Saturday, October 29, 2005

Can a Psychopath Fake a Polygraph?

I went to a really great birthday party for a friend the other night. The guests were mainly in law enforcement and the chatting alternated between how people felt about their work to politics. A retired FBI polygrapher and I talked about the polygraph test and whether or not it could be faked (I know, it's a party and I should stick to talking about cheese dip but I hate small talk and I can't eat cheese dip due to my heart healthy diet). The polygrapher was adamant that the polygraph test was accurate but I remained a skeptic.

For the most part, psychologists believe there is little evidence to show that polygraphs are accurate lie detectors. I also pointed out to my colleague that psychopaths who show few physiological responses to lying might be able to pass a polygraph. His view was that we have so few psychopaths in our midst that he was unlikely to encounter one. This could not be further from the truth. Of course, as a forensic psychologist, I encounter more than my fair share (so my views may be skewed), but psychopaths are more prevalent in our normal society than most people, even in law enforcement, realize.

In fact, Dr. Robert Hare, the author of Without Conscience, estimates that there could be as many as 100,000 psychopaths in New York City alone--and at least 2 million in North America. Given that psychopaths--those without empathy for others who are typically con artists and users--have a higher rate of violent crime--it is very probable that my polygrapher friend would have numerous opportunites to encounter a psychopath in his work. I just wonder how many false negatives (a person is lying but looks like they are telling the truth) have been released based on erroneous results and how many innocent people who looked guilty have been charged after taking a polygraph.

It is an unsettling question and one that calls for further research into the use of the polygraph as a tool for spotting deception. There is work being done on functional brain imaging which shows that during lying, there is more activation in five brain regions. This research has not yet advanced to the stage where it can be used for real world application.

By the way, in case you were wondering about the large number of psychopaths in NYC, my guess is that psychopaths like to live in big cities where they can get away with their crimes and abuses. In a small town, it is likely that someone would know you and let others know about your bad deeds. That would make it harder to find victims.

Friday, October 28, 2005

That Cartier Watch Seems Awfully Expensive

Here is an interesting post on how some companies make money with Breast Cancer Research.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

6000 hits in thirty minutes

Ok, Instapundit Readers--so it is about the boobies!

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Is it political correctness or altruism?

It's Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so maybe you've noticed all the ads, publicity and Races for the Cure going on in your town. I know I have; my local newspaper, The News Sentinel, had a front page story entitled, "Pink Panters" describing the 10,000 runners who showed up, despite the rain, to show support for breast cancer victims. A few days before the race, swarms of concerned women headed to the mall to pick up their t-shirts and register for the race. I turned on the tv and celebrities and famous people were doing their part to increase breast cancer awareness. Yesterday, on a trip around town to do errands, I could not escape the onslaught of breast cancer literature, t-shirts, ribbons and yes, even a breast cancer stamp which I was offered at the post office. Even the stores at the mall advertised part of their profits going to breast cancer research. At first glance, all of this concern looked very altruistic and I thought about my grandmother and other relatives who have died of breast cancer and what a triumph this would be for them. Yet, somehow, I felt unsettled, and I finally pinpointed my sense of ill-ease.

It was from an article I had read recently at Slate, entitled, "Condi, Hillary....and Angelina? When celebrities act like politicians, and politicians act like celebrities." The article stated, "Big companies shun political controversy, but these days all of them want credit for behaving in a "socially responsible" manner." The media and companies (and of course, celebrities) have a love affair with breast cancer because it shows their support for women (and has to do with boobs) and yet, is not a controversial topic. It puts them in a good light and helps raise more money or recognition for their product, image etc.

So, what harm does this do? It convinces most women (and men who are concerned about women) that breast cancer is just around the corner, especially for younger women. This could not be further from the truth. In 2001, only 900 women under 30 had invasive breast cancer. In fact, almost half a million women die every year from heart disease compared to 40,000 from breast cancer. Yet, heart disease gets little publicity--our local newspaper is not even expected to show up at this year's heart walk; and there are almost no celebrities I can think of that have taken up the cause for heart problems. Heart disease is thought of as an "old person's disease and a good way to die (even if this is true, which it is not, isn't this a little cruel?)."

Yes, it is wonderful that we are finding cures for breast cancer, but if we are doing so at the expense of finding cures for other diseases that take more lives, even those of younger women, are we really fighting diseases to extend the lives of those who have them or are we just trying to make ourselves feel good?

Monday, October 24, 2005

More Than You Wanted to Know About My Heart Attack

A lot of my readers have asked me to tell the full story of my heart attack--so here it is.

At the age of 37, I thought I was in great health. I had run regularly from the age of 12, worked as a weight trainer at the New York University gym and practiced karate. Although I never thought I was invincible, I had no idea that I would have a heart attack. My family had always had a history of cancer so I figured that if I got sick, this would be my fate (hopefully later on down the line). However, one day I finished working out in the gym and was driving home with my husband when I became short of breath. It was an awful feeling--I felt like I was smothering to death and going to pass out. My husband called 911 and was told to get me to the nearest hospital which he did.

