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Your Brain, a Microcosm of a City

All major cities have infrastructure which is needed for operation and maintenance of its society.  Your brain is no different.  Information and essential elements are transported efficiently.  Permanent structures are erected and restructured to meet needs and demands.  Lastly, operations are ever-changing, including changes in function.  As brain scientist Lara Boyd noted, everything we do and encounter changes our brains, for better or for worse.  Are these changes permanent? Yes and no.

We shape the way our microcosm presents itself and functions.  We determine whether certain structures expand or are allowed to diminish.  “If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.”  Our brains exhibit neuroplasticity; that is why our experiences and gained knowledge affect our perspectives, hence personalities.  Nutritionists often say, “You are what you eat.”  Well, from a psycho-social perspective, “We are what we experience.”  Fill your brain with positive, thought-provoking thoughts and diminish the effects of negative life experiences. These fluctuations will result in behavioral changes, along with awakened brain regions and the opportunity for amplified learning capabilities!

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Top Reasons to Perform a Psychological Autopsy

Initially, psychological autopsies were developed to assist death investigators in determining the manner of death for a known individual. This investigative tool is still used to determine questionable or possibly staged deaths. Psychological autopsies are sometimes performed on suicide victims to try to understand their thought processes, prior to their death. The thoughts, behaviors, moods, and events leading up to the suicide are important in establishing a deceased person’s mental state, prior to his/her demise (Bartol and Bartol, 2012). Odd behaviors, as well as dismissed routine behaviors, should be noted, since they may play an intrinsic role in the trigger or events leading up to the suicide.

There is no standard for conducting psychological autopsies, but a proposed protocol has been published along with a list of 13 suggested documents to collect, when theorizing a person’s mental state (Snider, Hane, and Berman, 2006). These documents are intended to paint a clearer picture of who the deceased was and how he was functioning in society. Not only mental and physical health is considered, but also the person’s family history, their demeanor, social circles, and habits are noted.

No amount of information will ever completely explain why a person acts in a manner that warrants investigation. As humans it is natural to want all questions answered, not just for curiosity but also for purposes of healing. So, why do people react differently, even with similar profiles? Human behavior is unique; we each have different triggers, along with different levels of tolerance and reasoning capabilities. No one person is in the same mental state each second of the day; hence, there is no guaranteed procedure that will predict a person’s mood or actions.

Lastly, psychological autopsies are learning tools to teach others about possible correlations between certain physical and mental states which have led to detrimental outcomes. Profiles are theories and not infallible. However, the quantity and quality of data collected is key to any investigative work.

Bartol, C., & Bartol, A. (2012). Introduction to Forensic Psychology: Research and Application. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Snider, J., Hane, S., & Berman, A. (2006). Standardizing the psychological autopsy: Addressing the Daubert standard. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 36, 511-518.

In remembrance of the lives lost and lives changed forever at the hand of violence, may we never forget why we continue to search for the truth. ~Michelle Doscher

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What’s in Your Playbook?

How do you get out of an uncomfortable situation without telling a bold-faced lie?  You commit the act of paltering, deceiving while making truthful statements.  Interrogators refer to paltering as acts of omission.  Damaging information is not mentioned.  Only truthful statements are produced; therefore, avoiding the act of fabricating a cover-up story.

So, in your playbook of schema, how does paltering affect behavior?  Mimicking a template or following a social framework is easy if cognitive load is not involved.  Paltering, however, requires the “sender” to plan and project only truthful emotions and messages, creating cognitive dissonance, a.k.a. mental stress.  To the untrained person, paltering is rarely identified as deception, since we typically “want” to hear the truth.

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5 Behaviors to Improve Brain Plasticity

Are you a creature of habit? I am not referring to toilet paper brands. If your closest acquaintances can predict your daily routine, then it is time for some mind limbering.

  1. Break habits, rearrange daily tasks, and create new routines.
  2. Update your mind’s playbook.  Revisit your schema and update your outlook, a.k.a. your book of rules.
  3. Now for the workout…engage your prefrontal cortex.  Participate in new activities, not in your daily routine.
  4. Recognize and accept all of your emotions.  Ride the roller coaster!  According to a Duke University study, denying one’s emotions is a culprit for addictive behaviors.
  5. Change your focus throughout the day.  Allow your mind time to relax and your emotions change.

Mind limbering is stimulating. Go ahead, create some new neural pathways and feel the difference!

