Sunday, November 09, 2008

Bullies and thugs are born that way

What? It's not due to poverty?

Unusually aggressive youth may actually enjoy inflicting pain on others, research using brain scans at the University of Chicago shows.

Scans of the aggressive youth's brains showed that an area that is associated with rewards was highlighted when the youth watched a video clip of someone inflicting pain on another person. Youth without the unusually aggressive behavior did not have that response, the study showed. "This is the first time that fMRI scans have been used to study situations that could otherwise provoke empathy," said Jean Decety, Professor in Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Chicago. "This work will help us better understand ways to work with juveniles inclined to aggression and violence."

Decety is an internationally recognized expert on empathy and social neuroscience. The new research shows that some aggressive youths' natural empathetic impulse may be disrupted in ways that increase aggression.

The results are reported in the paper "Atypical Empathetic Responses in Adolescents with Aggressive Conduct Disorder: A functional MRI Investigation" in the current issue of the journal Biological Psychology. Benjamin Lahey, Professor of Epidemiology and Psychiatry at the University, co-authored the paper, along with University students Kalina Michaslska and Yuko Akitsuki. The National Science Foundation supported the work.

In the study, researchers compared eight 16- to 18-year-old boys with aggressive conduct disorder to a control group of adolescent boys with no unusual signs of aggression. The boys with the conduct disorder had exhibited disruptive behavior such as starting a fight, using a weapon and stealing after confronting a victim. The youth were tested with fMRI while looking at video clips in which people endured pain accidentally, such as when a heavy bowl was dropped on their hands, and intentionally, such as when a person stepped on another's foot.

"The aggressive youth activated the neural circuits underpinning pain processing to the same extent, and in some cases, even more so than the control participants without conduct disorder," Decety said. "Aggressive adolescents showed a specific and very strong activation of the amygdala and ventral striatum (an area that responds to feeling rewarded) when watching pain inflicted on others, which suggested that they enjoyed watching pain," he said.

Unlike the control group, the youth with conduct disorder did not activate the area of the brain involved in self-regulation (the medial prefrontal cortex and the temporoparietal junction). The control group acted similarly to youth in a study released earlier this year, in which Decety and his colleagues used fMRI scans to show 7- to 12-year-olds are naturally empathetic toward people in pain.


Children perform better if mother stays at home

There have been many studies (e.g here and here) showing that institutional childcare is harmful to all but the most deprived of preschool children so it is good to see more recognition of that

Babies should be looked after by their mothers in their first years of life, Tony Blair's favourite think tank signalled yesterday. It published research that admitted babies and toddlers sent for long hours in daycare learn less quickly, have worse health, and behave worse than other children. It also suggested that the children suffer because mothers who return home from work tired and unhappy are less able to give them the time and full attention they need.

The warnings over childcare published by the Institute for Public Policy Research suggest a dramatic rethink over working mothers and childcare at the heart of the Blairite establishment. Since 1997 Labour has poured billions into subsidising nurseries and childminders through the tax credit system, through direct daycare benefits, and through the troubled Sure Start project meant to help the neediest families. Persuading mothers to go back to work soon after their children are born has been a central plank of Mr Blair's 'project'.

Three years ago the Department of Trade and Industry - then headed by current Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt - published a paper describing those who do not return to jobs in the first two years after childbirth as a 'problem'. It said mothers who stayed at home were not giving the taxpayer a return on the cost of their education. Despite growing evidence from independent studies that full-time childcare can have harmful effects, new figures from the Education Department last week boasted proudly that a record number of more than 700,000 children now attend nurseries for more than four hours a day.

But two articles in the IPPR's journal said the children would be better off staying at home with their mothers. Psychologist and TV presenter Oliver James, who described himself as a 'reasonable left wing person', said he was sceptical about the drive for 'affordable childcare'.

He said: 'My proviso comes in when politicians, who have the evidence about how important early care is on children's development, decide that only people doing paid work are of any value and that there is a moral duty for us all to do a paid day's work. 'Trying to persuade parents of very young children, particularly single mothers, to leave them and go out to work, while not an unqualified no no, fails to recognise that somebody has got to be left holding the baby and that, on the whole, it is better if it is one of the child's biological parents up to the age of three.' Oliver James added: 'On the whole children who attend daycare under three are at greater risk of being aggressive. 'I am arguing for us to rediscover feminism. Let's actually have female emancipation and not the nonsense that we have got now. One part of that is definitely supporting women who do want to care for their children to be able to do so.'

A second article by US academic Janet Waldfogel told IPPR subscribers that in the first year after birth 'there are reasons to think that exclusive mother care would be best for a child.' She cited learning ability, health and social development as adversely affected for those who are in childcare before their first birthday. 'Across all three dimensions, with all things held equal, children tend to do worse if their mothers work in the first year of life,' she said. Children also did best if they lived in two-parent families, she added, in a view that conflicts with the Government's policy that claims all kinds of families are just as good as each other.

