My Last Post

I’ve been reading some of the blogs already posted for this week, and the consensus is almost the same throughout. It goes something like, ‘this class was scary at first, and we didn’t know what to expect, but by the end of the year it was not only memorable, but a personal favorite​.’ With fear of repetition, I’d have to agree. This semester, a lot of us surprised ourselves in this class, with our ability to speech publicly, the improvement within our writing, and specifically for myself, a large improvement in article research and information processing. Was I a little skeptical about this class and the way it worked at first? Yes, especially since I had to give the first round of talks, but you know, everything was great and I believe many of us can agree on that.

So what will I be taking away from this class? First, for those of us who showed up to almost every class, we became a community for these couple months. I looked forward to my peers talks every week, many of them were actually quite interesting. I appreciate the respect between classmates during this class. I have also greatly improved my writing, and my ability to critically look at others work while still delivering a respectful opinion. I have gained confidence in speaking, and also confidence in my ability to submit classwork on time. I am the world biggest procrastinator, and yet, I would almost always be doing my blog Tuesday or Wednesday evening, which was a real change for me. I’ve also learned that research into a topic doesn’t have to be dry and boring, and when it’s about something you have interest in, the learning seems to come naturally. I’ve learned a great deal more about serial killers than I knew before, and thats always great. All in all, this class was a wonderful experience, much less stressful and structured than my other classes this semester, but no less thoughtful, informative and educational. Lastly, I will take away the fact that there are many ways to run a classroom, and learning doesn’t have to be all the same, respecting those classes who try and break away from the norm a little more.


The Makings Of The Serial Killers – Synthesis

Over the past three blogs, we have taken a detailed look at what truly makes a serial killer the way they are. So what can we gather from this? First, and probably most important, one needs to understand that there is not one exclusive gene or life event that turns someone into a serial killer. Almost all studies would suggest that it is a combination between nature and nurture, a rather unfortunate pairing between genes, personality disorders and traumatic life events. That being said, it must be noted that there is no ‘serial killer personality disorder,’ and although many display antisocial tendencies and disorders, this does not mean that everyone with antisocial personality disorder will be a murderer, in fact, far from it.

One aspect that wasn’t previously discussed in my blogs was what role gender plays in all of this, falling under the nature category, and I’d like to take a quick minute to analyze this. Roughly 90% of serial killers are males, that’s not to say that women haven’t done gruesome things as well, but the majority is made up of men. From 1900-2010, there have been 4200 male serial killers, and only 541 females. (Radford University/FGCU Serial Killer Database) So it seems to be that being male puts one at a higher risk for some of these tendencies. So why the difference? Again, there is no concrete answer, but some theories do exist. For one, males are typically more aggressive than women, also including sexual aggression. Men also tend to murder strangers more than women in regards to victims of serial killings. It was found that 92% of women knew their victims, while that percentage is much lower in men. (Eric Hickey, Criminologist) So perhaps women tend to kill for reasons of passion or emotion, while men kill more often from lack of connection and empathy. What’s interesting though, is that a large part of the emergence of serial killers often revolves around the trauma they faced as children, as I discussed in the previous blog, so one could easily assume that boys must go through more abuse and trauma than women. But, the US department of health and human services found that “1 in 5 girls” suffer sexual abuse, while only and “1 in 20 boys are victims.” (US Department of Health and Human services) Similar stats can be found for other forms of abuse, mixing between boys and girls. So as we see here, it’s not one hundred percent clear why males are way more likely to become serial killers.

One the topic of childhood trauma and abuse, I mentioned previously that it was a reoccurring theme within the serial killer community. “In one study, 80% of 21-year-olds who reported childhood abuse met the criteria for at least one psychological disorder,” and while all 80% of these individuals won’t become serial killers, this shows the drastic effect that this early abuse causes. (National Child Abuse, 2016) “De Becker quoted Ressler’s research and stated that “100 percent [of serial killers] had been abused as children, either with violence, neglect, or humiliation”” (Heather Mitchell and Michael G. Aamodt Radford University) “Over 40 percent of the [serial] murderers reported being physically beaten and abused in their childhoods. More than 70 percent said they had witnessed or been part of sexually stressful events when young” (Heather Mitchell and Michael G. Aamodt Radford University) So while the abuse may vary, it is more than coincidence that almost all serial killers share such dark pasts. “I actually think I may be possessed with demons, I was dropped on my head as a kid.” (Albert DeSalvo)

