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Unformatted text preview: he ghosts and goblins that have traditionally made Halloween scary have been joined by a new, more realistic men- ace—Halloween sadists— maniam who dispense ra- zor blades hidden in ap ' ples, poisoned candy and other lethal treats to un- suspecting triclwr—treatr ers. Each fall, experts ranging from Dear Abby to the local police chief urge parents to restrict trick-onu-eatlng and in- spect all treats for signs of tampering. Everyone knows that Halloween sa- dists have been responsi- ble for countless deaths and serious injuries. For- tunately, everyone is wrong. Gerald T. Horiuchi and I recently reviewed all stories about Halloween :1 sadism appearing in three major re- gional newspapers—The New York Tima, Gringo Thbunc and [as An- geles Ii'mes—as well as the Fresno Bee, from 1958 to 1984. These stories described 76 specific inddents and al- luded to hundreds more, yet a careful reading reveals no deaths or severe injuries caused by Halloween sadists. Two deaths were mistakenly attrib- uted to Halloween sad'nts. In 1970,. 5 , yearold Kevin Toston died after eat- ing heroin supposedly hidden rn his Halloween candy, but follow-up re- ports revealed that he had found the heroin in his uncle's home, not in his nests. The second, more notorious case involved B-yesrold Timothy :1 O'Bryan's‘1974 death after eating cy- anidelaced candy. Police later arrest- ed his father for poisoning the treat ~ While our search may have over- ' - looked authentic cases of death or se- SE? 13 2005 1'51. (357%? PUBlIC SECTOR BY JOEL BEST rious injury caused by Halloween sa- dists, it is unlikely. Moreover, when we checked both Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature (the index to popular magazines) and MEDLINE (the database for medical literature) we found no other reports of serious injuries. In sum, although incidents of Halloween sadism do occur from time to time, we found no evidence thatanychildhasbeenkilledorseri- onsly hurt by an anonymous Hallow- een sadist. ' ~’ ‘ Why haven’t Halloween sadists claimed more victims! Investigators believe thatmost reports oftam- ' pered treats are pranks, usually the: . work of the “victim. " Children who go trick-onueating know about Hal- loween sadism—they have been .- warned by their parents, teachers and friends. A child who “discovers” sn- adulterated treat stands to here <" g hfi‘tfixl’ " Lauri»? warded with the con— cerned attention of par cuts and, perhaps, police officers and reporters. And, of course, such hoaxes fit the tradition of Halloween trickery. The widespread belief in Halloween sadism is one example of what folk- lorists call an “urban leg- end," a contemporary, orally transmitted tale warning about the dan- gers of modern life. Hal- loween sadism combines two themes found in sev- eral other urban legends: danger to children, as in the story about the babysitter who cooks an infant in a microwave oven, and contamination of food, such as the tale ' of the mouse in the soft drink imiidc. Tucnc leg- ends, lilre that of the Hal- loween sadist, are usually told as true stories, something that happened to a friend. Reports of Halloween sadism are not new, but the widespread fear that sadists pose a serious threat can be dated to the early 1970s, when the press began reporting more incidents and legislatures began passing laws with special penalties for Halloween sadism. The timing of the legend’s rise helps explain why it became pop: ular: The legend spread during a peri— od of intense social strain. Child abuse began to receive public attention, and press reports warned that radical polities, illicit drugs and other dangers threatened to corrupt children. During thesarne years, sur- veys revealed increases in both fear of crime and a more general mistrust of others. Both a dangerous criminal and a threat to children, the Hallow- -5 PSYCHOLOGY TODAY / NOVlllll 1’15 1; .. | ‘ _ ;_ - ' "iii-txritéi :. é-Iiuii JAN 24 2005 “U." L NV)! ‘. ”fwd?“ e .H... . I it}. '.‘ t i een sadist became a symbol of cur- rent fears. --\ Today, concern for children's safe- ty continues. Media campaigns warn of the dangers of child abuse, incest, molestation, kidnapping, child pornog- raphy and so on. For many children, of course, these dangers are quite real. At the same time, publicity makes the threats seem so general that individual parents—and society as a whole—are unsure how to pro- tect their children. This pervasive sense that children are in jeopardy helps explain the con. tinuing belief in Halloween sadism. The sadist represents other threats to children, but parents can protect their children against Halloween sa- dism, unlike cases of more diffuse danger. After all, these maniacs limit their attacks to one night a year, and with the restricting of trick-or-treat— ing and carefully inspecting treats, the task of protecting children be- comes manageable. The sadist is a threat, but one that we can handle. If the belief in Halloween