How Kleptomania Works


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Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from www.HowStuffWorks.com.

Josh Clark

Hey, and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh Clark. The Chuck, the Chuck, the Chuck is on fire.

Chuck Bryant

You've been sitting on that one for a while.

Josh Clark

Just since yesterday.

Chuck Bryant

We actually have not recorded in two weeks, and I have a feeling that Josh has been planning that for two weeks.

Josh Clark

I just told you. I came up with that yesterday.

Chuck Bryant

I don't buy it.

Josh Clark

I was listening to your sweet voice while I swept the floors in my house.

Chuck Bryant

When you think of dog hair, you think of me.

Josh Clark

No, it was your voice that made me think of you. Geez! I thought, "Man, I've been opening up the show pretty boring-wise latterly."

Chuck Bryant

Well, I'm glad you're talking about this now.

Josh Clark

Yeah. Anyway, Chuck. How you doing?

Chuck Bryant

Good, sir.

Josh Clark

It has been a long time, hasn't it?

Chuck Bryant

Uh huh.

Josh Clark

So you know its stealing season, buddy.

Chuck Bryant

Is it?

Josh Clark

It pretty much kicks off in November and really goes up through the roof on Black Friday. It's much more difficult to steal during Cyber Monday.

Chuck Bryant

'Tis the season.

Josh Clark

As Christmas comes around, people love to steal. People love to hold people up with guns, knives, threats of physical violence, that kind of thing.

Chuck Bryant

Wow. This is inspiring.

Josh Clark

Yeah. It is. Actually, it turns out that this stealing season will probably be worse than usual because there was a report released called The Global Retail Theft Barometer. It was released mid-November, a couple weeks back.

Chuck Bryant

The GRTB?

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

I'm a fan.

Josh Clark

I know you are. It said that this year, retail businesses have lost $115 billion worldwide from stealing, from theft.

Chuck Bryant

What's America? Do you have that?

Josh Clark

It's $45 billion.

Chuck Bryant

Wow. In our article, it says $10 billion is an average, so that's a huge increase.

Josh Clark

It is, actually. I'll tell you what. I guess there's an increase every year, and usually worldwide, it increases by about 1.5 percent.

Chuck Bryant

I wonder if that's in direct relation to the cost of goods increasing.

Josh Clark

That actually does have something to do with it in this Time article I read. This year, six percent increase worldwide. In North America, there was an 8.1 percent increase. People are just stealing left and right. The authors of this study, the Center of Retail Research, apparently talked to cops, talked to shoplifters, and said, "What's going on?"

Chuck Bryant

They talked to shoplifters?

Josh Clark

Uh huh.

Chuck Bryant

How so? Do you know?

Josh Clark

People who've been busted for shoplifted.

Chuck Bryant

Okay. I thought you meant that had not been caught.

Josh Clark

No. They just hand around Macy's, and they're like, "You look like a shoplifter, you scuzz-ball."

Chuck Bryant

Or "I saw what you did, and I won't report you if you answer these five questions."

Josh Clark

Exactly. "And get me a Sawbuck." What is that, a twenty?

Chuck Bryant

We've gone over this before. I think it's a fiver.

Josh Clark

Okay.

Chuck Bryant

No, it's a ten.

Josh Clark

I bet we get some listener mail on this.

Chuck Bryant

It's either a five or a ten.

Josh Clark

Chuck, what they found from talking to these people was there is an increase in the perception that companies are making off with all this money while everybody else is having hard times, so they kind of feel justified in stealing. They're seeing a much rise in the middle class stealing, people who can afford stuff and just aren't paying.Apparently, this victimless crime - kind of another perception, that you're stealing from a giant corporation - in the United States, we paid an extra $436.00 a household in consumer goods prices.

Chuck Bryant

That's what happens. Same with credit card fraud.

Josh Clark

Because they pass the shrinkage along.

Chuck Bryant

Right. Same with credit card fraud. That's not all why, but one reason why interest rates are so sky high is because people say, "I'll just charge a bunch of stuff and not pay it."

