Posts Tagged ‘psychology’

‘Art of the Deal’ co-author says Trump is losing his mind

July 16, 2018

The man who co-wrote “The Art of the Deal” said Sunday he believes President Trump’s faculties are diminishing — and that he feels obligated to sound the alarm.

“We are in a true emergency,” Tony Schwartz said on CNN Sunday. “And the accelerated rate at which his breakdown or decompensation is occurring is cause for us, and certainly for me, to come on to TV more often, to tweet more often.”

Schwartz told CNN’s Brian Stelter that he felt comfortable making that assessment because he had “spent an enormous time with [Trump] over a period of 18 months.”

He also said he was a 25-year student of psychology and had spent “an enormous amount of time” with shrinks who were trying to get to the bottom of Trump.

Image result for Tony Schwartz, donald Trump photos

Tony Schwartz

Schwartz said he felt bad for journalists covering the president because they couldn’t go far enough.

“I believe the republic is in enormous risk that goes far beyond what most journalists are comfortable saying and what the general public, therefore — it doesn’t really fully understand,” he said.

Stelter pointed out that Schwartz had inaccurately predicted that Trump would resign before finishing his first year in office.

Image result for Tony Schwartz, donald Trump photos

With the Mueller probe hovering, Schwartz suspected Trump would quit before getting pushed out of office, saying last May, “he wants to figure out a way, as he has done all his career, to turn a loss into a victory…. So he will declare victory when he leaves.”

“You’re right, I completely missed it,” Schwartz admitted on Sunday. “I think I underestimated the enormous attachment he would have to being in that office. I think he likes meeting all of these people and he particularly likes dominating these people.”


Expect China and Russia To Continue To Undermine Democracies

June 16, 2018

Riga, Latvia: Bob Posner’s name is perfect for who he is: a mild, middle-aged British public servant, not given to grand statements or dramatic claims.

He comes across as the sort of chap who’d say things like “anything for a quiet life”.

But suddenly it’s not that quiet.

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Posner is the director of the UK Electoral Commission’s finance and regulation section. His job is to make sure, using the principle of “follow the money”, that elections and referendums are run lawfully.

Usually this is just going over receipts and rapping the knuckles of anyone loose in their funding declarations.

By Nick Miller
Sydney Morning Herald

But now there are a “significant number of major investigations and inquiries on our books”, he says. Just last week they opened another new investigation into “a major campaigner” in the Brexit referendum.

“It does seem different and it does seem a concern,” he says.

“I find myself talking to my counterparts in a number of other countries about their issues. I find myself talking to security services in the UK and elsewhere, in the US in particular.

“That doesn’t seem normal to me. That seems very different to when I started my job four years ago. There’s been a change of some sort.”

When fake news meets marketing

Earlier this year British Prime Minister Theresa May said she was “deeply concerned by Russia’s attempts to weaponise information”.

“The Kremlin is seeking to undermine the international rules-based system,” she said.

Millionaire Brexit campaigner Arron Banks, who had multiple contacts with Russian officials.
Millionaire Brexit campaigner Arron Banks, who had multiple contacts with Russian officials.Photo: PA

Britain’s secret services have warned since 2016 that hostile nation-states were seeking to undermine democracy and cause disruption in the West, including but not limited to influencing elections.

“The risks at stake are profound and represent a fundamental threat to our sovereignty,” the head of MI6 said in December 2016.

In May this year, the head of MI5 accused Russia of having a “well-practised doctrine of blending media manipulation, social media disinformation and distortion along with new and old forms of espionage”.

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Vladimir Putin: “Blending media manipulation, social media disinformation and distortion.”Photo: AP

Posner says that for now, Britain is not aware of attempts – or at least successful attempts – to subvert British polls on the scale seen in other countries.

“But I would be very cautious on resting on that statement, because evidence continues to emerge all the time,” he says.

“Issues around the influence of and the efficacy of digital campaigning techniques used in the UK in the 2016 [Brexit referendum] campaign do seem increasingly concerning.”

Fake news and digital marketing have been combined and weaponised.

Targeting trust

Russia has been caught trying to manipulate elections in the USFrance and elsewhere. Experts say “microtargeted” messages are crafted using the latest behavioural psychology theories to bypass reason, exploit emotions and manipulate our biases, and these messages are injected into online echo chambers.

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Facebook is a key disseminator of fake news.Photo: AP

They’re used to nudge voters towards political extremes, or to destroy their belief that any of their institutions tell them the truth.

This was the scenario presented to leaders of the West’s military-academic complex at the “StratCom” (strategic communication) conference in Riga last week.

By the banks of the Daugava River, in the mountainous National Library of Latvia, professors rubbed shoulders with generals in the search for advantage in the “information space”.

And in Riga’s dive bars (including a famous Lenin-themed speakeasy), late at night, military consultants downed beers, swapped theories and tested each others’ Russian.

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The National Library of Latvia in Riga.

At this conference the boffins were asked to provide solutions. Some were radical: treat the disseminators of fake news, whether in Russia’s pay or not, as having committed treason.

Others asked if politicians themselves are to blame for losing the trust of voters, and if the real solution is in political reform and education of the young, not an escalating, literal war of words.

