Category Archives: Human behavior

Study: Adversity leads to political radicalization


Want a simple formula for making a radical? Subject someone to personal adversity.

It’s something we all know intuitively.

The Russian Revolution was fueled by personal adversity, both in the impact of mass casualties and a losing war effort, and by hunger brought on by the war.

Similarly, the rise of the Nazis was directly fueled by the 1929 global economic crash.

We’ll leave conclusions about more recent events to you.

Now research directly links personal adversity to radical to development of radical political beliefs.

From the University of California, Irvine:

People who experience adversity are likely to become more extreme in their existing political beliefs, according to a recent study led by Roxane Cohen Silver, professor of psychology & social behavior at the University of California, Irvine.

Both the number of past stressful events and those occurring over the prior year consistently predicted more firmly held opinions, whether conservative or liberal.

“We found that adults who experience a range of adverse events over their lifetimes, such as serious illness or a community disaster, are more likely to express extreme or polarized views on a variety of topics. This appears to be the case even when those topics, such as political opinions, have little or nothing to do with the adverse events they encountered,” Cohen Silver said. “Our study suggests that traumatic experiences may lead to long-lasting changes in a person’s tendency to become more polarized in his or her political attitudes.”

The research, recently published online in the journal Social Psychological & Personality Science [$36 to read], used data from the three-year Societal Implications Study, which involved a nationally representative sample of 1,613 Americans, ranging in age from 18 to over 90, across a wide variety of economic, educational, religious, ethnic and political categories. Participants completed surveys annually between 2006 and early 2009 that measured lifetime exposure to and recent occurrences of negative incidents, as well as their views on several political subjects. Continue reading

Why are we fat? Republicans, Democrats disagree


If the recent elections have taught us anything, it’s that Democrats and Republicans are so deeply divided that one might reasonably argue that the system has broken down, with folks of great wealth fueling the divisions for their own ends.

So how deeply divided are the two parties?

Well, they can’t even agree on what makes folks fat.

It’s that old nature/nurture divide that lurks beneath so much of political divisiveness, with the Republicans arguing that Calvinism, with its doctrine of predestination, rules at the bathroom scales, while Democrats argue that it’s something fueled by the environment.

From the University of Kansas:

People’s political leanings and their own weight shape opinions on obesity-related public policies, according to a new study by two University of Kansas researchers.

Actually, Republicans — no matter how much they weigh —  believe eating and lifestyle habits cause obesity, the research found.

But among Democrats there is more of a dividing line, said Mark Joslyn, professor of political science. Those who identify themselves as overweight are more likely to believe genetic factors cause obesity.

“Self-reported overweight people were significantly more likely to believe obesity is caused by genetics than normal weight people,” Joslyn said. “The belief that obesity is due to genetics tends to remove blame. Obesity is not a choice, some would argue, but rather people are simply genetically wired to be obese. In this way, overweight people are motivated to believe in the genetics-obesity link. We found normal weight people were not so motivated.”

Joslyn and Don Haider-Markel, chair and professor of the Department of Political Science, published their findings [$36 to read] recently in the journal American Politics Research.

The research could have important implications for policymakers, especially at the local and state levels that tend to focus on public health interventions, either through appealing to healthy lifestyles by constructing biking and walking paths to encourage exercise or by passing stricter regulations on food and drinks, such as demanding publication of calorie counts and levying taxes on soft drinks.

Former New York City Mayor — and billionaire — Michael Bloomberg has donated millions of dollars to fund pro-soda tax initiatives in major cities. Berkeley, California, and Philadelphia are among those that have passed them in recent years. Obesity rates have risen recently in the United States, as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2015 that 71 percent of adults were overweight and more than 17 percent of youths were obese.

Still, most Americans oppose bans on large-size drinks and higher soda taxes, Joslyn said, which is likely a disparity between the perception of the problem and support for government intervention. Those who have argued against soda taxes, for example, often refer to a “nanny state,” blaming government intervention when they perceive personal choice is causing the problem.

For policymakers, as obesity rates continue to climb and the debate surrounding how to make people healthier continues, the genetic attribution as a cause may continue to rise as well, which could influence people’s opposition to certain practices.

“To the extent that genetic attributions increase in popularity, stronger opposition to discriminatory hiring practices by weight can be expected,” Joslyn said.

Also, it’s likely the issue remains politicized because most Republicans are inclined to support individual blame for obesity and not supportive of government regulations.

