Category Archives: attribution theory

An Instrument of Danger?

IMG_1881

Vignette from the Smithsonian Woods: Last Saturday morning Chris & I were walking Emmy (on a leash) on the path to our usual cross-country trail, when a young woman in running gear approached us and asked breathlessly, “Is your dog friendly?” Thinking she might actually be wondering, “Is your dog dangerous?” we muttered vague assurances, which she interrupted with, “Because our dogs are loose in the woods, but they’re very friendly.” At which point 2 small dogs bounded up, the black & white Cocker Spaniel of the pair charging at me (not at our dog, mind) in full Baskerville cry, barking and snarling. Emmy, for the record, was unfazed. As we walked on by, I flung over my shoulder, “Friendly, eh?” To which she flung back, “Oh, he just likes to act big, but they’re both really friendly. You don’t have to be so aggressive!”

So, somehow, in her eyes, merely by owning & operating a 68-pound, mild-mannered German shepherd, we were the Bad Guys. At the time I put it down to the common “pot & kettle” cognitive distortion [“You think I’m bad, look at you!”], or to the semiotics of certain breeds [“all German shepherds, pit bulls, and their ilk are, by definition, dangerous animals”]. If that was where she was coming from, she has legal precedent on her side.

Today’s New York Times tells the sad story of a pit bull puppy and her owner, playing in their front yard, who were shot by 2 plainclothes police officers in pursuit of a drug suspect running into the building where the wounded owner & now dead dog lived. To muddy the waters, a neighbor’s adult pit bull, tethered to a fence, was also playing in the yard. The wounded owner was charged with several offenses, among them, “criminal possession of a weapon, namely, a pit bull dog.” The case law cited in the article dates back to 1956, when a 100-pound German shepherd named Prince “jumped on a pair of officers responding to a dispute.” The prosecutor in the case was quoted as saying, “This is an intelligent and well-trained animal that was ordered to attack the police by its master.” (A charge which the owner denied.) Prince was duly subpoenaed and “brought to court as evidence.” The owner was found guilty as charged.

Maybe it’s a blessing, that our Emmy has not fulfilled her biggest-of-the-litter potential (although her long fur coat does make her look kind of gangsta).  For the rest of our walk, I kept trying to formulate a cogent response to the often asked, always loaded question, “Is your dog friendly?”  Having rejected, “Compared to what?” or “Why do you ask?” as sounding evasive (and therefore defensive), I have decided on the truth: “She is. I’m not.”

Oh, I’ve “got wolf” for sure; but Emmy is not she.

IMG_2348

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under aggression happens, attribution theory, semiotics

Somebody’s Baby

IMG_0102

This post is a companion piece to two from early 2011: “Big Love & Other Oxytocin Myths” and “Just looking for some touch.” Whereas the “Big Love” post pictured my elder daughter walking with me through the Muir Woods outside San Francisco, here she is at our Maryland breeder’s farm, holding Emmy @ about 5 weeks old. IMG_1412

And, whereas in the earlier post our younger daughter was pictured currying favor with one of our horses, back in Michigan, here she is, several Yuletides ago, cradling Zanzibar, the cool cat she had adopted from the prison town of Chino, California, but then brought him home to live with us, realizing that he deserved more degrees of freedom than a college dorm room would afford him.

Aside from showing off my beloved babies in Madonna-like poses with two of our furry babies, there is a topical psychological point to this post.

Have you, perhaps, been as infuriated as I am, at the mother of the 2 alleged Boston Marathon bombers, who, even in the teeth of her younger son’s admission of guilt, continues mulishly to proclaim his “angelic” innocence? “What’s that all about?” as they say in Boston.

It’s about that pesky neuro-peptide, Oxytocin, folks. As the astute Dutchman, Carsten De Dreu [et al.] demonstrated, the more you perform nurturing acts for your “baby,” [human or furry], the more Oxytocin your brain produces; and the more you experience “in-group love” and “out-group hate.” Black & white thinking ensues. Her baby boys could do no wrong. Ever! The nefarious “out-group” is conspiring against them.

