Read the Innocence Project’s “Reevaluating Lineups” report on eyewitness misidentifications here (pdf).
From the BBC, here are some revealing clips from their series, Eyewitness.
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Posted by Adam Benforado on August 29, 2011
Shortly after I finished Simon Baron-Cohen’s new book, The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty, I spoke to one of my friends who had just had an extremely bad interaction with a doctor. The friend had just received a frightening diagnosis and when she went to ask more questions, the doctor was blunt and emotionally-disengaged. As I spoke to the friend, it occurred to me that, while there were some very important exceptions, I’d actually had a lot of similar experiences with doctors. Might it be true that doctors have less empathy than other people?
Coincidentally, with the help of the gnomes of the World Wide Web, I found an interesting recent article by Omar Sultan Haque and Adam Waytz in Scientific American, which describes two experiments by Jean Decety and his collaborators at the University of Chicago that shed a bit of light on the answer:
In one experiment, physicians who practice acupuncture (as well as matched non-physician controls) underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while watching videos of needles being inserted into another person’s hands, feet and areas around their mouth as well as videos of the same areas being touched by a cotton bud. Compared to controls, the physicians showed significantly less response in brain regions involved in empathy for pain. In addition, the physicians showed significantly greater activation of areas involved in executive control, self-regulation and thinking about the mental states of others. The physicians appeared to show less empathy and more of a higher-level cognitive response.
This finding raised a further question. Perceiving pain in others typically involves two steps. First people engage in the emotional sharing of pain with another person, and then they make a cognitive appraisal of the emotion. Do physicians automatically feel empathy for the pain of others, but then quickly suppress it? Or is the cognitive suppression of empathy even deeper; has it become more automatic? Is it possible that the physicians no longer even experience the first step of empathy for pain that regular people show on their brain scans?
The investigators repeated the same experiment but rather than looking for changes in brain blood-flow by using fMRI, they assessed the brain’s event-related potentials (ERP). Results showed that when viewing the painful needle sticking, the physicians did not even show the early empathy response. The physicians had apparently become so good at empathy suppression that there was no early response to worry about.
Why might these effects exist? It could be that, compared to other professions, the people that gravitate to healthcare tend to be less empathic. This seems unlikely. Furthermore, studies of physicians show that they are often the most empathic and caring towards the beginning of medical school, and that they become steadily less empathetic with more clinical training. The more likely culprits are therefore the nature of medical training and the intrinsic demands of the profession.
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Posted by Adam Benforado on August 27, 2011
Following up on my review of Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test, I just finished reading the other new offering in the world of “psychopath studies”: Simone Baron-Cohen’s The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty.
Baron-Cohen’s central theory is that evil is critically tied to lack of empathy. It’s a thought-provoking notion and I was very intrigued by the connections that he made between various “empathy deficient” conditions from psychopaths, to narcissists, to borderlines, to those on the autism spectrum.
At points, I think he gets so carried away considering the particular dispositions of his “zero negatives” (those, like psychopaths, whose lack of empathy brings about “unequivocally bad” results) and “zero positives” (those, like Asperger’s sufferers, whose lack of empathy is not inherently harmful) that he misses the power of our situations to inform “evil” behavior. Indeed, at these moments Baron-Cohen would have done well to pan out and emphasize that many of us (even those of us testing high on the Empathy Quotient questionnaire in the book’s Appendix) can be influenced to be less empathetic, with disastrous results.
These criticisms aside, and despite not feeling totally convinced by his argument, it’s an interesting book and worth a read. I found myself continuing to ponder Baron-Cohen’s insights long after I’d set the book back on shelf.
One of these musings, I’ll share in my next post . . .
Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 25, 2011
Ryan Goodman, Derek Jinks, Andrew Woods, have recently posted their chapter, “Social Science and Human Rights“ (forthcoming in their edited book, “Understanding Social Action, Promoting Human Rights,” Oxford University Press, 2012) on SSRN
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Over the last twenty years, the social scientific understanding of human behavior has taken a significant leap forward. Important advances in several fields have increased the complexity and accuracy of prevailing models of individual actors, group dynamics, and communication. Unfortunately, too few of the key insights of that scholarship have been incorporated into the theory or practice of human rights promotion. In this project, we collect research from a broad set of disciplines and analyze its implications for human rights scholarship and practice. By focusing on non-legal scholarship that touches on norm creation, diffusion, and institutionalization, we present a broad range of interdisciplinary insights relevant to human rights scholars and practitioners.
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Download the chapter for free here.
