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Eyewitness Science; Jackson Doctor Trial; Gold Medalist Beat Cancer; Science of Willpower

Aired September 24, 2011 - 07:30   ET


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Good morning. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Here's a question: you ever have trouble making a decision or sticking with one? Sometimes I do. So, we're going to talk about the science of willpower.

And I know a lot of you remember Shannon Miller, 1996 gold medalist in gymnastics. Well, today, she looks like this and she's also a cancer survivor. She's going to tell me her story.

And I'm also going to preview the manslaughter trial of Michael Jackson's doctor.

But, first, the big headline for a lot of people this week was the execution of Troy Davis for the 1989 murder of an off-duty police officer in Savannah, Georgia. There were protests literally all over the world by people who say his conviction was based on unreliable eyewitness testimony -- that witnesses and their memories, they were manipulated by the police.

Now, the man who prosecuted the case, as well as the victim's family, say that's not true.


SPENCER LAWTON, FORMER CHATHAM COUNTY PROSECUTOR: There are two Troy Davis cases. There's the legal case, the case in court, and the public relations case. We have consistently won the case as it's been presented in court. We have consistently lost the case as it's been presented in the public realm on TV and elsewhere.


GUPTA: You know, what caught my attention on all this, the debate is happening more and more, this exact idea that there is new science. In fact, the Supreme Court will hear a court this case about memory and eyewitness testimony, the first time they've reviewed this issue in 34 years.

Now, Jennifer Dysart is a psychologist at the John Jay College in New York. I should point out, she prepared testimony to give the Georgia Parole Board on behalf for Troy Davis, although in the end she was not called. And she joins me now from New York.

Thanks for joining us. Good morning.

JENNIFER DYSART, JOHN JAY COLLEGE: Good morning. My pleasure.

GUPTA: You know, I found this whole situation fascinating as many people did around the world. Let me ask as a starting point, you know, in a situation like this, where someone has witnessed or potentially witnessed a crime -- what does affect their memories or their perceptions?

DYSART: Yes, there are two major categories of information that can influence a witness' reliability and their ability to provide accurate testimony. There's a whole host of things related to the crime itself and the witnessing conditions, and there are factors related to the police investigation that can influence reliability.

GUPTA: Presumably a stressful situation for the witness as well. I mean, they're witnessing something -- they're witnessing a crime. Does that affect their memory?

DYSART: Yes, it does. Research shows that high degrees of stress in a situation do affect our ability to encode information and retain that information. So, if any of your viewers have ever had to give a big talk or speech and they have been nervous, they might realize after they've given their talk that they don't remember exactly what it is that they said.

So, this is an example of how memory can be affected by stress and stressful circumstances.

GUPTA: If someone witnessed a crime like that, to take it a step further, could their memories be contaminated somehow or their conceptions be contaminated through the questions that are asked.

DYSART: Yes, the questions that are asked and the procedures that are used in a case concern the influence, the reliability. So, if witnesses are permitted to talk with one another prior to giving a statement to police, it's certainly possible that their memory can be influenced by what the other people say. As an example, police officers do not put multiple suspects together in a room to get them to figure out their story and get it straight. They separate them so that they can get the most accurate and honest report of what happened.

And so, the same goes with eyewitnesses. Eyewitness memory can be influenced by each other.

GUPTA: I don't know if it's possible to answer this question but do you have some idea of how often misidentification occurs?

DYSART: We have some bake idea about misidentification and how it occurs. We know from DNA exoneration cases in the United States where individuals who were previously convicted of a crime have now been shown to be innocent of that crime through post-conviction DNA testing. There are 273 of those cases now in the United States, and we know that of those cases, approximately 75 percent of them included at least one eyewitness who made a mistake and misidentified the innocent person.

GUPTA: Wow. It's fascinating stuff, Jennifer Dysart. You know, obviously, there's a lot to take into consideration for everybody, including their own memories on any given day.

So, thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate.

DYSART: It's my pleasure.

GUPTA: Thanks a lot.

DYSART: You're welcome.

GUPTA: In other news -- there was a major two-day meeting, as you may know, at the United Nations this week to launch a worldwide assault on lifestyle illness: heart disease, lung disease, cancer, diabetes. A lot of people think that these diseases only kill in affluent or rich countries but, in fact, as we learn, they cause 60 percent of deaths worldwide. This is a trend, a bad one.

And here's another trend as well. Not totally unrelated. The Red Cross said this week there are more obese people in the world, $1.5 billion than people who are malnourished, which stands at about a billion.

That said, there is a deadly lack of food in East Africa, a place that I have visited, Somalia. It is spilling over into Kenya and to Ethiopia. Such a tragic situation.