It’s an easy cognitive error to make, if you have expended many Therbligs in the loving care of a vulnerable creature. I spent last night rushing the gastro-intestially tormented Emmy outside every 30 minutes, from dusk until dawn. Not only am I punchy, I’m love-drunk. How nobly she bears her suffering! How hard she is trying to “do the right thing, in the right place” [not altogether successfully]. At the moment, she is too weak to be naughty; but when she does eventually recover and put a paw out of line, I’m likely to spin it as someone else’s fault.

Probably, that feisty clown, Zanzibar, who loves to provoke her.

Sound familiar?

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under attribution theory, black and white thinking, therbligs, what's it all about?

“Oh, What’s Occurring?”

I am indebted to BBC Radio 1’s Scott Mills, for inventing this game, based on Nessa’s catchphrase from the beloved BBC sitcom, Gavin & Stacey.

In Scott’s game, a current event or star-du-jour that ought to be known to most Britons, is formulated as a question, which is then put to a “random sample” of 10 people on “Stupid Street” [a street right outside the London radio studio] by a BBC staffer. Let’s say, for instance, “Who’s Andy Murray?” The point of the game is not to guess the truth [the right answer]; but to guess the most frequent answer given by the 10-person sample on Stupid Street: also known as popular opinion.

Ponder the epistemological implications of this innocent little game for a moment. Since the truth about such objective, scientific matters as the human role in the rapidly melting polar ice caps [or whether Lili’s crippling condition, degenerative myelopathy, can be definitively diagnosed by a DNA test] is still being debated among the researchers themselves, it is tempting to default to the “received wisdom” of vox populi. Except we try to hedge our bets by avoiding the populi on Stupid Street. Our sources [we believe & hope] are reliable. They know whereof they speak. Nar’mean?

Because I’m a curmudgeon, I enjoy trolling the pages of the Science sections of the NYTimes & WaPost, not to mention my favorite discredited source BBC online news, for their uncritical, wildly-extrapolated-beyond-the-data, later retracted, proclamations on [not to put too fine a point on it] How To Avoid Death. Regular readers of this blog will know I prefer the wisdom of Epictetus & Marcus Aurelius on this subject: accept that you are going to die of something, sometime; and live each day as if it were your last on earth. This is not to be confused with fatalism or Nihilism. Nor is it a simple-minded call to Acceptance [an overhyped new form of psychotherapy]. It’s a call to Do Your Best and nil desperandum [pace Horace].

The non-Classical, dog-Latin variant of this last phrase, “nil desperandum illegitimi” [Don’t let the bastards get you down.”] is the take home message of the “Oh, What’s Occurring” game. Are others humiliating you with their ill-informed opinions about what’s wrong with you/your dog? Do they tell you “It’s a Judgement” [handed down by their otherwise loving God]? I have several patients coping with health issues, which their “God-fearing” co-workers blithely attribute to Retribution. I urge them [my patients, not their persecutors] to play “Oh, What’s Occurring?” by assuming their insensitive critics live on Stupid Street. I suggest that on the way to work, they try to predict what prejudiced opinions these quidnuncs are likely to voice. When they guess right, they can award themselves 100 Scott Mills points. Hurrah! It is actually quite an effective cortisol-buster, to predict correctly what slings & arrows will come your way today.

This week on Lili’s walks the denizens of Stupid Street have opined that she has hip dysplasia and needs aspirin [whereas increasing numbness is actually the problem]; that I am over-exerting her [whereas the recommended treatment is a daily long walk]; and that they saw on YouTube that you can fit a paralyzed dog with wheels [oh, Zeus, give me patience]. To which I hum the theme song to “Oh, What’s Occurring?” Right out loud.

Leave a comment

Filed under attribution theory, comic relief, Epictetus said..., stress and cortisol

Musta Bin Slipped a Mickey, So

As readers of the Oxford English Dictionary [or Google, even] will know, a “Mickey Finn” was a knock-you-for-a-loop potion, made by the addition of chloral hydrate to your already alcohol-based drink at the South Chicago saloon of one Michael [Mickey to his friends] Finn, more than a century ago. The better to bundle you off to the back room and relieve you of your valuables. When you came to in the ally, still dazed & confused, you were likely to be wondering, “Whatever was in that last drink I had?” To which your long-suffering Loved Ones, once they had scooped you up from the Drunk Tank at your local Cop Shop, would reply, “Only a guess, here; but I’m thinking it would have been alcohol.”

