The Situationist

Archive for the ‘Neuroscience’ Category

Performing Under Pressure

Posted by Adam Benforado on September 22, 2010

Situationist friend Sian Beilock’s highly anticipated new book, Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To, is now out.  As someone who has had both great successes and great failures under pressure, I’ve been very excited to read Choke since Sian first mentioned it to me.  What exactly happened in that 8th-grade piano recital when my mind went blank halfway through that Bach three-part invention?  Mom, I finally have an answer . . .

Here’s a description of the book:

It happens to all of us. You’ve prepared for days, weeks, even years for the big day when you will finally show your stuff—in academics, in your career, in sports—but when the big moment arrives, nothing seems to work. You hit the wrong note, drop the ball, get stumped by a simple question. In other words, you choke. It’s not fun to think about, but now there’s good news: This doesn’t have to happen.

In lively prose and accessibly rendered science, Beilock examines how attention and working memory guide human performance, how experience and practice and brain development interact to create our abilities, and how stress affects all these factors. She sheds new light on counter-intuitive realities, like why the highest performing people are most susceptible to choking under pressure, why we may learn foreign languages best when we’re not paying attention, why early childhood athletic training can backfire, and how our emotions can make us both smarter and dumber. All these fascinating findings about academic, athletic, and creative intelligence come together in Beilock’s new ideas about performance under pressure—and her secrets to never choking again. Whether you’re at the Olympics, in the boardroom, or taking the SAT, Beilock’s clear, prescriptive guidance shows how to remain cool under pressure—the key to performing well when everything’s on the line.

Dr. Sian Beilock, an expert on performance and brain science, reveals in Choke the astonishing new science of why we all too often blunder when the stakes are high. What happens in our brain and body when we experience the dreaded performance anxiety? And what are we doing differently when everything magically “clicks” into place and the perfect golf swing, tricky test problem, or high-pressure business pitch becomes easy? In an energetic tour of the latest brain science, with surprising insights on every page, Beilock explains the inescapable links between body and mind; reveals the surprising similarities among the ways performers, students, athletes, and business people choke; and shows how to succeed brilliantly when it matters most.

Read an excerpt from Choke here.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Social Psychologists Discuss Stereotype Threat,” Stereotype Threat and Performance,” Your Group is Bad at Math,” “The Bar Exam Situation,” “A (Situationist) Body of Thought,” and The Situation of ‘Winners’ and ‘Losers.’

Posted in Abstracts, Book, Life, Neuroscience, Positive Psychology, Situationist Sports | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

The Situational Effects of Mirror Neurons

Posted by The Situationist Staff on September 5, 2010

From TEDxTalks:

Gustaf Gredebäck is an Associate Professor at the Department of Psychology, Uppsala University where he manages the Uppsala Babylab. His research span several topics including occulomotor development, social cognition, and object representations in infancy. Central to his research is the active infant, that perceive, interpret, and interact with his/her physical and social environment in a goal directed and future oriented manner.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “A (Situationist) Body of Thought,” Smart People Thinking about People Thinking about People Thinking,” “A Closer Look at Interior Situation,” “The Unconscious Situation of our Consciousness – Part IV,” “The Body Has a Mind of its Own,” and “Brainicize: The Situational Malleability of our Brains.”

Posted in Embodied Cognition, Life, Neuroscience, Video | Tagged: | 2 Comments »

Thomas Nadelhoffer on Neuroscience, Philosophy, and Law

Posted by The Situationist Staff on August 12, 2010

From The Project on Law & Mind Sciences at Harvard Law School (PLMS):

Below is a fascinating and enlightening 51-minute interview of Thomas Nadelhoffer by Harvard Law Student Brian Wood.  The interview, titled “Developments in Neuroscience and their Implications for Criminal Law,” lasts just over 51 minutes.  It was conducted the Law and Mind Science Seminar at Harvard (taught by Situationist Editor Jon Hanson).

Bio:

Situationist Contributor Dr. Thomas Nadelhoffer was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned degrees in philosophy from The University of Georgia (BA), Georgia State University (MA), and Florida State University (PhD). Since 2006, he has been an assistant professor of philosopy and a member of the law and policy faculty at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. He is currently at Duke University as a Visiting Scholar in the Kenan Institute for Ethics.

His main areas of research include moral psychology, the philosophy of action, free will, punishment theory, and neurolaw. He is particularly interested in research at the cross roads of philosophy and the sciences of the mind. His articles have appeared in journals such as Analysis, Midwest Studies in Philosophy, Mind & Language, Neuroethics, and Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. He is the coordinator of the blogs Flickers of Freedom and the Law and Neuroscience Blog. He is also a contributing author to blogs such as The Situationist, The Leiter Reports, and Experimental Philosophy.

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Table of contents:

  • What have you been working on recently?  0:22
  • What are some areas of the legal system in which this science is relevant? 1:07
  • What are the problems with the traditional approaches to using science in the criminal system, and how are new scientific methods relevant to fixing them? 2:15
  • How could these newer scientific methods be employed? 4:09
  • What are the rationales society has traditionally cited as justifying criminal punishment? 6:55
  • Can you explain what Compatibalism is? 10:17
  • Aren’t there problems with notions of moral responsibility under Compatibalism? 12:26
  • How do neuroscience, Compatibalism, and determinism relate to our notions of law? 12:55
  • What do you see as the problems with the classic approaches to punishment? 15:25
  • Is there anything especially strange about Retributivism to you? 20:37
  • Can you detail what you believe to be the just reasons for punishment and how society can punish people more justly? 23:41
  • In your view, how would you punish psychopaths under the consequentialist rationale? 30:40
  • Can you give an example of the distinctions psychopaths cannot draw? 34:50
  • What’s the most interesting experiment you have conducted? 37:01
  • Do you think these participants just misunderstood what determinism is? 38:15
  • What qualities do you believe you and other researchers and philosophers need to be successful? 40:03
  • How has what you have learned through your research influenced the way you live you life? 41:35
  • How do you see the relationship of law and mind science developing in the future? 44:55

Posted in Experimental Philosophy, Law, Legal Theory, Morality, Neuroscience, Philosophy, Situationist Contributors, Video | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Psychopaths

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 8, 2010

NPR’s Morning Edition had a three-part series, called “Inside the Criminal Brain” (hosted by Renee Montagne and Barbara Hagerty) at the end of June.  The first in the of the series, “Neuroscientist Uncovers A Dark Secret” (which you can listen to here) tells the story of neuroscientist James Fallon.  Here are some excerpts from the transcript.

