Saturday, October 5, 2013

Failure to conform to social norms

One of the primary characteristics of a sociopath is a failure to conform to social norms. Interestingly, this appears to be linked to a particular part of the brain and such that activity in that segment predicts whether and how someone will conform to social norms. From Science Daily:

"We discovered that the decision to follow the fairness norm, whether voluntarily or under threat of sanctions, can be directly influenced by neural stimulation in the prefrontal cortex."

Researchers asked the participants to participate in a classic sharing game:

"[T]hey received money and were asked to decide how much of it they wanted to share with an anonymous partner. A prevalent fairness norm in Western cultures dictates that the money should be evenly split between the two players. However, this contrasts with the participants’ self-interest to keep as much money as possible for themselves. In another experiment, the participants were faced with the same decision, but knew in advance that they could be punished by the partner for an unfair proposal."

Stimulating the right prefrontal cortex changed people's willingness to conform to social norms, but in odd, and seemingly contradictory ways depending on whether there was a threat of punishment:

When neural activity in this part of the brain was increased via stimulation, the participants’ followed the fairness norm more strongly when sanctions were threatened, but their voluntary norm compliance in the absence of possible punishments decreased. Conversely, when the scientists decreased neural activity, participants followed the fairness norm more strongly on a voluntary basis, but complied less with the norm when sanctions were threatened. 

But is that because people's perception of the fairness of the game shifts as well? In short, no:

Moreover, neural stimulation influenced the participants’ behavior, but it did not affect their perception of the fairness norm. It also did not alter their expectations about whether and how much they would be punished for violating the norm.

What does this suggest? Researchers concluded that it is quite possible to know something is wrong, but be more or less likely to conform your behavior to that knowledge based on brain activity:

We found that the brain mechanism responsible for compliance with social norms is separate from the processes that represent one’s knowledge and beliefs about the social norm," says Ernst Fehr, Chairman of the Department of Economics at the University of Zurich. "This could have important implications for the legal system as the ability to distinguish between right and wrong may not be sufficient for the ability to comply with social norms." Christian Ruff adds: "Our findings show that a socially and evolutionarily important aspect of human behavior depends on a specific neural mechanism that can be both up- and down-regulated with brain stimulation."

This was a particularly interesting finding to me because sometimes I have felt like the reason I do wrong things is not because I don't know that they are wrong, but that I don't recognize in that moment that they are or I don't care about the particular consequences, i.e. no threat of punishment. I feel like I respond really well to incentives. If there is a very clear consequence I actually care about (e.g. the certainty of a dismemberment or the possibility of something good), my behavior will naturally maximize that incentive structure. It makes me wonder, if there are people like me who respond best to material consequences (high activity in this part of the brain?), are there people who respond best to just the thought of fairness and being a good person (low activity in this part of the brain?). Either way, I really like the point made at the end about the legal definitions of insanity not just for psychopaths, but for other disorders characterized by a failure to conform to social norms like Asperger's and others on the autism spectrum.


  1. you think nt's don't break the (social) rules when ever it fits them?
    it's a question of followers and independend thinkers not sociopaths and the rest of the world

  2. I agree completely with 12:21 Anon. I am an empath and live to break rules, challenge stereotypes and push boundaries.

    There are lots of people who are counterculture, who live outside the grid of society.

  3. That's why the emapths are "easy pickins" for the sociopath.
    Suppose you played a football game where only one side had to obey
    the rules. The opposing side could cheat at will. Which team would
    have the short term advantage?
    I saw the movie "Million Dollar Baby" the other night. It was a "love story"
    about the relationship between a boxing trainer and a determined
    young lass who wanted to be a pro boxer. He reluctantly trains her,
    and she scores many sucesses. Unfortunately, she fights for the
    championship against a sociopathic "cheat." She gets sucker punched
    at the bell, and gets impailed by an upside down stool. It's a real tear-
    jerker to see her paralized in a hospital bed. He acceeds to her
    wishes and euthanizes her.
    Life often seems like a "rigged" boxing match were charamatic
    sociopaths have the upper hand. One of the Boston Marathon bombers
    has recieved plenty of love letters and marriage proposals from
    besmitton "groupies" who just know a person "who looks like that"
    can't be guilty.
    As long as risk taking sociopaths have the courage to place themseles
    "out there" they will draw both the admiration and the ire of the
    faceless masses who play by the rules.

    1. blah, blah, blah

      Sociopaths don't have the market cornered on risk taking. I doubt very much that any sociopaths were instrumental in the allied invasion of Normandy for example.

  4. Fuck sociopaths. They suck, are a nuisance to everybody else and by themselves aren't worth shit. If only sociopaths survived an apocalypse they would suck even more. I hung out with one when I was a kid and he fucked me up for life. I hung out again with him later in life, wanting to develop an immunity to them and he fucked me up worse.

    Hanging out with a sociopath you can only expect getting fucked up. I'm not even talking about material goods but they fuck you up inside for ever.

    It's fucking heavy feeling like there's someone out there that you're completely vulnerable to no matter what.

    They should all get hunted down and killed in a sociopath holocaust.

    I hope you get witch-hunted you fucking sub-human parasitic useless bitch.