Finally, we took a look at genetics and found that this can also contribute to the makings of a serial killer. “Possible biological contributions include head injury involving brain damage, brain anomalies, and faulty genetics.” (Heather Mitchell, Radford University)Many personality and mental disorders can have genetic roots, such a schizophrenia or bi-polar, and like mentioned above, antisocial personality disorder seems to be one of the most prevalent between serial killers. In addition, when comparing brain scans of individuals, “those who had been convicted of a murder with aggressive or antisocial disorders showed distinct brain activity compared to those who were considered normal.” (Dr. Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin) So yes, it seems that there are certain genetic factors that play into who is more likely to develop abnormally and take on serial killer tendencies, but there is no isolated gene or disorder.

So what’s the take-home​ message? The development of a serial killer does not happen overnight, and it seems to come from specific combinations of genetics, some level of personality disorders (Sometimes caused by genetics) and different degrees of life trauma and disturbances. But while there is a lot going on under the surface, many of these psychos appear like everyday people, and in fact often have incredible social skills in charisma and manipulation, so I suppose one must always be aware of just who they’re talking to.

Radford University/FGCU Serial Killer Database,

US department of health and human services,

National Child Abuse,

Heather Mitchell and Michael G. Aamodt Radford University, The incidence of Child Abuse in Serial Killers 2014 The American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress

The Makings Of A Serial Killer – Nurture

In a quick recap, last week I discussed the nature side behind why certain individuals become serial killers. This week, we will be focusing on the nurture side. As mentioned before, there is not ‘one’ single factor, genetic component or isolated incident that causes someone to become a serial killer, but rather they are created from a wider mix of multiple factors.

One of the most common misfortunes suffered by serial killers if often early childhood abuse or trauma. “over 40 percent of the serial murderers reported being physically beaten and abused in their childhoods. More than 70 percent said they had witnessed or been part of sexually stressful events when young…” (Ressler and Shachtman, 1992) Now, it’s important to realize that abuse comes in many different forms. Psychological abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, and other various forms of maltreatment. Though in many of these cases the abuse comes directly from a family member, it can also come from outside parties as well, such as children at school. In the case of Carroll Edward Cole, a notorious serial killer largely from the 70’s-80’s, we see abuse from multiple sources, his mother, and his fellow classmates. Teased for his girlish name, Carroll was an angry child, and his mother had no issues joining in, as she would dress Carroll as a little girl, and force him to serve tea to the neighborhood​ ladies. In this specific case, the abuse takes a heavy psychological form, and unfortunately, this story is all too common among serial killers. “I was hated all my life. I hated everybody. When I first grew up and can remember, I was dressed as a girl by mother. And I stayed that way for two or three years. And after that was treated like what I call the dog of the family. I was beaten. I was made to do things that no human bein’ would want to do.” (Henry Lee Lucas)

Another theory comes into play when taking a detailed look at serial killers who feel the need to consume their victims The theory goes, that many of these twisted individuals find comfort in eating their victims on a deep emotional level, simply in the fact that now their victims can never leave them. It stems from serious separation and abandonment fears, often created at a young age. In the case of Jeffrey Dahmer, many of his problems began during the time of a particularly nasty divorce, sparking the feelings of desertion and loss of control. “The only motive was to completely control a person and to keep them with me as long as possible.” (Jeffrey Dahmer) It’s important to note though, that abandonment was not the only issue Jeffrey suffered from. He was an alcoholic, struggled with personality disorders, and more. Though this is not always the case with cannibals, it does provide a starting point for the psychological reasoning behind the dark behavior​. That being said, many serial killers struggle with abandonment and control issues created early in life, and murder becomes a way to temporarily silence those fears.