 

At which, your inner wolf would begin to howl: “Oh, the humiliation (of their false accusations)!” Not to mention, the pain & suffering of the drug’s after-effects, the intrusion of being man-handled by both barroom thieves & contemptuous cops. Worse still, if you really hadn’t drunk enough alcohol to account for the nausea & dizziness, and the amnesia for the night’s events, the fear that you were losing your marbles (not just your money) would have you raging.

Luckily for Chicagoans & [more commonly] out-of-town visitors, said Mickey Finn was arrested, convicted & jailed in 1903, leaving behind an eponymous, external locus of control, oft-invoked exculpatory explanation for apparent shenanigans. I like it much better than “The Devil made me do it,” as long-time readers of this blog will know. These days, the Mickey tends to range from (nefariously slipped) Rohypnol, to (self-administered) prescription sleep aids, such as Ambien. As in Old Chicago, though, skeptical First Responders’ first response is often, “So, how much did you have to drink?” [Then, as they are taught to do in First Responders’ class, they double the amount stipulated.]

But what if, like me, you are stone, cold sober; but you still feel like someone slipped you the Proverbial? Back in early June I placed my order for a replacement car for “Foxtrot,” my beloved [but increasingly unreliable, expensive-to-repair] Jeep turbo-diesel. With Lili in mind, I wanted something with ample head [ear] room, lower to the ground [for when she can’t leap anymore], but with enough traction to handle our Alpine road in foul weather. I chose a MINI Countryman All4, in Oxford Green with a black roof, which was going to take 8 weeks to build & ship down the Danube & across the Atlantic. I named it “Mickey,” because it was bigger than MINI & green [like the Emerald Isle, so].

I loved it on sight; and configured the back seat area as Pope-mobile for Lili [who still prefers to scramble into the trunk of our old Grand Cherokee & splay her ears like Yoda, since there is less headroom for her back there]. However, every time I drove it, even for a 15-minute run to the Safeway, I emerged like a drunken sailor, hardly more steady on my pins than poor Lili is these days! Highly motivated to understand, and manage, this situation-specific, inner-ear-on-the-Fritz problem, I began with my default setting: “Must be psychological.” Was this me vicariously “suffering” the early-stage symptoms of degenerative myelopathy [which my mother had & Lili has]? If so, why did the symptoms clear up so fast, after the ride? Was this the return of the bane on my youth, severe car-sickness? Then why did it only happen in the MINI [not in our wallow-y old Grand Cherokee, or in Chris’ sporty little Benz sedan]?  Aha! Maybe it was that obnoxious “new car smell,” I speculated; and thoroughly swabbed down the whole interior with boiling water. No joy. Then, 3 days in to my ambivalent ownership, I awoke with a vivid memory of Sean [our salesman] opening the “bonnet” to show me the battery and fluid reservoirs, and muttering under his breath, “It’s so slimy! I don’t know why they spray it with that protectant. It’s under the hood, after all.” So at 5 am that morning, there I was, swabbing the engine block with boiling water, until the sheen [and neuro-toxic goo] had disappeared.  As did my symptoms.

Hurrah! Not “all in my head.” Not “losing my marbles.” I had just been Slipped a Mickey by the MINI dealership. I wonder what’s in that spray.

Leave a comment

Filed under attribution theory, locus of control, vicarious trauma

Walk It Off

Well, now that the Olympics are upon us, this double-edged sword [have you been watching the Fencing? such histrionics! like an Italian opera!] of home-spun advice can be heard all over the shop. Remember back in the day, when a coach’s overheard gruff admonition to an injured-bird-like gymnast provided fodder for a series of SNL sketches, in which the putative “walk-off-able” injury morphed into the Knight-in-Denial scene from Monty Python & the Holy Grail?