    1. @ anon 7:46 am

      How sad for you, to have swallowed the poison of a sociopath. For them, it was business as usual. There was nothing "special" that made you a target beyond your vulnerability. You were an "it".

      Why not simply return the favor and recognize they have nothing to offer you and move on from the hate they planted inside you. It's a cliche' but it's very true that living well is the best revenge.

      That is the way you win.

    2. 7:46 - whiny little cretin. It must hurt looking at yourself in the mirror knowing you are as vulnerable as an amputee in a jail shower. How bitter your life must be living your days hating on those you envy. How can you be good enough for someone else if you're not even good enough for yourself?

    3. 7:46 You should ask yourself what is it that made you so vulnerable to him to begin with, and try to solve that. That's a better way of looking at things than what you're doing now

  5. I have always been labeled a non-conformist. This is an interesting read to me as I can relate. I also find myself to be indifferent to the opinions of others -- good or bad, but do enjoy high compliments. The only opinions that matter to me are those of men that I am interested/attracted to in the moment...but I usually get bored with every last one of them. The most common emotion or state I find myself in is boredom -- this leads me to manipulate and seduce. I am not a con-artist, however, and would never physically hurt anyone, especially animals, so whether or not I'm a sociopath is anyone's guess. I'm very rational and consider myself a Christian "Ayn Rand" Objectivist. I do experience depression at times, but have linked it to hormonal imbalance more than emotional it would be interesting to me to hear from other women in their late 40s (close to menopause) who are sociopaths and if they have, for the first time in their lives, experienced depression. I might just be a narcissist, I dunno...I don't like to be the center of attention unless it's online like on Facebook. I post tons of photos of myself and I figure most people think I'm self-centered. Women usually get insecure around me if their husbands or boyfriends are around. If they only knew their men would only serve as temporary boy toys. I am trying to get over that part of my personality as I did finally meet a man I'm totally in love with...the problem? I'm still married. Go ahead and judge me, do you think I care? :-) Have a great day sociopaths, empaths and others passing though.

    Who needs a diagnose when you're fine as is? :-)

    1. Hey, Been thinking of responding to you. We have a few things in common. I think you are more narcissistic than i am. I have depression and also highs. My lack of a specific type of empathy, which only occurs somewhat intermittently (like a ton of normal people out here) may be due to these moods but idk. I would say that depression cause me to look from the outside looking in. Its like being behind glass. I can see and relate to others, I can identify why they'd feel a certain way. But I have limited desire/ability to empathize is if i'm depressed, and when i'm high i dont want stuff to get in the way of moments of happiness. It is just survival. I have room for my inner circle and my bf because their support matters to me It doesn't feel selfish in the least because i give back in spades.

      When people fuck with me i often hit back so subtly soft/hard with the truth ( even with authority figures) and i dont feel guilty. Sometimes I move on knowing that at the end of the day that person may feel bad about themselves. It sometimes gives me pleasure because when they see me again they treat me with respect. I noticed this my whole life and my old sociopathic bf irl who inspired me to read this blog was afraid of me. He had high narcissism.

      I'd never call myself a sociopath, but i dont give a shit about lots and lots of things others go on about. It's changing for me though and i like it.

      You dont want to change that is your business and i dont look down on you. Tbh i am somewhat admiring your satisfaction with your life. I am jealous of people who feel good about themselves, and the majority of the narcissists i know do.

      If i came across you in real life i'd see a predator. I'd warn my closest friends and do all i could to bad mouth you, mock you behind your back. and i might take advantage of you/exploit your narcissism.

      Your question about depression and menopause interested me. I watch women going through menopause and i'm headed towards peri=menopause myself. The women seem detached. Congratulations, you're normal in this department.

      Maybe you'll poopoo what i have to say next because you only asked for a sociopath and i'm sticking my 2 cents in. .Yeah, i think you are narcissistic.

      I have some advice for you. I suggest you try to hide your eye contact with people's bf. If the women notice you'll be shuffled out of their circle. (Women are way more perceptive than you give them credit and you have disdain for them.) My narcissistic gf preys on men too. She can't keep gfs) Lots of people can see a narcissist from afar. THey can't put their finger on it but they avoid them after spending some time with them.

      When someone steals your bf or when a sociopath sees you fuck with one of their own you might not feel so self congratulatory so it's really good you try to get over this pt of your personality. You'll get fucked up so bad you won't know what hit you. Good luck to you.

    2. If you take Ayn Rand seriously, you're just fucked in the head.

  6. The research finding leaves one with mixed feelings. Scientists like to investigate things which should come as no surprise. What these findings have "shown" is something that we should all know from reflection, experience and observation. People are capable of breaking or following a rule; people are not (genetically speaking anyway) robots. In order to follow a rule or break a rule one would have to assess it or at least have the capacity to assess it. This alone suggests independent brain regions regarding acknowledging a rule exists and is broadly accepted by society, and the breaking or following of the rule by individuals or groups.

    A lot of lip service is paid to the adaptive capacity of humans. The findings of these economists just further speak to the capacity of humans to adapt to changing social circumstances; it makes sense that we've got more than one brain region for our map of rules and norms.


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