The stories of abuse are all too common among these serial killers, some of the more notorious being Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy, Albert Fish, Charles Manson, Donald Gaskins, and the list goes on and on. So is there really a connection between childhood abuse and serial killers? In a certain sense, yes. While it is true that not all victims of abuse will grow up to be murderers​, “there is a heightened risk associated with childhood trauma and anti-social behaviors​ for personality disorders and criminal activity in later adult life.” (Fiona Guy) In a 2005 study, 50 serial killers were interviewed and asked about abuse in their early years, and shockingly, only 2% reported having suffered no prior abuse. (Mitchell, H., and Aamodt, M.G. 2005) Compared to the general public, the rates of childhood abuse among serial killers are nearly quadrupled in every category (Psychological, sexual, physical), with the exception of neglect where it was found to be almost even with the general population. (Mitchell, H., and Aamodt, M.G. 2005) So can we conclude that abuse within the early years play an important role into development? Definitely, but it would be an unfair statement to conclude that anyone who is abused at a young age will grow up to be a serial killer, a cannibal or a murderer in general. Like mentioned previously, it is a combination of events, both genetic and environmental that mold an individual into creating such a dark future.

The Makings Of a Serial Killer – Nature

Last week I began to broadly discuss serial killers and what sets them apart from the rest of society. This week I will be focusing on the nature aspect, and what goes on inside the mind of a serial killer.

When we look inside the brain of a serial killer, it becomes apparent that there are substantial differences from those who are deemed ‘normal’. (Normal being a very general and undescriptive term, I refer to it as what our western society considers normal) Neuroscientist Jim Fallon, among many others, concluded that serial killers have lower levels of activity in the original cortex, meaning “there’s less normal suppression of behaviors​, including rage, violence, eating, sex, and drinking.” (Lizette Borreli) Another theory comes from Dr. Helen Morrison, stating that chromosome abnormalities, usually becoming active around puberty, play a large role as well. She believes that this abnormality causes one to never develop a sense of attachment to the world, empathy for others or a concrete foundation of belonging in this world. “I don’t believe in man, God, or the Devil. I hate the whole damned human race, including myself.” (Gary Ridgway) Now, many serial killers also suffer from some degree with psychological disorders, such as schizophrenia or anti-social personality disorder, which is most commonly associated with serial killers. As discussed in the previous blog, serial killers are often considered psychopaths as well, and by definition, it’s fitting but “psychopathy is not a clinical diagnosis, but it is considered a developmental disorder by neuroscientists.” (Jack Pemment MA, MS) (It’s important to remember that not all psychopaths are serial killersareare)

While it is true that serial killers lack empathy, connection to their world and others, and the morals most of us share, they do seem to have a higher rate of other personality traits. These include charm, manipulation, and the ability to install a sense false trust in their victims. These traits have even been referred to as ‘psychopathic traits.” (Jack Pemment MA, MS) But while these traits are usually found in serial killers, they are not exclusive to them, but rather shared by society to some degree. The difference comes from the degree of strength these characteristics have within a person, serial killers displaying much higher abilities to use and display them. While these traits are largely found in many killers, the most common are still found to be the lack of overall empathy towards other humans. A possible cause for this could be a shrunken amygdala, a part of the brain used in controlling emotion. “I am sorry for only two things. These two things are I am sorry that I have mistreated some few animals in my lifetime​ and I am sorry that I am unable to murder the whole damned​ human race.” (Carl Panzram) It is also clear that many of these individuals share a certain thrill or feeling of excitement during their heinous crimes. Whether it’s the feeling of power and control murder gives them, from the adrenaline coursing through their body, or various other reasons, it’s apparent that this act is enjoyable to them. “I like killing people because it is so much fun. It is more fun than killing wild game in the forest, because man is the most dangerous animal of them all.” (Zodiac Killer) The reasons behind the pleasure are more difficult to test on a biological scale though, as it would be unethical to hook a serial killer up to a brain scanner, ask him to murder someone, then record the results. One could conclude though that the pleasure regions of the brain would be more active.

So are serial killers caused solely by nature? No, and while genetic factors, mental illness, and abnormal brain development do play into the makings of a serial killer, it can not be concluded that nature alone is to blame. Much of the abnormalities found in the brain are often caused by early life trauma, which will be discussed next week under the nurture section. What one can conclude from this, is that many, if not all serial killers, do have certain differences within the structure of the brain, which does cause a shift in one’s behaviors​ from the norm. “It wasn’t as dark and scary as it sounds. I had a lot of fun…killing somebody’s a funny experience.” (Albert DeSalvo)

