Monday, May 19, 2008

Why Nations Fail To Act In The Face Of Genocide

ScienceDaily (May 19, 2008) — The international community should take formal steps to justify inaction when conditions of genocide exist anywhere in the world.
So says Paul Slovic, a University of Oregon psychology professor, who wants a formal process that requires nations to carefully weigh and publicly justify action or inaction in cases of intentional mass murder. "If they were required to deliberate, I think it would be much more difficult for nations not to take action," he says. "This is something nations aren't required to do and don't really do now."
Slovic, who is also the president and founder of Decision Research Inc., a think tank for risk assessment in Eugene, Ore., makes the recommendation May 18 at a seminar on the prevention of genocide in Auschwitz, Poland hosted by the Auschwitz Institute for Peace and Reconciliation.
The formal steps proposed by Slovic result from his National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded research on psychic numbing, which attempts to understand why people, who emotionally care for and respond to one person in need, tend to become emotionally numb to many people in need.
"Slovic uses scientific methods to help us understand the psychological underpinnings for the consistent failure of the world community to respond to genocides," says NSF Program Director for Decision, Risk and Management Sciences Bob O'Connor. "More importantly, his research suggests concrete steps that will help to change this tragic reality."
Slovic cites a 1948 United Nations convention that calls for the prevention of genocide as evidence of psychic numbing. The convention has rarely been invoked despite more than 135 signatories and a large number of mass murders since the end of World War II. Slovic urges a review of the convention.
The problem, according to Slovic, is that moral intuition, guided by feelings and emotions, is not sufficient to motivate action when genocide is happening. Both moral intuition and moral reasoning, that is, logical argument and calculation, are needed to stimulate action.
"Our basic way of responding through moral intuition is a problem because it breaks down in the face of large scale atrocities," says Slovic. "Our compassion, our empathy, our feeling about what we should do gives us a rush of immediate concern, but it doesn't sustain us when large numbers of people are involved."
The solution is to engage moral reasoning, a slower and more logical way of thinking about problems that challenge principles of right conduct, along with moral intuition.
For example, he argues that the U.S. government doesn't leave it to the moral intuition of citizens to determine how much money they should pay in taxes for Social Security. Instead, moral reasoning leads to laws that require individuals to pay specific amounts for this program.
"Moral reasoning says all human lives are equally valuable," says Slovic. "Given that, if a large number of lives are at risk, they should be proportionally more valuable than a single life. But if left to moral intuition, we would feel a certain amount of concern for the large number of lives at risk, but that feeling would not necessarily be enough to lead us to action."
A 2005 Israeli research study verifies his point that moral intuition, in the absence of moral reasoning, can lead to bad decisions. In the study, participants were shown photos of children in need. One photo showed eight children who needed a total of $300,000 in life-saving medical care. A second photo showed only one child who could be helped with $300,000. Participants were most willing to donate for one child's medical care, but the level of giving declined dramatically when donating to help the entire group.
Still, Slovic recognizes that in some instances, people act to help large numbers of people as was the case in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit the north-central Gulf Coast of the United States and in 2004, when devastating tsunamis slammed into 11 countries in South Asia.
"It was easier for people to have empathy in those cases," he says. "People could see vivid, descriptive images in the news and feel what it might be like if they themselves were in a similar circumstance."
But for cases of genocide, descriptive news media coverage doesn't always occur or prompt people and governments to intervene. The Tyndall Report, which monitors American television coverage, shows that NBC news allotted a total of five minutes to the Darfur genocide on its nightly newscasts in 2004; CBS had only three minutes, about one minute of coverage for every 100,000 deaths.
Slovic insists that we need to engage both moral intuition and moral reasoning to take effective action to stop genocides.
"We need deliberative thinking to go along with our gut feelings," he says. "Our gut feelings will give us the moral intuition that genocide is wrong, but moral reasoning will cause us to lay out reasons to act."
Scholars as well as government officials representing many nations will attend the seminar in Auschwitz.
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Monday, May 12, 2008

