Tag Archives: brain

Can Sexual Violence Be Blamed on Genes?

I’m not sure if this is good news except from a scientist’s perspective. Recently, genetic studies in Sweden demonstrated that the propensity to rape is up to five times higher if a man’s brother or father has been convicted of rape.

Because Sweden keeps meticulous records, researchers were able to determine – by comparing half-brothers of different mothers, who generally do not reside together – that up to 40% of the propensity to rape is due to genetic factors. The majority (60%) of the propensity to rape is thus cultural, including a sense of overweening entitlement.

From the article in The Independent: “Scientists said the findings should not be used to excuse sex offending, to restrict the freedom of the male relatives of sex offenders, or to suggest that there are genes for rape or paedophilia. However, they believe the results could lead to better prevention strategies for the sons or brothers of known sex offenders.”

“. . . although sex crime convictions are relatively few overall, our study shows that the family risk increase is substantial. Preventive treatment for families at risk could possibly reduce the number of future victims,” Professor Niklas Langstrom said.

Brave words.

Meanwhile, not only does at least 60% of the propensity to rape derive from cultural factors, we already know what some of those factors are. In a United Nations survey of men in ten Asian countries (not including India), men commonly gave three excuses for why they forced sex on someone who did not want it: boredom, a craving for “excitement” and a sense that they were entitled to force their way into someone else’s body.

Boredom, a search for titillation, entitlement. An unholy trinity, indeed. Add to that the wish to control and humiliate. Though the survey respondents declined to describe themselves that way. Presumably the words cut too close to the bone.

That is where the real work lies, in changing abhorrent cultural attitudes found around the world. There is no difference between a rapist in rural China and one in the US military stationed in New York – except that one wears a uniform and speaks English. Their societies must challenge their views on sexual violence against women, children and men.

There is clearly a role for law enforcement and the courts, as well. The millions of American rape kits languishing on the shelves of police forces nationwide have to be examined. In all countries, law enforcement has to gear up to enforce, well, the laws against rape and sexual violence.

Here’s what can happen when the person in charge declines to take charge: a $3.5 million dollar settlement of a lawsuit. The Arizona sheriff failed to adequately investigate the rape of a 13-year-old. The rapist then struck again, attacking the same child. Now the county must pay up.

It’s a lot less expensive to do the job right the first time. Less painful, less traumatic.

Meanwhile, I look forward to new methods of preventing rape. First, by addressing cultural attitudes. Next, by focusing on genetic profiles, so that boys at risk of becoming rapists are redirected and taught to channel their energies elsewhere.

Finally, we need to learn how to heal the human brain. Genetic markers identified, fine. But those markers do not just sit there in the genome. They affect the brain. In order to neutralize the genes’ influence, we must be able to counter them. Interventions help. Healing the brain – fifty years from now, people will marvel at our current inability to do so – is the only sure way to stop rapists.

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Stop Assuming They Think Like Adults

A recent fight within the UK and between that nation and Turkey – a country that seeks admittance to the EU, even though only the small portion of it actually belongs in Europe; the majority is in Asia – has to do with teenage girls from Muslim families. Three of them left the UK the other day. The eldest had stolen her older sister’s passport. The UK does not keep track of who leaves the country. Although the rules state that minors may leave only when accompanied by a parent, the girls (one aged 16, the other two 15) were able to fly to Turkey all by themselves.

Why were they going? To cross Turkey into Syria, there to become the latest in a series of adolescent girls scammed and persuaded to become “jihadi brides”.

It appears now that they have entered Syria, despite their parents’ pleas and the Foreign Service tracking. Turkey, blamed for facilitating both female and male Isis devotees’ border crossing, has in turn become rather stroppy itself, complaining that the UK lost three days in informing Turkish officials of the girls’ intention.

Even the girls’ school has had to defend itself from finger-pointing, noting that it does not permit extremist doctrines and strives to teach its students to accept others. The three girls, it says, were not radicalized on its grounds.

