Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Interesting Information on Punishment

[Note: This is the Second post I've made today.]
I'm reading a book called Treatment of Behavior Problems in Dogs and Cats. What it's about is evident from the title. The author has the annoying habit of assuming that the animal behaviorist is always right when they and the owner disagree, and says people would be more likely to get rid of a cat whose marking is damaging their rugs than the rugs themselves (whereas I'd much rather have a marking cat and hard floors than get rid of my cat), but I really like his section on punishment.
One of the things he says is:
"Laboratory experiments and everyday experience indicate that the most likely effect of punishment is to produce only a temporary suppression of behavior. Behaviors which have been apparently eliminated with punishment methods alone tend to recur again and again in the future... Under special circumstances, punishment can sometimes be successful in producing long-term suppression of behavior. But here the punishment must be of traumatic or near-traumatic intensity, which makes it undesirable on both ethical and practical (i.e. side effects) grounds."
I wish the Judge Rotenberg Center would read and understand this. If they claim it's not traumatic to zap people for misbehaving, therefore it has only a temporary effect. If it is effective long-term, then they must be traumatising them. Incidentally, some people, like myself, tend to react to some punishments by consciously trying increase the behavior, and when that occurs, only traumatic punishments have even a short-term effect, and often only very severe ones (for example, I think I would comply if I was threatened with death for disobeying). The punishments school threatened me with were traumatic but not severe enough to stop the behavior I was desperately clinging to. I felt like if I let them win, I'd lose my self, and those are pretty high stakes.
Another thing he says is:

Punishment can have the side effect of eliciting aggressive behavior if it is painful, elicits fear in a fear-aggressive dog, or is seen as a status-threatening challenge by a dominant aggressive dog.

The shocks used by the Judge Rotenberg Center are painful. No wonder aggressive behaviors tend to be more common after a child is zapped. (For example, Linda Cornelison was apparently only aggressive when she was shocked.)

As a side note, here's something he said about medications:

Hart and Cooper (1996)[*] raise the more basic question of whether it is ethically justifiable to administer a psychoactive drug to an animal without altering the underlying factors which are causing the problem - above all in cases where the symptoms tend to recur after discontinuation of the drug and, therefore, it might be necessary to administer the drug to the animal indefinately.

I wish my school had a) read this, and b) recognized how much they were causing my 'misbehaviour', rather than insisting that everything would be fine if I got Ritalin. (Which was probably inaccurate anyway, since much of my behavior was because of anxiety and therefore would be worsened by a stimulant.)

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Come-and-go Children

I had an idea for a fantasy land, in which Sanfilippo Syndrome is very common and affected people are worshipped. Now, if I can think of a plot, I may end up writing a story about it. But in the meantime, here's a description of how they are viewed in this society (if you think up a plot, feel free to let me know):

They were called come-and-go children, or holy children. They were so holy that they could not live long. They started out just like everyone else, but they were destined for holiness. Shortly after they started walking and talking, the first signs of holiness would appear.They become very energetic, and need less sleep. They stop talking and their hearts open up to all kinds of people. Those are the first signs of a come-and-go child.
Parents are delighted to see this in their child, because the child will be very holy. But they also know they will have less time with the child than usual, so they must make more of the time they have.It is common for parents of come-and-go children to stay home with their child often, letting others do the work they’d have done. They have more valuable work to do - care for their holy child. Siblings also care for the holy child, and both siblings are parents are elevated by this child.
Come-and-go children get less energy after awhile, and start tiring easily. Eventually, they can no longer walk. At this point, parents will sometimes resume work, but they take their child with them everywhere they go, riding in a sleigh. Other people cluster around the child, hoping to be blessed by this holy child. People ask the child to visit their fields or heal sick people.
Around the age most children enter adulthood, come-and-go children start weakening. Their holiness is too great for their body to bear. Their family stays with them at all times, taking turns to sleep or tend themselves so the holy child always has someone there. Others visit, and the parents interpret the child’s signals to decide who may enter and when they must leave.
The parents of such children often have many more, because it is known that parents and siblings of come-and-go children are very likely to produce more holy children. Many families try to arrange a marriage with the sibling of a come-and-go child.
Siblings of holy children often marry the siblings of other holy children. That way, the chance of having a come-and-go child is very high. Cousins and other relatives of come-and-go children are also more likely to have come-and-go children, and are also more easily married. I know of one woman who had a child outside of marriage. At first, she was shunned and the father of the child insisted she was not his child. But when that girl started becoming very energetic, and then stopped talking, he was proud to be her father, and the woman got many offers of marriage.
It can be hard to be a family without any come-and-go children. But it is especially hard to have a foreigner in your family, because foreigners never have come-and-go children. It is said that in other lands, come-and-go children are viewed as a tragedy, and parents of one never have another child for fear they, too, will be a come-and-go child. Siblings of those children often never marry. Because of that, come-and-go children are almost never born in foreign families. Many people think foreigners are either confused or simply evil, because they think it bad to have a come-and-go child.