How the brain detects the emotions of others

12:45 12 May 2008 news service
Alison Motluk
People who are good at interpreting facial expressions have "mirror neuron" systems that are more active, say researchers. The finding adds weight to the idea that these cells are crucial to helping us figure out how others are feeling.
Mirror neurons are brain cells that fire both when you do something and when you watch someone else do the same thing.
Because they allow us to mimic what others are doing, it is thought that these neurons may be responsible for why we can feel empathy, or understand others' intentions and states of mind. People with autism, for instance, show reduced mirror neuron activity during social cognition tasks.
Now Peter Enticott at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, and his colleagues have found evidence supporting this theory. They asked 20 healthy adults to look at pairs of images. In one task, they had to decide if paired images of faces were the same person. In another, they had to decide if both faces were showing the same emotion.
In a separate task, volunteers watched video clips of thumb movement, a hand grasping a pen and a hand while writing, while the activity in the primary motor cortex of the brain, which contains mirror neurons, was recorded.
Emotional link
Now the team had a measure of the "motor potential" in the thumb muscles – for example, how much the thumb was primed to move just by watching another thumb moving. This measure is a proxy for mirror neuron activity, say the researchers.
Enticott's team found that the volunteers who were better at judging people's emotions had higher mirror neuron activity in the thumb task. There was no correlation, however, between the ability to recognise faces and mirror neuron activity. This suggests that mirror neurons are involved in understanding emotions as well as in the mimicry of actions.
"[The study] connects the two different functions – the motor aspect with the emotional processing aspect," says Lindsay Oberman, at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, US. "They show that mirror neurons for motor activity are related to mirror neurons for emotions," she adds.
Journal reference: Neuropsychologia (DOI: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2008.04.022)
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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Child Abuse May 'Mark' Genes In Brains Of Suicide Victims

ScienceDaily (May 7, 2008) — A team of McGill University scientists has discovered important differences between the brains of suicide victims and so-called normal brains. Although the genetic sequence was identical in the suicide and non-suicide brains, there were differences in their epigenetic marking – a chemical coating influenced by environmental factors.
All of the 13 suicide victims in the study had experienced abuse as children.
“It’s possible the changes in epigenetic markers were caused by the exposure to childhood abuse, although in humans it’s difficult to establish causality between early childhood and epigenetic markers, in the way we have established this in animal subjects,” said Moshe Szyf, a professor in McGill’s Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics. “The big remaining questions are whether scientists could detect similar changes in blood DNA – which could lead to diagnostic tests – and whether we could design interventions to erase these differences in epigenetic markings”.
In the first study of its kind, Szyf, a professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics; Gustavo Turecki, Department of Psychiatry who practices at the Douglas Hospital; Michael Meaney, a professor in the Departments of Psychiatry and Neurology and Neurosurgery, who is also at the Douglas Hospital; and McGill postdoctoral research fellow Patrick McGowan have built on their world-renowned epigenetics work to uncover differences in the DNA in the brains of a group of male suicide victims from Quebec. The all-McGill study is set to be published in the May 6, 2008 edition of the online journal Public Library of Science (PLoS ONE).
Epigenetics is the study of changes in the function of genes that don’t involve changes in the sequences of DNA. The DNA is inherited from our parents; it remains fixed throughout life and is identical in every part of the body. During gestation, however, the genes in our DNA are marked by a chemical coating called DNA methylation. These marks are somewhat sensitive to one’s environment, especially early in life.
The epigenetic marks punctuate the DNA and program it to express the right genes at the appropriate time and place.
The researchers examined a set of genes that code for rRNA, a basic component of the machinery that creates protein in cells. Protein synthesis is critical for learning, memory and the building of new connections in the brain; it can affect decision-making and other behaviour. The scientists found that rRNA can be regulated epigenetically.
In previous studies in laboratory rats, the group proved that simple maternal behaviour during early childhood has a profound effect on genes and behaviour in ways that are sustained throughout life. However, these effects on gene expression and stress responses can also be reversed in adult life through treatments known to affect the genomic marking known as DNA methylation.
The brain samples in the latest study came from the Quebec Suicide Brain Bank, administered by Dr. Turecki of the Douglas Mental Health University Institute. With the support of the Bureau du Coroner du Québec (Office of the Chief Medical Examiner), the McGill Group for Suicide Studies (MGSS) founded the Quebec Suicide Brain Bank (QSBB) at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute, to promote studies on the phenomenon of suicide. Research carried out on brain tissue can help develop intervention and prevention programs to help people suffering mental distress and who are at risk of committing suicide.
The research was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
Journal reference: McGowan PO, Sasaki A, Huang TCT, Unterberger A, Suderman M, et al. (2008) Promoter-Wide Hypermethylation of the Ribosomal RNA Gene Promoter in the Suicide Brain. PLoS ONE 3(5): e2085. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0002085 [link]
Adapted from materials provided by McGill University.
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Psychiatric Profile Of Teenagers At Risk For Committing Violent Acts, School Shootings