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Janis Sarts, of the StratCom centre of excellence in Riga.

Janis Sarts is being asked these questions regularly.

He’s the head of the host of the conference, the NATO-accredited StratCom (strategic communication) centre of excellence in Riga.

They’ve been around only a few years and already governments are banging on the door asking how to insulate their elections from Russian (or other) influence.

“Once you lose trust in [elections] so much else is at stake,” Sarts says. “And the Russians are active all over the place.

“The US, UK, France, Netherlands, Spain … Montenegro was a coup attempt during the election moment, really bold,” Sarts says. “Russia as a declining power has a huge risk appetite. They don’t see the existing system as one they benefit from.”

Even now that their meddling is being exposed he doesn’t see them stopping. Look at their attitude to MH17, he says.

“Putin has seen that denial works and he knows that the typical attention span is two weeks.”

Information is war

Mark Laity, who runs strategic communications at NATO’s command HQ in Europe, says Russia believes that war involves “information confrontation” at every stage of a conflict, long before an obvious war develops.

“For Russia, information dominance is an indispensable prerequisite of combat.”

Mikk Marran, director-general of Estonia’s foreign intelligence service, is on the frontline of this conflict – Estonia had been suffering this stuff long before the West woke up to it.

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He agrees with Sarts.

“One might think that maybe as Russia’s activities are exposed it would deter them and they would not do it again. I will assure you that it has not deterred Russia. They will do it again and we will see more of it.”

Marran points out that Russia is influencing elections in all sorts of ways, not just through tech wizardry. It has built a network of influence through Europe of politicians, journalists and academics who are paid in media exposure or business opportunities, and become vocal Putin backers.

But the tech side is more insidious.

Charles Kriel is a writer and broadcaster, a specialist advisor to a British House of Commons committee which is investigating fake news, and an associate fellow at King’s College London’s centre for strategic communications.

People can think they made a rational decision when in fact rationality had very little to do with it, he says. And that’s being exploited.

“What has changed is ’emotional targeting’, the use of social media – primarily Facebook,” Kriel says.

“Through Facebook I can emotionally target people with different messages, the message they will be most receptive to. I can do something now that no one has been able to do before. I can shout in your ear one thing, and in [someone else’s] ear another thing, and neither of you can hear that I am shouting different things.”

Each message is individualised using data scraped from people’s digital footprint, shaped into the most persuasive form based on an assessment of your likely biases and vulnerabilities.

And it can all be automated. Kriel calls it “microtargeting to scale … I can do this across millions of people on social media.”

He says there are “convenient collaborators” as well as direct Russian stooges: like a troll farm in Poland selling its services to all comers – brands, political parties, corporations, the Kremlin – who want online promotion. Or it could be a campaign that has entirely domestic aims, which finds its interests aligned with Russia’s.

Deliberate collusion or not, it’s all destabilising democratic societies, Kriel says.

“It’s not very hard to take someone who’s out at the margins and push them even further, into action or inaction, into further or lesser support, and in fact to push them to extremism. Bad actors are destroying people’s belief in truth and their faith in any institution whatsoever.

“We need to view some of these collaborations in the way historically we’ve viewed [them]. When you collaborate with an enemy working against your own country, criminal investigations need to be conducted and real punishment needs to be meted out.”

If the problem is the platform, then the platform needs to be fixed. But the committee Kriel is advising met a stone wall trying to get information out of Facebook. Kriel says it’s like “pulling teeth”. And he thinks it’s not just an attitude, it’s fundamental to what Facebook is.

“The big companies’ interests lie in the distribution of disinformation,” he says. “Silicon Valley has gotten away with a lot. They have made terrible mistakes, deploying products that weren’t fit for purpose and weren’t ready for our society.”

The trouble with Facebook

Sarts also wants to crack down on social media.

“These platforms incite behaviour that is not seeking facts, that is strong on emotions, that aggravates cognitive biases,” he says. “We are solely at the mercy of the platform to tell us whether this is happening or not.”

Recently Facebook and others have made more helpful noises but “it’s still a wild guess whether they’ll do it fully or not”, Sarts says.

“If a bank makes a profit out of dirty money, it has to face the consequences.”

Posner says they want transparency in online campaigning. When someone sees an ad or a story seeded into social media, it should be clear “who is placing it, who is the source of it, so voters can know in real time and can judge for themselves”, he says.

In France, they are relative newcomers to the problem but one of the fastest movers. Last year, just before the presidential vote, an apparently Kremlin-coordinated sting dubbed “MacronLeaks” tried to discredit candidate Emmanuel Macron with a release of hacked emails from his campaign.

Talk: Also on Thursday, the French president and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, 46, gave a joint press conference in Ottawa

Macron, the French president and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Macron’s government is now pushing a “fake news law” that should be passed by the end of July, giving greater powers to its media regulator to monitor and dis-accredit organisations spreading fake news, and putting transparency obligations on digital platforms around sponsored content and ads.

Dr Jean-Baptiste Jeangene Vilmer, director of France’s institute for strategic research at the ministry of defence, says the attack on Macron’s En Marche party was “sloppy”, and didn’t take into account France’s lack of appetite for tabloid-like news. He also praises the mainstream media for being “very careful not to propagate false information”, the “whitewashing” of fake news that helps it spread.

