Preventing Antisocial Personality Disorder

Utilitarianism, prioritarianism and other varieties of consequentialism.
User avatar
Brian Tomasik
Posts: 1107
Joined: Tue Oct 28, 2008 3:10 am
Location: USA
Contact:

Preventing Antisocial Personality Disorder

Post by Brian Tomasik » Sun Oct 09, 2011 1:45 pm

Philosophy Bites has a fascinating interview with Jonathan Glover discussing his interviews with psychopathic patients.

An interesting feature of these people was that they didn't lack knowledge of ethics entirely -- for instance, they held that swearing, bullying, and damaging royal property were bad -- but they didn't have a sense of why these were bad, nor that bullying was worse than swearing because it hurt others. In general, the patients respected the authority of the Queen, the police, and the military, but they had no particular empathy toward suffering. They also believed that retribution was good.

This reminds me of bad strains of religious fundamentalism: Submission to authority (god), unconcern for the suffering of others, and support for punishment. Another connection is that the psychopaths almost uniformly were abused as children, and abuse occurs at higher-than-average rates in fundamentalist homes.

Addressing the issue could have value beyond the immediately visible benefits to society and to the patients themselves. I guess preventing abusive childhoods is one partial solution. Are there others?

User avatar
Brian Tomasik
Posts: 1107
Joined: Tue Oct 28, 2008 3:10 am
Location: USA
Contact:

Re: Preventing Antisocial Personality Disorder

Post by Brian Tomasik » Sun Oct 09, 2011 4:27 pm

Below are some sobering selections from one PsychForums discussion. Despite being alarmed by the participants, my heart goes out to them. I'm sure they suffer a lot in their own lives as well.
I have a secret phobia of water so I've fantasized about drowning people, or at least killing people and then disposing of their bodies in bodies of water such as lakes or ponds. There is something very disturbing about a body in water for me. My conscience does not kick in thinking about a little girl drowning but I can see why it would for you crystal. It would gross if I ever found a little dead girl floating in water but it would also fascinate me.

I have another instance where I realized I enjoyed the suffering of others, killing fish when I was a little kid, torturing them to death with hooks, knives, and fire was fun for me. I never treated my pets like that but wild animals were fair game. Also in elementary school I kicked one of my best friends in the crotch and I thought it was hilarious the way he dropped to the ground so quickly and almost threw up. I was ecstatically amused by that, I'm surprised he forgave me.

[...]

You know what, I actually used to torture my babysitter's cats. And in elementary school I kicked this older person I was bullying so hard in the balls he had to go to hospital

[...]

I have a new neighbor right now who is now on the verge of being fired from her job because of me I also trapped and re-homed her cat, she started harassing me within 30 minutes of their moving truck pulling up so she had it coming. Must feed the beast to keep it full and content reducing the risk of it attacking unprovoked.

[...]

You're entitled to your opinions and questions; but don't come into a safe zone for us to look at these things without judgement and condemnment, [...] because you'll just make the creatures in this forum very aggressive :twisted: you're kinda new here, which makes you fresh meat for the beasts- so... do you really wanna start off like this???

:D This is gonna be FUN!!!! !! :twisted:

User avatar
Brian Tomasik
Posts: 1107
Joined: Tue Oct 28, 2008 3:10 am
Location: USA
Contact:

Re: Preventing Antisocial Personality Disorder

Post by Brian Tomasik » Sun Oct 16, 2011 5:01 am

Jesper pointed me to a paper written by a friend of his, which I've uploaded to my website to make it available: "Moderate bioconservatism and moral enhancement."

From our conversation:
Jesper: Re your felicifia-post on psychopaths, my friend Karim is working on papers about reducing risk through moral enhancement by embryonic screening of psychopath genes. I haven't read the paper below but thinks he discusses it there. It just struck my that such a policy would be even more important from your perspective, given the correctness of the assumption that psychopaths will be far more likely to create suffering sims.

