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Archive for August 7th, 2019

The problems of being a psychopath

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First, a distinction that was not clear to me: the difference between being a sociopath and being a psychopath. With that distinction in mind, Heidi Maibom, professor of philosophy at the University of Cincinnati, has an interesting article in Aeon. Her article begins:

Psychopath. The word conjures up the image of a cold-blooded killer, or perhaps a fiendishly clever but heartless egoist. There’s Ted Bundy, who in the 1970s abducted women, killed them, and had sex with their decomposing bodies. Or Hannibal Lecter from the film The Silence of the Lambs (1991), who cunningly escaped his various confinements and ended up eating the people he despised. In the popular imagination, psychopaths are the incarnation of evil. However, for an increasing number of researchers, such people are ill, not evil – victims of their own deranged minds. So just what are psychopaths, and what is wrong with them?

According to the Hare Psychopathy Checklist – first devised in the 1970s by the Canadian criminal psychologist Robert Hare and since revised and widely used for diagnosis – psychopaths are selfish, glib and irresponsible. They have poor impulse control, are antisocial from a young age, and lack the ability to feel empathy, guilt and remorse. Psychopaths steal, lie and cheat, and have no respect for other people, social norms or the law. In some cases, they torture defenceless animals, assault other children or attempt to kill their siblings or parents. If caught, they fail to take responsibility for their actions, but tend to blame others, their upbringing or ‘the system’. According to some recent calculations, more than 90 per cent of male psychopaths in the United States are in prison, on parole or otherwise involved with the criminal justice system. Considering that psychopaths are thought to make up only around 1 per cent of the general population, that number is staggering. Because of this close link to criminality, psychopathy used to be known as ‘moral insanity’.

This picture of psychopathy has dominated the thinking of both laypeople and researchers. It’s at once sensational and reassuring. Psychopaths are sick, deranged, lacking in moral conscience. In other words, they’re nothing like you or me. But this is false. There’s no major ability that psychopaths lack altogether, and their deficits are often small and circumscribed. They certainly aren’t incapable of telling right from wrong, making good decisions or experiencing empathy for other people. Instead, they suffer from a host of more mundane problems – such as being overly goal-fixated, fearless and selfish. What’s more, perhaps ‘our’ reactions are closer to ‘theirs’ than we realise. Like psychopaths, we can dial our empathy up and down; and for all the praise we heap on empathy, a closer look at this emotion suggests that it’s nearer to a kind of self-preservation instinct than any ‘warm and fuzzy’ fellow-feeling.

Rather than freakish outliers then, psychopaths reveal important truths about human morality. But are we ready to accept what they might teach us?

When debating what’s wrong with psychopaths, researchers typically pitch two competing moral theories against one another. One approach, known as rationalism, holds that judging right and wrong is a matter of reason, rather than feeling. Some philosophers claim that psychopaths show that rationalism is plain wrong. Psychopaths are as logical as you and me – in fact, they outsmart us all the time, hence their everyday depiction as connivers and con artists. So the fact that they’re rational but still capable of inhuman acts shows that moral sensibility can’t be grounded in reason alone.

But something isn’t quite right here. If psychopaths are so smart, why do they constantly get caught up with the criminal justice system? In his authoritative portrait of psychopathy Without Conscience (1993), Hare describes a man who was on his way to a party when he decided to get a case of beer. Realising he’d forgotten his wallet, the man – who scored highly on Hare’s psychopathy checklist – robbed the nearest gas station, seriously injuring the sales attendant with a heavy piece of wood.

So while psychopaths aren’t irrational in the sense of being unable to think clearly, they seem to act irrationally. They struggle with what philosophers call ‘reasons for actions’: considerations that underlie our decisions to act, such as the likelihood that what we’ll do will satisfy our goals and won’t come into conflict with other projects or aims. Although bludgeoning the shop assistant does, for example, serve the goal of getting beer for the party, it frustrates the more pressing and underlying desire to stay out of prison. Psychopaths appear to be poor at integrating all the various factors that go into making good choices, and often have poor reasons for their actions.

