Saturday, October 06, 2007

Threat of punishment can deter bad behaviour (Who knew?)

The fear of being punished makes people less likely to violate social norms, according to a study by Swiss and German researchers. Using scanning technology, the scientists were able to show which parts of the brain react to the threat of punishment, highlighting that lesions in these regions might lead to antisocial behaviour. The study, published on Wednesday in the brain research journal Neuron, aimed to understand the effects of potential punishment on the decision-making process.

"Our societies have clear definitions of what is appropriate," said Ernst Fehr, an economist at Zurich University and one of the authors. He points to norms such as fairness, cooperation and honesty. "Most people are willing to comply with these norms in the absence of punishment," he told swissinfo. "But a significant minority will only do so if threatened."

Fehr gives telling the truth as an example of a social norm that most people understand. That doesn't stop anyone from lying at some point though. The researchers focused on how prepared people were to comply with the fairness norm using a money allocation game. A person had to decide how much of a certain amount of money they were prepared to share with another. In one case, there was no punishment for an unfair division of the funds, while in the other the recipient could decide to financially punish the giver. The activation of certain areas of the brain when punishment was an option was highlighted using so-called functional magnetic resonance imaging. This technique can show neural activity by detecting blood flow in the brain.

"People who primarily comply with a norm because of the threat of punishment probably have to suppress their egoistic impulses more strongly, which then activates this region of the frontal lobe more strongly," said Fehr. "This result extends previous results we found showing that egoistic decisions are more likely to be made if this area of the brain is suppressed in its activity."

For the researchers, the implications of their study go beyond highlighting that some people only respond to threats. In many young people, the regions of the brain involved are not fully developed, perhaps explaining why potential punishment does not prevent anti-social behaviour. "Our findings suggest that courts should be more careful in determining the penal responsibility of teenagers and young adults," added Fehr. In most European countries - including Switzerland - this responsibility is set at age 18, or even 20. In the United States, it is often much lower.

The authors suggest that their findings could help understand psychopathic behaviour. They say this is because people with lesions in the social compliance circuitry highlighted by their research are incapable of behaving in appropriate ways even though they understand social norms.

Fehr warns though that using scans to determine whether someone is dangerous for society is not enough. "I think that if the brain is permanently damaged, a criminal should not be released," he told swissinfo. "But you do not lock someone up for life based on a scan; it's just one possible element that can intervene in a judgement."

He added that society plays a vital role in how norms are respected. "Our biology allows us to comply with social norms. But these norms are conditioned by society," he said.


The profound Leftist dishonesty and corruption exposed by the Duke U Lacrosse team prosecution

Stuart Taylor, a distinguished lawyer and legal affairs writer, and K. C. Johnson, a Professor of History at Brooklyn College who has faced the politically correct army of the left over his own job, have written a brilliant, engrossing and comprehensive history of the Duke travesty. In the end, Michael Nifong's greed cost him his job, his reputation, and a brief jail stay. It cost Duke University a significant amount of money ($20 million or more in payouts), and did great damage to its crawl up the prestige ladder of elite higher education.

More importantly, the case exposed the rot at the core of the humanities faculties in many colleges across America -- an angry collection of professors with few classes to teach, little useful research to conduct, but plenty of time to agitate. In the case of the gender and women's studies and African American studies faculties at Duke, it is clear that in the haste to promote faculty diversity, candidates with scant scholarly achievement were given jobs. Left wing faculty members, whom one might think would be sensitive to abuse of the rights of the accused, cared not a whit for due process in the case of the accused team members. They saw an opportunity to focus the case into a teaching moment -- with a bright light focused on what they believed was really at issue here: white rich student athletes abusing low income women of color.

The charges against Reade Seligmann, who had an airtight alibi that should have cleared him from the beginning, David Evans, and Collin Finnerty have now all been dropped, and their innocence proclaimed by the state's Attorney General. But reading this book provides a look into a very frightening period, when lacrosse team members feared for their lives as militant feminists, encouraged by the faculty blowhards, chanted "Castrate!" and black militants threatened to shoot the team members.