Alan: Thanks! [...] It brings to mind this article, which I found via Dave Pearce. Reducing existential risk exclusively through the means of enhancing [utilitarian-inclined] empathy might be something I could get behind. :)

User avatar
Gee Joe
Posts: 93
Joined: Tue Feb 09, 2010 4:44 am
Location: Spain. E-mail: michael_retriever at yahoo.es
Contact:

Re: Preventing Antisocial Personality Disorder

Post by Gee Joe » Sun Oct 16, 2011 11:09 am

"To illustrate his point, at a recent appearance at TED Edinburgh, Zak spritzed the backstage staff with oxytocin, prompting a spontaneous outbreak of group hugging."

Oh My God. This is worse than a furry convention. That makes me feel totally awkward, spontaneous group hug between strangers induced by a hormone. Awesomely creepy!

User avatar
Gedusa
Posts: 110
Joined: Thu Sep 23, 2010 8:50 pm
Location: UK

Re: Preventing Antisocial Personality Disorder

Post by Gedusa » Wed Nov 02, 2011 7:49 pm

Thanks Alan! You once again sent me to one of the worst places on the Internet :0

But seriously. I vaguely remember seeing something saying this sort thing might be genetic (partially). Technically, the "abusive childhood" hypothesis isn't the only one that fits the data. Genes could make sure psychopathic parents had psychopathic kids - which they beat for the fun of it. Selecting against psychopaths seems best.

Yes! Moral enhancement is an excellent idea, and one I could certainly get behind. I shall be certain to read the paper.
World domination is such an ugly phrase. I prefer to call it world optimization

User avatar
Hedonic Treader
Posts: 328
Joined: Sun Apr 17, 2011 11:06 am

Re: Preventing Antisocial Personality Disorder

Post by Hedonic Treader » Fri Jan 27, 2012 12:13 am

Stanford's Robert Sapolsky on the neuroscience of aggression, impulse-control, empathy and morality:

Part 1 (forward to 52:18): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPYmarGO5jM
Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wLE71i4JJiM
Part 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EtVfoIkVSu8
Part 4: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BqP4_4kr7-0
"The abolishment of pain in surgery is a chimera. It is absurd to go on seeking it... Knife and pain are two words in surgery that must forever be associated in the consciousness of the patient."

- Dr. Alfred Velpeau (1839), French surgeon

User avatar
Brian Tomasik
Posts: 1107
Joined: Tue Oct 28, 2008 3:10 am
Location: USA
Contact:

Re: Preventing Antisocial Personality Disorder

Post by Brian Tomasik » Sat Jan 28, 2012 5:48 pm

Thanks, HT! Is it just coincidence that I started watching Robert Sapolsky videos on YouTube recently as well?

I also like his book chapter, "Circling the Blanket for God," on religion and OCD.

User avatar
Hedonic Treader
Posts: 328
Joined: Sun Apr 17, 2011 11:06 am

Re: Preventing Antisocial Personality Disorder

Post by Hedonic Treader » Sun Jan 29, 2012 6:40 pm

I think it's a coincidence. I searched for generally interesting lecture series online and found his to be very worthwhile. Before that, I had only seen one of his talks via TED (about how humans are different from other primates).

He makes an interesting point about sociopaths in the Aggression III video at 41:45, claiming that they (or some of them?) have a high threshold for pain experience, resulting in reduced empathy. If this is indeed a linear correlation that cannot be easily broken apart, then any enhancement to reduce pain in humans could reduce empathy as well, and any enhancement in empathy could increase pain sensitivity. Certainly not a welcome side-effect. Ideally, what you want is empathetic rational humans who suffer only rarely or not intensely.
"The abolishment of pain in surgery is a chimera. It is absurd to go on seeking it... Knife and pain are two words in surgery that must forever be associated in the consciousness of the patient."

- Dr. Alfred Velpeau (1839), French surgeon

User avatar
Brian Tomasik
Posts: 1107
Joined: Tue Oct 28, 2008 3:10 am
Location: USA
Contact:

Re: Preventing Antisocial Personality Disorder

Post by Brian Tomasik » Sun Jan 29, 2012 11:16 pm

Hedonic Treader wrote:claiming that they (or some of them?) have a high threshold for pain experience, resulting in reduced empathy. If this is indeed a linear correlation that cannot be easily broken apart, then any enhancement to reduce pain in humans could reduce empathy as well, and any enhancement in empathy could increase pain sensitivity.
Fascinating. Sounds rather plausible.