Finally, while the soda taxes have gained much attention, most government action recently does seem to be directed toward changing people’s individual behavior, such as developing public spaces to encourage fitness and ways to discourage unhealthy eating habits, like publication of calorie counts.

“If obesity persists in the face of such initiatives, blame and discrimination of obese people is likely to continue,” Joslyn said. “On the other hand, if governments treat obesity similar to diseases that afflict the population, as circumstances beyond the control of individuals, then individual blame and discrimination may diminish.”

Program notes

The genome dynamically interacts with the environment as chemical switches that regulate gene expression receive cues from stress, diet, behavior, toxins and other factors. Epigenetics is the study of these reactions and the factors that influence them.

So what’s it all about?

From Scientific American:

In a study published in late 2011 in Nature, Stanford University geneticist Anne Brunet and colleagues described a series of experiments that caused nematodes raised under the same environmental conditions to experience dramatically different lifespans. Some individuals were exceptionally long-lived, and their descendants, through three generations, also enjoyed long lives. Clearly, the longevity advantage was inherited. And yet, the worms, both short- and long-lived, were genetically identical.

This type of finding—an inherited difference that cannot be explained by variations in genes themselves—has become increasingly common, in part because scientists now know that genes are not the only authors of inheritance. There are ghostwriters, too. At first glance, these scribes seem quite ordinary—methyl, acetyl, and phosphoryl groups, clinging to proteins associated with DNA, or sometimes even to DNA itself, looking like freeloaders at best. Their form is far from the elegant tendrils of DNA that make up genes, and they are fleeting, in a sense, erasable, very unlike genes, which have been passed down through generations for millions of years. But they do lurk, and silently, they exert their power, modifying DNA and controlling genes, influencing the chaos of nucleic and amino acids. And it is for this reason that many scientists consider the discovery of these entities in the late 20th century as a turning point in our understanding of heredity, as possibly one of the greatest revolutions in modern biology—the rise of epigenetics.

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Headline of the day: Tempestuous TrumpLandia™


From the McClatchy Washington Bureau, a tale of life in TrumpAmerica™:

YMCA won’t let members watch cable news while working out anymore for ‘safety’ reasons

  • In the Greater Scranton, Pennsylvania, YMCA, there’s now one less way to elevate your blood pressure
  • That’s because the gym’s board of directors has voted to ban cable news from its building after several locker room and gym disputes over politics and news turned so heated that some members feared for their safety, according to multiple media reports
  • In a letter sent out to members, the board wrote that 24-hour news channels like CNN, MSNBC and Fox News have given rise to intense confrontations, which have “raised concerns about the safety, both physically and emotionally, of our members”

Homophobia, inequality, religion, and the law


Imperial revanchism is integral to rising tide of authoritarian movements of the extreme right, a hunger to return to the glories of an imagined past.

The ISIS slogan might as well be Make the Caliphate Great Again, given their claims to be the modern reincarnation of an empire that once stretched from India and the islands of the Asian seas to Modern Spain and Portugal.

Here in the U.S., many hard-core Republicans dream of a return to the 17th Century, with patriarchy enshrined, divorce impossible to obtain, schools mandated to teach an established religion to ensure orthodoxy.

As noted in an earlier post, they want to muzzle the press and [as another posted noted] impose draconian curbs limiting and even abolishing the right to peaceably assemble

Authoritarian regimes play to social reactionaries by fanning the flames of deeply buried resentments, then directing the collective rage at hapless and helpless targets named as the villains who brought down the ancien régime.

Common to almost all such regimes is suppression of anything considered sexually deviant, most notably in the criminalization of homosexuality.

An academic seeks correlates

Amy Adamczyk serves as Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice at City University of New York, where her work focuses on how personal religious beliefs and social groups [from micro to macro] shape the way we attitudes about criminality, social deviance, and health-re;ated behaviors.

Her most recent book is Cross-National Public Opinion about Homosexuality, a look at attitudes in this and other countries.

What follows is Why do some countries disapprove of homosexuality? Money, democracy and religion, an essay written for The Conversation, a plain language open source academic journal:

With Trump’s removal of federal protections for transgender students, debate over LGBTQ rights rage again across the U.S.

Despite these disagreements, Americans are relatively liberal compared to countries across the world, where the consequences for gay or transgender citizens are far more dire.