Josh Clark

Insurance fraud. Any kind of fraud!

Chuck Bryant

It's just, "That stupid credit card company is going to take the hit."

Josh Clark

But they don't, although they should.

Chuck Bryant

But they don't take a hit. They pass it all along.

Josh Clark

Of course they do.

Chuck Bryant

That's how it works.

Josh Clark

We're all slaves, Chuck.

Chuck Bryant

Suckers.

Josh Clark

Anyway, somewhere in those statistics I just spewed out, there are a very tiny percentage of that population that are kleptomaniacs.

Chuck Bryant

I feel like I just gave birth to a watermelon, a square watermelon.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

Yes, Josh. Kleptomania is not at all shoplifting. Shoplifting is the means by which you would perform your kleptomania.

Josh Clark

That's an excellent definition, Chuck, and I've read this article too, and I know that was not in there. That was a CB special.

Chuck Bryant

I just made it up.

Josh Clark

Good one.

Chuck Bryant

Although, I would say you could steal from anyone, and that would be kleptomania. It doesn't have to be a store.

Josh Clark

Yeah, but it is generally stores, or parties. If you're going to steal from an individual, it's usually at a party, I think. But it generally is retailers. What differentiates kleptomaniacs from shoplifters?

Chuck Bryant

There's actually a definition as outlined by the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. They outline this criteria, Josh.The individual repeatedly fails to resist the impulse to steal times that are not needed for personal use or monetary value. That's No. 1. The individual experiences tension before stealing. The tension is relived after stealing. The theft is not due to anger, revenge, illusions, hallucinations, or impaired judgment. I think there's one more. Psychological disorders can't count for the stealing behaviors, different other psychological disorders.

Josh Clark

Right. Let's do a little play acting, Chuck.

Chuck Bryant

I love this stuff.

Josh Clark

I'm going to be a kleptomaniac. You are going to be a tube of lipstick.

Chuck Bryant

Hold on. Let me get into character.

Josh Clark

You are a master.

Chuck Bryant

Okay. I'm there.

Josh Clark

So I'm walking into the store. I'm looking for some sunglasses that I intend to purchase. All of a sudden, I feel this horrible tension. My stomach is tight. I'm starting to sweat a little bit because I've just spotted Chuck, the tube of lipstick who is sitting there as an inanimate object. Because if you talk, then that's delusion, and it doesn't count as kleptomania!So I'm looking at Chuck. I feel this horrible tension. I know I'm going to steal. I don't want to steal, but I have to because it's the only way to relive the tension. I've just grabbed Chuck and put him in my pocket, and I don't even wear lipstick. There's no explanation for this. I make it out of the store.As I enter into the rest of the mall and start to feel like I'm not about to be caught, that tension goes away. It may be replaced with a little bit of a thrill, a kick. Then boom. I get hit by this crushing guilt of having jus stolen again. Not only have I stolen from somebody, I have failed to yet again resist this overwhelming urge, so I take the lipstick. I go to my grandmother's house. She's dead, but in this scenario, she's alive. I just put it in with the rest of her lipstick, go about my business feeling generally bad about myself. Ta da.

Chuck Bryant

Can I talk now?

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

First of all, it was a little weird being in your pocket. Let me just say that.

Josh Clark

I liked it.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah, dude. You just hit on a lot of the major points: tension, relief of tension, guilt, a rush, giving away what you stole, stealing something you don't need.

Josh Clark

Or hoarding. A lot of times people will hoard it. I read a case of a woman in the early 20th century who was caught shoplifting. Upper middle class !They caught her, went to her house, and found all this stuff that she'd stolen with the price tags on and clearly not used. They don't use the stuff they steal.

Chuck Bryant

I've got a hoarder for you, buddy.

Josh Clark

What is it?

Chuck Bryant

This dude in April of this year, in Israel, was busted. They went to his house and found motorcycle helmets, watches, Louis Vuitton handbags, 150 pairs of shoes, 200 pairs of sunglasses, olive oil, laundry detergent, all kinds of stuff unopened in this guy's house.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

Literally stacked in every corner of the house from room to room. He admitted that he had been shoplifting for a decade. Every time he went to a store, he shoplifted, for a decade.

