Posted in Psych Bites, Psychology

Psych Bites: Tuskegee Syphilis Study

In 1895, Booker T. Washington outlined his dream for economic development for the ethnic minority community. Over the subsequent years, this led to funding into the development of schools, factories, businesses and agriculture. Around the late 1920’s, there was a severe problem with Syphilis. In 1929, the disease was treated with mercury and bismuth and only had a cure rate of 30%.

This led to the funding of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study bu the US Public Health Service. The purpose of this study was to record the progression of syphilis in the hopes of justifying treatment programmes for African-Americans. The official name of the study was “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male”.

At the beginning of the study in 1932, 600 black men were involved; 399 of these already had syphilis and 201 did not. Participants were told that they would be treated for “bad blood”, a local term used to describe several ailments such as syphilis, anaemia and fatigue.

Participants did not actually receive proper treatment for their condition. In exchange for taking part in the study, the men received free medical exams, free meals and burial insurance. The study was originally supposed to last 6 months but went on for 40 years.

In 1936, the study published a major paper on the health effects of untreated Syphilis. The study was criticised as it was not known if the men were being treated, this led to the involvement of local physicians who were told by the researchers not to treat men. Decision was made to follow the men until death.

In 1945, penicillin was found to be a successful treatment for syphilis. However, the participants of this study were left untreated despite “Rapid Treatment Centers” being established for the treatment of syphilis. It wasn’t until 1972 that the study ended.

Following the termination of the experiment, the surviving participants were given treatment for the disease. By the end of this study 28 people had died from the disease, 100 had died from related diseases and 40 spouses and 19 children had also been infected as a result of this research.

In 1974, a $10 million settlement was reached as well as lifetime medical benefits and burial services to all living participants. The Tuskegee Health Benefit Program was established to provide these services. A year later wives, widows and offspring were added to the programme.

In 1997, President Clinton issued a public apology on behalf of the nation. The final participant of the research passed away in 2004.

This research is an important marker in ethical procedures as it is a perfect illustration of why we need to have ethical principles for research in order to stop things like this occurring. As it is such an important piece of research I wanted to have this included in my psych bites feature on my blog, what are your thoughts on this?

Posted in Education Help and Advice, Life as a Research Student, Misc, PhD Journey, Psychology

Finding what I wanted to do with my life: Journey into Teaching and Research.

Ever since I was little I have always wanted to be a teacher – although an odd dream for a child to have – I was adamant it was what I wanted to do. I would “play” school with my friends and would give them notepads to write in, I even had a whiteboard in my room that I would use to “teach”. Although I absolutely loved everything about teaching; the marking, the delivery, the organisation, helping students… there was just one small problem, I lacked any form of confidence to stand in front of people and I also had no idea what age or subject I would teach.

I was always one of the smarter and well behaved children – I would do my homework on time, was never in trouble and I enjoyed learning. Unfortunately, this led to me being bullied through-out my entire time of primary and high school. This led to the very little confidence I did have being completely destroyed, even meaning I would beg my mum to speak for me in shops, on the phone or anything which involved interaction with a stranger. Although being able to teach was a dream of mine – it seemed impossible. How could I stand in front of a room of strangers if I couldn’t even talk to one?

My college years led me to a subject which I absolutely fell in love with – Psychology. Prior to this History had always been my favourite subject, and I chose to study this in my A levels along with Maths (which I received a high grade in GCSEs) and graphic design, which I enjoyed. Psychology was simply a randomly chosen subject as I needed a fourth! I started to jump around a bit at this point with the kind of job I wanted – forensic psychologist, clinical psychologist, counsellor… I just knew I wanted to be able to keep learning about psychology.

When it came to doing my undergraduate degree (which I, unsurprisingly, did in psychology) my confidence grew, I made friends with people on my course and I was pushed into doing presentations and group work. The maturity of students at university level was something I had been surprised about – everyone was so nice, everyone was in the same boat and everyone wanted to learn because they were doing a subject which they had chosen to do. This was the time that I discovered research and I fell in love. I always received a first (70% +) in my research projects and I always really enjoyed doing them.