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RENEE MONTAGNE:

For the past couple of decades, [James] Fallon has studied the brains of murderers.

Recently, Fallon made a startling discovery.

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Fallon investigated, and it turns out that one of his direct great-grandfathers, Thomas Cornell, killed his mother in the 1600s, and that line of Cornells produced seven other alleged murderers.

Dr. FALLON: There’s this whole lineage of very violent people, killers, ending with Lizzy Borden.

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HAGERTY: Fallon was a little spooked by his ancestry, so he set out to see if anyone in this family had the brain of a serial killer. He knows what to look for, since he’s studied the brains of dozens of psychopaths. He calls up an image of a brain on his computer screen. It’s lit up with patches of color.

Dr. FALLON: Here is a brain that’s not normal. You can see where this is – this yellow here and red here, and look at it. It’s almost nothing here.

HAGERTY: He’s pointing to the orbital cortex. It’s completely dark. That’s the part of the brain that’s right above the eyes, and this is the area that Fallon and other scientists believe is involved with ethical behavior, moral decision making and controlling one’s impulses.

Dr. FALLON: People with low activity are either freewheeling types or sociopaths.

HAGERTY: Fallon says that’s because the orbital cortex puts a brake on another part of the brain called the amygdala, which is involved with aggression and appetites. If there’s an imbalance, if the orbital cortex isn’t doing its job -maybe because it was damaged or was just born that way . . .

Dr. FALLON: What’s left? What takes over? Well, the area of the brain that drives your id-type behaviors, which is rage, violence, eating, sex, drinking.

HAGERTY: Now, nobody in his family has problems with those behaviors, but he persuaded 10 of his close relatives to submit to a brain scan. Then he examined the images, comparing them with the brains of psychopaths. . . .

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Dr. FALLON: And I took a look at my own PET scan and saw something a little disturbing that I did not talk about.

HAGERTY: What he didn’t want to reveal was that his orbital cortex looks inactive.

Dr. FALLON: If you look at the PET scan, I look just like one of those killers.

HAGERTY: Fallon cautions that this is a young field. Scientists are just beginning to understand this area of the brain. Still, he says, the evidence is accumulating that some people’s brains predispose them toward violence, and that psychopathic tendencies may be passed down from one generation to another.

Which brings us to the next part of this family experiment. Along with brain scans, Fallon also tested each family member’s DNA for genes that are associated with violence and impulsivity. He looked at 12 genes and zeroed in on something called the MAOA gene. It’s also known as the warrior gene because it regulates serotonin in the brain.

Serotonin affects your mood, and many scientists believe that if you have a certain version of the warrior gene, your brain won’t respond to the calming effects of serotonin.

Dr. FALLON: So this is the MAO gene. And we can see here my daughter, son, daughter, daughter, brother, brother, wife, brother.

HAGERTY: Everyone in his family has the low aggression variant, except…

Dr. FALLON: I’m like 100 percent here. I have the pattern, a risky pattern. In a sense, I’m a born killer.

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Ms. DIANE FALLON: I wasn’t too concerned. I really wasn’t. I mean, I’ve known him since I was 12.

HAGERTY: That’s Jim Fallon’s wife, Diane. She probably doesn’t need to worry, according to scientists who study this area. They believe that brain patterns and genetic makeup are not enough to make anyone a psychopath. You need a third ingredient: childhood abuse.

Ms. D. FALLON: And fortunately, he wasn’t abused as a young person, so I’ve lived to be, you know, a ripe old age so far.

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HAGERTY: Jim Fallon says he had a great childhood. And, he says, this journey through his brain has changed the way he thinks about nature and nurture. He used to believe that genes and brain function determine everything about us, but now, he says, he thinks his childhood may have made all the difference.

Dr. FALLON: We’ll never know. But had I been abused, I think we wouldn’t be sitting here today.

HAGERTY: As to the psychopaths he studies, he feels some compassion for these people who got, as he put it, a bad roll of the dice.

Dr. FALLON: It’s an unlucky day when all of these three things come together in a bad way. And I think one has to empathize with what happened to them.

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You can read the entire transcript or listen to the interview here.  Below is a Jim Fallon’s 8-minute TED Talk briefly describing his own work and his own family.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Mental Illness,” “The Situation of Bullying,” The Cruelty of Children,”  Examining the Bullying Situation,” The Disturbing Mental Health Situation of Returning Soldiers,”  “The Psychology of The Dark Knight,” The Neuro-Situation of Violence and Empathy,” The Situation of Morality and Empathy,” The Situation of Kindness,” The Situation of Caring,” New Study Looks at the Roots of Empathy,” The Situation of Gang Rape,” Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part I,” and Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part III.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Emotions, Legal Theory, Morality, Neuroscience, Video | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Rebecca Saxe on Situationism

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 10, 2010

From the National Science Foundation:

Rebecca Saxe (Carole Middleton Career Development Professor in the department of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT) discusses the under-appreciated power of situation.