Leaks and whitewashes

It’s one example of how civil society may be a better counter – in terms of morality as well as efficacy – to fake news than top-down regulation. One conference attendee warned that if you respond to the problem with stronger political and media controls, you risk “Putinising” your own society.

Eerik-Niiles Kross, a member of Estonia’s parliament, says it is “fruitless” to try to control the media environment.

“Instead of limiting information we should adapt. It’s pure Darwinism,” he says.

Microtargeting of messages is not going to go away. Instead, “politicians need to go back to the basis and start to stand for something”, Kross says.

Alex Aiken, executive director of government communications at Downing Street, agrees that “fake news can temporarily beat fact but it cannot overcome a compelling story”.

Many at the conference said education was the best long-term solution. People need to be made more aware of their biases; more wary of the overconfidence instilled by social media that saps critical judgement.

Professor Ben Newell, deputy head of the school of psychology at UNSW, says there is evidence that “de-biasing” techniques work, and people can be trained to second-guess information and resist unconscious influence.

He warns against just fighting fake facts with more facts.

“People tend to disengage,” he says – a result the Russians can also exploit, by flooding the field with a myriad of alternative theories, as they did with MH17 and the Skripals.

Fact checking can help shore up the beliefs of people who are already more or less convinced – but there’s a famous quote about “bringing fact-checking to a culture war”, says King’s College London researcher Leonie Haiden.

She prefers the idea of “credibility indicators” on social media, subtle design cues that visualise, unobtrusively, when information comes from a dodgy source.

The panda in the room

Image result for Xi Jinping in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, photos
Xi Jinping in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.Photo: AP

All of these ideas have merit, says Sarts. The aim is to change the cost-benefit analysis for Russia when it next weighs up whether to meddle in a vote.

But, he adds, Russia may not always be the problem.

“Russia has most of the attention, but China has most capability,” he says. “They definitely play in that area.”

As a successful, rising power, they have no incentive right now to “cross the line”, Sarts says.

But Laity points out that China has a concept of “three warfares” – media, psychological and legal warfares – an Eastern remix of the familiar Russian “hybrid war” idea.


China is “building capability”: amassing huge quantities of data and investing in artificial intelligence technology and talent, Sarts says

As technology continues to “hack” psychology, “down the road there’s an argument you can influence even more subtle behaviour, and there will be very few players as well placed for that as China”.

Nick Miller is Europe correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age

Fortnite ‘designed to be addictive’ for kids — chemical changes in the brain

June 14, 2018

Fortnite is the biggest game of the moment, counting NBA players and Drake among its millions of fans.

But a darker side emerged over the weekend as it was revealed that a UK-based girl, 9, had been checked into rehab after developing an addiction to the hit game.

For the uninitiated, Fortnite’s most-played mode is the “Hunger Games”-style “Battle Royale,” where 100 players fight it out until only one person or one team is left standing. These games typically last for 20 minutes.

Social Media Contributing to Epidemic of Mental Illness

June 14, 2018

NHS is “picking up the pieces” of an epidemic of mental illness among children, fuelled by social media, the head of the service has warned.

Simon Stevens urged companies like Google and Facebook to take more responsibility for the pressures they place on children.

Young girl using an iPad at home

It follows calls for social media and online gaming firms to have a statutory “duty of care” to protect children from mental ill health, abuse and addictive behaviour.

The Telegraph
13 JUNE 2018 • 7:00PM
The icons of social media apps, including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and WhatsApp, on a smartphone

Speaking at the NHS Confederation conference in Manchester, Mr Stevens said Britain’s children were hit by a “double epidemic” of mental illness and obesity.

The average person in this country spends twice as long on the toilet as they do exercising
–Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England

But he said the health service could not tackle its ills alone – turning on social media giants to do more to protect children.

“We have to ask some pretty searching questions around the role of technology companies, social media and the impact that is having on childhood,” he said.

“This cannot be a conversation that is simply left to the NHS to pick up the pieces for an epidemic of mental health challenge for our young people, induced by many other actors across our economy.”

He also called for more action to tackle unhealthy lifestyles, and said he hoped to see “renewed pragmatism” from the Government in its updated childhood obesity strategy, due to be published soon.

“The average person in this country spends twice as long on the toilet as they do exercising,” the NHS chief executive said.

Protect yourself and your family. Find out more about our Duty of Care campaign to regulate social media

Digital and social media firms should be forced to protect children from addiction, experts say

June 11, 2018

Social media and online gaming firms should have a statutory “duty of care” to protect children from mental ill health, abuse and addictive behaviour, a coalition of the country’s leading experts demands today.

Data amassed by charities, academics and doctors links children’s use of social media and gaming to a range of serious and lasting harms, many of which build gradually over time and go undetected by parents or teachers.

They accuse businesses such as Facebook and Snapchat of cynically targeting children as young as eight, using addictive “hooks” from the worlds of behavioural psychology and gambling to capture “new skins” to keep them logged on for as long as possible.

Experts say existing controls are not effective, with charities like Barnardo’s reporting a growing number of middle-class children seeking help with issues such as internet addiction, sex texting, grooming and online bullying.

