Monday, January 11, 2010

Word Salad - Earlier Comments on Sarah Palin's Peculiar Way of Speaking

Yesterday on 60 Minutes, Steve Schmidt said that, during the preparation for the vice-president debate, Palin had a speech tic where she put together Joe Biden's name along with Barack Obama's and kept referring to him as O'Biden. NJfan asked me what I thought about this quirk of speech.

For now I am going to repost a few comments that I made at Palin's Deceptions after Palin announced that she was quitting as governor.

For those of you who do not know, Audrey wrote the excellent blog about the problems with the alleged birth of Palin's fifth child Trig. Audrey, a Republican when she started the blog, originally wanted to correct the media because she felt they had incorrectly reported the circumstances around the birth, but discovered they had the story straight from Palin herself. For those who like detective stories, the blog shows the detailed unravelling of the lies that Sarah Palin maintained around the birth. As you read through the comments, you can see people coming together to figure out what is going on. You can also see the evolution in people's thought regarding Palin.

Audrey's last post was on August 19, 2009. She stopped posting after that because she had received serious, detailed threats to her and her family by Palin supporters. This was not the first blog shut down by personal threats. Earlier in the summer, a woman named Morgan (not the moderator for Audrey's site), who was skilled in doing photo detective work, pulled her blog down after receiving similar threats. The work she did was excellent and provided the photographic proof that Palin, barring a miraculous 'virgin' birth, could not have physically been pregnant.

Audrey had certain rules about what could be discussed on her blog and the comments were moderated. Theories about incest were not allowed, as well as putting forward any psychological explanation for why Palin was doing what she did. I found her blog soon after she started it and followed the story without commenting because my area of expertise fell outside of her guidelines. In July 2009, less then a month before she was shut down, I noticed that people were beginning to question Palin's mental state - opening the way for me to start posting. Here are four of my first comments which covers Sarah being on the psychopathy checklist, the difference between psychopaths and sociopaths, and how psychopaths communicate.

[I am including the date and time I posted the comments so you can go back and see the context of the discussion if you like.]

- Further, it keeps us from inflammatory rhetoric, e.g. KaJo calling her a psychopath -- which she is not. -

Joe Christmas - July 19 - 8:21 PM

Joe, I am going to have to take issue with your statement above, because you say it with such authority. I believe that you said you were a doctor and your mother is a narcissist, which could give you some information on personality disorders but doesn't mean that you are up to date with the research that has emerged over the last ten to twenty years in the field studying psychopathy. Referring to it as "inflammatory rhetoric" tells me that this is not an area of expertise for you.

I have spent a large part of the last ten years reading, learning and observing personality disorders, particularly psychopathy with a special interest in how it manifests in women. On a part-time basis, I work with people who have been impacted by psychopaths. As part of that service, I explain to them how psychopaths operate and how to tell them apart from narcissists and people with environmentally caused anti social disorder. Within that context, I use Sarah Palin as an example of a woman scoring high on the psychopathic checklist.

The Psychopathic Checklist is the gold standard used by serious researchers in the field to determine who in fact is a psychopath. It was developed by the Canadian professor Robert Hare, who also advises and trains the FBI. There are twenty items on the checklist - half are intrinsic characteristics to who the person is while the other half are how these characteristics play out in lifestyle choices. These items include;

being glib and superficial

egocentric and grandiose

lack of remorse or guilt

lack of empathy

deceitful and manipulative

having shallow emotions

being impulsive

poor behaviour controls

having a need for excitement

lack of responsibility

early behaviour problems

and displaying anti-social behaviour

How does the above list not describe SP's behaviour? When you look more closely at how the traits are commonly displayed by people on the checklist, the match up with what we know about SP is even more striking. Many people who score high on the checklist are thought to be narcissists because narcissistic traits are part of being a psychopath. If, however, we look at occurrences levels in the population we find that only .67 of one percent of the population are narcissists while the rate of people who cross the threshold of the checklist to be full fledge psychopaths are one to three percent of the population. More importantly, another ten percent of the population fall just below the threshold but have enough of the traits to do serious harm to others.

