Saturday, May 17, 2014

Social norms

I have never quite understood social norms, both the concept and how to identify and comport myself consistently with various social norms, which make the findings from a recent study so interesting:

Neuroeconomists at the University of Zurich have identified a specific brain region that controls compliance with social norms. They discovered that norm compliance is independent of knowledge about the norm and can be increased by means of brain stimulation.

The oft-cited complaint about sociopaths is that they actually do know right from wrong, so they should be held to the same standards of behavior as everyone else. The findings of the study were actually consistent with this belief, but interestingly the researchers found that the knowledge of right and wrong was independent of a person's behavior under different brain stimulation treatments:

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. 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.

"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."

So if I took a non-sociopath and "stimulated" their brain in a particular way, they too would change their behavior to be more likely to violate a fairness norm, despite knowing that it was "wrong". I guess we're not so different after all? Or maybe does this mean we should be implanting the brain equivalent of a heart's pacemaker in the brains of sociopaths to get them to be more docile and compliant?

The other interesting finding was that people with high stimulation responded highly to punishment but their voluntary compliance went down, and vice versa. That sounds like sociopaths -- unlikely to be influenced by a threat of punishment but also oddly known to be randomly and voluntarily "altruistic".


26 comments:

  1. Socios are supposed to be masters of mimicing empath responses to surprise, sorrow etc; how can they do that if they are truly confused about normal "social expectations"? And the majority of criminals (empaths) know right from wrong very well but care little about it, otherwise they would not break the law. But most perhaps don´t feel giddy with pleasure from their dirty deeds? So perhaps certain differences still exists between the world with conscience and that other place..

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    1. You missed the most obvious highlight of the post - you can know of the norm, but not feel the need to follow it, due to separate regions of the brain.

      Did you actually read what she posted?

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    2. Well, the empaths criminal behaviour surely proves this to be a "standard feature" on any antisocial human being? Trying to make socios some special species seems desperate; perhaps they´re not to blame, maybe its some christian empaths scientific desperation?

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  2. Most people are followers rather then leaders. In the 1960's
    it was thought that we'd be living in a paradise by now.
    And, as you know EVERYDAY is suppost to be the day Christ
    returns.
    The upshot of of this is that, except for a few tecnological
    advancements and the status of women, nothing REALLY
    changes in society.
    If the Nazis won, we really would have bold inativites like
    robotics, weather alterations space travel, and corrective brain
    implants for sociopaths. But that didn't happen.
    Hillary is going to win, which means that this country will continue
    on the royal path to self destruction.

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  3. I find it ridiculous that they conflate social norms and morality, as if right and wrong were democratic.
    I totally agree with you about social norms, M.E. While it's easy enough to learn them, I've always found them utterly arbitrary and I'm regularly bewildered by the fervor with which people follow them. In particular, I can't understand why empaths get downright violent in response to a violation of gender norms. I often feel like an anthropologist studying this bizarre culture I live in.

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  4. oh oh this is my favorite thing...violating social norms...so much fun :):)

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    1. As a monster?

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    2. lol no, just breaking social rules, and making people look at you funny. I have NO idea why I get such a kick out of it :P but I'm not the only social scientist who does. Milgram enjoyed it, and quite a few psychologist and sociologists I have known do too. Once you learn these rules are just artificial, it's hard to always adhere to them.

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    3. Like me! But finaly nobody trust me anymore.

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  5. Here's what I gleaned from the article.

    Participants were given money and told to split it with another anonymous subject. Usually in these experiments, there isn't actually another person, they exist only as a tool to examine 'fairness' in the subject.

    So, given that sociopaths lack conscience, a sociopath would be expected to keep all the money to himself. This represents the voluntary observation of the fairness rule.

    The other situation was the same, except the subject was told that the anonymous partner could punish him for an uneven split. Since sociopaths don't fear punishment, they would be expected to keep all the money in this situation, as well.