The Makings Of A Serial Killer

What makes a serial killer different from everyone else? Or more importantly, what makes a serial killer at all? It can not be attributed to a single event in life or defect in ones brain, but rather, more often it is an unfortunate meshing of nature and nurture. This is not to say that single events can’t spark this aggressive and sadistic behaviour, or that brain design and development don’t play an important role. Rather, it is saying that there is no single gene that make sone a serial killer and no set life event in which all people would turn out to be murderers after experiencing it. I’d like to discuss at length the factors that always seem to be present in these most horrific murderers, starting all the way from conception, to into their adulthood, and really see what makes a serial killer different from the rest of society. For the purpose of detail, nature and nurture will be discussed as two different blogs, to allow for a full amount of research and explanation on both sides.

To fully understand such a large topic, it’s important to first be clear on the term serial killer. A serial killer is “someone who commits a series of murders over a period of 30 days or more, with an inactive period between each murder, and whose motivation for killing is largely based on psychological gratification.” ( Now, based on which definition is read, there can be a number of disagreements from source to source. The definition provided here focuses mainly on the fact that to be a serial killer, the murders need to be spread out through a period of time. The time in which the murders take place is an important factor. Someone could slay just as many or more victims, but if it is done in a very short time, they will be referred to as a mass murderer, rather than a serial killer. Lastly, when defining who and what a serial killer is, it’s important to understand that psychopath and serial killer are not interchangeable terms. A psychopath is “a person suffering from chronic mental disorder with abnormal or violent social behaviour.” In most cases, a serial killer is a psychopath, but it does not act as a two way street, and being a psychopath doesn’t make someone a serial killer. Though both often share overlapping characteristics, they are not the same.

Before diving into the specifics of nature and nurture, we should discuss some of the basic characteristics most serial killers share. In almost all cases, there is a lack of empathy, guilt and emotion behind these killers. More often than not, social norms do not apply to them, and social interactions are far from normal. “I didn’t know what made people want to be friends. I didn’t know what made people attractive to one another. I didn’t know what underlay social interactions.” (Ted Bundy) Despite the lack of emotion themselves, many serial killers have an incredible talent for manipulation, picking up on others emotions and vulnerabilities. In cases like Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer, most of their victims willingly went with their killers under the intoxication of charm and false trust. It seems to be, that most serial killers live partially in a world of fantasy that they create for themselves. “I made my fantasy life more powerful than my real one.” (Jeffrey Dahmer) It’s believed that many of the fantasies start at an early age, and are often linked to childhood trauma, and while all kids daydream, the difference is that serial killers begin to live in their fantasies, trading them for the outside world. “Serial killers program themselves in childhood to become murderers through a progressively intensifying loop of fantasy.” (Scott A. Bonn Ph.D.) This will be discussed in more detail under the nurture section.

Finally, many serial killers share an overbearing need for power and control. There could be many reasons for this, one of the most popular theories coming from the years of childhood abuse and trauma many killers faced. As children, they had no control over their environment and the abuse, but as adults, they’ve discovered the act of taking another persons life, the act of killing in itself is the ultimate taste of power and control, of which they were deprived of for so many of their younger years. It’s a constant craving for that power, and the ability save themselves all those years ago. When the thirst for power cannot be satisfied with a single kill, it must be repeated over and over to keep that ultimate form of control. “We’ve all got the power in our hands to kill, but most people are afraid to use it. The ones who aren’t afraid, control life itself.” (Richard Ramirez) Deciding who lives and dies, and feeling the life drain from beneath them is the only power that matters. It is a power comparable to god’s in the eyes of a killer, almost untouchable. “Murder is not about lust and it’s not about violence. It’s about possession. When you feel the last breath of life coming out of the woman, you look into her eyes. At the point, it’s being God.” (Ted Bundy)

The Truth In The Stars

What do the stars say about your future? The study and use of astrology has been around for hundreds and hundreds of years. It begin as what many called “magical consciousness”, where there was believed to be “a blending, or overlapping, between one’s sense of self and the world outside.” ( For many, their beliefs contribute to the way they interact and view their world.Even though this ‘reading of the stars’ has been around since long before our generations, it is still widely used and in some cases worshiped today. There are many people who live their lives all based off their astrological sign, fortunes of the stars, or even zodiac years and symbols. But is there any real evidence that any of this is even remotely true and not just make believe?