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Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 23, 2011
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This documentary murder mystery examines the death of an Afghan taxi driver at Bagram Air Base from injuries inflicted by U.S. soldiers. In an unflinching look at the Bush administration’s policy on torture, the filmmaker behind Enron: the Smartest Guys in the Room takes us from a village in Afghanistan to Guantanamo and straight to the White House. In English and Pashtu.
Related Situationist posts:
Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 21, 2011
The best part about being a girl is your girlfriends. They keep you happy when you’re sad and make you laugh when you want to cry, and most importantly, tell you what to buy.
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Posted by Adam Benforado on August 18, 2011
It is late summer and the time of year when I get to catch up on books that have been piling up in my office.
One of these, Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test, had been on my radar since I read a positive review by Janet Maslin in The New York Times a couple months ago and knowing Ronson’s other work (including The Men Who Stare at Goats), I was eager to dive in.
Ronson has a talent for picking out quirky characters and fringe topics and knitting them together with sharp (and, frequently, cutting) prose. In The Psychopath Test, he mingles with Scientologists, denizens of Broadmoor (an English psychiatric hospital once known as Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum), David Shayler (the former MI5 spy turned conspiracy theorist turned messiah), and numerous other intriguing individuals. Although he describes himself as highly anxious, Ronson does not shy away from awkwardness in his interviews or skewering those with whom he disagrees.
This makes for entertaining reading, but I worry that it may lead to distortions and this is where my main issue with the book comes. Ronson’s central goal seems to debunk (or at least) unsettle the psychiatric establishment. He aims to show that the insiders of what he refers to as “the madness industry” are themselves mad and that fairly normal people end up being labeled and destroyed by a system riddled with problems. But Ronson doesn’t use the tools of science to accomplish his task. Indeed, his account is profoundly unscientific.
Rather than really engaging the research, Ronson relies on interviews with scientists, patients, and others—and it often seems that he uses these interviews to build support for his preset conclusions, rather than allowing his investigations to drive his theory, or lets his theory be driven by his personal reactions to the players involved (i.e., this guy is a jerk, therefore his research is rubbish). Consider Ronson’s epiphany concerning “what a mutually passionate and sometimes dysfunctional bubble the relationship between therapist and client can be.” The spark and proof for this statement is the fact that one psychiatrist, Gary Maier, who he interviewed “sounded mournful, defensive, and utterly convinced of himself” when arguing that psychopath patients who later reoffended after his treatment program was shut down did so because the dissolution of the program suggested to them that the therapy was ineffective. Ronson may be right about the “sometimes dysfunctional bubble” but he hasn’t made his case at all.
Perhaps more worrisome is the haphazard way Ronson goes about wielding the 20-item Hare Psychopathy Checklist noting whenever he comes across someone—an arrogant CEO, a reviewer who crossed him, etc.—who seems to show signs of one item or another. Certainly that’s part of the point (that such checklists can be used haphazardly), but I often got the sense that Ronson genuinely believed, after having taken a three-day course, that he was now able to spot the psychopaths in our midst. And overall I thought he gave short shrift to the training and experience that go into wielding the DSM. A layperson flipping through the manual will immediately diagnose his spouse with 15 conditions; a trained psychologist will not.
So, my final verdict? Check out one of Ronson’s other books instead — he’s a talented writer but this book left me feeling cold (which may or may not make me a psychopath).
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Sample of other Situationist book reviews:
Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 11, 2011
On the steamy first day of August 1966, Charles Whitman took an elevator to the top floor of the University of Texas Tower in Austin. The 25-year-old climbed the stairs to the observation deck, lugging with him a footlocker full of guns and ammunition. At the top, he killed a receptionist with the butt of his rifle. Two families of tourists came up the stairwell; he shot at them at point-blank range. Then he began to fire indiscriminately from the deck at people below. The first woman he shot was pregnant. As her boyfriend knelt to help her, Whitman shot him as well. He shot pedestrians in the street and an ambulance driver who came to rescue them.
The evening before, Whitman had sat at his typewriter and composed a suicide note:
I don’t really understand myself these days. I am supposed to be an average reasonable and intelligent young man. However, lately (I can’t recall when it started) I have been a victim of many unusual and irrational thoughts.
By the time the police shot him dead, Whitman had killed 13 people and wounded 32 more. The story of his rampage dominated national headlines the next day. And when police went to investigate his home for clues, the story became even stranger: in the early hours of the morning on the day of the shooting, he had murdered his mother and stabbed his wife to death in her sleep.