Josh Clark

And he clearly lived alone.

Chuck Bryant

No. He has a wife and son.

Josh Clark

Wow. He has a family who knows how to keep their mouth shut.

Chuck Bryant

This is the funny part. Of course, this is from an Israeli newspaper. It says, "His wife and son are suspected of knowing of his activity but doing nothing about it." I don't know if that's a formal charge. But he also was busted with a roll of stickers that say, "Paid for. Thank you for coming." That kind of thing!

Josh Clark

So wow.

Chuck Bryant

That was part of his deal. He would go in there and put that on his big TV box or whatever.

Josh Clark

I wonder f that disqualifies him as a kleptomaniac though.

Chuck Bryant

I don't think so. Why? Because he pre-planned it?

Josh Clark

One of the things Freudenrich - is that how we say his name?

Chuck Bryant

Yes.

Josh Clark

The author of this article, PhD.

Chuck Bryant

It's Freunlich, isn't it?

Josh Clark

No.

Chuck Bryant

I thought it was Craig Freunlich.

Josh Clark

No. There's no L.

Chuck Bryant

There's not? I totally invented that. I've been reading it that way for two and a half years.

Josh Clark

We're going to call him Dr. Freud.

Chuck Bryant

Okay.

Josh Clark

Dr. Freud pointed out that people who are true kleptomaniacs - from what I gather, we don't call them kleptomaniacs. We call them people with kleptomania - don't go into a store intending to steal. They don't go to steal. They're just overcome by the impulse when they're in a store.

Chuck Bryant

That makes sense.

Josh Clark

The other thing that makes that guy hinky as a candidate for a person with kleptomania is that he's a man.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. Women more often - and this is a little hinky too - but women are more often diagnosed with kleptomania. That is slanted a little bit because I think it said women are less likely to admit to it, or to report it to their psychiatrist.

Josh Clark

Men who steal go to prison. Women who steal get psychiatric evaluations. That could definitely slant the population. People think that kleptomania is a feminine disorder.

Chuck Bryant

Have you ever seen "The Ice Storm"?

Josh Clark

No. I need to.

Chuck Bryant

Really? That's a great movie. You said that shamefully.

Josh Clark

I do feel kind of ashamed actually. It's something I need to catch up on.

Chuck Bryant

The mother and daughter, Joan Allen and Christina Ricci, both shoplift in that film at separate times.

Josh Clark

You're talking about "Heartbreakers." That's Sigourney Weaver and what's her name?

Chuck Bryant

Jennifer Love Hewitt.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

No. I'm talking about "The Ice Storm."

Josh Clark

I don't think so.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

Okay.

Chuck Bryant

In fact, I think Joan Allen actually steals lipstick.

Josh Clark

There you go.

Chuck Bryant

Maybe it was me.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

It is one of my favorite movies. Yes, Josh, early teens and 20s, if we're talking more about the pattern, is when it usually begins.

Josh Clark

Yeah, but it can run up to - I think they've found kleptomaniacs in their late 70s.

Chuck Bryant

Didn't we do a story about Japanese elderly that are stealing just so they'll get caught and have a friend?

Josh Clark

Yeah. They're so lonely; they're trying to basically make friends with the police by being arrested.

Chuck Bryant

That's not kleptomania. That's just shoplifting.

Josh Clark

I don't know. I was thinking about, when I saw that in the late 70s, I thought about that "Seinfeld" episode where Jerry finds out his parents steal batteries, and in turn finds out that almost all elderly people steal batteries.

Chuck Bryant

That's good. For their tip calculators! Is that what it's for?

Josh Clark

The Willard, "I'm ruined."

Chuck Bryant

You know another thing, Josh? You hit on it again with your little play acting. They usually steal stuff they can afford, and stuff like shampoo, it listed. Sunglasses are big. Famously, Winona Ryder - Winona Horowitz, excuse me!

Josh Clark

No, really?

Chuck Bryant

Uh huh. That's her name.

