Examining Subtypes of Sex Offenders

A very interesting study has recently been published in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine, discussing the various subtypes of sexual offenders and their corresponding personalities.

A distinction was made between four groups: paedophilic offenders, non-paedophilic offenders, rapists and a control group of non-sexual offenders.

What is a non-paedophilic offender?

It might sound like an oxymoron, considering that we’re discussing people who commit sexual crimes against children, but a distinction is made in the literature between those who claim to be attracted to children (paedophilic offenders) and those who claim to be attracted predominantly to adults, but who have committed sexual crimes against children. This latter subset are defined as ‘non-paedophilic’, due to the root words from which the term ‘paedophile’ is taken meaning ‘love of children’.

The study

The study aimed to look at different personality types of offenders, with a view to enabling social services and the justice system to provide useful intervention for the people who commit these crimes.

164 male convicted offenders were assessed, of whom 50 were rapists, 20 were paedophilic child molesters, 43 were non-paedophilic child molesters, and 51 were non-sexual offenders.

Four questionnaires were given to each participant: the Adult Attachment Scale, which measures a person’s levels of security, anxiety and avoidance; the Interpersonal Behaviour Survey, which distinguishes between assertive and aggressive behaviours and provides a scale for each; the Brief Symptom Inventory, which provides a brief assessment for psychological problems; and the Socially Desirable Response Set Measure, which evaluates a person’s tendency to give what they perceive to be socially desirable responses, rather than an accurate response.

The results

The results showed distinct differences between each group of offenders.

Paedophilic offenders were more likely to present anxiety in adult relationships than non-paedophilic offenders.

Non-paedophilic offenders were less aggressive compared to rapists and non-sexual offenders, and were less assertive than rapists.

Rapists were the group that scored the highest on aggression.

Further research is required – the group of paedophilic offenders in particular was quite small in comparison to the other groups studied – but the study seems to indicate that different types of offenders have different personality profiles, and therefore any interventions ought to be conducted in different ways depending on the type of offense committed.

The full study can be found in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine via ScienceDirect.

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Guys, I Really Am A Ravenclaw!

Which Harry Potter house are you in? Ask anyone of a certain generation and you’ll probably receive an answer. J.K. Rowling’s series of books sparked huge international interest, and expanded into films, games, a real-world studio tour… the works.

To cope with this growing demand (or perhaps just because she wanted to), Rowling put together Pottermore, a site where fans can get together, play through challenges and unlock elements of the stories that aren’t mentioned in the books. They can also get sorted into one of the four Hogwarts houses – Ravenclaw, Gryffindor, Hufflepuff and Slytherin – to find out about their personality.

But what does your Harry Potter house really say about you?

Without wanting to sound like a clickbait article title, it’s now possible to find out, or at least to measure some associated characteristics.

Crysel et al‘s new research paper in Volume 83 of Personality and Individual Differences aims to answer this question. The researchers asked fans from online Harry Potter groups to tell them which house they’d been sorted into on Pottermore, then asked them to complete a personality measure.

The results were intriguing.

Ravenclaws (my house!) are “known for wit and learning”, according to the books, and the study found that fans who had been sorted into this house on Pottermore scored highly on the ‘need for cognition’ scale.

GIF-bellatrix-lestrange-31336859-250-157Slytherins, who are “known for using any means to achieve their ends”, scored highly on Dark Triad traits. What are Dark Triad traits? Narcissim, Machavellianism, and psychopathy. Sound like Bellatrix to you?

 

Surprisingly, however, the other two houses didn’t bring back the results the researchers had expected. They saw no correlation between Gryffindor (known for bravery) and extraversion or openness, and no correlation between Hufflepuff (known for loyalty) and the need to belong.

Perhaps there’s something about Ravenclaws and Slytherins that just makes us relate even more to our houses than other personality types. But we’ll leave that for future research.

Which house are you in? Do you think your result is accurate?

Full research article available via ScienceDirect.

Why Does Burnout Happen To Students?

Researchers at a Korean university have been studying the links between perfectionism, motivation and burnout in academic students.

