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November 15th, 2008


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01:10 pm - Oxytocin, Sociopaths, and possible testing
Here's a fascinating article on trust and conmen. This article is written by Professor Paul Zak, who is one of the founders of an interesting discipline known as Neuroeconomics, which from what I've previously read about it, actually examines how and why people actually behave in economic situations rather than relying on archaic and ultimately silly models.

However, I wasn't thinking about that when I read this article, I was instead considering a point that the author mentioned and that he mentions here
The first important finding is that 98% of the hundreds of people I have tested release oxytocin properly when they are trusted. THOMAS (The Human Oxytocin Mediated Attachment System) motivates a desire to interact with others, and those whose brains release a spike of oxytocin reciprocate the trust they have been shown. Now, the other 2% of people I have tested have dysregulated oxytocin-typically high and non-responsive to signals of trust. These people do not develop strong attachments to others.
He goes into more detail about the non-responsive 2% in the first post I linked to, with the crucial quite here:
My laboratory studies of college students have shown that two percent of them are "unconditional nonreciprocators." That's a mouthful! This means that when they are trusted they don't return money to person who trusted them (these experiments are described in my post on neuroeconomics). What do we really call these people in my lab? Bastards. Yup, not folks that you would want to have a cup of coffee with. These people are deceptive, don't stay in relationships long, and enjoy taking advantage of others. Psychologically, they resemble sociopaths. Bastards are dangerous because they have learned how to simulate trustworthiness. My research has demonstrated that they have highly dysregulated THOMASes.
2% is an interesting number, since it's the same approximate percentage as the number of sociopaths (or more accurately, people with antisocial personality disorder. I'd not be in the least surprised to learn that these people are the same 2% who are "unconditional nonreciprocators" with problems in their oxytocin release system.

This presents us with an interesting question – it's clearly possible by measuring blood levels of oxytocin levels in response to various stimuli (which many of Dr. Zak's experiments involve doing) to determine if someone has such problems. In fact, I see no reason why it shouldn't be possible to make such a test a part of the standard physicals people in various professions undergo. This raises some interesting questions – should someone be able to be a police officer with this condition? How about an elected official? Now consider if such testing was done on a wider scale. How would people feel about having corporate heads, religious officials teachers, or other people in positions of power who had these sorts of oxytocin problems.

If the association between oxytocin regulation problems and antisocial personality disorder is actually valid, consider what it might mean for society. In the RPG Blue Rose, I included a magic item that could tell if a prospective noble was a good and honorable person. We can't tell that, but we may now have a guide as to whether someone is inherently untrustworthy. Given the speed with such neuroscience is advancing, we're likely to run into many similar pieces of information. The question is what will we do about them. What can we do? From what I've read, there seems to be some sort of environmental causes for antisocial personality disorder, which means those can be reduced, and treatment may be possible, which conjures up the rather appealing (to me at least) idea of using treatment instead of imprisonment to deal with many criminals.

In addition to nifty computer interfaces, longer lives, and possibly even actual artificial intelligence, part of the transhuman future we seem to be moving towards involves a far greater level of understanding of ourselves, and that opens up all manner of exceptionally complex and interesting possibilities. We shall most definitely see…
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful

(24 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


From:quorpencetta
Date:November 15th, 2008 09:30 pm (UTC)
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Makes me wonder if it would be possible to change someones THOMAS, thus curing sociopaths. (I am speaking as someone with a lower level of oxytocin response than the norm IMO, who would take drugs to change it if they were available) Also, do you think its possible some of these environmental causes of antisocial personality are actually doing so by affecting the THOMAS? And in that case, would a change in environmental stimuli cause a similar change in the THOMAS?
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From:heron61
Date:November 15th, 2008 09:37 pm (UTC)
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This would indeed be a major step forward. It's exceptionally difficult to tell if the results are purely situational or something deeper, but most people in prison score as having antisocial personality disorder. It would be interesting to see if that's because these people are in prison (and thus, once released from such a horrid environment, they return to normal) or if they actually have long-term oxytocin regulation problems. If the second is true, then therapies might be possible, and that would be really cool, since it offers up the option of actually treating violent antisocial behavior rather than just punishing people.
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From:filamena
Date:November 15th, 2008 09:57 pm (UTC)
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Just because the study is on trust and has to do with money, it makes me wonder how much of the 1% of the US who posses 90% of the wealth is half of the 2% Jak found in his study.