The Daily Telegraph today launches a duty of care campaign, as ministers consider new measures to rein in the worst excesses of online firms which it is feared are now harming a generation of young people.

The campaign calls for digital companies to have a legal duty to protect children using their services.

Writing today, Peter Wanless, the chief executive of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), calls on the Government to introduce statutory regulation.

“For too long, social networks have been allowed to treat child safeguarding as optional. We don’t have the same protections in place online as we do offline,” he writes.

“After years of inadequate action I am absolutely adamant that now is the time to introduce statutory regulation on social media sites.”

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health has identified “worrying” evidence of an association between heavy internet use and increasing rates of childhood depression, mental ill health and obesity.

Examples include a 15-year-old boy from north London being admitted to hospital for eight weeks after becoming addicted to online gaming, and Felix Alexander, from Worcester, who took his own life, aged 17, after being relentlessly bullied online.

The growing concern comes as an investigation by The Telegraph found:

  • Almost a quarter of UK schoolchildren now spend more than six hours a day online outside school hours, with 4 per cent at risk of a clinical definition of addiction – four times the proportion of alcoholics in the population;
  •  A doubling in the number of children seeking help from the NSPCC’s Childline for cyber-bullying in the last five years, with many victims suffering depression, self-harming and in some cases attempting suicide;
  •  Police arrest six people a day for grooming children via social media apps, with 1,628 crimes recorded since the introduction of a new offence of sexual communication last year.

The concept of a duty of care has a long history in English and Scottish law and has successfully been used since the Thirties to bring rogue business as diverse as factory owners and property developers to book.

William Perrin, one of the Whitehall team that created Ofcom and a trustee of Carnegie UK Trust, said a statutory duty of care was needed if the Government was to meet its stated aim of making the UK “the safest place in the world to be online”.

“A duty of care, backed up by a regulator, will reduce the costs to society caused by badly run social media platforms and, crucially, will stand the test of time”, he said.

Felix Alexander, left, took his own life aged 17 after being bullied online
Felix Alexander, left, took his own life aged 17 after being bullied online CREDIT: TELEGRAPH

Children’s weekly internet usage has exploded in the past decade – doubling for under-11s and up 50 per cent for children aged 12 to 15 – and experts say it is partly because social media and gaming firms are deploying psychological tricks which feed addiction.

Prof Mark Griffiths, of Nottingham Trent University and Britain’s leading expert on addiction, said high-quality studies showed 4 per cent of adolescents – equivalent to one child in every classroom – were now classed as at risk of internet addiction.

A much larger proportion – anywhere between 10 per cent to 50 per cent – could be classed as “habitual users”, immediately picking up every email or notification, and checking social media a few times an hour.

These children, although not formally addicted, could suffer educationally and experience withdrawal symptoms.

Prof Griffiths said “fear of missing out” was the most effective psychological hook played on by social media companies alongside a desire to stay online for an “unpredictable reward” such as a “like” or new friend request – the same technique that keeps adults playing fixed odds slot machines for hours on end.

“As soon as you get an activity that is available 24/7, youngsters have a fear of missing out and not knowing what is going on.

“If there is no Wi-Fi, they have withdrawal-like symptoms,” he said.

The World Health Organisation this year moved to classify gaming addiction as a mental health disorder.

Dr Richard Graham, a specialist in the area, said typical outcomes of internet addiction included social isolation, conflict with parents and more complex psychological problems.

He said some of his patients spent up to 15 hours a day online, with one German teenager requiring hospital treatment for dehydration after failing to drink while gaming for more than 24 hours.

Dr Graham accused social media companies of mounting “an arms race” to keep children online with, for example, Snapchat streaks – which reward children for reaching 100 days of continuous online activity.

“It’s a race to the bottom: how can we keep you online magnetically for as long as possible?,” he said.

Liz Kendall, the Labour MP and member of the science and technology committee, which is conducting an inquiry into the impact of social media and screen-use on young people’s health, welcomed the duty of care campaign.

“This is a hugely important issue as social media now plays such a big part in young people’s lives”, she said.

“Whilst there are many positives about social media, there are also real risks … particularly [for] young women and girls”.

Simon Hart, the Tory MP and member of the digital, culture, media and sport select committee, said he thought change was on the way.

“I have this feeling that in 10 years’ time, we will be looking at some of this activity in the same way we look at cigarettes now.”

Snapchat denied it used psychological hooks to keep people online.

A spokesman said: “Snapstreaks are our way to allow for friendships to deepen over time, just like real life… we have also made the streaks indicator 30 per cent smaller in recent updates of the product to make them even less of a focus.”

The spokesman added that Snapchat had been designed without “public vanity metrics” such as likes or shares.

It was also working to encourage young people to develop friendships offline outside the app.

She added that a dedicated safety team would respond to concerns or reports such as online bullying within 24 hours and in most cases took action within two.

She said potential users were required to provide their date of birth to register and it used additional checks such as behavioural and interest-based data to confirm the truth of the age claim.

Facebook had not responded to requests for comment at the time of going to press.