That’s probably true. There are too many places online to read radical Islamist philosophy – who needs a brick-and-mortar school?

The parents, rather than accepting responsibility for teaching their daughters that what Muslim men want is more important than the desires of Muslim women, wants the UK to keep track of exits as well as entries. Not a bad idea.

The girls’ aim is to marry terrorists and murderers. Not the actions of sane, healthy women. And even Isis points out that jihadi brides must prepare to be jihadi widows – which means they will in turn be traded off, potentially sold into sexual enslavement, and almost certainly will die (of beatings, suicide, complications of pregnancy and childbirth) in Syria, probably within five years. The parents will never see their daughters again.

There may be good reasons for keeping them from the UK, as escapees from Isis have been indoctrinated in terrorism. Even when their primary role has been support and childbearing, creating more children to be molded into mini-terrorists.

But now comes the argument in The Guardian that the UK should let its adolescents leave because, well, look, they’ve made their decisions. Let them lie in it. Don’t stop them, even if they’re under 18 years old and legally minors to be protected. We’re better off without them. They want to support brutal and murderous regimes? Fine. They’re old enough to know better.

Except they’re not.

What that Guardian writer fails to understand is that although adolescents may look mature, inside they’re still growing. They certainly aren’t mature when it comes to childbearing, which is hugely more risky for teenagers than for women over 20. Even sex is risky, since their bodies have not finished developing. An immature vagina should not be entered by anyone’s engorged penis, including that of a jihadi “husband”.

And we have evidence that inside these girls’ brains, there is a whole lot of re-assembly going on. Dr. Jay Giedd of the US National Institutes of Health, among others, is engaged in longitudinal research on brain development. What he has found through fMRI examination of healthy people is that teenagers’ brains are entirely different from those of adults. The area really should be cordoned off with “Caution: Undergoing Construction” tape. Teens literally cannot think the way grown-ups do, and it’s wrong to blame them when they don’t.

As Giedd has said, “It’s sort of unfair to expect them to have adult levels of organizational skills or decision-making before their brains are finished being built.” Meaning, just because a brain has acquired adult size in terms of its weight does not mean it’s ready for full and complete use. That’s like saying a house that’s just been put under roof — meaning the slates or shingles are attached – is ready to be moved into. Wait a minute. What about walls? Plumbing? Electrical wiring, floor finishes, paint, all the other things we expect of a house? Not there! Well, it’s not freakin’ done, then, is it. Back to work!

No one in their right mind leaves to support Isis. We don’t see long lines of mature women ready to give up their freedom and families, do we? These girls are just the latest in a series from different Western countries who have been groomed and seduced online, who wish to exchange a fairly restrictive family existence for an entirely restrictive and ultimately painful and fatal one, while imagining they are more holy for doing what terrorists bid them do.

Prime Minister David Cameron has urged that more attention be paid to online radicalization by people promoting the “poisonous ideology” of terrorism, and Europol is enhancing cooperation among agencies to connect the dots between extremist recruiters and those who finance their activities.

Families need to make their children’s passports unobtainable. In a deposit box or held by a non-Muslim friend or colleague. In addition, they must have serious chats with their children in order to teach them of the risks of extremism. Also, the UK ought to be keeping track of the people who leave its shores, especially where they look young.

Because kids and adolescents do not, cannot, think like adults.

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The Constant Struggle to Counter Crazies


It’s a little-discussed truth that “mentally ill” does not apply solely to people who have been so diagnosed. Instead, and especially given the dearth of American mental health facilities and aid, plus the stigma that – when will we grow up? – attaches to those who seek help for themselves or their loved ones, we call someone mentally “ill” only when there is a prior diagnosis.


Let’s change that. Let’s instead use the expedient, all-purpose, “Who in their right mind would ….?” evaluation, which has the virtue of being accessible at any time. As opposed to experienced and insightful mental health professionals, who are (there’s that American health market again) thin on the ground.