One student later appointed to a commission by Duke President Richard Brodhead threatened the lives of the children of the lacrosse coach Mike Pressler. Brodhead fired the coach at the same time he cancelled the lacrosse team's season. But never disciplined the student issuing the threat to children. He also never attempted to protect Coach Pressler and his family or the students whose lives were threatened.

The picture of Brodhead revealed in this book makes Lee Bollinger of Columbia look like a man of great courage and vision by comparison. Brodhead leaped on a high horse to condemn the lacrosse team for alcohol abuse (imagine that at Duke!) and for hiring a stripper. This lacrosse team stripper party was one of more than 20 such parties at Duke in this particular academic year. One of them was held by the Duke men's basketball team, coached by he holy of holies at Duke, Mike Krzyzewski, a man strangely silent as another elite Duke team was ruthlessly trashed on campus.

Most students soon figured out that no rape occurred at the stripper party. They defended the team members and the three accused players. Coach of the women's lacrosse team Kerstin Kimel and her team members were particularly visible supporters of the three accused. So were writers for the Chronicle, the Duke student paper, and the writers covering the case for the Raleigh News and Observer. And the lawyers for the accused were as good as one could ask for. Especially noteworthy were the roles of Brad Bannon, Joe Cheshire and Kirk Osborn. Less well off students who could not afford such quality counsel might now be serving 30 year jail sentences for crimes they did not commit.

If the three players had gone to jail for a crime they did not commit, that would likely not have troubled the souls of either cable news blowhard Nancy Grace or Bill Keller, New York Times editor-in-chief, and his team of writers and columnists, all of whom who let loose fusillades of abuse at the lacrosse team for months. When the first Times reporter assigned to the story called it straight in his first thee articles (just the facts), he was pulled off the story for a more compliant team who would emphasize in each story the race, class, and gender angle.

The Times enabled Nifong's folly, as did the radical Duke faculty and President Brodhead. As Nifong's case began to collapse, the Times hung in with him, trying to resuscitate his image with a long story based on a fraudulent police report prepared by Mark Gottlieb, a Duke-hating cop. The report contained demonstrably false and inconsistent information, and the Times bought it whole. So much for the paper of record. No Times editorial has ever been published condemning Nifong. The Times ombudsman called the coverage in the paper fair.

On Tuesday of this week, the Times editorial page and sports columnist Harvey Araton (who harshly condemned the Duke lacrosse team before knowing the facts) weighed in on what is obviously a big story for the Times -- saving the job of Mets manager Willie Randolph, following the team's end of season collapse . The Times applauded the firing of Duke lacrosse coach Mike Pressler, who was an honorable and honest man and a good coach. But Randolph of the Mets is black and Pressler is white. And that really is all that matters for the Times.

And in the end, that is the story that Taylor and Johnson tell: For the American left and a prosecutor run amok, justice is not meant to be color-blind. If you are white, and especially if you are a white male, and even worse, one from a family with money, you are guilty and stand accused. Your social standing is crime enough. They used to call it "bad class origins" in Stalin's Russia and Mao's China.


Russian Orthodox Patriarch Explains Stand on Homosexuality to Council of Europe "Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin"

In his first visit to the Council of Europe on a mission to discuss inter-religious dialogue, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Alexy II, gave a spirited defence of Christian morality. He noted that the notion of human rights in Europe stems, at least in part from Christian morality. "Yet today there occurs a break between human rights and morality, and this break threatens the European civilization," he warned. "We can see it in a new generation of rights that contradict morality, and in how human rights are used to justify immoral behavior," he stated.

The remarks prompted British Liberal Democrat council member David Russell-Johnston to demand an explanation of the Russian Orthodox leader's opposition to the Moscow "gay pride" march. "When persistent attempts were made to hold a homosexual parade in Moscow, we believed that that meant propaganda and advertisement of sin," Alexy replied before the Council. The Patriarch compared homosexual sex acts to kleptomania and asked, "Why then (does) no one advertise kleptomania while homosexuality gets advertised via gay parades?" "It is advertisement that is being forced on people who are a very long way from it," Alexy added.