Both IPPR journal contributors said there should be 'costly' new public spending to pay salaries or give more time off work to new mothers. But critics of subsidised childcare said the best way to help mothers stay at home was to give tax breaks to help one-earner families. Jill Kirby of the centre-right think tank Centre for Policy Studies said: 'It is gradually dawning on the Government that they should do nothing more to penalise mothers who stay at home with their children. 'There is very strong evidence that childcare, and in particular the mass cheap childcare that Labour favours, is not in the best interests of young children. 'The way to help mothers is not to put even more burdens on taxpayers or employers, but to cut taxes for one earner, two parent families with young children. Tax breaks would ease the difficulties for families at the point of greatest pressure.'


'Absolute safety' is impossible and should be scrapped, says head of Royal Society for the Prevention of ACCIDENTS

The chief executive of one of Britain's biggest health and safety watchdogs has pleaded for a return to 'basic common sense'. Tom Mullarkey, of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, said people should be able to 'get on with' activities like walking or mowing their lawn themselves. His call for leniency to members of his watchdog follows a string of accusations that bureaucrats have attempted to eliminate all risk from all manner of pursuits to avoid costly lawsuits. The compensation culture has particularly affected children's activities, resulting in games of tag, football conkers and British bulldog being banned.

It has been revealed that Peter Miller, 88, who served in the Royal Army Medical Corps during the Second World War and was captured during the retreat to Dunkirk, has been banned from carrying the banner of remembrance tomorrow - despite his wishes - because he has become frail and there would be a 'problem with insurance'. The health and safety axe has even come down on collecting firewood. Retired builder Mike Kamp was told earlier this year that he could no longer gather supplies in local woods for the stove at his cottage near Betwys-y-Coed, North Wales, because of the 'increasing constraints' of modern legislation.

Speaking at the charity's annual general meeting, Mr Mullarkey said the quest for 'absolute safety' was impossible and should be abandoned - and that health and safety officials should stop intervening unnecessarily in public life. Instead, he said information should be made available so people can decide for themselves whether to take part in a particular activity, by using their own judgement.

A change in mindset was needed to avoid accusations of Britain being a 'nanny state', he said. 'The application of common sense and balance is much more reasonable than the seeking of mindless increments towards 'absolute safety', a destination which is neither feasible nor, in all probability, desirable, since it would come at such cost to our freedoms,' he said. 'Accident prevention involves so many technical, legal and ethical issues, ultimately defining life and death, that there is no simple shorthand for explaining how the whole thing works for the benefit of the 60 million people who rely on it. 'Whether walking in the hills or mowing the lawn, people need to be able to get on with it themselves, ideally armed with the tools of knowledge and experience.'

He went on: 'In the middle is the tricky bit - where to draw the line between intervention and laissez-faire. 'This is typically the area where the media and the public become most incensed with what might be described as 'misplaced intervention'. 'Here is the crux - how to apply the proper balance of factors in order to exercise good judgement. 'Too prescriptive, and accusations resound of the 'nanny state' - too casual and people would undoubtedly be forced to take unknowing risks.'

Mr Mullarkey said there are areas where strict health and safety rules are needed - for example, in the nuclear, chemical or aviation industries. But in other areas of life, people should be provided with sufficient information to determine their own health and safety. In addition, he said health and safety officials should ask themselves basic questions before deciding to stop or curtail an individual's activity.

'At RoSPA, we draw the line with two simple questions,' he said. 'Is the intervention proportionate to the risk? And what would be the effect on others? 'Someone who puts only themselves at risk should have the freedom to do so; but if an act can kill or injure others, it must be proscribed or regulated. 'A solo mountain climber fits into the first category; a speeding motorist the second.'


A motoring program is politically correct Britain's safety valve

Such a crude, foul, atrocious, indefensible joke. And what a joy to hear it. Jeremy Clarkson's quip on Top Gear that a lorry driver's job amounts to "change gear, change gear, check your mirrors, murder a prostitute..." made me guffaw with relief that the BBC has not, despite the torches and pitchfork lunacy of last week, appointed some blue-pencilled Humour Tsar to deny Britain its filthy smirks.

Despite it being pre-recorded, the BBC still let it run, knowing that the smarting, exiled Ross-Brand fanbase could jack it up into a test of Ofcom: do the rules that silenced the Left-leaning, youthful, eye-linered edge apply equally to the pressed-jeaned, middle-aged mainstream? And presumably the BBC foresaw a crack about murdered women might provoke cries of misogyny, but could guess most of us were laughing at Clarkson giving Top Gear's legion of trucker fans a blithe kick in the nads.