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Zimbardo on Milgram and Obedience – Part II,” “Jon Hanson on Situationism and Dispositionism,” Hanson’s Chair Lecture on Situationism,” “‘Situation’ Trumps ‘Disposition’ – Part I,” and ““Situation” Trumps “Disposition”- Part II.”

Posted in Classic Experiments, Illusions, Neuroscience, Video | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situational Consequences of Poverty on Brains

Posted by The Situationist Staff on June 9, 2010

Anne McIlroy wrote a piece for the Toronto Globe and Mail describing research by Dr. James Swain, who is using brain imaging techniques to study the effects of poverty on the brain.  Here are some excerpts.

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Over the past four decades, researchers have established how poverty shapes lives, that low socioeconomic status is associated with poor academic performance, poor mental and physical health and other negative outcomes. Swain is part of a new generation of neuroscientists investigating how poverty shapes the brain.

The University of Michigan researcher will use imaging technologies to compare the structure and function of brains of young adults from families with low socioeconomic status to those who are middle-class.

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He and other neuroscientists are building on preliminary evidence that suggests the chronic stress of living in an impoverished household, among other factors, can have an impact on the developing brain.

Studies suggest low socioeconomic status may affect several areas of the brain, including the circuitry involved in language, memory and in executive functions, a set of skills that help us focus on a problem and solve it.

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At Michigan, Swain will be looking at many different parts of the brain and the connections between regions.

His volunteers are 52 young adults that one of his colleagues, Gary Evans at Cornell University, has been tracking since they were in their mothers’ wombs. Half of them grew up in poverty, the other half in working or middle-class homes.

As early as next month, Swain will begin two days of brain imaging and tests for each volunteer. He will assess language skills and memory and study how their brains react to pictures of scary faces, and whether that reaction changes when they are stressed. (He’ll stress them by asking them to do mental arithmetic in front of strangers.)

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You can read the entire article here.   For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Inequality and the Unequal Situation of Mental and Physical Health,” The Interior Situation of Intergenerational Poverty,” Rich Brains, Poor Brains?,” Jeffrey Sachs on the Situation of Global Poverty,” “The Situation of Financial Risk-Taking,” “The Situation of Standardized Test Scores,”The Toll of Discrimination on Black Women,” The Physical Pains of Discrimination,” The Depressing Effects of Racial Discrimination,” and The Cognitive Costs of Interracial Interactions.”

Posted in Distribution, Education, Environment, Neuroscience | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

The Affective Situation of Ethics and Mediation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 29, 2010

Ellen Waldman recenly posted her thoughtful article, “Mindfulness, Emotions, and Ethics: The Right Stuff?” (Nevada Law Journal, Vol. 10, No. 2, 2010) on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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What role do emotions play in ethical decision-making? Philosophers have long debated the question, disagreeing about both the nature of “the good” and how best to achieve it. Rationalists ground one’s capacity for virtue in logic and deliberate cognition, while moral intuitionists look to one’s capacity for feeling deeply. Immanuel Kant, for example, maintained that right conduct flowed from a sense of duty that functioned independently of emotion. Conversely, David Hume argued that all right action involved sentiment and that reason, stripped of passion, could not impel ethical choice.

Philosophers are not alone in their fascination with the question. Psychologists also have delved into the relationship between emotion and moral development, creating varying models of maturation that either embrace or reject emotion as a critical component of moral discernment. Today, debates in the “soft sciences” of the mind spill into the “hard sciences” of the body. Interest in the biological bases of emotion invigorates neuroscience, and developments in functional magnetic resonance imagery (fMRI) promise methods for mapping the synaptic pathways that induce affective states. Although we can now detect activity in portions of the brain associated with emotional experience, it remains unclear whether those electrical surges push us in “right” or “wrong” directions.

In the mediation world, scholars and practitioners frequently treat emotion as the unruly step-child of the problem-solving mind. Professor Leonard Riskin characterizes emotion as a potential negotiation saboteur and offers “mindful practice” as a useful corrective. He argues that mindful mediation can help negotiators gain better control over their wandering minds and negative emotions, and achieve more satisfying, interest-based solutions.

This essay celebrates Riskin’s call to arms while suggesting some limits to what mindfulness can achieve in the ethical realm. It examines in more detail the relationship Riskin posits between mindful practice and ethical decision-making. It discusses recent developments in neuroethics that imply a prominent role for emotions in establishing ethical restraint. It also surveys a growing body of evidence that suggests the directive power of our emotions remains largely hidden from and impervious to the control of our “reasoning” selves. Lastly, it examines what Riskin has, in an earlier work, described as the ethical “hard case” in light of recent explorations into the emotional wellsprings of deontological versus consequentialist thinking. Although the mediation community need not wade deeply into the debates currently roiling social psychologists, it is useful to reflect on the genesis of our ethical commitments and whether they continue to serve the field’s long-term goals and interests.

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You can download the article for free, here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Legal Ethics,” “Blind to our Situational Blindness,” “Mood and Moral Judgment,” Law, Psychology & Morality – Abstract,” “Situating Emotion,” “The Motivated Situation of Morality,” and “Moral Psychology Primer.”

Posted in Abstracts, Book, Emotions, Morality, Neuroscience, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Sexism

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 17, 2010

Shankar Vedantam, author of the outstanding book, “The Hidden Brain,” excerpted a brief section of that book for TheAge.com. Here are some excerpts from that excerpt.

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. . . . The existence of unconscious sexism can be scientifically proved in laboratory experiments. . . .

