Psychopaths prone to using the past tense, making cause and effect statements and using ‘uh’ and ‘um.’
Psychopaths are known to be wily and manipulative, but even so, they unconsciously betray themselves, according to scientists who have looked for patterns in convicted murderers’ speech as they described their crimes. The researchers interviewed 52 convicted murderers, 14 of them ranked as psychopaths according to the Psychopathy Checklist-Revised, a 20-item assessment, and asked them to describe their crimes in detail. Using computer programs to analyze what the men said, the researchers found that those with psychopathic scores showed a lack of emotion, spoke in terms of cause-and-effect when describing their crimes, and focused their attention on basic needs, such as food, drink and money. While we all have conscious control over some words we use, particularly nouns and verbs, this is not the case for the majority of the words we use, including little, functional words like “to” and “the” or the tense we use for our verbs, according to Jeffrey Hancock, the lead researcher and an associate professor in communications at Cornell University, who discussed the work on Oct. 17 in Midtown Manhattan at Cornell’s ILR Conference Center. “The beautiful thing about them is they are unconsciously produced,” Hancock said. These unconscious actions can reveal the psychological dynamics in a speaker’s mind even though he or she is unaware of it, Hancock said. Psychopaths make up about 1 percent of the general population and as much as 25 percent of male offenders in federal correctional settings, according to the researchers. Psychopaths are typically profoundly selfish and lack emotion. “In lay terms, psychopaths seem to have little or no ‘conscience,'” write the researchers in a study published online in the journal Legal and Criminological Psychology. Psychopaths are also known for being cunning and manipulative, and they make for perilous interview subjects, according to Michael Woodworth, one of the authors and a psychologist who studies psychopathy at the University of British Columbia, who joined the discussion by phone. Criminal Minds Are Different From Yours, “It is unbelievable,” Woodworth said. “You can spend two or three hours and come out feeling like you are hypnotized.” While there are reasons to suspect that psychopaths’ speech patterns might have distinctive characteristics, there has been little study of it, the team writes. To examine the emotional content of the murderers’ speech, Hancock and his colleagues looked at a number of factors, including how frequently they described their crimes using the past tense. The use of the past tense can be an indicator of psychological detachment, and the researchers found that the psychopaths used it more than the present tense when compared with the nonpsychopaths. They also found more dysfluencies — the “uhs” and “ums” that interrupt speech — among psychopaths. Nearly universal in speech, dysfluencies indicate that the speaker needs some time to think about what they are saying. With regard to psychopaths, “We think the ‘uhs’ and ‘ums’ are about putting the mask of sanity on,” Hancock told LiveScience.
Facebook to Tell Users They Are Being Tracked
Facebook has agreed to be transparent about, well, the obvious: You are being tracked so advertisers can better aim at you, and you can opt out if you make the effort. The announcement came Monday as part of the company’s agreement with the Council of Better Business Bureau. The agreement applies to ads that are shown to Facebook users, based on what else they have browsed on the Web. Let’s say you have looked at little girls’ party dresses on an unrelated e-commerce site. When you log on to Facebook, you could be tempted with a dress that you didn’t quite buy; it might even nudge you to make the purchase “for your darling daughter.” Now, if you hover over one of those ads with your mouse, a grey-blue icon will pop up alerting you to the fact that you’re being tracked. It remains unclear whether this notification would satisfy either privacy advocates or government regulators who are pressing Web companies to make it easier for users to avoid being tracked by marketers. Jeffrey Chester of the Washington-based Center for Digital Democracy panned the new initiative as inadequate. “It’s time for Facebook to face up to informing users in clear black-and-white — not grey — about how it harvests its user information,” he said in an e-mail. You can opt out of being tracked, one ad-serving company at a time. Facebook joins with several third parties to serve you those ads, on behalf of brands. The company declined to say how many such companies it joined with, only that there were in the dozens. You can also choose to hide ads from a particular brand. Facebook has always allowed users to do this; the only change is that it will henceforth nudge you with a new icon. “At Facebook, we work hard to build transparency and control into each of our products, including our advertising offerings,” the company said in an e-mailed statement attributable to its chief privacy officer, Erin Egan. Advertising is the bread-and-butter of all Web services, including Facebook. Faced with pressure to gin up profits for its public investors, Facebook has in recent months refined its aimed advertising efforts. The company earned $5 billion in advertising revenue last year. The online ad industry wants a system of self-regulation rather than by government fiat.