Thursday, May 05, 2011

Can you "banish evil?"

Glenn linked to an interesting article about the work of Simon Baron-Cohen (Sasha's cousin) and his work on empathy:

As a scientist seeking to understand random acts of violence, from street brawls to psychopathic killings to genocide, he has puzzled for decades over what prompts such acts of human cruelty. And he's decided that evil is not good enough.

"I'm not satisfied with the term 'evil'," says the Cambridge University psychology and psychiatry professor, one of the world's top experts in autism and developmental psychopathology.

In the book, entitled "Zero Degrees of Empathy" in Britain, and "The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Cruelty" in the United States, where it comes out in July, Baron-Cohen seeks to pick apart and define components of empathy -- including hormones, genes, environment, nurture, and early childhood experiences.

Citing decades of scientific research, he says there are at least 10 regions of the brain which make up what he calls the "empathy circuit". When people hurt others, either systematically or fleetingly, parts of that circuit are malfunctioning.

Baron-Cohen argues that this lack of empathy can be monitored and treated. Maybe, but I have a number of questions about assuming that everyone has some deep buried empathy that can be brought out. I don't think they do.

How would a person be monitored and treated? How is empathy to be defined? Remember that some psychologists and psychiatrists feel that it is okay to medicate inmates and others for having racist thoughts with anti-psychotic drugs. What else could they do? How would this fit into one's political beliefs? Those on the left often see themselves as "empathetic" but they might be using "empathy" as a synonym for leftist thought. Since the majority of those in the mental health field are leftists, how would this play out? Would Republicans who "lack empathy" in their eyes need to be monitored and treated?

Yes, it would be great if we could get psychopaths and narcissists to have some empathy for others, but at what cost?

Pass the salt shaker?

CNN Health:
Those who consumed the least salt had a 56 percent higher risk of death from a heart attack or stroke compared with those who had the highest consumption, even after controlling for obesity, cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, and other risk factors....

Despite the study's shortcomings, the findings do suggest that sodium guidelines should perhaps take into account differences among individuals, says Randal Thomas, M.D., a preventive cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota.

"We know that not everybody is as sensitive to sodium in their diet as others. Even among people with high blood pressure, no more than half are probably sodium sensitive, and in the general population, it's probably less than 10 percent," Thomas says. "In setting up a public policy, it's important to recognize the need to have a policy that doesn't punish the majority for the benefit of the minority."

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

CBS Atlanta news show on kids who kill

I was interviewed last month by CBS Atlanta for a show on kids who kill. The show will air tonight at 11:00 Eastern for those of you who are in that viewing area. I will link to the show when it becomes available on their website for those readers who are interested in the topic.

Update: You can watch the video here. Notice that in the story, several of the featured killers are girls.


Tuesday, May 03, 2011

PJTV: The Dark Side of Altrusim

I interviewed Barb Oakley, the author of Cold-Blooded Kindness: Neuroquirks of a Codependent Killer, or Just Give Me a Shot at Loving You, Dear, and Other Reflections on Helping That Hurts about the dark side of altruism:
Author Barbara Oakley joins Dr. Helen to discuss the dark side of altruism. Could good intentions create bad results, like stress, unhappiness or worse?

You can watch the interview here.