It was after much thought that I decided to kill my wife, Kathy, tonight … I love her dearly, and she has been as fine a wife to me as any man could ever hope to have. I cannot rationa[l]ly pinpoint any specific reason for doing this …
Along with the shock of the murders lay another, more hidden, surprise: the juxtaposition of his aberrant actions with his unremarkable personal life. Whitman was an Eagle Scout and a former marine, studied architectural engineering at the University of Texas, and briefly worked as a bank teller and volunteered as a scoutmaster for Austin’s Boy Scout Troop 5. As a child, he’d scored 138 on the Stanford-Binet IQ test, placing in the 99th percentile. So after his shooting spree from the University of Texas Tower, everyone wanted answers.
For that matter, so did Whitman. He requested in his suicide note that an autopsy be performed to determine if something had changed in his brain—because he suspected it had.
I talked with a Doctor once for about two hours and tried to convey to him my fears that I felt [overcome by] overwhelming violent impulses. After one session I never saw the Doctor again, and since then I have been fighting my mental turmoil alone, and seemingly to no avail.
Whitman’s body was taken to the morgue, his skull was put under the bone saw, and the medical examiner lifted the brain from its vault. He discovered that Whitman’s brain harbored a tumor the diameter of a nickel. This tumor, called a glioblastoma, had blossomed from beneath a structure called the thalamus, impinged on the hypothalamus, and compressed a third region called the amygdala. The amygdala is involved in emotional regulation, especially of fear and aggression. By the late 1800s, researchers had discovered that damage to the amygdala caused emotional and social disturbances. In the 1930s, the researchers Heinrich Klüver and Paul Bucy demonstrated that damage to the amygdala in monkeys led to a constellation of symptoms, including lack of fear, blunting of emotion, and overreaction. Female monkeys with amygdala damage often neglected or physically abused their infants. In humans, activity in the amygdala increases when people are shown threatening faces, are put into frightening situations, or experience social phobias. Whitman’s intuition about himself—that something in his brain was changing his behavior—was spot-on.
Stories like Whitman’s are not uncommon: legal cases involving brain damage crop up increasingly often. As we develop better technologies for probing the brain, we detect more problems, and link them more easily to aberrant behavior. Take the 2000 case of a 40-year-old man we’ll call Alex, whose sexual preferences suddenly began to transform. He developed an interest in child pornography—and not just a little interest, but an overwhelming one. He poured his time into child-pornography Web sites and magazines. He also solicited prostitution at a massage parlor, something he said he had never previously done. He reported later that he’d wanted to stop, but “the pleasure principle overrode” his restraint. He worked to hide his acts, but subtle sexual advances toward his prepubescent stepdaughter alarmed his wife, who soon discovered his collection of child pornography. He was removed from his house, found guilty of child molestation, and sentenced to rehabilitation in lieu of prison. In the rehabilitation program, he made inappropriate sexual advances toward the staff and other clients, and was expelled and routed toward prison.
At the same time, Alex was complaining of worsening headaches. The night before he was to report for prison sentencing, he couldn’t stand the pain anymore, and took himself to the emergency room. He underwent a brain scan, which revealed a massive tumor in his orbitofrontal cortex. Neurosurgeons removed the tumor. Alex’s sexual appetite returned to normal.
The year after the brain surgery, his pedophilic behavior began to return. The neuroradiologist discovered that a portion of the tumor had been missed in the surgery and was regrowing—and Alex went back under the knife. After the removal of the remaining tumor, his behavior again returned to normal.
When your biology changes, so can your decision-making and your desires. The drives you take for granted (“I’m a heterosexual/homosexual,” “I’m attracted to children/adults,” “I’m aggressive/not aggressive,” and so on) depend on the intricate details of your neural machinery. Although acting on such drives is popularly thought to be a free choice, the most cursory examination of the evidence demonstrates the limits of that assumption.
Alex’s sudden pedophilia illustrates that hidden drives and desires can lurk undetected behind the neural machinery of socialization. When the frontal lobes are compromised, people become disinhibited, and startling behaviors can emerge. Disinhibition is commonly seen in patients with frontotemporal dementia, a tragic disease in which the frontal and temporal lobes degenerate. With the loss of that brain tissue, patients lose the ability to control their hidden impulses. To the frustration of their loved ones, these patients violate social norms in endless ways: shoplifting in front of store managers, removing their clothes in public, running stop signs, breaking out in song at inappropriate times, eating food scraps found in public trash cans, being physically aggressive or sexually transgressive. Patients with frontotemporal dementia commonly end up in courtrooms, where their lawyers, doctors, and embarrassed adult children must explain to the judge that the violation was not the perpetrator’s fault, exactly: much of the brain has degenerated, and medicine offers no remedy. Fifty-seven percent of frontotemporal-dementia patients violate social norms, as compared with only 27 percent of Alzheimer’s patients.