I loved to know there was a way to detect and maybe some day cure 'filthy rich asshole.'
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From:heron61
Date:November 15th, 2008 10:15 pm (UTC)
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Studies on antisocial personality disorder have found large percentages of people with this condition in two groups - convicted felons in prison and corporate CEOs. I'd love to see these same studies done using oxytocin levels as opposed to the far less reliable psych inventories and I'd also love to see a treatment developed.
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From:filamena
Date:November 15th, 2008 11:22 pm (UTC)
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So I did a lot of reading when I got pregnant on natural birth and breast feeding and all that. One of the biggest reasons they suggest you breastfeed is the release of Oxytocin, calling in the love hormone or what ever. I know that the process of pregnancy and child birth is all about the production of oxytocin. I'm no chemist, or scientist, or doctor or anything, but it almost sounds to me like that's the answer some how.
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From:mindstalk
Date:November 15th, 2008 10:11 pm (UTC)
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I've described transhumanism in Mage terms as "mastery of Life and Mind, not just Forces and Matter, Space and Time(old SF)". But now I'm wondering if any Mage faction actually made use of their Mind sphere in setting up their own societies. Technocracy internal thoughtpolice might be closest.
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From:heron61
Date:November 15th, 2008 10:17 pm (UTC)
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I went into this exact idea in some depth in the half of the Mage rev NWO covention book that I wrote (that was sadly never published, because I finished it around the time they decided to close down the oWoD). I can email you my draft if you like.
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From:mindstalk
Date:November 15th, 2008 10:38 pm (UTC)
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Sweet, that'd be nice!
From:nancylebov
Date:November 15th, 2008 10:39 pm (UTC)
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More research is required. It wouldn't surprise me if some people who don't release oxytocin have been trained to be at least somewhat trustworthy and some people who have normal or only moderately low oxytocin release don't reciprocate because of early abuse.
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From:heron61
Date:November 15th, 2008 10:47 pm (UTC)
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Of course, it's also possible that these problems are not inborn, but are significantly environmental, in which case, the problem is more treatable, and I'd expect essentially everyone who acts like a sociopath to have similar oxytocin issues. More research is definitely needed, especially research over time.
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From:aekiy
Date:November 15th, 2008 11:42 pm (UTC)
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As I understand it, the leading theories about psychopathy et cetera regard it as a biological phenomena, where the psychopaths/sociopaths/antisocials in question do not have normal neurochemistry and are incapable of experiencing the normal range of human emotion. They are thus rendered unable to experience things like guilt or shame, which results in their unchecked behavior. There's actually an episode of Quirks & Quarks from CBC radio (downloadable at the link) that delves into that topic.

Edited at 2008-11-15 11:44 pm (UTC)
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From:heron61
Date:November 16th, 2008 12:02 am (UTC)
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It seems likely (at least to me) that the mechanism for these dysfunctions may be found in these people use oxytocin. Definitely something to look into further.
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From:siderea
Date:November 16th, 2008 12:16 am (UTC)
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Disclaimer: Nothing in this message establishes a professional clinician-patient relationship between us. I am not your therapist. Any psychology in this message is presented strictly for informational and/or entertainment purposes.

I have rather a lot to say, with my professional hat on, about Anti-Social Personality Disorder and it's treatment. I've been hitting the literature hard on the topic.

Anti-Social Personality Disorder is not treatable: our society will not stand for it to be treated. The literature about the efficacy of interventions is staggeringly poor, because the studies are rare; the studies are rare because healing is seen as a privilege that people don't want bastards to enjoy, even if that means leaving them as dangerous bastards.

Some studies have shown that about two-thirds of incarcerated felons have ASPD.