Bias is much harder to demonstrate scientifically in real life, which may be why large numbers of people do not believe that sexism and other forms of prejudice still exist. Many people think we live in a “post-racial” and “post-sexist” world where egalitarian notions are the norm. Indeed, if you go by what people report, we do live in a bias-free world, because most people report feeling no prejudice whatsoever.

What would be remarkably instructive in real life would be if women in various professions could experience life as men, and vice versa. If the same person got treated differently, we would be sure sexism was at work, because the only thing that changed was the sex of the individual and not his or her skills, talent, knowledge, experience, or interests.

Joan Roughgarden and Ben Barres are biologists at Stanford University. Both are researchers at one of the premier academic institutions in the country; both are tenured professors. Both are transgendered people. Stanford has been a welcoming home for these scientists; if you are going to be a transgendered person anywhere in the United States, it would be difficult to imagine a place more tolerant than Palo Alto and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Ben Barres did not transition to being a man until he was 50. For much of her early life, Barbara Barres was oblivious to questions of sexism. She would hear Gloria Steinem and other feminists talk about discrimination and wonder, “What’s their problem?” She was no activist; all she wanted was to be a scientist. She was an excellent student. When a school guidance counsellor advised her to set her sights lower than MIT, Barbara ignored him, applied to MIT, and got admitted in 1972.

During a particularly difficult maths seminar at MIT, a professor handed out a quiz with five problems. He gave out the test at 9am, and students had to hand in their answers by midnight. The first four problems were easy, and Barbara knocked them off in short order. But the fifth one was a beauty; it involved writing a computer program where the solution required the program to generate a partial answer, and then loop around to the start in a recursive fashion.

“I remember when the professor handed back the exams, he made this announcement that there were five problems but no one had solved the fifth problem and therefore he only scored the class on the four problems,” Ben recalled. “I got an A. I went to the professor and I said, ‘I solved it.’ He looked at me and he had a look of disdain in his eyes, and he said, ‘You must have had your boyfriend solve it.’ To me, the most amazing thing is that I was indignant. I walked away. I didn’t know what to say. He was in essence accusing me of cheating. I was incensed by that. It did not occur to me for years and years that that was sexism.”

By the time she was done with MIT, Barbara had more or less decided she wanted to be a neuroscientist. She decided to go to medical school at Dartmouth in New Hampshire. Gender issues at med school were like the issues at MIT on steroids; one professor referred Barbara to his wife when she wanted to talk about her professional interests. An anatomy professor showed a slide of a nude female pin-up during a lecture.

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But things changed in large and subtle ways after Barbara became Ben.

Ben once gave a presentation at the prestigious Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. A friend relayed a comment made by someone in the audience who didn’t know Ben Barres and Barbara Barres were the same person: “Ben Barres gave a great seminar today, but, then, his work is much better than his sister’s.”

Ben also noticed he was treated differently in the everyday world. “When I go into stores, I notice I am much more likely to be attended to. They come up to me and say, ‘Yes, sir? Can I help you, sir?’ I have had the thought a million times, I am taken more seriously.”

When former Harvard president Larry Summers (who went on to become a senior economic adviser to President Barack Obama) set off a firestorm a few years ago after musing about whether there were fewer women professors in the top ranks of science because of innate differences between men and women, Ben wrote an anguished essay in the journal Nature. He asked whether innate differences or subtle biases – from grade school to graduate school – explained the large disparities between men and women in the highest reaches of science.

“When it comes to bias, it seems that the desire to believe in a meritocracy is so powerful that until a person has experienced sufficient career-harming bias themselves they simply do not believe it exists … By far, the main difference that I have noticed is that people who don’t know I am transgendered treat me with much more respect: I can even complete a whole sentence without being interrupted by a man.”

Joan Roughgarden came to Stanford in 1972, more than a quarter century before she made her male-to-female transition in 1998. When the young biologist arrived at Stanford, it felt as though tracks had been laid down; all Roughgarden had to do was stick to the tracks, and the high expectations that others had of the young biologist would do the rest.

“It was clear when I got the job at Stanford that it was like being on a conveyer belt,” Roughgarden told me in an interview. “The career track is set up for young men. You are assumed to be competent unless revealed otherwise. You can speak, and people will pause and people will listen. You can enunciate in definitive terms and get away with it. You are taken as a player. You can use male diction, male tones of voice. … You can assert. You have the authority to frame issues.”

At the Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove, an outpost of the university about 150 kilometres from campus, Roughgarden ruffled feathers in the scientific establishment by arguing that a prominent theory that described the life cycle of marine animals was wrong. Where previous research had suggested that tide pools were involved in the transportation of certain larvae, Roughgarden reframed the issue and showed that the larger ocean played a significant role. The new theory got harsh reviews, but Roughgarden’s ideas were taken seriously. In short order, Roughgarden became a tenured professor, and a widely respected scientist and author.

Like Ben Barres, Roughgarden made her transition to Joan relatively late in life. Stanford proved tolerant, but very soon Joan started to feel that people were taking her ideas less seriously. In 2006, for example, Joan suggested another famous scientific theory was wrong – Charles Darwin’s theory of sexual selection. . . .

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The scientific establishment, Joan said, was livid. But in contrast to the response to her earlier theory about tide pools and marine animals, few scientists engaged with her. At a workshop at Loyola University, a scientist “lost it” and started screaming at her for being irresponsible. “I had never had experiences of anyone trying to coerce me in this physically intimidating way,” she said, as she compared the reactions to her work before and after she became a woman. “You really think this guy is really going to come over and hit you.”

At a meeting of the Ecological Society of America in Minneapolis, Joan said, a prominent expert jumped up on the stage after her talk and started shouting at her. Once every month or two, she said, ”I will have some man shout at me, try to physically coerce me into stopping …When I was doing the marine ecology work, they did not try to physically intimidate me and say, ‘You have not read all the literature.’

