Category Archives: Crime
In a previous 2014 blog, I looked at the psychology of shoplifting (which I called ‘Men of Steal’) based on the work of American psychologist John C. Brady (who’s upcoming book is also entitled ‘Men of Steal’). Brady is a really engaging writer and he recently published an article in Counsellor magazine on celebrity theft and why for some people it should be classed as an addiction.
Brady briefly recounted the cases of three celebrities who had been caught shoplifting (Lindsay Lohan, Kim Richards, and Winona Ryder – click on the links to get the stories of each of these celebrity shoplifting stories). Other famous celebrity shoplifters include Britney Spears, Megan Fox, Kristin Cavallari, Farrah Fawcett, and WWE Diva Emma (if you’re really interested in these and other celebrity shoplifters, then check out this story in Rebel Circus). According to Dr. Brady “psychological analysis reveals they are not greedy, rather they are addicted to the ‘rush’ associated with theft” and that there is an ‘addictive criminal syndrome’.
Brady’s article used the ‘celebrity’ angle as the ‘hook’ to write more generally about ‘shoplifting addictions’ and briefly outlined the cases of three high profile ‘theft addicts’:
“The first man is Bruce McNall, former LA Kings owner, Hollywood film producer, and a convicted felon. He received five years in Lompoc Federal Prison for stealing $238 million. The second man, John Spano, former owner of the New York Islanders, went off to two terms in federal prisons for stealing $80 million. He is currently an inmate in an Ohio prison doing ten more years for a crime he did not originate. Finally, William “Boots” Del Biaggio III, former Silicon Valley venture capitalist operator and founder of Heritage Bank in San Jose, graduated in 2016 from eight years at Lompoc for fraud. He stole $110 million to buy the Nashville Predators hockey team. He later expressed regret—maybe too little too late”.
Brady believes that these individuals had a behavioural addiction to stealing. The cases he outlined were all true and were examples of what Brady described as “elite offenders who became addicted to the rush connected to stealing”. Some commonalities between the three individuals was noted: they were charming, deceptive, had personalities that were outgoing, never used violence or aggression in the carrying out of their thefts, and (in Brady’s view) were addicted to crime. Like many addicts, they harmed themselves, their families, and their communities as a consequence of their behaviour.
The idea of being addicted to crime is not new, and the addiction components model that I have developed over the last couple of decades was based on that of one of my mentors – Iain Brown – who used such a model to explain addictive criminal offending in a really good book chapter published back in 1997 (in the book Addicted to Crime? edited by the psychologists John Hodge, Mary McMurran and Clive Hollin – see ‘Further reading’ below). Like me, Brady also read Addicted to Crime? in which it was posited that some criminals appear to become addicted to stealing (and that the act of theft made them feel good psychologically by providing a ‘high’ or a ‘rush’ similar to the feelings individuals experience when they ingest psychoactive substances). Brady argues that an addiction to stealing is a behavioural addiction and that it is “functionally equivalent” to substance-based addictions for two main reasons: that theft addicts (i) “generally derive the same initial uplifting, euphoric, and subjective sensations similar to substance abusers”, and (ii) “are almost blindly driven toward their goal and they cannot stop their self-defeating behaviors”.
Brady contends that there are five addictive criminal stages of what he terms “the zone”: (i) criminal triggers, (ii) moral neutralisation, (iii) commission of the criminal act, (iv) post-criminal-act exhilaration, and (v) post-criminal-act confusion. Brady asserts:
“The five addictive stages comprising the criminal addictive zone helps explain why certain offenders arrived at such low points in their lives and progressively became drawn deeper into the addictive zone. Because these three men became frozen into one or more of these stages, they simply could not easily find an exit sign. I have applied this criminal zonal theory to a variety of deviant groups, including white-collar deviants and now to these three elite, nonviolent bank robbers. An analysis of the criminal addictive personality forms the foundation of the addictive zone. This zone is marked with multiple, negative psychological forces evidenced during each of the five stages…The movement through these overlapping stages results in a negative, criminological, transformative process during which theft addicts surrender their prior noncriminal status (positive), thereby adopting a new deviant one (negative)…After entering into this enigmatic zone, offenders often become locked into one or more of these overlapping stages. The one factor that remains constant is that the progression through these five stages dramatically and unalterably changed these men’s lives, their victims’ lives, and the lives of people around them”.
Brady’s five addictive criminal stages are:
- Criminal triggers – In the first stage. these internal triggers revolve around salience and low self-esteem and comprise “confusing and mostly illogical thoughts” that criminals acquire. These negative thoughts are “reflective of peoples’ compromised self-concepts coupled with the desire to overcompensate for perceived personal shortcomings” and primarily originate from feelings of loneliness, emptiness, and inadequacy.
- Moral neutralisation – In the second stage, Brady claims that this stage is the most complex and essential of all the stages and is rooted in conflict. The destructive and self-defeating behaviour that criminals experience is not driven by material (economic) motives but is simply individuals “trying to enrich their empty shell identities” and fuelled by irrational thoughts of wanting to prove to significant others that they are really important. These motives may be completely unconscious
- Commission of the criminal act – In the third stage, the actual carrying out of the criminal acts demands that criminals “neutralize the unsavory aspects of their offenses…and lend meaning to inexplicable behaviors”. The more a criminal engages in the activity the more criminals become “skilled practitioners in the art of self-deception”. Here, the criminal behaviour is paired with “exciting sensations” associated with the risk of engaging in criminal activity (“an anticipated visceral feeling or mental excitement and stimulation, if not an elation, a thrill, a rush, and even a sense of euphoria”). In short, the euphoric sensations experienced reinforce the criminal behaviour.
- Post-criminal-act exhilaration – In the fourth stage, Brady claims there is typically a “flooding of mood-elevating feelings similar to an adrenaline rush, accompanied with thoughts that synthetically increase their sense of well-being” and what my mentor Iain Brown refers to as “hedonic mood management”. In short, the criminal act can help individuals feel like “bigshots” and criminals may justify doing something bad because it makes them feel so good. Brady also claims that many of these exhilarating feelings “manifest themselves on an unconscious level that is easily experienced, yet not easily comprehended by a theft addict”
- Post-criminal-act confusion – In the fifth stage, Brady claims that the mood modifying experiences in the third and fourth stages are “replaced with new, dramatic, and unexpected changes in the offenders’ emotional awareness”. Here, criminals become confused, depressed and socially withdrawn, as well as experiencing withdrawal-like reactions (e.g., sweating, headaches, anxiety, nausea, heart arrhythmia, etc.). Brady says that on a psychological level, the fifth stage five is characterized by “confusion, guilt, afterthoughts, misgivings, anxiety, depression, and dramatic mood shifts ranging from feelings of sadness to hopelessness”. It is also during this stage that criminals might start to show signs of remorse.
Brady concludes that for the criminals he has known and treated “used the stolen money to boost their status and enhance their enormous egos so they could attain ‘big shot’ fame”. I find this last observation interesting given a previous blog that I wrote on fame being addictive. I’ve also written other blogs on addictive criminal behaviour (such as joy-riding).
I am of the opinion that specific types of crime can be classed as an addictive behaviour because addictions rely on constant rewards (i.e., reinforcement) and crime can provide many rewarding experiences (both financially and psychologically), at least in the short-term. I’m not for one-minute condoning such behaviour, just simply stating my opinion that I believe it’s theoretically possible to become addicted to activities such as stealing.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Brady, J.C. (2013). Why Rich Women Shoplift – When They Have It All. San Jose, CA: Western Psych Press.
