adolescents Gunn High Suicide Suicide clusters teenagers

Suicide is Contagious

A bright teenager attending a prestigious high school commits suicide. A number of the student’s classmates end their lives in the same way. Gunn High School, May, 2009? No! Plano, Texas, February, 1983. This began a twelve month period during which seven teenagers, from one of the best school districts in one of the most affluent cities in the country, ended their lives.  In New York’s Westchester and Putnam counties five boys died by their own hand in February 1984. In Omaha Nebraska at the beginning of 1986, three students from the same high school who vaguely knew one another ended their lives (Leo, Taylor, et. al, 1986). So the most recent deaths by four Gunn High School teens by willingly stepping in front of commuter trains are not at all bizarre but the most recent examples of the tragic but understood phenomena of cluster teen suicides (Fernandez & Samuels, 2009).
What makes teens so vulnerable? During puberty boys’ testosterone rises to almost twenty times its pre-puberty level and doubles in girls. The hypothalamus that monitors many bodily functions, including sex, becomes less sensitive to sex hormones and waits until those urges are very strong before it signals self control. The brain is beginning to become more efficient at fourteen by eliminating unused nerve pathways, but it takes about four years to complete the process. The pleasure centers develop more quickly than the impulse control system of the prefrontal cortex. Consequently early adolescents are more emotional than those older, young adults and extreme emotional states, both positive and negative, are more frequent. The body is rapidly changing with pressures for girls to be slimmer than is humanly possible but frequently represented by the media and emphasized by parents and peers. Puberty and life style also disrupt adolescent sleep cycles so that while teenagers need nine hours of sleep, they get seven hours or less. With sleep deprivation comes irritability and impaired decision making.

So what are the risk factors that when added to the dramatic biological and sociological influences of adolescence leads to an increased likelihood of suicide? According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), girls are twice as likely to seriously think about suicide with Hispanic females most often attempting suicide (CDC, 2007). However, boys are four times more likely to die from suicide as girls. Hispanic and white boys most often have a plan, and Hispanic boys most frequently require medical treatment after a suicide attempt. Suicide becomes a solution to problems connected to depression. A suicide plan is thought of as a solution to intolerable emotional pain. Family conflicts, economic stress, relocation, isolation from friends, a victim of bullying, gender identity confusion, history of a suicide attempt by a family member, friend or neighbor are all risk factors.When according to the CDC (2007) one in six high school students in the past twelve months think about suicide, and when 13% of those surveyed said they had a plan, and one in twelve students had attempted to kill themselves at least once, risk factors cannot be minimized or overlooked and action is required.  First, this information needs to be shared with high risk groups, like students who are members of a community in which a student suicided.  Students need to be told that depression is a mental illness that can be successfully treated with psychotherapy and/or antidepressants (use of anti-depressants needs to monitored carefully as this class of drugs may increase the risk of suicide among adolescents – c.f. Simon, 2006). Students should also be told that the way to get help is to talk to their doctors, parents, or teachers.

When made aware of friends who talk about being unhappy or alone, or who have sudden changes in behavior that may include either sleeping excessively or very little, eating very little or way too much, or have wide variations in mood and irritability, a professional consultation must be sought. Take all threats to hurt one self or others seriously and seek professional advice. Opportunities for students to talk in small groups and share concerns for classmates mitigate isolation and promotes accessing professional help. Professionals can offer consultation and advice when students gather to grieve the loss of a classmate.  Adults who are vigilant and supervise their children can prevent a tragedy such as when the mother of a Gunn teenager followed her son to the train tracks. The National Suicide Hotline is 1-800-suicide (784-2433). In Santa Barbara call 211 or 1-800-400-1572. In Ventura County call 805-652-6727. Remember that most health insurance plans have some mental health benefits. Become knowledgeable, informed and act to prevent suicide.


Centers for Disease Control (2007). School health policies and programs study: Suicide prevention. Journal of School Health, 77(8).

Fernandez, L., & Samuels, D. (2009). A fourth Palo Alto high school student, 16, kills self on Caltrain tracks. San Jose Mercury News, Oct, 21.

Leo, J., Taylor, E., et. al. (1986). Behavior: Could suicide be contagious? Time Magazine. Feb., 24th.

Simon, G.E. (2006). The antidepressant quandary: Considering suicide risk when treating adolescent depression. The New England Journal of Medicine. 355(26), pp. 2722-2723.

kitsunetsuki lycanthropy otherkin post-partum psychosis schizophrenia therianthropy

Where the Wilds Things Are – Lycanthropy

A very pestilent disease, my lord,
They call lycanthropia… 
I’ll tell you.
In those that are possess’d with’t there o’erflows
Such melancholy humour, they imagine
Themselves to be transformed into wolves;
Steal forth to churchyards in the dead of night,
And dig dead bodies up: as two nights since
One met the Duke ’bout midnight in a lane
Behind St. Mark’s Church, with the leg of a man
Upon his shoulder, and he howl’d fearfully;
Said he was a wolf, only the difference
Was, a wolf’s skin was hairy on the outside,
His on the inside; bade them take their swords,
Rip up his flesh, and try: straight, I was sent for,
And having minister’d unto him, found his grace
Very well recover’d.The Duchess of Malfi, Act V, Scene ii. (Webster, 1623/1997)

In honor of Halloween, we thought we would do a piece on werewolves. Wolves, intelligent, dangerous, creatures of the night, have only recently in history been eliminated as a threat to humans. The wolf is still a powerful image of intelligence turned inwards to serve the attainment of beastly desires. There are many legends of people who turn into wolf-like form for one reason or another. The ancient Greeks speak of Lycaon, King of Arcadia, who tried to fool Zeus into eating human flesh. But Zeus caught on to the trick and punished Lycaon by transforming him into a wolf (hence the root of our modern technical term for werewolf-ism – lycanthropy). The Roman Empire was founded by Romulus and Remus who were suckled and protected by a she-wolf. From Europe, to Africa, to Asia stories abound of those who turn into wolves at night, running amok trying to satisfy their lust for fresh meat. Lycanthropy as a medical condition similarly has a long history. Paulus Aegineta, a seveth century Greek described the syndrome. Likewise, Nebuchadnezzar was said to have suffered from something like lycanthropy in the aftermath of a long and severe depression. Supposedly St. Patrick turned Veneticus, King of Gallia into a wolf (Coll, O’Sullivan, & Brown, 1985).

The Chinese and Japanese have legends of fox demons. In China these demons take the form of beautiful women in order to seduce unwary men, draining their life force through love-making. In Japan, the fox demons possess women by entering their bodies under their fingernails or through their breasts. Women possessed by a fox demon (kitsunetsuki) have changed features, looking more fox like. They are said to be ravenously hungry, especially for tofu, rice and sweet red beans. If cured the victims will never again be able to eat these foods. The phenomena of kitsunetsuki is considered by some psychiatrists and psychologists to be a culture-bound form of psychosis.

For some unknown reason, Wisconsin seems to be a focal point for werewolf sightings in the U.S. In 1936  a religious man named Mark Schackelman encountered a tall putrid smelling creature that had the features of both a wolf and ape while driving down a lonely highway. In 1964 Dennis Fewless had a similar encounter approximately two miles from where Shackelman saw his wolfman. And in 1972, a woman reported that a wolfman like creature had attempted to break into her home. In 1989 Lorianne Endrizzi saw a werewolf-like figure on the side of the road. Farmer Scott Bray also saw a similar looking creature around the same time period. As recently as 1999 in the same area, Doristine Gipson thought she had run over something in her car on a wet night. When she stopped her car to make sure she hadn’t hit anyone a werewolf-like creature jumped on to the back of her car. She sped off and the werewolf slipped off. After she told her story many local people came forward with their own tales of encountering the creature.

