Re: Mealey

From: HARNAD Stevan (
Date: Sat May 23 1998 - 15:26:40 BST

> From: Whitehouse Chantal <>
> Don't primary emotions vary across individuals to some extent? e.g.
> some people exhibit more fear or anger than others.

Yes, they do. (Did Mealey imply they didn't?)

> adoptive children with both a genetic risk and an environmental risk
> have a far greater risk of expressing criminal behaviour than do
> adoptees with no such risk or only one risk factor, and that risk
> factor is more than a simple additive effect.
> Is there any difference between adoptive children with genetic risk
> only compared to children with no risk? If there is this would imply
> people can be born bad.

You mean genetic risk in a normal environment. I'm not sure, but the
answer might be "yes." It could also be intractive: An aggressive child
could elicit more aggressive responses from the parents, responses they
would not have shown with an unaggressive child. This can then be an
upward spiral.

> Mealey talks about a genetic factor underlying all deviant behaviour
> "d". If "d" is on a normal distribution, as she suggests, with
> sociopaths at the extreme end, what is at the other extreme? Would it
> be extremely altruistic peple with great social empathy- Mother
> Theresa's. Would a lack of "d" result in altruistic behaviour or
> would you need an extra genetic factor - "a"?

The other end is more likely to be highly submissive people who are
trodden on by everyone else. The Mother T "types" (if there are enough
of them to speak of) are probably stronger personalities that have
deliberately inhibited all aggression. Read about Tolstoy to see how
that struggle can go...

[Note: this topic is not my specialty!]

> In attempting to explain secondary sociopathy Mealey she says that
> children with poor social skills are at a disadvantage in
> interactions with age-mates and rejected by popular children. Similar
> children therefore consort with each other. She then says that
> antisocia behaviour is reinforced in this group and new antisocial
> skills learnt. This antisocial behaviour escalates in response to
> social rewards provided by the group, and eventually may lead to
> sociopathy. This seems to be a huge leap, a group of poorly socially
> skilled children giving rise to a cold calculating sociopath just
> through reinforcement of some behaviours. Why should the group reward
> antisocial behaviours anyway? If they are friends of sort should they
> not develop some sort of social skill such as loyalty to each other?

Mealey's paper is speculative, so you are right to challenge her
conjectures. I think she would point to the "honour culture" as her
example: The antisocial subgroup would form itself along those lines.

(Remember, these are not the "born" primary sociopaths but the socially
"made" secondary ones.)

> The use of antisocial statergies is not restricted to sociopaths.
> Christies developed a scale for measuring this subclinical variation
> in antisocial personality; he called it the Machiavellianism scale.
> It can be thought of as a low-level manifestation of sociopathy.
> Is a high score on the Mach scale correlated with the same genetic
> factors as primary sociopathy or the social factors of secondary
> sociopathy, or neither?

Good question. Mealey reports a lot of correlations, but they are not
from the same study or the same population. So she has sociopathy
correlating with Mach and also with Sensation-Seeking, but I don't
remember a direct correlation between Mach and sensation-seeking.

That's the problem with 1-dimensional, correlational thinking. It often
misses the complexities of the interactions among many variables.
After all, you could probably find a correlation between intelligence
and height in grade school (just because older kids tended to be both
bigger and to know more), but it is because they are both caused by
a 3rd facvtor (maturation); the relationship is completely gone once
adult height is reached!

And that's just 3 variables; imagine all that must go into shaping our
social behaviour, both genetically and experientially.

Stevan Harnad
Professor of Psychology
Director, phone: +44 1703 592582
Cognitive Sciences Centre fax: +44 1703 594597
Department of Psychology
University of Southampton
Highfield, Southampton

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