Brady, J.C. (2017) Celebrity theft: Unmasking addictive criminal intent. Counselor, July/August. Located at: http://www.counselormagazine.com/detailpageoverride.aspx?pageid=1729&id=15032386763
Brown, I. (1997). A theoretical model of the behavioral addictions: Applied to offending. In J.E. Hodge, M. McMurran, & C.R. Hollin (Eds.), Addicted to crime? (pp. 15–63). Chichester: Wiley.
Hodge, J.E., McMurran, M., & Hollin, C.R. (1997). Addicted to crime? Chichester: Wiley.
Shulman, T.D. (2011). Cluttered Lives, Empty Souls – Compulsive Stealing, Spending and Hoarding. West Conshohocken, PA: Infinity Publishing.
Soriano, M. (2015). 15 celebrities who were caught shoplifting. Rebel Circus, May 13. Located at: http://www.rebelcircus.com/blog/celebrities-caught-shoplifting/
At the most recent Labour Party conference, the Party’s deputy leader Tom Watson said that if they formed the next Government they would introduce legislation to force gambling operators to pay a levy to fund research and NHS treatment to help problem gamblers deal with their addiction. This is something which I wholeheartedly support and is also something that I have been calling for myself for over a decade
The most recent statistics on gambling participation by the Gambling Commission in August 2017 reported that 63% of the British population had gambled in the last year and that the prevalence rate of problem gambling among those 16 years and over was 0.6%-0.7%. While this is relatively low, this still equates to approximately 360,000 adult problem gamblers and is of serious concern.
At present the gambling industry voluntarily donates money to an independent charitable trust (GambleAware) and most of this money funds gambling treatment (with the remaining monies being used to fund education and research). In the 12 months prior to March 2017, the gambling industry had donated £8 million, an amount still 20% below the £10 million a year I recommended in a report I wrote for the British Medical Association a number of years ago.
A statutory levy of 1% on all gambling profits made by the British gambling industry would raise considerably more money for gambling education, treatment and research than the £8 million voluntarily donated last year and is the main reason why I am in favour of it. Gambling has not been traditionally viewed as a public health matter. However, I believe that gambling addiction is a health issue as much as a social issue because there are many health consequences for those addicted to gambling including depression, insomnia, intestinal disorders, migraine, and other stress related disorders. This is in addition to other personal issues such as problems with personal relationships (including divorce), absenteeism from work, neglect of family, and bankruptcy.
There are also many recommendations that I would make in addition to a statutory levy. These include:
- Brief screening for gambling problems among participants in alcohol and drug treatment facilities, mental health centres and outpatient clinics, as well as probation services and prisons should be routine.
- The need for education and training in the diagnosis and effective treatment of gambling problems must be addressed within GP training. Furthermore, GPs should screen for problem gambling in the same way that they do for other consumptive behaviours such as cigarette smoking and alcohol drinking. At the very least, GPs should know where they can refer their patients with gambling problems to.
- Research into the efficacy of various approaches to the treatment of gambling addiction in the UK needs to be undertaken and should be funded by GambleAware.
- Treatment for problem gambling should be provided under the NHS (either as standalone services or alongside drug and alcohol addiction services) and funded either by gambling-derived revenue (i.e., a ‘polluter pays’ model).
- Given the associations between problem gambling, crime, and other psychological disorders (including other addictions), brief screening should be routine for gambling problems should be carried out in alcohol and drug treatment facilities, mental health centres and outpatient clinics, as well as probation services and prisons.
- Education and prevention programmes should be targeted at adolescents along with other potentially addictive and harmful behaviours (e.g., smoking, drinking, and drug taking) within the school curriculum.
As I have tried to demonstrate, problem gambling is very much a health issue that needs to be taken seriously by all in the medical profession. General practitioners routinely ask patients about smoking and drinking, but gambling is something that is not generally discussed. Problem gambling may be perceived as a grey area in the field of health. If the main aim of practitioners is to ensure the health of their patients, then an awareness of gambling and the issues surrounding it should be an important part of basic knowledge in the training of those working in the health field.
Gambling is not an issue that will go away. Opportunities to gamble and access to gambling have increased due to the fact that anyone with Wi-Fi access and a smartphone or tablet can gamble from wherever they are. While problem gambling can never be totally eliminated, the Government must have robust gambling policies in place so that potential harm is minimized for the millions of people that gamble. For the small minority of individuals who develop gambling problems, there must be treatment resources in place that are affordable and easily accessible.
(N.B. This is a longer version of an article that was originally published in The Conversation)
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Auer, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2013). Behavioral tracking tools, regulation and corporate social responsibility in online gambling. Gaming Law Review and Economics, 17, 579-583.
Griffiths, M.D. (2003). Problem gambling. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 16, 582-584.
Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Betting your life on it: Problem gambling has clear health related consequences. British Medical Journal, 329, 1055-1056.
Griffiths, M.D. (2006). The lost gamblers: Problem gambling. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, 3(1), 13-15.
Griffiths, M.D. (2007). Gambling Addiction and its Treatment Within the NHS. London: British Medical Association
Griffiths, M.D. (2017). Gambling regulation from a psychologist’s perspective: Thoughts and recommendations. In Gebhardt, I. (Ed.), Glücksspiel – Ökonomie, Recht, Sucht (Gambling – Economy, Law, Addiction) (Second Edition) (pp. 938-944). Berlin: De Gruyter.
Meyer, G., Hayer, T. & Griffiths, M.D. (2009). Problem Gambling in Europe: Challenges, Prevention, and Interventions. New York: Springer.
Recently, I did an interview with a journalist about ‘love bombing’ described by her as a new phenomenon occurring in online dating and is “when someone showers you with attention, promising the world but when you respond they go cold and stop responding”. However, there is nothing new about ‘love bombing’ because the term has been around since the 1970s except it has traditionally been described as a practice by religious organisations and cults in relation to the indoctrination of new recruits. According to a number of different sources, the term ‘love bombing’ was coined by the Unification Church of the United States founded by Sun Myung Moon (and why individuals in the cult are often referred to as ‘Moonies’). A number of academics have written about ‘love bombing’ within cult movements. For instance, Thomas Robbins in a 1984 issue of the journal Social Analysis noted that:
“Many elements involved in controversies over alleged cultist brainwashing entail trans-valuational conflicts related to alternative internal vs. external perspectives. The display of affection toward new and potential converts (‘love bombing’), which might be interpreted as a kindness or an idealistic manifestation of devotees’ belief that their relationship to spiritual truth and divine love enables them to radiate love and win others to truth, is also commonly interpreted as a sinister ‘coercive’ technique (Singer, 1977)”.
In a 2002 issue of the journal Human Relations, Dennis Tourish and Ashly Pinnington wrote that the practice of ‘love bombing’ is derived from the interpersonal perception literature and is a form of ‘ingratiation’ (taken from Edward Jones’ 1964 book of the same name). They then cite from Jones’ 1990 book Interpersonal Perception:
“There is little secret or surprise in the contention that we like people who agree with us, who say nice things about us, who seem to possess such positive attributes as warmth, understanding, and compassion, and who would ‘go out of their way’ to do things for us”.
