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All they wanna do is rule ya (Bruce Cockburn)


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Not all psychopaths are criminals – some psychopathic traits are actually linked to success

Psychopathic Records

Psychopathic Records (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Scott O. Lilienfeld, Emory University and Ashley Watts, Emory University

Tom Skeyhill was an acclaimed Australian war hero, known as “the blind solider-poet.” During the monumental World War I battle of Gallipoli, he was a flag signaler, among the most dangerous of all positions. After being blinded when a bomb shell detonated at his feet, he was transferred out.

After the war he penned a popular book of poetry about his combat experience. He toured Australia and the United States, reciting his poetry to rapt audiences. President Theodore Roosevelt appeared on stage with him and said, “I am prouder to be on the stage with Tom Skeyhill than with any other man I know.” His blindness suddenly disappeared following a medical procedure in America.

But, according to biographer Jeff Brownrigg, Skeyhill wasn’t what he seemed. The poet had, in fact, faked his blindness to escape danger.

That’s not all. After a drunken performance, he blamed his slurred speech on an unverifiable war injury. He claimed to have met Lenin and Mussolini (there is no evidence that he did), and spoke of his extensive battle experience at Gallipoli, when he had been there for only eight days.

You have to be pretty bold to spin those kinds of self-aggrandizing lies and to carry it off as long as Skeyhill did. Although he never received a formal psychological examination (at least to our knowledge), we suspect that most contemporary researchers would have little trouble recognizing him as a classic case of psychopathic personality, or psychopathy.

What’s more, Skeyhill embodied many elements of a controversial condition sometimes called successful psychopathy.

Despite the popular perception, most psychopaths aren’t coldblooded or psychotic killers. Many of them live successfully among the rest of us, using their personality traits to get what they want in life, often at the expense of others.

A cell row is seen at the Security Housing Unit (SHU) during a media tour at the Corcoran State Prison in Corcoran, California.
Robert Galbraith/Reuters

All psychopaths are criminals if you look for them only behind bars

Psychopathy is not easily defined, but most psychologists view it as a personality disorder characterized by superficial charm conjoined with profound dishonesty, callousness, guiltlessness and poor impulse control. According to some estimates, psychopathy is found in about one percent of the general population, and for reasons that are poorly understood, most psychopaths are male.

That number probably doesn’t capture the full number of people with some degree of psychopathy. Data suggest that psychopathic traits lie on a continuum, so some individuals possess marked psychopathic traits but don’t fulfill the criteria for full-blown psychopathy.

Not surprisingly, psychopathic individuals are more likely than other people to commit crimes. They almost always understand that their actions are morally wrong – it just doesn’t bother them. Contrary to popular belief, only a minority are violent.

Because researchers tend to seek out psychopaths where they can locate them in plentiful numbers, much research on the condition has taken place in prisons and jails. That’s why until fairly recently, the lion’s share of theory and research on psychopathy focused on decidedly unsuccessful individuals – such as convicted criminals.

But a lot of people on the psychopathic continuum aren’t in jail or prison. In fact, some individuals may be able to use psychopathic traits, like boldness, to achieve professional success.

A profoundly disturbed core

The very existence of successful psychopathy has been controversial, perhaps in part because many scholars insist they have never seen it. Some say the concept is illogical, with others going so far as to term it an oxymoron.

Successful psychopathy is a controversial idea, but it’s not a new one. In 1941, American psychiatrist Hervey Cleckley was among the first to highlight this paradoxical condition in his classic book “The Mask of Sanity.” According to Cleckley, the psychopath is a hybrid creature, donning an engaging veil of normalcy that conceals an emotionally impoverished and profoundly disturbed core.

In Cleckley’s eyes, psychopaths are charming, self-centered, dishonest, guiltless and callous people who lead aimless lives devoid of deep interpersonal attachments. But Cleckley also alluded to the possibility that some psychopathic individuals are successful interpersonally and occupationally, at least in the short term.

In a 1946 article, he wrote that the typical psychopath will have often:

outstripped 20 rival salesmen over a period of 6 months, or married the most desirable girl in town, or, in a first venture into politics, got himself elected into the state legislature.

Charming, aggressive and looking out for number one

In 1977, Catherine Widom published a study about “noninstitutionalized psychopaths.” To find these individuals, she placed an advertisement in underground Boston newspapers calling for “charming, aggressive, carefree people who are impulsively irresponsible but are good at handling people and looking out for number one.”