  (Smartphone addiction messes up brain chemistry)

Parents are losing their sons to Fortnite, the hottest game in the world — The psychology is close to an addiction, or a pestilence

June 7, 2018

If you haven’t heard of the game Fortnite, you probably haven’t got a teenage son.

But if you have a teenage son, there’s a chance you are in a living hell, right now.

By Madonna King

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Teachers say Fortnite has in some instances changed the “pecking order’’ in classes.Photo: Supplied

Over the past month, boys between the ages of 10 and 17 have been:

  • Stealing their parents’ credit cards to improve their chances in the game;
  • Staying up all night, or setting the alarm after their parents have gone to bed, so that they could find a few extra hours to play Fortnite;
  • Pulling out of weekend sport because it would be time away from their game;
  • Playing it in class without teachers’ knowledge, and in at least one school the game – and even any mention of it – has been banned;
  • Screaming like toddlers when parents intervene to ban it during weekday nights;
  • Had their grades plummet – in some instances from an A to a C- across most subjects.

Some parents are at their wit’s end. One group of year 9 mothers has joined forces to ban all their sons from using it. There’s power in numbers.

Others are dealing with ugly friendship fallouts, simply because one of their sons “killed” another in a game that generated more than $220 million in one month – March – alone.

Teachers say Fortnite has in some instances changed the “pecking order’’ in classes, with the top positions reserved for those who do best on the game. Others have sent notes home to parents, pleading with them to refocus their sons away from the game, and back to their homework.

This is the teenage boy’s version of the topless selfie, that parents of girls worry about.

But it might even be worse because of the sheer volume of those playing it and its competitive lure, particularly to boys.

It involves firearms but is free of blood, so provides less reason – on the surface – to be considered dangerous.

Cam Adair is a Canadian game-addiction expert who is on round-trips to Australia at the request of schools.

At one parent night, almost 900 parents jammed into a hall to understand the pervasive and addictive influence of the latest teen boy craze. About 700 parents turned out at a Brisbane function.

Described by the New York Times as a cross “between Minecraft and The Hunger Games’’, Mr Adair says boys were becoming addicted and suffered genuine withdrawal symptoms including “mood swings, urges, and headaches’’. Others were also refusing to go to school because they couldn’t cope with not playing Fortnite.

“When I’ve spoken at schools recently in Australia, every single hand went up when I asked whether or not they were playing it. There’s something different about this and it’s causing a lot of parents to really struggle at home,’’ Mr Adair said.

He said those who weren’t playing it were being excluded, and those spending hours each day were competing with friends and an estimated 40 million others around the world, determined to advance, and “look better in front of their friends”.

Released less than a year ago, 50 per cent of those playing it were girls, but about 90 per cent of those addicted were male, according to Mr Adair. They ranged in age from pre-teens to 70 years.

“I haven’t seen any game like this that has caused as many problems for parents,’’ he said.

His advice? Parents worried about their son’s obsession with it should ban it, forcing their sons to go “cold turkey” in a 90-day detox. That length of time was required to reset the brain.

Two parents I know have tried that. In both cases, their teenage sons broke down bawling, pleading for a second chance. In one case, the 14-year-old boy sat screaming in a corner.

“It’s really, really addictive; I’m seeing with my own eyes,’’ one mother said. “It’s become his whole world. He judges himself on how he does,’’ another said.

Companies that have created the new economy are now being held to account for their abuse of privacy.

Maybe it is time also that they are held to account for allowing, and encouraging, addiction to online games. There’s no doubt that would be a vote-winner.


I almost lost my sons to ‘Fortnite’

Thomas Pace

Make no mistake. What we are looking at here is an epidemic, a pestilence that’s sweeping across the country, spreading like an infectious disease. A virtual tsunami, rolling over the American landscape and swallowing 10- to 16-year-old boys with an insidious ease I would have thought impossible until it swept through my house and took both my boys right from under my nose.

I’m speaking, of course, of “Fortnite,” the video game.

 Image result for fortnight, pictures

Over the last two months, “Fortnite” has developed a grip so tight on the kids in our neighborhood that I have heard several parents discuss starting a support group for our little video game junkies.

These zombies, who used to be our children, all exhibit the same symptoms of addiction, such as fading interests in all other activities and being suddenly incapable of engaging in conversations about any other topic.

They quickly become strung out and irritable if away from their PlayStation 4 or Xbox for more than a few hours. They use words like “epic” and “legendary” in strange and unfamiliar ways and drone on about places I’ve never heard of, like “Tilted Towers” and “Lucky Landing.”

They debate endlessly about which is better: the pump-action shotgun or the bolt-action sniper rifle? And they brag dubiously about how many kills they had in their big second-place finish yesterday. They lie outright about the number of first-place victories they’ve accumulated.

Yes, it’s pretty dark stuff.

But it’s by no means the game’s violent content that has me so distressed. Not by a long shot. While “Fortnite” is full of bullets, guns and grenades, it thankfully spares us the gore. In fact, in “Fortnite” there is essentially no blood or guts to speak of. Compared with many of the shoot-’em-up games out there it’s pretty tame — if not outright lame.

Far more troublesome is how completely addictive it appears to be.