Tourish again (this time with Naheed Vatcha) in a 2005 issue of the journal Leadership noted that cults use ‘love bombing’ as an emotionally draining recruitment strategy and that it is a form of positive reinforcement. More specifically, they noted that:
“Cults make great ceremony of showing individual consideration for their members. One of the most commonly cited cult recruitment techniques is generally known as ‘love bombing’ (Hassan, 1988). Prospective recruits are showered with attention, which expands to affection and then often grows into a plausible simulation of love. This is the courtship phase of the recruitment ritual. The leader wishes to seduce the new recruit into the organization’s embrace, slowly habituating them to its strange rituals and complex belief systems. At this early stage resistance will be at its highest. Individual consideration is a perfect means to overcome it, by blurring the distinctions between personal relationships, theoretical constructs and bizarre behaviors”.
More recently, the practice of ‘love bombing’ has been used in other contexts such by gang leaders or pimps as a way of controlling their victims (as outlined in the 2009 book Gangs and Girls: Understanding Juvenile Prostitution by Michel Dorais and Patrice Corriveau), and within the context of everyday dating and online dating. One article that has been cited a lot in the press relating to the use of ‘love bombing’ in day-to-day relationships is a populist article written for Psychology Today by Dr. Dale Archer. He noted that:
“Notorious cult leaders Jim Jones, Charles Manson, and David Koresh weaponized love bombing, using it to con followers into committing mass suicide and murder. Pimps and gang leaders use love bombing to encourage loyalty and obedience as well”.
Dr. Archer says that ‘love bombing’ works because “humans have a natural need to feel good about who we are, and often we can’t fill this need on our own”. He says that there are times of high susceptibility to being ‘love bombed’ such as losing a job or going through a divorce. Irrespective of why or where the susceptibility has arisen, Archer claims that love bombers “are experts at detecting low self-esteem, and exploiting it”. He then goes on to claim that:
“The paradox of love bombing is that people who use it aren’t always seeking targets that broadcast insecurity for all to see. On the contrary, the love bomber is also insecure, so to boost their ego, the target must at least seem like a great “catch.” Maybe she’s the beautiful woman, who’s lonely because her beauty intimidates people, or he’s the guy with the great career whose wife left him for his best friend, or she’s the hard-nosed businesswoman, who’s avoided marriage and motherhood because her childhood was so traumatic. On paper, these folks are attractive, but something makes them doubt their own value. Along comes the love bomber to shower them with affection and attention. The dopamine rush of the new romance is vastly more powerful than it would be if the target had a healthy self-esteem, because the love bomber fills a need the target can’t fill on her own”.
My own expertise on ‘love bombing’ is limited (to say the least). However, I did attempt to answer the questions I was asked, and here are my verbatim replies.
It seems like [‘love bombing’] quite an addictive and compulsive behaviour – what do you make of it?
There is no evidence that love bombing is either addictive or compulsive and is simply a specific behaviour that although may be repetitive and habitual is not something that would be done compulsively (because the love bombing is planned and focused) or addictively (because love bombing not something that they would do that compromises everything else in their life).
Are there any psychological reasons why people behave like this?
I don’t know of any psychological research that has been done on love bombing but the concept is not new as it has been in the academic literature since the 1970s in relation to indoctrinating individuals into religious cults. Love bombing is a manipulative strategy to make individuals more emotionally pliable. My guess is that in a relationship setting (rather than a cult setting) the individuals engaged in love bombing are likely to be egomaniacs and/or narcissists who like to feel dominant and powerful and/or love psychologically humiliating others.
In my experience, and according to some of the people I’ve interviewed who are guilty of ‘love bombing’ – they do it to multiple people at once.
If love bombing is part of an individual’s behavioural repertoire there is no reason why they wouldn’t do it with more than one person at the same time. However, I don’t know of any research that has shown this to be the case but it wouldn’t surprise me if some individuals were unfaithful love bombers (but I’m sure there are serial love bombers who just do it from one relationship to the next without being physically or emotionally unfaithful).
Is it to straightforward to blame tech for such behaviours – is it just an amplification of behaviours people already exhibit in real life? The temptation always seems to be to blame it on the internet.
The internet tends to facilitate pre-existing problematic behaviour rather than cause it. However, it is well known that the internet is a disinhibiting medium and that individuals lower their psychological guard online. In the case of relationships, the perceived anonymity of being online means that individuals reveal things about themselves, often very private things, because the medium is non-face-to-face, non-threatening, non-alienating and non-stigmatising. Individuals can develop deep emotional relationships online without even having met the other person because of the internet’s disinhibiting properties. Consequently, online methods of communication are another tool in love bomber’s armoury in (initially) showering their professed love for somebody and can happen 24/7 (something which couldn’t have happened in the days prior to online ubiquity).
Where and how, if at all, does this sort of problematic behaviour intersect with sex and love addiction?
I don’t see any overlaps between ‘love bombing’ and sex addiction as they are two completely different constructs and have completely different underlying motivations with little in the way of crossover. Obviously, love bombing could be used as a method to increase the likelihood of sex (because flattery goes a long way). However, if the ultimate goal is psychological control of another person’s emotions, sex is simply a by-product of love bombing rather than the main goal.
Anything else you would like to add?
As far as I can tell, there has never been any empirical research on ‘love bombing’ within the context of dating so all my responses to the questions I was asked are speculative. However, I do think this is an area that would benefit from scientific investigation given how important personal relationships are within our lives. At the very least such research might uncover the signs and strategies that ‘love bombers’ typically use and might prevent a lot of emotional pain felt by individuals not rushing head first (or should that be heart first?) into such relationships in the first place.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Archer, D. (2017). The manipulative partner’s most devious tactic. Psychology Today, March 6. Located at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/reading-between-the-headlines/201703/the-manipulative-partners-most-devious-tactic
Dorais, M. & Corriveau, P. (2009). Gangs and Girls: Understanding Juvenile Prostitution. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s Press.
Griffiths, M.D. (2000). Cyber affairs – A new area for psychological research. Psychology Review, 7(1), 28-31.
Griffiths, M.D. (2000). Excessive internet use: Implications for sexual behavior. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 3, 537-552.
Griffiths, M.D. (2001). Sex on the internet: Observations and implications for sex addiction. Journal of Sex Research, 38, 333-342.
Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet sex addiction: A review of empirical research. Addiction Research and Theory, 20, 111-124.
Hassan, S. (1988) Combating Cult Mind Control. Rochester: Park Press.
James, O. (2012). Love bombing: Reset your child’s emotional thermostat. London: Karnac Books.
Jones, E. (1964). Ingratiation. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts
Jones, E. (1990). Interpersonal Perception. New York: WH Freeman.
Robbins, T. (1984). Constructing cultist “mind control”. Sociological Analysis, 45(3), 241-256
Singer, M. (1977). Therapy with ex-cultists. National Association of Private Psychiatric Hospitals Journal, 9(4), 15-18.
Tourish, D., & Pinnington, A. (2002). Transformational leadership, corporate cultism and the spirituality paradigm: An unholy trinity in the workplace? Human Relations, 55(2), 147-172.
Tourish, D., & Vatcha, N. (2005). Charismatic leadership and corporate cultism at Enron: The elimination of dissent, the promotion of conformity and organizational collapse. Leadership, 1(4), 455-480.
