Top Reasons to Perform a Psychological Autopsy

CoronerTalk.com podcast with Darren Dake & Michelle Doscher, PhD, Psychological Autopsy, Dead or Alive

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

Share

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.

Share

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!

Share

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.

Share

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.

Share