One of my interests in psychology was education, I was interested in helping students to learn better and how people learn differently. This led me back to wanting to pursue my original dream – teaching. I mentioned to my undergraduate dissertation supervisor in level 6 that I had wanted to go into some form of teaching and as she knew about my love for research, she suggested perhaps I should go down the route of a university lecturer as it combined two things I loved. She discussed options with me and told me that I would need to do a PhD but that they are incredibly competitive. That night, I went home and I was researching what my next step could potentially be.

I decided that I would go into A level Teaching. I had found a course at another university that was still within commuting distance of my home. I figured I would teach for a few years and then go onto pursue a PhD when I felt ready. Amazingly, I got an interview for the course, where I also had to do a simple maths and English test, and I was offered a place to which I accepted.

Being an incredibly organised person, I decided to email my undergraduate programme leader (who I had met several times) to ask if he knew of any psychology a level teachers who I could potentially talk to so I could do some prep over the summer – to my shock, he replied with an offer of a PhD instead! He told me how another department in the university was looking to recruit a psychology student to do a PhD in educational psychology and my dissertation supervisor had recommended me – I was over the moon.

I remember the first meeting I ever had with my director of studies where she was explaining to me about how a PhD worked and she asked me if I was okay with doing some teaching and marking during the course of my PhD, I couldn’t have been happier!

The first time I ever taught was a lecture on how to use endnote to a class of masters students. I was incredibly nervous, I had prepared weeks in advance and practiced over and over again. Now, a year on, the Teaching doesn’t make me nervous in the slightest, it makes me happy, I love when students give me positive feedback (just before Christmas I was told I made a boring subject interesting!) and I feel as though I’ve made tons of friends in my students. I absolutely love what I do and I really hope I am able to continue into lecturing from my PhD.

I have found what I want to do with my life.

Posted in Psychology, Serial Killer Sunday

Serial Killer Sunday: Jeffrey Dahmer

Warning: Do not read these posts if you are easily affected by gore/abuse. Read at your own risk.
I’ve had a few people say to me that they really loved my Serial Killer Sunday and that it was one of the things they really loved reading on my blog, therefore as I am now doing Forensic Psychology as one of my modules and are getting more information on Serial Killers, I thought I would bring it back!
Year’s active: 1978 – 1991

Number of Killings: 17
Killing method: There are a multiple different methods of murder Dahmer would delve into including the use of a powersaw, strangulation and injections of acid. However, the majority of his murders were followed by cannibalism and necrophilia
Year caught: 1991
Where now: Murdered in Prison in 1994.

Jeffrey Dahmer was born on May 21st 1960 in Wisconsin, USA. He is an incredibly infamous serial killer that many people will have heard of. There is a film that was created about him called Dahmer where he is portrayed by Jeremy Renner (you may have seen him in the avengers playing hawkeye) and there are numerous books and documentaries. Dahmer grew up in West Allis, Wisconsin with his mother, father and brother. His mother suffered from several illnesses and craved constant attention from her husband, she even attempted suicide. This ultimately lead to Dahmer being very reserved as he had little attention and was neglected by his parents.

From a young age, Dahmer had an interest in animals and collected large insects such as butterflies. Later, he started to collect animal carcasses from the side of roads which he would dissect in his home. His father later taught him how to preserve animal bones.
Once Dahmer became an adolescent he came to the realisation that he was in fact homosexual, but kept this a secret from his parents. He had several fantasies of knocking men unconscious and dissecting them as he had his animals earlier in life.

Dahmer committed his first murder at the age of 18, he picked up an 18 year old hitchhicker and invited him to his home where he lived alone. The pair drank together and listened to music and when the man wanted to leave, Dahmer bludgeoned him with a dumbbell and strangled him to death. Dahmer then stripped the clothes off the man and masturbated over his body.

