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Kids who don’t do this might grow up to be psychopaths, researchers find
This behavior was witnessed in boys but not girls.
Laughter is contagious. Actually, even moods are “catchable.” Since social contagion is an established human reaction, this new report is as surprising as it is creepy. It finds that children with the potential to develop psychopathy tend not to laugh along with others. They are naturally inoculated from social laughter.
University College London (UCL) researchers in the UK came to this conclusion. Their findings were published in the journal Current Biology. Psychologists aren’t exactly sure what turns someone into a psychopath. A specific gene has been implicated, the so-called “warrior gene" The technical name is the MAOA-L gene.
But simply having the gene doesn’t doom you to become a psychopath. A certain environment or experience is required in order to allow those tendencies to express themselves. And not all of those who have the condition are dangerous. In fact, many CEOs and others at high station are known psychopaths.
This type of person can be charming, persuasive, courageous, and able take charge in a crisis. But they also tend to be remorseless, callous, and even ruthless. According to neuroscientist and psychiatrist Dr. Tara Swart, psychopathy is actually a spectrum.
The main component is an inability to empathize with others. This can lead to unfulfilling relationships, as partners often dislike emotional distance. Psychopathic types have difficulty bonding with others, are more prone to antisocial behavior, and at the extreme wing of the spectrum, tend toward hyper-sexuality and outbursts of violence.
Psychopathic tendencies may first surface in childhood. Credit: Getty Images.
It’s a myth that only adults deal with significant mental health issues. Usually, children show their first signs of a disorder before age 14. Because of this, psychologists are trying to see if they can identify certain characteristics in childhood, telltale signs of a budding psychopath.
Previous research has shown that most children who show psychopathic tendencies don’t want to participate in group activities, are disruptive, and show little regard for the emotions of their peers. In this study, researchers showed that boys with such tendencies said they didn’t want to laugh when others did. Brain scans showed that the sounds of laughter had less of a neurological response than in other children.
Professor Essi Viding was the senior author of this study. She hails from UCL’s department of Psychology & Language Sciences. She said, “Most studies have focused on how individuals with psychopathic traits process negative emotions and how their lack of response to them might explain their ability to aggress against other people.”
She added, “This prior work is important, but it has not fully addressed why these individuals fail to bond with others. We wanted to investigate how boys at risk of developing psychopathy process emotions that promote social affiliation, such as laughter.”
Researchers wrote that boys suspected of psychopathy “display reduced neural response to laughter in the supplementary motor area, a premotor region thought to facilitate motor readiness to join in during social behavior.” Meanwhile their auditory cortex lit up fine. This is the region here sound registers.
In boys with psychopathic tendencies, those brain areas responsible for participating and recognizing other’s emotions were far less active. “Those at highest risk for developing psychopathy additionally show reduced neural responses to laughter in the anterior insula,” researchers wrote. The supplementary motor area was also implicated.
These brain regions according to the press release, “are thought to facilitate resonating with other people’s emotions and joining in with their laughter. Boys who were disruptive but had low levels of callous-unemotional traits showed some differences too, but not as pronounced as the group with high levels of callous-unemotional traits.”
One may have the “warrior gene,” but it takes a certain environment and upbringing to become a full-on psychopath. Getty Images.
92 boys were recruited for the study. Each one was between the ages of 11 and 16. While 62 showed psychopathic traits such as callousness (on a range from low to high) and disruptive behaviors, 30 others behaved normally and acted as controls. All the boys were from the same ethnicity and socioeconomic background.
Each boy listened to laughter while their brain was hooked up to an fMRI machine. Then they were asked “How much does hearing the sound make you feel like joining in and/or feeling the emotion?” and “How much does the sound reflect a genuinely felt emotion?” The participants were made to answer on a scale of 1 to 7, one being the least likely to want to join in.
Researchers conclude in the summary, “These findings suggest that atypical processing of laughter could represent a novel mechanism that impoverishes social relationships and increases risk for psychopathy and antisocial behavior.”
Professor Viding cautioned against labeling children as psychopaths. This is still considered an adult personality disorder. Long-terms studies however, show that certain children do run a higher risk for developing psychopathy later on. Prof. Viding said, “That does not mean that these children are destined to become antisocial or dangerous; rather, these findings shed new light on why they often make different choices from their peers.”
Children may show certain traits but only adults can develop the full-on condition. Credit: Getty Images.
