Theory of the (criminal) mind

Homo sapiens is the only species that has evolved the capacity to attribute to others beliefs, desires, plans, thoughts, point of views and meaning to explain and forecast other’s intent and behaviours especially when these are different from ours or from what our culture and bias dictates. Although the mind theory can appear overly simplistic, it has a commendable scientific pedigree. The scientific support for the theory of the mind is so strong that its proponents suggest that not having a theory of the mind may be a sure sign of cognitive, behavioural or developmental impairment.

Having a sound theory of the other’s mind gives a clear advantage to people who possess such skill, but what happens when we try to explain what we consider deviant behaviour? Are we correct in attributing negative intentions to people who break the law, assuming that breaking social norms is a for-sure symptom of a negative, perverse theory of mind or of a criminal mind?

Career criminals and psychopaths tend to have a low capacity for empathy and perspective taking; it can be said that they are lacking a comprehensive theory of mind and therefore they present with thinking errors which need intervention? Thinking skills, other people’s view and perspective taking have been recognized as criminogenic risk/needs for a number of years and have been address through different interventions. The theory of mind suggests that teaching career criminals what other people feel or think when they are robbed, abused, victimized, defrauded or attacked may increase the career criminal’s capacity to empathize with the victims and thus redirect their behaviours towards socially acceptable alternatives.

Dr. Giorgio Ilacqua

Luka Magnotta’s court hearings

Luka Magnotta is back in the news and likely will remain in the world news for a long time. Considering all the speculations about Luka Magnotta’s alleged narcissism symptoms, personal profile, and need attention, the alleged killer could not have hoped for anything better, national press and international press all talking about Luka Magnotta. Since the publication ban on Luka Magnotta’s preliminary hearing, court reporters can only talk about the emotions and few details that would have become known anyways. Criminal lawyers withdrawing, hate mail regularly sent to Crowns and criminal attorneys, people collapsing in the court room (we, the public, can only imagine the gruesome details people attending the courtroom are likely to hear).

What most of the public is likely thinking is now whether the publication ban should or should not implemented during the preliminary hearing of Luka Magnotta’s trial, but why is this costly process going on? Would it not be easier (and cheaper) a medieval approach to justice, an eye for an eye instead of catering to the personality, needs and narcissistic symptoms of a suspected killer? Luckily for all of us, our society is willing to foot the bill for these legal proceedings not because Luka Magnotta’s personality, but because an open and fair trail is the best way to protect a just and democratic society.

Dr. Giorgio Ilacqua

Why a phallometric (ppg) assessment of your patient?

The main goal of a standardized phallometric assessment is to rank people charged with sexual offences and to provide information about their relative sexual preferences evidence based approach. The phallometric is an ipsative psychological and physiological assessment of the patient’s sexual preference. As you probably remember from your Stats 101 course, ipsative assessments tend to be more useful for evaluating individual character traits then when comparing traits across different people charged with sexual offences. The phallometric test thus provides a personalized indication of the patient’s sexual preference. Phallometric assessment is designed primarily to measure the excitement phase of the sexual response cycle (i.e. desire, excitement, plateau phase and orgasm). Since every component of the phallometric test is evidence based, the risk of Type I error (false positive) and of Type II error (false negative) are controlled before reaching a determination of sexual deviancy. For example, failure to attend to stimuli, manipulation, alcohol, drugs or medications can interfere with an accurate conclusion. When administering a phallometric assessment procedures such as video cameras, attention tracking devices, cushions sensitive to movement and other physiological readings (i.e. galvanic skin response-GSR, respirator belt) are used to monitor the patient. Also the patient charged with sexual offences’ quality and timing of responding is considered when providing an opinion on sexual preference.

A phallometric assessment can thus provide a truthful, personal, evidence based evaluation of the personal responses to sexual stimuli for patients charged with sexual offences.

Dr. Giorgio Ilacqua

How cars developed a personality?

Cars are essential in today’ society; but why cars are not just perceived (and used) as practical tools (just like hammers and screw drivers) and take on human feelings, emotions and personalities? Why people do not make practical, financially wise, simple decisions when it comes to cars? Why people invest a lot of psychology into cars, while they will not hesitate to purchase gasoline (for the same psychologically loaded car) at a cheap (or most convenient) gas station? Social perception and psychology characteristics are at play here; may be cars are just like clothes different attires for different functions? Dress for the occasion, that’s all there isn’t it?