Wikipedia (2017). Love bombing. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_bombing
Last week, there were numerous stories in the British press about plans to display the car that Princess Diana was killed in a US museum. Much of this coverage described the plans as ‘sick’ and ‘distasteful’ but is the latest in a very long line of an example of ‘dark tourism’. In a previous blog I briefly examined ‘disaster tourism’, a form of ‘dark tourism’. Since writing that blog I came across an interesting book chapter by the Slovenian researcher Dr. Lea Kuznik entitled ‘Fifty shades of dark stories’ examining the many motivations for engaging in the seedier side of tourism. Dark tourism is something that I have been guilty of myself. For instance, as a Beatles fanatic, when I first went to New York, I went to the Dakota apartments where John Lennon had been shot by Mark David Chapman. In her chapter, Dr. Kuznik notes that:
“Dark tourism is a special type of tourism, which involves visits to tourist attractions and destinations that are associated with death, suffering, disasters and tragedies venues. Visiting dark tourist destinations in the world is the phenomenon of the twenty-first century, but also has a very long heritage. Number of visitors of war areas, scenes of accidents, tragedies, disasters, places connected with ghosts, paranormal activities, witches and witchhunt trials, cursed places, is rising steeply”.
As I noted in my previous blog, the motivations for such behaviour is varied. Those working in the print and broadcast media often live by the maxim that ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ (meaning that death and disaster sell). Clearly whenever anything hits the front of newspapers or is the lead story on radio and television, it gains notoriety and infamy. This applies to bad things as well as good things and is one of the reasons why dark tourism has become so popular. Kuznik notes that although dark tourism has a long history, it has only become a topic for academic study since the mid-1990s. Dr. Kuznik observes that:
“The term dark tourism was coined by Foley and Lennon (1996) to describe the attraction of visitors to tourism sites associated with death, disaster, and depravity. Other notable definitions of dark tourism include the act of travel to sites associated with death, suffering and the seemingly macabre (Stone, 2006), and as visitations to places where tragedies or historically noteworthy death has occurred and that continue to impact our lives (Tarlow, 2005). Scholars have further developed and applied alternative terminology in dealing with such travel and visitation, including thanatourism (Seaton, 1996), black spot tourism (Rojek, 1993), atrocity heritage tourism (Tunbridge & Ashworth, 1996), and morbid tourism (Blom, 2000). In a context similar to ‘dark tourism’, terms like ‘macabre tourism’, ‘tourism of mourning’ and ‘dark heritage tourism’ are also in use. Among these terms, dark tourism remains the most widely applied in academic research (Sharpley, 2009)”.
Kuznik also notes that dark tourism has been referred to as “place-specific tourism”. Consequently, some researchers began to classify dark tourism sites based upon their defining characteristics. As Kuznik notes:
“Miles (2002) proposed a darker-lighter tourism paradigm in which there remains a distinction between dark and darker tourism according to the greater or lesser extent of the macabre and the morose. In this way, the sites of the holocaust, for example, can be divided into dark and darker tourism when it comes to their authenticity and scope of interpretation…On the basis of the dark tourism paradigm of Miles (2002), Stone (2006) proposed a spectrum of dark tourism supply which classifies sites according to their perceived features, and from these, the degree or shade of darkness (darkest to lightest) with which they can be characterised. This spectrum has seven types of dark tourism suppliers, ranging from Dark Fun Factories as the lightest, to Dark Camps of Genocide as the darkest. A specific example of the lightest suppliers would be dungeon attractions, such as London Dungeon, or planned ventures such as Dracula Park in Romania. In contrast, examples of the darkest sites include genocide sites in Rwanda, Cambodia, or Kosovo, as well as holocaust sites such as Auschwitz-Birkenau”.
In relation to the reasons for visiting dark tourism sites, Kuznik came up with seven main motivations for why we as humans seek out such experiences (i.e., curiosity, education, survivor guilt, remembrance, nostalgia, empathy, and horror) that are outlined below (please note that the descriptions are edited verbatim from Kuznik’s chapter)
- Curiosity: “Many tourists are interested in the unusual and the unique, whether this be a natural phenomenon (e.g. Niagara Falls), an artistic or historical structure (e.g. the pyramids in Egypt), or spectacular events (e.g. a royal wedding). Importantly, the reasons why tourists are attracted to dark tourism sites derive, at least in part, from the same curiosity which motivates a visit to Niagara Falls. Visiting dark tourism sites is an out of the ordinary experience, and thus attractive for its uniqueness and as a means of satisfying human curiosity. So the main reason is the experience of the unusual”.
- Empathy: “One of the reasons for visiting dark tourism sites may be empathy, which is an acceptable way of expressing a fascination with horror…In many respects, the interpretation of dark tourism sites can be difficult and sensitive, given the message of the site as forwarded by exhibition curators can at times conflict with the understandings of visitors”.
- Horror: “Horror is regarded as one of the key reasons for visiting dark tourism sites, and in particular, sites of atrocity…Relating atrocity as heritage at a site is thus as entertaining as any media depiction of a story, and for precisely the same reasons and with the same moral overtones. Such tourism products or examples are: Ghost Walks around sites of execution or murder (Ghost Tour of Prague), Murder Trails found in many cities like Jack the Ripper in London”.
- Education: “In much tourism literature it has been claimed that one of the main motivations for travel is the gaining of knowledge, and the quest for authentic experiences. One of the core missions of cultural and heritage tourism in particular is to provide educational opportunities to visitors through guided tours and interpretation. Similarly, individual visits to dark tourism sites to gain knowledge, understanding, and educational opportunities, continue to have intrinsic educational value…many dark tourism attractions or sites are considered important destinations for school educational field trips, achieving education through experiential learning”.
- Nostalgia: “Nostalgia can be broadly described as yearning for the past…or as a wistful mood that an object, a scene, a smell or a strain of music evokes…In this respect Smith (1996) examined war tourism sites and concluded that old soldiers do go back to the battlefields, to revisit and remember the days of their youth”.
- Remembrance: “Remembrance is a vital human activity connecting us to our past…Remembrance helps people formulate an identity, allowing them to learn from past mistakes, and to go forward with a clear vision of the future. In the context of dark tourism, remembrance and memory are considered key elements in the importance of sites”.
- Survivor’s guilt: “One of the distinctive characteristics of dark tourism is the type of visitors such sites attract, which include survivors and victim‘s families returning to the scene of death or disaster. These types of visitors are particularly prevalent at sites associated with Second World War and the holocaust. For many survivors returning to the scene of death and atrocity can achieve a therapeutic effect by resolving grief, and can build understanding of how terrible things came to have happened. This can be very emotional experience”.
Dr. Kuznik also developed a new typology of “dark places in nature”. The typology comprised 17 types of dark places and are briefly outlined below.
- Disaster area tourism: Visiting places of natural disaster after hurricanes, tsunamis, volcanic destructions, etc.
- Grave tourism: Visiting famous cemeteries, or graves and mausoleums of famous individuals.
- War or battlefield tourism: Visiting places where wars and battles took place.
- Holocaust tourism: Visiting Nazi concentration camps, memorial sites, memorial museums, etc.
- Genocide tourism: Visiting places where genocide took place such as the killing fields in Cambodia.
- Prison tourism: Visiting former prisons such as Alcatraz.
- Communism tourism: Visiting places like North Korea.
- Cold war and iron curtain tourism: Visiting places and remains associated with the cold war such as the Berlin Wall.
- Nuclear tourism: Visiting sites where nuclear disasters took place (e.g. Chernobyl in the Ukraine) or where nuclear bombs were exploded (e.g., Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan).