We may never know what was going on in Wisconsin, but we have a better idea about werewolves whose ‘hairiness’ is on the inside. There are a number of reports of lycanthropy in the psychiatric literature (Benezech, et. al., 1989; Dening & West, 1989; Fodor, 1945; Garlipp, et. al. 2004; Kulick, Pope, & Keck, 1990; Nejad & Toofani, 2005; Rosenstock & Vincent, 1977). In many of these cases the patients are suffering from psychotic delusions of being a wolf; behaving as they think a wolf would behave, thinking they have hair and claws, and acting out compulsive urges of bestiality, sexual licentiousness, and a desire to eat flesh. In some cases patients report being under the influence of the devil, their lycanthropy being intermixed with demonic possession. Some cases of supposed lycanthropy can be explained by purely medical causes such as hypertrichosis (where hairs grows all over the body), ingestion of ergot fungus (which contains the hallucinogenic lysergic acid), lepromatous leprosy, late stage syphilis, and severe congenital erythropoietic porphyria (Benezech & Chapenoire, 2005).  However, when mental illness is prominent Rosenstock & Vincent (1977) report five typical characteristics in lycanthropic patients;

1. Delusions of being a wolf or other predatory animal. These delusions are often triggered when the patient is under extreme stress. These delusions may be psychotic and accompanied by hallucinations.

2. Preoccupation with religious issues including the devil and demonic possession. These pre-occupations vary according to the culture of the patient.

3. An almost obsessive need to be out at night, to frequent graveyards, and wild places.

4. Bestial-like aggressive and sexual urges.

5. Physiological signs of anxiety

The authors conclude that lycanthropy falls into six diagnostic possibilities; schizophrenia, psychosis with organic origins, psychotic depressive reaction, hysterical neurosis with dissociation, manic-depressive psychosis, and psychomotor epilepsy.

These psychiatric definitions are fine when the mental pathology is overt. However, there are a number of people who do not present any clearly defined pathology and yet consider themselves to be werewolves, other animals (therianthropes), or other creatures. The Otherkin are a subculture made up of people who consider themselves to be non-human. Their real or ‘true’ form may be an animal such as a wolf, or a mythological creature such as an elf, dragon, or vampire. Some Otherkin even believe themselves to be space aliens! Otherkin have a number of explanations for their ‘transpecied’ condition. Some believe in reincarnation, arguing that they retain vestiges of their animal habits from a previous incarnation, or that they are an animal mistakenly born as a human. Some Otherkin claim a totemic relationship to an animal. Much like some native peoples who believe that they are related by blood to creatures who share their world, these Otherkin form a strong spiritual bond to certain animals. Those who believe they are Otherkin may feel their bodies and instincts to be distinctly non-human. This could be a form of a hallucination or delusion, but these phenomena are specific to the feeling of being non-human and do not spill over into other aspects of the Otherkin’s life. Other explanations of the Otherkin include being transpecied (in the way that some people are transgendered), having non-human genes, being possessed by a non-human spirit, or having multiple personalities where one or more of the alters is non-human. The interesting thing about the Otherkin is they did not exist as a group until the internet facilitated communication among people with Otherkin beliefs!

Are the Otherkin and werewolves really so different than the rest of us? As Sigmund Freud wrote in his book Civilization and Its Discontents,

“Men are not gentle, friendly creatures wishing for love, who simply defend themselves if they are attacked, but that a powerful measure of desire for aggression has to be reckoned as part of their instinctual endowment. The result is that their neighbour is to them not only a possible helper or sexual object, but also a temptation to them to gratify their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his capacity for work without recompense, to use him sexually without his consent, to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and to kill him. Homo homini lupus; who has the courage to dispute it in the face of all the evidence in his own life and in history? This aggressive cruelty usually lies in wait for some provocation, or else it steps into the service of some other purpose, the aim of which might as well have been achieved by milder measures. In circumstances that favour it, when those forces in the mind which ordinarily inhibit it cease to operate, it also manifests itself spontaneously and reveals men as savage beasts to whom the thought of sparing their own kind is alien. Anyone who calls to mind the atrocities of the early migrations, of the invasion by the Huns or by the so-called Mongols under Jenghiz Khan and Tamurlane, of the sack of Jerusalem by the pious Crusaders, even indeed the horrors of the last world-war, will have to bow his head humbly before the truth of this view of man.” (p. 103-104)

Things haven’t changed much since Freud’s time. A quick glance through recent human history shows that a beast still lurks in all of us. And this is something that is perhaps truly frightening.


Benezech, M., de Witte, J., Etcheparre, J.J. & Bourgeois, M. (1989). A lycantropic murderer. American Journal of Psychiatry, 146(7), pp. 942.

Benezech, M.; Chapenoire, S. (2005). Lycanthropy: Wolf-men and Werewolves. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 111(1),  pp. 79.

Coll, PG., O’Sullivan, G., & Browne, P.J. (1985). Lycanthropy lives on. British Journal of Psychiatry, 147, pp. 201-202.

Dening, TR., & West, A. (1989). Multiple serial lycanthropy: A case report. Psychopathology, 22, pp. 344-347.

Fodor, N. (1945). Lycanthropy as a psychic mechanism. The Journal of American Folklore, 58(230), pp. 310-316.

Freud, S. (1930/2005). Civilization and Its Discontents. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.

Garlipp, P., Godecke-Koch, T., Dietrich, DE., & Haltenhof, H. (2004). Lycanthropy – psychopathological and psychodynamical aspects. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 109, pp. 19–22.

Kulick, AR., Pope, HG., & Keck, P. (1990). Lycanthropy and self-identification. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 178(2), pp. 134-137.

Nejad, A. G., & Toofani, K. (2005). Co-existence of lycanthropy and Cotard’s syndrome in a single case. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 111, pp. 250–252.

Rosenstock, H., & Vincent, K.R. (1977). A case of lycanthropy. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 134(10), p. 1147-1149.

Webster, J. (1623/1997). The Duchess of Malfi (Drama Classics Series), London, UK: Nick Hern Books.

Barbara Gonyo Edvard Westermarck Freud Mackenzie Phillips Patrick and Susan Stübing Westermarck Effect

Genetic Sexual Attraction and the Westermarck Effect

The revelation by former child actress Mackenzie Phillips this week in her book High On Arrival of her 10 year long sexual affair with her father is making its rounds through the media this week. Phillips blamed the affair on serious drug use by herself and her father. By all accounts, Phillips’ father was not much involved with her when she was growing up and the affair did not occur until she was 19. While shocking, Phillip’s incestuous relationship may not be as uncommon as commonly thought.

Let’s meet Patrick and Susan Stübing a married couple with two children. By all outward appearances they are a normal family living in Germany with one important exception: Patrick and Susan are siblings. As is common among consensual adults engaged in incestuous relationships Patrick and Susan did not grow up together. As reported by the BBC, Patrick was adopted out of his birth family at a young age and did not meet his biological mother and Susan until he was 23 years old. Both Patrick and Susan report that they had an immediate attraction for one another. After their mother died they began their relationship and have been living together for the past 8 years, excluding the time Patrick has served in prison for the crime of incest. Patrick and Susan claim they are not bothering anyone and have been persecuted for their forbidden love. They have been trying to overturn Germany’s Paragraph 173 of the civil code which makes incest a crime. Medical and genetic experts claim there is a good public health reason for the law. Children produced by incestuous relationships are much more likely to have medical issues. Indeed Patrick and Susan’s son has epilepsy and learning difficulties, while their daughter is a special needs child. Nevertheless they maintain that these problems are not the result of the incestuous pairing of their genes.

