Stout, Martha 1953–
Stout, Martha 1953–
Born August 12, 1953. Education: Ph.D.
Home—MA. Office—82 Marlborough St., Boston, MA 02116.
Psychologist, educator, and author. Harvard Medical School, Cambridge, MA, member of faculty for twenty-five years; New School for Social Research (now New School University), New York, NY, member of faculty; Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology, member of faculty; Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA, member of faculty; Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, clinical psychologist.
The Myth of Sanity: Divided Consciousness and the Promise of Awareness, Viking (New York, NY), 2001.
The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless versus the Rest of Us, Broadway Books (New York, NY), 2005.
The Paranoia Switch: How Terror Rewires Our Brains and Reshapes Our Behavior—and How We Can Reclaim Our Courage, Farrar (New York, NY), 2007.
Martha Stout is a clinical psychologist who for many years has treated the survivors of psychological trauma and studied the ways in which people overcome the effects of stress and trauma. In The Myth of Sanity: Divided Consciousness and the Promise of Awareness she describes her work with survivors who suffer from dissociative identity disorder. These people can exhibit absent-mindedness and seem emotionally distant, as well as suffering from more serious effects, including blackouts, loss of time, and multiple personalities. Many of these patients experienced trauma as children, such as a girl whose mother threatened to cut off her thumbs, and a boy who witnessed his brother being kicked to death by an uncle who was a sexual predator. Stout notes that the escape mechanisms used by such victims are similar to those seen in people in general during their everyday situations as a response to subclinical traumas in their past. She describes humankind as a "shell-shocked species." Library Journal reviewer Mary Ann Hughes noted that the book "is well-written" and "is the only discussion of the less-exaggerated forms of the disorder written for the lay reader."
The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless versus the Rest of Us is Stout's study of a group that psychological research shows to comprise four percent of the U.S. population. Stout offers thirteen rules for dealing with sociopaths, people who have no conscience, and also deals with the role of conscience in a general sense.
She provides case studies of various people who have exploited others and who damaged spouses, business relationships, friends, and neighbors. She considers why others let sociopaths get away with their destructive behavior. She notes that sociopaths express false emotion, tend to be charismatic and sexy, crave stimulation and excitement, but then often lose their enthusiasm. They can also be deceitful, impulsive, and lack remorse. A Publishers Weekly reviewer commented that, "while Stout is a good writer and her exploration of sociopaths can be arresting, this book occasionally appeals to readers' paranoia."
In an interview with Library Journal contributor Lynne Maxwell, Stout said that one of the profiles in her book is based on a psychologist she once knew, a woman who tormented an inpatient. "If the book is unique," she said of The Sociopath Next Door, "it is because I have defined conscience psychologically. Conscience is an emotion that influences our behavior toward other living beings, because it is based in our capacity to love." A Kirkus Reviews critic wrote that "Stout also ponders our willingness to quash our inner voice when voting for leaders who espouse violence and war as a solution to global problems—pointed stuff in a post-9/11 political climate."
Stout shifts toward a more directly political focus in The Paranoia Switch: How Terror Rewires Our Brains and Reshapes Our Behavior—and How We Can Reclaim Our Courage. She explains how human neurocircuitry responds to individual and collective fears, and argues that political leaders exploit our fear mechanisms by exaggerating unrealistic threats; examples include internment of Japanese American citizens during World War II, the McCarthy-era persecution of Americans suspected of Communist sympathies, the post-9/11 Patriot Act, and the 2004 incident in which U.S. authorities refused to let musician Cat Stevens, who had converted to Islam in 1997 and changed his name to Yusuf Islam, enter the country because his name was on a no-fly list. Stout also offers advice on how to resist this political manipulation. One recommendation: "Make fun of the [frightening] image. If you enjoy irony, yell, ‘The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!’"
A writer for Kirkus Reviews found such advice overly simplistic, deeming the book "too much pop and not enough psychology." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly also considered the book relatively "slight," but noted that Stout's discussion of the neurology and the psychosocial dynamics and of "paranoid moments in American history" illuminating. Antoinette Brinkman, writing in Library Journal, praised Stout's ideas as "bold, relevant, and appropriately referenced," but added that the book's political perspective is sometimes at odds with its psychological subject.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Business Record (Des Moines, IA), February 21, 2005, review of The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless versus the Rest of Us, p. 25.
Kirkus Reviews, November 1, 2004, review of The Sociopath Next Door, p. 1042; July 1, 2007, review of The Paranoia Switch: How Terror Rewires Our Brains and Reshapes Our Behavior—and How We Can Reclaim Our Courage.
Library Journal, February 15, 2001, Mary Ann Hughes, review of The Myth of Sanity: Divided Consciousness and the Promise of Awareness, p. 187; December 1, 2004, Lynne Maxwell, review of The Sociopath Next Door and interview with Stout, p. 144; August 1, 2007, Antoinette Brinkman, review of The Paranoia Switch, p. 105.
New York Times Book Review, March 6, 2005, Pamela Paul, "Ruthless People," review of The Sociopath Next Door, p. 10.
Publishers Weekly, January 8, 2001, review of The Myth of Sanity, p. 61; December 20, 2004, review of The Sociopath Next Door, p. 44; July 16, 2007, review of The Paranoia Switch, p. 159.
Martha Stout Home Page,http://www.mythofsanity.com (June 9, 2008).