- Murderers and murderous places tourism: Visiting sites where killers and serial killers murdered their victims (‘Jack the Ripper’ walks in London, where Lee Harvey Oswald killed J.F. Kennedy in Dallas)
- Slum tourism: Visiting impoverished and slum areas in countries such as India and Brazil, Kenya.
- Terrorist tourism: Visiting places such Ground Zero (where the Twin Towers used to be) in New York City
- Paranormal tourism: Visiting crop circle sites, places where UFO sightings took place, haunted houses (e.g., Amityville), etc.
- Witched tourism: Visiting towns or cities where witches congregated (e.g., Salem in Massachusetts).
- Accident tourism: Visiting places where infamous accidents took place (e.g. the Paris tunnel where Princess Diana died in a car accident).
- Icky medical tourism: Visiting medical museums and body exhibitions.
- Dark amusement tourism: Visiting themed walks and amusement parks that are based on ghosts and horror figures (e.g., Dracula).
Looking at these different types quickly I reached the conclusion that I would class myself as a ‘dark tourist’ as I have engaged in many of these and no doubt reflects my own interest in the more extreme aspects of the lived human experience.
Ashworth, G., & Hartmann, R. (2005). Introduction: managing atrocity for tourism. In G. Ashworth & R. Hartmann (Eds.), Horror and human tragedy revisited: the management of sites of atrocities for tourism (pp. 1–14). Sydney: Cognizant Communication Corporation.
Blom, T. (2000). Morbid tourism – a postmodern market niche with an example from Althorp. Norwegian Journal of Geography, 54(1), 29–36.
Dann, G. M., & Seaton, A. V. (2001). Slavery, contested heritage and thanatourism. International Journal of Hospitality & Tourism Administration, 2(3-4), 1-29.
Foley, M., & Lennon, J. (1996). JFK and dark tourism: A fascination with assassination. International Journal of Heritage Studies, 2(4), 198–211.
Foley, M., & Lennon, J. (2000). Dark tourism. Annals of Tourism Research, 19(1), 68-78.
Kuznik, L. (2018). Fifty shades of dark stories. In Mehdi Khosrow-Pour, D.B.A. (Ed.). Encyclopedia of Information Science and Technology (Fourth Edition). (pp.4077-4087). Pennsylvania: IGI Global.
Miles, W.F. (2002). Auschwitz: Museum interpretation and darker tourism. Annals of Tourism Research, 29(4), 1175-1178.
Podoshen, J. S. (2013). Dark tourism motivations: Simulation, emotional contagion and topographic comparison. Tourism Management, 35, 263-271.
Rojek, C. (1993). Ways of escape. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan.
Seaton, A. V. (1996). From thanatopsis to thanatourism: Guided by the dark. International Journal of Heritage Studies, 2(4), 234–244.
Sharpley, R., & Stone, P. R. (Eds.). (2009). The darker side of travel: the theory and practice of dark tourism. Bristol: Channel View.
Smith, V. L. (1996). War and its tourist attractions. In A. Pizam & Y. Mansfeld (Eds.), Tourism, crime and international security issues (pp. 247–264). New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Stone, P. R. (2006). A dark tourism spectrum: Towards a typology of death and macabre related tourist sites, attractions and exhibitions. Tourism, 54(2), 145–160.
Strange, C., & Kempa, M. (2003). Shades of dark tourism: Alcatraz and Robben Island. Annals of Tourism Research, 30(2), 386-405.
Tarlow, P.E. (2005). Dark tourism: the appealing dark side of tourism and more. In M. Novelli (Ed.), Niche tourism – Contemporary issues, trends and cases (pp. 47–58). Oxford, UK: Butterworth-Heinemann.
Tunbridge, J.E., & Ashworth, G. (1996). Dissonant heritage: The management of the past as a resource in conflict. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
A couple of days ago I watched the 2007 US psychological thriller Mr. Brooks. The film is about a celebrated businessman (Mr. Earl Brooks played by Kevin Costner) who also happens to be serial killer (known as the ‘thumbprint killer’). The reason I mention all this is that the explanation given in the film by Earl for the serial killing is that it was an addiction. A number of times in the film he is seem attending Alcoholics Anonymous and quoting from the 12-step recovery program to help him ‘beat his addiction’. With the help of the AA Fellowship, he had managed not to kill anyone for two years but at the start of the film, Earl’s psychological alter-ego (‘Marshall’ played by William Hurt) manages to coerce Earl into killing once again. I won’t spoil the plot for people who have not seen the film but the underlying theme that serial killing is an addiction that Earl is constantly fighting against, is embedded in an implicit narrative that addiction somehow ‘explains’ his behaviour and that he is not really responsible for it. This is not a view I hold myself as all addicts have to take some responsibility for their behaviour.
The idea of serial killing being conceptualized as an addiction in popular culture is not new. For instance, Brian Masters book about British serial killer Dennis Nilsen (who killed at least 12 young men and was also a necrophile) was entitled Killing for Company: The Story of a Man Addicted to Murder, and Mikaela Sitford’s book about Harold Shipman, the British GP (aka ‘Dr. Death’) who killed over 200 people, was entitled Addicted to Murder: The True Story of Dr. Harold Shipman.
One of the things that I have always argued throughout my career, is that someone cannot become addicted to an activity or a substance unless they are constantly being rewarded (either by continual positive and/or negative reinforcement). Given that serial killing is a discontinuous activity (i.e., it happens relatively infrequently rather than every hour or day) how could killing be an addiction? One answer is that the act of killing is part of the wider behaviour in that the preoccupation with killing can also include the re-enacting of past kills and the keeping of ‘trophies’ from the victims (which I overviewed in a previous blog). As the author of the book Freud, Profiled: Serial Killer noted:
“The serial killer is most often described as a kind of addict. Murder is his addiction, the thrill achieved in murder his ‘kick.’ This addiction requires a maintenance ‘fix.’ At first, the experience is wonderfully exhilarating, later the fix is needed to just feel normal again. It is a hard habit to break, the hungering sensation to consume another life returns. Between murders, they often play back video or sound recordings or look at photos made of their previous murders. This voyeurism provides a surrogate death-meal until their next feeding”.
In Eric Hickey’s 2010 book Serial Murderers and Their Victims, Dr. Hickey makes reference to an unpublished 1990 monograph by Dr. Victor Cline who outlined a four-factor addiction syndrome in relation to sexual serial killers who (so-called ‘lust murderers’ that I also examined in a previous blog). More specifically:
“The offender first experiences ‘addiction’ similar to the physiological/psychological addiction to drugs, which then generates stress in his or her everyday activities. The person then enters a stage of ‘escalation’, in which the appetite for more deviant, bizarre, and explicit sexual material is fostered. Third, the person gradually becomes ‘desensitized’ to that which was once revolting and taboo-breaking. Finally, the person begins to ‘act out’ the things that he or she has seen”.
This four-stage model is arguably applicable to serial killing more generally. It also appears to be backed up by one of the most notorious serial killers, Ted Bundy. In an interview with psychologist Dr. James Dobson (found in Harold Schecter’s 2003 book The Serial Killer Files: The Who, What, Where, How, and Why of the World’s Most Terrifying Murderers), Bundy claimed:
“Once you become addicted to [pornography], and I look at this as a kind of addiction, you look for more potent, more explicit, more graphic kinds of material. Like an addiction, you keep craving something which is harder and gives you a greater sense of excitement, until you reach the point where the pornography only goes so far – that jumping-off point where you begin to think maybe actually doing it will give you that which is just beyond reading about it and looking at it”.