I found the concept interesting because I’ve always been very motivated to study. Not necessarily to acquire pieces of paper with high marks on them, but to further my own learning. As a teenager I was constantly being told by my teachers that I was “doing too much”; advice which I stubbornly ignored as I added more and more A-level subjects to my teetering pile of exam preparation papers.

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As an adult I’ve become a little more balanced, though my friends may not entirely agree. I’m still very motivated. I love learning and I enjoy efficiency, and where possible I try to learn at least one new thing every day. Sometimes this is just discovering that a city I’ve never been to before is very beautiful; sometimes it’s checking out a mathematics textbook from my local library and solving equations late into the night.

So I was interested to read the results of a study that focuses on precisely these points: if someone’s really motivated, and studying because they want to, then are they still likely to burn out?

It would seem not.

Chang et al surveyed 283 students, studying three areas: perfectionism, motivation, and academic burnout. The results were interesting (and I particularly like them because they back up my own arguments for being a bit of a workaholic).

They discovered that students who were intrinsically self-motivated – who drew their motivation from within; from a love of the subject they were studying, for example – presented as self-oriented perfectionists and had comparatively lower chances of burning out. In other words, there is a correlation between doing something because you want to, and because you love it, and it not making you ultimately burn out.

On the other hand, students who were socially-prescribed perfectionists – those who were pushed by parents, peers or similar to become “perfect versions” of themselves – were extrinsically motivated and had much higher chances of burning out.

In other words: do what you love, love what you do. That way, you can keep going even when other people might have burned out long ago.

The full study is available via ScienceDirect.

photo credit: Contemplate via photopin (license)

Atheist Pilgrims

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The Pilgrimage Project has been going on for seven years now (or maybe eight. Wow, is it eight already? It actually is), and in that time we’ve made a number of unexpected discoveries. One of those was the sheer number of people on pilgrimages who declared no religious interest at all.

The paper that I’m currently rewriting, per the ‘revise & resubmit’ guidelines given to us by the journal we submitted it to, looks at some of those atheists. Travelling a traditionally Catholic pilgrimage route which has seen a huge uplift over the past twenty years, many of them profess no belief in a higher being, but report similar experiences to the Catholics’ own.

Unfortunately our survey wasn’t set up to record people with no spiritual beliefs – although ‘Atheist/Agnostic’ is an option on the questionnaire, it’s not something we expected to have to explore in-depth, so we didn’t include much in the way of questions regarding the nature of non-belief.

My job at the moment is to try to make something of the data anyway. Part of the survey we did was qualitative, giving people the chance to explain their thoughts and experiences to a certain extent, and this was helpful. Ideally I’d like a larger pool, and some more broken-down data, but you can’t have everything in this world, and especially not in academia.

I’m intrigued by these atheist/agnostic pilgrims and want to know more about them. One of my favourite quotes from an atheist on one of the pilgrimages was:

“Over the last few years I’ve become a committed atheist, so I’m investigating this belief in nothing. That’s what I’m investigating. How much there is to this nothingness.”

I liked this explanation, and I’d be interested to see how this pilgrim felt at the end of the journey, but unfortunately he was one of those whom we didn’t manage to interview again.

Reading through the literature – specifically, looking at Bainbridge, Baker & Smith’s papers on atheism, I’m seeing a trend in people who identify as unreligious and/or unspiritual, but who still sometimes engage in activities that most would put under these headings. One of our atheists said they pray “several times a week”. I can only assume that, since they said they were atheist rather than agnostic, they took ‘prayer’ to mean the same as ‘meditation’, but I’d like to have explored it more as a concept.

I’m thinking about proposing a new study of atheists taking part in activities that would traditionally be viewed as religious, and talking about how they would define these activities in the light of their own beliefs. Whether there is a latent religiosity there, or whether they would class themselves as more spiritual than other atheists, or whether they are hardcore atheists engaging in such activities for reasons arguably completely unrelated to religion. As an atheist myself, for example, I can still enjoy the silence and stillness of sitting in an empty church. But what I experience in such a building is an appreciation of its atmosphere without attributing it to a spiritual being. I assume that the atheists we met on pilgrimages have similar thoughts, but it would be good to gather some empirical data to back it up.

I would also be grateful for any recommendations you might have regarding the current literature on atheism, and particularly on atheists practising spiritual rituals. And, of course, any suggestions to feed in to future research would be very welcome.