To answer the other commenter's question - research has disclosed that the critical traits, such as lack of empathy, needed to be diagnosed as a psychopath are due to faulty wiring in the brain. Some of it is heritable, although it can occur spontaneously. Certain head injuries can also create the damage to the brain with the same effect. Environment does play a huge role on how these tendencies caused by miss-wiring in the brain manifest themselves over a person's life span.

If you are interested, I will tell you about the research that shows that SP's word salads are typical for a psychopath.

Wayofpeace and Ivyfree, before I talk about the word salad I want to address some other points that came up. KaJo, I understand your desire to be quoted correctly. In this case, it highlights the confusion between the two words psychopath and sociopath. It is one of the most frequent questions I am asked. The two words are interchangeable and mean the same thing - almost. The difference, in current use, is the belief of the person using each term on what causes the disorder. Dr. Hare explains:

"In many cases the choice of term reflects the user's views on the origins and determinants of the clinical syndrome or disorder described in this book [Without Conscience]. Thus, some clinicians and researchers - as well as most sociologists and criminologists - who believe that the syndrome is forged entirely by social forces and early experiences prefer the term sociopath, whereas those - including this writer - who feel that psychological, biological, and genetic factors also contribute to the development of the syndrome generally use the term psychopath. The same individual therefore could be diagnosed as a sociopath by one expert and as a psychopath by another."

That was written in 1993: the body of solid research showing significant genetic and biological differences between people on the psychopathic spectrum and the general population has grown substantially since then. When KaJo wrote sociopath, I also switched it to the term I use which is psychopath.

Joe Christmas, if you read what I wrote carefully, you will notice that I did not call SP a psychopath. I stated that she is high on the Psychopathic Checklist. I tend to err on the cautious side when I am looking at an individual. The checklist is a spectrum with a threshold that can be crossed at any period in the person's life to get the diagnosis of psychopath. It was developed by studying male convicts so the diagnosis is weighted to their behaviour. Researchers, however, found that there are important gender differences on how the traits manifest in women. For example: women will display more aggressive, controlling and abusive behaviour towards family members, partners and people close to them, such as ex in-laws, while males will strike out towards strangers as well. Men are also more likely to use physical aggression while the women tend to use psychological manipulation. Because the women's behaviour is more often directed towards people they know, it is less reported and less noticed by others. (After all, it was only SP's ambition to play on the big stage that brought her and her behaviour to our attention.) Because of these and other factors, the threshold for a woman to cross to be a psychopath is actually lower than it is for men.

Where people can quibble if SP passes the threshold or not, it is a strong position to argue that she scores high on the checklist. It is not a binary diagnosis that a person is either a psychopath or not a psychopath. It is a scale where those who fall just below the threshold can do incredible damage and their suitability to hold public office or parent should be seriously questioned.

Joe, you made a good call when you pointed out SP's obliviousness to Trig's tears. It is the complete lack of empathy and concern for the feelings of others that defines the faulty wiring of this disorder.

A few starting points on SP's word salads. Keep her in mind as you read these passages from Hare:

"...pathological lying and manipulation are not restricted to psychopaths. What makes psychopaths different from all others is the remarkable ease with which they lie, the pervasiveness of their deception, and the callousness with which they carry it out. But there is something else about the speech patterns of psychopaths that is equally puzzling: their frequent use of contradictory and logically inconsistent statements that usually escape detection. Recent research on the language of psychopaths provides us with some important clues to this puzzle, as well as to the uncanny ability psychopaths have to move words - and people - around so easily."

"Think about this for a moment - not only lies but several contradictory statements in the same breath. Very perplexing. It is as if psychopaths sometimes have difficulty in monitoring their own speech, and they let loose with a convoluted barrage of poorly connected words and thoughts. Psychopaths also sometimes put words together in strange ways."

More soon.