The psychological evidence confirms that psychopaths have deficits in reasoning that affect how they make decisions. They usually attend almost exclusively to the task at hand (whatever that might be), and ignore relevant contextual information – although when context doesn’t play a role, they do very well. Other studies have found that psychopaths have problems reversing their responses: when actions that were previously rewarded are now punished – or actions that were previously punished are rewarded – they have problems adjusting. Similarly, Hare and his collaborator Jeffrey Jutai found that, if psychopaths are asked to navigate a maze, they doggedly pursue their initial tactic even if doing so causes them to receive painful electric shocks. Whereas most people desist and find other ways to navigate their way through, psychopaths tend not to. This insensitivity extends to social threats, such as angry faces.

These findings support the rationalist idea that psychopathic immorality comes down to some inability to reason well. But you might have noticed that psychopaths don’t experience fear as often, and in the same situations, as do ordinary people. Last time I looked, fear was an emotion. This brings us back into the camp of people who think that emotion, not reason, is central to ethics. Typically they focus on empathy.

Apart from some notable empathy naysayers, such as the psychologist Paul Bloom at Yale University and the philosopher Jesse Prinz at the City University of New York, empathy is typically held in high regard among theorists and researchers. Part of the reason is its excellent fit with a second major moral theory known as sentimentalism. Dating back to the 18th-century philosophers David Hume and Adam Smith, sentimentalists believe that an ability to tell right from wrong is grounded in a tendency to feel what others feel. Because we suffer along with others, we come to see their suffering as bad or wrong. Thanks to these empathic feelings, we care about what happens to other people even if it doesn’t directly affect us.

One of the best empirical sources for these claims is the social psychological research on empathic concern. Psychologists working in development, such as Martin Hoffman at New York University and Nancy Eisenberg at Arizona State University, maintain that it plays a central role in social competence and moral understanding. Dan Batson argues that empathic concern is a warm, soft-hearted, compassionate feeling for someone in need, which leads to truly altruistic behaviour. Empathy motivates us to treat others well, and it is at the foundation of moral regard for others. Psychopaths appear to validate these ideas, apparently lacking both moral sense and empathy.

However, psychopaths fare strangely well on tests of empathy. Given that these tests are usually based on self-reports and that psychopaths are prolific liars, this is not necessarily surprising. But psychopaths also produce intriguing results on experiments that test physiological and brain responses. Skin conductance, for example, measures how good a conductor of electricity your skin is; it’s a good indicator of your emotional state, since when you sweat in response to stress, fear or anger, your skin becomes momentarily better at carrying electric current. As you might expect, when psychopaths are exposed to pictures of people in distress, they show less skin conductance reactivity than do non-psychopaths. Other tests measure startle responses: if you show a person pictures that they find threatening, they startle much more easily in response to loud sounds. Psychopaths respond normally to direct threats, such as an image of the gaping jaw of a shark or a striking snake, but not to social threats, such as people in pain or distress. Ordinary people react to both.

Neuroscientists have also studied the empathic responses of psychopaths. In typical studies involving functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), the areas of the brain associated with empathy don’t activate in psychopaths to the same degree as in control subjects. But when the neurobiologist Harma Meffert and colleagues from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands explicitly instructed them to ‘feel with’ a hand that is being caressed or shoved aside, the researchers discovered that psychopaths were able to muster a normal response. In other words, when explicitly told to empathise with another, psychopaths could do it.

The neuroscientist Jean Decety and colleagues at the University of Chicago unearthed something similar. He showed psychopaths pictures of limbs in painful situations, such as a hand stuck in a car door, and asked them to either ‘imagine this is happening to you’ or ‘imagine this is happening to someone else’. When psychopaths imagined that they were in the painful situation, they showed something very close to the typical empathic brain response – but when they imagined someone else was in that very same situation, their empathy-related brain areas didn’t activate much.