Dr. Hickey claims that such urges to kill are fuelled by fantasies that have become well-developed and killers to vicariously gain control of other individual. He also believes that fantasies for lust killers are far greater than an escape, and becomes the focal point of all behaviour. He concludes by saying that “even though the killer is able to maintain contact with reality, the world of fantasy becomes as addictive as an escape into drugs”. In the book The Serial Killer Files, Harold Schechter notes that:
“For homicidal psychopaths, lust-killing often becomes an addiction. Like heroin users, they not only become dependent on the thrilling sensation – the rush – of torture, rape, and murder; they come to require ever greater and more frequent fixes. After a while, merely stabbing a co-ed to death every few months isn’t enough. They have to kill every few weeks, then every few days. And to achieve the highest pitch of arousal, they have to torture the victim before putting her to death. This kind of escalation can easily lead to the killer’s own destruction. Like a junkie who ODs in his urgent quest to satisfy his cravings, serial killers are often undone by their increasingly unbridled sadism, which drives them to such reckless extremes that they are finally caught. Monsters tend to be sadists, deriving sexual gratification from imposing pain on others. Their secret perversions, at first sporadic, often trap them in a pattern as the intervals between indulgences become briefer: it is a pattern whose repetitions develop into a hysterical crescendo, as if from one outrage to another the monster were seeking as a climax his own annihilation”.
Schecter uses the ‘addiction’ explanation for serial killing throughout his writings even for serial killers from the past including American nurse Jane Toppan (the ‘Angel of Death’) who confessed to 33 murders in 1901 and died in 1938 (“she became addicted to murder”), cannibalistic child serial killers Gilles Garnier (died in 1573) and Peter Stubbe (died 1589) (“both became addicted to murder and cannibalism, both preferred to prey upon children”), and Lydia Sherman (died 1878) who killed 8 children including six of her own (“confirmed predator, addicted to cruelty and death”).
In a recent 2012 paper on mental disorders in serial killers in the Iranian Journal of Medical Law, Dr. N. Mehra and A.S. Pirouz quoted the literary academic Akira Lippit who argued that in films, the “completion of each serial murder lays the foundation for the next act which in turn precipitates future acts, leaving the serial subject always wanting more, always hungry, addicted”. They then go on to conclude that:
“Once a killer has tasted the success of a kill, and is not apprehended, it will ultimately mean he will strike again. He put it simply, that once something good has happened, something that made the killer feel good, and powerful, and then they will not hesitate to try it again. The first attempt may leave them with a feeling of fear but at the same time, it is like an addictive drug. Some killers revisit the crime scene or take trophies, such as jewelry or body parts, or video tape the scenario so as to be able to re-live the actual feeling of power at a later date”.
Although I haven’t done an extensive review of the literature, I do think it’s possible – even on the slimmest of empirical bases presented here – to conceptualize serial killing as a potential behavioural addiction for some individuals. However, it will always depend upon how addiction is defined in the first place.
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Brophy, J. (1967). The Meaning of Murder. London: Crowell.
Hickey, E.W. (2010). Serial Murderers and Their Victims (Fifth Edition). Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.
Lippit, A.M. (1996). The infinite series: Fathers, cannibals, chemists. Criticism, Summer, 1-18.
Masters, B. (1986). Killing for Company: The Story of a Man Addicted to Murder. New York: Stein and Day.
Mehra, N., & Pirouz, A. S. (2012). A study on mental disorder in serial killers. Iranian Journal of Medical Law, 1(1), 38-51.
Miller, E. (2014). Freud, Profiled: Serial Killer. San Diego: New Directions Publishing.
Schecter, H. (2003). The Serial Killer Files: The Who, What, Where, How, and Why of the World’s Most Terrifying Murderers. New York: Ballantine Books
Sitford, M. (2000). Addicted to Murder: The True Story of Dr. Harold Shipman. London: Virgin Publishing.
Taylor, T. (2014). Is serial killing an addiction? IOL, April 9. Located at: http://www.iol.co.za/news/crime-courts/is-serial-killing-an-addiction-1673542
In a previous blog I briefly examined semen fetishes and the acts of ‘bukkake’ (most commonly seen in hard core pornographic films where a group of men all simultaneously ejaculate over a women or man), and ‘gokkun’ (where a man or woman consumes the semen of one or more men from a drinking receptacle, e.g., cups, glasses, beakers, etc.). In that article I noted that while there is a fair amount of (non-academic) literature about bukkake, references to semen fetishes appear to be rare with nothing published in academic journals.
However, since writing that article, a case study of a 39-year old man with an ‘ejaculate fetish’ was published in the Journal of Psychiatry by three Turkish medics (Dr. Safak Taktak, Dr. Mustafa Karakus and Dr. Salih Murat Eke) – ‘The Man Whose Fetish Object is Ejaculate: A Case Report’. (In fact, Dr. Taktak has published a number of interesting case studies of paraphilic behaviour including shoe fetishism and paraphilias more generally [see ‘Further reading’ below]). Following a crime of molestation, the man had been arrested by Turkish police. (In fact, it turned out the man had already spent 10 years in prison for armed robbery when he was in his twenties and was released from jail when he was 31 years old).
The judicial authorities demanded that the man had to undergo a psychiatric assessment because one of his behaviours was the buying of ejaculate from young men that he would then smear on his genitals for sexual satisfaction. The act of smearing semen on his body had begun in prison when he would smear semen on bodily wounds and provided (presumably therapeutic) relief (as the prison did not provide medicine or cream for bodily injuries). The paper also claimed that the act of taking semen from each other and applying it to wounds and sores was commonplace in the prison he was at. Following his release from prison, he continued the habit and “became obsessed with it and he bought semen from different people on a monthly basis and spread it on the genital area”. Fifteen days prior to his psychiatric assessment, he was accused of molesting a 16-year old adolescent while trying to buy semen from him. The adolescent was reported as saying:
“A man held my arm and said that he had a job for me and he would give money if I do that job. I told him if I can do, I would do. He said he would be there [an hour and a half] later, and told me to find him. After he came, he told me that he buys human sperm, and asked me if I give him sperm, which surprised me a lot. Then he took three or four plastic bags out of the pocket of his jacket full of white things. He said these bags are the sperms that he bought from three or four kids. In exchange of sperm, he gave things like money, stereos and televisions”.
The adolescent’s father found out what had happened to his son and caught the man who had wanted his son’s semen. The man told the father that he wanted the semen to alleviate itchiness. During the psychiatric examination by the authors, the man was described as having mildly depressive emotions, natural psychomotor activity, sufficient cognitive function, and no delusions and/or hallucinations. He also had a history of alcohol and marijuana abuse (but since leaving prison he had stopped abusing these substances). Using the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) the authors said he had inconsistent behaviour, difficulty in controlling his impulses, was angry and short tempered, displayed antisocial behaviour, was sexually deviant, had obsessive sexual thoughts, was socially isolated, and had a negative self-perception. They also wrote that his psychological profile suggested an antisocial or schizoid personality disorder.
The paper also noted that his father has also been in prison on a number of occasions, and that his mother and her relatives looked after him and his younger brother, and that they had “a hard life” while growing up. From the age of 11-12 years old, he started masturbating regularly (sometimes a few times a day). During early adolescence he began engaging in frotteurism (rubbing his genitals up against other people) particularly on bus journeys. Now, as a man, he claimed he could not masturbate without the use of other people’s semen. He began buying other individuals’ semen when he got out of prison (“from 30 young men in exchanges for money”) and always carried semen with him wherever he went.