The individuals she recruited exhibited a personality profile similar to those of incarcerated psychopaths, and about two-thirds of them had been arrested.

What’s the difference between the psychopaths who get arrested and the ones who don’t? Research from Adrian Raine, now at the University of Pennsylvania, conducted in the 1990s sheds some light.

Raine and his colleagues recruited men from temporary employment agencies in the Los Angeles area. After first identifying those who met the criteria for psychopathy, they compared the 13 participants who had been convicted of one or more crimes with the 26 who had not. Raine provisionally regarded these 26 men as successful psychopaths.

Each man gave a videotaped speech about his personal flaws. Raine and his colleagues found that the men they considered successful psychopaths displayed significantly greater heart rate increases, suggesting an increase in social anxiety. These men also performed better on a task requiring them to modulate their impulses.

The bottom line: having a modicum of social anxiety and impulse control may explain why some psychopathic people manage to stay out of trouble.

Some psychopathic traits might aid success.
Carlo Allegri/Reuters

The psychopath at the stock exchange

More recently, some researchers, ourselves included, have speculated that people with pronounced psychopathic traits may be found disproportionately in certain professional niches, such as politics, business, law enforcement, firefighting, special operations military services and high-risk sports. Most of those with psychopathic traits probably aren’t classic “psychopaths,” but nonetheless exhibit many features of the condition.

Perhaps their social poise, charisma, audacity, adventurousness and emotional resilience lends them a performance edge over the rest of us when it comes to high-stakes settings. As Canadian psychologist Robert Hare, the world’s premier psychopathy expert, quipped, “If I weren’t studying psychopaths in prison, I’d do it at the stock exchange.”

Our lab at Emory University, and that of our collaborators at Florida State University, are investigating whether some psychopathic traits, such as boldness, predispose to certain successful behaviors.

What do we mean by boldness? It encompasses poise and charm, physical risk-taking and emotional resilience, and it is a trait that is well-represented in many widely used psychopathy measures.

For instance, in studies on college students and people in the general community, we have found that boldness is modestly tied to impulsive heroic behaviors, such as intervening in emergencies. It’s also linked to a higher likelihood of assuming leadership and management positions, and to certain professions, such as law enforcement, firefighting and dangerous sports.

Want to be president? Having some psychopathic traits could help

There’s one job in particular in which boldness may make a difference: president of the United States.

In a study of the 42 American presidents up to and including George W. Bush, we asked biographers and other experts to complete a detailed set of personality items – including items assessing boldness – about the president of their expertise. Then, we connected these data with independent surveys of presidential performance by prominent historians.

We found that boldness was positively, although modestly, associated with better overall presidential performance. And several specific facets of such performance, such as crisis management, agenda setting and public persuasiveness, were associated with boldness too. This may be something to keep in mind the next time you see presidential candidates talk about how bold they’ll be in the White House.

Theodore Roosevelt, the boldest of them all.
National Archives and Records Administration

In an interesting coincidence, the boldest president in our study was the one who said he was proud to share a stage with Tom Skeyhill. Theodore Roosevelt was described by a recent biographer as possessing a “robust, forceful, naturalistic, bombastic, teeth-clapping, animal-skinning, keen-eyed, avalanche-like persona.”

The boldest presidents were not necessarily extreme or pathological on this dimension, but boldness was markedly elevated relative to the average person.

Although boldness was tied to some successful actions, we generally found that other psychopathic features, such as callousness and poor impulse control, were unrelated or negatively related to professional success.

Boldness may be associated with certain positive life outcomes, but full-fledged psychopathy generally is not.

Where’s the line between success and criminality?

Could psychopathic traits be adaptive? Few investigators have explored this “Goldilocks” hypothesis. Moreover, we know surprisingly little about how psychopathic traits forecast real-world behavior over extended stretches of time.

The charm of the psychopath is shallow and superficial. With that in mind, we would argue that boldness and allied traits may be linked to successful behaviors in the short term, but that their effectiveness almost always fizzles out in the long term. After all, Tom Skeyhill was able to fool people for only so long.

The Conversation

Scott O. Lilienfeld, Professor of Psychology, Emory University and Ashley Watts, Ph.D. Candidate, Emory University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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Corruption index tries to simplify complex issue

Here’s a refreshing article about corruption. Rather than taking the official “indexes” at face value, questions are asked and valid concerns are raised.