“They would not assume they were smarter. The current crop of objectors assumes they are smarter.”

Joan is willing to acknowledge her theory might be wrong; that, after all, is the nature of science. But what she wants is to be proven wrong, rather than dismissed. Making bold and counter-intuitive assertions is precisely the way science progresses. Many bold ideas are wrong, but if there isn’t a regular supply of them and if they are not debated seriously, there is no progress. After her transition, Joan said she no longer feels she has “the right to be wrong”.

Where she used to be a member of Stanford University’s senate, Joan is no longer on any university or departmental committee. Where she was once able to access internal university funds for research, she said she finds it all but impossible to do so now. Before her transition, she enjoyed an above-average salary at Stanford. But since her transition, “My own salary has drifted down to the bottom 10 per cent of full professors in the School of Humanities and Sciences, even though my research and students are among the best of my career and are having international impact, albeit often controversial.”

I asked her about interpersonal dynamics before and after her transition. “You get interrupted when you are talking, you can’t command attention, but above all you can’t frame the issues,” she said. With a touch of wistfulness, she compared herself to Ben Barres. “Ben has migrated into the centre whereas I have had to migrate into the periphery.”

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You can read the entire excerpt here and learn more about the book here.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Being ‘(un)American’,” “Why Race May Influence Us Even When We “Know” It Doesn’t,” “Examining the Gendered Situation of Harvard Business School,” which includes list of still more related links.  

Posted in Book, Distribution, Education, Life, Neuroscience | Tagged: , , , | 4 Comments »

The Situation of Financial Markets

Posted by The Situationist Staff on May 7, 2010

Below the jump you can watch an outstanding and fascinating  video episode, “Mind over Money,” by PBS’s NOVA, that asks the question “Can markets be rational when humans aren’t?” and that includes significant segments describing some of the work by Situationist friend Jennifer Lerner.

(We’ve placed the (52 minute) video after the jump because it plays automatically.)

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Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Behavioral Economics, Choice Myth, Emotions, Ideology, Neuroeconomics, Neuroscience, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

MBB Distinguished Lectures with Michael Gazzaniga

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 20, 2010

Harvard Mind, Brain & Behavior will hold its 2010 Distinguished Lecture Series this week, featuring three evening lectures with Dr. Michael Gazzaniga, psychology professor and director of the SAGE Center for the Study of Mind at the University of California Santa Barbara. All three events look interesting, and the final event has particular relevance to law and mind sciences. All events will be held in Harvard’s Yenching Auditorium, 2 Divinity Ave, Cambridge, MA.

  • Tuesday, April 20, 4 to 6 pm
    Building the Parallel Distributed Brain, How Do We Know?
    From Hebb, Lashley, and Sperry, and through modern research, the basics of brain organization are reviewed at both the cellular and neurological level, including a personal history of split-brain research that all lead up to the view of a parallel and distributed brain. Post-talk commentary by Professor Albert Galaburda (Neurology / HMS).
  • Wednesday, April 21, 4 to 6 pm
    Automatic Brains, Interpretive Minds
    With a massively parallel and distributed and automatic brain, how is it we believe we experience a unified conscious life? How does the sense of psychological unity become established and how does it work in the brain? Post-talk commentary by Professor Güven Güzeldere (Philosophy / FAS).
  • Thursday, April 22, 4 to 6 pm
    Feeling Free in a Mechanistic World: Where the Brain Meets the Law
    The idea of determinism and mechanism rings out from every quarter of science and society. What does this mean for the concept of personal responsibility and how might ideas on the issue impact our ideas of justice and the law? Post-talk commentary by Professor Joshua Greene (Psychology / FAS).

Posted in Classic Experiments, Events, Neuroscience | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

2010 Law and Mind Sciences Conference

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 14, 2010

The 2010 Conference on Law and Mind Sciences


“Moral Biology? How should developments in mind sciences and behavioral biology alter our understanding of law and morality?”

When: Thursday, April 15, 2010, at 5:30 p.m.
Where: Harvard Law School, Austin Hall, West Classroom

Free and Open to the Public

This panel discussion will examine how developments in evolutionary biology and the mind sciences should inform law, philosophy, and economics, focusing on subjects such as punishment, responsibility, racism, addiction, and cooperation. Participants will include:

  • I. Glenn Cohen
  • Joshua Greene
  • William Fitzpatrick
  • Adina Roskies
  • Walter Sinnott-Armstrong
  • Thomas Scanlon

Co-sponsored by The Project on Law and Mind Sciences at Harvard Law School, The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School, the Gruter Institute, the Harvard Program on Ethics and Health, and the MacArthur Law and Neuroscience Project.

More specifics regarding participants, materials, and the conference agenda can be found here.

Posted in Events, Legal Theory, Morality, Neuroscience, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Should Addiction Be Criminalized?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 2, 2010

From Big Think: Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, argues that abusers should be treated the same as anyone with a debilitating disease.

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Transcript:

Question: How should drug addicts be treated in society?

Nora Volkow: Drug addiction is a disease of the brain. It’s a disease of the brain. We don’t put people that have diseases in the jail or in prison because they actually, that’s what we decide, right? I don’t even dare myself to the concept of putting someone in jail because they have a disease. My brain doesn’t even allow me to think that way.

