Where behavioral science and humanism get out of the ivory tower, and into the world.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Bullies and their victims

Ohh, I love Science daily. It’s like reader’s digest for PsycInfo (I wish I still had access to that, anyone who hooks me up will get a plate of cookies!) …. Anyway… I really like the article they just covered on the correlations between skill sets and bully/victim behavior. Dr. Clayton Cook of LSU did a meta-study on 153 different studies that examined which traits, or lack there of, went a long being a bully or a victim with interesting results. It seems that the main commonalities are that both groups have poor social-problem resolution skills, perform poorly in school, experience social isolation, have negative views of themselves and others, and possibly have challenging homes lives.

A lot of this may fall into a “chicken or the egg” question, but it I think it highlights very important information in how to handle it. Like most American “corrections” policy, a lot of anti-bullying policy focuses on chastisement and isolation of the perpetrator. Nietzsche would probably argue that this mostly does little more than let the victims feel a little schadenfreude (I think spreading activation theory clicked my brain over into German mode…). Instead of suspending a person, which would further isolate them and probably cause more challenges for them in school, wouldn’t it make more sense to view behaviors on both ends as an expression of need? Working on academic and social skill building, hopefully early on, would probably do much for everyone involved. Maybe I’ve read too much Buddhism, but it really does seem that all human cruelty springs from a lacking or pain in one form or another. Solving that seems to me to be the best way to end the cruelties.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

They might really not understand…

New research by Dr. Dabrowska and James Street summarized by Science Daily sheds interesting light on parts of communication that was until now, seemingly taken for granted.

A lot of linguistic theory assumes that people are hardwired for language (which does seem to have merit) but, Chomsky, and many of his followers argue that there is “fundamental grammar” that all people understand language parts in the same way.  There’s been some controversial indications that this might not be true such as the book “Don’t sleep there are snakes” where a missionary to the amazon says he worked with a tribe that doesn’t use recursive language. Which basically means that their language doesn’t allow for sentences that would have two commas in them. Recursion is/was assumed to a part of all human language.

The new research shows that many native adult English speakers may not understand “passive” sentence construction ie. “The soldier was hit by the sailor.” As opposed to “active” sentence construction, “The sailor hit the soldier.” Understanding passive sentences was another aspect of language that was assumed to be a universal. These contrary findings have many implications.

The one that jumps out to me is that co-workers, children, parents and really anyone else you might speak with literally may not understand you, or get the opposite meaning out of your words. Maybe those people who seem to actively contradict others are really trying to please. At the core of this frustrating behavior may actually be the result of incomplete language processing.

It’s simply to get around though, and is used throughout the mental health world. Repeating back the speakers statements in one’s own words allows for corrections to be made, and ensures that both parties are understood.

I still wonder though how many times I’ve been mad at people thinking they want to frustrate me when all it was, was a break down in communication.