And here’s a tweet to the kind of simplistic reporting that we usually see, which only perpetuates real corruption.


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The human side of science

I thought I’d finished revising my entry on “Science” at earthpages.ca when I encountered this article at Forbes.

Steven Salzberg says

So what’s going on? Was the 2013 study just wrong? It seemed the only way to answer this was to read the new study, written by Anick Bérard and colleagues. Looking over the new numbers, my conclusion is that Bérard simply tortured the data until she got the results–and the press headlines–that they wanted. Let’s look a bit more closely. (emphasis mine)

Rather than integrate this tweet into the earthpages.ca entry, I thought I’d post it here. It illustrates the sociological argument that scientific truth claims do not drop down from heaven but, rather, are all too human statements, often arising out of a muddled and contentious field of power struggles.

Not that I’m anti-science. Far from it. I love all the good things it brings. But scientific abuse is all too common. And in my opinion, not too many people are aware of that.

Here’s the relevant entry at earthpages.ca >> https://earthpages.wordpress.com/2015/12/21/science/


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Learning Peace – The Power of Forgiveness

Everyone knows the topic of forgiveness is developed in sermons across the world each week. But it may come as a surprise that forgiveness is increasingly a topic of study in the scientific community.

Source: Learning Peace – The Power of Forgiveness


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Donnie Darko – Review

So it took me a while to get around to watching this movie. I suppose the promo image for Donnie Darko was a bit of a turn off. Someone in a hoodie looking ominous with fire in the background. I imagined it was like Firestarter (which I haven’t seen… but you get the idea).

Image via Deviant Art

All I knew about Donnie was that it had something to do with alleged psychic abilities and time travel, and that it was a bit dark. Even the opening scenes are a bit dark (exposure-wise). This made me think I’d be suffering through the grainy bummer of old movie prints that aren’t remastered. But I persevered and after a few minutes was pleasantly surprised. In fact, Donnie kept growing on me, right up to the grand, freaked out finale.

Set in 1988 but filmed in 2001, this is an interesting time loop in itself. The past looking at the past. On the whole the retro fit is done well. Rounded CRT TVs. VHS tapes. That era. The only anachronism I might have detected is the Panasonic Ball Radio. I owned one of those, and that was the 1970s, not the late 80s. Oh well. I guess you could say the character who owns the radio gets it from her parents.

Donnie Darko (soundtrack)

Donnie Darko soundtrack (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This film touches on several key issues without going overboard on any of them. Time travel, premonition, the idea of mental illness, bullying, racism, child pornography, the hypocrisy of some self-help gurus. All these provocative themes are wrapped up into a tight ball that steadily unravels as the film progresses.

The acting is pretty much fabulous throughout. I didn’t see any weak performances and lots of strong ones.

Rather than break it down (you can get that at more conventional sites), I suggest watching this film with as few preconceptions as possible. Wikipedia helps make sense of it. But I wouldn’t read that until after seeing this skirmish into darkness, light and emerging new ideas about space, time and alternate universes.

Sometimes mystery is good, and spelling it all out beforehand can detract from the magic.

MC


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How science has been abused through the ages to promote racism

Tim Crowe, University of Cape Town

Race in human taxonomy – the science of classifying organisms – has a long, disgraceful history.

Individuals have used race to divide and denigrate certain people while promoting their claims of superiority. Some of these individuals were, and are, respected in their time and their fields. They include philosopher and scientist Robert Boyle and sociologists like Hans Günther. Others who’ve been guilty include biologists like Ernst Haeckel and historians such as Henri de Boulainvilliers.

What is the history of racially based classifications of humans? And does it have any scientific validity?

Starting with Kant

The eminent philosopher Immanuel Kant was arguably the first “scientific racist”. He maintained that dark-skinned Africans were “vain and stupid”. He insisted that they were only capable of trifling feelings and were resistant to any form of education other than learning how to be enslaved.

By contrast, Kant maintained, light-skinned Caucasians were “active, acute, and adventurous”.

Renowned German anthropologist Johann Blumenbach used skull anatomy to divide humans into five races:

  • Caucasians (Europe and western Asia);
  • Mongoloids (eastern Asia);
  • Malays (south-eastern Asia);
  • Negros (sub-Saharan Africa); and
  • Americans (North and South America).