    (parts lifted from wikipedia in quotes)
    Modulation of these behaviors was through stimulation (or suppression) of electrical signals in the prefrontal cortex. "This brain region has been implicated in planning complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision making, and moderating social behavior. It is believed that at least some of the human abilities to feel guilt or remorse, and to interpret reality, are dependent on a well-functioning prefrontal cortex."

    I don't think sociopaths need to worry about getting brain implants. It seems to me that these areas function poorly in sociopaths, and might not respond to external electrical stimulation. Besides, the stimulation was from outside the skull, not within. If this were the 'cure' to sociopathy, you'd be able to recognize sociopaths by their funny hats and shaved heads necessary to deliver the appropriate electrical impulses.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. If you have access to an article database, read "Understanding everyday psychopathy: shared group identity leads to increased concern for others among undergraduates higher in psychopathy." by Arbuckle and Cunningham.

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    2. Unfortunately, I cannot access the article from home. I may check at my institution come Monday.

      From the abstract, though, I can glean some information. If you ignore the moral judgment of sociopaths as evil and antisocial in all situations, cooperativity is not surprising. Advancing the interests of a group one belongs to directly benefits oneself, and aiding a member of the group is beneficial due to reputation gain.

      If the concern is truly greater in psychopathic individuals compared to non-psychopaths, there must be some mechanism to account for the difference. It could be that non-psychopathic individuals expect other members of the group to express concern, or they understand that not acting will not invite punishment. Inaction within a group is socially acceptable.

      Psychopathic individuals have a greater concern for controlling the perceptions of those around them. Reputation gain, then, is very valuable and when opportunities present themselves, psychopaths may be more likely to cooperate. They are driven by reward-seeking behavior, whereas non-psychopaths are primarily driven by punishment-avoiding behavior.

      These are all just musings of course, evidence is sorely lacking with regard to non-criminal psychopathic behavior.

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  6. She played me like a violin. It all makes sense now.

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  7. trueSight:

    This reminds me of the cyberoptics that sent impulses in the brains of blind people.

    I hope I will see the first cyberpsycho alive. I bet he will look like me with too much entactogen in my brain: a raving psychotic maniac.

    I`m just curious if anybody ever tried MDMA or other related substances and the ensuing effects. I think idiosyncratic substance related disorders are a hint about peculiar brain patterns. After taking very limited dose I get funky, the psycho way.

    Once I was at a parents friends house for an evening with no intent to provoke or do anything, I had to maintain decency for my own sake because I wasn`t with the usual dreg I associate for my lowliest behaviors. It was a nice evening with scholars and professors (not very intelligent ones). They were throwing a party to celebrate the end of the year and their following vacations. After the little drinks(4-5) they offered me the MDMA kicked back in (I must say I used to do a lot of other things and mix them, but I hadn`t consumed anything else but weed and alcohol in at least 1 year). I managed to get through the evening without too much problems until a pretty girl presented the audience with a nice cake she put on the table. This is when I switched, I took the cake, dismissing it on the wall as ``uselessly ordered atoms``, then proceeded to insult everyone and propose sex to the host daughter. I was thrown out and fled to do God knows what until I passed out in the middle of the street. When cops came to scoop me up I flew into a rage and threatened to kill them. I must say the cops here are really good guys, they dont hit you for nothing and take procedures so that you dont get hurt (they outnumber you). I was put in restraints at the local hospital because I threatened to kill the doctor too, and my parents who came to see me... funny thing is they let me out during the night!!! Wasn`t ecstasy supposed to be a drug that promote empathy?

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    Replies
    1. This wasn't pure mdma, hard to score the real deal outside of Europe.

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  8. Socios trying to manipulate public opinion again again and again in this website.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Which no other site or outlet does, right? It's an atrocity.

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  9. I dream about the mass socio's suicide.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, please, you first! I insist.

      Delete
  10. Bipolar empath can't log in again to forum. So bye

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So u are leaving us now?

      Delete
    2. I can be here, but I can not log in under any name or password or a new one.
      can comment out here and will continue to do so.

      Delete

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    ReplyDelete
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    ReplyDelete

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