On Day One, a BBC Soccer commentator Let The Phrase Begin, remarking of a [possibly histrionic] player, “Oh! He’s down! It looks like a nasty ankle injury! Well, no, actually, he’s walking it off, and he’s back in the match.” No Yellow Card was issued. Perhaps it was a case of Unconvincing Diving [a common occurrence in high-stakes matches]; or maybe it was a case of that well-known [at least Up North in England] medical condition, “Summat and Nowt.” [Translated in a previous Post, “Be Good…” as “Something and Nothing.”] Often, cases of Summat & Nowt respond well to “Walking It Off.”

 

The other day, my sister, a highly-placed Medical Librarian, forwarded me an article recommended by one of the vets attached to her Med School, entitled, “Managing Degenerative Myelopathy in Dogs: Ways of Slowing the Progress of This Debilitating Spinal Disease,” posted on September 4, 2008, by Dawn M. Smith.

Even though the alert reader will guess what’s coming, I’ll quote it, anyway. “Dogs with canine degenerative myelopathy benefit from controlled walking…in several ways. Allowing the dog to run around the property or in a dog park does not provide the same benefit, as the exercise is not consistent. A regular walk of a specific distance at a steady rate not only improves muscle tone, it improves brain function.”

I truly believe that Lili’s daily walk through the Smithsonian woods provides her both Physical & Occupational Therapy, during which she “gets smarter” about how to ambulate, despite her numb hind paws. So far, her leap into the Jeep-of-the-Day after a walk is noticeably stronger & more graceful than her initial load-up at our house.

As always, I am grateful to my sister for finding & sending me relevant research articles. In this case, my fear, that I might be inflicting pain & suffering on Lili by asking her, in effect, to “walk [her CDM] off,” was greatly diminished. Further, the humiliating dread, that a casual observer would think of me as that gruff [almost sadistic] gymnastics coach, denying or minimizing a real medical condition, as if it were only Summat & Nowt, has also been neutralized.

After all, we’re not Going for the Gold, here. The only goal is preserving Lili’s quality of life.

Leave a comment

Filed under attribution theory, power subtext, vicarious trauma, what's it all about?

“Offensive and tasteless”? Moi?

Well, I did ask. This wasn’t a random insult flung at me as I walked the streets of SoHo in the rain. If it had been, my not-your-victim-not-your-enemy rejoinder would have been: [in New York] “Yeah, that’s kinda what I was going for”; [in London, channeling my Irish grandma] “Aww, go on wit’ yez!”

As I have mentioned in earlier posts, I have been a member of The British Psychological Society since the 70s, and therefore a regular reader of their monthly periodical, The Psychologist, which makes the following blandishments to its readers: “We rely on your submissions, and in return we help you to get your message across to a large and diverse audience….The editorial team are very supportive, and it is a great way of communicating your work and opinions to other psychologists.” So, I decided to be brave & shoot an email to the Managing Editor, briefly describing my blog’s premise & purpose and embedding my new web address. That was last Monday. On the Wednesday morning, just before heading off to work, I received the following reply:

“Hi, Unfortunately our work internet categorises it as ‘offensive and tasteless’ and therefore won’t let me view it! Shame, it sounds interesting. Cheers, Jon”

To say that “I was gobsmacked,” is probably the kind of offensive & tasteless [hereinafter abbreviated to O & T] term to which the bps [their own abbreviation] objects; but I was. I deployed every amygdala-mediating technique written about in my blog, to avoid a road accident on my way to the medical center [where I work. Not the ER. Let’s not over-dramatize]. Later, I phoned my sister, the head librarian @ a Med School & hospital, to ask her what manner of firewall my blog may have hit; and she sent me an article about Filtering by Statistical Classification computer programs [FSC], which are used “to determine what content is or is not acceptable.”

Hurrah! A way out of my humiliation, at having been summarily dissed & dismissed as an O & T purveyor of filth! My wit & wisdom had simply been lost in translation, by an Artificial Intelligence language analysis program which was stymied by my [over]use of the Poetic Speech Function. All that quoting of rock lyrics and slang expressions…the literal-minded computer program just couldn’t cope. For a New York minute, I even considered changing the title of my most recent post…until I remembered the dictum of Epictetus. All we have in this life is our character. If we start selling out to avoid the censure of others, we will lose that.