ScienceDaily (May 7, 2008) — Oregon Health & Science University psychiatrist Jerald Block, M.D., will present new research on the psychiatric factors that can lead to school shootings.*
There have been at least a dozen school shootings in American schools and universities within the past three years, resulting in the deaths of more than 50 students. In 1998 Oregon's Thurston High School in Springfield was the scene of a school shooting in which two students were killed and 25 others wounded.
Block's presentation will be mainly based on his extensive research of the 1999 Columbine high school shootings, which resulted in the deaths of 15 people, including the two students who initiated the attack, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. Based on diaries and police records, Block authored a July 2007 article for the American Journal of Forensic Psychiatry titled "Lessons from Columbine: Virtual and Real Rage." Block will also briefly discuss the role of technology in the Red Lake (2005), Virginia Tech (2007), Jokela High School (2007), and North Illinois (2008) school shootings.
The paper on Columbine examines the many factors that may have influenced the shooters and specifically highlights the role that technology played in the tragedy. Prior to the shootings, both teenagers spent a significant amount of time playing first-person-shooter computer games and creating game levels for others to use. In his paper, Block suggests that these virtual worlds became essential for the teens. Block notes that Harris and Klebold may have been unable to distinguish the boundaries between their virtual lives and their real lives, in effect mixing the two.
"Virtual realities, like the ones that Harris and Klebold experienced, are a double-edged sword," explained Block, a clinical faculty member in the OHSU Department of Psychiatry. "On one hand, virtual worlds allow people to feel connected and empowered. They also allow participants to escape stress and have an outlet for aggression. On the other hand, when a heavy user must eliminate or cut back on the virtual, as was the case with these two killers at times, the user can feel lonely, anxious, or angry. In some ways, virtual reality is similar to alcohol. In moderation it can be healthy or even helpful. In excess it can be destructive and isolating. And, when a person goes 'dry,' the situation can turn dangerous."
During the APA meeting, two other experts will join Dr. Block in presenting information about school shootings. Katherine Newman, the Malcolm Forbes Class of 1941 Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs from Princeton University, will speak about the communities where school shootings occur and whether we can predict and prevent these tragedies. FBI Special Agent Terri Royster will discuss the FBI's procedure for assessing school shooting threats.
This is the second presentation within the past three months in which Block has commented on a psychiatric issue with widespread public impacts. In March 2008 Block's editorial on the widespread problem of Internet addiction received international media attention.
*Block's presentation, which is part of a panel discussion that he is chairing, will take place on Tuesday, May 6, during the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in Washington, D.C.
Adapted from materials provided by Oregon Health & Science University, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Ancestor Syndrome and the Hidden Links in Our Family Tree