If psychopaths have an empathy deficit, then, it is a very puzzling one. A different way of measuring brain activation throws further light on the puzzle. Electroencephalograms (EEGs) measure . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 August 2019 at 3:22 pm

Delaying and reversing frailty

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Generally speaking, people become frail as they age, something that would be good to avoid. The British Journal of General Practice has a very interesting recent paper by John TraversRoman Romero-OrtunoJade Bailey, and Marie-Therese Cooney on how to conteract frailty in aging. Here’s the abstract:


Background Recommendations for routine frailty screening in general practice are increasing as frailty prevalence grows. In England, frailty identification became a contractual requirement in 2017. However, there is little guidance on the most effective and practical interventions once frailty has been identified.

Aim To assess the comparative effectiveness and ease of implementation of frailty interventions in primary care.

Design and setting A systematic review of frailty interventions in primary care.

Method Scientific databases were searched from inception to May 2017 for randomised controlled trials or cohort studies with control groups on primary care frailty interventions. Screening methods, interventions, and outcomes were analysed in included studies. Effectiveness was scored in terms of change of frailty status or frailty indicators and ease of implementation in terms of human resources, marginal costs, and time requirements.

Results A total of 925 studies satisfied search criteria and 46 were included. There were 15 690 participants (median study size was 160 participants). Studies reflected a broad heterogeneity. There were 17 different frailty screening methods. Of the frailty interventions, 23 involved physical activity and other interventions involved health education, nutrition supplementation, home visits, hormone supplementation, and counselling. A significant improvement of frailty status was demonstrated in 71% (n = 10) of studies and of frailty indicators in 69% (n=22) of studies where measured. Interventions with both muscle strength training and protein supplementation were consistently placed highest for effectiveness and ease of implementation.

Conclusion A combination of muscle strength training and protein supplementation was the most effective intervention to delay or reverse frailty and the easiest to implement in primary care. A map of interventions was created that can be used to inform choices for managing frailty


Written by LeisureGuy

7 August 2019 at 12:48 pm

Posted in Health, Science

Why speaking to yourself in the third person makes you wiser

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David Robson, a science journalist specialising in the extremes of the human brain, body and behaviour and a feature writer for the BBC, whose first book is The Intelligence Trap: Why Smart People Do Stupid Things and How to Make Wiser Decisions (2019), writes in Aeon:

We credit Socrates with the insight that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’ and that to ‘know thyself’ is the path to true wisdom. But is there a right and a wrong way to go about such self-reflection?

Simple rumination – the process of churning your concerns around in your head – isn’t the answer. It’s likely to cause you to become stuck in the rut of your own thoughts and immersed in the emotions that might be leading you astray. Certainly, research has shown that people who are prone to rumination also often suffer from impaired decision making under pressure, and are at a substantially increased risk of depression.

Instead, the scientific research suggests that you should adopt an ancient rhetorical method favoured by the likes of Julius Caesar and known as ‘illeism’ – or speaking about yourself in the third person (the term was coined in 1809 by the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge from the Latin illemeaning ‘he, that’). If I was considering an argument that I’d had with a friend, for instance, I might start by silently thinking to myself: ‘David felt frustrated that…’ The idea is that this small change in perspective can clear your emotional fog, allowing you to see past your biases.

A bulk of research has already shown that this kind of third-person thinking can temporarily improve decision making. Now a preprint at PsyArxiv finds that it can also bring long-term benefits to thinking and emotional regulation. The researchers said this was ‘the first evidence that wisdom-related cognitive and affective processes can be trained in daily life, and of how to do so’.

The findings are the brainchild of the psychologist Igor Grossmann at the University of Waterloo in Canada, whose work on the psychology of wisdom was one of the inspirations for my recent book on intelligence and how we can make wiser decisions.

