Thursday, April 19, 2012

genetic roots of civilization? partial explanation of why civilization is not found equally across different "cultures"?

Vanderbilt | The codification of social norms into laws and the institutionalization of third-party punishment “is arguably one of the most important developments in human culture,” the paper states.

According to the researchers’ model, which is based on the latest behavioral, cognitive and neuro-scientific data, third-party punishment grew out of second-party punishment and is implemented by a collection of cognitive processes that evolved to serve other functions but were co-opted to make third-party punishment possible.

In the modern criminal justice system, judges and jury members – impartial third-party decision-makers – are tasked to evaluate the severity of a criminal act, the mental state of the accused and the amount of harm done, and then integrate these evaluations with the applicable legal codes and select the most appropriate punishment from available options. Based on recent brain mapping studies, Buckholtz and Marois propose a cascade of brain events that take place to support the cognitive processes involved in third-party punishment decision-making. Specifically, they have localized these processes to five distinct areas in the brain – two in the frontal cortex, which is involved in higher mental functions; the amygdala deep in the brain that is associated with emotional responses; and two areas in the back of the brain that are involved in social evaluation and response selection.

According to Buckholtz and Marois’ model, punishment decisions are preceded by the evaluation of the actions and mental intentions of the criminal defendant in a social evaluation network comprised of the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) and the temporo-parietal junction (TPJ).

While it is often assumed that legal decision-making is purely based on rational thinking, research suggests that much of the motivation for punishing is driven by negative emotional responses to the harm. This signal appears to be generated in the amygdala, causing people to factor in their emotional state when making decisions instead of making solely factual judgments.

Next, the decision-maker must integrate his or her evaluation of the norm-violator’s mental state and the amount of harm with the specific set of punishment options. The researchers propose that the medial prefrontal cortex, which is centrally located and has connections to all the other key areas, acts as a hub that brings all this information together and passes it to the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), where the final decision is made with the input from another rear-brain area called the intraparietal sulcus, involved in selecting the appropriate punishment response. As such, the DLPFC may be at the apex of the neural hierarchy involved in deciding on the appropriate punishments that should be given to specific norm violations.

The current model focuses on the role of punishment in encouraging large-scale human cooperation, but the researchers recognize that reward and positive reinforcement are also powerful psychological forces that encourage both short-term and long-term cooperation.

Marois adds: “It is somewhat ironic that while punishment, or the threat of punishment, is thought to play a foundational role in the evolution of our large-scale societies, much research in developmental psychology demonstrates the immense power of positive reinforcement in shaping a young individual’s behavior.” Understanding how both reward and punishment work should therefore provide fundamental insights into the nature of human cooperative behavior. “The ultimate ‘pot of gold at the end of the rainbow’ here is to promote a criminal justice system that is not only fairer, but also less necessary,” said Marois.

This work is the latest contribution of Vanderbilt researchers to the newly emerging field of neurolaw and was supported by the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Law and Neuroscience, directed by Owen Jones, New York Alumni Chancellor’s Chair in Law and professor of biological sciences at Vanderbilt.

16 comments:

CNu said...

Disclaimer: This topic and its title is a straight pass through from Big Don. I've covered this specific topic fairly extensively over the past few years - but never once has it occurred to me to bluntly assert genetic roots of civilization though I have referred to it as an "evolutionary" or an "evolutionarily stable strategy". I think we have a clear cut illustration of what one of yesterday's posts addressed http://subrealism.blogspot.com/2012/04/political-divides-begin-in-brain.html

Here are some of the posts I've made on this topic - they unquestionably follow a quite specific explanatory arc having to do with magical/right-cortical/pre-verbal "thinking".
http://subrealism.blogspot.com/2011/12/war-increases-prosocial-punishments-and.html
http://subrealism.blogspot.com/2011/09/stratification-and-supernatural.html
http://subrealism.blogspot.com/2011/09/why-god-is-best-punisher.html
http://subrealism.blogspot.com/2011/07/evolutionary-roots-of-fairness.html
http://subrealism.blogspot.com/2008/10/evolutionary-roots-of-base.html

Dale Asberry said...

Do you mean left-cortical? According to that recent anosognosia video, the right side detects and fixes the magical thinking, when it's working....

CNu said...

Nothing is ever as simple as the "for discussion's sake" version. Under the bicameral mind model, the left hemisphere is the locus of egoic language - though of course it's believed that there was a poetic/musical precursor Ur-language function, the voice of the gods, that emanated from the right hemisphere.  Dispersion of functions, camerality, handedness, and a host of other factors of course all conspire to screw this model up, or at the very least, present you with so many exceptions that you may question the sensibility of the rule, but I still use it as a convenient go-by.

The "houses" or cameral loci of logic, language, and values are supposed to balance one another out. Cultures vary by the extent to which the respective "houses" are emphasized and sustained ENCULCATED  -and that's what this is really all about. Some cultures very strongly emphasize educating the mind, while others more strongly emphasize training the behind, and yet others, and so on..., because these are cultural expressions, and because there are so many exceptions to the biological rules, it never really occurred to me to reduce the whole matter to a
"genetic" basis.