Here's a copy of a post I wrote on the Old Felicifia. I extracted the text from the archive of old diaries that Seth Baum gave me.
Less Suffering, Less Empathy?
by: Brian Tomasik
Wed Nov 07, 2007 at 17:45:43 PM UTC

From personal experience I know that I tend to care most about the suffering of others after experiencing painful events myself. When I go for long periods of time without feeling much pain, my motivations can drift away from suffering toward other concerns (including non-utilitarian ones). I'm often less concerned about making sure that my actions strictly maximize expected value when I'm in a euthymic state.

As human lives become increasingly comfortable, and as--perhaps--society becomes more accepting of mood-enhancing drugs, is there a danger that people will generally become less concerned about the suffering of those who still endure significant amounts of pain (most notably wild animals and, possibly, insects)?

Are there studies (or anecdotal accounts) of whether people become more empathetic after painful experiences? Is the correlation between empathy and euthymia positive or negative? Perhaps one could argue that, even if depressed people are more concerned about the suffering of others, non-depressed people are more likely to actually do something about it? [Cf. the saying, "Pessimists are more accurate, but optimists get more done."]

A related concern is whether improvements in mood would cause people to become less rational regarding factual beliefs. The evidence on depressive realism is mixed, and even if true, the finding relates mainly to beliefs about one's own abilities. Moreover, correlation doesn't prove causation--who wouldn't become more depressed as a result of accurately viewing the world? :) Still, it seems plausible that people in good moods will be more prone to optimism bias, valence effects, and wishful thinking. This is obviously of concern regarding how good we think the post-human future will be, as well as other areas.
At least two of my animal-activist friends said they have experienced intense physical pain in their lives, and I think this has contributed to where they are today. I, too, had significant physical pain for several years. When I was 15, I developed -- for some reason that still remains unknown -- a condition called esophagitis. When I ate, I felt immediately full and nauseous, although I never actually vomited. For 2-3 hours after eating, in fact, the pain was so bad that I paced around my room, squeezing my chair, and waiting for the feeling to subside.

After a few episodes of this, I learned not to eat at all. I managed to eat one oyster cracker or spoonful of cereal every hour throughout the day, but that was all I could stomach; even drinking more than a few sips of water was painful. This continued for ~2-3 months. I had lost an ordinary sense of hunger, but I was weak and unable to do much of anything besides reading or watching TV.

Eventually my gastroenterologist identified my esophagitis via endoscopy and prescribed Nexium. This helped a lot, and eventually I returned to being able to eat small amounts. However, esophageal irritation continued after meals for 4-5 years afterward, although it was worst the first 1-2 years following my initial recovery. I dreaded car trips, because they were typically hours on end of waiting, waiting, waiting for the agony to stop.

In the last ~4 years, esophageal irritation has gone away completely. My life is currently as pain-free as ever, and I'm as happy as I can ever remember being. Yet my empathy has not waned (I don't think). This is a hopeful partial reply to the hypothesis of an inherent pain-empathy link. One reason that I still care even though I'm not in pain may be that I'm so wrapped up in projects like Felicifia and working with animal activists on a regular basis. Doing things to help others doesn't require special effort; it's just a part of life that I take for granted. Perhaps pain-inspired empathy would be more important if this kind of work required a big shift in my life plans.

User avatar
Hedonic Treader
Posts: 328
Joined: Sun Apr 17, 2011 11:06 am

Re: Preventing Antisocial Personality Disorder

Post by Hedonic Treader » Mon Jan 30, 2012 8:52 pm

Alan Dawrst wrote:One reason that I still care even though I'm not in pain may be that I'm so wrapped up in projects like Felicifia and working with animal activists on a regular basis. Doing things to help others doesn't require special effort; it's just a part of life that I take for granted.
Yes, habituation effects are very probably a real factor; the question then becomes how to habituate people to do efficient things rather than symbolic things, countering scope insensitivity etc. And of course, the original motivation to habituate has to bootstrap somehow. I also agree that being overly depressed isn't helpful to get things done.