Drawing on decades of experience as a psychodramatist and analyst, Anne Ancelin Schützenberger, in her book The Ancestor Syndrome, explains and provides dramatic clinical examples of her transgenerational approach to psychotherapy. She shows how, as mere links in a family chain of generations, we may have no choice in having the events and traumas first experienced by our ancestors visited upon us again in our own lifetime as it once was in theirs. But, as she says, we do have a choice once we realize it.
Her book includes fascinating case studies to illustrate how her clients have conquered seemingly irrational fears, psychological and even physical difficulties by discovering and understanding the parallels between their own life and the lives of their forebearers. Mysteries as to why things happen can now be solved. Inherited ‘bad luck’ can now be changed. Family curses can now be removed. Ancient guilts and sins of the forebearers can now be resolved.
The theory of ancestral "invisible loyalty" owed to previous generations may indeed predispose us to unwittingly re-enact their suffering and unfinished business in our own life events .Professor Anne Ancelin Schützenberger has spent 50 years of her life researching this phenomena and developing a psychodrama approach to ending this transgenerational karma.
Her solutions and propositions will be discussed and demonstrated in the light of her ongoing research into repetitive patterns which she will present in New Orleans May 25-26.
I met 81 yr old Anne Ancelin Schützenberger in 1999 at the World Conference of Psychotherapy in Vienna where we both were presenting. I went to her presentation on The Anniversary Syndrome there because I was curious since it was right on point with the counseling I was already doing with couples. Within ten minutes, I was overwhelmed with the amazing wealth of information about reoccurring dates, accidents, illnesses, and traumas that Prof. Schützenberger has gathered over her long illustrious career as a psychodramatist.
In her book, The Ancestor Syndrome, she explains how the anniversary date of a certain significant event or terrible tragedy in the past is often stored in unconscious memory and acted out by following generations. Anniversary reactions appear not only as dramatic coincidences in dates and behaviors, but also in health problems, similar accidents, and the exact ages and dates of death that seem to repeat generation after generation without any plausible explanation. It hit home. My mother’s mother had died May 25, 1959, and my mother died May 25, 1983. It was then and only then that I found out from my Aunt Irma that my great-grandmother had also died on a May 25th many years ago. "Never two without three," my mother had said a thousand times throughout her life. And mine. A family belief system, for sure. Writing this, my assistant Bobby Hoerner reminds me that I have scheduled Prof. Schützenberger to do her Ancestor Syndrome Workshop for me in New Orleans on May 25th. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
In April 2000, I went to Paris with six of my students to study with this incredible woman. I learned the depth to which the hidden links in our family tree affect all of us and became even more certain of the value of using her thorough transgenerational approach in my own counseling with clients. "History repeats itself," Clarence Darrow is quoted as saying, "....and that's what's the matter with history." Anne Schützenberger has worked with many many clients over the years to resolve their unconscious directives and legacy from past generations.
Often the roots of current traumas can be explained by an easy but methodical tracing of our family trees, uncovering important similar events that have been interred into our genetic structures, events which pop-up generations later. Trouble comes from unknowingly reliving similar unfinished situations and emotional baggage inherited from our ancestors. The cycle ends when we recognize that the recurring family issues being presented generation after generation are begging for completion.....and once re-solved, can actually fade away and stop. Anne Schützenberger specializes in the resolution of such transgenerational issues and has sent many an illness or negative pattern into remission!
Her workshops explore life, accidents, illnesses and death by working with past unresolved traumas and conflicts that show up in families at certain dates and ages as curses or coincidences. Psychodrama vignettes will be directed with group members toward unearthing, illustrating and resolving these hidden family traumas, closing incomplete situations, saying good-bye and mourning an ancestor's losses. As mere links in a chain of generations, we may have no choice in which problems our ancestors have visited upon us in our own lifetime, but Madame Schützenberger can help you clear their negative karma once and for all.
Her book lists fascinating case studies illustrating how her clients have conquered seemingly irrational fears, psychological and even physical difficulties by discovering and understanding the parallels between their own life and the lives of their forbearers. Most family problems have been around a lot longer than anyone ever realized. The workshop offers a unique opportunity to end the cycle.
I know that in-depth parental histories solve most mysteries and had written about that in my book, Why We Pick The Mates We Do. Now I was beginning to understand that most of these relationship problems had been around a lot longer than I ever realized. It wasn’t just their parental couple, it was an imprinted ancestral couple pattern. Generation after generation, inherited emotional and behavioral imprints had been demonstrated and learned by example, but others were kept secret and never revealed. Amazingly, they were still showing up in successive generations. I realized these issues were begging for closure. Often locked in unconscious memory, it became A-Parent that these imprinted set of instructions were the answers that explained most inherited negative feelings, irrational behaviors and repetitive traumatic events. I believe it is of the utmost importance to resolve our ancestors’ unresolved legacy before we can truly evolve ourselves.
The Ancestor Syndrome explains life and death issues through the "family tree" and the manner in which memories of past-unresolved traumas and conflicts are passed on to future generations. In her workshops, Psychodrama vignettes will be directed by Prof. Schützenberger with group members and aimed toward unearthing, illustrating, and resolving hidden family traumas, closing incomplete situations, saying good-bye and mourning an ancestor's losses. Efforts are made to understand these phenomena in the larger context of one's family psychological and economical history, "psychohistory", hidden family loyalties, calamitous events, such as war, unbearable trauma, unjust death, family secrets, and the Anniversary Syndrome. This workshop will be experiential with theory.Every individual's life is a novel. You and I, we live as part of an invisible web, a web we also help to weave. Yet if we open up our perception and develop what Theodore Reich referred to as our third ear... and eastern philosophies refer to as our third eye - then we can grasp and better understand the repetitions and coincidences in our family history, and our individual lives can become clearer. We can become more aware of who we are, of who we could be... how we can escape the invisible binds and blocks in our family's history, and the triangular alliances established in our family structure, from the unnecessary and all too frequent repetitions of difficult situations that make no sense from the one dimensional view. This is her first visit to New Orleans. I am honored to present this very special human being, the pioneer in transgenerational therapy.
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