The various excerpts that follow contain research findings and journalistic commentary that inform the issues discussed occasionally among a small group of humanists in the Bay Area. We are interested in how man-made places reveal the ways that varying values and norms stemming from changing environmental conditions interact with ( i.e., shape or are shaped by) our genetic heritage.
The biology of criminality
June 12, 2011
Adrian Raine thinks brain scans can identify children who may become killers
Jonathan Barkat for The Chronicle Review
A child in Adrian Raine's lab at the U. of Pennsylvania, wearing a cap with electrodes to measure brain activity.
By Josh Fischman Philadelphia
Along with several other researchers, he has pioneered the science of neurodevelopmental criminology. In adult offenders, juvenile delinquents, and even younger children, dozens of studies have pointed to brain features that seem to reduce fear, impair decision making, and blunt emotional reactions to others' distress. The studies have also highlighted body reactions that are signs of this pattern and are tied to criminality.
"So if I could tell you, as a parent, that your child has a 75-percent chance of becoming a criminal, wouldn't you want to know and maybe have the chance to do something about it?" asks Raine.... Society has always wondered about "bad seeds," people who seem to be possessed by devils. But what is emerging from this research is a cluster of biological markers that plant the bad seed in the brain. More striking, they appear to predict antisocial behavior even before it happens. Early warnings could avoid a world of hurt, because some of these people are terribly dangerous. . .
When they further divided murderers into those who came from "good" homes and those who came from "bad" homes—those filled with neglect, abuse, and poverty—the first group again showed lower activity in the prefrontal cortex, in particular an area called the orbitofrontal cortex. Raine's interpretation: Genetics and anatomy were more influential on their development than was the way they grew up; the murderers from good homes seemed to be terribly affected by this low-functioning brain region.
And it wasn't just function. Brain form was also impaired, Raine and his coworkers found. A series of studies using magnetic resonance imaging, which reveals structures and shapes, showed that criminals and people who scored high on tests of antisocial disorders had different-looking brains. Both the orbitofrontal region and the amygdala were smaller than normal. And the corpus callosum, the bridge between the brain's two hemispheres that helps them communicate, was abnormally large....
In his current study of Philadelphia children with the slow physical reactivity that has been linked to trouble, some are getting a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids and calcium to see if those protect brain cells, some are getting cognitive-behavioral therapy, and some are getting both to see if trouble can be staved off.
Still, the time is coming, Raine believes, when putting numbers on children will be tempting. If a 75-percent chance of a bad seed isn't high enough, he wonders, what about 80 percent? Or 95? "Look, I have two children, 9-year-old, nonidentical twin boys," he says. "And I'd definitely want to know, especially if there was a treatment that has a chance of success. But I realize not every parent will. We have to start having this conversation now, though, so we understand the risks and the benefits. It's easy to get on your moral high horse about stigma and civil liberties, but are you going to have blood on your hands in the future because you've blocked an approach that could lead to lives being saved?"
"One swallow does not a summer make. But together, this is a message in the sky."
Rather than try to tackle complex national and international issues and institutions that affect the entire U.S. , we concentrate on place based trends and academic research that more directly reflect our everyday experiences in our own neighborhoods, workplaces, and other closer connections. We seek to grapple with ideas that stem from and have immediate implications for our personal ties and intellectual enjoyment. We deal with those grassroots issues not to influence public policy or resolve differences but to gain an understanding of the way of the world-- in order to sort out the chaos and thereby increase our pleasure as identified by Epicurus. We start from the premise that changing the body politic at the state and national level is becoming increasingly difficult for citizens of the 21st century in the way that the power structure was able to do at the start of the 20th century, when American Progressivism was imbued with a strong reformist optimism. “I propose that we lead”…
Excerpted from: Solving The African IQ Conundrum : "Winning Personality" Masks Low Scores By J. Philippe Rushton VDare August 12, 2004
Over a century ago, Sir Francis Galton initiated research into individual and race differences in intelligence and temperament. He was the first to propose the study of human twins and of selective breeding in animals to disentangle the effects of heredity and environment. And it was Galton—who spent several years exploring in what is now Namibia as a young man—who first contrasted the talkative impulsivity of Africans with the taciturn reserve of American Indians, and the placidity of the Chinese.
Galton further noted that these temperament differences persisted irrespective of climate (from the frozen north through the torrid equator), and religion, language, or political system (whether self-ruled or governed by the Spanish, Portuguese, English or French).
Anticipating later studies of transracial adoptions, Galton observed that the majority of …
Does a strategy of opposing traits explain humanity’s success? By ALISON GOPNIK July 16, 2015 11:20 a.m. ET 10 COMMENTS Walk into any preschool classroom and you’ll see that some 4-year-olds are always getting into fights—while others seldom do, no matter the provocation. Even siblings can differ dramatically—remember Cain and Abel. Is it nature or nurture that causes these deep differences in aggression? The new techniques of genomics—mapping an organism’s DNA and analyzing how it works—initially led people to think that we might find a gene for undesirable individual traits like aggression. But from an evolutionary point of view, the very idea that a gene can explain traits that vary so dramatically is paradoxical: If aggression is advantageous, why didn’t the gene for aggression spread more widely? If it’s harmful, why would the gene have survived at all?