President Obama spoke at the U.N. Israel and Palestinians got most of the attention. But he also called for the world to focus on this famine.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We must act on the belief that freedom from want is a basic human right. The United States has made it a focus of our engagement abroad to help people to feed themselves. And today, as drought and conflict have brought famine to the Horn of Africa, our conscience calls on us to act.


GUPTA: I tell you, I can tell you from being there this summer the stories really stick with you. Families like yours or mine are in a desperate position. This week, the U.N. said three-quarters of a million people are at risk of dying in the next few months, unless they find more aid. Think about that, 750,000 people.

If you want to help you can go to

Well, coming up we were shocked by the death of Michael Jackson, shocked even more when we heard that his doctor might be to blame. I'm going to break down what we know and what we don't. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) GUPTA: It's more than 2 1/2 years since Michael Jackson died. And Tuesday, his personal doctor, Conrad Murray, goes on trial for involuntary manslaughter. Now, Murray admits he gave Jackson a powerful anesthetic, the one that's used in hospitals, use it to help the King of Pop to sleep at home. But he also says it wasn't the lethal amount that was found in Jackson's blood.

Now, some attorneys believe the defense will argue Jackson actually killed himself. Lots of questions about this.

But here's what we do know.


GUPTA (voice-over): The desperate 911 call comes from inside Michael Jackson's rented Beverly Hills mansion. It is just before 12:30 p.m., June 25, 2009.

CALLER: He's pumping his chest, but he's not responding to anything, sir.

GUPTA: The King of Pop's heart had stopped and his personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, is attempting CPR.

Jackson's bodyguard is on with the emergency call center.

OPERATOR: Did anybody witness what happened?

CALLER: No, just the doctor, sir. The doctor's been the only one here.

OPERATOR: OK, so did the doctor see what happened?

CALLER: Doctor, did you see what happened, sir?

DR. CONRAD MURRAY, MICHAEL JACKSON'S DOCTOR: Yes, but they need to come.

CALLER: Sir, you just -- if you can please --

OPERATOR: We're on our way.

ANNOUNCER: CNN breaking news.

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": We're getting some breaking news coming into "THE SITUATION ROOM" right now from -- about Michael Jackson, the King of Pop.

JEROME JACKSON, MICHAEL JACKSON'S BROTHER: My brother, the legendary King of Pop, Michael Jackson, passed away on Thursday, June 25th, 2009, at 2:26 p.m.

GUPTA: In the midst of the shock and the sorrow, the investigation comes to focus on Dr. Murray.

The day after Jackson died, police announced they impounded Dr. Murray's car from the singer's mansion, in search of prescription medication that could be, quote, "pertinent to the investigation."

A registered nurse tells CNN Jackson had insomnia and had asked her for Diprivan, a very powerful sedative, also known as Propofol.

CHERILYN LEE, NURSE: And I said, Michael, if you take that medicine, you might not wake up.

GUPTA: Propofol is usually administered through an IV drip, in a hospital. It doesn't take too much to stop your breathing. You have to monitor a patient closely. Use at home is extremely unusual.

(on camera): Propofol is a medication he uses all the time. So, is this it right over here?


GUPTA: It looks like -- milk of amnesia, they call it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Milk of amnesia.

GUPTA (voice-over): Seven weeks later, Dr. Murray releases this online video.

DR. CONRAD MURRAY, MICHAEL JACKSON'S DOCTOR: I have done all I could do. I told the truth and I have faith the truth will prevail.

GUPTA: The L.A. County coroner concludes that Jackson died of an overdose of Propofol.

According to an affidavit, Dr. Murray told detectives he had been treating Jackson for insomnia. He says he tried other drugs, but the pop star demanded Propofol to help him sleep.

So, at 10:40 in the morning, the day he died, he gave him 25 milligrams. Last than two hours later, came the call to 911.


GUPTA: And I'll be reporting from Dr. Murray's trial in Los Angeles. That's beginning Tuesday. You can also follow along on my live stream, You can see highlights next weekend right here on SGMD.

Next up, Shannon Miller, she won a lot of lifelong fans in the 1996 Olympics. My heart went out to her when I heard she had cancer, but she's here joining us -- right after the break.


GUPTA: Shannon Miller, she was the darling of the 1996 Olympic Games right here in Atlanta. You may remember she helped the U.S. gymnastics team to a gold medal and she won two more gold for herself.

Well, today, she runs and edits a health Web site and has a foundation to fight childhood obesity. And on top of that, she has a 1-year-old son, Rocco. But, you know, she almost lost all of this last year when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.


GUPTA: Well, first of all, I should say, welcome back to Atlanta.


GUPTA: '96. Obviously, everyone remembers you. You can see the picture there behind you. How has life been just in general over the last 15 years?

MILLER: It's been amazing. Definitely been a roller-coaster ride, you know, just like in my gymnastics career, I enjoy every minute and try not to regret too much and just keep having fun.

