A recent, somewhat lighthearted article by Dahlia Lithwick in Slate explored the concept of ‘kid justice’. Lithwick, in proposing the compilation of a First Restatement of Kid Law, explored several instances in which children display an ability to formulate legal doctrines and standards that mimic adult formulations dealing with similar situations. For instance, “Kid Torts: He left his Transformer on the counter and it fell on my leg and now I can’t walk! Can I have his Transformer!?”. All veterans of the playground courtrooms of elementary school should be able to locate a vein of truth in Lithwick’s proposal. More seriously, Yale psychologist Paul Bloom has conducted a series of studies that demonstrate that a ‘moral sensibility’ begins at a remarkably young age. The experiments demonstrate that babies as young as nine months display a marked preference for characters who display helpfulness to others, and disfavor towards unhelpful characters. A further discussion of Bloom’s study, as well as some of it’s possible implications for criminal law, especially our normative justifications of punishment, follows below. Continue reading
He Who Smelt It Dealt It and other signs of early onset Dispositionism in the criminal justice system.26 Feb
Since the 2010 election, there have been a variety of bills proposed by Republicans, at both state & federal levels, that may result in restrictions on a woman’s right to an abortion. This post is not designed to evaluate the merits of these proposals, but rather how the response to these proposals, particularly a recent bill proposed in South Dakota that would classify actions taken in defense of a fetus as justifiable homicide, represent the conflict spirals discussed in the article ‘Bias Perception and the Spiral of Conflict’ by Kathleen Kennedy and Emily Pronin. A brief analysis of the tone and nature of the debate over this bill shows the eagerness with which sinister motives were attributed to the opposing sides in this debate. Also worthy of note was the role of the media, which emphasized negative interpretations and furthered controversy, perhaps because it was the best narrative. Continue reading
In a 2009 issue of Scientific American Mind, there is an interview of Judith Rich Harris, the author of The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do and No Two Alike. In the interview, Harris emphasizes the importance of teachers in shaping a child’s development and the influence of peers on a child. Parents are not as powerful of an influence as many of us think. In Harris’ own words:
One of my purposes in writing the book was to reassure parents. I wanted them to know that parenting didn’t have to be such a difficult, anxiety-producing job…
According to Harris, when at home, children learn from parents how to behave at home. But once they are outside home, they learn rules about how to behave outside home . Therefore, a school-based intervention is the way to improve a child’s behavior in a classroom, be it making them more diligent or less disruptive. A child’s peers could have significantly more influence on her as she grows older and start spending more time outside of home. In an earlier paper, Harris described the harsh peer group sanctions given to a 11-year-old girl when she violated the group taboo by voluntarily sitting next to a boy. This pressure to conform to the expected behavior of a group, however, by adolescence years, becomes less of a push to conform than a desire to “participate in experiences that are seen as relevant, or potentially relevant, to group identity.” At home, on the other hand, most parents probably would not find their adolescents to desire doing what they say.
This is why teachers have such big powers over a child’s development. A good teacher can influence a whole classroom of kids and push them in the right direction. A talented teach is also careful to not let the class split into two factions, the prolearning and the antilearning. Because when that happens, the difference between the two will quickly widen.
I think Harris provides very insightful ideas which are potentially very useful in crime prevention. Most students in underserved communities do not lack parents who care about their child’s future, even though their parents might be too busy trying to making ends meet to spend enough time with their child. But what these children lack is a nurturing environment when they are in school. When the teacher emphasizes the importance of education and instills good values in a child from an early age, it makes a huge difference in the child’s life and more than makes up for the lack of support from home. The KIPP program is a very good example.Continue reading
In honor of President’s Day, AOL’s Holidash put together an “investigative” piece to answer the important question: Was Alexander Hamilton ever the President? The piece is quite funny and also highlights Kennedy and Pronin’s concept of “Bias Perception“.
Note the narrator’s facetious accusation of bias against the “academic community.” As the narrator sought to further his own (counterfactual) agenda by confirming that Hamilton was President, he discounted other accounts by implying that they were in some manner biased: “Isolated academics…had one opinion of how to interpret history. But what do real Americans without an agenda think?”
His general point is that “not focusing” can lead to some benefits–mostly for “creativity” (a term that, as it happens, has at least three finite meaning within psychology). When describing these findings, Lehrer focuses on one particular study where researchers exposed people to varying amounts of stimuli while they completed tasks. The key finding, as Lehrer describes it, centers on individuals’ ability to “filter out” information:
Here’s where the data get interesting: Those undergrads who had a tougher time ignoring unrelated stuff were also seven times more likely to be rated as “eminent creative achievers” based on their previous accomplishments. (The association was particularly strong among distractible students with high IQs.)
These findings are part of huge body of psychology/creativity research. To put them in perspective, we have to know a (very small) bit more about prior creativity research. From 1950-70, psychologists concentrated on personality traits of creative individuals. In other words, they sought to explain creativity in terms of individual traits. By the 1970s and ’80s, though, creativity research had shifted. It became process-oriented. This approach was called “cognitive psychology.” It posited that creativity occurred in “stages”–almost linearly. While the “stages” theory is not dead, many psychologists have abandoned the notion of linearity in creative thought. Continue reading
“14 million Americans are unemployed. Now imagine you’re one of them.” These words greet users who accept the challenge and “play” Spent, an interactive month-in-the-life as an unemployed parent with mounting bills and dwindling savings. Launched by the Urban Ministries of Durham, a non-profit organization providing care for Durham’s homeless and indigent population, Spent aims to illuminate the difficulties of poverty by exposing users to the unforeseen difficulties that ensnare even hard-working, well-meaning Americans. (And, of course, to seek donations).
I started the month with $1,000 and took a job as a waiter. Unfortunately, rent is pretty expensive near the restaurant, so I had to pick an apartment about 40 miles away, increasing my commute and gas bills. As I proceeded through the month, I had to deal with local hoodlums, car troubles, student loan repayments, medical bills, and more.
My bank account continued to decrease, to the point where I tragically had to refuse to my son’s request for ice cream. Despite cutting back, I ran out of money 19 days into the month, even though I had already decided to forego hot water. As I made each difficult decision, pop-up messages offered statistics about the people who make these same difficult decisions every day – with much more at stake.
The game offers a view of poverty that is decidedly situationist – even users who “work hard” by finding employment and doing additional work for neighbors still run into the myriad difficulties created by the situation of poverty. Hard work, it turns out, is not always enough to overcome rising costs of health care, gas, food, electricity, and child care.
Take the challenge and see if you can make it through the month! And if you do, don’t celebrate yet – there’s another month ahead, surely with even more bills to pay.