The authors noted that unlike most other fetishes, the sexualisation of semen as a fetish did not occur until he was in prison (i.e., adulthood rather than childhood or adolescence). I’m not sure why (based on the evidence in the paper) but they also speculated that the man’s semen fetish was used to “overcome low self-esteem and a sense of failure” and that the fetish behaviour “occurred from a trauma caused by the bad attitude of [his] parents at an early age, and [that] such negative experiences contributed to the emergence of fetish behavior”. The paper also claimed that: “He discovered the fetish object to deal with the anger for the negative events he faced when he was in prison for ten years for armed robbery. Impulse control is likely to be impaired because of the adverse conditions created by the prison”.
They also described the man’s semen fetish as a “mental illness” (in fact, the paper seemed to imply that all fetishes are mental illnesses which is clearly not the case as most non-normative sex is non-problematic for those engaging in such behaviour). However, by diagnosing the man has having a mental illness, it meant that he was not mentally competent enough to stand trial. The paper concluded that:
“In our case, the number of [victims] is few, but [our patient is] respectively harmless to the victims and not dangerous. He cannot control his urges and behaviors. For [these] kind of cases, generally, diminished criminal responsibility is decided but for this case, it was decided that he has no criminal responsibility”.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
BBC News (2010). Israel jails man for ‘holy semen’ sex abuse. April 26. Located at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/8644637.stm
Kuro5hin (2002). A modern craving. August 5. Located at: http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2002/8/5/71044/01543
Taktak, S., Karakus, M., & Eke, S. M. (2015). The man whose fetish object is ejaculate: A case report. Journal of Psychiatry, 18(3), 276.
Taktak, S., Karakus, M., Kaplan, A., & Eke, S.M. (2015) Shoe fetishism and kleptomania comorbidity: A case report. European Journal of Pharmaceutical and Medical Research, 2, 14-19.
Taktak, S., Yılmaz, E., Karamustafalıoglu, O., & Unsal, A. (2016). Characteristics of paraphilics in Turkey: A retrospective study – 20 years. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, in press.
Wikipedia (2012). Bukkake. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bukkake
Wikipedia (2012). Gokkun. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gokkun
My favourite TV detective has always been Columbo (played by Peter Falk). I have watched every single one of the 69 episodes (as my family will attest) many times. While I am working, I will often have Columbo on in the background in the way that other people have music on in the background (although I do the latter as well). For those reading this that have not come across Columbo, here is a brief synopsis from Wikiquote:
“Columbo (1968, 1971-1978, 1989-2003) was an American crime fiction television show about Lieutenant Columbo, a homicide detective with the Los Angeles Police Department. He uses his deferential and absent-minded persona to lull criminal suspects into a false sense of security, by harassing and pestering suspects non-stop – without letting them know that they’re suspects – under the pretense that he’s simply being a pesky detective, in order to spy on them and agitate them into giving up clues”.
I have asked myself many times why I love the iconic show so much and it’s hard to put my finger on any single reason. One of the things I love about the show is that almost all the episodes are a ‘reverse whodunit’ (often referred to as an ‘open mystery’) in which the viewer knows the identity of the murderer(s) and we watch to see how Lt. Columbo uncovers who the killer or killers are. (I say “almost all” because there are actually a few episodes that are more typical ‘whodunits’ such as 1976’s ‘Last Salute To The Commodore’, 1992’s ‘No Time To Die’ [involving a kidnapping rather than a murder] and 1994’s ‘Undercover’). Another aspect I love is the inherent contradictions in Lt. Columbo’s day-to-day behaviour. His dishevelled clothing (the infamous beaten-up raincoat), his apparently bumbling absent-minded nature, and his habit of going off-topic in conversations, but knowing that he is actually one of the most astute and clever detectives that you are ever likely to meet (he would no-doubt fit the description of the stereotypical ‘absent-minded professor’). As a psychologist I find him fascinating. As an article about Columbo on the Cult TV Lounge rightly notes:
“The emphasis is on the psychological duel between detective and suspect, with (mercifully) no interest in social commentary and few concessions to the ‘realism’ that would become more and more of a fetish in TV cop shows during the course of the 70s. This is pure entertainment and it’s all the better for it”.
And finally, it is Lt. Columbo’s brilliant trademark ‘false exits’ that wrongfoot all the murderers. After most informal interrogations with the murderer, Columbo leaves the scene, only to return a few seconds later with the opening gambit of “there’s just one more thing” (or a variant of the phrase) only for it to be the most important question that he “forgot to ask”. As an obituary at the In The Dark website on Peter Falk noted:
“The more trivial the “thing” is, the more damning it proves. As an application of psychology, it’s a superb tactic and it slowly but surely grinds down the criminal’s resistance. Often the murderer’s exasperation at Columbo’s relentless badgering leads to rash actions and errors; the second murder, if there is one, is never as carefully planned as the first”.
As the selected (emboldened) quotes above show, psychology is an integral part of Columbo’s appeal. I was also surprised to find that clinical psychologists and forensic psychologists have used Lt. Columbo’s modus operandi in their day-to-day work. (In fact, even some writers claim that if you want to be a better writer you should watch Columbo according to an article by Shahan Mufti in the New York Times; also, a number of marketing gurus claim that Lt. Columbo can teach marketers a thing or two – check out ‘10 things marketeers can learn from Columbo’). For instance, in an article on motivational interviewing (MI) via the Australian Mental Health Academy describe the ‘Columbo approach’:
“Proponents of motivational interviewing owe a debt of gratitude to the 1970s television series Columbo…[Columbo] was a master of the skill of ‘deploying discrepancies’, and MI therapists/practitioners can use the same skill to get clients to help them make sense of their (the clients’) discrepancies. With the Columbo approach, an interviewer makes a curious enquiry about discrepant behaviours without being judgmental or blaming. In a non-confrontational manner, information that is contradictory is juxtaposed, allowing the therapist to address discrepancies between what clients say and their behaviour without evoking defensiveness or resistance. Wherever possible when deploying discrepancies, practitioners are encouraged to end the reflection on the side of change, as clients are more likely to elaborate on the last part of the statements”
The article then goes on to explicitly describe specific MI interventions using the ‘Columbo approach’. Another online article by Greg Lhamon (‘A simple trick to make a powerful last impression’) describes the ‘Columbo Technique’. Here is an abridged version:
“One way in which you can leave someone with a powerful last impression is to use…“the Columbo Technique”…named after the lovable yet shrewd TV detective from the 1970s…He was unassuming and appeared almost absent-minded as he questioned a murder suspect. Yet his seemingly random line of questioning was the process by which he built an airtight case against the suspect. At the conclusion of every interview, he did something unique: he’d thank the suspect profusely, step toward the door, stop, and then turn back, and say, “Oh, just one more thing.” Then he’d ask one last question, a particularly damning question that let the suspect know that Lieutenant Columbo was onto him. Like every form of good communication, sincerity is critical. It cannot be contrived. The goal is simply to make a strong, memorable point, not to manipulate someone. The process is simple: (1) hold back a critical piece of information and reserve it for the end of the meeting, (2) right before you part company, share the information or ask a question, and (3) enjoy the response you receive”.