All of Dahmers known victims were males, he has spoken openly about the majority of them, though it is well known that serial killers will not reveal every detail as they like to keep some things for themselves. A lot of Dahmers killings were opportunistic, of people that were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Dahmers murders escalated the more that he was able to get away with, he started to dismember and preserve body parts. The later murders he started to keep certain parts within his freezer in order to later consume them. He later also started to document his killings, taking Polaroid photos of the dismemberment process as well as also becoming more creative in his killings and using methods such as using drugs to render his victims unconscious.

Dahmer was caught as one of his intended victims managed to escape and contact the police. Once the police entered the apartment they found Dahmers Polaroids and were able to determine they were taken in that very apartment as the decor was the same. Dahmer attempted to fight the officers and resist arrest. Once Dahmer was handcuffed, one of the officers discovered a severed head within the freezer and called for back-up. After a thorough search of the apartment by the Investigation Bureau, 7 skulls, hearts and other parts were found as well as 74 photos.

Dahmer eventually confessed to his crimes, and was placed in confinement for his own safety. There was an attempt on his life with a razor blade but he managed to survive this assault. He was later attacked in a bathroom by two men which ultimately lead to his death.

What do you think of Dahmer? Why do you think he confessed to everything? Leave comments below!

Posted in Psych Bites, Psychology

Psych Bites: Autistic Spectrum Disorder

Recently I had an amazing opportunity to do a weeks work placement in a disability school where my sister used to attend. I was put in the pathways department and more specifically I was put in a seperate little bungalow of 9 students, 2 teachers and 3 teaching assistants where 8 of the students were diagnosed on the scale of Autistic Spectrum Disorder. I really enjoyed my placement and was given a mass amount of folders and information by one of the teachers, I was shocked by exactly how different the children were to what I was expecting, so I thought that this would be a good topic for psych bites, to inform you all of what I have learnt on the placement and also how amazing people with this disorder really are.
If you have read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon or watched Rain Man you probably have an idea in your head as to what exactly someone with Autism is like, you may believe that most people with Autism have insane mathematical ability, are unable to make eye contact and do not like to be touched. I’m going to go through these symptoms and whether or not there is any truth to them as well as telling you an important part of Autism which is often ignored.
Autistic Spectrum Disorder is a Developmental disorder that typically occurs during early childhood. There are no cures for this disorder, there are some management tactics as well as some theories that parents may turn to as they believe they might help, For example there has been some articles/books that have suggested diet may be a cause of Autism and some parents may stop their children from having dairy or gluten. Whilst there is no scientific proof of this it can be a comfort to some parents.
One of the most common misconceptions about people with Autism is that they all have some amazing ability that goes way beyond what an average person is able to do. This can sometimes be the case, but these people are called Savants. An example of this is Stephen Wiltshire (Click here for a Documentary on him and his life) who can draw incredibly detailed drawings from memory, for instance he was taken in a helicopter ride over New York City and was able to draw this from memory.

This is not however, the case for every child who is on the Autistic Spectrum. There can be people who are on this spectrum that aren’t as effected in day to day life as with some other people. There are some people who may just find social situations uncomfortable and be unable to process emotion or understand it in ways others can, but may not be as severe as some other people on the Autistic Spectrum.

People with Autism often struggle with communication, the children I met some were using sign language rather than speaking, there was also one child who would whisper when they spoke and some which just didn’t communicate at all. On the other end though, there were children which were able to talk and communicate but it was clearly difficult for them, they would not make eye contact or in the case of one child, would constantly ask questions and may even repeat the question even if you’ve already answered, this was a form of defense mechanism as the anxiety of being spoken to and not wanting to be asked questions made the child constantly ask questions themselves.