Despite the fact that I was short of breath and shaking like a leaf, the doctor decided I was allergic to something in the gym and gave me a shot of benadryl. Actually, I later learned that shortness of breath and a sense of impending doom or death were signs (especially in women) of heart problems. I felt ok once I left the hospital and even for a week or two later. I was on vacation in Charleston, South Carolina when I again got short of breath and could not walk. I was so dizzy, scared and light-headed that I spent the day in bed until finally that night, I went to an emergency room. I told the doctors about the allergy reaction that the last emergency room thought I had and they tried some breathing treatments for asthma.

Amazingly, while in the emergency room, a man in his thirties or forties came in with shortness of breath. He was whisked off for heart tests and his wife and two little children were there crying. I felt so sorry for them. Later, I saw a doctor telling his wife that he had stomach problems and his heart was in good condition. If only I could have said the same! The doctors finally did an EKG after I told them that the breathing treatments were not working. The results said that I had a possible MI. A cardiologist came into the room, looked at the reading and shrugged, stating that many thin women in their 30's who were athletic had a similar reading. I took his word for it and left.

Two doctors and an emergency room visit later, I still had no answer to why I was shaking, short of breath and could barely walk at times from weakness. I thought at times I was having mini strokes. One emergency room doctor refused to look at my abnormal EKG when I came to the hospital; he was too busy dealing with a female coke addict and decided that I was another example of an anxious woman having a panic attack.

I finally persuaded my regular doctor to quit prescibing me Effexor (an antidepressant) and to look at my heart. He finally sent me for tests. He called back and told me to get to the hospital. My father was with me at the time and took me to the hospital where the orderlies thought he was the one with heart problems and told him to get in the wheelchair. I would have laughed myself silly if I had not been so ill. I had tests including a heart cath that helps doctors to see inside the heart. Later, when I was back in my room, the cardiologist came in and told me that I had suffered from a heart attack and also had a ventricular aneurysm (a ballooned out area of the heart) as a result of not resting my heart after the heart attack. I had been told that I had panic disorder so I thought that exercise would be good.

I would like to say that once I got treatment that my problems were over but they had just begun. I was sick with panic attacks for several years. Finally, after more tests in February of 2005, I was told I had ventricular tachycardia and venticular fibrillation (which was triggered during testing). A few days later, I received an ICD (implantable cardioverter defibrillator) which is a device that will shock you if you have a serious rythm problem. I also received the life-saving drug Tikosyn, which is so potent, I had to take it for five days in the hospital to make sure I could tolerate it.

For the first time in years, I feel almost normal. I give thanks everyday for the amazing advances in heart research over the past 15 years. I know it sounds cliche, but I feel lucky just to be alive. When other people in their thirties and forties complain about their aches and pains, I just laugh--I feel lucky to get up in the morning without feeling dizzy or nearly fainting.

Women have been led to believe that breast cancer is the number one killer of women. This could not be further from the truth. Almost one half million women die each year from heart disease. Breast cancer kills only 40,000. The sad part is that half of all the women who have a heart attack each year die before they reach the hospital. I believe this is partly because women do not take symptoms of heart attacks seriously--they wait too long before going to the hospital and do not address heart issues with their doctors. Doctors are to blame at times; they buy into the myth that women are more likely to get breast cancer and that heart disease is for men. In order to change this, women must start asking their doctor to discuss heart disease prevention with them from an early age and to demand testing if they have symptoms. Hopefully, awareness of heart disease will infiltrate the public in much the same way breast cancer awareness did--but it will not begin until women decide that red dresses for heart disease are just as important or maybe more so (given the large number of women dying) than pink ribbons are for breast cancer.

Update: Here is a link to my story and more info on women's heart facts at

Another Reason We Need Men in College

Buried in the back of my American Psychologist (the Journal of the American Psychological Association), in the comment section, there is a blurb from Vicky Phares and her colleagues at the University of South Florida. The blurb comments on a 1992 article entitled, "Where's Poppa? The Relative Lack of Attention to the Role of Fathers in Child and Adolescent Psychopathology." The authors did further studies and found that in the past thirteen years, fathers are still coming up short when it comes to being included in research studies in child and family research.

When dissertations were reviewed, it was found that fathers were neglected significantly in research that focused on developmental psychology and developmental psychopathology. Sixty percent of the dissertations explored mothers only, 30% studied "parents," and 10% explored fathers only. The authors note that few personal or professional characteristics distinguished between those graduate students who did and did not include fathers in their research. The only difference was that male graduate students were more likely to include fathers in their dissertation research.

Why is this important? Because the role of fathers in the development of their children is crucial in understanding adolescent pathology, particularly that of aggression. For example, I believe that fathers teach their children, particularly boys, about aggression and boundary issues during play. Fathers teach boys to wrestle and fight but also how to stop before they hurt someone. We need to explore the father-child dynamic, just as we need to understand what boys need in the classroom to prepare them to go out in the world with some degree of success. And who is going to do that if we do not have a male perspective in colleges and schools to tell us and guide us in helping boys?

Some of my commenters have stated (like Grim) that it is not important for men to go to college, or that they will find their own way regardless, and get high paying jobs in the technical world. ("Men are pretty good at sorting out problems. It's what we do.") I don't know why they think that, as most men don't have high-paying jobs in the technical world. We need men in higher education, though, for the same reasons that gender-diversity advocates have said we need women -- because we miss out on an important perspective without them.
Ginny, of the Chicago Boyz blog, has an excellent piece on gender issues, blogs and the cofferoom.