Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Rubbish reporting from 60 Minutes

Clayton Weatherston's trial has brought all sorts of crap reporting out of the woodwork, using pop psychology to appeal to people's voyeurism.* 60 Minutes last night was an excellent example.

Last night's nonsensical item started out with a group of volunteers being surveyed to find out if they are narcissists. Narcissism was portrayed not as a personality trait that a person can control, but as something more akin to a mental illness. This was my first irk. Claiming that narcissism diminishes responsibility is crap - it's like me claiming my habitual morning grumpiness is some sort of syndrome I deserve treatment and sympathy for.

Anyway, the 60 Minutes item moved on to state that some 91% of men and 84% of women have thought about killing someone at some time. This was supposed to send shivers of terror through our spines, and make us realise that the person next door, the woman we work with, the guy who delivers the mail, is a potential Clayton Weatherston. What sensationalist bullshit. If this statistic is to be believed, it simply shows that the vast majority of the population has more self-control than Weatherston did.

Most offensively, one David M Buss, author of The Murderer Next Door: Why the Mind Is Designed to Kill, explained to viewers that men are 'hard-wired' for violence, particularly when their sexual dominance is threatened. Buss urged us to be 'sensitive' to the triggers to this violence, particularly female infidelity and women leaving relationships. Of all the shitty excuse-making for male violence I've heard recently, that just about takes the cake.

* A psychology lecturer from Victoria made an interesting comment about the greater prevalence of narcissism among men being related to the high esteem our culture has for male activities. It was really interesting - but it got swallowed by the general bullshit.


Hugh said...

Severe narccicism is recognised as a personality disorder by most pyschologists, so the comparison to your morning grumpiness may not be that instructive (although I don't know what qualifies as 'severe').

I also find the idea that men are more narccicistic than women intriguing. Do you have any statistics that indicate that?

Anna said...

I'm intrigued by personality disorders (without actually knowing anything about them). I asked a buddy of mine who's a doctor (though not with a psych speciality) about them - she seemed to think that a personality disorder doesn't affect culpability as the law understands it, since people with such disorders know what they're doing is wrong, but lack the empathy to care. It seems to be an area of some debate, though.

I thought Weatherston's unclear use of narcissism as a defence was odd. One or more specialists testified that he might have a personality disorder, or 'showed the features' of one, but this didn't seem to be an accepted diagnosis. Weatherston was also miffed that Sophie Elliot was what he called an 'attempted murderer', suggesting that he knows violence is wrong (although not when he does it, evidently). I don't know whether there's enough subtlety in the way the law deals with psychiatric defences to handle personality disorders - or whether it should try to. Rambling willy-nilly now...

The tendency to male narcissism claim was made by 60 Minutes - I've never read anything about it anywhere, unfortunately. The Vic guy said that if our most celebrated national sports team was comprised of women, female narcissim could be more prevalent. I thought this was fascinating - I would have liked to hear a lot more.

Boganette said...

LOL this is a far more mature post than I did on the 60 Minutes segment I'm glad someone else was as pissed off about it as I was.

Anna said...

Maturity is over-rated, Boganette - could you link to your post? :-)

Boganette said...

Umm I'm a beginner blogger and I'm a bit slow when it comes to technomalogical things and blog etiquette so do I provide a link by just erm putting the link in like this: http://boganette.blogspot.com/2009/08/there-are-killers-everywhere.html

Or is there some blogger way to do it?

I know that sounded really smart-like.

Anonymous said...

I thought it was terribly stigmatising for the vast majority of people who have mental health issues who would never, ever kill someone. Such personality disorder which for many people have their roots in past experiences of abuse.
I have had counselling and suffer from anxiety and I found it really quite scary that they seemed to be linking these things in the way that they were. Most people who experience these issues would never do anything like that.I thought it was terrible.

Deborah said...

Boganette's post: There are killers everywhere

Anna said...

V good point, Anon. I also have anxiety problems - they don't come out as aggressive behaviour towards anyone, although they can make certain situations (esp involving my kids being rowdy) a bit difficult to handle.

This idea that everybody is a ticking time bomb is offensive, while underplaying the fact that people with various mental health issues can and do lead normal (non-homicidal) lives, so long as people are understanding and supportive.

Anonymous said...

Frankly, they may have had a point. I know I felt like killing several people after watching that 'report', starting with the director.

david said...

This is slightly off topic, but my ex has narcisitic personality disorder. People with NPD cant be treated easily as they do not believe that they can be wrong. They manipulate people around them to get what they want, and discard those that are of no use. People with NPD generally feel justified in treating others like dirt. Witherston is an extreme example he went from treating Sophie badly to killing her.

Believe me the words satins daughter accurately describe my ex.

Random Lurker said...

"the Mind Is Designed to Kill"

This suggests not just that the mind is capable of being triggered to kill, but that we can kill at will.

In general I'd say nearly all of us cannot wilfully kill a person whose face we can see. At least not without psychological repercussions.

A UK Channel 4 doco called The Truth About Killing cited WWII research that suggested that only 2% of US soldiers (poorly trained conscripts) could shoot to kill. I think they also said that German WWI soldiers reported psychological paralysis of their trigger fingers.

Their minds it would appear, were designed to avoid killing.

tussock said...

Breaking news, psychopaths think everybody's secretly a bit of a psychopath, and everyone really likes them for their greater honesty about it.

In other news, everyone else thinks much the same things. Most of them are right about it though.

Anonymous said...

Anna, the point of claiming to suffer from narcissism was relevant to the defence of provocation.

To establish the provocation defence, you need to establish that a "reasonable person" - but with the characteristics of the offender - would have also been provoked into losing self control in the same situation.

So, if you can establish that, because of your characteristics, you have a reduced ability for self-control, then it becomes easier to make out the defence of provocation.

In this case, his argument was that a "reasonable person" with the characteristic of narcissism would be more easily provoked by the same situation than a person who did not have this personality disorder.

So his narcissism was not a defence in itself, but an attempt to make the provocation defence more successful.

stargazer said...

except that a "reasonable person" doesn't suffer from narcissism. and the majority of people who do suffer from narcissism don't kill. so either way, the argument doesn't work.