Car manufacturers and advertising agencies are sponsoring psychological quizzes and developing personality tests to cloak cars with the most pressing psychological meaning. Car manufacturers are tuning into the idea of associating cars with personality characteristics; this is a shrewd marketing strategy that rests on the human tendency to find personality characteristics in inanimate objects. The typical example are “green cars” with an aura of ecological correctness, obviously the person driving it is actually “doing something” for the planet.

Psychology research seems to support that the buyer’s final choice does not focus on technical data, but on exterior characteristics such as color, size and shape of the car. Cars are given personalities and are given male and female personality characteristics such as “sexy”, “muscle”, “girly”, “macho” and “young”, thus implying that the person driving it has (or at least endorses) these personality traits.

Status symbol is the most obvious psychological message that a car sends. Publicizing your status is not new in psychology; high status (true or perceived) is generally associated with mate selection strategies, reproductive advantages and genetic transmission, for men and women alike. From a psychological perspective, the doubt remains about the unconscious reasons of having to flaunt personality characteristics; is it a true personality trait or an unconscious need to compensate for real or perceived psychological issues?

Some psychology research seems to support certain behavior generally associated with particular vehicles or colors; SUV’s drivers appear to be more aggressive and less courteous, minivan’s drivers tend to be more respectful of social obligations (such as traffic lights) and to have a certain levity about social status. Drivers of sport cars want to reflect a more romantic personality and a willingness to take risks, on and off the road. Pick up drivers are practical oriented and self-reliant, thus more likely to haul anything that might be of help in case of a road emergency.

In my work with motor vehicle accident victims it is not unusual to find that people who experienced serious motor vehicle accidents prefer larger vehicles. Size thus provides a sense of, security, protection and an unconscious sense of being sheltered (in the womb-feeling).

The association between cars and psychological characteristics boils down to: perception, perception and perception. Car manufacturers are wily in catering to buyer’s expectations.

Dr. Giorgio Ilacqua

Psychological Characteristics of the Psychopath (Part 2 of 2)

Having a working definition of psychopathy or of antisocial personality disorder is just the beginning of the problem. How to discriminate between psychopaths and non psychopaths? How reliable are the instruments that we have in our test battery to arrive to a correct diagnosis of psychopathy?

Finally the moral question; assuming that a person has been correctly identified as a psychopathy, would this person offend or re offend in the future?

Psychopathy is generally diagnosed through the Psychopathy Checklist Revised (PCL-R: 2nd Edition, 2003), also known as the Hare Psychopathy Checklist. This is a 20-question test which allows for a scoring of “0″, “1″ or “2″ (“no”, “somewhat” and “definitely applies”) tapping on two main areas personality and lifestyle. The maximum score is of 40, while the cut-off for psychopathy is set at a score of 30. Normal, non-psychopaths should score between “0″ and “5″; people with a criminal history should score in the low 20s.

The PCL-R should only be scored by properly trained professionals and should be based on all available information on the client. The PCL-R should not be used lightly and only for the purposes designed by the author. Scoring your new date on the PCL-R, would be improper and probably if you believe that your new date should be tested for psychopathy, probably your should not be dating this person anyways.

Dr. Giorgio Ilacqua

Psychological Characteristics of the Psychopath (Part 1 of 2)

What is a psychopath? What is a psychopathic behaviour? How can we discriminate between psychopaths a non psychopaths, a sociopath and an antisocial personality disorder? The question of psychopathy has been posed in criminal psychology since its inception. The first ordeal in this quest for clarification is to look at the many labels used in describing psychopathic behaviours. H. M. Cleckley in his book The Mask of Sanity (1941) can be seen as the pioneer in the field of recent psychopathy research.

Basically, a psychopath is defined as a person who lacks remorse, who is impulsive, untrustworthy, self-centered, superficial in her/his relations, who has a grandiose sense of self, lacks realistic long term. The definition of psychopath tries to address the question of whether there is an evil component in the human personality and tries to define this evil component to exorcise it or at least cure it.