It was sometime over spring break I noticed that my 10- and 12-year-olds were actually waking themselves early in the morning to get their fixes. By the time I got out of bed, around 6:30 a.m., I would find them already up and in front of the game. One tethered to a headset, his blank gaze fixed onto the screen, rapt in a conversation (with whom I could only guess) about looting or gathering wood or metal, while the other sat, doe-eyed, tracking “the storm” and counting down how many of the 100 initial players were still left in the game.

And it’s not just my sons. A quick, albeit unscientific, survey of neighborhood parents confirmed that nearly every single kid I know has become utterly obsessed with this video game.

One minute it mustered just a spark of interest as the latest popular video game. The next minute it fanned itself into a wildfire of fiendish preoccupation that has consumed these kids from the inside and left them empty shells of the people they used to be.

They travel in hordes throughout the neighborhood, playing at one house until their welcome wears out, at which time the entire pack travels, en masse, to another house or apartment, until again being banished. It’s like a zombie attack, but this time it’s the zombies’ brains that are being eaten.

Back in the 1980s, I myself battled a serious case of chronic Pac-Man fever, so I understand that, like all things, this, too, shall pass. I know that the “Fortnite” contagion will eventually run its course. And decades from now, when I tell my grandchildren tales of the Great Fornite Epidemic of ’18, they will only be able to wonder what it was about this game that their parents found so hypnotizing.

For now, my wife and I are rehabilitating our boys with a strict daily 30-minute game-playing limit, and it seems to be helping. They are slowly but surely returning to their former selves.

Recently, I even heard them talking a little baseball.

And I have to admit, as disturbing as the Great Fortnite Epidemic of ’18 has been, it’s been a lot less annoying than the Bottle-Flipping Pandemic of ’16 and a lot more interesting than the Fidget-Spinner Fever of ’17.

An earlier version of this story misidentified one of the game systems used. The writer’s sons used PlayStation 4 and Xbox.

Thomas Pace is a Chicago-area songwriter, recording artist and screenwriter.

Why Being a Foster Child Made Me a Conservative

May 31, 2018

By Rob Henderson

Mr. Henderson served in the Air Force before going to Yale, where he majored in psychology. He graduated on Monday.

The New York Times
May 21, 2018

There aren’t many conservative students at Yale: fewer than 12 percent, according to a survey by our student newspaper. There are fewer former foster children. I am one of the rare students on campus who can claim both identities.

My unusual upbringing has shaped my conservatism. My birth mother was addicted to drugs. As a young child, I spent five years in foster care. At age 7, I was adopted, but for a long time after that I was raised in broken homes.

Foster care, broken homes and military service have fashioned my judgments. My experiences drive me to reflect on what environments are best for children. Certainly not the ones I came from.

Where I came from can be understood through my name: Robert Kim Henderson. All three names were taken from different adults.

Robert comes from my supposed biological father. The only information I have about him is his name from a document provided by a social worker responsible for my case when I was a foster child.

My middle name, Kim, comes from my biological mother. It was her family name. She succumbed to drug addiction, rendering her unable to care for me.

Image result for Rob Henderson, photos, being a foster child
Rob Henderson

And my last name: Henderson. It comes from my former adoptive father. After my adoptive mother left him, he severed ties with me in order to hurt her. He figured that my emotional pain from his desertion would be transmitted to my adoptive mother. He was right. The three people who gave me their names have something in common: All abandoned me. None took responsibility.

Last year, a fellow student told me I was a victim. Yale is the only place where someone has said this to me. I responded that if someone had told me I was a victim when I was a kid, I would never have made it to the Air Force, where I served for eight years, or to Yale. I would have given up. When I was 10, a teacher told me that if I applied myself, I could alter my future. This advice changed my life. From my response, my fellow student inferred that I was not as progressive as him. As our conversation unfolded, he asked, “What does it actually mean to be a conservative?”

For me, the answer is that people who came before us weren’t stupid. They were stunted in many ways. But not in every way. Older people have insights worthy of our attention.

One piece of inherited wisdom is the value of the two-parent family. It’s not fashionable to talk about this. How people raise their children is a matter of preference. But it is not really up for debate that the two-parent home is, on average, better for children.

First, two parents can provide their children more resources, including emotional support, encouragement and help with homework. One conscientious parent, no matter how heroic, cannot do the work of two. Second, single-parent households have a lower standard of living, which is associated with lower school grades and test scores.

Here is an example of the success of intact families from one of my psychology classes. The professor asked students to anonymously respond to a question about parental background. Out of 25 students, only one student besides me did not grow up in a traditional two-parent family. It’s no accident that most of my peers at Yale came from intact families.

Outcomes are worse for foster children. Ten percent of them enroll in college, and 3 percent graduate. To my knowledge, among more than 5,000 undergraduates at Yale my senior year, the number of former foster children was under 10.

Along with taking accumulated wisdom seriously, I understand conservative philosophy to mean that the role of the individual in making decisions and undertaking obligations is paramount. Individuals have rights. But they also have responsibilities.

For instance, when I say parents should prioritize their children over their careers, there is a sense of unease among my peers. They think I want to blame individuals rather than a nebulous foe like poverty. They are mostly right. Many people who come from privilege do not like placing blame on ordinary people. They prefer to blame ideologies, institutions, abstractions.