But he disagreed with the common view that humans from sub-Saharan Africa were inferior. Blumenbach’s “benign” racial categorisation persisted well into the 20th century.

Samuel Morton drew on refined, quantitative assessments of skull anatomy to provide further “scientific evidence”. He claimed that interracial intellectual variation is reflected by the interior volume of the skull, and that this justified the use of Blumenbach’s groupings to determine relative racial superiority.

He regarded the Caucasian as:

… distinguished by the facility with which it attains the highest intellectual endowments

and Africans as

… joyous, flexible, and indolent; while the many nations which compose this race present a singular diversity of intellectual character, of which the far extreme is the lowest grade of humanity.

“Scientific racism”“ was used to justify the ownership of slaves, as well as colonialism. It reached its pinnacle in eugenics, a “science” espoused by the British statistician and sociologist Francis Galton at the end of the 19th century.

Eugenicists advocate the “improvement” of humanity by promoting reproduction between people with desired traits and reducing reproduction between people with less-desired traits. Eugenics featured in race-related legislation like Nazi Germany’s Nuremberg Laws and apartheid-era South Africa’s edicts.

Genetic evidence

Genetic studies have examined “racial” variation from a molecular perspective. My early mentor Richard Lewontin, an evolutionary biologist from the University of Chicago, was a pioneer in this. His research suggested that 90% of modern human genetic diversity is found between individuals within populations. The tiny balance is due to variation between populations.

This view was confirmed by subsequent studies based on DNA by, among others, Lynn B. Jorde and Stephen P. Wooding. The DNA among all human populations is 99.5% similar. Populations of the geographically much more restricted chimpanzee exhibit more than four times the genetic variation that’s found between human populations. Chimpanzees are humans’ nearest living evolutionary “relative”.

Their research shows that when humans are studied from genetic or anatomical perspectives, the pattern that’s discovered is not diagnosable geographically discrete clusters. The norm is gradual, geographically uncorrelated variation in traits and genes. This is even true within peoples who are traditionally thought to be racially homogeneous. There is no evidence of evolutionarily significant racial variation in either genes or anatomy.

The exception is skin colour. Around 10% of the variance in skin colour occurs within groups and about 90% between groups. People living near the equator have darker, more melanin-rich skin than those who live at higher latitudes. Darker skin is strongly selected for because it is a natural sunscreen that limits harmful effects of high ultraviolet rays.

Recent genetic studies indicate that skin colour may change radically within 100 generations because of natural selection.

Genetic racism revived

This overwhelming scientific evidence has not prevented recent studies based on DNA allele frequencies from claiming that there are as many as eight races of humans.

British scientific journalist Nicholas Wade used these studies to claim that natural selection between “races” produced differences in IQ, the efficacy of political institutions and countries’ levels of economic development.

These genetic studies are fundamentally flawed for three reasons:

  • Taxonomic studies aimed at determining the validity of races should be based on characters. These are features that are invariant within populations. They should not be based on traits like eye colour and gene alleles, which vary within populations.
  • Samples used in the DNA-based studies mentioned above were “cherry picked” geographically to maximise differentiation between human populations, and
  • The DNA-based evolutionary racial “trees” were generated by a statistical technique that is designed to produce tree-like patterns which reflect average, not absolute, differences between sampled items. This technique formed the basis of an approach to the construction of evolutionary trees called “phenetics”. It has been decisively discredited and generally abandoned.

Evolutionary origins

DNA and anatomy-based findings support the “Out of Africa” theory. This holds that modern humans originated in Africa. Archaic African Homo erectus immigrated into Eurasia between 1.4 million to 1.6 million years ago.

About 90,000 to 92,000 years ago, a second form of humanity, modern H. sapiens, also emigrated out of Africa. This species replaced populations of Homo erectus already in the north.

Attempts to justify the scientific reality of human races warrant no further discussion. They cannot be used to assess racial “superiority”. “White” and other non-African people are in fact evolutionary refugees from Africa. After settling in Eurasia, it took only an evolutionary heartbeat for them to lose much of their epidermal melanin.

Dark-skinned humans outside of Africa are descended from migrants who “regained” their “blackness” in equatorial regions elsewhere.

The Conversation

Tim Crowe, Emeritus Professor, University of Cape Town

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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