And yet we do that with addicted people and I’ve thought a lot, why is our society criminalizing the person that’s addicted to drugs? And I think it’s because it has been very hard for people to recognize that our behaviors and our ability to control our desires is basically the product of very complex systems in the brain that enable us to perceive these desires, to control them, to make the right choices. This is very difficult for people that have all of their faculties intact, to understand that not everybody can do it. And so I sort of easier to say, “Well, if I can do it, that person is not doing it because they are choosing to just have a good time.” And so we’ve taken that approach and I guess the other element that happens with drugs, the drive to take these drugs can be so overpowering, so, so overpowering, because it’s hard wiring of the brain, the signaling is this is something that is necessary for survival. That’s what drugs have done in a person that’s addicted. They’ve generated the message as the same intense as if you haven’t eaten. And it’s a signal, you have to eat or you’ll die, you have to drink water or you’ll die, very, very powerful signals. Very difficult to control. You haven’t eaten for one week and you have food in front of you, just try to say no to that food. It’s the same drive.

So they can, when they are in those situations, this intense drive, they can do behaviors that are criminal, they can go and steal, in order to be able to get the drug. Like someone who has not eaten for one week, if they have nothing but to steal the food, they may steal the food. So that leads to the criminal behavior that then leads the person and the system to react very negatively, you should not steal. Of course you should not steal. But people should not be hungry, people should not be in the situation that they have to steal in order to eat. That should not happen. Like a person should not be, not given treatment that is in a situation where their body’s experiencing the drug as if it were a survival need. They should be provided with treatment.

So yes, we should deal with drug addiction as a disease, like we deal with any of the other medical diseases. We should not be criminalizing it. When we criminalize a drug addict, nobody wins. Certainly you’re not going to improve the behavior of that person that is thrown into jail. When they get out of the jail, the first thing they’ll do is relapse. Unless you treat them in jail. If you treat them in jail and you maintain the treatment when they leave jail, then you’re giving them a chance. If you’re throwing them in jail and not providing any treatment or treating them in jail and then throwing them out, they will relapse.

So, and that costs an enormous amount of money, to put people in jail because they are addicted to drugs is very, very costly. It doesn’t make any sense. Your tax dollar goes into the criminal justice system, it’s much less expensive to treat. And if you treat the person, you’re giving that person a chance. And you’re giving the family of that person a chance. So it’s a win-win. You’re basically decrease your cost on criminal behavior, you decrease reincarceration and the person can go back and become an active member of society at all levels.

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To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situational Effects of Dopamine,” “The Addictive Situation of Fatty Food,” The Science of Addiction, The Myth of Choice,” Are Video Games Addictive?,” “The Situation of Gambling,” Crazy Little Thing Called Love The Situation of Punishment (and Forgiveness),” “The Situation of Punishment,” “Why We Punish,” Clarence Darrow on the Situation of Crime and Criminals,” and “Law & the Brain.”

Posted in Choice Myth, Food and Drug Law, Law, Neuroscience | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Joshua Greene To Speak at Harvard Law School

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 31, 2010

On Thursday, April 1st, the HLS Student Association for Law and Mind Sciences (SALMS) and the Harvard Graduate Mind, Brain, and Behavior (MBB) Steering Committee are hosting a talk by Joshua Greene called “Moral Cognition and the Law.”

Joshua Greene is an Assistant Professor in the Psychology Department at Harvard University. He studies emotion and reason in moral judgment using behavioral experiments, functional neuroimaging (fMRI), and other neuroscientific methods.  The goal of his research is to understand how moral judgments are shaped by automatic processes, such as emotional gut reactions, and controlled cognitive processes, such as reasoning and self-control.

The event will take place in Pound 101 at Harvard Law School, from 12:00 – 1:00 p.m.

Free Burritos! For more information, e-mail salms@law.harvard.edu.

For a sample of Situationist discussing Professor Greene’s scholarship, see “The Interior Situation of Honesty (and Dishonesty),” “Moral Psychology Primer,” Law & the Brain,” “Pinker on the Situation of Morality,” “The Science of Morality,” and Your Brain and Morality.”

Posted in Events, Experimental Philosophy, Morality, Neuroscience | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Neuro-Situation of Moral and Economic Decisions

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 21, 2010

From ThirteenWNET:

To Steven Quartz & Colin Camerer the brain is a huge number-cruncher, assigning a numeric value to everything from a loaf of bread to our most deeply held moral “values.” In that sense, moral decisions are also economic ones. Using a brain scanner (fMRI), they want to catch the brain in the act—to see what it’s doing at exactly the moment a tough moral decision gets made. Their research is pioneering a new branch of neuroscience — neuroeconomics.

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To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Legal Brain,” Read My Brain – From Science Friday,” “The Situation of Neuroeconomics and Situationist Economics,” and “The Interior Situational Reaction to Inequality.”

Posted in Behavioral Economics, Distribution, Emotions, Neuroeconomics, Neuroscience, Video | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Rebecca Saxe on how we read each other’s minds

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 28, 2010

From TEDTalks:  Sensing the motives and feelings of others is a natural talent for humans. But how do we do it? Here, Rebecca Saxe shares fascinating lab work that uncovers how the brain thinks about other peoples’ thoughts — and judges their actions.

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Dan Gilbert on Why the Brain Scares Itself,” “Nancy Kanwisher on the Situation of our Brain,” Smart People Thinking about People Thinking about People Thinking” and ““The Grand Illusion” — Believing We See the Situation.”  To review a collection of Situationist posts on neuroscience, click here.

Posted in Life, Neuroscience, Video | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

The Neuro-Situation of Responsibility

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 27, 2010

Nicole Vincent recently posted her interesting paper, “Neuroimaging and Responsibility Assessments” on SSRN.  Here’s the abstract.

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Could neuroimaging evidence help us to assess the degree of a person’s responsibility for a crime which we know that they committed? This essay defends an affirmative answer to this question. A range of standard objections to this high-tech approach to assessing people’s responsibility is considered and then set aside, but I also bring to light and then reject a novel objection — an objection which is only encountered when functional (rather than structural) neuroimaging is used to assess people’s responsibility.