The attraction that Patrick and Susan feel for each is called Genetic Sexual Attraction (GSA) and has also been reported in cases of mother-son and father-daughter incest. In all cases of GSA the relatives affected were not present during the childhood of one or both parties. The term GSA was first coined by Barbara Gonyo who founded the group Truth Seekers in Adoption – a Chicago based organization which provides support for long lost relatives who have reunited – and the website In her book I’m His Mother, He’s Not My Son, Barbara speaks frankly of the intense emotional feeling she experienced when she was reunited 26 years later with the son she gave up at age 16. Barbara describes her initial contact as a ‘honeymoon period’. She became obsessed with wanting to touch and smell her son. She is convinced that these feelings were the result of ‘missed bonding’. She recognized her son as related to her – perhaps accentuating the loss of bonding a mother experiences with her infant. These feelings may result in an intense desire for closeness which can manifest as sexual behavior in adults. In a 60 Minutes interview with some GSA couples New York psychotherapist Joe Soll characterized GSA;

“It is an attraction that develops between people who, generally speaking, have not been raised together and don’t have a taboo. They just want a hug, they want to get close and if they don’t have the taboo and they’re not careful it can turn into sex”.

The taboo Soll is speaking about is the so-called “Westermarck Effect”. Postulated by anthropologist and sociologist Dr. Edvard Westermarck,  it simply states that people raised together rarely see each other as sexual partners. It may be that the Westermarck Effect is a form of reverse imprinting where early exposure to others in the environment causes them not to be seen as future sex partners. Westermarck’s discovery is readily observable throughout human cultures and has been seen in children raised in the Israeli kibbutz system (Shepher, 1971) and marriage customs in China (Wolf & Huang, 1982). More recent research by Walter and Buyske (2003) at Rutgers University has verified the effect for females in Morocco but not males. Other research by Weisfeld et. al. (2003) and by Schneider and Hendrix (2003) supports the notion that sexual inhibition among family members has been selected for through the mechanism of natural selection and that it may be mediated by smell.

Freud was the most famous psychiatrist to write about sexual prohibition among close relatives. He claimed that unconscious lust for the opposite sex parent leads to an incest taboo (via fear of castration for males) and identification with the same sex parent. Westermarck’s theory, on the other hand, has no need for unconscious lust; the incest taboo would evolve through natural selection.

In another article Walter (1990) has speculated that since females have a greater investment in their offspring (i.e. a long pregnancy) they are more choosy than males for genetic fitness, and hence would be more likely to experience the Westermarck Effect. Certainly Walter’s later research in Morocco supports this notion. He also speculates that without the Westermarck effect older dominant males would likely exert control over younger males through control of their sexual impulses. Again this is readily observable in traditional societies around the world where adolescent rites of passage for young men involve separation from the group’s females for a period of time, not to mention proving their genetic fitness through arduous tasks. As Spain (1988) suggests, if we consider this phenomenon without the biological underpinnings it is actually similar to what Freud describes.

Unlike Mackenzie Phillips’ father, Barbara Gonyo was able to avoid a sexual encounter…but mostly because her son wasn’t interested. Eventually she was able to work through her emotions and develop a healthy relationship with her son. GSA is thought to occur in up to 50% of reunions of close relatives. The advent of in-vitro fertilization where the one or both parents do not contribute DNA to their children, could lead to a future epidemic of GSA. At the very least this is something to be aware of in the future.

– Kevin


Gonyo, B. (downloaded 2009). I’m his mother, he’s not my son. (Self-Published).

Phillips, M. (2009). High On Arrival New York, NY: Simon Spotlight Entertainment.

Schneider, M.A. & Hendrix, L. (2000). Olfactory sexual inhibition and the westermarck effect. Human Nature, 11(1), 65-91.

Shepher,  J. (1971). Mate selection among second generation kibbutz adolescents and adults: Incest avoidance and negative imprinting. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 1(4) 1573-2800.

Spain, D. H. (1988). Incest theory: Are there three aversions? The Journal of Psychohistory, 15(3), 235-253.

Walter, A. (1990). Putting Freud and Westermarck in Their Places: A Critique of Spain. Ethos, 18(4), 439-446.  

Walter, A., & Buyske, S. (2003). The Westermarck Effect and early childhood co-socialization. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 21, 353-365.

Weisfeld, G.E., Czilli, T., Phillips, K.A., Gall, J.A., & Lichtman, C.A. (2003). Possible olfaction-based mechanisms in human kin recognition and inbreeding avoidance. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 85(3), 279-295.

Wolf, A.P. & Huang C. (1982). Marriage and Adoption in China, 1845-1945. The China Quarterly, 90, 310-313.

evolutionary psychology familicide infanticide mass killings Mesac Damas step parents

Familicide – Evolutionary Origins

In our last post we reported about the case of infanticide (or fililcide) where a man involved in a bitter custody dispute killed his children and then took his own life. With the reporting of a similar case in Florida, this time representing familicide where the entire family was killed by a parent, I thought perhaps it might be worthwhile to try and understand the roots of this behavior.

Mesac Damas recently killed his wife and five young children and then fled to Haiti where he was caught. Supposedly while awaiting extradition back to the U.S., he confessed to the murders. When asked why he did it he responded “Only God knows”. The murders were especially brutal with Sheriff in charge of the case calling them “the worst of the worst”. Damas had a history of domestic violence and apparently thought his wife was cheating on him with another man.

In a fascinating 1995 paper by Wilson, Daly, and Daniele, the authors delineate some of the characteristics of familicide- i.e cases in which a spouse kills an entire family and sometimes themselves. In an examination of 109 incidents of familicide in Canada and Britain the authors found that familicide is most often perpetuated by men. Half of these male perpetrators killed themselves which is a much higher percentage than men who kill only their wives, or just their children. In cases of familicide the parents are more likely to be living together as opposed to being married. Step children are more likely to be victims of familicide than genetic offspring. However, men who kill step children almost never kill themselves. The authors conclude with a tentative categorization of familicidal incidents into two types – accusatory or despondent. As the authors explain:

The hostile, accusatory familicidal killer is often enraged at the alienation of his wife, and may declare that “If I can’t have her, no one can.”The despondent familicide perpetrator instead appears to believe that his victims could not persist or cope in his absence, and that their deaths are therefore necessary, perhaps even merciful, corollaries to his suicide. In either case, the killer apparently feels entitled to decide his victims’ fates.” p. 15

The Florida case presents many of the characteristics outlined in this paper. The killer was male, he and his wife had been living together for a long time and had only recently been married. He fit the pattern of an accusatory killer who was outraged that his wife may have been cheating on him. What we do not know is whether he suspected that any of his wife’s children were by another man, but it wouldn’t be surprising.

Why would this be important? It is well known that violence against children in a family is more likely to be perpetrated by a step parent. In another paper Daly and Wilson (1994) found that step fathers were more likely to beat step children to death, while genetic parents were more likely to shoot or asphyxiate their offspring. The genetic fathers were also more likely to commit suicide.

As David Buss writes in Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind, genetic relatedness is a strong predictor of not only how many resources a child receives but also of how likely they are to be abused. The closer the genetic relationship, the more likely the child is to receive resources and not be abused, while the more distant the relationship the more likely the child is to be abused and not receive resources. This pattern comes from our evolutionary history. Male primates such as chimpanzees are known to kill other males’ offspring which precipitates the females going into heat. The killer males will then mate with the females to produce their own offspring. This pattern of behavior presumably originated in the common ancestor to humans and apes. It had survival value and so continues to be found in humans and primates today.

In her book The Chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of Behavior, noted biologist Jane Goodall describes numerous incidents of infanticide by both males and females among chimpanzees. In general she believes that many of the attacks are focused on the mothers of the infants and are related to a distrust and aversion to strangers. Yet males appeared to also attack and sometimes eat infants of females so as to bring the females into heat sooner. Interestedly, young unattached females from other groups were only attacked mildly, while older females who were not in heat and who had infants were attacked quite severely and even killed.

Unfortunately for us, we find these evolutionary patterns of killing writ large in humans. A quick examination of mass killings around the world reveals this pattern in ethnic cleansing and warfare. In World War II, the Soviets raped and killed on a massive scale (the Germans while brutal killers did not commit as much rape). The degree of infanticide and rape during the recent ethnic violence in Rwanda has also now been documented. And of course it is quite easy to find more examples.