Interesting how something can be viewed totally differently, right? A degenerative neurological disease becomes a condition in which they die of being incredibly holy. I thought up this world because I was wondering how dying in your teens from some kind of disability is considered a tragedy, but dying in your teens (by years) because you're a cat is sad but accepted.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Normal is Relative

I was just pondering recently about how in some situations, a certain condition could be viewed as genetic, whereas in others it's environmental - but it's still the same condition. An example is AIDS. AIDS is a viral condition, right? It's caused by HIV - human immunodeficiency virus.
But if there were chimpanzee doctors, they'd call it a genetic condition. Some people, and most chimpanzees, are genetically immune to AIDS. They can be HIV or SIV (simian immunodeficiency virus) positive, but they will not get the immune problems that characterize AIDS. Almost all chimpanzees have SIV, and almost all are immune to it. So in order for a chimpanzee to get AIDS, they have to have the genetic susceptibility to it.
Phenylketonuria (PKU) is another example. PKU is a condition in which a person can't metabolize phenylalanine. If they have a low phenylalanine diet they are (mostly*) normal. With a high phenylalanine diet, they are developmentally delayed, with behavioral differences including autism and hyperactivity, and have a pale complexion and a distinctive smell.
In our society, where most people can metabolize phenylalanine and eat a high phenylalanine diet, (untreated) PKU is a genetic condition. However, if there was a society where most people had the genetic inability to metabolize phenylalanine as well as a low phenylalanine diet, then it would be considered a dietary problem.
Incidentally, that's the case with scurvy. Many species, such as rats**, can create their own Vitamin C, but humans (as well as guinea pigs) can't make our own Vitamin C. Therefore, our only source of Vitamin C is our diet, and most people eat a diet with enough fresh fruit and such that we don't get Vitamin C deficiency (scurvy). If a person gets scurvy, it's because of their diet. But a rat who has Vitamin C deficiency would probably have some kind of genetic abnormality that means they can't make their own Vitamin C.
Basically, in terms of the factors that cause a condition, doctors look for what's different. What is different about this person, that xe is having repeated pneumocystis pneumonia? HIV. What is different about this kid who's developmentally delayed and has an odd smell?They have two mutated alleles in a certain gene. Those are considered the cause, not genetic susceptibility to AIDS or a high phenylalanine diet, because that's what is different.


* However, see Inhibitory Control in Children With Phenylketonuria, State Regulation and Response Inhibition in children with ADHD and children with early- and continuously treated phenylketonuria and School Performance in Early and Continuously Treated Phenylketonuria.
** When I told my Dad this, he asked if sailors wouldn't get scurvy if they'd eaten raw rats (cooking destroys Vitamin C). I'm not sure if that would work, but it's really funny to imagine.
[Edit: Actually, there is not enough vitamin C in rats. You would need to eat an immense amount of rats to get enough vitamin C, and it's unlikely a person could eat that many rats. I suppose if you had some way of removing most of the non-vitamin C containing parts, it might work, but that might be harder than simply bringing citrus fruits along.]

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