases, infants are taken for ransom or because of a conflict with the parents or family of the baby. It was not immediately clear whether or not McClain had any connection with Golden or the baby's father, Keith Schuchardt.

But in most cases, experts say a woman who takes a baby experiences a void in her life -- a void she believes only a baby can fill.

But neither does a woman take a baby simply for the joy of loving and caring for it.

"In almost every case, it is a woman who is desperate to have a child in order to keep a man," said Jack Levin, a professor of sociology and criminology at Northeastern University in Boston.

Women who commit these crimes may feign pregnancies and, at a certain point, must come up with a child to present as the man's.

Police said McClain told them she recently had a miscarriage.

"The primary reason is an effort to save a relationship with a man by presenting him with his baby," Lanning said.

As much as McClain seemed to fit the profile of a typical infant abductor, her alleged crime appeared to have some unique aspects.

McClain was already a mother of three children, ages 16, 10 and 6 -- but Lanning said older children may not be enough to satisfy the mental and emotional urges of women who commit these crimes.

"The key is [that] she doesn't want a child, she wants a baby," he said.

"It also is possible that she had her other children with a different man," and faced a partner's insistence that she give birth to his child, Levin said.

Whatever the motivation for taking another woman's baby, these crimes are usually the result of months of planning and preparation. Women may wear padding under their clothing to appear pregnant, make fake sonograms or follow prospective mothers to select a victim.

Levin would be surprised if McClain randomly selected Golden as her target.

"There's a very good chance, in my opinion, that this victim was stalked," he said. "She may have been followed by this perpetrator since the day of birth."

McClain is a registered nurse, but it is not known if she worked in the facility where the baby was born.

Infant abductions used to happen primarily in hospitals. Women would monitor the hospitals, find babies they wanted and select the ideal time and place to abduct them. But as hospitals became aware of the problem and increased their security measures, the number of hospital abductions has gone down.

According to NCMEC, of the 17 infants abducted in 1991, 11 of them were taken from health care facilities. In 2009, 11 infants were abducted, but just three of them were taken from a health care facility.

However, lower numbers of hospital abductions have corresponded with increases in the numbers of babies taken from their homes or public places.

Lanning said abducting a baby outside of a hospital usually means a direct confrontation with the parents, which makes violence toward mothers much more likely.

"At some point, when she said, 'That's the baby I'm going after,' nothing's going to stop her," he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Study: You Are What You Wear

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(EVANSTON, Ill.) -- For all you ladies out there who stand a little taller when you purchase those expensive pumps or a new silk top, fear not.  New research from Northwestern University validates the power that comes with clothes, and the price tag you might associate with it.

We’ve all heard the old adage, “You are what you eat.”  Well, you might add, "You are what you wear.”

Northwestern’s research introduced the term “enclothed cognition” to describe the connection between clothing and psychology.

“Clothes cognition is really about becoming the clothes themselves and having them direct who you are and how you act in the world,” study author Adam Galinsky said.  ”When we are putting on a suit, we are not only giving impressions to other people, but we are also giving an impression to ourselves.  We feel the rich, silk fabric on our arms; that allows us to take on the characteristics of those clothes.”

The researchers examined the phenomenon by having participants wear a white lab coat, describing it as a doctor’s coat.

“When they put it on and saw it as a doctor’s coat, they became more attentive,” Galinsky said.  “But if they put on the same coat and we call it an artist’s coat, a painter’s coat, then you didn’t get the affect.”

Galinsky, a professor of ethics and decision in management, said this is because doctors need to ”be attentive” and by wearing the coat you take on a “symbolic meaning of what it means to be a doctor, attentive and smarter.”  Those with the artists coats were found to become more creative.

The concept for the research stemmed from an episode of  The Simpsons.  The episode featured a group of children in gray uniforms who were very quiet.  After a rainstorm came and washed the clothing into color, their behaviors changed.

“[I] started thinking about how the clothes you wear and the meaning” behind those clothes, Galinsky said.  “If you put on a black T-shirt, you become more aggressive.  You put on a nurse’s uniform, you become more helpful.”

One question that remains for the Northwestern researchers is whether habitually wearing the same clothing affects the psychological effects.  But, in the meantime, the next time you are searching for something to wear, remember, “the clothes that you wear seep into the fabric” of your psyche, Galinsky said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Financial Stress: Investors Experience Emotional Fallout

Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The stock market cliff dive that began three weeks ago and reached a crescendo Monday has crushed the spirits of some investors who had been crawling back from the 2008 financial crisis.

Many psychologists say they are now trying to cope with the emotional fallout from some people who thought they were recovering from their own financial downturn.

"I liken this as the acute phase of natural disaster," said Joshua Klapow, clinical psychologist at the University of Alabama in Birmingham. "And at its core, it's psychological. Not financial."

The Dow fell more than 600 points Monday, its biggest point loss in a single day since Dec. 1, 2008 and its sixth biggest point drop ever.  While gains on Tuesday were a step in the right direction, some experts say investor sentiment may take longer to turn.

Unlike the height of the recession, where the steady worsening eased some people into an emotional lull, the market's volatile drop and influx can bring about a vicious cycle of anxiety-induced impulsive behavior, Klapow said.

"You're seeing people who may not make the soundest financial decisions just so they can do something to manage their emotions," said Klapow.  "We don't know what's going to happen right now."

Many seem to be equipped with a financial game plan during stable but bad times, said Klapow.  But instability strips people's sense of control, he said.

"Lack of control is one of the most anxiety-provoking situations," said Klapow.  "One could liken it to being diagnosed with an illness with an unknown prognosis."

The physical symptoms of financial stress and anxiety are much like that of general anxiety, and can include constant worrying, chest tightness, and nausea.

"The stimulus that's causing the anxiety is different because finances are tied to so many things," said Klapow.

For many, finances are tied to their standard of living and their quality of life; everything from their spending habits to how they use their free time.

Psychology experts say that it's a person's perception of how much control they have over their finances, not the amount of money invested into the stock market, which drives his or her level of anxiety.

The perception that a sudden loss could be life-changing -- no matter how many dollars they started with -- could trigger more intense feelings of anxiety.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Children of Divorce Show Deficits in Math and Social Skills

Comstock/Thinkstock(MADISON, Wis.) -- Most studies on divorce find that it has an adverse effect on children’s development, with some disadvantages being observed in high school completion rates, cognitive skills, psychosocial well-being as well as social relations.  However, many of these studies don’t differentiate between the effect of the divorce process and that of the family discord that usually precedes it.  Now a University of Wisconson-Madison study has drawn distinctions between those two periods.

The study author analyzed the math, reading and social skills of over 3,500 children from the time they were in kindergarten until they reached fifth grade.  She found that children who experienced parental divorce between first and third grade performed worse on math tests and exhibited poorer interpersonal skills than children of continually married parents. Reading test scores were not affected at any time.

These deficits were apparent both during the divorce period and after, but not before.  It seems that the negative effects of divorce occur during and after the divorce, but not during the pre-divorce period of “family discord" -- in this case, the period between kindergarten and 1st grade.
The author points out there are some limitations to this study.  First, it’s not known whether the children’s performance changes after fifth grade -- some experts argue that the effects are long-lasting, while others say that children recover as time passes.  Secondly, these observations are only applicable to cases of divorce occurring between first and third grade, and not to children experiencing divorce at any other age.

The study's findings are published in the American Sociological Review.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio