…Perhaps we were only mildly entertained. Regardless, please enjoy these Reviews, Responses, Works of Fiction, and Retellings brought to you by one who hopes to someday join the ranks of those who have written something worth reading.
(Kaylia Metcalfe)

If you aren’t bleeding or unconscious, then you must be fine.

Yes… I am still a bit MIA while working on my Short Story Collection, my impending move (thinking more and more about Santa Cruz), and one of busiest times of the year at work. (Overtime is my friend)

But I had to break the silence so to speak and grumble rumble a bit about this article that I found on NPR’s website.

Allow me to sum up:

A team in CA tested the time it took 13 people’s brains to react to examples of other people experiencing physical pain versus emotional pain and found that it took the test subject longer to react to the emotional pain. They posit that human have evolved in a way that we recognize physical pain faster and that we must teach children compassion for emotional pain. If the children don’t have the proper coaching while watching the news or seeing things in video games, they might lack the full range of compassion which is a problem since compassion anchors moral systems.

I have several problems/issues/questions. Feel free to respond via email or comment.

First off, this study was done to 13 people. Now, call me jaded but how in the world did they set up something as diverse and complex like brain patterns and pain recognition and hold a straight face with only 13 test subjects. These 13 people are supposed to represent everyone else? I always wonder about the sample size of research… and even when it is a bigger number such as “Of the 658 people surveyed, 54% admit to thinking that Jack Shephed is a twit.” But 13? 13? Really? How did they pick these 13 people? What was the protocol? Did they take into account race, gender, creed, age, socioeconomic background, politics….? How in the world could they possibly with only 13 people?

Ok, another issue. One of the examples of physical pain was watching as a female tennis player breaks her ankle. Apparently it took people longer to feel compassion when hearing a woman with cerebral palsy talk about giving up hope in finding romantic love. If I had Meg’s stamp, I think I would use it right about now. As it is… I have to wonder about the validity of this comparison. Would people’s reaction times change based on the gender of the viewer (Do men respond to a woman in either type of pain at a different rate than women?) What about the effect of the gender of the person in pain… if it was a guy who broke his ankle and a guy talking about giving up on love. Wouldn’t things like society’s view’s on women in sports or the idea of romatic love need to be taken into account?

Not to mention the fact that watching someone break his/her ankle is a very quick, very obvious sort of thing… but having somebody start talking about their feelings… well yeah it is gong to take us longer to clue in and then feel the “right’ emotion. Duh.

Also… wouldn’t the visuals themselves be at play here… Seeing someone getting hurt versus hearing someone talk about it. What is we watched a dramatic break up or someone weeping at a grave and then just heard someone tlak about breaking an ankle… I tend to think that the reaction times might change yes?

Ok… not finished yet. The idea of humans evolving to feel compassion for physical pain faster than emotional pain seems like one of those statements that sounds right until you think about it. Someone with more evolutionary biology should probably take this one but I can’t help but wonder if this idea is sort of right but still wrong. Most other animals don’t express emotions the way we do. (Cue someone bringing up chimps.) I can’t quite put my finger on what bothers me abut this idea that we are born “hard-wired” to feel compassion for physical pain but not emotional pain…. Anyone?

And as for kids being taught compassion, well again with the “duh”. Kids also have to be taught that the stove is hot and that fish can’t survive playing on the carpet with the Barbie dolls. And yes, I do think compassion has a lot to do with morality…. In fact compassion as a guideline for morality makes far more sense to me than a religious dogma of “because he/she/it said so” but that could just be me.

So.. maybe this study has some interesting applications to our lives… or maybe it means nothing at all because again, 13 people? Comparison of lack of romance whining and potentially graphic bone crunching gore?

Give me a break.


Mojo said...

Now Kay, aren't we always hearing how "size doesn't matter"? I mean, just being the devil's advocate here but the number 13 plays a very important role in things like ... oh, movies for example. Thirteen Ghosts, The Thirteenth Warrior and who could forget all those Friday the Thirteenth's? Ray Whitney wears number 13 and was a big factor in the Canes getting into the playoffs this year. So it just sort of naturally follows that thirteen subjects for an important study is a good number. Besides, when a group gets too big there's all that dissension and then little subgroups form and it takes on a whole evil dynamic. So thirteen is a good number.

Well hey, it's no less logical than the study, right?

I think probably they just ran short of funding and 13 subjects was all they could afford.

Just sayin'

Mark said...

The validity of the study is "questionable," to say the least. Without knowing any of the details of the study...

1) Selection criteria of the sample population. A. Statistically significant results can only be inferred from a blinded study wherein the subjects of the study are randomized such that the data cannot be biased, which leads to B. Logistics and demographics are not accounted for in a localized study which is isolated to a particular region, namely where ever the #$%^ in CA they decided to conduct their "experiment."

2) Scientifically speaking evolution is a process which describes the gradual adaptation of genetics to changing phenotypic manifestation as the result of extended exposure by a population to particular external stimuli. Hence, REACTIONS (either to emotional or physical pain) do not "evolve." They are LEARNED. It is not hard-coded into the human genome that we will cringe/wince/close our eyes when someone else's head gets crushed by an anvil.

3) Reaction times to two different external stimuli CANNOT be analyzed as a single data set without some kind of normalization to the exposure duration of the stimulus. It takes 1 second to observe an ankle being broken. In that same one second, a patient has enough time to mention their name without going into any detail about horrific symptoms of a terminal illness. If it takes 3 seconds to react to a 1 second stimulus, how does that relate to a 15 minute delayed reaction to a 5 minute story of emotional distress?

There is not a single biological or physical scientist who would agree that this was a "scientific" conclusion. Rather, this can go down in the history books as a lot of effort that went into making a localized observation that from which no concrete data can be inferred, and will not be changing the history books.

myrelish said...

I am not even going to comment on the study itself, I would just be repeating what you have already questioned but I do need to comment on 'fish can't survive playing on the carpet with Barbie dolls'. Totally awesome statement, I may need to borrow that one!

Sofia-Classifieds Weekly said...

"The idea of humans evolving to feel compassion for physical pain faster than emotional pain seems like one of those statements that sounds right until you think about it."

Ohhhh so Real:-)

Lisa said...

Agreed with the validity of the study - and with our idea that perhaps the visual itself of an ankle being broken versus a woman telling you that she is unhappy seems like a no brainer.