This is not to say that step parents are murderers, child abusers, bad parents (most are not) or that in our society familicide is common (it is not). But is does remind us to be aware of the possible pre-cursors to this type of violence and to be cognizant of things that may trigger this behavior.

– Kevin


Davies, N. (2007). No Simple Victory: World War II in Europe, 1939-1945. New York, NY: Viking.

de Brouwer A., & Ka Hon Chu, S. (Editors). (In Press). The Men Who Killed Me: Rwandan Survivors of Sexual Violence. Vancouver, BC: Douglas & McIntyre.

Buss, D. (2008). Evolutionary Psychology: The New Science of the Mind. Boston, MA: Pearson.

Daly M, Wilson MI (1994) Some differential attributes of lethal assaults on small children by stepfathers versus genetic fathers. Ethology & Sociobiology 15: 207-217.

Goodall, J. (1986). The Chimpanzees of Gombe: Patterns of Behavior Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wilson M, Daly M, Daniele A (1995) Familicide: the killing of spouse and children. Aggressive Behavior 21: 275-291.

Further Readings:

Publications by Martin Daly and Margo Wilson

child murder infanticide

Infanticide-When Parents Kill Their Children

The recent murder of Jason (12) and Jennifer (7) Mulvaney by their father, James, sparks feelings of outrage and bewilderment because it is such an abhorrent act. Unfortunately the murder of children is seemingly a part of the human repetoire of behaviors. Infanticide was known in prehistoric times and continued through the Middle Ages to the present day. In ancient Egypt infanticide was so great a concern that it was forbidden. During the Greco-Roman period babies were rescued from manure heaps, a not uncommon method of infanticide by Greeks or Romans, and either adopted as foundlings or raised as slaves. Judaism explicitly prohibits infanticide in the Torah.(e.g., Deuteronomy 12:30-31, 18:10; 2 Kings 16:3 & 17:17, 30-31 & 21:6 & 23:4, 10; Jeremiah 7:31-32 & 19:5 & 32:35; Ezekiel 16: 20-21, 36; Judges 11:31) Christianity, too, was concerned with infanticide, and forbade it. (Teachings of the Apostles or Didache said “You shall not kill that which is born.”)[36])In India, Hinduism condemns the act.

Throughout history human cultures have been troubled by the ritual killing of children. The practice appears to have been so wide spread that major religions and cultures adopted laws to forbid it.

The United States ranks eleventh in infanticide of infants under 1 year killed and fourth for those killed from 1 through 14 years. “In Southern California this month, six children have been stabbed by parents. Four have died.”

In Ventura County in 1995 Michael Sasse shot and killed two of his children, ages 3 and 4 before committing suicide. Cora Caro was convicted and sent to death row for shooting to death three of her four sons in 1999 as they slept in their beds, and prosecutors purported that she sought revenge against her husband because of their troubled marriage. Narind Virk was convicted in 2002 but found not guilty by reason of insanity of forcing her children into the cold waters of Channel Islands Harbor and then jumping in herself. All three survived.

How are we to understand these horrific acts and how can they be prevented. Many of these murders share common factors. Married adults are fighting and threatening each other. They challenge the rights of each other to remain parents and retain custody. There is impending or real financial hardship resulting in loss of income, employment and a marked decline in their standard of living. Parents are protective of their children and view their impending suffering of parental loss and lifestyle as so devastating as to become intolerable. To these circumstances you can sometimes add spousal mental and physical abuse, a family history of emotional illness, and a litigious conflict-promoting legal system. This can result in the psychological equivalent of the perfect storm in which the end of life is viewed as the only relief to unrelenting suffering.

As reported in the Ventura County Star, James Mulvaney’s wife had primary custody of the children despite his attending a “positive parenting” class.” On September 4 he lost his job as financial center manager for Citibank in Camarillo. He failed “to save the marriage, to improve and better the children’s education” according to court documents ,despite borrowing $200,000 with his ex-spouse to buy a house in which they lived for seven months.

Mulvaney wanted spousal support from his ex-wife because she made more money. Had someone understood the significance of these events; had someone recognized the destructive power of Mulvaney’s feelings, and had someone known doing something was better than doing nothing, this tragedy might have been prevented.

Marriages will continue to fail and parents will still insist on fighting each other for custody. We are in the midst of the worst economic downturn in our recent history and job loss is expected to exceed 10% of our work force. While this doesn’t explain the tragic deaths of the Mulvaneys, incidents like this seem more prevalent in difficult times, when extreme stress can unlock the inner psychological demons that must be present in someone who commits such an atrocity.

animal navigation bandura behaviorism dogs ethology evolutionary psychology skinner social learning theory trains vicarious learning

Ranger the Beagle Takes The A Train

If you love dogs than you are sure to have stories, like the one of my Shih Tsu, Buster, that would jump onto my daughter’s bed when I left for work and at about the time my wife or I would return home, gaze out the window, and jump down from the bed so that we could not punish him for violating the rule of the house. My friend, Andrew, had Beagles Honey and Ranger that were smarter than Buster because they would travel throughout our neighborhood looking for food, swimming in the golf course pond, and then return home to rest. Then Andrew told me about the dogs in Russia who travel the subway and prefer the first and last cars which are the most quiet so they their sleep is uninterrupted.

According to Russian psychologist, Dr Andrei Poiarkov of the Moscow Ecology and Evolution Institute, these dogs had to move to the suburbs when after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s the industrial complexes that were the dogs’ shelters went to the suburbs. The dogs had to figure out how to get back to the city’s center where the food was plentiful. There are reports that the dogs will startle pedestrians to drop their shwarma, a meat snack on a stick, with a bark from behind. They time the trip to get off at the most desired stop, and they walk when the light is green (dogs have no cones in their retina so they do not see color so they probably time their curb crossing to correspond to the picture of the walker or to the crossing of people).How are we to explain the bizarre behavior of the subway riding dogs? Russian scientists have a history of studying dogs. The most notable is Noble prize winner, Ivan Pavlov, who discovered classical conditioned learning. However, the train traveling dogs are best explained by American Psychologists Edward Thorndike and B.F. Skinner who discovered operant conditioning. According to Thorndike, behavior followed by a positive consequence or reinforcement is more likely to occur (The Law of Effect). Learning is incremental and trial and error. All mammals learn in the same way, by doing. Doing strengthens the learning (Law of Use) and not doing weakens the connection between the stimulus and the response (Law of Disuse). Extending these laws, Skinner “taught’ pigeons to read and guide missiles to their target.

In addition, Albert Bandura described vicarious learning when an organism learns by watching another organism (modeling). The organism’s expectancy to be able to do what another organism does is self-efficacy.

So the dogs moved to the suburbs, but the center of the city was where their food was most plentiful. By linking their travels outside their suburban home with the finding and eating of food they learned to get back to the city center where food was most plentiful. According to the principles of evolutionary psychology the healthiest dogs that could most efficiently use their innate ability to navigate were most likely to survive, and it is this inborn will to survive which cues other dogs to do what they see their fittest brethren doing. The dogs watch other organisms, humans, getting on trains and going where they want to go or by accident discover that they can go towards the city on a train (a mode preferred to hoofing it) and ride in quiet (the front and rear cars) and conserve the energy that will be needed to forage for food. Crossing with others in the crosswalk with the green symbol avoids getting struck by a car or bus (and those that don’t learn, aren’t around so the lesson is obvious). There you have it! Dogs learning to ride the rails become an illustration of the principles of evolutionary, operant, and social cognitive learning and are no more bizarre than missile guiding pigeons.

