Wednesday, November 27, 2013

VIDEO: Steering Clear of Tough Topics On The Holidays

If your family is like every other, you have relatives who do not agree with each other on big topics. And, they like to bring up those topics at the Thanksgiving table.

I spoke with 9 News yesterday about how best to avoid family arguments during the holidays. Here is the video:

Click here to watch the video if it does not appear above.

Topics that are good to avoid are politics, religion, past family difficulties, finances, and diet. Here are a few tips you can use to make your Thanksgiving a little less stressful:

1. Before you say something about one of the above topics, think about whether someone might get offended. If the answer is 'yes' (or even 'possibly'), just shut up. Don't say it. Wait until you are around people who agree with you--then say what you have to say.

2. Remember, as frustrating as certain family members can be, there may be some relatives who think you are the frustrating relative. Try not to be the annoying person who won't shut up about the President.

3. If someone in your family brings up a topic you disagree with, try to ignore them. Don't take the bait. Just let it go.

4. You are absolutely not going to change anyone's mind by arguing during Thanksgiving dinner.

5. If a
relative says something truly offensive, you have a decision to make--you might want to let it go (see tip #4), or you might feel you need to address the issue. If so, keep your comments short and to the point. And, remember, it probably won't change the person's mind. But, you might be able to convince them to keep their offensive comments to themselves.

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

VIDEO: How Millennial Are You?

The 9 News morning weather and traffic team 
Recently, the Pew Research Center released a study based on polling data of people who were born after 1980. Affectionately referred to as "millennials," this generation tends to be more diverse than previous generations, and it is characterized as highly wired to technology, tattooed, less religious, and concerned with social justice. They also tend to like their parents a lot more than previous generations.

In addition to the study, Pew created an online quiz to test how similar you are to someone in the millennial generation. Here is a 9 News story about the quiz:

Click here to watch the video if it does not appear above.

Here is a link to the quiz (please keep in mind, if you are a millennial, you don't need a link provided to you--you know how to find it on your own): Pew Research Center Millennial Quiz

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.

Monday, November 11, 2013

VIDEO: Frontal Lobe Testing and Predicting Criminal Behavior

As a follow-up to my last post about brain testing and classifying criminal behavior, 9 News reporter Chris Vanderveen looked into it a little further. The results are entertaining!

Here is the video:

Click here to watch the video if it does not appear above.

Thanks for watching-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Study Finds Brain Functioning Tests May Help Classify Criminal Behavior

Does this look like a good idea to you? If so, have you ever had your Executive Functions tested?

In 2013, a doctoral student in psychology published a dissertation titled Executive Function: Conduct Problems and Criminal Behavior. The goal of his study was to determine if a particular type of brain testing should be used as part of normal forensic psychological evaluations of offenders.

Specifically, he examined problems in the frontal and prefrontal cortices of our brains. These areas comprise the thin outer layer of the brain at the very front--imagine the part of your brain right under your forehead. This small part of the brain is in control of what psychologists refer to as "executive functioning," or the ability to plan out a series of actions, to control our emotions and impulses, and to guide our goal-directed behavior. People who have damaged the frontal cortex are susceptible to angry outbursts, a failure to think through and plan their behaviors, and an increase in risk taking.

The study's author compared the executive functioning abilities of a group of criminals to a group of non-criminals. The results are very interesting: By looking only at the brain test results, it was possible to sort the criminals from the non-criminals 73% of the time. This was due to the fact that there were strong correlations between executive functioning problems and antisocial and "rule breaking" behaviors. Further, poor performance on these brain tests predicted impulsivity and aggression.

One major caveat: Although a 73% success rate sounds good, you need to keep in mind that a coin could have correctly differentiated the criminals in this study from the non-criminals 50% of the time. When you only have two choices, it is relatively easy to distinguish between the two.

But, 73% is significantly above the level of random chance, and it is an indication that more research in this area needs to be done. It could very well be that examining individuals' executive functioning abilities in addition to looking at a number of other areas of their lives can greatly improve a psychologist's ability to predict (and possibly prevent) future violence and other types of criminal behavior.

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.


Trausch, C. (2013). Executive Function: Conduct Problems and Criminal Behavior. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, Vol 73(9-B(e)), no pagination specified.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Marla Abling: Two Deaths In One Woman's Bedroom

Several of Marla Abling's 20+ mugshots
Colorado has something known as the "Make My Day" law. The law, passed in 1985, refers to Clint Eastwood's famous line from Dirty Harry, and it essentially shields people from criminal prosecution when they use deadly force on an intruder in their home. It is not exactly the same as a Stand Your Ground law, but it works in a similar manner--an individual can petition the court for "Make My Day" immunity, which, if granted, would keep the person from facing criminal charges after killing someone on his/her property.

Enter Marla Abling. This woman from Lamar, Colorado has a checkered history, and she is almost infamous in her town. She recently petitioned the court for Make My Day immunity after the strangulation death of her ex-boyfriend in her apartment. The court did not grant her the immunity, and she is now facing first-degree murder charges. Interestingly, a man died in Ms. Abling's bedroom several years prior to the current incident--the death was ruled an accidental drug overdose, but Ms. Abling did not call the police until 48 hours after the man's death, which gave her enough time to thoroughly scrub her entire apartment with bleach.

Keep in mind, Ms. Abling has not been convicted of first-degree murder in the strangulation case. The court merely ruled that the circumstances of the death did not warrant Make My Day Immunity. She should be considered innocent unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. It could very well be she is a victim of domestic violence (there was a protective order in place keeping her ex-boyfriend away from her), and she may have had a legitimate reason to use deadly force.

Here is a 9 Wants To Know story about Marla Abling:

Click here to watch the video if it does not appear above.

Thanks for reading-- Max Wachtel, Ph.D.


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