July 27 3:20 - Exit Stage Right also posted July 26 8:00 pm A tale of two birth certificates

I have just finished watching Palin's good-bye salad from the position of governor. Over at Mudflats, many of the commentators mentioned how much she was using her hands. Since most of you have also watched it and it is still fresh in your minds, I will turn to Robert Hare who advises us, when we think that we are dealing with someone high on the Psychopathy Checklist, to "watch their hands." Hare tells us:

"Most language-related hand gestures convey no information or meaning to the listener. 'Empty' hand gestures called beats are small, rapid movements that occur only during speech or pauses in speech but are not part of the 'story line.' Like other gestures and body movements, they are often part of the 'show' the speaker puts on .... But beats occur for other reasons as well. For example, many people make these hand gestures while talking on the telephone. The listener can't see these gestures, so why does the speaker make them?

"The answer may be related to evidence that the brain centres that control speech also control the hand gestures made during speech. In some unknown way - perhaps by increasing overall activity in these centres - beats seem to facilitate speech: they help us put our thoughts and feelings into words.......In some cases, a high rate of beat gestures appear to reflect difficulty in converting thoughts and feelings into speech.

"Beats may also tell us something about the size of the 'thought units,' or mental packages, that underlie speech. A thought unit can vary from from something small, simple, and isolated - a single idea or word, a phrase, a sentence - to something larger and more complex - groups of ideas, sentences, or complete story lines. The ideas, words, phrases, and sentences that comprise large thought units are likely to be well integrated, tied together in some meaningful, consistent, or logical fashion to form a script. Beats appear to 'mark off' these thought units: The greater the number of beats, the smaller the units.

"Recent evidence suggests that psychopaths use more beats than do normal people, particularly when they talk about things generally considered emotional - for example, describing the way they feel about family members or other 'loved ones.' We might infer two things from this evidence:

" - Like a tourist using high-school French to ask directions in Paris, psychopaths have trouble putting into words emotional ideas because they are vague and poorly understood. In this sense, emotion is like a second language to the psychopath.

" - Psychopaths' thoughts and ideas are organized into rather small mental packages and readily moved around. This can be a distinct advantage when it comes to lying. As psychologist Paul Ekman pointed out, skilled liars are able to break down ideas, concepts, and language into basic components and then recombine them in a variety of ways, almost as if they were playing Scrabble. But in doing so, the psychopath endangers his overall script; it may lose its unifying structure or become less coherent and integrated than if he was dealing in large thought units."

Hmmm...seems to describe the video I just watched with the frequent rapid hand movements made by Sarah Palin.

Joe Christmas, you asked me several good questions in the last post and I will try to get to them. I have a deadline for the end of the month, so I will pick up where I can.

July 27 3:20 pm - Exit Stage Right also posted July 27 8:03 am A tale of two birth certificates

Mudflats has just put out a transcript of Sarah Palin's farewell address. The reading is a pretty tough slog, according to the comments, because of the loose grammar, tangential connections, and lack of logic. Perhaps it would be enlightening to do a comparison. Once again we turn to Dr. Hare:

"It now appears that the communications of psychopaths sometimes are subtly odd and part of a general tendency to 'go off track.' That is, they frequently change topics, go off on irrelevant tangents, and fail to connect phrases and sentences in a straightforward manner. The story line, though somewhat disjointed, may seem acceptable to the casual listener. For example, one of our male psychopaths, asked by a female interviewer to describe an intense emotional event, responded as follows:

"'Well, that's a tough one. So many to think about. I remember once - uh - I went through this red light and there was no traffic, right? So what's the big deal? This cop started to hassle me for no reason, and he really pissed me off. I didn't really go through the red light. It was probably only yellow ... so what was his - uh - point? The trouble with cops is they are - most are on a power trip. They act macho, right? I'm not really into macho. I'm more of a lover. What do you think? I mean, if I wasn't in prison ... say we meet at a party - uh - and I asked you out, and, I'll bet you'd say yes, right?'

"This narrative was accompanied by expansive hand movements and exaggerated facial expressions - a dramatic display that blinded the interviewer to what was happening. However,the videotape of the interview clearly revealed to everyone - including our embarrassed interviewer - that the man not only had gone off track but had trapped her in a flirtatious exchange.

