Along with half the nation, I have been watching the evidence presented in the Casey Anthony trial with interest…and horror. This case is incredibly intriguing and even more heartbreaking. As a forensic psychologist, I have had more than my fair share of opportunities to work with some disturbed individuals. I’ve conducted thousands of evaluations of individuals who have been charged with heinous and serious (as well as some not so serious) crimes. My evaluations always get me thinking about the nature of human behavior and our motives for engaging in certain types of behaviors. The behaviors in which an individual engages are a product of the collection of experiences that an individual has had throughout his or her life in conjunction with the biological make-up of that individual within the context of the parameters of one’s environment. Thus, human behavior is a result of the complex interplay between nature and nurture; personality and biology; individual and situational factors. As such, it is often difficult, if not impossible, to pinpoint the exact reasons why an individual would engage in a particular behavior. Yet, it is also human nature to search for explanations, especially when the behavior is so incomprehensible to a majority of others. So what is it about Casey Anthony that stands out and makes us so intrigued? And what could possibly explain her behaviors?
Imaginary Friends, Lies, and Deceit
It appears, from the evidence that has been presented thus far, that Casey Anthony has a penchant for making up imaginary friends. No less than 10 “friends” have been called upon by Casey Anthony to provide corroboration to her stories and explanations. The problem is that when authorities search for these friends, they are unable to locate them. Of course, the one person who could shed light on much of the information or misinformation supplied by Casey Anthony in this case is her former nanny-Zanny, who, as it turns out, is also imaginary (well, at least this appears to be an accurate assumption given that authorities have not been able to locate this individual and there has been no trace of her found in Casey Anthony’s personal computer, cell phone, camera, etc.). Why would someone make up friends? Perhaps the simplest explanation is that this is a relatively easy way to explain, account for, or provide an alibi for one’s behavior. Children do it but adults rarely do. So why would Casey Anthony make up people to help account for her own actions? And why would she do this for a period of years dating back to before her daughter was last seen?
And what about the pathological lying? This post is being written more than 2 weeks into the trial and a vast amount of evidence has been presented regarding the numerous lies that Casey Anthony has told. She lied to her parents about her whereabouts for a period of 31 days, between the time that Caylee was last seen by her grandparents and the day that Cindy Anthony (Casey’s mother) called the police to report Caylee missing. She repeatedly lied to her parents, other family members, and friends even while she was in custody and Caylee had not yet been found. She lied about having a job, lied about having a nanny, lied about not knowing where Caylee was (or at least that she did not know that Caylee was deceased). Is she also lying about aspects of her defense…such as being abused by her father?…that Caylee drowned?…that her father and her covered up Caylee’s drowning death?
Stoicism, Lack of Emotion, Psychopathy
Perhaps one of the most intriguing things about Casey Anthony is the lack of any real emotion, especially during times of extreme emotion from others. Watching the video clips of the trial, it is abundantly clear that Casey Anthony sits stone-faced for much of the time. She appears to become upset and emotional when she sees photos of herself being emotional but not so much when she watches her mother break down on the stand or her family or friends talk about or describe her deceased daughter, Caylee. Even before the trial, which, granted, is taking place years after the emotionally laden events took place, Casey can be seen in jailhouse video talking with her parents in an unemotional, perhaps detached way. The only real emotions that she appears to express are anger and perhaps frustration. What is it about Casey Anthony that allows her to remain so emotionless during what one can only assume is the most emotional time of her life?
What about the fact that during the 31 days between when Caylee was last seen by her grandparents and the day that Cindy Anthony called police to report her granddaughter missing Casey Anthony was living her life as per usual…going out to bars and nightclubs, partying, participating in “hot body” contests, and not mentioning to her friends (the non-imaginary ones) that her daughter was missing. What is it about Casey Anthony that allowed her to carry on as usual without displaying any obvious emotional distress to those around her?
Another characteristic that stands out for me is that Casey Anthony does not come across as caring about others nearly as much as she cares about herself. She appears to become emotionally upset only when something has a direct impact on her as opposed to anyone else. In the released jailhouse videos Casey Anthony can be seen blasting her parents when they insist on asking Casey whether she can tell them anything about Caylee or her disappearance. Casey talks about how difficult things are for her being locked up without any regard to how horrifying life must be for her parents, who have a daughter in jail and who are frantically searching for their granddaughter (while, one can only imagine, praying that their own daughter was not involved in their granddaughter’s disappearance). Casey becomes agitated when pressed for information about her daughter and reverts to feeling sorry for herself because she is locked up. Casey’s narcissism is all too evident in the numerous texts and email messages that have been released, showing her primary interest in her own welfare and happiness and little regard for others, especially her parents. What is it about Casey Anthony that prevents her from being able to take the perspective of others or to show care or concern for those around her?