However, just as juries once utilized a “reasonable man” standard and now take into account a benchmark labeled “reasonable person”, we do need to specify that the “who” needs to be a healthy adult of at least average intelligence and with a good dollop of emotional understanding.


While there are certainly more than enough examples of men tormenting men (the so-called Islamic State comes to mind, though nearly all of their latest victims have been women and children attacked at random; boys watching soccer; and educated women simply because they had, well, more education than the killers themselves), the following exemplars of “who in their right mind would…?” come from the copious files of non-Islamic men tormenting women and girls. It’s important that we recognize these as illustrations of the failure to do good thinking, not using one’s brain, and in fact, trusting a mind that is dangerously askew:


In the UK, one-third of female university students report having been subjected to sexual assaults or harassment. Who in their right mind does that to a fellow student?


Although his sentence is under review, a 44-year-old high school teacher has walked free after a judge decided he was sexually “groomed” by his 16-year-old victim. No one in their right mind would determine that a teenager possesses more power than an adult man intelligent enough to teach.


One woman decided to fight back after she was groped on public transport. Who in their right mind thinks it’s okay to touch a stranger, to appropriate that person’s body for their own use?


In a hospital, a male police officer punched and kicked a woman at the bedside of her chronically ill child, an assault his colleagues deplored as “horrific” – they gave evidence for the prosecution – after which he was acquitted of actual bodily harm. We can only hope an appellate court will hold him responsible for the victim’s more than 40 injuries, but no one in their right mind, especially a police officer, would make such an attack.


Then there are the numerous instances of women and/or their children murdered by a man related to them and whom they trusted, like here and here and here. Those murders are horrifying, and committed by someone who was not in his right mind . . . obviously.


Just the tip of the iceberg, of course, but you get the picture. There are a lot of undiagnosed crazies out there with whom 75% of the population (children plus women) have to deal every single day. Just because these offenders have not been diagnosed as mentally ill does not mean they aren’t. Their behavior speaks for itself.


We need to speak out and challenge the thinking that assumes that until someone has been formally diagnosed as mentally ill, they are mentally healthy.


Because no one in their right mind would . . ..

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Conflict-Free Divorce Is Just As Damaging To Children As Conflictual Divorce? Really? And Is It More Damaging Than Living In A Home With Both Parents But Filled With Conflict, Rape, Abuse . . .?

A child’s brain


A recent article suggests that what used to be called “European divorces” – where the parents act civilized and put their children’s needs first and foremost – is just as damaging to kids as conflict-driven divorce.


Ha. Ha. Ha.


When my eldest daughter was a college first-year, early on in the fall semester she and her hallmates engaged in a meet-up moment in the dorm, trading histories in a circle with coffee. Many of them had divorced parents. Lots of those parents had handled the circumstances badly, despite their educations (high) and wealth (ditto). The girls spilled tales of nastiness, verbal abuse, can’t-be-in-the-same-auditorium-together and vengeful holidays.


When my daughter’s turn came, she hesitated, then told of her parents: how they not only attended her sports events but actually sat together; how holidays were conflict-free; how they worked hard to make sure the children whose lives they had disturbed experienced as little pain as possible.


Wow, said her listeners. We would give anything if our parents would act like that.


In my work as a mediator, I’ve seen too many divorcing parents who are at each other’s throats, with – as we examine the effect – surprise that their children are hurt by their immaturity. Sometimes one ends up murdering the other – and/or the children, too.


I’ve also seen collaborative parents whose older children actually tell them how pleased they are to be living with less furor than their peers.


Case closed.


Yet there’s another aspect of this: Even if conflict-free divorce were hard on children, would it be harder or more dangerous than life for children where both parents stay married to each other, but where the family home is rife with conflict, abuse, assault and rape?


That cannot be. Because living in those homes is terrible for kids. Sir Patrick Stewart, now age 74, still recoils from memories of his father’s physical rages against his mother, beatings that local police did nothing to help, for which local ambulance staff even blamed the victim.