In Europe and here in the Americas, only a minority of people believe that homosexuality is never justified. The percentage increases in places like Russia, India and China. In Africa, the Middle East and parts of Southeast Asia, attitudes become even more conservative.

blog-h-attitudes

Why are there such big differences in public opinion about homosexuality? My book, “Cross-National Public Opinion about Homosexuality,” shows that a key part of the answer comes in understanding how national characteristics shape individuals’ attitudes.

Within countries, a similar set of demographic characteristics tend to influence how people feel about homosexuality. For example, women tend to be more liberal than men. Older people tend to be more conservative than younger ones. Muslims are more likely to disapprove of homosexuality than Catholics, Jews and mainline Protestants.

Just like people, countries too have particular characteristics that can sway residents’ attitudes about homosexuality. I have analyzed data from over 80 nations from the last three waves of the World Values Survey, the oldest noncommercial, cross-national examination of individuals’ attitudes, values and beliefs over time. It is the only academic survey to include people from both very rich and poor countries, in all of the world’s major cultural zones. It now has surveys from almost 400,000 respondents.

My analysis shows that differences in attitudes between nations can largely be explained by three factors: economic development, democracy and religion.

Money matters

Sweden, Switzerland and the Netherlands are some of the richest nations in the world. They are also some of the most tolerant. In sharp contrast, countries like Uganda and Nigeria are quite poor and the vast majority of residents disapprove.

blog-h-econ

How does the amount of money a country has shape attitudes? In very poor countries, people are likely to be more concerned about basic survival. Parents may worry about how to obtain clean water and food for their children. Residents may feel that if they stick together and work closely with friends, family and community members, they will lead a more predictable and stable life. In this way, social scientists have found that a group mentality may develop, encouraging people to think in similar ways and discouraging individual differences.

Because of the focus on group loyalty and tradition, many residents from poorer countries are likely to view homosexuality as highly problematic. It violates traditional sensibilities. Many people may feel that LGBTQ individuals should conform to dominant heterosexual and traditional family norms.

Conversely, residents from richer nations are less dependent on the group and less concerned about basic survival. They have more freedom to choose their partners and lifestyle. Even in relatively rich countries like the United States, some people will still find homosexuality problematic. But, many will also be supportive.

Regardless of how much money they make, most people living in poorer countries are likely to be affected by cultural norms that focus on survival and group loyalty, leading to more disapproval.

Freedom of speech

The type of government also matters. People living in more democratic countries tend to be more supportive of homosexuality.

blog-h-views

Democracy increases tolerance by exposing residents to new perspectives. Democracy also encourages people to respect individuals’ rights, regardless of whether they personally like the people being protected.

Continue reading

Fukushima student survivors bullied in Tokyo


If there’s anything that the recent elections have taught us, it’s that fear leads to violence.

And fear is easily aroused through reckless talk about others we associate with danger, even more so when the objects of are fear are immigrants from a land associated with danger.

The immigrants don’t have to come from other lands or even look different than we do.

Which brings us to our story.

From the Japan Times:

Fresh cases of bullying have been reported targeting children who evacuated from Fukushima Prefecture amid the nuclear disaster that started in 2011, this time in Tokyo.

According to Tokyo Saigai Shien Netto (Tossnet), a group of lawyers supporting Fukushima evacuees, three schoolchildren who moved to Tokyo in the wake of the triple core meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant were subjected to bullying at an elementary school in Chiyoda Ward between 2011 and 2015.

According to the group, one elementary school student and two others who now study at a junior high school were called names repeatedly, with classmates shunning them by saying radiation might spread from them. One of them recalled being called kin (germ).

The group on Monday reported the incidents as cases of bullying to the board of education in Chiyoda Ward. The board of education says it had not been aware of the incidents and will look into facts surrounding them.

A Muslim girl fights for her individuality


And we mean fight literally.

A wonderful documentary from Jayisha Patel of Australia’s SBS Dateline, a look at Fareeha, a remarkable young Indian women skilled in a very untraditional martial art struggling to make her way to the national championships.

It’s a story about a person from Hyderabad whose dream is to become a police officer so that she can protect young girls in a nation riven by religious and sexual violence.

Her struggle reveals tensions universal in modern life, created when cultural norms created in an era of slow travel and limited technology were evolved at a time when organized religion dominated all aspects of civic and familial life.

While the West dubs the struggle triggered by America’s armed imperialism Islamist, what has happened in the U.S. and Europe might be called a Christianist insurgence. While authoritarianism in the Mideast and North Africa is fueled by an authoritarian interpretation of the Koran and sayings attributed to the Prophet, while the authoritarianism of the West is inspired by an authoritarian interpretation of the Bible, relaying heavily on particularist selection of passages from practices proscribed by Torah and a vision of the imminent future taken from Revelation.