Sorry to hear about your suffering earlier in life.
"The abolishment of pain in surgery is a chimera. It is absurd to go on seeking it... Knife and pain are two words in surgery that must forever be associated in the consciousness of the patient."

- Dr. Alfred Velpeau (1839), French surgeon

User avatar
Brian Tomasik
Posts: 1107
Joined: Tue Oct 28, 2008 3:10 am
Location: USA
Contact:

Re: Preventing Antisocial Personality Disorder

Post by Brian Tomasik » Tue Jan 31, 2012 6:09 pm

Hedonic Treader wrote:Sorry to hear about your suffering earlier in life.
The physical suffering was probably worse than what 80-90% of my peers in school had ever gone through up to that point in their lives. Now that fraction is probably lower (maybe 70%?). For example, I'm guessing childbirth would be worse than anything I've ever experienced.

Extending worldwide, the percentage who have experienced less physical pain than I have might be medium-to-low. And extending animal-kingdom-wide, maybe even lower.

Plus, I was fortunate that the pain of esophagitis was only physical. During those worst years, I was never depressed on account of it.

User avatar
Brian Tomasik
Posts: 1107
Joined: Tue Oct 28, 2008 3:10 am
Location: USA
Contact:

Re: Preventing Antisocial Personality Disorder

Post by Brian Tomasik » Thu Feb 16, 2012 6:31 am

Another related quote from a different Sapolsky video.
And, very interestingly, this part of the brain [for feeling pain and empathy] is hyperactive in people with major clinical depression, people who are pathologically feeling the pains of everything. And fascinatingly, there's a neurotransmitter called substance P, and substance P has a whole lot to do with anterior cingulate function, and it's got something to do with pain pathways, and everybody's know this for centuries, and there are drugs which will block the action of substance P, and they often have antidepressant action.
The whole 12 minutes and 33 seconds of the video are great, by the way. :)

User avatar
Daniel Dorado
Posts: 105
Joined: Fri Dec 25, 2009 8:35 pm
Location: Madrid (Spain)

Re: Preventing Antisocial Personality Disorder

Post by Daniel Dorado » Thu Feb 16, 2012 3:25 pm

I broke my leg when I was around 10. I can't remember the physical pain, but I can remember that I suffered it in the accident and rehabilitation. But I don't think that experience hasn't influenced my interest in avoid animal suffering.

On the other hand, most of the animal advocates that I know suffered mild or extreme emotional pain when they were young. I know at least three vegans or vegetarians who were raped before they changed their eating habits. I think it's very likely a relationship between emotional pain and an interest in avoid animal or human suffering.

Pat
Posts: 111
Joined: Sun Jan 16, 2011 10:12 pm
Location: Bethel, Alaska

Re: Preventing Antisocial Personality Disorder

Post by Pat » Fri Mar 02, 2012 7:58 am

That people who suffer more are more empathetic is an interesting hypothesis. It would be pretty easy to match a few dozen people with chronic pain to a few dozen controls and give them a personality test. I guess this hasn't been done, though.

I have a form of arthritis called ankylosing spondylitis. It caused pain and stiffness in my hips and back for several years. Now I'm on a medication and have virtually zero pain. It might have been edifying to have some days with a negative hedonic balance. Perhaps primed me to believe that, e.g., the prancing deer and smiling dolphins might not be so happy after all. You can remind yourself that there's a lot of suffering in the world by watching videos of it, but that's voluntary and aversive, so you're not likely to do it. Having pain yourself is more visceral, and you can't look away.

The most motivated civil-rights activists were black, and the most motivated women's-rights activists were women, so maybe experiencing something bad yourself motivates you to fix it. Of course, the demographic makeup of civil- and women's-rights activists could be explained equally well by self-interest. Honestly, I have no idea whether my condition had any effect on my ethical beliefs or actions.