Josh Clark

I had no idea.

Chuck Bryant

She basically stole several thousand dollars from Saks Fifth Avenue.

Josh Clark

Five thousand I think. She can definitely swing that.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. I don't know if it ever came out. Did they ever plead kleptomania with her or anything?

Josh Clark

No.

Chuck Bryant

Just quietly tried to pay the fine.

Josh Clark

Yeah. That brings up a good point. A kleptomania defense is really, really hard to prove, or to successfully get off on.

Chuck Bryant

It is. Do you know why?

Josh Clark

Why?

Chuck Bryant

Well, you're defense lawyer must win the argument that there was no reason for you to steal it, no financial gain, no revenge. They've got to prove all those things beyond a reasonable doubt, first of all. That's one.

Josh Clark

Yeah.

Chuck Bryant

Do you want to follow up?

Josh Clark

well, I know that the justice department doesn't recognize kleptomania as a defense, so if you're up for federal charges, don't even try it.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. Exactly! That's like the Americans With Disabilities Act. That's in legislation. So good luck!

Josh Clark

Kleptomania. What is it? Is it an actual disease? Should it be covered in the Americans With Disabilities Act? Should the DOJ finally open up their eyes and be like, "Okay, okay. There's such a thing as kleptomania"?

Chuck Bryant

Well, we don't know for sure. Some people think it's tagged on to other psychological disorders.

Josh Clark

Like what?

Chuck Bryant

Like obsessive-compulsive or personality and mood disorders.

Josh Clark

Okay. So it could be a symptom or a byproduct of a larger disorder, right?

Chuck Bryant

Yes. But by and large, it's classified as an impulse control disorder, like gambling or pyromania.

Josh Clark

Fire starting. Awesome!

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

Or trichotillomania.

Chuck Bryant

Yes. I'd never heard of that.

Josh Clark

Obsessive hair pulling.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. I wonder if that means pulling your own hair or other people's. Probably both!

Josh Clark

I don't know. Huh. That's an excellent question, actually. And it got our producer, Jeri, giggling, so you know it's funny. It's either a symptom of a larger disorder, or it's its own impulse control disorder. One of the reasons we don't know is because treatments for kleptomania are hit or miss.

Chuck Bryant

They haven't studied it a lot. The other thing is, it hit me, like everything else with the brain, it's still sort of a mystery.

Josh Clark

It is. One of the reasons why they've had trouble studying kleptomania is finding kleptomaniacs. I found a study from 2002 that was just getting off the ground at Stanford. These people were looking for 24 kleptomaniacs for their study and were having to go on TV, radio, everywhere to try to find true kleptomaniacs. This guy who was quoted in this article on the study, a guy named Will Cupchik, which is a pretty cool name if you ask me -

Chuck Bryant

Agreed.

Josh Clark

He's a Toronto psychologist. He said, "In the 450 cases I've assessed, probably only one or two of the people were actual kleptomaniacs." We're talking about a very small, fascinating part of the larger population.

Chuck Bryant

I think saw somewhere in the article, they said maybe five percent of psychiatric patients admitted - or are diagnosed as kleptomaniacs.

Josh Clark

You revealed something else, too. I think a lot of it is admission. Remember when me, the play-actingkleptomaniac left and went into the mall and was crushed by guilt?

Chuck Bryant

I remember.

Josh Clark

And wanted to get the object away from me? Do you remember?

Chuck Bryant

Yeah.

Josh Clark

The desire to keep this secret I think probably keeps people from coming forward. So we have no idea how small or large this population is, but I think from people who examine shoplifters, they find that the actual kleptomaniacs among them are a very small population.

Chuck Bryant

Right. You know who has studied it? The University Of Minnesota School Of Medicine, specifically psychiatrist John Grant. He studied the brain, and he posits a few theories here. One is that a defect in a molecule that transports serotonin might be messed up. Well, not the defect is messed up. It would clearly be messed up as a defect.

Josh Clark

If the defect is messed up, then you're A-OK.