Big Don, as is his wont, simplifies this whole thing down to "genetic race determines culture" in keeping with his deeply held conviction and political orientation that homo sapiens has speciated along the lines of skin color.

Big Don said...

Re-Claimer:  As we saw in PRR 2 days ago, one gene change has a significant identifiable affect on brain wiring and performance.  That study has now received widespread exposure in mainstream media venues.  With today's revelations (the subject post), it is no stretch to consider that identifiable groups with identifiable different levels of civilization, will likely have unique identifiable differences in genetics.  Look for these elements when the Unified Genetic Theory of Cognition/Behavior is fully established. 

And view that neurology professor's anosognosia video again if you find *Denial-of-the-Obvious* getting you down...

Dale Asberry said...

Donnie, go read the research, not the news stories. The genetic effect is minimal. I repeat, it is a minor factor barely discernible above statistical noise.

And lolololol to YOU callin' out anosognosia... lololololol. Go back to your huffin' and puffin' with those dirty magazines of yours...

CNu said...

if you find *Denial-of-the-Obvious* getting you down...

lol, stop playing.

I almost hate to have to break this to you so bluntly, but my feelings of self-worth aren't tied to obsessive cheerleading for melanin - yours OTOH - seem pretty deeply bound up with representing for albinism, jes sayyin...,

Look for these elements when the Unified Genetic Theory of Cognition/Behavior is fully established.

I've spent years now teaching my children what to look for http://subrealism.blogspot.com/2012/02/secret-people.html - the lesson hasn't quite registered in your old brain-pan yet....,

Big Don said...

You still tellin' 'em it's bacteria rather than genes...??  From all the hysterical squealing and gnashing of teeth, BD would say there be some serious nervousness in these parts...

CNu said...

There is "weeping and gnashing of teeth" - and - "squealing like a little pig caught under a gate". 

Try and keep it simple.

Rest assured you remain a prized exhibit in my collection of curiosities.

Why, without my recommended daily allowance of BD-filtered PRR, and your "naked" commentary - my syllabus would be painfully incomplete. We deeply appreciate all that you do for us!

Tom said...


his deeply held conviction and political orientation that homo sapiens has speciated along the lines of skin color.


Personally I really don't care as much about people who are unintelligent.   I do believe that genes influence the raw potential for intelligence.  I wonder if we could skip the discussion & go ahead and speciate now, on that basis.   (Kobo Abe's Inter Ice Age 4 maybe rears its head again.)

My major qualm here is whether we end up as eloi or morlock.  I wouldn't want to have to eat BD.

CNu said...

Sooooo close - and I'm very very glad you said it. Problem is, simple intelligence is not the evolutionary grail that the HBD folk would have you believe it to be. Matter fact, the stuff for which their are scholastic measurements, the stuff (functions) which BD and his HBD sect fervently believes there is a purely genetic (rather than epigenetic and microbiomic component) is actually part and parcel of an evolutionary blind alley not exclusive to, but peculiarly strongly expressed in Europeans.

My friend Alan Carter did a great job trying to describe certain aspects, a subset if you will of the real evolutionary grail - and he took pains to assure folk who saw themselves mirrored in his framework that what he was describing should not under any circumstance be construed as a "racist hypothesis".

Big Don said...

LOL!! Could we negotiate for a slice of the positive impact BD has on this site's advertising revenue...??

Say, where's Nana these days?  Y'all have a falling out?

CNu said...

lol, it's one thing when you're a guest in my "house" and my children are observers of a role they're expected to model.

In this context, I'm obliged to uphold a certain level of dignity and restraint.

It's a completely different matter if you roll up on me in the "street" showing out and preaching nonsense. 

Outside my "house", foolishness tends to be met with far less restraint...,  so much less, you may not want to be a visitor or guest in my house again.

Tom said...


is actually part and parcel of an evolutionary blind alley


Can you be more specific?

CNu said...

Long before Julian Jaynes rocked the world with his description of the breakdown of the bicameral mind, Lancelot Law Whyte had spelled out something very similar at great length in The Next Development in ManIf we look at the present state of the world we see where thought has
led us. Now it’s time to change. Thought and spontaneity can exist
together. Whyte states, “In the European dissociation reason and
instinct are at war. The existence of this conflict, not the dominance
of either tendency, is the mark of the European dissociation.” (The Next
Development in Man p 45)

Tom said...

Interesting.  That conflict has been a big roadblock for me on and off in my life.   

The French word to lie, mentir, has always put me in mind of a problem, since I learned it in jr high.  I'm sure this isn't the, whatever, etymology, but it puts me in mind of, if you have thought it out, you're already lying.

CNu said...

Lying is a very hard word for it Tom, but useful.

I think the endgame is reached when you can use the thinker/talker/knower to load the instinctual/inductive doer, and when what the the knower knows is sublimated into the doer completely, then mastery has been achieved. (I have more to say about this later)