Perhaps jokes like this will turn out to be the BBC's salvation. Last week, while abroad and thus slightly detached from the media mentalism, I heard Charles Moore on the Today programme coolly suggest that very soon people would simply refuse to pay their licence fees. It was a Voldemort moment. Dark forces were mustering. What was to stop ordinary citizens who were finally expressing their long-bottled moral distaste joining the BBC's ideological and commercial enemies in civil disobedience? Why hadn't some internet campaign popped up already - - getting people to pledge non-payment? What could the BBC or the Government do if 100,000, 500,000, a million households refused to fork out œ139.50, a merciless flat tax and no small sum to a recession-hit family?

There is a distinct type of defiant, individualistic Briton who would leap to this cause. The fuel-protesters, Eurosceptics, Countryside Alliance loyalists, the nation's hardy last-ditch smokers, the insouciant, hearty, bar-propping trans-fat munchers, and those bored half-crazy by always having to be good. The only programme guaranteeing their loyalty to the BBC, the only place they are heard at throaty full volume, is Top Gear.

While Hammond or May burble on about the spec of some supercar, check out the faces in the studio audience. Beaming and blissed-out. Women as well as men. Regular men, not just ugly, anoracked, classic-car nerds. Top Gear is a guilty pleasure for those, like me, who hate driving, who earnestly cycle and recycle, who own a clunky, uncool Renault Modus because it could cross the Andes on a teacup of lighter fuel.

For most of Top Gear's six million viewers the show is not really about cars at all. (We make tea during the technical blah.) Top Gear is about laughing, hard and long at three boy-men performing dangerous (in a carefully calibrated way), stupid, childish stunts like turning an MG midget into a yacht. Those who witter on that Clarkson driving a Lagonda too fast over the Alps encourages speeding or joyriding, or claim this petrol-headed insanity defies serious attempts to halt global warming, haven't watched Top Gear this century. It is not about the coolness of driving, but the manifest uncoolness of men who enjoy it too much.

Indeed Top Gear has become a societal safety valve: they drive lorries through brick walls, send a Robin Reliant into space, sip gin and tonic at the wheel or just go full throttle on an empty road, because we shouldn't or can't. It celebrates recklessness, a nose-thumbing at public bossiness or health & safety dictats, the schoolboyish impulse to shove fingers in sockets. Every time it snows and my son's school keeps children indoors in case anyone slips, whenever the binmen shove a card through my door chiding me for leaving a tin can in with the bottles or a passport controller tells me to carry my kids' birth certificates to prove I'm not a child trafficker, I too come over all Top Gear.

When the Conservatives were casting around for direction after the disaster of Michael Howard, I wondered why they did not look towards Top Gear. It is, after all, a well-spring of a natural, unforced British conservatism, since even the most collective-minded Leftie among us turns into a solitary get-out-my-way lone wolf behind a wheel. At its remotest fringes, the Top Gear tendency is the pale, weedy equivalent of the membership of America's National Rifle Association. But for the most part, it is largely tolerant and broadminded, even about such matters as gay marriage or immigration, as long as it is still guaranteed the right to make unsound jokes about them. Indeed, if Top Gear was a politican it would be Ken Clarke: plump, bibulous, cigar-smoking, jocular, pragmatic, forever putting sense before ideology.

But when the Tories chose David Cameron, an inoffensive, solar-panelled goody-goody, the Top Gear tendency found itself still stranded in political long-term parking. It is unimaginable for Dave to burn up Gambon corner in a "reasonably priced car". (Except maybe a Prius, which Top Gear would probably say is neither reasonably priced nor much of a car.) Indeed no party has the kind of rumbustious everyman with the chutzpah to carry it off. Which is a shame since watching a star streak around the race track is more revealing than any interview, exposing degrees of nervousness, timidity, courage, competitiveness and how often a person curses under pressure. Perhaps a race-off between Gordon, Dave and Nick before the next election could replace the usual yawnsome debates.

Top Gear celebrates our national gift for everyday badinage and the magnificent British trait of doing anything for a laugh. Visiting the Somme, I was told of Tommies going over the top of trenches while trying to kick footballs into German lines. The enemy thought them insane. Most of them died. It was very Top Gear.

British politics is currently so bleak and serious that we crave humorous distraction more than ever. Indeed the Brand-Ross affair seemed a self-created sideshow to take our minds off the economy. Meanwhile car sales tumbled last month, making Top Gear not less relevant but more necessary than ever. If recession turns to Depression it will make the political climate cruel, blaming, even violent. Impotent and frustrated, we're going to need to blow that safety valve. And better the release of a crude quip than something uglier and far more brutal.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, OBAMA WATCH (2), EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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