A huge part of Autistic Spectrum Disorder is the senses. There are children which may have senses

which are hypersensitive (over sensitive) or hyposensitive (under sensitive) an example is this is having hypersensitive hearing which may mean loud noises are painful. Some children with this disorder need to stimulate their senses often, whilst I was on my placement the teacher had what was called “sensory breaks” where the children were able to stimulate their senses, for example one child would sort of make themselves slip off of a frame (without hurting themselves) because they liked the feeling of slipping and slippery surfaces. In fact you may be shocked to hear that there are some people with the disorder that may feel pain when getting their hair cut!

Of course there is also the feature of being unable to recognise facial expressions and body language which also makes it difficult to communicate, think about it, how often do you look at someones face or body for clues about what they’re really trying to say? How often does it happen that someone says nothing at all but you can tell if they are angry or annoyed at you? Children with Autistic Spectrum disorder find this difficult.

Though it is incredibly hard to categorise and write down that these are the symptoms for Autistic Spectrum Disorder because each person is different with the disorder just like everyone is different. The point is, I think that we should try and understand people with Autistic Spectrum Disorder and that more places should accommodate them.

I wrote this for Autism awareness day but am slightly late with finishing it, apologies. But I do think this is an important issue and that more people should be aware of this disorder and what it involves, I hope my post helped you understand a little better.

Posted in Book Reviews, Non-fiction, Psychology

Book Review: The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

Star Rating: 5/5
Title: The Psychopath Test
Author: Jon Ronson
Publisher: Picador
Pages: 304
Genre: Non-Fiction, Psychology, Psychopaths, Journalism

What if society wasn’t fundamentally rational, but was motivated by insanity? This thought sets Jon Ronson on an utterly compelling adventure into the world of madness.

Along the way, Jon meets psychopaths, those whose lives have been touched by madness and those whose job it is to diagnose it, including the influential psychologist who developed the Psychopath Test, from whom Jon learns the art of psychopath-spotting. A skill which seemingly reveals that madness could indeed be at the heart of everything

I own quite a lot of Jon Ronson’s books. I really want a copy of his new book (So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed) and also his book on extremeists (Them) which sounds incredibly interesting. To kick off my binge into his books I decided to start with the one that I was most excited about and that was The Psychopath Test. I had heard a lot about Jon Ronson as a person, that he was incredibly witty and funny and explained things in a way that you just wanted to know more, read more, and after watching his TED talk on the psychopath checklist I instantly knew I would enjoy his books.

This book has the main focus on Bob Hare’s Psychopath Checklist which is essentially a 20 item list of traits that belong to a psychopath, the higher you score on this test the more psychopathic you are. This includes items such as “Pathological Lying” and “Impulsivity”. Jon decides to take Bob Hare’s course on how to spot a psychopath (which I am incredibly jealous of) and Jon then feels as though he has these new found psychopath spotting powers which is a really funny way of looking at it. Although it is not true that you are able to easily spot a psychopath even with knowledge of psychopaths (as Bob Hare has pointed out) it was interesting to read how Jon applied what he had learnt to the various interesting people that he met along the way.

He delves into a few questions surrounding psychopaths, he goes to meet people who are in fact not criminals but are incredibly high up in power in the world, and tries to determine whether they may infact be psychopathic which was an incredibly interesting read. The most interesting part of this book for me was Tony (not his real name of course) Jon went to visit a man called Tony who is in Broadmoor Hospital and it was so interesting to read about this man and how it lead onto Jon’s interest in psychopathy.

This book does not delve too much into the psychopath checklist itself (if you are looking specifically for a book on psychopathic traits I would recommend Bob Hares book Without Conscience) but rather it looks at the case studies of everyday people, criminals and CEO’s and how these people may relate to the checklist, I learnt about a lot of different people on the way and learnt a bit about the checklist itself, I really enjoyed this book and various different people in it. It was so incredibly funny and witty that I would highly recommend it to anyone, I can’t wait to read more from Jon Ronson.

