To view the psychopathology of other people can be alluring. It makes us feel better about ourselves in comparison. It may school us on the type of people to avoid. It can satisfy the disturbing need to view a bloody wreck. Perhaps it is sheer voyeurism that makes the Casey Anthony trial so fascinating.
Other trials have caught the public’s attention. Dreyfus, Scopes and even Simpson appeared less concerned with psychological details than the Anthony trial. The psychological status of the defendant at the moment of the crime seems increasingly important in recent history. Perhaps it is a mitigating factor that should be considered. On the other hand, establishing the psychological status of a person in the recent past is difficult, let alone the distant past.
Neglecting the past altogether, it is difficult to capture the current psychological status of an individual. The use of multiple tests and informants greatly increases accuracy and reliability. This is assuming the defendant and informants have no motivation to deceive. Consider a situation where the defendant and witnesses have strong motivation to lie about their history and past psychological status. Now paint an accurate picture of the defendant’s psychological status at a specific moment in their past. Finally, avoid any bias in the interpretation of the defendant’s behavior, secondary to the awareness of the report’s possible ramifications.
Establishing causal links between past behavior and psychological status is fraught with error. Factors unknown to anyone, including the guilty, may play a role. Merely because an action is improbable does not make it impossible, and psychological tests search for the probable. The evidence of forbidden behavior may remain deeply buried within the brain of the guilty. It may be buried on purpose, or as a consequence of trauma. Depression and substance abuse may distort recollection, even when well-intentioned. Unfortunately, psychological tests are not able to completely pierce the fog of deception, examiner bias, amnesia and random acts of criminality.
The Anthony trial is certainly a compelling mystery. To watch it unfold before one’s eyes is to be quickly seduced. The public is invited to take a peek through the window of a family in free-fall. The tension is pleasant because we will not suffer any consequences. The public are free to be voyeurs that need not fear the police. We can slowly view the wreck in progress, without holding up the people in the rear.
Suicide, incest, murder and substance abuse have been mentioned as symptoms of this diseased family. The focus is not on the treatment of their malady. The focus is on the eradication or isolation of the pathological agent. The mission is less one of research and discovery, than one aimed at assigning blame. Punitive measures are employed rather than reinforcing the healthy bits that remain. The pathological agent will be destroyed or isolated, and the body of the family will be left to decay.
The Casey Anthony trial is a psychological phenomenon that invites a voyeuristic public to take a peek at this diseased family. The psychological factors that attract viewers may speak to a disease that infects the public at large. The degree to which diseased behavior in one person causes subsequent criminal behavior in another person is highly subjective. Making assumptions about this person’s psychological status at a specific moment in the past is nearly as subjective. Whether to watch the Casey Anthony trial is the most subjective choice of all.