To begin, we better take a quick look at why people even believe in things like astrology and zodiac signs. It is said that 33% of Americans believe in astrology today, which equals out to around 104,940,000 people. Thats a lot of people for one country. (Huffington Post, 2016) Many people like to take comfort in a power larger then themselves. This is the reason for a lot of the appeal that individuals find in fortunes, it comes as a comfort to know that ones life is pre-determined, or there is a larger plan. Not to mention, some of the predictions are awfully enticing from time to time. Unfortunately though, astrology can be a profitable business, and some see the deception that is being sold within these books. Matthew Remski states “At worst, (astrology) it capitalizes upon every cognitive bias we have to serve magical thinking and the power imbalances of unacknowledged projection and transference.” (Matthew Remski, 2016)

AJ Agrawal writes that “it works in the same way as the movements of the moon control the tides of the oceans of the world. For example, Mars is the planet of passion. And Jupiter is the lucky star.” (2016) Astrology is classified as a pseudo science, and some believe that that alone serves as evidence that it’s all true. Though, I can not stand by that. The fact that astrology is considered a branch of science, does not mean all it’s predictions and theories cannot be false. There are though, countless reports of individuals claiming that what they read in their morning horoscope has come true throughout their day, and although the coincidences are fascinating, they do not serve as solid evidence. More often than not, these predictions coming true are the direct work of ‘the self fulfilling prophecy,’ which occurs “due to positive feedback between belief and behavior.” ( Individuals so strongly believe that it will happen, so they subconscious create it for themselves, or seek out situations where it might occur naturally that they otherwise wouldn’t have. It’s important to remember that the volume of accounts and stories from people claiming their horoscopes have come true does not make it fact. 1000 people could claim that the earth is flat while one claims it’s round. Does that mean that the earth is flat because the majority says or believes it is? Simply put, no. This soon begins a logical fallacy, in which one believes that if the premises are true, the conclusion must be true. “My fortune said that I appear to be a bit too lazy, and my job performance would really improve with a bit more effort.” When the individuals increases their effort at work, then comes to find that their job performance did increase, it serves as proof for them that the horoscopes are true, even though in reality, they determined their own outcome.

On a more psychological side, many studies have found that certain months correlate positively with specific mental diseases. “ Some scientists noticed that schizophrenics were more likely than others to have February birthdays, then for bipolar disorder – winter and early spring birthdays have it worst.” (Ben Y Hayden Ph.D.) While this is fascinating, it is also known that many of these disorders are strongly linked to genetics, so regardless of which month one was born into, their chances of getting that particular mental illness are probably very similar. Now when depression is examined, there is no doubt that the winter months are connected, but that does not mean it’s because of the seasonal astrology. Winter is colder, darker and people go out less. Physical activity is also often decreased in these months, and people tend to hide away indoors. All these factors of winter can directly link to ones level of depression, often showing steady increases.

Many people base their everyday actions and events off their astrological predictions, and for many it provides comfort, stability and at the very least, mild entertainment. In most cases, the belief in astrology is not harmful and can actually have positive effects on peoples lives. And although there is no concrete evidence that astrology actually works, it has been used for hundreds of years, and will likely continue on for many more. It is human nature to want to feel looked after and protected, and for many that comes in the form of a higher power, lifting the weight of our shoulders of having to make all our decisions. While this is not true for everyone, and in this blog I am largely addressing those who swear by their daily horoscopes, it still goes to show that there is a large percentage of people who truly believe. Whether one wants to argue that it’s all based on faith and positive belief, or actual science, the fact of the matter is, there is no real answer to the validity go astrology as of today. So believe what you want to believe about astrology, as long as it makes you happy.

Racism, Why It Happens

The human race has come a long way over the years with radical movements for equality and human rights. But, it’s no secret that humanity still has a long way to go. Racism is a global problem that is expressed in many forms, and leaves many victims in its path. Though this has always been a problem, it has surfaced in a large way again when Trump came into the picture. Even before he took office, he was widely known for his racial slurs, ignorant thoughts and intolerant behaviour and rants. But it’s more than Trump, and that was reflected when he was elected into office. What does that say about the beliefs and true feelings of a country, when they’re willing to elect a leader who has built himself up by putting down and isolating others based on something as ridiculous as ethnicity. Honestly, it’s frightening.