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Download the paper for free here.   To read a sample of related Situationist posts see, Your Brain and Morality,” “Law & the Brain, The Science of Morality,” “Attributing Blame — from the Baseball Diamond to the War on Terror,” “David Vitter, Eliot Spitzer, John Edwards, Jon Ensign, and Now Mark Sanford: The Disposition Is Weaker than the Situation,” and “The Need for a Situationist Morality.”

Posted in Abstracts, Law, Neuroscience | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Interior Situational Reaction to Inequality

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 25, 2010

From EurekAlert:

The human brain is a big believer in equality—and a team of scientists from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, has become the first to gather the images to prove it.

Specifically, the team found that the reward centers in the human brain respond more strongly when a poor person receives a financial reward than when a rich person does. The surprising thing? This activity pattern holds true even if the brain being looked at is in the rich person’s head, rather than the poor person’s.

These conclusions, and the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies that led to them, are described in the February 25 issue of the journal Nature.

“This is the latest picture in our gallery of human nature,” says Colin Camerer, the Robert Kirby Professor of Behavioral Economics at Caltech and one of the paper’s coauthors. “It’s an exciting area of research; we now have so many tools with which to study how the brain is reacting.”

It’s long been known that we humans don’t like inequality, especially when it comes to money. Tell two people working the same job that their salaries are different, and there’s going to be trouble, notes John O’Doherty, professor of psychology at Caltech, Thomas N. Mitchell Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience, and the principal investigator on the Nature paper.

But what was unknown was just how hardwired that dislike really is. “In this study, we’re starting to get an idea of where this inequality aversion comes from,” he says. “It’s not just the application of a social rule or convention; there’s really something about the basic processing of rewards in the brain that reflects these considerations.”

The brain processes “rewards”—things like food, money, and even pleasant music, which create positive responses in the body—in areas such as the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) and ventral striatum.

In a series of experiments, former Caltech postdoctoral scholar Elizabeth Tricomi (now an assistant professor of psychology at Rutgers University)—along with O’Doherty, Camerer, and Antonio Rangel, associate professor of economics at Caltech—watched how the VMPFC and ventral striatum reacted in 40 volunteers who were presented with a series of potential money-transfer scenarios while lying in an fMRI machine.

For instance, a participant might be told that he could be given $50 while another person could be given $20; in a second scenario, the student might have a potential gain of only $5 and the other person, $50. The fMRI images allowed the researchers to see how each volunteer’s brain responded to each proposed money allocation.

But there was a twist. Before the imaging began, each participant in a pair was randomly assigned to one of two conditions: One participant was given what the researchers called “a large monetary endowment” ($50) at the beginning of the experiment; the other participant started from scratch, with no money in his or her pocket.

As it turned out, the way the volunteers—or, to be more precise, the reward centers in the volunteers’ brains—reacted to the various scenarios depended strongly upon whether they started the experiment with a financial advantage over their peers.

“People who started out poor had a stronger brain reaction to things that gave them money, and essentially no reaction to money going to another person,” Camerer says. “By itself, that wasn’t too surprising.”

What was surprising was the other side of the coin. “In the experiment, people who started out rich had a stronger reaction to other people getting money than to themselves getting money,” Camerer explains. “In other words, their brains liked it when others got money more than they liked it when they themselves got money.”

“We now know that these areas are not just self-interested,” adds O’Doherty. “They don’t exclusively respond to the rewards that one gets as an individual, but also respond to the prospect of other individuals obtaining a reward.”

What was especially interesting about the finding, he says, is that the brain responds “very differently to rewards obtained by others under conditions of disadvantageous inequality versus advantageous inequality. It shows that the basic reward structures in the human brain are sensitive to even subtle differences in social context.”

This, O’Doherty notes, is somewhat contrary to the prevailing views about human nature. “As a psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist who works on reward and motivation, I very much view the brain as a device designed to maximize one’s own self interest,” says O’Doherty. “The fact that these basic brain structures appear to be so readily modulated in response to rewards obtained by others highlights the idea that even the basic reward structures in the human brain are not purely self-oriented.”

Camerer, too, found the results thought provoking. “We economists have a widespread view that most people are basically self-interested, and won’t try to help other people,” he says. “But if that were true, you wouldn’t see these sort of reactions to other people getting money.”

Still, he says, it’s likely that the reactions of the “rich” participants were at least partly motivated by self-interest—or a reduction of their own discomfort. “We think that, for the people who start out rich, seeing another person get money reduces their guilt over having more than the others.”

Having watched the brain react to inequality, O’Doherty says, the next step is to “try to understand how these changes in valuation actually translate into changes in behavior. For example, the person who finds out they’re being paid less than someone else for doing the same job might end up working less hard and being less motivated as a consequence. It will be interesting to try to understand the brain mechanisms that underlie such changes.”

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Robin Hood Motives,” “Martha Fineman on the Situation of Gender and Equality,” “The Blame Frame – Abstract,” “The Motivated Situation of Inequality and Discrimination,” and “The Situation of Inequality – Guns, Germs, and Steel.”

Posted in Abstracts, Conflict, Distribution, Emotions, Neuroeconomics, Neuroscience | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Oliver Sacks on His Situation and the Human Situation of Myth-making

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 14, 2010

From Big Think:

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see”The Interior Situation of Complex Human Feelings,” “Daniel Dennett on the Situation of our Brain,” Dan Dennett on our Interior Situation,” “The Situation of Reason,” The Situation of Confabulation,” “Social Psychology and the Unconscious: The Automaticity of Higher Processes,” “Jonathan Haidt on the Situation of Moral Reasoning,” “The Unconscious Situation of our Consciousness – Part IV,” and “Unconscious Situation of Choice.”