"Psychopaths are notorious for not answering the question posed to them or for answering in a way that seems unresponsive to the question. For example, one psychopath in our research, asked if his moods went up and down, replied, 'Uh - up and down? - well, you know - some people say they are always nervous but sometimes they seem pretty calm. I guess their moods go up and down. I remember once - uh - I was feeling low and - my buddy came over and we watched the game on TV and - uh - we had a bet on and he won - and I felt pretty shitty.'

"Psychopaths also sometimes make it difficult for their listeners to understand parts of their narrative. 'I met these guys in a bar. One guy was a dealer and the other was a pimp. They started to hassle me and I punched him out,' said one of our psychopaths. But was it the dealer or the pimp who was 'punched out'?

"Of course, minor breakdowns in communications are not uncommon in normal people; in many cases they represent little more then carelessness or a momentary lapse in concentration. But in psychopaths the breakdowns are more frequent, more serious, and possibly indicative of an underlying condition in which the organization of mental activity - but not its content - is defective. It is how they string together words and sentences together, not what they actually say, that suggests abnormality."

This shows up not just yesterday and in the quitter stream of consciousness she spewed out on July 3, but also in the interviews she did while running as VP. "In what way, Charlie?" was her response to straight forward questions. It has also been the way she has talked about Trig's birth and failed to respond to enquiries about it.

Yet more on language to come.


  1. Vera, once again you have developed a very informative article. Your work certainly helps me better understad who Sarah Palin is.
    Thank you.

  2. Thank you mxm. I believe that the only way to stop the threat of Palin and people like her is to accurately name the behaviour and rationally discuss the outcomes of leaving them unchecked. There is more then enough research, and historical evidence of the consequences of leaving them to run amok, to back up any discussion that begins.

    To not start identifying these people for who they are is to commit us to repeating disastrous mistakes of the past.

  3. I have always thought that Sarah has a learning disability, maybe ADDH. She is unable to read and process information.She does not have a long attention span or stick-to-it attitude. I think that some of her personality traits stem from the overwhelming feeling that one gets in school when they haven't done the homework or studied for the test. Sarah covered it up with bravado and strong people skills. She is too thin skinned to deal with criticism, and makes no effort to try to "get it together."

    I am sure that there are many causes to create personalilty traits. It would be interesting to learn the truth about Sarah's background and what accounts for her personality today. I agreee, she has a lack of empathy and most of the traits that you list, to some degree or another. I also wonder if Sarah is on any medication.

  4. Thanks Vera. I appreciate your taking the time to answer my question. I find what you have written absolutely fascinating on this topic. I think she is a very cold calculating person. She may not be book smart but she certainly has the skills of a con artist. I think her folksy manner, smiling, winking and being coy is just a facade to throw people off. The way she uses her children as shields shows the insecurity she has within herself. Never have I seen Hillary use her daughter as a political prop even during the Lewinsky episode. What a big difference between Hillary and Sarah.

  5. Thank you Vera for enabling me to understand what makes Palin tick. When she would be answering a question for instance, and she would all of a sudden come out with 'hey yeaaahhh', I didn't understand what was going on in her head. That was always referred to as 'word salad' but now it's clear.

    IMHO your blog makes progress while people on some of the other blogs can do nothing productive but moan and groan.

  6. Very interesting posts. I too posted briefly on Audrey's website but my main interest was what I was observing from video images of family dynamics and my developing diagnosis of her mental state. I've stated several times that I believe that rather than narcissism, SP falls within the cluster of histrionic/narcissistic/antisocial/borderline with the emphasis most likely histrionic. My training is DSM-IV which the psychopathy checklist is geared to and relates most closely to the diagnostic antisocial term, which is, as you know, rare in its pure form. From observation alone, she appears to exhibit most of the checklist. My training of course teaches us not to use the terms psychopath or sociopath although I think they are still useful. I'm waiting for one of her followers to notice that she has never displayed any empathy or emotion that I can find, other than anger.