Further Links:


The Aliens Are Amongst Us

Kate Gosselin believes that “Aliens have taken him (Jon) away”. Miyuki Hatoyama, wife of Japan’s prime minister-elect, wrote in her book, Very Strange Things I Encountered, that she was abducted by aliens and taken to Venus, a green beautiful place, in a triangular shaped UFO 20 years ago. Well besides Kate and Miyuki, others believe that they too have met aliens. Sun Ra, a jazz musician for sixty years who pioneered the playing of Moog synthesizers, claimed that he was sent to earth from outer space to save humanity and bring harmony to the world. Sun Ra said that he was born on Saturn, “I’m a spirit master. I’ve been to a zone where there is no air, no light, no sound, no life, no death, nothing. There’s five billion people on this planet, all out of tune. I’ve got to raise their consciousness, tell them about the wonderful potential to bypass death.” He once wrote,

In some far off place
Many light years in space
I’ll build a world of abstract dreams
And wait for you”

His sources of inspiration included the Kabbalah, Rosicrucianism, channeling, numerology, Freemasonry, and black nationalism. Now Sun Ra may have used his extraterrestrial birth as a metaphor to help us earthlings, who are restricted to our listening shackles by our very existence on this planet, expand our auditory perceptions as well as our planet linked prejudices with his Moog synthesizers, two upright basses, African rhythms, and exotic costuming, or maybe he was from Saturn.

Well, two people, one a past presidential candidate and congressman from the 10th district in Ohio, Dennis Kucinich, and the other, the noted actress and channeler, Shirley MacLaine, are convinced of the presence of Aliens and their contact, albeit distant, with them. Shirley is Dennis’ daughter’s god mother, and he saw a UFO while at her home in Washington state that was triangular, silent and hovering. Maclaine says Kucinich characterized the experience as “a connection to your heart” and that he “heard directions” in his mind. During a presidential debate, Kucinich admitted he had indeed seen a UFO. When asked about the incident he replied, “Jimmy Carter saw a UFO.” No matter that this sighting was subsequently was identified as the planet Venus. According to commentator Tim Russert, in the above presidential debate, 14% of Americans have viewed a UFO. Also, all three Apollo 11 astronauts in 1969 believe that there is “life beyond earth.” Well yeah! Dr. Edgar Mitchell, the 6th man to walk on the moon during Apollo 14, told a radio station in an interview, “I happen to have been privileged enough to be in on the fact that we’ve been visited on this planet and the UFO phenomenon is real“. He added that sources at the space agency who had had contact with aliens described the beings as ‘little people who look strange to us.

In her book, Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens, Susan Clancy, a Harvard psychologist who studies recovered memories interviewed about 50 people who claimed to have been abducted by aliens. She said her subjects were not crazy, but instead had “a tendency to fantasize and to hold unusual beliefs and ideas.” In a review of Clancy’s findings, William Cromie writes,

Abduction stories are strikingly similar. Victims wake up and find themselves paralyzed, unable to move or cry out for help. They see flashing lights and hear buzzing sounds. Electric sensations zing through their bodies, which may rise up in levitation. Aliens with wrap-around eyes, gray or green skin, lacking hair or noses, approach. The abductee’s heart pounds violently. There’s lots of probing in the alien ship. Instruments are inserted in their noses, navels, or other orifices. It’s painful. Sometimes sexual intercourse occurs. Then it’s over, after seconds or minutes. The intruders vanish. Victims are back in their own beds and can move again...Measurements of sweating, heart rate, and brain waves showed that those claiming to be abductees show the same symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome as combat veterans.

This is exactly what one would expect to find in a victim who was abducted by aliens, but Clancy prefers to think that alien abduction is related to sleep paralysis. Her conclusion is that so-called abductees have created or altered their memories in order to bring meaning to their lives.

On the other hand psychiatrist John Mack, also of Harvard University, concluded that the 200 alien abductees he interviewed showed no sign of mental illness and that their abduction could not be explained. He wrote extensively about spiritual transformation related to alien abduction phenomena. Mack was criticized for taking alien abduction reports at face value. While Mack never claimed that alien abduction was actually taking place, he did say,

“I would never say, yes, there are aliens taking people. [But] I would say there is a compelling powerful phenomenon here that I can’t account for in any other way, that’s mysterious. Yet I can’t know what it is but it seems to me that it invites a deeper, further inquiry.”

Possibly prompted by the publication of his book, Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens, Harvard Medical School, where Mack was tenured as a full professor, initiated an investigation of his work and clinical practice with the goal of stripping him of his position. However, with the help of friends like Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, the investigation concluded that Mack’s inquiries were protected by academic freedom and there were no grounds to dismiss him. Mack was tragically killed by a drunk driver during an after-dinner walk in England in 2004. More information on Mack’s work can be found at the John Mack Institute.

So, what to make of all of this? If you read the top twelve things you need to know in Newsweek (August 24 & 31, 2009) you would discover that “Alien’s Exist” is numero uno! Newsweek editor Fred Guterl writes that,

“some astronomers…estimate that perhaps half of the 200 billion or so suns in the Milky Way support terrestrial, Earth-like worlds.”

Bill Borucki heads up the NASA Kepler mission that will search for these habitable earth-like planets. He claims that many such planets will be discovered by 2013. In the meantime it is possible to watch “Alien Earth” and see potentially habitable planets, like Gilese 581c, which were unknown until a few years ago. If we were to stretch our minds and step out of our anthropocentric worldview, could we imagine Earth-like worlds with sophisticated and advanced life forms curious and inclusive enough to reach out and “touch” one of our brethren?

– Neil


Clancy, SA. (2007). Abducted: How People Come to Believe They Were Kidnapped by Aliens. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Kate Gosselin Wikipedia Entry

Mack, J. (2005). Abduction, Alienation and Reason, BBC Radio 4, broadcast June 8, 2005

Mack, J. (2007). Abduction: Human Encounters with Aliens. New York: Scribner.

Sun Ra Wikipedia Entry

Susan Clancy Wikipedia Entry


Capture Bonding Colleen Stan Elizabth Smart Fusako Sano Katya Martynova Lena Simakhina Natascha Kampusch Patty Hearst Shawn Hornbeck SLA Steven Stayner stockholm syndrome

Stockholm Syndrome

With the news this week of Jaycee Dugard’s abduction and 18 years of captivity I thought I would write something on Stockholm Syndrome. This syndrome was coined by criminologist and psychiatrist Nils Bejerot in relation to the robbery of Kreditbanken at Norrmalmstorg in Stockholm, Sweden in August of 1973. During this robbery bank employees were held hostage for six days and began to experience a number of positive emotions, including loyalty, empathy, and love towards the robbers, even defending their actions after they were freed.

Stockholm Syndrome is a psychological response by people (usually, but not always female) who have been abducted and held for some period of time. When Stockholm Syndrome develops, hostages begin to have positive feelings of loyalty, empathy, sympathy, and even love towards their abductors. This occurs in spite of immediate danger, loss of freedom, sexual abuse, and in extreme cases torture. Stockholm Syndrome has been seen in various degrees in many different types of hostage-taking situations including bank robbery, rape, domestic violence, and child abuse.

Over the years there have been a number of cases of abduction where Stockholm Syndrome has been confirmed or suspected. The following cases are by no means an exhaustive list:

As recounted in I Know My First Name Is Steven, seven year old Steven Stayner was kidnapped in Merced California by Kenneth Parnell in 1972. He was a held captive for over seven years until early 1980. After Parnell abducted a five year old boy, Stayner decided to escape in order to return the boy to his parents. While Stayner was at work he left with the boy, eventually going to the police. Parnell was arrested and sentenced to only seven years, and was paroled after five. However in 2004 at the age of 72 Parnell attempted to get his nurse to procure a boy for him, He was reported to the police and returned to prison where he died in 2008. Steven was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1989.