User avatar
Brian Tomasik
Posts: 1107
Joined: Tue Oct 28, 2008 3:10 am
Location: USA
Contact:

Re: Preventing Antisocial Personality Disorder

Post by Brian Tomasik » Sat Mar 03, 2012 9:43 pm

Thanks, Pat!
Pat wrote: Perhaps primed me to believe that, e.g., the prancing deer and smiling dolphins might not be so happy after all.
Yes. We project our emotional states onto those we see. This is part of the reason I worry that we well-fed, safe, healthy humans in comfortable temperature-controlled houses under-appreciate the amount of suffering in the wild. (The other main reason being that most animals have short lifespans and are more r-selected than humans.)
Pat wrote: You can remind yourself that there's a lot of suffering in the world by watching videos of it, but that's voluntary and aversive, so you're not likely to do it.
Moreover, because we project our past/present emotions onto what we see, we might not realize how bad the things in the video really are. I remember being a young kid -- before I had experienced much pain that I could remember -- watching a video of people being decapitated, and I thought nothing of it. It wasn't much different watching the head fall off the body than watching a rock fall off a cliff. Similarly, I used to watch tons of nature shows (like ~1-2 hours per week for several years) but never thought about the agony endured by the prey. I just enjoyed the excitement of the chase, as though I was watching a video game.
Pat wrote: Of course, the demographic makeup of civil- and women's-rights activists could be explained equally well by self-interest.
Well, not personal self-interest. The effort and risk required to participate in those movements was high, while the expected benefits of an individual's contribution at the margin was minuscule. It could have been in the self-interest of the group as a whole, though. :)

In general, any political participation is almost never in one's individual self-interest.

User avatar
Brian Tomasik
Posts: 1107
Joined: Tue Oct 28, 2008 3:10 am
Location: USA
Contact:

Re: Preventing Antisocial Personality Disorder

Post by Brian Tomasik » Sun Mar 25, 2012 7:05 am

A post on Robert Wiblin's blog pointed to a fascinating paper by Bryan Caplan: "The Totalitarian Threat." Below are some quotes from the paper that I found worth sharing.
The connection between totalitarian goals and totalitarian methods is straightforward. People do not want to radically change their behavior. To make them change anyway requires credible threats of harsh punishment – and the main way to make such threats credible is to carry them out on a massive scale. (p. 1)
But despite historians' focus on Russia and Germany, Maoist China was actually responsible for more civilian killings than the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany put together. Modern estimates put its death toll at 65 million. (Margolin 1999a) The West is primarily familiar with the cruelties inflicted on Chinese intellectuals and Party members during the Cultural Revolution, but its death toll was probably under 1 million. The greatest of Mao's atrocities was the Great Leap Forward, which claimed 30 million lives through man-made starvation. (Becker 1996) (p. 3)
For goals that can be achieved by brute force or mobilizing resources, totalitarian methods have proven highly effective. For example, Stalin was able to develop nuclear weapons with amazing speed simply by making this the overarching priority of the Soviet economy. (Holloway 1994) (p. 4)
It is tempting for Westerners to argue that the Soviet Union and Maoist China changed course because their systems proved unworkable, but this is fundamentally incorrect. These systems were most stable when their performance was worst. Communist rule was very secure when Stalin and Mao were starving millions to death. Conditions were comparatively good when reforms began. Totalitarianism ended not because totalitarian policies were unaffordable, but because new leaders were unwilling to keep paying the price in lives and wealth. (p. 7)
Totalitarianism would be much more stable if there were no non-totalitarian world. The worse-case scenario for human freedom would be a global totalitarian state. Without an outside world for comparison, totalitarian elites would have no direct evidence that any better way of life was on the menu. It would no longer be possible to borrow new ideas from the non-totalitarian world, but it would also no longer be necessary. The global government could economically and scientifically stagnate without falling behind. (p. 9)
Maybe scientific stagnation wouldn't be so bad on balance, if it would prevent a Singularity and attendant explosion of computational power that could be used to create orders of magnitude more suffering. However, if the totalitarian state eventually did develop AGI, the situation would get very dire. :(