A cynical interpretation of this attitude is that some students want to keep the competition down. Fewer children raised in good families means less competition for those at the top.

My skin crawls when people use me as an example of a person who can shoulder the burdens of a nontraditional upbringing and succeed. They use my success as an argument for lax attitudes about parenting. But I am one of the lucky ones.

Many people have asked me how I turned out to be relatively successful, given my turbulent childhood. My answer is simple: During adolescence, I had the benefit of two parents, my adoptive mother and her partner, and I believed I had control of my future.

My adoptive mother and her partner raised me from middle school through high school in the early to mid-2000s in a rural California town called Red Bluff. They made a stable home for me. We had dinner together every weeknight. We talked about minutiae. They would ask me, “How was school today?” And I would respond with the usual “It was fine.” They gave me unsolicited advice. I was sarcastic in response. And we loved one another.

I experienced a stable family, if only for a few years. Though they experienced homophobia and struggled financially, they never let it get in the way of doing the right thing for their son.

Ordinary adults taking responsibility made all the difference for me. I maintain that the agency of individuals will lead to fewer impoverished childhoods.

If today that makes me a conservative, great. I take responsibility for that.

Rob Henderson, who served in the Air Force, graduated on Monday from Yale, where he majored in psychology.

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A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A27 of the New York edition with the headline: Life as a Foster Child Made Me a Conservative. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe
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The Really Difficult Thing To Accept: Your Mind Is Not (Always) Your Friend

April 25, 2018

Working with drug addicts, psychopaths, the obese and people who have gotten into trouble by doing something society condemns makes us ponder the most difficult truth: the human brain doesn’t always tell us the right thing….


By John Francis Carey
Peace and Freedom

The  Waffle House  killer was probably fine until he wasn’t fine. He ultimately killed four people and wounded others. But he had sent many signals trained practitioners could tell us were alarm bells in the world of mental illness and treatment.

He stole a BMW car right out of the showroom. He was arrested near the White House for trying to say hello to President Trump. He went for a swim in a public swimming pool wearing a pink dress.

He was not allowed to have guns. But his Dad apparently gave him back his AR-15 in violation of a police agreement.

But this isn’t about guns.

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The van driver in the recent Toronto killings had an internet obsession with someone who apparently hated women. He was part of a group that believed he was “involuntarily celibate.”

This isn’t about women or sex.

It’s about the human brain and understanding what it can do.

Doctors in any psych ward comment that the Waffle House killer reminds them of the Virginia Tech killer and the Parkland, Florida school killer.

Mark my words, somewhere there are clinicians at this moment  saying the Toronto van driver reminds them of some case — some human being they’ve treated or known.

People have a hard time with the concept that the human brain doesn’t always perform to expectation. There is probably some neo Adolph Hitler lurking somewhere in the world today. That we usually understand. But you bring this notion closer to home, to your own friends and family, and it may be hard to swallow.

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And the notion in any persons head that he or she may be getting very bad information from their own brain is almost always something quickly discarded or impossible to embrace.

Impossible to accept.

People suffering from PTSD are virtually untreatable until and unless they are willing to admit that something is going on in their own brain. It is almost always treatable — but not until it can be discussed.

A person suffering from obesity has a hard time understanding that one more cupcake won’t make them happy — even though they already weigh over 400 lbs.

That’s treatable.

So we need to talk about these things.

Almost every day, and certainly every week, working with drug addicts and alcoholics, I ask someone: “Did it ever occur to you that your brain is telling you the wrong thing? That your brain may want you dead?”

That’s the truth with the political correctness removed.

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Because when an alcoholic or drug addicted brain tells you just about anything you may need to get someone elses opinion before buying into more madness. That’s why the best treatment programs recommend a trusted agent, a sponsor or some confident or therapist to keep watch over your brain. Your manipulating husband or wife cannot do the job — especially when there is money involved.

Your brain may not allow you to accept this.

Entertainer Avicii died this weekWe saw four or five news accounts that said, “the cause of death is not known.” But the cause of death is known. Two years ago a doctor told him he drank so much alcohol that his pancreas was just about destroyed. I loved the guy but knew, as many around him knew, that somewhere deep, down inside his brain there was a little voice with a death-wish telling him he could drink alcohol if he wanted.

The day before he died, a photographer took Avicii’s picture. He had a mixed drink in his hand.

I don’t know for sure but I’d be willing to wager that many others, like Amy Winehouse for example, are dead today because nobody around them cared or loved them enough to say: “Maybe your brain is telling you wrong. Maybe we need more help. You can return to the stage later…”


Everywhere we look in the world today there is some disfunction, some trouble difficult to understand. But we have almost no hope of ever understanding unless and until we talk more about the difficult issues of the human brain and learn more about that sphere.

This doesn’t men every selfie is narcissism or every Friday out drunk is alcoholism. But self assessment tells us quantity has a quality all its own.

The problem is that many of us never get to self assessment — or find it simply impossible to figure out by ourselves what is going on…

That’s why we have secrets.

One of my friends says, “We are only as sick as our secrets.”

True words like that is what we need.