One of the most famous cases involving Stockholm Syndrome is that of Patty Hearst. An heiress of the Hearst family fortune, Patty was kidnapped on February 4, 1974, by the radical left Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). After her abduction Patty was kept in a closet and systematically brainwashed, physically, as well as sexually abused, chiefly by Donald DeFreeze (Aka “Cinque”), the leader of the SLA, and later by Willie Wolfe (Aka “Cujo”). Although it has been asserted that Patty willingly had romantic relationships with SLA members, she has steadfastly maintained that this was not true. After a failed attempt to ransom Patty (this involved the distribution of food to poor people – something those of us raised in the San Francisco Bay Area will never forget), she soon issued a communique calling herself Tania (in honor of Che Guevara’s partner) and saying she was now part of the SLA. Shortly thereafter Tania showed up on surveillance cameras during a bank robbery in the Sunset District of San Francisco holding an M1 rifle. After the ringleaders of the SLA were killed in a massive shootout in Los Angeles, other SLA members robbed a bank in Carmichel California and killed a bank customer. Tania was supposedly in one of the getaway cars. She was arrested soon after. Famous (or infamous) attorney F. Lee Baily was hired as her attorney, but he did not make a great case for Patty having been brainwashed or having suffered from Stockholm Syndrome. It didn’t help matters that Patty refused to testify against the other SLA members. She was convicted of bank robbery and sentenced to 35 years in prison. Patty served almost two years of her sentence before it was commuted by President Jimmy Carter. After her release from prison she married her former bodyguard and had two children.Patty has had a minor but interesting career in the entertainment industry, appearing in films by John Watersas well as other films and tv shows. She wrote an autobiography titled Patty Hearst Her Story. There have been numerous other books written about Patty as well (see Bizarre Store for titles). In 1999 she was given a pardon by President Bill Clinton as one of last acts in office.

The story of Colleen Stan has been told in a number of places, including the excellent TruTV website as well as in the book Perfect Victim: The True Story of the Girl in a Box By the DA that Prosecuted her Captor and more recently in her own words in the book Colleen Stan: The Simple Gifts of Life: Dubbed by the Media the Girl in the Box and the Sex Slave. I have made a brief summary of this complicated case here. Colleen Stan was hitchhiking in Northern California in May 1977 when a car pulled over and offered her a ride. In the car was a man Cameron Hooker, his wife Janice, and their baby. To Colleen this seemed like a safe ride. However, once in the car, Hooker turned off into a wilderness area, stopped the car, and at knife point fastened a specially-made a wooden box over Colleen’s head. She was bound, gagged, stuffed into a sleeping bag, and kept out of sight for the drive to Hooker’s remote home. Once there Colleen was almost immediately tortured – hung by her arms and beaten. This aroused Hooker who called in his wife so they could have sex at Colleen’s feet.

Colleen was then locked in another box and the head box was placed over her again. She could barely breath, but when she started to scream hooker placed a constricting band around her chest making even harder for her to breath. She felt as if she was going to die. When she didn’t die and some of the restrictions were removed, she was relieved. Her brainwashing had begun.

For the next seven years Colleen would lead the life of a sex slave. For the first three years she would only be allowed out of the box an hour a day. She would be placed in a coffin-like box every night which was under the Hooker’s bed and tortured on a regular basis. Colleen was told that if she escaped a sex slave ring named “The Company” would kill her family. Hooker had done his homework on brainwashing and used isolation, starvation, severe beatings, torture, bathroom privileges, and sexual abuse to bring her to a state of complete subservience. As she became more and more brainwashed she was given more and more freedom and was allowed to do chores around the house. While Hooker molested Colleen he had never had intercourse with her. One day after he tried to have a menage a troi with Colleen and his wife, Hooker raped Collen for the first time. He then raped her on a regular basis thereafter. Colleen was eventually allowed to work in the yard and even go jogging. In 1980 Hooker allowed his wife Janice to take Colleen to a bar where they picked up some men. He even allowed Janice to carry on an affair with one of them. Eventually Colleen was allowed to write letters to her family, call them by phone, and finally visit them. During the visit she introduced Hooker to her family as her computer programmer boyfriend. After this visit Hooker confined Colleen to her box for the next three years, though he did allow her out to work as a maid at a local hotel. Janice, who had been reading the Bible began to have misgivings about the situation (including the sexual activities her husband commanded her to perform with Colleen). One day Janice picked up Colleen from work and encouraged her to escape. The next day Colleen quit her job and fled, returning to her parents’ home. Once home Colleen did not tell her story to anyone and stayed in touch with Janice. She assured Hooker she would not go to the police. Hooker, however, obviously expected to be arrested and started to get rid of any evidence that could link him to Colleen’s captivity. When Colleen began to tell her family some of what she had been through. they urged her to call the authorities. In the meantime Janice left Hooker and confessed to her Pastor, who then called the police. The police agreed to give Janice immunity for her testifying against Hooker. She told the about another woman who Hooker had abducted and shot, as well as about Colleen. Hooker was finally arrested on charges of sodomy, kidnap, rape and various other crimes. Unlike Patty Hearst’s lawyers, the prosecutor in this case called in experts on brainwashing and Stockholm Syndrome to the courtroom. In the courtroom the fact that Colleen had written 29 love letters to Hooker came out. Yet there was no doubt that Colleen had developed Stockholm Syndrome and this was competently shown to be the result of the treatment at the hands of her kidnapper. Hooker was found guilty of ten charges, including kidnapping, and rape. He was sentenced to 104 years total in prison where he remains to this day. Colleen has tried to have a normal life. She went into therapy, got married and divorced and had a daughter. She volunteers for a sex abuse hotline and warns young people about the dangers of hitchhiking.

In 1990 Fusako Sano, age 10, was kidnapped in Sanjo, Niigata Prefecture in Japan. She was held captive for 9 years until the year 2000 by a mentally disturbed man, Nobuyuki Sato, who lived in a room above his mother’s house. Sano said she gave up the idea of escape because she was fearful. Nobuyuki eventually caused trouble for his mother who called the police. Sano revealed herself to the police when they can to the room where she lived with her captor.

As told in her book I Choose to Live, Sabine Dardenne, was kidnapped in 1996 while biking to school in Belgium when she was 12 years old. Her abductor, Marc Dutroux, was a psychopath and serial murderer. Sabine was held captive for 80 days in Dutroux’ basement. Dutroux had murdered a number of previous victims and an accomplice. He owned seven houses in which he housed his victims and used pharmacuetical drugs to subdue them. Sabine would also likely have been murdered if Dutroux had not been apprehended by police. Dutroux was sentenced to life imprisonment and his former wife and other accomplices also received long sentences.

The book, Girl in the Cellar: The Natascha Kampusch Story, tells the ordeal of ten year old Natascha who was abducted in March 1998 while walking to school in Vienna. Her abductor, Wolfgang Priklopil, kept her in captivity for eight years in a cellar she was told was rigged with explosives. Priklopil, who insisted his victim address him as ‘Master’, was the only other person Natascha was allowed to interact with during this time. Not surprisingly, Natascha became dependent on Priklopil who, though he beat and likely sexually abused her, provided her with the basic necessities of life. Over the years Natacha was allowed more and more freedom, though Priklopil threatened to kill her if she tried to escape. At age 18, Natascha finally summoned the will to escape when her captor took a phone call and left her alone while she was cleaning his car. Natascha was found by by an elderly neighbor who then called the police. Priklopil committed suicide by jumping in front of a train a few hours after Natascha made her escape. Natascha was soon reunited with her parents, but her life has not returned to normal. She does not get along with her parents and has at times excoriated by the public who seemingly didn’t understand why she didn’t escape earlier and still seems attached to her captor. Nevertheless, Natascha is still suffering from her ordeal. She lives alone and rarely leaves her home due to intense phobia of the outside world. For all intense purposes she still remains a prisoner.