Whether resistance to social laughter helps bring about psychopathy or if it’s a consequence of it isn’t currently known, and will likely be the subject of further research. Another question is how those with antisocial personality disorder or psychopathy process social affiliations. How such children respond to smiles, encouraging words, and outpourings of acceptance or love, will be subjects explored in future studies, along with whether the age of the child makes any difference.
“We are only now beginning to develop an understanding of how the processes underlying prosocial behavior might differ in these children,” Prof. Viding said. “Such understanding is essential if we are to improve current approaches to treatment for affected children and their families who need our help and support.”
To understand better a psychopath’s situation, click here:
Certain water beetles can escape from frogs after being consumed.
- A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten whole.
- The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
- Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.
In what is perhaps one of the weirdest experiments ever that comes from the category of "why did anyone need to know this?" scientists have proven that the Regimbartia attenuata beetle can climb out of a frog's butt after being eaten.
The research was carried out by Kobe University ecologist Shinji Sugiura. His team found that the majority of beetles swallowed by black-spotted pond frogs (Pelophylax nigromaculatus) used in their experiment managed to escape about 6 hours after and were perfectly fine.
"Here, I report active escape of the aquatic beetle R. attenuata from the vents of five frog species via the digestive tract," writes Sugiura in a new paper, adding "although adult beetles were easily eaten by frogs, 90 percent of swallowed beetles were excreted within six hours after being eaten and, surprisingly, were still alive."
One bug even got out in as little as 7 minutes.
Sugiura also tried putting wax on the legs of some of the beetles, preventing them from moving. These ones were not able to make it out alive, taking from 38 to 150 hours to be digested.
Naturally, as anyone would upon encountering such a story, you're wondering where's the video. Thankfully, the scientists recorded the proceedings:
The Regimbartia attenuata beetle can be found in the tropics, especially as pests in fish hatcheries. It's not the only kind of creature that can survive being swallowed. A recent study showed that snake eels are able to burrow out of the stomachs of fish using their sharp tails, only to become stuck, die, and be mummified in the gut cavity. Scientists are calling the beetle's ability the first documented "active prey escape." Usually, such travelers through the digestive tract have particular adaptations that make it possible for them to withstand extreme pH and lack of oxygen. The researchers think the beetle's trick is in inducing the frog to open a so-called "vent" controlled by the sphincter muscle.
"Individuals were always excreted head first from the frog vent, suggesting that R. attenuata stimulates the hind gut, urging the frog to defecate," explains Sugiura.
For more information, check out the study published in Current Biology.
New research from the University of Granada found that stress could help determine sex.
Stress in the modern world is generally viewed as a hindrance to a healthy life.
Indeed, excess stress is associated with numerous problems, including cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, insomnia, depression, obesity, and other conditions. While the physiological mechanisms associated with stress can be beneficial, as Kelly McGonigal points out in The Upside of Stress, the modern wellness industry is built on the foundation of stress relief.
The effects of stress on pregnant mothers is another longstanding area of research. For example, what potential negative effects do elevated levels of cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine have on fetal development?
A new study, published in the Journal of Developmental Origins of Health and Disease, investigated a very specific aspect of stress on fetuses: does it affect sex? Their findings reveal that women with elevated stress are twice as likely to give birth to a girl.
For this research, the University of Granada scientists recorded the stress levels of 108 women before, during, and after conception. By testing cortisol concentration in their hair and subjecting the women to a variety of psychological tests, the researchers discovered that stress indeed influences sex. Specifically, stress made women twice as likely to deliver a baby girl.
The team points out that their research is consistent with other research that used saliva to show that stress resulted in a decreased likelihood of delivering a boy.
Maria Isabel Peralta RamírezPhoto courtesy of University of Granada
Lead author María Isabel Peralta Ramírez, a researcher at the UGR's Department of Personality, Evaluation and Psychological Treatment, says that prior research focused on stress levels leading up to and after birth. She was interested in stress's impact leading up to conception. She says:
"Specifically, our research group has shown in numerous publications how psychological stress in the mother generates a greater number of psychopathological symptoms during pregnancy: postpartum depression, a greater likelihood of assisted delivery, an increase in the time taken for lactation to commence (lactogenesis), or inferior neurodevelopment of the baby six months after birth."
While no conclusive evidence has been rendered, the research team believes that activation of the mother's endogenous stress system during conception sets the concentration of sex hormones that will be carried throughout development. As the team writes, "there is evidence that testosterone functions as a mechanism when determining the baby's sex, since the greater the prenatal stress levels, the higher the levels of female testosterone." Levels of paternal stress were not factored into this research.
