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?

Notebook Scribblings – Part One

Scribblings from my notebooks over the past few weeks

In his book The Shadow of the Sun, Ryszard Kapuscinski discusses teletypists in Dar es Salaam, who are taught to copy not words or sentences, but letter after letter, meaning that they can transcribe into any language with great speed and accuracy. “So far as we’re concerned,” they said, “we are not sending meanings, but marks”.

I couldn’t help but see a correlation with Searle’s Chinese room. Implications for AI? Perhaps.

Notes from The Logical Syntax of Language by Carnap:

We may aim at discovering a definite criterion of validity – that is to say, a criterion of a kind such that the question of its non-fulfilment could in every individual instance be decided in a finite number of steps by means of a strictly established method. If a criterion of this kind were discovered we should then possess a method of solution for mathematical problems; we could, so to speak, calculate the truth or falsehood of every given sentence, for example, of the celebrated Theorem of Fermat.

Pure syntax, of course, cannot speak of individual sentences as physical things, but only of designs and forms.

Syntax, pure and descriptive, is nothing more than the mathematics and physics of language.

Notes from Brainstorms: Philosophical Essays on Mind and Psychology by Dennett:

It used to be popular to say “A computer can’t really think, of course; all it can do is add, subtract, multiply and divide.” That leaves the way open to saying, “A computer can’t really multiply, of course; all it can do is add numbers together very, very fast,” and that must lead to the admission: “A computer cannot really add numbers, of course; all it can do is control the opening and closing of hundreds of tiny switches,” which leads to: “A computer can’t really control its switches, of course: it’s simply at the mercy of the electrical currents pulsing through it.” What this chain of claims adds up to “prove”, obviously, is that computers are really pretty dull lumps of stuff – they can’t do anything interesting at all. They can’t really guide rockets to the moon, or make out paychecks, or beat human beings at chess, but of course they can do all that and more.

Notes from Star Trek:

I object to intellect without discipline. I object to power without constructive purpose. – Spock

General notes & thoughts:

“Feels” etc. – internet language – and the international nature of the internet; its effects on communication.

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

The Pilgrimage Project Photo Diary

Around the fire at the Stonehenge winter solstice.
Around the fire at the Stonehenge winter solstice.
The morning ceremony at Stonehenge in December was not warm.
The morning ceremony at Stonehenge in December was not warm.
Being mature academic researchers, we made faces in our salads.
Being mature academic researchers, we made faces in our salads.
The restaurant where we ate dinner had pet cats.
The restaurant where we ate dinner had pet cats.
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Wandering around Glastonbury was a necessary part of the project, of course.
What's a research project without a selfie?
What’s a research project without a selfie?
The view from the Tor.
The view from the Tor.
The Goddess weekend opening ceremony.
The Goddess weekend opening ceremony.
A procession of Pagan pilgrims through Glastonbury.
A procession of Pagan pilgrims through Glastonbury.
Ritual at the Chalice Well.
Ritual at the Chalice Well.
A Pagan procession.
A Pagan procession.

Child Maltreatment Victims – Attitudes In Court

In a study released recently in the Children and Youth Services Review, researchers investigated the attitudes of maltreated children involved in court hearings.

Specifically, the research examined whether the type of abuse (sexual vs. physical vs. neglect), the type of court (dependency vs. criminal), and child and abuse characteristics predicted child victims’ feelings about seeing defendants in court and answering questions in the courtroom.

Data were collected from interviews with the children and from their court files. Results indicated that girls testifying about sexual abuse felt the strongest levels of negativity about seeing defendants in the courtroom, whereas the smallest levels of negativity were shown when the abuse was physical and the victims were appearing in dependency court.

The more severe the maltreatment, and the older the children were at the time of the court hearing, the greater the negative feelings were.

The full paper can be accessed via ScienceDirect.

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

witch camps   ghana   Jane Hahn  Freelance Photographer1

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