Because Ray Rice is in the news, let’s think for a moment of his little daughter’s experience of life. So far, her parents have been in conflict. There’s been verbal abuse. There’s also been horrifying physical violence perpetrated by her father. Since it was clear from Rice’s behavior on that dreadful video that it was not the first time he had punched the mother of his child, chances are that their toddler, Rayven, has already witnessed violence.


Every act of violence, every word of conflict, acts on children’s minds just like a drug does. Agitation and fear wash through them, setting up a cascade of neurochemicals that have the power to change circuitry. It alters their brains.


If the abuse is directed at them – physical abuse like that suffered by Adrian Peterson’s little four-year-old son, whom the football player (6-foot-1 and 217 pounds) assaulted with a whip-like branch; rape and sexual assault; the daily slaps common in some cultures – children’s brains receive an even greater neurochemical flood. Now the brain itself is under attack. The changes in it may never recede. It may be primed to run, to attack, to freeze, rather than rationally approach life. It is no longer a healthy brain. It is the damaged brain of a survivor. Just as a scar tells of a wound to the skin, a child’s behavior can reveal what she endured at the hands of people bigger than she.


So, is conflict-free divorce worse than that?


I don’t think so.



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Missing In Action: Concentration


Using this inhibits concentration.


A recent newspaper article details plans to teach schoolchildren a skill they should have learned at home: how to concentrate.


Every US, Canadian, and UK kindergarten teacher knows that the class coming in will contain children for whom English is a foreign language; children who do not know their basic colors, or numbers up to 10; children of all socioeconomic levels whose households are so poor in spoken language that by the time the kids reach five years old they have heard 32 million fewer words over the course of their lives than their age-mates in language-rich families.


That children begin school on an unfairly tilted playing field is well-established.


Until recently, however, children began formal education with varying degrees in their ability to concentrate. Kids whose parents frequently read aloud to them exhibited more understanding that some things – for example, listening to the teacher’s instructions – had to be attended to with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of attention. Part of a kindergarten teacher’s job is to help all students learn school-time norms: keep your hands and feet in your own kind and friendly space; raise your hand for help; use your “indoors voice”; share the materials offered in class so everyone gets some.


But teaching concentration? That, it appears, is a new task for everyone in school, with regard to every student.


Why, you ask. Two words: social media.


It’s not just Facebook anymore. In fact, FB is old hat. Now it’s . . . well, the list gets longer every day. And ever younger children are fooling around with computers, tablets and smartphones, even if they have to borrow them to get going.


I use that expression – fooling around – on purpose. As students dive deeper into social media, as they email and text and tweet, not only do they use up time and energy, they adapt their brains to the rapid-fire joys of social media. What goes out the door is concentration, the ability to focus on one thing for a long time. The kind of absorption you see – okay, used to see, hopefully still do – on the faces of children building with Lego or observing a country stream and its myriad animals. The sort of raptness that differentiates the human brain from those of cognitively lighter-weight animals.


It is a profoundly human ability to concentrate on a single attractant without the expectation of being fed. A leopard may focus on a wandering animal, but only in order to minimize its dash. If the prey moves closer, the leopard will need to expend less energy on a shorter run. A primate sitting beside an insect mound with a stick to insert and pull out full of crawling aperitifs looks like it’s concentrating, but again, it is in the service of food.


Naturally, parents need to teach concentration at home. If they fail to do so, teachers must, because every child deserves the opportunity to learn deeply, to discover profoundly, and to feel as though the time spent in concentrated observation and study is its own gift.



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It’s All in Your Brain

Female brain


Male brain


By now, we’ve all read the research. Female human brains operate more efficiently between left and right hemispheres, male brain operate better within each hemisphere. Got it.


It makes sense that different sorts of people have slightly different ways of viewing the world, so that together they can combine their skills and come up with new ways of solving problems or attacking scarcities.


There is some talk that we need to decide which is more “human” than the other, which is sort of like asking if a long fibula is “better” than a short one (the fibula is one of the bones that extends from knee to ankle). For running, maybe. For being human, makes no difference.