The many definitions of psychopathy, although apparently similar, are not synonymous and can be explained mostly through the researcher’s biases, background and objective tests used to reach the definition of antisocial personality or of psychopathy. Sociologists may be more inclined to use the definition of sociopath, while psychologists and psychiatrist are more likely to use the terms antisocial personality disorder or psychopath. Often, the definition of sociopath is simply applied to a person with antisocial personality disorder or to a psychopath.

The definition of psychopath and the definition of antisocial personality disorder further reflect the diagnostic instrument used to arrive to the diagnosis. While the definition of psychopathy reflects more personality characteristics, antisocial personality disorder is diagnosed mostly through behavioural patterns . The definition of psychopathy is based on the work of Dr. Hare and on the Psychopathy Checklist Revised (PCL-R: 2nd Edition, 2003), also known as the Hare Psychopathy Checklist, while the definition of antisocial personality disorder is based on the diagnostic criteria established by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-IV- Text revision (DSM-IV-TR, 2000).

Dr. Giorgio Ilacqua

Spousal Abuse

Many types of abuse can be classified as domestic assaults such as; child abuse, partner abuse, spousal abuse, sibling abuse, elderly abuse, partner abuse, dating violence or physical abuse; often these types of abuse coexist or are different variables in an environment in which family abuse is common. Many of these types of abuse can be so severe to have the perpetrator charged. These types of violence, in turn may become apparent through different types of abuse, such as verbal abuse, psychological abuse or mental abuse. Although historically these types of crime were commonly grouped together as wife abuse (from which the term abused women syndrome or battered women syndrome originated), it is not uncommon to find abusive men and abusive women who are referred for psychological assessment and treatment.

The graphic description of the cycle of abuse as the power and control wheel is poignant; very often the cycle of domestic assault and domestic bliss follow each other with periods of relative ease and little tension. The psychologist working with abusers can possibly end up working with perpetrators or with victims of abuse. Targets of psychological intervention are how to identify signs of abuse and how to stop domestic violence, how to address the minimization and denial of abuse and to identify the possible presence of co-occurrence of psychological problems. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is often used as the intervention of choice to help victims of abuse as well as perpetrators of abuse.

Dr. Giorgio Ilacqua

Dance The Blues Away?

Dance therapy is the therapeutic use of movement in order to treat psychological, emotional, and physical limitations. The treatment entails the combination of movement and dance to express and deal with feelings and experiences, both positive and negative. It is based on the supported premise that the body, mind and spirit are interconnected.

Dr. Alfonso Marino

Ms. Gillian Brooks
BATD (Associate Member Tap &. Jazz)
RAD (Full Member-Classical Ballet studies)
ACTRA Member (Film & Television)
BFA (Specialized Honours-Dance)
B.Ed (York University)
M.Ed (York University)

Gifted Testing

Each week we receive several calls from parents asking whether we are able to conduct a “gifted test” or an “IQ test” for children to determine if they are indeed gifted students who would meet criteria for admission into “gifted programs”. The definition of giftedness according to the Ministry of Education is “an unusually advanced degree of general intellectual ability that requires differentiated learning experiences of a depth and breadth beyond those normally provided in the regular school program to satisfy the level of educational potential indicated.” Looking at this definition, we can see why early identification is critical for many gifted students.

It is not always the case that children whose intellectual functioning falls in the gifted range will just continue to do exceptionally well without enrichment.  At times, gifted children who have not been identified may find themselves bored with regular curriculum and feel unchallenged by their workload.  Some may continue to achieve good grades, but are still working below their potential. Other gifted students who have not been identified may simply start to disengage academically due to their boredom. Academic programming for gifted students acknowledges their need for ongoing intellectual stimulation and provides a broad range of academic experiences which allow students to work at full potential. Formal identification of gifted testing serves to open to the door to various placements and programs that may better meet the student’s learning style and intellectual level. That being said, it is also important to consider more than simply intellectual ability when determining the right academic placement for a gifted student.  Often factors related to social functioning and emotional functioning can play a role in the overall success of a student in gifted or enrichment programming. Any psychoeducational testing or gifted assessment should also screen for these factors and consider these factors when determining a student’s suitability for the specific academic programming.

Dr. Monique Costa El-Hage