    Another classic example for your word salad explanation is her debate with "O'Biden." She stated early on that she would not answer the questions asked, but rather provide information that the people should know. She did not, but simply repeated slogans and buzzwords and gave herself an out for not understanding the questions or the issues but in such a way as to make the questioner and the process look bad. Very slick and something someone used to manipulating others does very well.

  7. Thank you Vera...I appreciate your you know of any information regarding Hitler's mental health , curious as some of the behaviors of Serror's such as limiting media coverage, racist bantering, not allowing oppossing views and any other so called leaders that may have mental health issues as Serror does......I have always said that there are big numbers of undiagnosed and diagnosed mental health cases who identify with attracts like


  8. barracude78ny:

    Well, Hitler did commit suicide in the end.

  9. Some responses back.

    Anonymous 8:30 pm Jan 11

    Being on the psychopathy checklist does not exclude other conditions or problems. Being on the checklist is like having a foundation to a person character, making them react or function in the world in certain ways, just as people without the wiring glitch also have a foundation of behaviours to their character. After that there is a considerable amount of room for variation and individual outcomes. Within that variation there is the opening for other conditions, such as ADDH to show up. Being on the checklist does not exclude most other conditions.

    The straight goods!

    I am offering a different perspective to explain Palin. I couldn't do it without the work that the other blogs are doing. I also believe that those blogs are instrumental in stopping Palin's rise to power. People like Palin get away with what they are doing because they create a culture of fear where people can not speak out. The blogs are stepping up to the plate and exposing what is going on creating a safer place where others can finally say what they know.


    Did you comment under this name at PD? I think I remember some of your comments and thought they were quite good. During my research, I found the restrictions that come with your training regarding naming a psychopath incredibly intriguing. Is there another mental condition that is not supposed to be named because it could stigmatize the person who has it? This concern of stigmatizing a group of people who, by definition exploit others, is also fascinating. This seems to come out of two directions: the adherence to belief structures from an earlier period of the field and the internal power politics around the DSM. I have done some reading on the politics of the DSM and how and why conditions appear in it. I would like to do a post on it one day.

    It strikes me that one of the greater problems of being able to compassionately deal with these people, to reduce the harm they cause others and to themselves, is to clearly identify them and understand the neuroscience behind what they do and why. However, it is hard to identify what you can't agree on as the name or the traits, which is why the serious research has been done outside of the DSM classification.

    Within the current DSM, Palin does fall in the cluster of disorders you mention, but there is more nuances and questions to be asked about each of those designations in regards to her. That is why there is such a debate going on about what disorder she falls into under the DSM. I hope that you return here to add your insight. Your observations about the debate are spot on. The follower, that you are waiting to realize that Palin doesn't have empathy or emotions beyond anger, will be an outcast from the group when they finally say what they feel.


    I have read quite a bit about Hitler and will be writing about him. There are many similarities between Palin's rise to power and her followers and what happened with Hitler. Not identical, but worth exploring. And yes Hitler would be on the checklist. Although there would be other conditions as well, we wouldn't know about him today unless he was on the checklist.


  10. Vera, If you are going to try to do an analysis of Hitler you are going to have to decide what evidence on which to base it. There is just too much fiction written. I would suggest sticking to Mein Kampf.

    My issue with the other blogs is that people take a suggestion from someone who is obviously making guesses and then they run with it. That has led to incohesiveness and much doubt and specualtion. I suspect that there is less purpose being served than there is deceptions being supported.

    By now you have probably seen the two videos of Palin on Fox News with O'Reilly. While we should recognize that it is completely staged, I'm wondering if you could do a professional analysis again on Palin again on that material? I didn't notice anything out of the ordinary and am wondering if you did.

    Also, if you care to, would you do a quick rundown on O'Reilly's tactics. I think that would be helpful in understanding those who he interviews. Especially in this case where he carefully leads Palin through the script. Did she wander from the script? Even when Bill talked over her I suspect that she didn't.