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Please Protect Our Vulnerable

“Hello, Grandpa?”
“Yes. _______. Is that you? Are you OK?”
“I’m in New York and I am in a bit of trouble. I need some cash, Grandpa. Can you help me?”….

This is only one of several disturbing phone calls that are circulating. The phone numbers’ area codes always match the area from which the caller is supposedly calling.

How do we protect our vulnerable?  When my boys were toddlers, I assigned them a family password.  The password was our secret code and a quick way of assessing the boys’ safety.  We rehearsed the password until it was second-nature.  The password was fun and easy for a toddler to remember.  Better yet, it was even harder for a teen or young adult to forget!  We never had to use the password while the boys were young.

However, the password was recently used when the boys’ grandfather received a harried phone call and needed reassurance the young men were safe and sound.  A one-word response to a text, email, or phone call is all the peace of mind needed sometimes.

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5 Ways to Identify Contemporary Criminal Behavior

Introductory criminal justice and behavioral sciences courses will often focus on an individualistic approach to defining criminal behavior. Both professionals and scientist spend many man hours searching for clues pointing to the individual’s reason for maladjusted behavior. Ironically, this approach to criminal behavior is the least productive. Sociologists continually stress relationships among and between individuals and society, while looking for answers to the conundrum of behavioral anomalies. Although I do not always agree with their views and interpretations, they have indirectly recognized the right approach to identifying criminal behavior.

Associations, patterns, and relationships are not to be overlooked. What do these have in common? Feedback, it is an integral part to the establishment of successful criminal behavior.
1. Criminal minded individuals conduct research and plan. However simplistic or complex it may be, depends on the person’s cognitive abilities. Criminals do not reinvent the wheel. They look to what others have done while successfully evading or “working” the legal system.
2. Depending on the crime type and circumstances surrounding the crime, criminal minds disassociate themselves from victims and victims’ behaviors. Spontaneous crimes and crimes of passion involve less planning and more compensation during the criminal activity.
3. Criminal minded individuals often exchange and transfer their negative behaviors flawlessly. The results may elude to second guessing and rabbit hole searches by victims and professionals, alike.
4. Most importantly, criminal minded individuals evaluate all actions and responses directed away from and towards them, a.k.a. FEEDBACK. Indirect methods of interrogation and collection of behavioral cues are paramount to identifying and attempting to manipulate this type of behavior.
5. Lastly, successful criminals are proactive with minimal reactive tendencies.

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May I Have Your Attention Please

Cognitive interviews are often preferred because of the explicit information attained. An interviewer will typically focus on temporal and spatial questions to elicit this information. So, once your interviewee’s descriptive verbiage begins, how do you know if you are receiving completely accurate information?
Ramp up the cognitive load and the verbal and nonverbal deceptive cues will emerge! Whoa, not so fast. What if your interviewee is completely comfortable telling tall tales? Requesting temporal and spatial details may not trigger extra cognitive load. They may rely on

established schema or rehearsed scenarios to dilute the effects of extra mental strain.
However, splitting their attention may do the trick. Diverge from maintaining eye contact and flip flop around with questions that do not seem to follow a normal sequence. This split-attention effect will make relying on schema more difficult and “new” scenarios will need to be created, for those interviewees with deceptive tendencies. In turn, cognitive load will be induced and deceptive cues will emerge.
What about interviewees telling the truth? This technique will also induce mental strain, but most truth tellers usually respond to cognitive load with less descriptive and shorter answers. If they receive positive feedback from the interviewer, the cognitive load will also be lessened. Unlike the deceptive interviewee, the truthful interviewee is not pressured to monitor feedback, verbiage, and possible deceptive cues.

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The Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth

Anyone who has ever testified in court as a witness has sworn to tell the truth and nothing but the truth.  Does this mean all testimonies given in a court of law are 100% truthful?  Well, the intent is usually to tell the truth, but testimonies sometimes turn and go down a slippery slope.  Honorable intentions are not necessarily impervious to deception.  Knowing the difference between deception and a lie is a good place to start.

During the art of persuasion, deception may interject by way of fabrications, exaggerations, omission of details, misleading information, or speculation.  Lies, on the other hand, are intentional falsifications.  Think of a mountain with steep north and south sides, and sloping east and west sides.  Denials are deliberate falsifications or lies, located on the opposite, steep side of the mountain, from truthful statements.  Fabricated statements may contain both truthful and false elements; therefore, placing fabrications on the sloping east/west sides of the mountain.

