It’s no secret that the capacity of the working memory is limited (7 +/- 2, anyone?), but apparently it can be even further restricted when one is anxious, or at least in a math test-taking situation.
As someone with a history of choking on math tests throughout high school (thankfully, this didn’t seem to apply to statistics, the only math I had to take in college and grad school), I find this a great relief to have an explanation for what was going on. I knew the material, but it always happened that one or two questions in I’d suddenly not remember crucial equations or operations. Luckily, I was able to make up for my deficits by doing really well on homework. Except for trigonometry. To this day, I’d still like to have another go at that class.
HUGE DISCLAIMER: I am not a clinical psychologist, nor am I a person qualified to actually diagnose mental disorders, despite having a limited background in clinical psychology and having taken graduate courses in abnormal psychology and taught the undergraduate course. To my knowledge, John Mark Karr has not been formally diagnosed or undergone a psychiatric evaluation by a qualified professional. The following is pure speculation on my part. There, did I cover my ass enough?
I have followed the JonBenet Ramsey case from the beginning because I was born and raised in Boulder, Colorado (and was living there at the time of the crime). I remember seeing the story on the 5 o’clock news on December 26, 1996, and since then I have read every newspaper story and devoured every bit of information I could obtain about the case. I have had several theories of who might be responsible, but I’m not a detective and I’m just as stumped as the Boulder Police were and are. Call it intuition, call it an intimate knowledge of the facts of the case, but I never thought that John Mark Karr was actually responsible for JonBenet’s murder. His story just never added up for me.
Now, based on the DNA evidence, we know that Karr did not commit the crime, one wonders why he would confess to something he didn’t do. My personal theory is that he suffers (I’m not sure if this is the right word, he seems to be pretty content in his delusions) from delusional disorder. DSM-IV-TR defines the criteria for delusional disorder as follows:
- Criterion A: Nonbizarre delusions (i.e., involving situations that occur in real life, such as being followed, poisoned, infected, loved at distance, or deceived by spouse or lover, or having a disease) of at least 1 month’s duration.
- Criterion B: Criterion A for schizophrenia has never been met (i.e., patients do not have simultaneous hallucinations, disorganized speech, negative symptoms such as affective flattening, or grossly disorganized behavior). Note: Tactile and olfactory hallucinations may be present in delusional disorder if they are related to the delusional theme.
- Criterion C: Apart from the impact of the delusion(s) or its ramifications, functioning is not markedly impaired, and behavior is not obviously odd or bizarre.
- Criterion D: If mood episodes have occurred concurrently with delusions, their total duration has been brief relative to the duration of the delusional periods.
- Criterion E: The disturbance is not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, a medication) or a general medical condition.
- Subtypes are defined, including erotomanic, grandiose, jealous, persecutory, somatic, mixed, and unspecified.
Perusing this description and assuming Karr has never been diagnosed with schizophrenia (which I’m sure would have been in the press if he had been, also his behavior–other than his apparent flat affect– doesn’t seem congruent with someone who has that diagnosis) or is not on drugs, it looks like he’d meet the criteria fairly easily for the unspecified type. Or possibly the grandiose type, given that JonBenet Ramsey has risen to iconic status in our culture, and his self-perceived association with her could arguably be grandiose. Anyway, why else would someone be so convinced that he committed a crime that he had nothing to do with?
He also meets the criteria for pedophilia, one of the paraphilias listed in DSM-IV-TR. So to play armchair clinical psychologist, and for those of you keeping score at home, I’d say that John Mark Karr has delusional disorder comorbid with pedophilia.
I’ll be interested to hear about the results of his psychiatric evaluation if he undergoes one in connection to his possible indictment in California for 5 counts of possessing child pornography.
This study made the news in December of 2005, right before New Year's Eve. However, I also had a real life example of adults' problems with conservation just last night.
The scene: The hip Skylark Diner in Edison, New Jersey.
I was having a late dinner last night with a male companion, his friend, and the friend's girlfriend. We ordered a round of drinks before ordering our food. My male companion ordered a Paulaner hefeweizen, and when the server brought the drinks around, his beer was in a tall, skinny glass that looked like it was meant for frou-frou frozen drinks. Defending his manhood, he refused to drink out of that particular type of glass, and the server obligingly went back to the bartender to pour the beer into a regular pint glass.
While she was gone, we all debated over whether or not the amount in the tall, skinny glass was actually going to fit into a pint glass. It certainly didn't look like it would. My male companion got up from the table and consulted with a server that he knew, who swore up and down that the two types of glasses each held an equal amount of liquid. We didn't get a chance to try it out ourselves, but three of us at the table still remained skeptical (myself included).
Interesting that the basic ability of conservation can still be difficult for adults. What would Piaget say?