In 2000 seventeen year old Lena Simakhina, and fourteen year old Katya Martynova were abducted by ex-army officer and factory worker Viktor Mokhov. The girls were kept as sex slaves in a basement for for three and a half years. Lena was impregnated twice and gave birth only with the assistance of her young friend. The babies were taken from her by Mokhov and abandoned. Both girls unsuccessfully tried to resist Mokhov during the ordeal. Eventually they were able to smuggle out a note which led to the downfall of their tormentor. Lena was eight months pregnant when she was finally freed. Mokhov was sentenced to 17 years in a labor camp and two years in prison. Lena has since married.

As recounted in the book Held Captive: The Kidnapping and Rescue of Elizabeth Smart, fourteen year old Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped and repeatedly raped by psychotic religious fanatic Brian David Mitchell with the help of his wife Wanda Ileen Barzee in June 2002. Initially Smart was kept in close confinement but was allowed more and more freedom as time went on. She was found with the couple in March of 2003. Elizabeth may not have suffered from Stockholm Syndrome and may have not escaped for so long out of fear – Mitchell had threatened to kill her family. She kept a journal during her captivity written in French where she wrote how much she hated her captors. After her escape she has become an advocate for those who have suffered from abduction. Bright and capable, Elizabeth has also been able to hold her own with obnoxious media pundits.

As Detailed in Invisible Chains: Shawn Hornbeck and the Kidnapping Case that Shook the Nation, Shawn Hornbeck was kidnapped at age 11 in 2003 and held for four years by Michael Devlin in Missouri. Devlin repeatedly molested the boy. Shawn began using Devlin’s last name and even though he spoke to police on two separate occasions on unrelated matters, he did not reveal his true identity. He was finally discovered when police received a tip as they were searching for another recently missing boy Ben Ownby, who had also been abducted by Devlin. Incredibly some in the media, such as commentator Bill O’Reilly, have blamed Shawn for his captivity, questioning why did not speak up earlier or try to escape. To my mind this demonstrates a monumental level of ignorance or callousness as the nature and effects of Stockholm Syndrome.

What is the reason for Stockholm Syndrome? Why would captured humans behave in this way? For me, the most cogent answer comes from the field of Evolutionary Psychology. A recent article by Chris Cantor and John Price (Cantor & Price, 2007) looks at the evolutionary basis of Stockholm Syndrome and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), or as they put it the “…evolutionary theory of complex PTSD specific to those trapped in traumatic subordinate relationships” (p.378). Traumatic entrapment includes people who are abducted and kept against their will as well as children abused (sexually or physically) by adults including their parents over a period of time. It is well known that these victims experience post-traumatic stress resulting from their ordeals and that this stress can lead to personality changes, an inability to regulate emotional states, and a decrease in cognitive function. In both complex PTSD and Stockholm Syndrome victims may idealize and have positive feelings towards their abusers. The authors make the case the this is a form of appeasement which confers a survival advantage in some mammals and primates who undergo traumatic subordination to a captor. Prisoners who appease their captors will be less likely to be killed and are more likely to reproduce than captives that do not demonstrate appeasement behavior. Appeasement is seen as one of six mamalian defenses which are exaggerated by PTSD. These defenses are:

1. Avoidance of threats,
2. Attentive immobility (freezing and carefure watching as a prelude to more definitive action),
3. Withdrawal (flight response)
4. Aggressive defense (fight response),
5. Appeasement
6. Tonic immobility (playing dead – this confuses the predator by inhibiting attack reflexes or fooling them into thinking the victim is ‘contaminated’ food) (p.380)

In a situation of traumatic entrapment, appeasement may be the only defensive option. In apes, research that has shown that victims will at times turn towards their attackers for comfort and safety (this is termed ‘reverted escape’). In chimps the victim of an attack will have heightened anxiety and will engage in soothing behaviors such as hugging and kissing with former combatants. These soothing behaviors show the dominant animal that the victim is subordinate. and may be the prelude to Stockholm syndrome in humans, and especially female victims. As Cantor and Price note,

Hunter-gatherer women have been remarkably frequently kidnapped by opposing tribes, with little likelihood of rescue. From an evolutionary perspective defiance in such circumstances carries the prospect of death and the non-transmission of related genes. Submission and defection may promote genetic survival. This has been described as ‘capture-bonding’” (p.380).

Finally the authors point out that appeasement is associated with fear and shame. Fear provides motivation for defense. Shame on the part of the victim, however, gives the signal that he or she is of no threat to the captor. In this way, shame may be the pre-cursor to appeasement. However, shame is an extremely uncomfortable emotion and victims may dissociate to avoid experiencing it. This dissociation may also help the victim to continue to appease the aggressor. When the ordeal is over, the shame returns along with the other aspects of PTSD. The victims of traumatic entrapment have a long road to recovery.


Boulton, D. (1975). The making of Tania Hearst. London, UK: New English Library.

Cantor c, & Prive, J. (2007). Traumatic entrapment, appeasement and complex post-traumatic stress disorder: evolutionary perspectives of hostage reactions, domestic abuse and the Stockholm syndrome. Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 2007 May;41(5):377-84.

Cosmides L., & Tooby J. (downloaded Sept. 1, 2009). Evolutionary Psychology: A Primer. University of California Santa Barbara: Center For Evolutionary Psychology.

Echols, M. (1999). I Know My First Name Is Steven. New York: Pinnacle.

Elizabeth Smart Kidnapping Wikipedia Entry

Fusako Sano Wikipedia Entry

Green, Jim (2009). Colleen Stan: The Simple Gifts of Life: Dubbed by the Media the Girl in the Box and the Sex Slave. Bloomington, IN: iUniverse.

Haberman, M., & Macintosh, J. (2003). Held Captive: The Kidnapping and Rescue of Elizabeth Smart. New York: Avon.

Hall, A. & Leidig, M. (2007). Girl in the Cellar: The Natascha Kampusch Story. New York: HarperCollins.

Hearst, PC &Moscow, A. (1988). Patty Hearst Her Story. New York: Avon.

Hindell, J. (2000). Japanese woman’s captive childhood. BBC News

McGuire, Christine & Carla Norton. (1989). Perfect Victim: The True Story of the Girl in a Box By the DA that Prosecuted her Captor. New York: Dell.

Michael Devlin Wikipedia Entry

Natascha Kampusch Official Website (in German)

Natascha Kampusch Wikipedia Entry

Ramsland, K. (Downloaded August 29, 2009). The Case of the Seven-Year Sex Slave. TruTV

Rubenstein, S. (2008). Kenneth Parnell, kidnapper of Steven Stayner dies at 76. San Francisco Chronicle

Sabrine Dardenne Wikipedia Entry

Sauerwein, K. (2008). Invisible Chains: Shawn Hornbeck and the Kidnapping Case that Shook the Nation. Guilford, CT: The Lyons Press.

Shawn Hornbeck Official Website

Smith, C. (2004). Belgian gets life for raping and murdering little girls. New York Times.

Steven Stayner Wikipedia Entry

Stockholm Syndrome Wikipedia Entry

Stuart, W., & Hoyle, A. (May 1, 2006). Sex slave’s marriage a year after rescue. Mirror UK.

Symbionese Liberation Army Wikipedia Entry

bryan loudermilk crush cultural entomology fetishs insect phobia Jeff Vilencia masochism paraphilia smush

Stomp & Crush

Recently I stumbled on an article about about a Maltese immigrant in New York that likes to be stepped on. A recent New York Times article describes the lifestyle of ‘Georgio T.” who frequents barroom floors, where wrapped up in a carpet, he experiences the delight of being trod upon. The ‘Human Carpet’ as he calls himself, spends a few hours during each bar session being walked on and is especially happy when women step on him. Many bar patrons are unaware they are even walking on Georgio (this is New York after all). After a night of being stepped on, Giorgio packs up his carpet and drives back to Connecticut and his normal life as a massage therapist.