GUPTA: Obviously, as an athlete, you're very aware of your body. You're aware of any illnesses. I mean, had you ever been sick, you know, over the last, you know, 30 years.

MILLER: Really I had not. In my gymnastics career, I had a broken elbow, some pulled muscles here and there. But as far as sickness, I didn't miss one day of workout. My coach always boasts about that, even if I had a minor cold or something, I didn't miss a workout over a 15-year span. So, I just hadn't dealt with that much sickness.

GUPTA: Did you have an idea? When you got diagnosed, did you have any inkling beforehand that something was wrong?

MILLER: Nothing, absolutely nothing.

I was still pretty in tune with my body. I was about a year out of having my son. So, 12, 13 months after having him and I was going in for a regular exam. I had no symptoms of any kind. In fact, I almost put off my exam and ended up not doing that.

GUPTA: What happened? Did you get a call or how did this all transpire?

MILLER: I called my doctor to actually reschedule my exam and then I thought about those patients and doctors that I had interviewed and they said don't ever put off your exam. So, I took the first available which was that morning and that's when they found seven- centimeter, basically a baseball-sized cyst on my ovary.

The most difficult part is I didn't know what it was when I was being put under for surgery. So, I didn't know what I was going to wake up, too. Oh, it's benign. Everything is being taken care. You have to have a hysterectomy, you'll never have children again, or it spread. So, that was the most difficult thing for me. So, it wasn't until I woke up from surgery that I found out it was a malignant tumor.

GUPTA: What goes through your head? Again, someone who's, you know, been an athlete and never been sick, when they tell you that -- are you thinking about your mortality. Are you thinking, let's get this taken care? What goes through your head?

MILLER: I think first, I thought about mortality. I thought about my son and I just -- I just had him. I'm just getting to know him. He's just beginning to have a personality. I can't be gone and wait a second, why me, why now? I've tried to live a healthy lifestyle. It's my passion. It's what I do and now, you're telling me I have cancer?

So, you go through that then when I realized I had to go through chemotherapy, it was, OK, game plan, I switched into athlete mode. OK, I've got a goal, nine weeks of chemotherapy and I've got to get my game plan in place.

GUPTA: Did they tell you at some point, look, Shannon, here's what we think will happen if you don't get chemo? Here's your likely rate of survival, likely of having problems and here's what it is if you do get chemo? I mean, did you balance that in your head?

MILLER: They originally thought it was solved through surgery. They came back and said it was a higher grade than they originally felt. And that chemo was really the way to go.

Three out of four doctors say this is the way to go, gives me a 99 percent chance of no reoccurrence. I will never have to deal with this again. And I'm thinking, you know, while I'm looking at my son, playing with his box (ph) -- 99 percent with something called cancer, I can do that.

GUPTA: Is that the assurance still now that, you know -- I mean, 99 percent, they say, you know, you don't have to worry about this again in your life. Is that what they're saying to you?

MILLER: Pretty much. Yes. And they're saying I'm in that 90 percent to 100 percent success rate and certainly they're going to watch me closely over the next two years. And one of the most difficult things I'm supposed to wait a year before trying to have kids again and that's difficult.

But it's doable. I could definitely do that.

GUPTA: Rocco needs a little sibling?

MILLER: That's right.

GUPTA: You mentioned that you had no idea why you got this and you didn't even know you had it until it was a routine exam. Is there a lesson in there for other women who are watching right now regarding ovarian cancer?

MILLER: I think the lesson is for women to put their health as a priority. We take care of everyone else. We need to take care of ourselves, or we're not going to be able to do that. I need to be around for Rocco, so I need to go to the doctor.

And what I would tell women is: do not delay, do not reschedule. Early detection saves lives. GUPTA: I'm glad you didn't wait. You look fantastic.

MILLER: Thank you.

GUPTA: You know, I remember the hat. I don't know if that means we're getting older or what's happening. But you look great there. You look great now.

MILLER: I appreciate that.

GUPTA: Thanks so much.

MILLER: Thank you.


GUPTA: You remember that as well? I mean, she really is adorable. I'm glad to see her looking so well -- Shannon Miller.

Now, do you ever wonder why shopping is so exhausting? You see, making decision about what to buy and resisting all those temptations, truth is, it's going to wear anybody down. Science now proves it.

How to avoid decision fatigue, that's up next.


GUPTA: Making good decisions. That's what we call want to do, right? But sometimes, it's hard. In fact, mental effort actually can take a physical toll.

And what's even more fascinating about that statement is that this entire process can now be measured in a lab. I learned this from a new book by John Tierney and Roy Baumeister. It's called "Willpower."

And John Tierney joins me from New York.

So, for starters, John you talk about the fact that willpower is like a muscle. I think that concept is really interesting. I mean, if it's like a muscle, does this mean you can strengthen your willpower?

JOHN TIERNEY, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Yes, you can. Also like a muscle, it gets fatigued as you use it and go through the day using it.

