Is Empathy Hardwired in the Brain or Do We Learn It through Experience?
The basics of social behavior come from the brain’s emotional system, which is an important contributor to empathy and morality from infancy through adulthood. Babies often cry when they hear another baby crying, because knowing that another person is unhappy makes them feel bad.
The basics of social behavior come from the brain’s emotional system, which is an important contributor to empathy and morality from infancy through adulthood. Babies often cry when they hear another baby crying, because knowing that another person is unhappy makes them feel bad. Even rats will work to help another rat who seems to be in distress. So some precursors of social skills are probably built into the brain, but experience also influences how well children understand and respond to the needs of other people.
Initiating joint attention to an object is one of the earliest indications of social skills. Babies who frequently point out interesting things to other people at nine or ten months are more likely to be rated as socially competent at two and a half years. By their first birthday, babies already like characters who help others better than those who hinder. True empathy, the ability to appreciate and talk about other people’s feelings, develops by age five.
During that same preschool period, children show great gains in self-control. Individual children who have better self-control also show more empathy and a more developed conscience. Similarly, children who are better at inhibiting an automatic behavioral response (for example, by saying “day” when shown a picture of the moon, instead of “night”) tend to have a more sophisticated theory of mind—the ability to imagine what other people are thinking and feeling—once age, intelligence, and working memory are taken into account.
The earliest precursor of conscience is the child’s desire to please the parents, which tends to be stable across situations. Before age two, children begin to show individual differences in their likelihood of feeling guilty when they’ve done something wrong, which is linked to their ability to follow rules when no one is watching. Receptiveness to parental guidance predicts individual differences in conscience at later ages, including older children’s ability to reason about moral situations.
The child’s individual characteristics also influence the development of conscience. Children with strong self-control show more mature moral abilities than impulsive children of the same age. Temperamentally fearful children are prone to guilt, which leads to more compliant behavior but also to anxiety disorders. For them, warm and sensitive parenting is the most effective path to conscience. For less fearful children, formation of a secure attachment to a parent is the best predictor of later conscience.
One way that parents and teachers can improve children’s self-control and social skills is through emotion coaching. This process involves helping children to label their emotions and learn to think through the possible consequences of various reactions in advance, rather than following their first impulse. For example, an angry five-year-old might benefit from a parent’s suggestion to try running around the house a few times rather than punching the friend who stole his toy. In one analysis of multiple studies, involving over 270,000 students from kindergarten to high school, schools programs aimed at improving social and emotional skills increased academic performance by 11 percentile points—as much as interventions targeted specifically to academic subjects.
The more often a parent talks to a child about motivations and mental states, the sooner the child begins to demonstrate an explicit ability to speak in terms of the beliefs of others. An even stronger influence is growing up with older siblings. Having an older (but not younger) sibling leads to earlier development of theory-of-mind capacity in three- to five-year-old children. The size of the difference is equivalent to an average of four to six months of advance per older sibling, for up to three siblings. By age six, nearly all children have acquired the same level of understanding, but there may be lasting social advantages to developing this capability earlier.
Psychologist Glenn Schellenberg unexpectedly found another way to improve social skills in a study aimed at finding out whether musical training increases intelligence. He compared six-year-old children who received 36 weeks of music lessons or drama lessons with those who were placed on a waiting list. Though he had intended to use acting lessons as an active control for musical training, children who took the drama class also showed a large benefit: marked improvement in adaptability and other social skills. The effect was moderately large, with the average child receiving drama lessons scoring higher than 72 percent of children in the other groups. Researchers aren’t certain why taking drama lessons improves social skills, but one possibility is that deliberate practice at inhabiting the character of another person strengthens the function of brain areas involved in daily social interactions.
The evidence is clear that self-control and social skills are related areas of child development where experience matters a great deal. By using the suggestions in this series to help improve these skills, parents can increase the chances that their children will become successful and happy adults—and the rest of us will appreciate their empathy and conscience.
Image courtesy of Tracy Whiteside/Shutterstock.
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"Nothing but naked people: fat ones, thin ones, old, young…"
"The Yellow Sands", 1888, John Reinhard Weguelin; source: Wikimedia Commons<h3>Naked revolution</h3><p>Yet long before anyone knew about beach fashion, naturism was trendy. Bathing naked in the sea was going on in England as early as 1840. However, during the reign of Queen Victoria, this pleasure was outlawed. But it popped up again among the conservative Germans. In 1898, the first Naturist Club was founded in Essen and in 1900 the Wandering Birds group (<em>Wandervögel</em>) was scouring the country for uninhabited places and naked sunbathing. In the same year, Heinrich Pudor wrote <em>The C</em><em>ult of </em><em>the </em><em>Nud</em><em>e</em>, winning the hearts of contemporary supporters of naturism.</p><p>In the 1920s, on the back of this, members of the Movement for Natural Healing (<em>Naturheilbewegung</em>) organized naked sunbathing for the improvement of health. Persuaded by Pudor's theory of the healing properties of the sun and wind, which could be absorbed through the skin, they launched the naked revolution.</p><p>Pudor's book became the naturists' manifesto and soon after, not far from Hamburg, the Free Body Culture (<em>Freikörperkultur</em>, or FKK) movement was founded. This spread through other German centres and brought together thousands of people. The FKK still operates under the same name today.</p><p>The cult of the naked body even wrote itself into the ideology of fascist Germany, which advocated a pure, Aryan race. But in 1933, Hermann Göring issued an order that defined nudity as "the greatest threat to the German soul" and, with that, criminalized naturist organizations. But this wasn't the end of the movement. The naturists went underground, continuing their activities under the guise of improving physical fitness.</p><p>In 1936, the idea was even floated of having a naturist display to open the Berlin Olympic Games. It was quickly dropped. Despite this, in 1939 the naturists managed to organize their own Games in the Swiss village of Thielle.</p>
Would you ever have sex with a robot?