  11. I really enjoy your insightful comments, thank you for sharing them with us. I was wondering what you thought about the reaction Sarah had when she was being followed immediately after she had announced her pregnancy by Elan Frank and his crew. When he was talking to her about her pregnancy, she was going on about her "tight abs" and how she had hidden it and nobody knew, etc. Her voice changed very distinctly with the topic and her facial expressions were unusual. I know that's not the best way to describe the whole scenario but it was just "off". Even someone who wasn't familiar with the situation probably would have noticed that there was something different in the inflection of her voice.

    I'd be really interested in your take on this.


  12. Vera,
    Yes, I've always been Kyra (or Kyra722 where I couldn't register as just Kyra) and at PD as well. I was one of the originals on Palingates, although was gone for awhile and feel like a newbie trying to break in over there! Oh well.

    I do mostly politics, but I've blogged a little on mental health in general, SP (and Glenn Beck) a bit in particular focusing more on projection and how Beck in particular manifests that particular pathology in his work. Although trained and certified, I am not currently licensed and if I were, could not and would not diagnose without an in-person evaluation, so am careful to be as generalized as possible. That said...

    It is not that those of us trained in use of the DSM-IV do not have a designation for psychopaths or sociopaths and do not so label so as not to stigmatize them (after all, in our culture, any diagnosis is stigmatizing from depression on). Those 2 labels have been replaced with the term antisocial personality disorder because yes, it has a more clinical perception (they say). Most of us, I think, would prefer to avoid labels altogether except as a "oh yes, there is something wrong with me and we can fix it" kind of way.

    The reason the term antisocial is not commonly used is because the diagnostic criteria for any of the personality disorders, are so specific and it is very rare to find anyone who is a "true" example of any one type.

    What we commonly find is people who fall within a cluster and exhibit symptoms across the cluster. You are more likely to find antisocial personality disorders within the criminal justice system, but even then, only about 3% of that population is a true antisocial personality disorder - no feeling of any kind. Often we'll just note on the axis coding a series of traits. The one difference in antisocial is that there must be a historical diagnosis of conduct disorder, so if we cannot get an accurate clinical history via family, school, justice system, etc., and/or have a clinical diagnosis on the books, then the antisocial diagnosis can never be made no matter the presenting clinical picture. There will be a lot of changes in the next edition and I have not yet reviewed them. Not sure what changes will be made to the personality disorders if any, but I believe that category is being reviewed. Well, they all are, but some more so than others.

    I also studied with one of the foremost experts on serial killers in the world and his take on all of this was fascinating, but not really pertinent to this!

    I worked with substance abuse/criminal justice clients and found a preponderance of borderline personality DO's which initially surprised me, but then, my undergrad training is as a sociologist and victimologist, so I am of the belief that although there may be hardwiring at work, mental illness, including personality disorders, must be created. That is, the conditions must exist both in the brain and within the environment.

    Anyway, sorry to go on so long. Hope some of this was helpful to someone!

  13. Vera,
    I hope you are feeling better and it looks like you are getting some traction. I always thought Palin could be the cover for your deeper purpose.
    Nothing insightful right now, but I will have comments, no doubt, after reading through your posts and the threads.
    Highest regards,

  14. Vera, thank you for posting this observation by Hare:

    "But there is something else about the speech patterns of psychopaths that is equally puzzling: their frequent use of contradictory and logically inconsistent statements that usually escape detection. Recent research on the language of psychopaths provides us with some important clues to this puzzle, as well as to the uncanny ability psychopaths have to move words - and people - around so easily."

    "Think about this for a moment - not only lies but several contradictory statements in the same breath."

    I've tangled with a couple of online posters whose written personas fit most of the Hare checklist. I was baffled at how many of the people who supported them seemed oblivious to their contradictory statements, even when they were methodically pointed out and documented.

    That acceptance of the contradictions in itself has become a red flag for me. I wonder if it is part of the creation of someone like Sarah Palin? Does it nurture and strengthen that kind of disregard for the truth that she shows, because she's not getting the negative feedback about it from her supporters?