Puzzling over how kids go wrong
I read "Incriminating Developments" (SN: 9/5/98, p. 153) with much interest. The article was quite good and the information in it very useful. I am concerned, however, about a quote attributed to me. What I believe is that qualitative analyses by themselves cannot easily capture the full richness of the development of people and their social worlds, and the analyses need to be supplemented by qualitative understanding in order to best inform scholars and policy makers about the complexity of human development.
Richard M. Lerner
Chestnut Hill, Mass.
As both psychologist Richters and William Shakespeare suggest, there is an extraordinarily complex interaction among personality, character, and experience. Madness, disease, and disturbances of brain function are parts of this mosaic, not its description.
My own field experience as a rather crazed postteen spending my days interviewing drug addicts incarcerated for rehabilitation by New York State reached rather similar conclusions. Kids predilection for junkiedom was directly correlated with their address, poverty, and the presence in their community of really addictive and feloniously illegal drugs.
Psychiatric diagnosis, and its refusal to seriously engage the social concomitants of individual behavior, is too often a way to confine people into a prison of categories and not an instrument for their liberation.
It is the evolution of our society that needs the psychiatric fix, not the individual child.
Our society is driven by money and violence. The acquisition of money supersedes moral standards. Violence is our entertainment. Certainly, growing up in this atmosphere, many kids never find a clear, guiding light. Our pretense of civility (while our leaders lust for power and money and our corporations run rampant over environment and individuals) is a daily reminder to our youth that anything goes here in America.
And we call our children troubled?
Scientists will not understand violent behavior in young people until they first understand that the human capacity for remorseless aggression derives from our ability to selectively suppress caring impulses such as compassion, helping, and sharing and be exclusively motivated by self-centeredness without regard for others. Our decision-making brains are wired to choose between self-concern (triggered by a feeling of insecurity) and other-concern (triggered by security)a conflict rooted in the evolution early in mammalian history of an alternative cooperative, gathering-and-sharing food strategy.
The failure of the childhood environment to engender a strong sense of security creates the need for the feeling of self-importance. Bullying and starting fires are symptomatic of the need for self-importance through power. The young are especially vulnerable because adolescence is a period of wide vacillation between self and otherthe stage in which we try each bias, testing our wings as independent decision makers. Their need for security can be intense.
Although every anecdote of violence in the article "Incriminating Developments" quite appropriately describes the actions of boys, the article makes no mention of the possible role of gender in juvenile violence. It is a wonder that so many learned professionals can apparently ignore the fact that about 90 percent or more of all violent conduct is the conduct of boys and men. If we ever hope to understand these terrifying events, we must first ground our inquiry in reality by asking about the roots of aggression and violence in boys.
Judith A. Ferry
Researchers have long noted the surplus of male violence, although the rate for females is now rising. B. Bower
More experts on experts
The sooner we figure out how experts make decisions, the better. Gary Klein, a psychologist, calls the experts process "naturalistic decision making" as opposed to whatever it is the rest of us rely on ("Seeing through Expert Eyes," SN: 7/18/98, p. 44). Patricia Benner, a nurse, proposed a similar concept about nurses decision making (From Novice to Expert, 1984, Addison-Wesley).
North Redington Beach, Fla.
A colleague and I were both surprised that you could write such a long article without mentioning case-based reasoning once.
It was developed primarily by Janet Kolodner at Georgia Tech about 10 years ago and has been the basis for a wide range of expert systems that have been used to recognize situations and apply and tailor solutions to them. There are several commercial systems based on the technology.
An area for future research along these lines would be areas like sports officiating. Sports officials first have to learn the laws of their respective games and then learn how to recognize situations and react appropriately. Usually, events happen far too quickly to be able to reason out whether a foul has occurred. Very often, judgment enters into decisions when it is necessary to gauge the impact of an action. The World Cup presented many of these opportunities recently.
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