In Orwell's 1984, one of the few scientific questions still being researched is "how to discover, against his will, what another human being is thinking." (1983: 159) Advances in brain research and related fields have the potential to do just this. Brain scans, for example, might one day be used to screen closet skeptics out of the party. Alternately, the new and improved psychiatric drugs of the future might increase docility without noticeably reducing productivity. (pp. 11-12)
At the same time, it should be acknowledged that some of these technologies might lead totalitarianism to be less violent than it was historically. Suppose psychiatric drugs or genetic engineering created a docile, homogeneous population. Totalitarian ambitions could then be realized without extreme brutality, because people would want to do what their government asked – a possibility explored at length in the dystopian novel Brave New World. (Huxley 1996) (p. 13)
This is a comforting thought. :)

How seriously do I take the possibility that a world totalitarian government will emerge during the next one thousand years and last for a thousand years or more? Despite the complexity and guesswork inherent in answering this question, I will hazard a response. My unconditional probability – i.e., the probability I assign given all the information I now have - is 5%. (p. 20)
(pp. 20-21) Finally, it is tempting to minimize the harm of a social disaster like totalitarianism, because it would probably not lead to human extinction. Even in Cambodia, the totalitarian regime with the highest death rate per-capita, 75% of the population remained alive after three years of rule by the Khmer Rouge. (Margolin 1999b) But perhaps an eternity of totalitarianism would be worse than extinction. It is hard to read Orwell and not to wonder:
Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating? It is the exact opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined. A world of fear and treachery and torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon, a world which will grow not less but more merciless as it refines itself. Progress in our world will be progress towards more pain. (1983: 220)

Akeron
Posts: 12
Joined: Sat Nov 26, 2011 8:26 pm

Re: Preventing Antisocial Personality Disorder

Post by Akeron » Thu Mar 29, 2012 8:58 pm

No offense, but I don't see this thread hitting the nail anywhere close to square on the head.

Psychopathy is not just about emotions. It's also possible for people to be emotionally different, but not anti-social. The problem is when people let their emotions get out of control by believing it's OK to force others to endure them.

The thread also only looks at extreme examples of psychopathy, and society gets away with this tremendously. It tolerates bullying, mocking, and teasing, labeling the victim as psychopathic when acting out after provoked.

The real problem in such an instance is the victim is being tortured by psychopaths, but because psychopaths aren't acting out strongly enough, society doesn't care. It only cares about the provoked victim retaliating, especially when the victim can't communicate why things happened because of intimidation.

It's with no surprise that psychopaths approve of retribution. Their goal is to get people in trouble, and they want the excuse to harm others when affected.

This is one of the reasons I can't embrace utilitarianism at all. A utilitarian solution to the above would involve institutionalizing victims, not psychopaths.

Akeron
Posts: 12
Joined: Sat Nov 26, 2011 8:26 pm

Re: Preventing Antisocial Personality Disorder

Post by Akeron » Thu Mar 29, 2012 9:06 pm

Also with regards to China, Maoism isn't the first time this happened.

Over 2,000 years before Maoism, there was another ideology called legalism, and it was concocted by a victim of psychopathy just as I described above. Han Fei was sick and tired of corruption, so he designed a system of harsh punishment meant to PREVENT psychopaths from achieving power through secrecy.

The system immensely backfired, and for centuries, China was locked in civil war among dynasties competing for the mandate of heaven.

User avatar
Brian Tomasik
Posts: 1107
Joined: Tue Oct 28, 2008 3:10 am
Location: USA
Contact:

Re: Preventing Antisocial Personality Disorder

Post by Brian Tomasik » Fri Mar 30, 2012 4:10 am

Thanks, Akeron. Alas, I'm afraid I don't understand your first reply. Perhaps an example would help illustrate what you mean? What types of people are victims? Surely society cares about violence against victims at least when those victims have high socioeconomic status?

Akeron
Posts: 12
Joined: Sat Nov 26, 2011 8:26 pm

Re: Preventing Antisocial Personality Disorder

Post by Akeron » Fri Mar 30, 2012 2:36 pm

Alan Dawrst wrote:Thanks, Akeron. Alas, I'm afraid I don't understand your first reply. Perhaps an example would help illustrate what you mean? What types of people are victims? Surely society cares about violence against victims at least when those victims have high socioeconomic status?
Are you saying elite psychopaths should be able to abuse the populace at will?

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 0 guests