Grossmann’s aim is to build a strong experimental footing for the study of wisdom, which had long been considered too nebulous for scientific enquiry. In one of his earlier experiments, he established that it’s possible to measure wise reasoning and that, as with IQ, people’s scores matter. He did this by asking participants to discuss out-loud a personal or political dilemma, which he then scored on various elements of thinking long-considered crucial to wisdom, including: intellectual humility; taking the perspective of others; recognising uncertainty; and having the capacity to search for a compromise. Grossmann found that these wise-reasoning scores were far better than intelligence tests at predicting emotional wellbeing, and relationship satisfaction – supporting the idea that wisdom, as defined by these qualities, constitutes a unique construct that determines how we navigate life challenges.

Working with Ethan Kross at the University of Michigan in the United States, Grossmann has also looked for ways to improve these scores – with some striking experiments demonstrating the power of illeism. In a series of laboratory experiments, they found that people tend to be humbler, and readier to consider other perspectives, when they are asked to describe problems in the third person.

Imagine, for instance, that you are arguing with your partner. Adopting a third-person perspective might help you to recognise their point of view or to accept the limits of your understanding of the problem at hand. Or imagine you are considering moving jobs. Taking the distanced perspective could help you to weigh up the benefits and the risks of the move more dispassionately.

This earlier research involved only short-term interventions, however – meaning it was far from clear whether wiser reasoning would become a long-term habit with regular practice at illeism.

To find out, Grossmann’s latest research team asked nearly 300 participants to describe a challenging social situation, while two independent psychologists scored them on the different aspects of wise reasoning (intellectual humility, etc). The participants then had to keep a diary for four weeks. Each day, they had to describe a situation they’d just experienced, such as a disagreement with a colleague or some bad news. Half were prompted to do so in the first-person, while the others were encouraged to describe their trials from a third-person perspective. At the end of the study, all participants repeated the wise-reasoning test.

Grossmann’s results were . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 August 2019 at 12:36 pm

How to get a politician’s attention on gun control

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James Hohmann writes in the Washington Post:

THE BIG IDEA: When the National Rifle Association endorsed Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) for a ninth term last fall, the group noted that he’s consistently maintained an “A” rating and has been “solidly pro-gun.” Literature sent to members emphasized Turner’s opposition to expanding background checks and banning assault weapons, as well as his past vote to immunize gun manufacturers from liability and to force all states, regardless of their own laws, to recognize concealed carry permits issued anywhere else.

In the wee hours of Sunday morning, Turner’s daughter and a family friend had just entered the Tumbleweed Connection bar in Dayton when a gunman opened fire across the street.Nine people were killed, and 27 were injured. The congressman’s daughter ran home, as he prayed for her and the community.

On Tuesday afternoon, Turner announced that he’s had a change of heart on gun control. He said he would vote for an assault weapons ban, limits on the size of gun magazines and for a federal “red flag” law that would make it easier to “quickly identify people who are dangerous” so their firearms can be taken away.

“The carnage these military style weapons are able to produce when available to the wrong people is intolerable,” Turner said in a statement. “I understand not every shooting can be prevented or stopped from these measures, but I do believe these steps are essential. … This tragedy must become a catalyst for a broader national conversation about what we can do to stop these mass shootings.”

Why didn’t Turner think it was a “catalyst” for change when other people’s children had to run for their lives in cities that weren’t in his congressional district? It’s been 20 years since Columbine, with increasingly frequent and deadly mass shootings in places like Orlando, Las Vegas, Blacksburg, Va., Newtown, Conn., and Charleston, S.C.

A spokeswoman said Turner was not available for an interview and declined to answer follow-up questions from Colby Itkowitz, including whether the congressman regrets his votes in February against two bills that would strengthen background checks.