Have you read this book? Or any other book from Jon Ronson? What did you think?

Posted in Psychology

Psychology: Myths and Misconceptions

Ever since I started Psychology I have noticed that a lot of people have preconceived idea of the topic, what you learn and what exactly it involves. So I wanted to make a sort of “Psychology for Dummies” post and talk about the topic and some of the myths that surround it. I asked my boyfriend and a few family members what they thought it involved and have decided to talk about some of the things that they said. I hope you enjoy it and I hope that you learn a little something!

You Analyse Dreams and Body Language
Sorry to disappoint you but no, we don’t do anything like this. In fact I have never had a lecture on body language or dreams, same as at a-level. Though, we do have to know about Sigmund Freud who is the creator of Dream analysis, we don’t actually have to analyse dreams as this is a very outdated part of psychology. Body language is still around today and I do find it quite interesting to read about, but it is very subjective and not often used in Psychology.

It’s an Easy Subject
If you go into Psychology thinking that it’s an “easy option” you’re going to struggle, especially at A-Level. One of the topics is Biological Psychology which is all about how things inside the body relate to behaviour, you have to know about the parts of the brain and how the chemicals work around it and what this does to behaviour as well as damages to parts of the brain and what this does. Furthermore, you have to know statistics which is a form of maths, incredibly difficult and hard to get your head round, especially if you don’t like maths in the first place.I’ll give you an example of a question which I have to answer for a piece of coursework:


“Provide an account of somatosensory perception, from the transduction of environmental energies at the skin surface to their representation in the cortex; explain two differences between discriminative and emotional somatosensation. “

There are a lot of Psychological studies that you need to know about and a lot of different research methods and ethics. It’s very much more of a science nowadays than it used to be, which is why it is now classed as a bachelor of science at degree level.

You only Learn about Mental Health
You do learn about mental health, I actually have a module this year called “abnormal Psychology” which is all about mental health such as schizophrenia, anxiety, depression and even a lecture on Serial Killer’s. But I also have other topics, this year my modules include:

  • Research Methods and Statistics 2: As I am in my second year this is my second module on research methods and statistics this is where I learn about how to conduct experiments and analysis.
  • Biological, Cognitive and Developmental: This consists of three areas of psychology and have several weeks on each, I had a few weeks on Developmental Psychology which is all about children and how they develop and learn e.g. how children learn to read. I have just finished Biological Psychology which is all about the brain and how it works, I did about things like the visual system and neuroanatomy. My final topic will be Cognitive Psychology which is all about the way we think, this will include things such as perception, memory and attention.
  • Social and Individual Differences: This is again the same as Bio, Cognitive and Developmental as we spend a few weeks on each topic, I did Individual Differences from September to December which is all about things which are entirely different from person to person such as intelligence and personality. I am now on Social Psychology which is about how we interact with each other and the world, this involves learning about things like aggression and relationships.
  • Psychology in Application 2: This was a module I also did in my first year and is all about setting you up for work, theres a programme called “World of Work” that gives you different stages to complete to help prepare you for work such as writing a cv/cover letter. The lectures on this module come from people in the world of Psychology and saying exactly what their job involves, last week we had a lecture from a Forensic Psychologist and then an Occupational Psychologist.
As you can see there is a wide range of topics that are covered in Psychology and these are just my second year modules.
It’s not Scientific
I have to admit, at A level, I never thought that Psychology was a science, I never thought that it had anything to do with it and wasn’t really sure where it came under. But when I started my degree I realised how much you need to know about the body (more specifically the brain), people and the world. There is actually a lot of work surrounding numbers and a special program on the computer that is used to analyse the data objectively and accurately after conducting a piece of research. I’ve been able to apply my knowledge quite well in a lot of other areas.
You Know What People Are Thinking/Feeling
Not even slightly true, Psychology is not the same as being psychic nor are we taught anything to do with hypnosis or manipulation, so don’t worry if you ever meet a Psychology student! The only thing we will be able to do is tell you why you behave/think in a certain way and also what part of the brain might be causing it and even then we probably won’t always know the answer.
I think I have covered everything that I have heard about, If you have any questions about the Psychology feel free to ask!
Posted in Psych Bites, Psychology

Psych Bites: Why do we Obey Authority?