Out of interest, how do you identify religiously? Do you practise rituals or engage in activities that would traditionally be viewed as part of a different religious group? Why?

photo credit: Brain of the Sistine Chapel via photopin (license)

Paper Planning for 2015

I can’t believe I haven’t posted since September. The final part of 2014 went by really quickly and most of it was spent travelling around doing all my other jobs, so despite having a couple of other papers to write I didn’t get around to looking at them at the end of the year. This means I now have to plan my papers for 2015 and probably have a bit more work to do than I’d anticipated. But that’s not exactly something I’m unused to.

There are three main papers planned this year:

1. A study of atheists travelling the Santiago pilgrimage. We met quite a lot of them along the way and conducted some interesting interviews. We have a paper already written, but it needs to be expanded with a bit more of a literature review, and maybe made into something a bit more involved than just a research note.

2. A study of the psychological impact of investigating crimes against children online, and the different methods people use to deal with this. I still need to start reading the literature on this; I’ve read a lot about the investigative methods themselves, but not so much about the psychology behind the investigators’ motives for doing these jobs and their coping methods, so that’s step one for this project. And funding, I need to find funding. That’s always the exciting part…

3. And if those two get under way properly and aren’t too time-taxing, I’m also thinking about doing a study into the psychology of terrorism and its similarities with fringe religious cults. Specifically, looking at the ways in which counter-terror deprogramming methods parallel the steps taken to deal with people who have been brainwashed by religious indoctrination.

Studies #2 and #3 are quite ambitious projects, I think, which will take a lot of time and involvement, but I’m hoping I can get at least one of them started this year. Plus, the bulk of the actual work for #1 has already been done, I just need to write the literature review and add in a few more statistical bits, so I’m sure it will be fine. Or that’s what I’m telling myself.

What about you? What are your research plans for the year?

How To Research: A Step-By-Step Guide

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I adapted this from How To Research by Blaxter, Hughes & Tight, which is a really useful book which I thoroughly recommend for anyone who’s on an academic career path.

Obviously each of these needs to be adapted slightly to your own needs, and expanded upon where necessary, but it’s a good place to start, especially for the social sciences.

Rough research idea

Research statement or hypothesis

Research outline

Decisions about information-gathering techniques

Participant observation / interviews / questionnaires / documentary analysis

Decisions about sources of information

Research design

Getting the information

Recording the data

Analysing the data

Writing the paper

photo credit: *w* via photopin cc

Today I Learned About Witch Camps in Ghana

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I am, among other things, a researcher in psychology of religion. My work for the past five years has focused on two distinct religious pathways: Catholicism and Paganism. Our main project has been about pilgrimage, looking at people’s motivations for going on religious journeys and their experiences during the treks. 

Mainly due to logistics, we’ve focused on European routes: Glastonbury, Stonehenge, Lourdes, and so on. I’ve spent a long time reading about and talking to pagans in the UK about their spiritual rituals and practices. Whilst witchcraft in the UK is still seen as being quite “odd”, it seems to be accepted as a quirky character trait; something that irritates many people within the pagan community, but that at least generally doesn’t lead to mass segregation from the mainstream. 

This weekend, I’m doing some work for a client in West Africa, looking at social media in a couple of countries there. One of these is Ghana, and I was perusing the Twitter feed of a Ghanaian news magazine when I came across a reference to witch camps. I decided to look into this further. I am fascinated by folk religions and spiritual beliefs around the world, and know very little about witchcraft outside of Europe. Beyond reading Witchcraft and Sorcery in East Africa a few years ago, I’d never really done any research on African witchcraft at all. 

In Ghana, there are a number of witch camps: small villages where people go when they have been accused of witchcraft in their home communities. Often the camps are friendly and open to strangers, with dedicated chiefs and priests to cleanse new arrivals before they are allowed into the village to live. 

Journalist Leo Igwe, visiting Kukuo witch camp in Ghana, reported that many of the witches had been there for many years, with a few in their nineties who had lived in the village since they were teenagers. Some wish to return to their old homes, but are afraid to do so because they fear for their lives; others, however, enjoy living in Kukuo and do not want to leave. 