— Turner is not alone: He joins a sizable group of conservatives who were outspoken opponents of gun control until the issue hit close to home. Only then did they stand up to the powerful gun lobby. Consider these three examples:

Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.) received the NRA’s support and contributions when he got elected to Congress in 2016. A little over a year after he took office, one of the congressman’s personal friends was among the 17 people massacred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, where he had formerly lived. Aaron Feis was the assistant football coach, and he died while heroically ushering students to safety. Mast has said he decided during Feis’s funeral to call for a ban on “assault or tactical” firearms and for requiring background checks on all gun purchases, including online and private sales.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott (R) also had an A-rating from the NRA. As a candidate for that office in 2016, he campaigned against background checks on private gun sales, talked about the safe full of guns he kept in his home and touted his votes against new gun laws in the state legislature. Then, two days after the Parkland shooting, police in Fair Haven, Vt., arrested a teenager for allegedly plotting to shoot up Fair Haven Union High School.

Authorities had been tipped off about a threatening Facebook message. When police searched his car, they found a shotgun, 17 rounds of ammunition and four books about school shootings. They also found a diary entitled, “The Journal of an Active Shooter,” according to court documents. In an interview, the young man allegedly told police that he wanted to “exceed the body count from the Virginia Tech shooting,” which had left 32 dead, “and that he had chosen his ammunition accordingly.”

“As I processed this information, I was shocked,” Scott explained in April 2018. “Just 24 hours before — even in the aftermath of Parkland — I thought, as the safest state in the nation, Vermont was immune to this type of violence. … Sitting there, I realized, only by the grace of God did we avert a horrific outcome.”

That caused the lifelong gun owner to “do some soul searching” and, just two months later, sign into law a trio of bills that banned the possession and sale of magazines holding more than 10 rounds for a long gun and 15 for a handgun. To ensure background checks on private gun sales, Scott also required that nearly all guns be bought and sold through a licensed firearm dealer, and he increased the minimum age to purchase weapons.

“I was wrong. And that’s not always easy to admit,” he said at the signing ceremony, as opponents of gun control chanted “Traitor!” and “BS!” while carrying signs that blared “Not My Governor” outside the State House.

The most famous example is Ronald Reagan. On the 10th anniversary of being shot, the former president wrote an op-ed endorsing the Brady Bill. The legislation was named for his White House press secretary, James Brady, who was wounded in the assassination attempt. Reagan pushed back on the NRA’s arguments against background checks. “This level of violence must be stopped,” the former president wrote in the New York Times. Nancy Reagan, who had been deeply traumatized by seeing her husband in the hospital and remained good friends with Brady’s wife Sarah, played a starring rolein her husband’s evolution.

Then, in 1994, Reagan teamed up with his old rival Gerald Ford — who had been lucky to avoid getting shot during two assassination attempts during his presidency — to endorse the assault weapons ban. “While we recognize that assault-weapon legislation will not stop all assault-weapon crime, statistics prove that we can dry up the supply of these guns, making them less accessible to criminals,” Reagan and Ford, along with Jimmy Carter, wrote in an op-ed for the Boston Globe. The bill passed the House by two votes, and multiple lawmakers cited personal lobbying from Reagan to explain why they had changed their earlier positions.

— It’s understandable that personal experience shapes people’s worldviews as much as anything else. But it can be problematic. When a crack epidemic was killing young black men in urban centers in the 1980s, white lawmakers from rural areas championed tough-on-crime policies that put junkies and dealers alike behind bars for long sentences. When the opioid epidemic came to their communities and started killing their neighbors and the children of their friends, many of these same politicians demanded a more compassionate approach that focused on treatment, not incarceration. That’s not a coincidence.

— There are exceptions, of course. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.) has remained a stalwart opponent of new gun laws since getting shot during a congressional baseball team practice.

— Reality check: The assault weapons ban and limits on magazine size that Turner endorsed yesterday appear dead on arrival so long as Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is majority leader. Red flag laws are more likely to get through, but even that’s not assured to get 60 votes — unless there’s a sustained push from the president.