sadists helps make our fear for children’s safety manageable, it does so at a cost. Urban legends about anony- mous maniacs divert our attention from real dangers to children. EaCh year, for example, the number of children injured by unsafe toys and other consumer products far exceeds the number harmed by contaminated treats. In worrying about legendary maniacs we ignore real threats and endanger those we claim to be pro- tecting. In addition, the urban leg- ends foster fear and mistrust, jeopar- dizing our sense of community. Once ~ people believe that their world con: tains dangerous maniacs, they are " likely to withdraw into the safety of privacy and anonymity. Belief in ghosts does not threaten the bonds that hold society together, but the be- lief in Halloween sadists does. __—______._————“——'_‘—- Joel Best is a sociologist at California State University at Fresno. A longer version of this report will appear in Social Problems (Vol. 32, No. 5). - :c. rioss‘fii'i-Iit it Preside-rm personalities ________'__.’-——- Who was the tidiest President? The least friendly? How about the most Machiavellian? Psychologist Dean Simonton can tell you. To study the links between person- ality traits and Presidential behavior, Simonton began by writing descrip- tions of the 39 Presidents, entering each on a separate index card. . The descriptions were based on bi ographies from collections such as the Encyclopedia Britannica and Cur- rent Biography. Simonton says that he avoided individual biographies be cause “they often contain idiosyncrat- ic information, or have an ax to grmd'li After reading each description, eight raters, including Simonton, evaluated the unidentified President using a list of 300 adjectives ranging from "absentminded" to “zany.” The adjectives were pared down to 110 and then clustered into 14 factors: moderation, friendliness, intellectual brilliance, Machiavellianism, poise and polish, achievement drive, force- | fulness, wit, physical attractiveness, pettiness, tidine'ss, conscn'atism, in- flexibility and pacifism. One rater recognized Gerald Ford and another Jimmy Carter. but the rest of the Presidents remained anonymous. Ronald Reagan was rated the most conservative President, Thomas J ef- ferson the least Reagan also won the title of wittiest, along with John Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln. Rich'- ard Nixon was the pettiest. Jefferson, true to form, was also .;j voted the most intellectually brilliant, Warren Harding the least~ But what ;~ Harding lacked in brains he apparept; ly made up for in looks. Based on” ': j Simonton's descriptions, Harding wins "a considered one of the most attractive Presidents, along with Franan . . ‘ .. Pierce, Millard Fillmore and John . Kennedy. ‘ ‘1. L; Harding, Pierce and Fillmore all fell into a group Simonton refers to . . as passivepositive: They didn't do -;‘ much of anything, but were well * ""3 Psychology; ~ Hr. 1_q liked, probably because of their attractiveness. Kennedy, in contrast, was not viewed as just another pretty face. He, Franklin Roosevelt and Reagan were seen as energetic and decisive, as well as attractive, optimistic and persuasive. j James Polk was voted the least friendly and was alsoincluded among the most Machiavellian (defined as sly, deceitful, unscrupulous, evasive, shrewd and greedy), along with Nix- on, Lyndon Johnson and Martin Van Buren. According to Simonton, Machiavel- lian Presidents were usually success- ful in pushing through legislation. and served the most years in national offices. Presidents with a background in law were rated the most Machia- vellian and the pettiest, but were also considered the most poised. Intellectually brilliant Presidents were elected with a lower proportion of votes than other Presidents. But once in office they definitely held their own. Intellectual brilliance was the only factor that had any correla- tion with a Presidential term marked by prestige, strength: activeness and accomplishment. According to Simonton, our atti- tude toward the Presidency has changed through the years. ”In the 19th century the ideal president was remote and prestigious." Modern Presidents were more like- ly to be described as being affection ate, attractive, energetic, friendly, natural, healthy and humorous, which Simonton thinks is a direct influence of the mass media . ,Th'ree-hundredpound William How- ard Taft wouldn’t have stood a chance if television had been around in 1909, but vigorous, jocular Reagan is a natural, Simonton says. "You might. say that he initially missed his calling by going into acting.” . Simonton is at the University of Californil’at Davis. He presented these findings at the meeting of the International Society of Political PSYCHOLOGY TODAY / NOVEIBSB 1H5 .- ,—Elizabeth Stark . -..:q..- .s. . nuaswiw-n W5. -.. - YES, Men-It mtrod choicc plus n handli w...- s ‘undu ; plan a I am u ”w u matter memb Name ,- Addre ' cny _ 5 St ’ ll. _ i E SE! ...
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