Photographer Jane Hahn visited witch camps in Ghana to document the people living there:  

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witch camps   ghana   Jane Hahn  Freelance Photographer

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You can see more of Jane Hahn’s striking photography on her website.

Quotes from the Pilgrimage Project Interviews

The Pilgrimage Project began as an interdisciplinary research project at Oxford University in 2007. Covering Anthropology, Psychology, History, Sociology and Religious Studies, it aims to discuss the motivations and experiences of people from different Western religious groups as they journey to sacred spaces. The excerpts below are from interviews with Pagans who had travelled to Glastonbury for a summer Goddess ceremony.

On Paganism
“A lot of what I think makes me me is them.”

On War
“I can understand that [soldiers] are the people of peace… but I don’t believe that we’re gonna find peace staring down the end of a barrel and… like… “I’M GONNA SHOOT YOUR FUCKING HEAD OFF!”, and… what are you gonna do? Make your mind up. Are we gonna just say, OK, fine, yeah, I’m gonna be nice, I’m gonna do whatever he tells me to, so that I’ll find peace? No.”

On Reawakening the Abbey at Glastonbury
“So, it’s not a monk, it’s women, and we’re not Benedictines, but we are the new monks.”

On Dark Magic
“I think where people are being manipulated for the benefit of the manipulator, I would call that a dark path.”

On Women
“But I learnt some wonderful things about working with women there. I was used to working with men; we just make a decision and get on with it. And we’d have an important meeting about something here, and we’d all be together, it’d be me and the four other… whoever the trustees were. And they would start by saying “Isn’t it appalling what that girl Gladys is doing?” “Yes, I think she’s run away with somebody else…” All this stuff would go on. And I would sit there boggling, like I thought we’d come to talk about… we must just clear this first. And I learnt a really important thing: that these women, they needed to clear the emotional stuff that was hovering in the room. Once that was clear, we could get on with the discussion. It’s not at all how men work, but it’s really important, and I’ve learned – here I’m working all the time with women – that you must allow the emotional charge to be diffused, it’s perfectly valid. It’s hovering, you see. They’re worried about something. It’s got nothing to do with what we’re talking about, but it’s really important.”

On Intuition
“But my brain can’t solve it, it’s… my intuition accesses [spirits’] wisdom and back comes the answer.”

On Dying
“I’m delighted to die whenever it’s time. And in a way, I have to make a huge effort to be here now. I’m really actually somewhere else. Not physically. No, physically I’m very fit. But I’m actually – my consciousness is somewhere else, and I have to make a tremendous effort to be here. If you understand it.”

On Glastonbury
“I think Glastonbury’s just a little microcosm of where we’re all going. I do believe… self-employment, self-empowerment, but sharing, is the way that society’s moving. And it’s very threatening to a lot of people, it’s very frightening, the old structures are collapsing. You can see they’re not working. And I think we’ve got here a microcosm of what’s happening worldwide. And I think we have a responsibility to make it work here, and it doesn’t work completely. But if we can make it work, and there’s a model, then other people can begin to say “Right, that mad lot in Glastonbury have got something going there.” That’s what I think we are. I think we’re a sort of petri dish for the new consciousness.”

On God
“I have a problem with the term ‘god’, and I don’t know whether it’s because of the association with the Christian god, or certain dogma. Also it makes it very monistic, is it? Meaning it’s only one. Yeah. It tries to make concrete something that is very massive.”

On Pilgrimage

“It’s like a concentration of normalcy.”

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt more… it sounds so sappy, but more human, really. More human but not human as a special creature on the earth, just like another one.”

“This has the capacity to be profoundly not abstract.”

“It was not really a feeling of belonging, but it was a feeling of not belonging. Somewhere I’m not looking to belong, something like that.”

On the Motivation Behind Pilgrimage

“To find out something true. Not the truth, necessarily, but to find something that’s true.”

“I think I’ll be able to maybe… more fluidly be consistently abstract.”

“Over the last few years I’ve become a committed atheist, so I’m investigating this belief in nothing. That’s what I’m investigating. How much there is to this nothingness.”

On Consciousness
“I’m becoming more… maybe more conscious of my unconscious actions.”

On Prayer
“There came a point where prayer… where life became prayer.”