Drugs and guns kill a lot of people needlessly. But we can’t remove all the guns and drugs — or knives — or rental vans — from the world and solve all our problems.

We are supposed to be smarter than that.  Sharper.


(The problem is, you may have something wrong even though you are not a psychopath)

After Nearly 100 Years of Gun Control, London Adds Knife Control


Marc Lewis: the neuroscientist who believes addiction is not a disease

(People with addictions are better off if they believe that their brain is telling them the wrong thing. Otherwise, too often, they are told they are doing bad things and they hear: “They think I’m bad”….)


Stinking Thinking

Understanding psychological evaluations and assessments on children

April 22, 2018
Sera Jang

Jakarta | Wed, April 18, 2018 | 11:22 am
Understanding psychological evaluations and assessments on children

As parents, always remember to seek a professional evaluation and diagnosis, so that you will get a clear picture of your child’s psychological condition (Shutterstock/File)

“I think my child has ADHD.”

When our children show any particular symptoms, we easily Google them and reach certain self-diagnoses. As the parent do more research, it becomes easy for them to be obsessed with the self-diagnosed result and strongly believe in it. However, professionals warn parents to be careful when diagnosing their children.

In many cases, the symptoms are caused by various reasons that are not as simple as they seem. For example, let’s say there is a child who often forgets his belongings, shows hyperactive behaviors and is not able to focus on one thing for long. By hearing the symptoms, we may think of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). However, by jumping to conclusions, we rule out the possibilities of the child having a low cognitive functioning, emotional difficulties like depression or high level of aggression, behavioral issues or a maybe blend of these all.

Why do we need a psychological evaluation?

Any parent who has ever brought their children to a psychological center for any support would have been asked to have them go through a psychological evaluation before moving on to further therapy or counseling sessions. The parent may come up with questions: Do we really need an evaluation? Is it accurate and worthy enough? What can we expect from it?

The American Psychological Association (APA) emphasizes the need for a psychological evaluation, saying that figuring out the nature of the problem through psychological tests and assessment is a must to set accurate therapeutic goals and make the right approach for individual needs. Effective goals and therapy sessions can be driven from having a full picture of a child’s state.

Psychological evaluation

A psychological evaluation includes formal and informal tests that are standardized by researchers and proven to be effective in measuring a particular traits or disorders. Licensed and trained psychologists conducting the standardized assessment play the most important roles in the process.

Checking if the provider is using standardized tools to assess the child is necessary, as standardized assessments were designed to accurately identify the child’s condition and to develop an efficient treatment plan. The evaluation result driven from world standardized tools may become useful when providing the child’s information to schools, referring the child’s case to other therapists or tracking the child’s history, as the assessment is well-known and understood to most licensed counselors or therapists.

Prior evaluation steps 

An intake session and diagnostic evaluation are prior steps to collecting more information about the child and parent. The intake session is an initial clinical observation/interview session with the child and parent, which helps therapists understand the child’s developmental history, interaction and traumatic experiences.

Therapists gathers information directly by observing the child and indirectly by interviewing the parent. While interviewing, the parent can organize the difficulties of their child by retelling the child’s history. Not does an intake session offer general information, it also gives the therapist an idea on what subsequent test or assessment is needed.

A diagnostic evaluation is a procedure accessing intellectual, behavioral, emotional and social difficulties that affect the child’s life in general. It is similar to medical checkups like x-rays or blood tests we take when we visit hospitals to find out what is causing our physical symptoms.

The psychological assessment gives information on the child’s intellectual capability, strength and weaknesses in abilities, cognitive functioning and what behavioral and emotional difficulties are present and how deep they are in comparison to the child’s same age group and mental disorder standards.

It gives a full picture of the child’s psychological condition, which will reduce time in having to go through trial-and-error. An accurate diagnosing is as important as the treatment.

What are the benefits? 

Some psychological centers will ask the parents to undergo an evaluation as well to understand their approach to nurturing and the interaction methods they use with their children. Because the parent provides the main environment for the children, it is important to analyze parents’ mental condition and way of dealing with their children.

It is understandable that the parent may be reluctant to being analyzed. However, we need to remember that a parent evaluation is not to judge parenting skills, but to support the parent so they can provide a better environment for their children. The parent will receive comprehensive feedback and parenting recommendations based on their individual needs.

What to prepare 

Some parents believe they need to prepare their children for the assessments. However, what they need to prepare for the assessment is the child’s physical condition by giving him/her enough sleep and proper meals. The psychological evaluation is to study the child’s psychological condition at that point in time and find the right method to help the child. It is not a test that the child may pass or fail or needs to study. Studying and practicing the assessment ahead of time may backfire and lead to misleading results that may affect the proper approach to the child.

As parents, always remember to seek a professional evaluation and diagnosis, so that you will get a clear picture of your child’s psychological condition. (kes)


Sera Jang is a child psychologist at the International Wellbeing Center in Jakarta. Sera has 11 years’ experience practicing Play therapy and Youth and Parent counseling. She studied Journalism (B.S) and Child psychology (M.A) at Hanyang University, South Korea, and participated in workshops and research in the field of psychology. She occasionally writes articles for parenting magazines and daily papers.

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