Chuck Bryant

Potentially head trauma could cause something like this. It could damage the circuits in the frontal lobes. That could maybe happen. And a decrease in the fine structure of white matter in the frontal lobe, but it's all in the frontal lobe.

Josh Clark

Right. And the limbic system, which is, as we know, the brain's reward center!

Chuck Bryant

That's in the frontal lobe.

Josh Clark

Right. Which controls impulse? The frontal lobe controls impulse, mood.

Chuck Bryant

There you have it, dude.

Josh Clark

Yeah. Clearly, it could be its own disorder in the frontal lobe.

Chuck Bryant

Something's going on up there.

Josh Clark

Did we say that treatments don't work all that well? Like sometimes SSRI's work, but not all the time? Cognitive therapy works sometimes. Do you want to talk about some of the cognitive therapy?

Chuck Bryant

Cognitive therapy cracks me up a little bit.

Josh Clark

It does.

Chuck Bryant

It's like snapping a rubber band on your wrist when you have an impure thought. Covert sensitization, Josh, is when a patient wants to steal, and then all of a sudden you're trained to imagine the consequences. To me, that's like - I thought that was just what you're supposed to teach people.

Josh Clark

It's like spraying a cat in the face everything it does something you don't want with a little water bottle.

Chuck Bryant

Aversion therapy. That is if you feel the aversion to steal, you will be told to do something like holding your breath until it's literally painful.

Josh Clark

I'm sorry. That's the one that's like spraying a cat in the face.

Chuck Bryant

That's what I thought.

Josh Clark

You are right. The covert sensitization, that is kind of what we as humans should be walking around doing at all times.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. Thinking about the consequences of your actions!

Josh Clark

Sure.

Chuck Bryant

Then the last one they use is systematic desensitization, which is relaxation therapy and substituting relaxing feelings instead of the urge to steal.

Josh Clark

All of those are probably the most difficult thing a kleptomaniac will attempt, too.

Chuck Bryant

I found another study though.

Josh Clark

Let's hear it, Chuck.

Chuck Bryant

In April of this year, they started a test where they gave kleptomaniacs, or kleptomania - what do we call them again? Those with kleptomania!

Josh Clark

People with kleptomania.

Chuck Bryant

I guess no one wants to be called a maniac in any way. They got 25 habitual thieves, men and women, between 17 and 75, and they gave them the drug Naltrexone, which is what they give alcoholics and drug addicts to curb their bad behavior.

Josh Clark

Is that the stuff that makes your hangover really bad?

Chuck Bryant

I think so. It's supposed to quell those impulses. It kind of worked. After eight weeks, they found that two-thirds of the people who had not been given the placebo had no urge to steal, and only eight percent who had the placebo did.

Josh Clark

They also ate their vegetables and went to bed when they were told to.

Chuck Bryant

Yeah. It's a "be good" drug.

Josh Clark

Yeah. We could use that, Chuck.

Chuck Bryant

Is that it?

Josh Clark

Almost. We're going to travel back to the beginning now. Or this should have been at the beginning. Kleptomania I think first appears in literature in 397 C.E. Saint Augustine admitted to lusting to thieve.

Chuck Bryant

Saint Augustine was something else.

Josh Clark

He really was, if he existed at all.

Chuck Bryant

Sure.

Josh Clark

Then it ends up in the medical literature in 1816. A Swiss physician by the name of Matthey wrote of a unique madness characterized by the tendency to steal without motive and without necessity.Then Freud came in and said that had something to do with penis envy. No kidding.

Chuck Bryant

Now shoplifting is a $45 billion in this country.

Josh Clark

Yeah. It took off in 1816 to 2009. That's good stuff. That's kleptomania. If you want to know any more, you can read the article by our own Dr. Freud by typing in "kleptomania" in the handy search bar at www.HowStuffWorks.com! Since I just said that, of course, dear friends, this means listener mail!

Chuck Bryant

Josh, I'm just going to call this "Hippie Rob Followed Up."

Josh Clark

Woohoo.

Chuck Bryant

Should you say something about Hippie Rob? Let's wait until after.

Josh Clark

Okay.