So, I sent the editor another email that afternoon, explaining my “lost in translation” theory, and assuring him that, although I wrote about the dark side of human nature, my intent was pro bono publico. In the silence that has ensued, other ways of viewing “what went down” in the original email exchange have occurred to me. After watching the latest episode of Sherlock, “Scandal in Belgravia,” I realized that my high-frequency use of humiliation and, to a lesser extent, pain & suffering, might lead an FSC program to conclude that mine was an S & M website. Well, at least that removed any temptation to alter what I’ve written. Without the 4 precursors of anger, no GotWolf blog.

Then I took my own advice: “Consider the source,” and found out the following things about the Managing Editor.  First of all, and rather trivially, he was a Boy Scout. Therefore, presumably, if he had really found it a “shame” [kind of a Freudian slip, I’d say] that the “work network” wouldn’t “let” him view my blog, which he thought “sounds interesting,” he would have been resourceful enough to stroll down the road to the nearest Internet cafe and borrow a hipster’s laptop for a few minutes, to check out my website for himself.

Second, and more salient, his own Award Winning 1999 Doctoral Research is entitled “Bullies – Thugs or Thinkers?” To quote from his Abstract, “The public, the media, even psychologists: all have a tendency to stigmatise and pathologise individuals involved in threatening behavior as psychologically and socially abnormal or deficient. But is bullying a pathological behavior found only in a minority, or is it in fact a common identity choice actively chosen at certain times because it makes sense in certain social environments? Are the children involved inadequate, or could they be considered socially competent…even superior?”

I wonder if anyone from a certain Presidential campaign reads this blog?  If not, “shame.” They might find today’s post “interesting.”

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under aggression happens, attribution theory, Epictetus said..., pro bono publico, semiotics

“Make a Beast of Myself”

Sam McTrusty & his 3 bandmates from Twin Atlantic [who can be heard currently on BBC 1’s A Playlist] have not only written & sung a “sticks in your head all day” song; the dreamlike video [available on YouTube] is a perfect Got-Wolf-Yes-You-Do metaphor. Filmed [according to the quid nunc Leave a Comment-ers on YouTube] in Berlin, despite all the English graffiti on the buildings, McTrusty walks [stalks?] in slow-mo down the streets of a litter-free [a tip-off it’s Germany] middle-class neighborhood, appalling most, but not all, its denizens. A Border Collie is unfazed, as are a blind man & 3 random stoners, leaning against the wall. When [in sync with the lyric, “The crisp white collar is on us”] the Polizei show up in a Beemer, the copper does not arrest our hero, but rather offers him a safe passage through the freaked-out onlookers.

The hook-y chorus captures the struggle between our hero’s humiliation-fueled aggressive impulse & his attempt to neutralize it through humor: “I wanted to laugh it off, and I want to forget that I got caught. And I wanted to laugh it off, make a beast of myself and kill them all.”

The specific source of his humiliation is not spelled out.  To be all pedantic about it, apparently a girl he cared for got “hooked on the bottle,” even though he “warned her she’d fail.” Despite his effort to act/feel cool indifference about this, he got “lost in the lava, I care, I care.” Now her shenanigans have wrecked their relationship: “You know, you know, it’s the end of our sweet universe.” So, add the pain & suffering of this loss, to the humiliation already up his nose, you know? Now the rage of his “inner wolf” is about to blow like a volcano; and the bystanders, picking up on his aggressive vibe, man, have got the fear.

But, rock fans, here’s the Beauty Part. In the arc of the video’s story, he does not make a beast of himself; he just sings about it! Whether Sam McTrusty, or only the character he plays in the vid, ever actually felt this angry about a love lost to “the bottle,” through owning his “inner wolf” and then transforming it into a funny/sophisticated/compelling act of creation, he avoided acting out the mayhem he sings about. He also has given his audience a cathartic outlet for their own wolf-inciting heartbreaks; and, I hope, he’s laughing all the way to the bank.

Leave a comment

Filed under aggression happens, attribution theory, catharsis, gets right up my nose