Our society will not stand for the treatment of ASPD for another reason entirely of which the general public is mostly wholly ignorant. "Personality Disorder" has been, for most of the last half century, meant, a fortiori, "incurable"; and upon that paradigm insurance companies will not pay for treatment where the diagnosis is a personality disorder.

I am not joking. If you file a claim with a presenting disorder of ASPD, it will get bounced.

About a decade or so ago, Marsha Linehan famously developed an effective therapy -- not a cure, but a treatment -- for one of the other personality disorders. The insurance industry has not yet caught up.

Note the chicken-and-egg problem here: why develop therapies for something no one will pay you to treat?

The personality disorder which Linehan developed her therapy to treat has become the best studied of them all: Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

Studies report that something like 75% of women with BPD have been sexually abused as children. There is considerable (but not conclusive) evidence that BPD in women (it is vastly more prevailent in women) is the manifestation of developmental brain damage brought about by chronic sexual abuse before adolescence, and that BPD in men is the manifestation of developmental brain damage brought about by chronic neglect before adolescence.

The grim news of these findings is that, contrary to what lay people assume, "environmental" is not the same thing as "changeable": a child malnourished until adulthood will never grow as tall as he would if he were properly fed. The morphological and functional changes in the brain caused by severe early trauma may not turn out to be any more reversible than stunted height.

To the extent that ASPD is environmentally caused, the same may be true.

But even as there is a treatment to help people with BPD -- which helps them develop the capacity to compensate for their neurological weaknesses -- it would be theoretically possible to develop a treatment for people with ASPD.

If, you know, our society would put up with it.


Edited at 2008-11-16 12:18 am (UTC)
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From:heron61
Date:November 16th, 2008 01:45 am (UTC)
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*nods* I was hoping you'd provide input on this. I'm exceptionally sick of the (especially US) focus on punishment rather than treatment. In any case, do you know if more work is being done on treating ASPD &/or other personality disorders elsewhere in the first world?

The grim news of these findings is that, contrary to what lay people assume, "environmental" is not the same thing as "changeable": a child malnourished until adulthood will never grow as tall as he would if he were properly fed. The morphological and functional changes in the brain caused by severe early trauma may not turn out to be any more reversible than stunted height.

I completely agree - IMHO, one of the most dangerous bits of ignorance surrounding our culture's ongoing fascination with sociobiology/evol psych and genetic determinism is ignoring that a great many conditions are environmental, enduring, and often relatively easy to prevent if people in power were actually willing to take steps like actually help the poor in substantial ways.
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From:siderea
Date:November 16th, 2008 02:04 am (UTC)
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In any case, do you know if more work is being done on treating ASPD &/or other personality disorders elsewhere in the first world?

No, I don't know; if it is, the work isn't being published in the journals indexed by the American Psychological Association or other journal services I use.

I mean, I actually have a client who's provisionally diagnosed ASPD, and my boss has been pretty useless, so I've been combing the lit for even suggestions. I'm not getting much.

often relatively easy to prevent if people in power were actually willing to take steps like actually help the poor in substantial ways.

Well, it's certainly true that political will is the first necessary condition. But I'll tell ya: I live in the state of the union pretty much most willing to try preventative interventions -- I'm part of that system! -- and it's non-trivial.

I mean: we're talking about parents, you know? We're talking about a disorder which seems to be caused at least in part/on occasion by severely abusive and neglectful parenting. So this very, very quickly devolves to the question of "How do you protect kids from their parents?" The answer "take them away from their parents" can turn out to be as bad -- or worse.
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From:almeda
Date:December 8th, 2008 12:21 am (UTC)
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What's interesting is that both my mother and father are (to differing degrees -- it's a spectrum in terms of severity, I'm told) borderlines. And I've got some kind of oddball socialization disorder, which I've been getting over gradually through conscious learning of social skills and responses in adulthood.

Your description of the likely early-childhood causes of BPD does jive with what I know about my mom, but I don't know of any red flags in my dad's childhood (not that he talks about it much).
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From:kitten_goddess
Date:November 16th, 2008 02:51 am (UTC)
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I am for treating people with ASPD, because they would stop acting like psychopaths if the treatment worked. As is, they cost us a pretty penny, both in the damage they cause their victims and the public burden they are to house, feed, and ward in the justice system.