A person can begin a testimony on the truthful side of the mountain and easily move to the steep east or west sides of deception, by using speculation, omission, misleading, and exaggeration (S.O.M.E.) of details or wording.  As an expert witness, be careful not to accidentally slip.

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Memories of the Future

Coined by David Ingvar, memories of the future, refers to our intentions.   As proactive beings, we make plans and follow them to guide our behavior.  While gathering snippets of our past experiences, we try to anticipate outcomes of possible future actions.  Therefore, we depend on these schemas to direct our actions, resulting in desired behavioral outcomes that do not imitate past experiences or present realities.

The general consensus has been that deceptive behavior is more cognitively demanding than truthful behavior.  However, more recent research is pointing to truthful intent as more cognitively demanding than false intent.  How so? You may ask.  Conceptualizing truthful intent requires not only planning for the future but also recalling memories of past actions and their corresponding behaviors and reactions.  Then, our proactive selves digest this information and anticipate possible future actions with desired behavioral outcomes. Whew! Talk about cognitive load!

The prefrontal cortex, which means “at the front of the cortex”, is our corporate executive of the brain.  Its tasks include, but not be limited to, executive control, conflict monitoring, emotion, and working memory.   Hmm…so, maybe the cognitive load approach to interviewing is not the golden ticket, if determining veracity of intent is the interviewer’s objective.

If the above assumptions are correct, a truthful interviewee could exhibit more deceptive behavioral cues, such as pauses or exaggerated details, than a deceptive interviewee.  This might occur as a result of the multi-layer cognitive processing when creating truthful ‘memories of the future’.  Remember, false statements, especially fabricated statements, may contain some truthful content; however, the deceptive person’s goal is not to unintentionally reference past actions, which could associate them to a particular phenomenon in question.  To prevent this from occurring, deceptive persons typically shy away from referencing memories and their associated behavioral responses,  when creating false statements of intent.

 

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5 Common Cues to Deceptive Nonverbal Behavior

  1. Facial expressions
  2. Body language
  3. Psycho-physiological responses
  4. Thought processes
  5. Written communication

Darting eyes, crossed arms, and flushed necks are all signs of deception, right?  That is absolutely, positively not always the case.  Mounds of research pinpoint specific cues to deception, yet most researchers agree multiple cues compared to baseline behaviors are needed to suggest acts of deception.  Behavior is unique to individuals.  Similarities exist, but unique identifiers, combined with content and contextual associations, are key.

Deception detectors often focus on cues for deception, while ignoring the truth bias approach.  Assume everyone is telling the truth unless convinced otherwise.  Know your subject’s truthful nonverbal expressions.  Open-ended conversation with verifiable questions interspersed is a helpful exercise.

Truth-tellers sometimes exhibit deceptive cues in their attempt to convince others of their veracity.  The lack of continuity, when recalling incidents, can be perceived as deceptive when in fact it is often quite the opposite.  Non-spontaneous deceptive behavior is a rehearsal of determined incidents including temporal (time) details. Whereas, truthful comments can be sprinkled with spatial and temporal details, not always mentioned in the correct order.  In other words, backtracking is common in truthful statements, where anxiety and cognitive load are factors.

Lastly, in a world of touch screens and laptops, handwritten communications are sparse.  Recent research points to benefits of tell-all written statements and structured cognitive-behavioral interviews.  Handwriting is brainwriting.  Cognitive dissonance is not just for verbal communication anymore!  Verbal pauses and various types of deception are not only visible but measurable in handwriting.

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Impressions

First impressions are mind imprints which occur within microseconds.  Unfortunate for some, not all impressions elicit a wave of emotions.  Language content, voice speed and inflection, facial expressions, and body language may impact your career or love life, more than you know .  Is this possible when we retain approximately 10-30% of what we see and hear? Oops! Don’t forget about your other senses.

Verbal and nonverbal behaviors are communicated and received consciously and unconsciously.  Our senses never take a coffee break.  Descartes said “I think, therefore I am.”  Not to pick on the great 17th century philosopher and mathematician, but perhaps, “I sense, therefore I am” would have been more accurate.  My first reading teacher told me to use all of my senses to memorize my spelling words.  I laughed when I imagined sniffing my spelling book!  Little did I know, by using both sides of my brain to process and interpret information, I could boost my memory and recall.

Wow your receivers with facts and figures, splashed with sensual cues.  Analytical and creative minds alike depend on the right side of the brain to interpret nonverbal cues, along with feelings and visualizations.  Excite their whole brains and make a lasting impression!

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