A 2009 article in the American Bar Association Journal reported that the best way to interrogate a suspect is to ‘Think Columbo’. The advice given was that police should focus on what suspects say rather than their behaviour (such as fidgeting, sweating, and averting eyes during an interview). After reviewing interrogation tapes, Professor Ray Bull, a British forensic psychologist told the Times newspaper that British police use an investigative interviewing technique:
“These interviews sound much more like a chat in a bar. It’s a lot like the old Columbo show, you know, where he pretends to be an idiot but he’s gathered a lot of evidence.”
The ABA article also included comments from American psychologist Kevin Colwell, who said that suspects that lie in police interviews “often prepare a script that doesn’t have much detail”. Colwell recommended using interview techniques where the individual undergoing questioning should talk about the event in question more than once “adding details in retelling the event about things such as sounds and smells” and asking the person “to recall the event in reverse” and that:
“Those who tell the truth tend to add 20% to 30% more external detail than do those who are lying. Those who are adept at lying may start to feel more strain if the interviewer introduces evidence throughout the questioning that has been previously uncovered. Detective Columbo, it turns out, was not just made for TV”.
Another reason I love Columbo because a number of episodes featured psychologists and/or psychiatrists as the killer, most of who used their psychological expertise to carry out an ingenious murder. This included the episodes ‘Prescription Murder’ (1968 – the first ever episode; Dr. Ray Flemming who uses his high intelligence rather than his psychiatric expertise to murder his wife), ‘Double Exposure’ (1973; Dr. Bart Kepple, a consumer psychologist who uses subliminal advertising to lure his victim to be killed), ‘A Deadly State Of Mind’ (1975; Dr. Marcus Collier, a psychiatrist who uses hypnosis to make his victim jump from a high rise apartment), ‘How To Dial A Murder’ (1978; Dr. Eric Mason, a behavioural psychologist who uses classical conditioning to train his dogs to kill his victim), and ‘Sex And The Married Detective’ (1998; Dr. Joan Allenby, a sex therapist who uses her knowledge of psychosexual roleplay to ensnare and kill her lover). In one episode (‘How To Dial A Murder’), Columbo and the psychologist Dr. Eric Mason have an interesting exchange:
Dr. Eric Mason: You’re a fascinating man, Lieutenant. Columbo: To a psychologist, sir? Dr. Eric Mason: You pass yourself off as a puppy in a raincoat happily running around the yard digging holes all up in the garden, only you’re laying a mine field and wagging your tail.
As an ex-Professor of Gambling Studies, another aspect that I have noticed is how many episodes of Columbo feature gamblers and gambling that are often integral to the storyline. Gambling is a key feature in the episodes ‘Double Shock’ (1973; the murderer Norman Paris, a banker, is featured at a Las Vegas casino running up gambling debts), ‘A Friend in Deed’ (1974; the murderer Mark Halperin, a deputy police commissioner, is shown in his opening scene to be a regular casino gambler), ‘Uneasy Lies The Crown’ (1990; the murderer, Dr. Wesley Corman is a dentist and a compulsive gambler), ‘Death Hits The Jackpot’ (1991; photographer and murder victim Freddy Brower wins a $30 million on the lottery and is killed by his uncle Leon Lamarr), ‘A Bird In The Hand’ (1992; would-be murderer Harold McCain, a compulsive gambler tries to murder his millionaire uncle, owner of a US football team), ‘All in The Game’ (1993; murder victim Nick Franco is a playboy and high stakes poker player killed by his lover Laura Staton), and ‘Strange Bedfellows’ (1995; Randy McVeigh the murder victim owes money for gambling debts to the Mafia and is killed by his brother Graham who has ‘inherited’ his brother’s debt).
In another episode (‘Troubled Waters’, 1975), it turns out that the killer (Hayden Danzinger, an autocar executive) is also a regular casino gambler but this only comes to light late in the episode when Lt. Columbo talks to his wife (Sylvia Danzinger). Here we learn that Lt. Columbo thinks about slot machines:
Columbo: You see that fellow over there playing the slot machines? Waste of money. I’ve played it 44 times. I won once right at the beginning and I never won again. Sylvia Danzinger: You can’t beat ‘em. I don’t even try. Columbo: You’re not a gambler? Sylvia Danzinger: No, I prefer more quiet activities. Columbo: That’s funny. I was under the impression you and your husband went to Las Vegas quite a few times. Sylvia Danzinger: Oh, no. Hayden goes often but without me. I wouldn’t be caught dead there.
I’ve often wondered if gambling was an important issue (positive or negative) for Peter Falk in his private life, because when he wasn’t playing Lt. Columbo, it wasn’t unusual for him to be in gambling-related acting roles. Most notably, he played an ageing bookmaker Vinnie in the 1988 film Money Kings (also known under the title Vig, a film about the illegal world of gambling), and the 1988 film Pronto he played Harry Arno, a sports bookmaker who stole money from the local mafia boss Jimmy Capatorto. He also played the poker player Waller in a 1960 episode of Have Gun – Will Travel (‘Poker Fiend‘), and in the 1970 film Husbands he played Archie Black, one of three men undergoing mid-life crises following the death of their friend who then who all go to Europe to gamble, drink, and womanise.
If you’ve got this far, I’ll just leave you with the answers to a couple of my favourite Columbo trivia questions. The most asked question concerning Lt. Columbo (like Inspector Morse) is what was his first name. (When asked the same question in the series itself, Columbo would answer ‘Lieutenant’!). Lt. Columbo never once revealed his first name verbally in the series but did once flash his police badge in an early episode (‘Dead Weight’; Episode 3, Series 1) and accidentally revealed his name was Frank. The second most asked question is how Peter Falk lost his eye. Falk had his eye removed at the age of three years (due to cancer) and had a glass eye for the rest of his life. Although Falk had a glass eye, fans debated for years whether Lt. Columbo had only one eye. The answer was revealed in the 25th anniversary episode (‘A Trace of Murder’) when Lt. Columbo asked the murderer (Patrick Kinsley, a forensic expert) to look at something with him because “three eyes are better than one”!
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Burns, S. (2016). The Columbo Episode Guide. Located at: http://www.columbo-site.freeuk.com/episode.htm
Changing Minds (2013). The Columbo Technique. Located at: http://changingminds.org/techniques/questioning/columbo_technique.htm
Dawidziak, M. (1989). The Columbo Phile. Mysterious Press.
D For Doom (2015). Columbo, Season 1 (1971). Cult TV Lounge, July 3. Located at: http://cult-tv-lounge.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/columbo-season-one-1971.html
Haynes, N. (2012). Guide to TV detectives: No.1. The Guardian, January 23. Located at: https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/tvandradioblog/2012/jan/23/natalie-haynes-detectives-columbo
Henley, J. (2013). 10 things marketeers can learn from Columbo – yes, Columbo. Rock The Deadline, November 24. Located at: http://rockthedeadline.com/blog/content-marketing/10-things-marketers-can-learn-from-columbo-yes-columbo/
Mental Health Academy (2015). Principles and techniques of motivational interviewing. January 12. Located at: http://www.aipc.net.au/articles/principles-and-techniques-of-motivational-interviewing/
Mufti, S. (2013). Want to write better? Watch Columbo. New York Times (The 6th Floor), September 25. Located at: http://6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/09/25/want-to-write-better-watch-columbo/?_r=2
Telescoper (2011). In memorium: Peter Falk (1927-2011). In The Dark, https://telescoper.wordpress.com/2011/06/25/in-memoriam-peter-falk-1927-2011/
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