Clinical Psychology – Forensic Psychology – Mothers Who Kill
So what could account for Casey Anthony’s behavior? As a clinical and forensic psychologist, a few different things come to mind when I think about the types of behaviors in which Casey Anthony has engaged. When I think about the types of mental disorders that might account for a
mother killing her chil
d (please don’t misunderstand, I am not saying that Casey Anthony killed her child nor am I saying that these mental disorders would render an individual not criminally responsible for killing a child…those are legal issues and legal decisions to be made) a few come easily to mind.
The most common type of mental disorder found in mothers who kill their children is some form of psychosis. Psychotic disorders are thought disorders that involve symptoms that render a person unable to think in a rational manner, unable to accurately process sensory information, or unable to remain in contact with reality. Hallucinations or delusions are common symptoms that affect individuals with Schizophrenia, Delusional Disorder, or other types of psychoses. Individuals with psychotic disorders process information differently than those without psychotic disorders. Paranoid or delusional belief systems interfere with accurate information processing and result in irrational behaviors. From the available evidence, Casey Anthony does not appear to show any signs or symptoms of a psychotic disorder.
Some women who kill their children do so as a result of severe depression. In some situations severely depressed individuals may also show evidence of psychosis. Severe depression results in a lack of hope about the future, and may result in irrational thinking. In many instances, severely depressed women who kill their children wish to kill themselves but believe that leaving their children without a mother would be detrimental to the children and so they end up killing their children as a means of protecting them from being left behind. From the available evidence, Casey Anthony does not appear to show any signs of severe depression.
A manic episode is defined by a distinct period during which there is an abnormally and persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood that lasts at least 1 week. Bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic depression) is characterized by intermittent periods of mania and depression. Mania, whether a manic episode alone or as part of Bipolar Disorder, involves symptoms such as inflated self-esteem or grandiosity, decreased need for sleep, pressured speech, flight of ideas, distractibility, or excessive involvement in pleasurable activities. From the available evidence, it appears that Casey Anthony’s behavior may some elements of mania; however, because these do not appear to have been encapsulated in a particular period of time, it appears that these might be better explained by a personality disorder.
Borderline Personality Disorder
Borderline Personality Disorder is characterized by a pervasive pattern of instability in interpersonal relationships, self-image, and affect in which marked impulsivity is a feature. Individuals with borderline personality disorder show a pattern of unstable and intense relationships, wherein they alternate between idealizing and devaluing others. The impulsivity that is characteristic of this disorder can be self-damaging, such as when individuals with borderline personality disorder engage in reckless or unsafe behaviors (including reckless driving, binge eating, unsafe sex, substance abuse, self-mutilation, or suicidal gestures). Feelings of depression, loneliness, emptiness, and despair are not uncommon. Borderline personality disorder is more common in individuals who have histories of childhood abuse, abandonment, and inconsistent attachments to caregivers as well as those with a family history of the disorder. There are aspects of Casey Anthony’s behavior that suggest she has some elements of this disorder; however, these may be better explained by another personality disorder, such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder.
Narcissistic Personality Disorder
Narcissistic Personality Disorder is characterized by a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy that begins in early adulthood and is present in a variety of contexts. Individuals with this disorder often show a need for constant attention and admiration, with an expectation that others will cater them to and that they will be given whatever they desire with little concern about the desires of others. These individuals use others to meet their own needs without concern for the needs of others and are often described as emotionally cold and having a lack of reciprocal interest in others. Individuals with narcissistic personality disorder tend to use others for their own personal gain and are able to dispose of others when they are no longer useful. They tend to blame problems in their lives on the inadequacies of others and have difficulty taking personal responsibility for their actions. The available evidence presented in Casey Anthony’s case certainly appears consistent with narcissistic personality disorder in that she appears to be primarily interested in her own welfare and happiness, appears to have little regard for others, and appears to be willing to go to great lengths to escape consequences or punishment.
Antisocial Personality Disorder
Antisocial Personality Disorder is characterized by a pervasive pattern of disregard for, and violation of, the rights of others that begins in childhood or early adolescence and continues into adulthood. Deceit and manipulation are central features of this personality disorder. Individuals with antisocial personality disorder may repeatedly lie, use an alias, con others or malinger; impulsivity may be manifested by a failure to plan ahead and decisions are often made on the spur of the moment, without forethought, and without consideration for the consequences to self or others. Individuals with antisocial personality disorder tend to be consistently and extremely irresponsible, indicated by abandonment of employment or repeated unexplained absences from work; show financial irresponsibility; minimize the harmful consequences of their actions; and be indifferent to the feelings of others or show little remorse for the consequences of their actions. The available evidence presented in Casey Anthony’s case certainly appears consistent with antisocial personality disorder.
Casey Anthony is Innocent
Casey Antony is innocent until proven guilty but she is really not giving us much to go on, even if we wanted to believe that she is innocent. Her lies and deceit have caused no end of sorrow for her parents and no rest for anyone involved with the case. Her behavior is undoubtedly the result of a complex interplay between her personality, her biology, her environment, and her cumulative experiences. We will never be able to pinpoint the exact reasons for her behaviors but every bit of evidence presented gives us a little more insight into her psyche, however heartbreaking it may be. My thoughts are with her parents during this difficult time…