But where does this hate based on race come from? First off, it needs to be said that nobody, not even Trump, is born a racist. It’s not an argument of nature vs nurture, no baby, or even young child for the most part defines and separates people by their races. There are arguments that racism “is part of human nature,” and while that may seem true, there is still no such thing as racist genes or DNA within a person that makes them develop these ideas of hatred. (Alex Taylor, 2002) So more than anything, racism is the direct result of environment, and the ideals of those around you. Racism is learned. Racist options heard from ones parents, neighbours, co-workers and even classmates are contribute to the development of how one views others. If everyone had happened to grow up in a world based on equality, and there had never been a divide between ‘us and them’, then there is a chance racism may have never occurred. But unfortunately, thats not the case. The minute we can divide people into ‘us and them’, we can’t go back from it. Racism is a learned set of beliefs, that can start from something as simple as an joke based on racial stereotypes that put one group in a bad light. The problem is, it’s an idea that a starts with a spark, and turns into a wildfire.

Speaking of this wildfire, and how a small comment or idea can rapidly become out of control, we need to look at one of the largest examples of human divide, which occurred during the holocaust. Hitler, believed that the Aryan race was superior, and was quick to point out who was not. Many individuals who had not been overly racist before, were quick to turn on their neighbours and friends, some out of fear, some out of the pressure of the group. Humans are animalistic at the core, valuing survival as the most primitive and basic need, so when it becomes a choice between themselves or someone else, humans are quick to join a majority to preserve their own lives. “Darwin’s notion that evolutionary progress occurs mainly as a result of the elimination of the weak in the struggle for survival,” highlighting that you need to be on top to survive, so if one can survive by banding together with others to eliminate someone else, they will. (Dr. Jerry Bergman) Though it’s dark, at the core it’s human nature to look out for ourselves. ) It’s very easy to become caught up in racist ideas and movements, when everyone around you is involved, especially when it comes down to survival.

Racism is all too often expressed through our particular views or beliefs about something, and very seldom on facts. For example, it’s been long known that America and Cuba have had some tension over the years. One traveler expressed that he had always heard bad things about the way Americans were treated when visiting Cuba, so he already had the idea that he too would face aggressive and negative behaviour, based on his country of origin (America). . This in turn, can cause a person to already have a dislike of a certain countries people, just based on the belief that they don’t like you. Much like children on a playground, when you hear that someone doesn’t like you, most times, you begin to dislike them without any real reason. This is how most racism is, hatred for no real reason behind it. When many are asked why they don’t like a particular race of people, they just reply, “Well, because we don’t”. But when this traveller arrived in Cuba, he reported “I have never encountered nicer, more genuine people than Cubans. I couldn’t believe how nice they were to me, especially after discovering that I was an American.” (Jacob G. Hornberger) This shows that if we just approach people with tolerance and kindness, there doesn’t need to be this hatred just because we come from different places. It’s when an individuals approaches others with these negative ideas and stereotypes already in their mind that racism occurs. It can form a negative cycle of discrimination and hate between people very quickly.

Racism largely effects our world, social interactions and how we think and feel about those around us. But it is not something that we are born with inside us, it is learned from our environment. Those who we surround ourselves with shape our beliefs and views on those we share our world with. I could talk about this topic for a long time, and provide many more examples of how racism is a learned trait, but for the sake of blog length, I will be wrapping it up here.

The Impact Of Positive Thought

From as far back as I can remember, my mother’s most recurring piece of advice has been to ‘think positively’ and ‘surround myself with good thoughts’. She believed that any situation or mood could be changed by altering the way one thought. As we all get older, we look back on our parents words of advice a little more seriously, and from this, I’ve raised the question, ‘just how much can positive thinking impact one’s life?’