Posted in Education, Ideology, Illusions, Life, Morality, Neuroscience, Video | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Cupid’s Situation

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 7, 2010

One week before Valentine’s Day, Jessica Pauline Ogilvie published an interesting article, titled “Scientists Try To Measure Love,” for the Los Angeles Times.  Here are some excerpts.

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Whatever its reason, there can be little doubt — even from a scientific standpoint — about the potent feelings that being in love elicits.

Arthur Aron, a social psychologist at Stony Brook University in New York, has done brain scans on people newly in love and found that after that first magical meeting or perfect first date, a complex system in the brain is activated that is essentially “the same thing that happens when a person takes cocaine.”

In one such study, published in 2005, Aron recruited 10 women and seven men who had fallen in love within the last one to 17 months. After taking a brief survey about the relationship (items included statements such as “I melt when looking deeply into ____’s eyes”), participants were put in MRI machines and shown pictures of their beloved, interspersed with pictures of neutral acquaintances. When participants viewed images of their partners, their brains’ ventral tegmental area, which houses the reward and motivation systems, was flooded with the chemical dopamine.

“Dopamine is released when you’re doing something [highly] pleasurable,” like having sex, doing drugs or eating chocolate, says Larry J. Young, a psychiatry professor at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center at Atlanta’s Emory University. Activation of this part of the brain is primarily responsible for causing the sometimes bizarre behavior of new couples, which is linked to motivation and achieving goals: excessive energy, losing sleep, euphoric feelings and, occasionally, anxiety and obsession when they’re separated from their objet d’amour.

According to Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist and author of “Why Him? Why Her?,” the smitten party is acting out of a motivation to “win life’s greatest prize — a mating partner for life.”

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After the dopamine surge, research suggests that two key hormones — oxytocin and vasopressin — enter the picture, encouraging couples to form emotional bonds.

Oxytocin is released in humans during intimate moments such as prolonged eye contact, hugging and sex. It’s also the hormone that causes mothers to bond with their infants. And having been proved to be involved in long-term bonding in prairie voles and, most recently, marmosets, researchers speculate that it plays the same role in humans.

Vasopressin — also linked to bonding in prairie voles — has similarly been linked to bonding in men. A 2008 study showed that a certain genetic variation of a vasopressin receptor was correlated with marital infidelity and fear of commitment.

All the chemicals and hormones released in new love help ensure that we mate and stay together long enough to reproduce or form partnerships for the long term. But once they’ve subsided, what happens?

Until recently, researchers assumed that most couples eventually settle into what’s called companionate love: relationships that are more intimate, more committed — and much less thrilling.

A recent study, however, proved this theory (and years of marriage sitcoms) wrong. Bianca Acevedo, postdoctoral researcher at UC Santa Barbara, looked at brain scans of couples claiming to be madly in love after 20 years of marriage. She and her colleagues found that these fortunate folks had the same neural activity observed in newly in love couples, only without the anxiety or obsession.

Acevedo also discovered something that surprised even her: Based on preliminary surveys, this kind of lasting love appears to be present in approximately 30% of married couples in the U.S.

That doesn’t mean, though, that those of us who don’t fall squarely into that group should throw in the towel. Researchers believe that we have a lot to learn from these happy couples, if only we’re willing to do so.

To begin with, a great deal of research shows that doing novel, exciting things together boosts marital happiness. “Take a class together that you know nothing about,” suggests Aron, who has co-written several studies in this area. “See a play, go to a new location, go to a horse race.” The release of dopamine during these activities might remind couples of how it felt to fall in love or even be happily misattributed to the experience of being together.

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To read the entire article, including a number of excellent suggestions for how to maintain that “lov’n feel’n” click here.  To review a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situational Effects of Dopamine,” The Situation of Love,” The Color of Sex Appeal,” “The Primitive Appeal of The Color Red,” The Magnetism of Beautiful People,” Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” “The Situation of Cupid’s Arrow,” “How System Threat Affects Cupid,” and “The Situation of Flirting.”

Posted in Emotions, Life, Neuroscience, Positive Psychology | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

The Situation of Corruption

Posted by The Situationist Staff on February 6, 2010

We thought our readers be interested in an article by Eduardo Salcedo-Albarán, Isaac De León-Beltrán, and Mauricio Rubio’s, titled “Feelings, Brain and Prevention of Corruption”  (3 International Journal of Psychology Research 2008) now available on SSRN.

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In this paper we propose an answer for the question: why, sometimes, people don’t perceive corruption as a crime? To answer this question we use a neurological and a psychological concept. As humans, we experience our emotions and feelings in first person, but the neuropsychological mechanism known as “mirror neurons” makes possible to simulate emotions and feelings of others. It means that our emotions and feelings are linked with emotions and feelings of others. When mirror areas in the brain are activated we can understand and simulate in first person the actions, emotions and feelings of people. Because of these areas, the observer’s brain acts “as if” it was experiencing the same action or the same feeling that is perceived. Each organism establishes causal relations to understand, manipulate and move in the world. Causal relations can be classified as simple or complex. In a simple causal relation, cause and effect are close in space and time. When cause and effect are not close in space and time, the causal relation is complex. When perceiving or committing homicide, a simple causal relation is enough for identifying a victim, but when perceiving or committing a public corruption crime, a complex causal relation must be established for identifying a victim. When seeing someone committing bribe there is no an evident victim. If persons can’t identify victims of public corruption crimes, then they will not generate empathy feelings. When a victim is not identified and perceived, there is no reason for thinking that harm is being inflicted and mirror areas in the brain are not activated.

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You can download the article for free here.  To read a previous Situationist post on corruption, see “Larry Lessig’s Situationism.”

Posted in Abstracts, Neuroscience | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

 
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