Interesting, but not too strange. To me this seems like a simple variant of masochism. It is likely that as a very young child Giorgio somehow paired pleasurable feelings with the pressure of someone on top of him. Later on this became elaborated into his fetish of being stepped on. Pretty harmless, perhaps even relatively common, and the subject of a Frank Zappa song on the Bongo Fury album; Carolina Hardcore Ecstasy. Nevertheless, there are more extreme versions of being stepped on and crushed and this behavior can result in severe damage or even death.

While researching this behavior, I came across a somewhat stranger, though similar paraphilia, the so-called ‘crush fetish‘. While it is common for people to fear insects, even to the point of phobias, it is less common for people to be sexually aroused in their presence. G.A. Pearson, writing in the online journal Cultural Entomology, describes people whose fetish consists of watching insects being squashed. That’s right, these people get turned on by watching people (mostly women) squashing bugs. The more frightened the woman, and the larger the feet doing the squashing, the better. According to Pearson, who is an entomologist, there is even an entire publication devoted to promoting this fetish, The American Journal of The Crush Freaks, which has 500 or so subscribers. This ‘journal’ is the brainchild of filmmaker Jeff Vilencia, who makes films (like Smush) in the ‘crush’ genre. According to Vilencia the crush fetishist fantasizes that they are the bug getting squashed and so in this way this fetish is similar to being a human carpet.

Vilencia had to close his production company after a federal anti-animal cruelty law criminalized his film making in 1999. This law was in response to the depiction of live small animals being crushed or stomped on (and was sponsored by our local Southern California congressman Elton Gallegly). At this point I think we have to start wondering if this is a fetish per se or anti-social (psychopathic) behavior, especially since one of the warning signs in children destined to become psychopaths is cruelty to animals. One of the leading proponents of the crushing of live animals, Bryan Loudermilk, was himself crushed to death in a scenario where he had himself penned under a vehicle that had driven on to his abdomen – “karma neh?”

While the crush fetish is strange, it is perhaps more acceptable to the general population than the fetish formicophilia, which Nancy Butler describes in her book The Strange Case of the Walking Corpse: A Chronicle of Medical Mysteries, Curious Remedies,and Bizarre but True Healing Folklore. This fetish involves the direct use of insects for sexual pleasure and may involve letting insects walk all over you, or smearing yourself with honey and having insects feed on you. It might even include the placement of insects in various bodily orifices – the sensation of their attempts to escape giving sexual pleasure. Ratnin Dewaraja has shown that counseling and behavior therapy can reduce this fetishistic behavior, at least in one instance.


Butler N. (2004). The Strange Case of the Walking Corpse: A Chronicle of Medical Mysteries, Curious Remedies, and Bizarre But True Healing Folklore. New York: Avery

Dewaraja, R (1987). Formicophilia, an unusual paraphilia, treated with counseling and behavior therapy. American Journal of Psychotherapy 41: 593-597.

Dewaraja R, Money J. (1986). Transcultural sexology: Formicophilia, a newly named paraphilia in a young Buddhist male. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy 12: 139-145.

G.A. Pearson. (1997). Digest Cultural Entomology, 4. Insects as sexual fetish objects. North Carolina State University.

Weinstein, P. (1994). Insects in psychiatry. Digest Cultural Entomology, 2.

Ben Otake Born to Run Christopher McDougall Copper Canyon extreme sports Ken Rose Warriors marathon Mexico running Shin Shin Mugendo Tarahumara Tendai

Extreme Running

Like many folks, I consider myself to be a serious amateur athlete. I train in the martial arts around 7 to 10 hours a week and my training includes aerobic and resistance training in addition to learning technique. Having officially reached middle-age last year the limitations to my training regime (other than time and money) are largely related to the increased time it takes my body to recover from injury. An injury, say to my knee, that would have needed a couple of recovery days in my 20s, now may require 2-3 weeks. I have accepted this limitation with equanimity along with accepting the fact that I am growing older. Yet in the back of my mind I want to train more and reach a higher level.

This wish to train harder is reflected in the example of some of my teachers. Sensei Ben Otake, my Karate teacher has reached a pinnacle of perfection in his technique. He has unbelievable economy of movement allowing him to generate incredible strength and speed far beyond karateka half his age. When he was my age he sparred with tigers and bears (I am not making this up!).

My Thai Boxing teacher, and ex-NFL player, Kru Ken Rose is in his late 40s, and looks like he could walk on to a pro-football field tomorrow and play at full tilt. His strength is only matched by the intensity of his workout schedule.

But there is another level of training. Lately, I have been reflecting on two different groups of extreme atheletes, hoping to derive some inspiration for training harder. The first group is the subject of Born to Run, a new book by Christopher McDougall on the Tarahumara of Copper Canyon Mexico. The Tarahumara are desceded from an indigiouness people of Mexico who fled from the Spainsh invasion in the 16th century taking up residence in the extremely remote Copper Canyon region of the Sierra Madre. While related to the Huichol and Yaqui, the Tarahumara have a unique lifestyle centered around extreme long-distance running. It is not unusually for Tarahumara to run 80 or more miles in a day, or to engage in foot races for days at a time, or to run 200-300 miles over the period of a few days. How the Tarahumara accomplish this without suffering the typical sports injuries seen in the developed world has attracted the attention of scientists and extreme athletes from around the world. It seems they have a specific way of running that helps keep them from injury. This technique works in part because the Tarahumara use only the most basic of footwear, essentially running barefoot! This running style is now being adopted by ultra-marathon runners in the west with success. The Tarahumara also seem not to suffer from the typical degenerative diseases of the developed world including, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc., while living a party-filled existence fueled by beer, cigarettes, and a high carb diet. The Tarahumara are also peaceful, non-violent, and unfortunately in danger of getting in the way of drug traffickers who covet their remote isolation.

The other group of extreme runners is one that I known about for some time. These are the so-called Marathon Monks of Mt. Hiei, which is near Kyoto, Japan. These monks of the Tendai sect of Buddhism have evolved a religious meditation practice centered on long distance running. Like all other Buddhist meditation practices the purpose of running is to reach a state of enlightenment and to benefit all sentient beings through gaining spiritual merit which is then given away. The marathon monks prepare for years to take on a 1000 day challenge which involves running the equivalent of a marathon every day for months at a time. For about the 1st year the monks run 24 miles a day for 100 consecutive days. In later years the monks running 24 miles a day for 200 consecutive days. In the final years of the challenge the monks increase their daily distance to 37 miles a day for 100 days, and finally to 52 miles a day for 100 days. Only 46 men have completed the 1000 day challenge since 1885. In a quite un-Buddhist fashion, the running monks carry a knife and section of rope while running to remind them of their vow to either commit sepukku (ritual self-disembowelment) or hang themselves if they fail the challenge. The running trails used by the monks are strewn with the graves of past monks who could not finish and supposedly committed suicide on the trail. (Luckily, no monks in recent history have done this). The monks also carry food, candles, Buddhist texts, etc, to make offerings and pray at small forest temples along the way. The Marathon Monks also have a unique style of running that is very relaxed with the eyes focused about 100 feet in front of the runner. Similarly to the Tarahumara, the Marathon Monks use the most primitive of footwear – woven straw sandals. The Marathon Monks also eat a strict vegan diet, even during the challenge.


Barefoot Ted’s Adventures

Davis, J. (downloaded 8-22-09). Tendai Marathon Monks – The Run of A Lifetime. The London Observer.

Hayden, C.J. (2002). Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei (film) color, 57 min. Watertown, MA: Documentary Educational Resources.

McDougall, C. (2008). The Men Who Live Forever”, Men’s Health Magazine April.

McDougall, C. (2009). Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen. NewYork, Knopf.

Minimalist Runners Google Group

Schmid, H.A., (1996). The Spiritual Athlete’s Path to Enlightenment: Ultra Marathon Running. December 11.

Stevens, J. (1988). The Marathon Monks of Mount Hiei. Boston: Shambala.

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