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.
Brain scans of inmates turn up possible link to risks of reoffending
ALBUQUERQUE — It began with a casual question that neuroscientist Kent Kiehl posed to a postdoctoral fellow in his laboratory who had been conducting brain scans on New Mexico prison inmates.
"I asked, 'Does ACC activity predict the risk of reoffending?'" Kiehl recalls, using the scientific shorthand for the anterior cingulate cortex, a brain structure associated with error processing.
The postdoctoral fellow, Eyal Aharoni, decided to find out. When he compared 96 inmates whose brains had been monitored while they performed a test that measures impulsiveness, he discovered a stark contrast: Those with low ACC activity were about twice as likely to commit crimes within four years of being released as those with high ACC activity.
"We cannot say with certainty that all who are in the high-risk category will reoffend — just that most will," Kiehl says. "It has very big implications for how we think about treatment and rehabilitation."
The study is the latest paper from Kiehl's lab reporting on experiments performed in a powerful functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner mounted in a semi-trailer. Kiehl and his team at the nonprofit Mind Research Network have used the scanner to study the brains of nearly 3,000 convicted criminals at facilities in New Mexico and Wisconsin since 2007....
The trove of data they have gathered has revealed telltale abnormalities in the structure and functioning of psychopaths' brains. On the whole, they have less gray matter in the paralimbic system — believed to help regulate emotion — which may help account for their characteristic glibness, pathological lying, lack of empathy and tendency to act impulsively.
Kiehl often briefs judges and legal groups on his findings and has consulted in more than 100 criminal cases where, for example, psychopathy might be raised as a mitigating factor to account for a defendant's impaired self-control.
The mere suggestion that it might be possible to predict future criminal behavior may conjure up such futuristic films as "Minority Report," but Kiehl cautioned that the new study merely averages test results from a large group and cannot at this point predict whether any particular individual will reoffend.
But with further refinement, he says, brain imaging might one day be considered in civil commitment proceedings, where convicted sexual offenders can be held indefinitely if it is believed they have a propensity to reoffend.
Predictions about whether an offender poses an ongoing danger to society "already play roles in a variety of legal contexts, such as in deciding whether to sentence a criminal offender to a mental health facility, deciding whether to grant parole and the like," said Owen D. Jones, a Vanderbilt University professor of law and biology and director of the MacArthur Foundation Law and Neuroscience Project, which helped fund Kiehl's study.
Describing the study as interesting and well-designed, Jones said the neuroscience of criminal behavior was evolving so rapidly that courts and lawmakers could barely keep up. "Although there are efforts underway to help the legal system close that gap, the gap remains," he said. "This poses challenges to the fair and effective administration of justice."
After hundreds of encounters with psychopaths, Jones has come to view their distinctive lack of empathy as a missing skill, akin to a dyslexic's inability to read.
Some experts see psychopathy as an incurable defect, but Kiehl cites neuroplasticity — the brain's lifelongability to remold itself in the face of new stimuli — as cause for optimism: New therapies might be developed to bolster the psychopathic brain's underactive empathy circuits, he says.
Selling that idea to judges and lawmakers, however, is likely to be an uphill battle. "The problem is, people don't think about empathy as an ability," he said. "They take it for granted."
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” de…
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?