- In 2016, "Harmony", the world's first AI sex robot was designed by a tech firm called Realbotix.
- According to 2020 survey data, more than one in five Americans (22 percent) say they would consider having sex with a robot. This is an increase from a survey conducted in 2017.
- Robots (and robotic tech) already play a vital role in speeding up manufacturing, packaging, and processing across various industries.
From homemade dildos to Harmony, the AI sex robot<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3f7451615568e74c6a839f04329c9902"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/-cN8sJz50Ng?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><em>"...amid an economic crisis, with restaurants and retailers closing their doors and larger companies laying off and furloughing employees, the sex tech industry is booming."</em><br></p><p>A Bustle <a href="https://www.bustle.com/wellness/the-sex-tech-industry-is-booming-amid-economic-crisis-22819801" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">article</a> published in April 2020, weeks after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, explored the drastic boost in the sex tech industry. According to the research, <a href="https://www.dameproducts.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Dame Products</a> (a popular sex toy retailer) experienced a 30 percent increase in sales between the months of February to April, and popular sexual wellness brand <a href="https://unboundbabes.com/?utm_source=%7Bsource%7D&utm_medium=%7Bmedium%7D&utm_keyword=unbound%20babes&utm_matchtype=e&device=c&utm_campaign=%7Bcampaign%7D&utm_adgroup=%7Badgroup%7D&gclid=CjwKCAjw1v_0BRAkEiwALFkj5qYbdEwANUjCdRkCeVZ2HZzHjcGmpYbsOXYcMcNneLc2nySvrbaalBoChEsQAvD_BwE" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Unbound</a> reported selling twice as many toys as normal in this period.</p><p>While the new coronavirus was crashing the economy in other ways, the sex tech industry was one of the few that actually saw improvements, likely due to people all over the world being advised, encouraged, and in some instances forced to stay at home.</p><p>Something similar happened in 2008, <a href="https://www.villagevoice.com/2010/08/23/the-great-recession-is-a-turn-on-for-the-sex-toy-industry/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">during the recession</a>: the sex toy industry was one of the only industries at the time that didn't gravely suffer. </p><p><strong>The evolution of sex tech from stone dildos to artificial intelligence.</strong></p><p><a href="https://sofiagray.com/what-is-the-history-of-sex-toys-from-stone-to-silicone-and-beyond/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The history of sex toys</a> is quite interesting. A 28,000-year-old siltstone dildo was uncovered in Germany in 2005. Luxury bronze dildos have also been found in China that are at least 2,000 years old.</p><p>Aside from various materials being shaped into dildos, there has always been an interest in how to advance sex technology, even before it involved actual technology at all.</p><ul><li>The 1700s: Steam-powered vibrators (such as the Manipulator).</li><li>The 1800s—1900s: The invention of the first electric vibrator (the Pulsoson) and "beauty tools" being used for sexual satisfaction (such as the Polar Cub massager)</li><li>The 1920s—1940s: The introduction of hand-held massagers (the Andis Vibrator) and compact devices (such as the Oster Stim-U-Lax)</li><li>The 1940s—1960s: Japan introduced the "Cadillac of Vibrators" (The Hitachi Magic Wand), which eventually made it's way to America.</li><li>1965: The invention of silicone, which most modern sex toys are made of.</li><li>The 1980s—1990s: The invention of the rabbit-style vibrator, made more popular with one of the first showings of a sex toy on television ("Sex and the City"). </li><li>The 2000s: Visual porn website Pornhub launched and sex toys became increasingly popular. Erotic literature also became more common and popular, with "50 Shades of Grey" and others like it. </li><li>The 2010s and beyond: Sex toys and technology start to blend, and the world's first internet-controlled sex toy was launched in 2010 by Lovense.</li></ul><p>In 2016, "Harmony", <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-cN8sJz50Ng" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the world's first AI sex robot</a> was designed by a tech firm called Realbotix. </p>
From television shows to real-life applications, artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming more and more popular in all areas of human life.
Credit: Willyam Bradberry on Shutterstock<p>In 2020, more than one in five Americans (22 percent) say they would consider having sex with a robot. <a href="https://today.yougov.com/topics/science/articles-reports/2020/03/19/2020-both-men-and-women-are-more-likely-consider-h" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">YouGov conducted a study</a> in February 2020 that compared results from a similar study from 2017.<br></p><p>According to the results, 6 percent more people in 2020 are comfortable with the idea of having sex with a robot than in 2017.</p><p>YouGov points out that the increase in consideration is particularly significant among American adults between the ages of 18-34 years old. Additionally, how people feel about having sex with a robot has also changed. In 2020, 27 percent of Americans said they would consider it cheating if they had a partner who had sex with a robot during the relationship, compared to the 32 percent reported in 2017.</p><p><strong>"If you had a partner who had sex with a robot, would you consider it cheating?"</strong></p><p>The results from this interesting study also reveal that many people (42 percent) believe having sex with a robot is safer than having sex with a human stranger.</p><p>Robots (and robotic tech) already play a vital role in speeding up manufacturing, packaging, and processing across various industries. From television shows to real-life applications, artificial intelligence is becoming more and more popular in all areas of human life.</p><p>According to YouGov, "a <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-07-12/amazon-plans-high-end-echo-ramps-up-work-on-alexa-home-robot" target="_blank">Bloomberg</a> report outlining Amazon's plans for an Alexa-powered robot that follows and helps you around the home may redefine how these machines service humans in the near future." </p>