Surprisingly enough, it didn’t take long to find results on the benefits of optimism. Maruta, Colligan, Malinchoc, and Offord found that optimism is linked directly to life longevity. Back in the 1960, these group of researchers categorized a group of medical patients based on their attitudes as pessimistic, optimistic or a mixture of both. It was found that “for every 10 point increase in a person’s score on their optimism scale, the risk of early death decreased by 19%” (Maruta, Colligan, Malinchoc, and Offord, 2000) That’s a large percentage as the  risk of early death between smokers and non-smokers was found to hover only between 5-10%. So perhaps positive thinkers really do have an advantage over the pessimists. Not only does positive thinking have an impact on one’s future life as shown in that study, but it also has an immediate effect on the immune system. It was found that “greater optimism predicted greater antibody production and better immune outcomes” (Kohut, Cooper, Nickolaus, Russell, & Cunnick, 2002). They found that people who often had a negative disposition were at a higher risk for being sick more often. Positive thinking has also been shown to help prevent future addictions, such as alcohol or gambling. One of the main reasons that addictions form is from life trauma (though it is far from the only reason, trauma does play a frequent role) and a positive attitude has been shown to assist individuals in coping and moving forward with their life after terrible experiences. (Zeidner & Hammer, 1992) If one can properly cope and recovery, then an addiction is much less likely to form.

So there’s no doubt that positive thinking can have a clear effect on a personal level, but what about how it changes the way we see the world? In one study conducted by Barbara Fredrickson, participants were separated into groups. These groups were then exposed to images that invoked emotions, either positive or negative. After, they were asked to write down their thoughts in a sentence that started with “I would like to…” It was found that when the group of subjects were exposed to negative images that induced fear, they wrote down fewer responses about what they would do. When the second group of subjects were shown the positives images that created feelings of joy and peace, the participants had much more to write down about what they would like to do. After being repeated with multiple groups and finding the same results, it was concluded that when positive thoughts and feelings are experienced, people see more possibilities within their life. (Barbara L. Fredrickson, University of Michigan) Negative emotions like fear and sadness have been shown to psychologically cloud the brain, and block out significant parts of ones world during the experience. Ever wonder why people with negative attitudes can be so narrow minded and ready to just give up? This could be the start of a scientific explanation as to why. After all, “a pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty” (Winston Churchill).

Though this is just the surface of how positive emotions and thinking can impact one’s life, it begins to paint a vivid picture of just how powerful the human mind can be, and how important it is to choose your mood and thoughts carefully. After all, it’s choice we can only make for ourselves.

The Real Life Placebo Effect

First off, what is the placebo effect? “A remarkable phenomenon in which a placebo — a fake treatment, an inactive substance like sugar, distilled water, or saline solution — can sometimes improve a patient’s condition simply because the person has the expectation that it will be helpful.” (Medicine Net, 2016) The placebo effect if one of the few times humans can actually see how strong the power of the mind is. Often times we hear about the power of belief, and positive thinking, and with this strange ability of the brain, we see the power of belief really come to life. Many patients who have been convinced they were suffering from major illnesses were given placebos (or fake treatments) and astonishingly their condition began to improve, even though no real medicine or treatment was administered. So there’s no doubt that the placebo effect is alive and well in the medical world, but what about in the rest of life? The placebo effect is not limited to illnesses and medicine, but rather can be present in a number of different life situations.

One study carried out by University of Victoria in New Zealand tested to see how students would act if they were given drinks they were told had alcohol in them. Students were split into two groups, one was told that they were receiving plain tonic water, and the other was told they were getting tonic and vodka. In reality, both groups were being served just tonic. Results found that the students that received the drinks that were believed to have alcohol in them began to display signs of slight intoxication. “The ‘vodka and tonic’ students acted drunk, some even showing physical signs of intoxication,” (Seema Assefi, 2003) “It showed that even thinking you’ve been drinking affects your behaviour” (Dr. Garry, 2003) This is a clear example of how easily this effect works. In this case, the placebo was the tonic water, though students thought there was alcohol in it. Many students were shocked to find out there had been no alcohol at all, “insisting that they had felt drunk at the time” This goes to show how persuasive the brain, and the power of suggestion can really be.