Absent injury or disease, people develop the brains they are supposed to develop. Intra-hemisphere competent or inter-hemisphere competent, they’re both human.


What scientists have not yet measured are the brains of other primates. Orangutans, chimpanzees, gorillas. Measuring those, we might find that female/male brain function differences in other primates are even more profound than ours.


We will probably never be able to measure past hominids’ and humans’ brains. Neanderthals may be forever lost to us, which means we will not discover how those women’s brains differed in function from male brains.


However, we can make a guess. Because long ago societies were very much restricted as to gender roles, most children’s brains formed along expected lines. This is proper for a girl, that for a boy. Prescribed roles echoed stereotyped perceptions of ability. Thus we could expect even more gender difference in brain functioning of past hominids and human than we see in ourselves.


Oh, brave new world, that has such people in it! The more we evolve to resemble each other, the more differences seem to matter.


Here are the individual differences that truly matter: how we treat each other. Do we create pain or do we heal it? Do we teach or do we destroy? Can we be trusted or not? Do we use our brains to fear and castigate, or do we use them to esteem other people?


Let’s stop focusing on inherent adult brain differences, and start focusing on what individuals, female and male, actually do with their brains.


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Off The Snow

Risk on the snow, even more dangers off it.


I had the television on the other day while doing holiday things, for-other-people things. So I got to watch an event I would have otherwise missed: The 2013 Dew Tour Mountain Championships in Breckenridge, Colorado, where snowboarders – mostly male – compete for prizes.

Amazing. They were amazing! If I were the parent of one of those guys, I would be thoroughly impressed and very proud of his courage and ability to do tricks in the air at speed. The contest was a distinct and refreshing contrast to the ritualized-battle American football matches available to watch at the same time.

I am a big proponent of using testosterone in wise ways – and while snowboarding doesn’t get crops planted or criminals jailed, it is infinitely better than bashing a man you don’t even know on a football field.

It occurred to me while watching, however, that while male snowboarders probably know everything about the risks their sport presents – falls and slips can result in broken bones, concussions, even death – they, like other young men, have no idea of the risk they take off the snow.

Research among young men holds that virtually 100% of them watch online porn. A hefty number of those watch it daily, and some have become addicted to the stuff.

“It’s relaxing.” “I can turn it off anytime.” “I still like real girls.”

What, me worry?

Though the latest research indicates that online porn affects the brain, the full dangers of watching porn have not even been identified yet. It’s like drinking a substance that someone says is vodka, but is it? It could be any clear liquid. It could be toxic. Who would do that? Why would you do that?

The real test of porn’s effect in how young men act in the real world, out of pixel range. Their actions can be judged by the confusion and outrage of young women – real women – who encounter them. These men, they say, have few social or sexual skills, and feel an enormous sense of entitlement. They pre-assume a script and tend to become angry and aggressive when it fails to materialize. In their minds, an encounter should go the way they’ve watched it, and when it doesn’t, they assume something is wrong with the woman at hand.

Way to avoid taking responsibility, guys. What are you, five years old?

Another view is that perhaps, without their knowing it, something happened in their brains when they watched porn. The brain is malleable. Events influence it. When garbage goes in, garbage can come out. If young men’s brains are being affected by porn, that may account for their poor behavior.

Not that that is an excuse. They still need to be held accountable for their harmful, aggressive behaviors.

But if their brains have been hurt, and if there is no corrective technique to heal those brains, then we are all in very big trouble.

There’s a saying that parents who fail to civilize their children leave civilization the task of defending itself.

Participating in any physical activity – snowboarding, skiing, diving – your sons probably know the associated risks, and how they may be hurt. But when it is the brain that could be affected . . . well, it can take decades for that harm to be acknowledged, as with concussions and the National Football League, an organization that has strenuously denied any link between football-acquired brain injuries and belligerent behavior.

Once they get online, parents of all ages, your sons may be affected more than you know by what they see. So warn them to stay away. Porn is not a casual, harmless hobby. It could devastate the only brain they will ever have.



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