I am for healing them, but for my own selfish reasons.
From:quorpencetta
Date:November 16th, 2008 12:36 am (UTC)
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I am only speaking from personal experience, and have not have oxytocin response levels tested or anything, but am going of my problems in interacting with my fellow beings. I feel like there are ways around a lack of empathy or even a lack of automatic compassion. I have developed a code of ethics which I judge my actions by. Thus I don't have to try to do things out of the instinctual ability to feel how someone else might feel, but I do review my actions and judge myself, often more harshly than necessary, by those actions. So I do think its possible to be a good person without inborn social ability. Harder, but possible.
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From:eklectick
Date:November 17th, 2008 09:49 pm (UTC)
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Worry not, lack of inborn social ability, "empathy," or automatic compassion could be part of the description of anyone with any position on an Asberger's scale, a thinker on Myers-Briggs type indicator, or a simple curmugeon ;-) The problem with sociopaths of all flavors is that they really don't care about other people at all, ever - feeling, thinking, whatever, neither in a macro or micro level - unless those people are doing something for the sociopath. "Would sell their grandmother" is an old-fashioned, but apt, description.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:February 7th, 2009 10:37 pm (UTC)
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my heart goes out to you. i was married to a progressive sociopath that unfortunately did not make the effort that you did and I now wonder if to protect myself, i closed myself off to feeling for so long that all i have to rely on are a rationalized code of ethics. it is not the same as the passion inspired righteousness of my youth. have you been hurt in some way that you must regulate your passion through rational constraint? I wish you well. when i was 18 (i am now 55) i shaved my head to deny my looks because though i wanted love desperately, i did not feel worthy of love and at the same time wanted to protect myself from those who would want me for my looks so i built a wall around my feelings and avoided those who would marry me for shallow reasons and instead married someone that played on my low self esteem to manipulate me. when i finally began to realize the lie, he began beating me and then threatened to kill our child. look into the mirror, love yourself for your humanity (imperfections and idiosyncrasies)and you will begin to be able to empathize with and love others.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:June 21st, 2009 05:44 pm (UTC)

married to sociopath

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I am married to a sociopath. It has not been confirmed nor denied but I know it is what he is after reading up on what a sociopath is after watching 48 hours and them describing this girl as one by stating she had no remorce and never felt and or did feel but it could change in an instant. I have thought I was losing it for the past three years. I was always confused and miserable and could not figure it out and it was always my or someone elses fault but the things done were done by my husband. Very excited and scared on the same toke by these findings. I now do not believe half of the bullshit he says after this new insight and it makes my world a much easier place to live in. Now to carefully divorce this man is the task at hand. My three year old son is an exact replica of my husband and I want to teach him what I can about how to care for others not manipulate them and or use them. I am 29 and he is 42 and I thank u for the artical. I am not nutz well maybe for staying for so long but he was amazing at first and I fell hard.
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From:slothman
Date:November 16th, 2008 01:06 am (UTC)
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If all those 2% groups are the same, the next question is: what fraction of that 2% are well-adjusted members of society, and what parts of their upbringing correlate to being well-adjusted? I would start with a minimal-intervention policy of testing for the trait and recommending behavioral changes to make the most of it, just as one might prescribe increased doses of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet of people with schizophrenia genes or a strong exercise regimen for people with a predisposition to morbid obesity. (IIRC, sociopaths can do quite well in a very structured environment, so schools might wind up having high-discipline tracks for people who will thrive under them and let-a-thousand-flowers-bloom tracks for creative weirdos like myself.)
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From:heron61
Date:November 16th, 2008 01:50 am (UTC)
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However, from my PoV it's also well worth looking into treatment, since if the 2% are the same, many corporate CEOs have this problem, and it seems to me that the world would be significantly improved if such people had been treated for this condition (assuming treatment is possible). Just because someone manages to be a well-adjusted member of society doesn't mean they aren't causing harm - I'd personally say that various corporate CEOs have done vastly more harm than dozens of impoverished and maladjusted sociopathic felons.

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