But then it also gets built up over time by exercises, by doing things that actually strengthen your willpower. You know, my co- author on this book "Willpower," Roy Baumeister, did studies showing that if you ask students to go home for the week and just practice sitting up straight for a week, work on their posture for a week, then when they came back to the lab, they could do other tasks measuring self-control much better, even though that had nothing to do with posture. It was just strengthening that mental power of willpower and being able to have more self-control. GUPTA: As you said that, I sat up straighter, just so you know. I'm going to be putting it to use. So, it's something you can strengthen but also something that fatigues.

What's an example of it fatiguing then?

TIERNEY: Well, simply resisting temptations. One of the classic experiments that Roy did was they brought these college students into a lab, and on the table there, there was a dish of radishes and there was a dish of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies that you could smell.

Some of the poor students were in what was called the radish condition. And that was that they were not allowed to eat the cookies. They could only eat the radishes. So they had to sit there.

And the researchers observed them through the one-way mirror looking and they were looking agonizing. They were hungry. They also had skipped a meal.

And so, they had to resist the chocolate chip cookies. And they would pick them up, some of them, but they did manage to resist. But then afterwards, they would go and they were tested for self-control. They were given these math puzzles to work on that couldn't be solved, but that -- and the test was how long would they work at it.

And the kids who ate the chocolate chip cookies, who didn't have to use their willpower to resist them, they could work on the puzzles for about 20 minutes. But the other ones, the ones who had been staring at the cookies and could only eat the radishes, they gave up after eight minutes. And that's a huge difference by experimental standards.

And that's been demonstrated over and over again, when you use willpower to resist a temptation, also when you use it to resist -- to make a decision. Simply making decisions draws on that same source of mental energy.

And so, during the day, by the time you've made a lot of decisions during the day, by the time you've resisted eating dessert at lunch, you've resisted snapping back at your boss, made a decision about where to go to dinner, you've done all this. By the end of the day, you're suffering from this condition named ego depletion, and that is that have you less willpower and so, you're less able to resist temptations and you're also less able to make good decisions at that point.

GUPTA: Wow. I mean, that's fascinating.

Let me just ask you about that chocolate chip/radish experiment. As you're talking, I'm imaging myself going through an experiment like this. If I ate chocolate chip cookies, you know, I did not have to expend my willpower or resist temptation and I can, you know, as you say, experiment work at these puzzles better.

Could there be other explanations as to why that is, you know, the cookies providing more energy or just the sugar? Could that have fueled some of that?

TIERNEY: The willpower is fueled by glucose in the blood stream. So there is a factor that food plays a factor.

GUPTA: Do you do things differently in your own life as a result of all this.

TIERNEY: I have a program on my computer that keeps track of which Web sites I use and which programs I use. So, it tells me, at the end of the day, and at the end of the week, it sends me an e-mail how many hours were you spending productively, on stuff that you want to be doing, like writing, and how much time did you spend surfing TMZ, say.

And so, just knowing that that's there helps you avoid it. It's a way of outsourcing self-control to someone else. Now, some people can do it. But you can set it up, so it will send e-mails of your work habits to your boss or to your spouse or to a friend that you designate.

And that's a way of outsourcing self-control, you know, beyond yourself. And it's a way of conserving the willpower that you have.

GUPTA: I can almost assure you that I will never buy that gadget. That's going to tell my wife --


GUPTA: Let me ask you quickly, you have a son. I have three young children. Is this something that you can teach?

TIERNEY: Yes, it's definitely something that kids need to learn from their parents, and the way they learn it is by being given clear goals and by being given quick reinforcement, either rewards for achieving goals and punishments for not achieving them. It doesn't have to be strict punishment. But it's important that it'd be consistent and that it happen quickly.

And it takes a lot of self-control and willpower for parents to do that. It's much easier to let your kids get away with something, if they leave a mess, it's often easier to clean it up than bring them back to the kitchen and say, clean it up. But that's why kids -- that's why parents with good self-control tend to have kids with good self-control.

I mean, some of that maybe genetic, but also, it's the fact that they're in a home where parents enforce rules and kids learn to acquire the self-discipline. And that turns out to be the most important predictor, even better than I.Q. at predicting school performance.

Self-control is that important. It predicts success in virtually area of life.

GUPTA: The book is called "Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength." I'll tell you, that was both informative and very, very helpful. Appreciate it. Thanks for joining us.

TIERNEY: Thank you. Thanks.

GUPTA: That's going to wrap things up for SGMD this morning. I mentioned earlier in the show, I'm headed to Los Angeles to cover the Conrad Murray trial. That's going to get under way on Tuesday. You can follow along on my life stream on

Of course, see highlights next weekend right here on SGMD.

Time now, though, to give you a check of your top stories with my pal, Mr. T.J. Holmes.