Chuck Bryant

"Hi, Josh and Chuck." I like when they start that way. "I don't normally write in to TV shows or radio shows, etc., but I've heard Josh talk about Hippie Rob. At the end of the hangover podcast, he mentioned he wanted to hear from people who knew of his whereabouts."I do, in fact, know a Hippie Rob, and wanted to offer my knowledge of this person to determine if it was the same Hippie Rob."

Josh Clark

I've seen this email, and I know it's a real Hippie Rob because he capitalized the H and the Rob.

Chuck Bryant

"The Hippie Rob I know is originally from Vinalhaven, Maine, a medium-size island off the coast of down east Maine." They say things weird up there. Down east.

Josh Clark

Yeah, I know.

Chuck Bryant

"His full name," I didn't say his full name here, but it's Robert _____. "He has thick, blond dreadlocks," the sure, telltale sign of a hippie. "He was about 5'10" and never talked about his age, but I'd put him in the upper 30s and possibly lower 40s in 1998. He loves coffee, hates alcohol," and he mentioned one of his other habits he loves, which we're not going to mention on the air, but his name is Hippie Rob, so fill in the blanks.

Josh Clark

Right.

Chuck Bryant

"He squatted at my apartment in Portland, Maine, in the summer of 1998."

Josh Clark

This is so close.

Chuck Bryant

"At the time, he was living off of Social Security from a 'permanent working accident.'" I think we've all known a Hippie Rob. "But something told me that his permanent disability was not physically related. I would see him every few summers in Maine, and we would shoot the breeze while drinking coffee and doing other things. He was a terrible mooch. I know he loved to travel the warm places in winter, with his favorite being Hawaii. If you read this on the air, could you give a shout-out to my girlfriend, Kristen, who is an amazing sport about me listening to the podcast? Galen from Portland, Maine!"Josh, is it Hippie Rob?

Josh Clark

There's a couple of things missing here. It is so close. I mean, the age. One thing is no one knows the origin of the real Hippie Rob. No one knows where Hippie Rob is from.

Chuck Bryant

Dreadlocks?

Josh Clark

He does, yes. He is blond, though you would say more strawberry-blondish, not true blond. Has a beard. Kind of a little guy! In 1998, he would've been late 30s or so.

Chuck Bryant

World-class mooch?

Josh Clark

Oh yeah.

Chuck Bryant

Big time?

Josh Clark

Yeah. We'd buy beer, and we'd be Sierra Nevada beer, and Rob didn't have any money for a while. Then he'd get paid, and it'd be his turn to buy the beer, and he'd buy a 12-pack of Milwaukee Beast Ice. We'd be like, "This is not the same, Rob." There's a dog missing, and this is a very key point, the dog, Sedona. I'll have to tell you about him sometime. He's a wolf dog named Sedona.

Chuck Bryant

That Hippie Rob owned.

Josh Clark

Yes. They were best friends. There was no ownership there.

Chuck Bryant

Ofcourse he has a wolf dog. That's so appropriate.

Josh Clark

Exactly. That he's best friends with! Then the real giveaway was that Hippie Rob loved alcohol. Even now, he could've given up booze. No one would say Hippie Rob hates alcohol. He just doesn't drink it anymore. He probably still does. Hippie Rob loves alcohol.

Chuck Bryant

That was the one distinction.

Josh Clark

That was the telltale giveaway.

Chuck Bryant

So not Hippie Rob, unfortunately.

Josh Clark

Yeah. I guess if you know where Hippie Rob is, I've revealed some more clues here. Send us an email. We still want to know. We're looking for him. Is it Kristen or Kirsten, Chuck?

Chuck Bryant

Who?

Josh Clark

In the email. Galen's girlfriends!

Chuck Bryant

Kristen.

Josh Clark

Kristen, special thanks to you for letting Galen listen to us. We appreciate that. If you have any cool stories about your significant other letting you do something you want to do, put it in an email. Also, if you know where Hippie Rob is, we want to know that too. You can email Chuck and me at all times at StuffPodcast@HowStuffWorks.com.

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