I know, I know, another feature, I start these oh so often and I swear I do intend to actually keep them! I want to try and get all of my ideas out of there so that anyone who visits my blog knows exactly what I’m about. 

This brand new section I have decided to call “Psych Bites”, I know this may sound somewhat geeky, and maybe even a little bit childish, but I like the name so hush! 

You may be wondering what this segment is going to be about. Well my friends this is going to be all things Psychology! For those of you that don’t know I currently study Psychology at university and have just entered my second year, I have a big passion for this subject and know that there can be a lot of interesting parts to it that a lot of people may not know about! I have a LOT of books on this topic, obviously, so it still fits in with the bookish theme I have going on this blog.

I’m going to be writing about case studies, whacky things that were done in the past (and obviously disproved), theories into different topics such as personality and much more!

For the first one I decided that I would start with an experiment that I learnt about in my A level studies and found very interesting. If you have studied Psychology in any shape or form you may have heard of this experiment.

This experiment was looking at obedience to authority. Have you ever wondered why people followed Hitler? Or why the Nazi’s in the concentration camps would follow orders to kill people? This is exactly what Stanley Milgram, an American Social Psychologist at Yale University in the 1960’s, wondered too. He decided to conduct an experiment to see if he could get members of the public to willingly cause harm to another human being, within the presence of authority.

I know what you’re thinking; wait what?! But bare with me, he just made the participants THINK they were hurting someone, when obviously they weren’t.

Milgram put out an advert in a newspaper advertising an experiment on memory and participants would receive a sum of $4.00 for taking part. Three people were involved in the experiment; the experimenter, the participant and a volunteer who pretended to also be a participant to the experiment also known as a “stooge”. Both the participant and the stooge would draw out from a hat to determine whether they were the “teacher” or the “learner” however, both pieces of paper said “teacher” and the stooge would claim to have chosen “learner” each time.

The idea was that the participant would be teaching the “learner” pairs of words, and every time they got a pair wrong they would administer an electric shock to learner, going up in 15 volts each time there was an incorrect answer, the maximum voltage being 450 volts which would be a potentially deadly voltage. To make the participant believe that this was in fact real, the experimenter administered a small shock to the participant.

As the shocks became higher the learner would be heard to complain of pain or beg to be released. At the 300 volt level the learner would be heard to bang on the wall and demand to be released, beyond this point the learner would be completely silent and not even answer anymore questions, this was suggestive that the “learner” had passed out, or even worse. At this point the experimenter would tell the teacher to treat the silence as incorrect answers and to continue to administer shocks.

If the teachers showed any sign of wanting to stop, or see if the “learner” was alright, then the experimenter would issue what is known as “prods and prompts” and would say one of four phrases such as “It is absolutely essential that you continue”.

In the original experiment, 40 men were tested, although Milgram did later repeat the experiment with women and had the same results. The results found that 65% of the participants went all the way to the end of the volts, that administering a 450 volt shock to another human, willingly. 100% of the participants went up to 300 volts. Afterwards, participants were told about how the experiment wasn’t real

Obviously this experiment has a LOT of ethical issues. For starters, the participants thought that they were harming another human being, in some cases this caused visible stress such as shaking and sweating, even though the participants continued to obey. Furthermore, the participants right to withdraw from the experiment was taken away by the “prods and prompts”. There are many more issues with this experiment and would never be able to be repeated today. However, it showed how everyone may have the possibility to do potentially evil things, and that the presence of an authority figure (in this case the experimenter) can turn someone into a completely different person.

What do you think? Do you think everyone has the potential to harm another human in the right circumstances?