Supporters of universal background checks for gun purchases face a daunting reality in their demand for a snap Senate roll call: They don’t have the votes; not even close,” Paul Kane reports from the Capitol. “Just two Republican senators — Patrick J. Toomey (Pa.) and Susan Collins (Maine) — are on record in support of expanding background-check laws, specifically through a bill Toomey drafted with Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.). That bill, written after the December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, contained several concessions designed to win support from Senate Republicans, such as allowing interstate sales of handguns among gun dealers. Now, quite a few Senate Democrats view the Manchin-Toomey bill as insufficient to deal with the mass violence that has grown worse since that failed 2013 effort. They are demanding a vote on the House version of the legislation, approved in February, which drops those concessions to conservatives.”

— There are additional examples of prominent conservatives who do not hold public office embracing gun control after experiencing mass shootings. Caleb Keeter, the lead guitarist of the Josh Abbott Band, performed at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas a few hours before a gunman killed 58 people and wounded 546 more in 2017. “I’ve been a proponent of the 2nd amendment my entire life. Until the events of last night. I cannot express how wrong I was,” Keeter wrote afterward. “We actually have members of our crew with [concealed handgun licenses] and legal firearms on the bus. They were useless.”

The Texas-based musician continued: “Writing my parents and the love of my life a goodbye last night and a living will because I felt like I wasn’t going to live through the night was enough for me to realize that this is completely and totally out of hand. … We need gun control RIGHT. NOW. My biggest regret is that I stubbornly didn’t realize it until my brothers on the road and myself were threatened by it.”

— Breaking overnight: Documents indicate that the NRA planned to purchase a luxury mansion in the Dallas area last year for the use of chief executive Wayne LaPierre. Carol D. Leonnig and Beth Reinhard scoop: “The discussions about the roughly $6 million purchase, which was not completed, are now under scrutiny by New York investigators. The transaction was slated to be made through a corporate entity that received a wire of tens of thousands of dollars from the NRA in 2018. … The New York attorney general’s office is now examining the plan for an NRA-financed mansion as part of its ongoing investigation into the gun lobby’s tax-exempt status. … One property that was considered, according to a person familiar with the plans, was a 10,000-square-foot French country estate with lakefront and golf course views. The four-bedroom, nine-bath home in a gated golf course community northwest of Dallas resembles a French chateau, with a stately boxwood-lined drive, a formal courtyard, vaulted ceilings and an antique marble fireplace. …

The discussions … in 2018 came as the NRA was in deepening financial trouble: The nonprofit was on track to run a deficit for a third year in a row, had cut back dramatically on its core mission of gun safety and legislative work and frozen its employee pension plan. … The origins of the idea to buy the mansion, its proposed purpose and the reason the deal never went through are now being fiercely disputed by the NRA and its longtime ad firm, Ackerman McQueen, which are locked in a bitter legal fight. … Ackerman McQueen said LaPierre had sought the ad firm’s assistance with the real estate transaction, a proposal it said alarmed company officials. … For their part, NRA officials said that the real estate purchase was suggested in early 2018 by Ackerman McQueen as an investment that would be managed by the ad firm’s top executives — and that it was ultimately rejected by top NRA leaders. …

Leaked documents show that the NRA paid $542,000 for private jet trips for LaPierre, including a trip to the Bahamas with his wife after the Sandy Hook shooting and an array of Italian designer suits as well as the rent for a summer intern’s apartment. The expenses were first paid by Ackerman McQueen, which then billed the NRA as part of its multimillion-dollar annual contract. … LaPierre received a salary of $1.37 million for his role as executive vice president in 2017, plus an additional $67,289 in compensation, according to the NRA’s latest tax filing.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 August 2019 at 11:38 am

Posted in Congress, Daily life, GOP, Guns

Mickey Lee Soapworks Grand Havana with the Maggard Razors V3A

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Another farewell shave for Mickey Lee Soapworks. My Rooney butterscotch Emilion made a particularly good lather from Mickey Lee’s Grand Havan shaving soap, and the very comfortable Maggard V3A stripped awaythe stubble easily. A splash of Grand Havana aftershave finished the job.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 August 2019 at 8:20 am

Posted in Shaving

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