Changes in the balance of brain chemistry, even small ones, can also cause large and unexpected changes in behavior. Victims of Parkinson’s disease offer an example. In 2001, families and caretakers of Parkinson’s patients began to notice something strange. When patients were given a drug called pramipexole, some of them turned into gamblers. And not just casual gamblers, but pathological gamblers. These were people who had never gambled much before, and now they were flying off to Vegas. One 68-year-old man amassed losses of more than $200,000 in six months at a series of casinos. Some patients became consumed with Internet poker, racking up unpayable credit-card bills. For several, the new addiction reached beyond gambling, to compulsive eating, excessive alcohol consumption, and hypersexuality.
What was going on? Parkinson’s involves the loss of brain cells that produce a neurotransmitter known as dopamine. Pramipexole works by impersonating dopamine. But it turns out that dopamine is a chemical doing double duty in the brain. Along with its role in motor commands, it also mediates the reward systems, guiding a person toward food, drink, mates, and other things useful for survival. Because of dopamine’s role in weighing the costs and benefits of decisions, imbalances in its levels can trigger gambling, overeating, and drug addiction—behaviors that result from a reward system gone awry. Physicians now watch for these behavioral changes as a possible side effect of drugs like pramipexole. Luckily, the negative effects of the drug are reversible—the physician simply lowers the dosage, and the compulsive gambling goes away.
The lesson from all these stories is the same: human behavior cannot be separated from human biology. If we like to believe that people make free choices about their behavior (as in, “I don’t gamble, because I’m strong-willed”), cases like Alex the pedophile, the frontotemporal shoplifters, and the gambling Parkinson’s patients may encourage us to examine our views more carefully. Perhaps not everyone is equally “free” to make socially appropriate choices.
Does the discovery of Charles Whitman’s brain tumor modify your feelings about the senseless murders he committed? Does it affect the sentence you would find appropriate for him, had he survived that day? Does the tumor change the degree to which you consider the killings “his fault”? Couldn’t you just as easily be unlucky enough to develop a tumor and lose control of your behavior?
On the other hand, wouldn’t it be dangerous to conclude that people with a tumor are free of guilt, and that they should be let off the hook for their crimes?
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Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 9, 2011
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Antitrust policy today is an anomaly. On the one hand, antitrust is thriving internationally. On the other hand, antitrust’s influence has diminished domestically. Over the past thirty years, there have been fewer antitrust investigations and private actions. Today the Supreme Court complains about antitrust suits, and places greater faith in the antitrust function being subsumed in a regulatory framework. So what happened to the antitrust movement in the United States?
Two import factors contributed to antitrust policy’s domestic decline. The first is salience, especially the salience of the U.S. antitrust goals. In the past thirty years, enforcers and courts abandoned antitrust’s political, social, and moral goals, in their quest for a single economic goal. Second antitrust policy increasingly relied on an incomplete, distorted conception of competition. Adopting the Chicago School’s simplifying assumptions of self-correcting markets composed of rational, self-interested market participants, the courts and enforcers sacrificed important political, social, and moral values to promote certain economic beliefs.
With the anger over taxpayer bailouts for firms deemed too-big-and-integral-to-fail, the wealth inequality that accelerated over the past thirty years, and the current budget cuts and austerity measures, the United States is ripe for a new antitrust policy cycle.
This Article first summarizes the quest during the past 30 years for a single economic goal. It discusses why this quest failed. Four oft-cited economic goals (ensuring an effective competitive process, promoting consumer welfare, maximizing efficiency, and ensuring economic freedom) never unified antitrust analysis. After discussing why it is unrealistic to believe that a single well-defined antitrust objective exists, the Article proposes how to account antitrust’s multiple policy objectives into the legal framework. It outlines a blended goal approach, and the benefits of this approach in providing better legal standards and reviving antitrust’s relevance.
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Download the paper for free here.
Sample of related Situationist posts.
Posted in Abstracts, Behavioral Economics, Distribution, History, Law | Tagged: Antitrust, Behavioral Economics, Clayton Act, Mergers, Monopoly, Sherman Act, Too-Big-To-Fail, well-being | Leave a Comment »