Monday, June 27, 2011

Are You a Psychopath? Take this Test

The Psychopath Test, a journey through the madness industry by Jon Ronson starts with the author, a journalist, being asked to find out who anonymously sent a cryptic self-published book to many psychiatrists worldwide, which then leads him somehow, circuitously to a Scientologist who gets him into Broadmoor Prison to interview a criminally insane inmate who claims he's not insane. Scientologists famously do not believe in psychiatry so they advocate for the prisoner. The author then goes on to learn about the Hare Psychopathy Checklist at a workshop lead by the list's creator Bob Hare himself. Armed with his newly acquired psychopath-spotting ability, the author goes all over the world for a year or so interviewing both diagnosed and suspected psychopaths and mental health professionals while dipping into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders and exploring the latest top psychiatric diagnoses like bipolar disorder in children. The irony of his research is that Ronson presents himself as an anxious neurotic; he worries a lot about being tracked down by some of the killers he meets and he worries about whether he might have some psychopathic tendencies, constantly referring back to the checklist to self-diagnose.  The book is about at least two topics: psychopaths, or course, but also how mental illness came to be diagnosed by checklists in the DSM and the subsequent increase in number of diagnoses of mental disorders and the increased development of drugs to treat them. That is an ambitiously broad range of topics to cover in only 275 pages. What is  psychopathy? How do we diagnose it? Why has there been an increase in the number of mental illnesses listed in the DSM which seem increasingly close to a normal state?  Are there more psychopaths in positions of great power, like CEO's of corporations?  Ronson raises a lot of questions, so if you are interested in related titles, you could read the following books: (call #'s follow the title)

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders (Ref 616.89 Dia)
The books of psychiatrist Oliver Sacks
The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande, which is not about psychiatry or madness, but about medicine's use of checklists.(610.28 Gaw)
Opening Skinner's box: great psychological experiments of the twentieth century by Lauren Slater (150.72 SLA)

Related websites:

Laura Miller's review in Salon
Robert Hare's website

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