Interestingly enough, the placebo effect has an opposite side too. It’s referred to as the “Nocebo Effect”. In this case, one experiences negative symptoms based on the power of suggestion. Stranger yet, if someone truly believes that a medicine or treatment will not help them, often times it will not, or their condition will seem to worsen. Many people believe that one can make themselves sick just based on the power of thought alone. In one study, researchers gave two separate groups sugar pills, but warned one of them about nasty side effects that came along with this ‘new drug’ they were believed to be taking. The participants had no idea that the pills were sugar pills, and the results showed that despite both groups taking the same pill, the ones who were told about experiencing these negative symptoms, actually began to display them. “Those treated with nothing more than placebos often report fatigue, vomiting, muscle weakness, colds, ringing in the ears, taste disturbances, memory disturbances, and other symptoms that shouldn’t result from a sugar pill.” (Lissa Rankin M.D., 2013)

Though these are just a few examples, they show how easily the placebo effect can become active. Whether it’s medicine or alcohol related , or perhaps just a suggestive thought that slips into your mind, these things can truly take hold and become a powerful influence on your actions and feelings. So next time you feel sick, or tired, or perhaps a little more drunk then you should be, ask yourself, is it all in your head?

Lissa Rankin M.D., 2013

Seems Assefi, Dr. Garry, 2003

One a quick side note, there’s a really good episode of the twilight zone that dives into the placebo effect. I’m not sure if the twilight zone is relevant anymore, but my wonderful parents cultured me at a young age, and though this episode was created in the new series of the twilight zone from the 2000’s, and not from the original classics, it’s still a really good watch. It follows the story of a hypochondriac who believes he’s picked up a deadly space disease from a novel he read, in which the characters also had this disease. It soon becomes clear that just by the power of his beliefs, he becomes drastically ill. The episode is called ‘The placebo effect’, and is entertaining at the very least, but provides a good example of how quickly this can work, even though it’s a bit far fetched. (The Placebo Effect, Rod Sterling, Brent V. Friedman)

How Schemas Affect Us In A Negative Way

Before we can really dive into this topic, it’s best to clarify what a schema is. Schemas are automatically created cognitive frameworks that help guide the way we think about and understand the world around us (Duff, Peace, Think Social Psychology) In simpler terms, schemas are the preconceived ideas we have about how a certain situation or action should go. Picture going to a water park, first you’re going to pay to get in, next you make your way to the change room where you put on your swim suit, then you proceed out to the pool for a couple hours of swimming and enjoying the water attractions. Regardless if you’ve been to this specific water park or not, you’re able to go through the process of getting to the pool with ease, because you already have a schema in your mind. So in this sense, schemas are good, and there’s no denying that schemas can be good in many ways, but can they also effect us negatively? Unfortunately yes.

While cognitive organization can come in handy for a lot of situations, it can also affect one is quite the pessimistic way. Say for instance that you have a negative experience at the dentist the last time you went. Regardless of how many times you’ve been without an incident, this unfavourable memory will stick inside your brain, and alter the pre-existing schema you had before. Now, every time you have to go to the dentist, you will recall on the negative experience and be hesitant, or in some cases, fearful to go. In this sense, schemas can lead to the development of certain fears. “Negative events may edge out positive ones in our memories, according to research by Kensinger and others” (Andrea Thompson, 2007) Furthermore, individuals can also develop a depressive self schema, meaning that one experiences “a well-organized and interconnected negative internal representation of self” (David J.A. Dozois, Lena C. Quilty) This schema can develop from failures throughout life, poor relationships, bullying and overall low self esteem. Unfortunately, the depressive self schema plays a large part in many individuals struggle with depression.

It is also very possible to develop certain schemas like the subjugation schema, which can quickly demonstrate control over one’s life. With the subjugation schema, individuals will allow others to dominate or take advantage of them, stemming from the fear that the people in their lives will desert them, or in some cases, punish them. This schema is causes from previous toxic relationships and experiences with people. An individual remembers the negative consequences they suffered at the hands of someone else during a confrontation, and fears repeating them. This can also develop from emotional abuse, as a large part of this schema revolves around “the perception that one’s own needs and feelings are not valid and important to other people” (Young, 2002)

Those these are only a few examples, it becomes clear that schemas are not always helpful, and can indeed have negative impacts. Though it is true that these schemas have developed from terrible past experiences, relationships or situations, it is the schemas or memories themselves that can keep people trapped in their harmful ways and thoughts. Situations become memories, and those memories form your schemas, leading to how you perceive others and the world around you. With that in mind, we should all be careful what kind of schemas we are leaving people with when it comes to ourselves and the situations that we share.


Young, 2002

David J. A. Dozois, PhD, Lena C. Quilty

Andrea Thompson, 2007

Kimberly Duff, Kristine 2013 Peace, Think social Psychology: Canadian Edition