The cultural norms   struggles against are not so different than the gender-based laws many Republicans dream of enacting.

And when you look at how the Christianists really want to control women and their roles, is it really that different from what the Islamists want?

In that context, enjoy a remarkable, true story about a triumphal struggle.

From SBS Dateline:

India’s Wushu Warrior

Program notes:

What happens when cultural tradition clashes with a young person’s dream? Dateline meets a Muslim girl whose passion for martial arts is raising difficult questions for her family.

Mass deportation is system rooted in racism


And until we grasp how fear of the Other has been used to stroke fear and resentment, it’s a tragedy we’re liable to reenact again and again.

Kelly Lytle Hernandez, Associate Professor of  History and African-American Studies at the University of California–Los Angeles, gives us a look at this less-than-grand-old propensity in this essay for The Conversation, an academic journal written for the rest of us:

A rowdy segment of the American electorate is hell-bent on banning a specific group of immigrants from entering the United States. Thousands upon thousands of other people – citizens and immigrants, alike – oppose them, choosing to go to court rather than fulfill the electorate’s narrow vision of what America should look like: white, middle-class and Christian.

Soon a series of U.S. Supreme Court rulings could grant unrestrained power to Congress and the president over immigration control. More than 50 million people could be deported. Countless others might be barred from entering. Most of them would be poor, nonwhite and non-Christian.

This may sound like wild speculation about what is to come in President Donald Trump’s America. It is not. It is the history of U.S. immigration control, which is the focus of my work in the books “Migra! A History of the U.S. Border Patrol” and “City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles.”

Historically speaking, immigration control is one of the least constitutional and most racist realms of governance in U.S. law and life.

Made in the American West

The modern system of U.S. immigration control began in the 19th-century American West. Between the 1840s and 1880s, the United States government warred with indigenous peoples and Mexico to lay claim to the region. Droves of Anglo-American families soon followed, believing it was their Manifest Destiny to dominate land, law and life in the region.

But indigenous peoples never disappeared (see Standing Rock) and nonwhite migrants arrived (see the state of California). Chinese immigrants, in particular, arrived in large numbers during the 19th century. A travel writer who was popular at the time, Bayard Taylor, expressed the sentiment settlers felt toward Chinese immigrants in one of his books:

“The Chinese are, morally, the most debased people on the face of the earth… their touch is pollution… They should not be allowed to settle on our soil.”

When discriminatory laws and settler violence failed to expel them from the region, the settlers pounded Congress to develop a system of federal immigration control.

In response to their demands, Congress passed the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited Chinese laborers from entering the country for 10 years. The law focused on Chinese laborers, the single largest sector of the Chinese immigrant community. In 1884, Congress required all Chinese laborers admitted before the Exclusion Act was passed to secure a certificate of reentry if they wanted to leave and return. But, in 1888, Congress banned even those with certificates from reentering.

Illustration, ‘How John may dodge the exclusion act’ shows Uncle Sam’s boot kicking a Chinese immigrant off a dock. Library of Congress.

Illustration, ‘How John may dodge the exclusion act’ shows Uncle Sam’s boot kicking a Chinese immigrant off a dock. Library of Congress.

Then, when the Chinese Exclusion Act was set to expire in 1892, Congress passed the Geary Act, which again banned all Chinese laborers and required all Chinese immigrants to verify their lawful presence by registering with the federal government. The federal authorities were empowered by the law to find, imprison and deport all Chinese immigrants who failed to register by May 1893.

Together, these laws banned a nationally targeted population from entering the United States and invented the first system of mass deportation. Nothing quite like this had ever before been tried in the United States.

Chinese immigrants rebelled against the new laws. In 1888, a laborer named Chae Chan Ping was denied the right of return despite having a reentry certificate and was subsequently confined on a steamship. The Chinese immigrant community hired lawyers to fight his case. The lawyers argued the case up to the U.S. Supreme Court but lost when the court ruled that “the power of exclusion of foreigners [is an] incident of sovereignty belonging to the government of the United States” and “cannot be granted away or restrained on behalf of anyone.”

Simply put, Chae Chan Ping v. U.S. established that Congress and the president hold “absolute” and “unqualified” authority over immigrant entry and exclusion at U.S. borders.

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