The Patriarch stressed that persons who have such temptations and engage in homosexual acts are nonetheless loved by Christians. They are he said, "sinners whom we love while we hate their sin." "But at the same time we Orthodox Christians cannot depart from what is taught by the Bible and by the apostolic tradition of the church," he added. "Nobody must try to force me or my brothers and sisters in faith to be silent and [to prevent us from] using the word sin for something that is called sin in God's Word."

Several Council of Europe members including the Russian representative applauded these remarks by the Patriarch, much to the chagrin of Mr. Russell-Johnston. The irate councilman called the Patriarch's analogy between kleptomania and homosexuality "ridiculous" and dismissed the Patriarch's remarks as merely having "repeated his aggressively intolerant position." "What was regrettable was that a lot of people applauded him," Russell-Johnston told the International Herald Tribune.

During his speech the Patriarch warned of just such intolerance of morality leading to Europe's demise. "If we ignore moral norms, we ultimately ignore freedom too," said Alexy. "Morality is freedom in action. It is a freedom brought into reality as a result of responsible choice, in which human person restricts his or her self for the good of that very person and broader society."

"Moral principles secure societal vitality and growth, as well as unity of society," he added. "And whenever moral norms are trespassed and declared to be relative, it may undermine the whole worldview of the Europeans. They may draw nigh to a disastrous moment when European nations risk losing their spiritual and cultural identity and ultimately their own place in history."


Amazing: No penalty for pedophilic Muslim -- free to work with children!


A medical student who tried to give an 11-year-old boy a "penis massage" will be allowed to undertake pediatric training as part of his degree after a Brisbane judge spared him a criminal conviction. Defence counsel for Pakistani-born Shakee Mirza, 27, this morning suggested the would-be doctor may have been inspired to touch the boy's genitals after watching sci-fi comedy film Spaceballs.

Mirza, a University of Queensland student in Australia on a study visa, was charged in February last year with attempted indecent treatment of a child. The District Court was told he had been assigned as a mentor to his victim's younger brother in 2005 by the Lions Club of Queensland under its "Aunties and Uncles" program for at-risk youth. Mirza was booted out of the scheme several months later because the organisation felt he had become too close to the family. But Crown prosecutor Vicki Loury said the part-time school tutor continued to have contact with the boys at their mother's invitation and would visit several times a week. He was also given permission to sleep in their beds.

The court heard Mirza had been watching television in a bedroom with his victim and had been massaging the child's head when he told the youngster "it would feel better" if he massaged his penis instead. The child said no, but Mirza tried to force his hands down his pants and was only stopped when the boy pushed his hand away. Despite pleading guilty to the offence, Mirza today escaped a jail term and a criminal conviction after his lawyers convinced Judge David Searles that it would ruin his future medical career, including a compulsory pediatric rotation as part of his degree. He had also donated much of his spare time to charity work and had never been in trouble before.

"Given my client's impeccable background ... he really can't offer much of an explanation," defence barrister Brad Farr said of the incident, which he stressed did not involve actual contact with the child's penis. "It was almost done in a joking fashion. "Coincidentally, they were watching a movie called Spaceballs - whether that put the idea in his head, I don't know."

Mirza was sentenced to 12 months' probation. Outside court, the boy's mother said the lack of a recorded criminal conviction meant Mirza could keep his blue card - or security clearance - allowing him close contact with children. "We've now placed our community at high risk," the woman, who cannot be identified, told the media. "I definitely feel he should have been stripped of his blue card, because the blue card allows him to become a doctor and a pediatrician." She also blasted the organisers of the "Aunties and Uncles" program for not properly "screening" mentor candidates before placing them in people's homes. "They've wiped their hands clean," she said.



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, 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 times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


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