Previous studies show that sperm carrying an X chromosome are better equipped to reach the egg under adverse conditions than sperm carrying the Y chromosome. Y fetuses also mature slowly and are more likely to produce complications than X fetuses. Peralta also noted that there might be more aborted male fetuses during times of early maternal stress, which would favor more girls being born under such circumstances.
In the future, Peralta and her team say an investigation into aborted fetuses should be undertaken. Right now, the research was limited to a small sample size that did not factor in a number of elements. Still, the team concludes, "the research presented here is pioneering to the extent that it links prenatal stress to the sex of newborns."
Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His most recent book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."
The world's 10 most affected countries are spending up to 59% of their GDP on the effects of violence.
- Conflict and violence cost the world more than $14 trillion a year.
- That's the equivalent of $5 a day for every person on the planet.
- Research shows that peace brings prosperity, lower inflation and more jobs.
- Just a 2% reduction in conflict would free up as much money as the global aid budget.
- Report urges governments to improve peacefulness, especially amid COVID-19.
What is the price of peace?
Or put another way, how much better off would we all be in a world where armed conflict was avoided?
To give some context, 689 million people - more than 9% of the world's population - live on less than $1.90 a day, according to World Bank figures, underscoring the potential impact peace-building activities could have.
Just over 10% of global GDP is being spent on containing, preventing and dealing with the consequences of violence. As well as the 1.4 million violent deaths each year, conflict holds back economic development, causes instability, widens inequality and erodes human capital.
Putting a price tag on peace and violence helps us see the disproportionately high amounts spent on creating and containing violent acts compared to what is spent on building resilient, productive, and peaceful societies.
—Steve Killelea, founder and executive chairman, Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP)
The cost of violence
In a report titled "The Economic Value of Peace 2021", the IEP says that for every death from violent conflict, 40 times as many people are injured. The world's 10 most affected countries are spending up to 59% of their GDP on the effects of violence.
Grounds for hope
But the picture is not all bleak. The economic impact of violence fell for the second year in a row in 2019, as parts of the world became more peaceful.
The global cost dropped by $64 billion between 2018 and 2019, even though it was still $1.2 trillion higher than in 2012.
In five regions of the world the costs increased in 2019. The biggest jump was in Central America and the Caribbean, where a rising homicide rate pushed the cost up 8.3%.
Syria, with its ongoing civil war, suffered the greatest economic impact with almost 60% of its GDP lost to conflict in 2019. That was followed by Afghanistan (50%) and South Sudan (46%).
The report makes a direct link between peace and prosperity. It says that, since 2000, countries that have become more peaceful have averaged higher GDP growth than those which have become more violent.
"This differential is significant and represents a GDP per capita that is 30% larger when compounded over a 20-year period," the report says adding that peaceful countries also have substantially lower inflation and unemployment.
"Small improvements in peace can have substantial economic benefits," it adds. "For example, a 2% reduction in the global impact of violence is roughly equivalent to all overseas development aid in 2019."
Equally, the total value of foreign direct investment globally only offsets 10% of the economic impact of violence. Authoritarian regimes lost on average 11% of GDP to the costs of violence while in democracies the cost was just 4% of GDP.
And the gap has widened over time, with democracies reducing the cost of violence by almost 16% since 2007 while in authoritarian countries it has risen by 27% over the same period.
The report uses 18 economic indicators to evaluate the cost of violence. The top three are military spending (which was $5.9 trillion globally in 2019), the cost of internal security which makes up over a third of the total at $4.9 trillion and homicide.
Peace brings prosperity
The formula also contains a multiplier effect because as peace increases, money spent containing violence can instead be used on more productive activities which drive growth and generate higher monetary and social returns.
"Substantial economic improvements are linked to improvements in peace," says the report. "Therefore, government policies should be directed to improving peacefulness, especially in a COVID-19 environment where economic activity has been subdued."
The IEP says what it terms "positive peace" is even more beneficial than "negative peace" which is simply the absence of violence or the fear of violence. Positive peace involves fostering the attitudes, institutions & structures that create and sustain peaceful societies.
The foundations of a positively peaceful society, it says, are: a well functioning government, sound business environment, acceptance of the rights of others, good relations with neighbours, free flow of information, high levels of human capital, low levels of corruption and equitable distribution of resources.
The World Economic Forum's report Mobilizing the Private Sector in Peace and Reconciliation urged companies large and small to recognise their potential to work for peace quoting the former Goldman Sachs chair, the late Peter Sutherland, who said: "Business thrives where society thrives."
The lush biodiversity of South America's rainforests is rooted in one of the most cataclysmic events that ever struck Earth.