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A primatologist discovers the social factors responsible for maternal infanticide

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Chicago’s nineteenth ward reeked of overripe fruit and kerosene the day Mary Stastch killed her baby. According to the Chicago Tribune on July 29, 1911, the unemployed single mother and recent immigrant from Austria left Cook County Hospital earlier that week and "wandered about Chicago for two days with the baby in her arms, looking for work." But with the growing labor crisis leaving nearly 250,000 people jobless her search would have been difficult even without a newborn in tow.

As if that wasn’t enough, the following day more than 350 police descended on the largely immigrant neighborhood around Maxwell Street in what was described as "a day of rioting and wild disorder such has not been seen in Chicago since the garment workers’ strike" the previous year. Wagons were overturned, grocery store windows smashed, and fruit carts doused with fuel in a desperate struggle between peddlers, police, and strike breakers. In the eery silence that followed Mary Stastch quietly strangled her infant. Cradling the limp child in her arms she then carried the body several miles to where it was later discovered, hidden behind a residence on Carroll Avenue.

A mother killing her child challenges our understanding at the same time that it rips at our emotions. “Cases of maternal infanticide are gripping,” explains feminist scholar Rebecca Hyman, "because they seem to violate an inherent natural law.” A mother’s affection for her child is thought to be absolute, a fact of evolution in which women have been “endowed with a nurturing maternal instinct."

Yet, throughout history, from the fictional Medea to the tragic reports of modern times, women have taken the lives of their children under a variety of contexts, whether it is to punish the father, escape from the burden of motherhood, or even to protect a child from what they perceive as a fate worse than death. In this regard humans share yet another feature, albeit a tragic one, with nonhuman animals since females in a variety of species have been observed to abandon, abuse or even kill their own offspring. To stress the importance of motherhood in human societies today, how can we best understand this behavior so that we can better predict, and prevent, its recurrence?

One hundred years after Mary Stastch took her child’s life another Chicago immigrant may have some answers. Dario Maestripieri has spent most of his career studying maternal behavior in primates. In particular, he’s focused on the factors that influence a mother’s motivation towards her young. As a professor of Comparative Human Development, Evolutionary Biology, Neurobiology, and Psychiatry at the University of Chicago he has enjoyed the kind of cross-disciplinary success that most scientists only dream of. His 153 academic papers and six books have been cited more than a thousand times by scholars (including this one) in many of the world’s top scientific journals. His latest paper is scheduled to be published in early 2011 by the American Journal of Primatology. In it Maestripieri lays out the argument he’s built over the last two decades showing how one of the most serious impacts on maternal behavior, one with potentially lethal results, is so common in modern life as to be nearly invisible: stress.

Of course, contrary to the advice of most doctors, stress is actually a good thing and is particularly adaptive during motherhood. Whenever animals experience a stressful situation, whether that involves chasing down a gazelle, escaping from a hawk, or asking a cute guy out for a date, our adrenal gland releases massive amounts of the hormone cortisol into our blood stream. Cortisol, in turn, increases the production of glucose and aids in metabolizing fats, proteins, and carbohydrates for even more blood sugar. Within moments we have enough energy on hand to attack or flee depending on the circumstances. Stress therefore serves as an adaptive response to prepare the body for adversity.

Both during pregnancy and after parturition cortisol increases significantly for new and experienced mothers alike. This suggests, to no one’s great surprise, that motherhood is an especially stressful time in a female primate’s life. Dario Maestripieri has previously shown that this response is directly related to protective behaviors that keep a mother’s infant from harm. For example, in one study, rhesus macaque mothers who exhibited high levels of anxiety (such as repeated self-scratching, a behavior associated with high cortisol levels) while they were observing their infant near a dangerous group member, were much more likely to immediately intervene and retrieve them.

"Maternal anxiety,” explains Maestripieri, “can significantly increase the chances of offspring survival and the reproductive success of the parent.” Natural selection has provided mothers with an early warning system, one that can alert them to danger before others are even aware of the risk.

However, as the maxim goes, there can be too much of a good thing. In addition to increasing the body’s available energy, cortisol also serves to inhibit other systems, such as digestion or immune function, that can be spared over the short term. The reason why, as the Stanford neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky quipped in his book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, should be relatively straightforward.

"You have better things to do," Sapolsky wrote, "than digest breakfast when you are trying to avoid being someone’s lunch.”

But periods of long term or excessive stress can cause serious physiological damage and an increased susceptibility to disease. It can also result in what Maestripieri calls the “dysregulation of emotion,” or turning what would be an otherwise adaptive response into a potentially dangerous overreaction.

"A large body of evidence,” Maestripieri says, “indicates that extremely high or chronically elevated cortisol levels due to stress can impair maternal motivation and result in maladaptive parenting behavior.”

Maestripieri has conducted numerous studies demonstrating the connection between high levels of stress and maladaptive parenting. For example, his research has shown that, among pigtail macaques, maternal abuse of infants is frequently precipitated by socially stressful events. Likewise, he’s found that abusive rhesus macaque mothers have neurochemical profiles similar to those of humans with posttraumatic stress disorder. Other studies have found comparable results in our own species.

"Specifically,” Maestripieri says, “it has been shown in humans that stress is a major risk factor for postpartum depression and for child neglect and abuse.” But his latest findings are the most revealing yet about how stress and motherhood can interact in ways that are frighteningly relevant for today’s society.

While its appearance suggests an idyllic utopia of crystal blue waters, palm trees, and white sandy beaches, the island of Cayo Santiago is actually a breeding ground for class warfare. For more than seventy years this Caribbean island has been home to a provisioned colony of rhesus macaques, one that offers the ideal conditions to study the effects of stress and group dynamics.

Over a period of two years Maestripieri and his doctoral student Christy Hoffman studied the cortisol responses among 70 females, all of whom were experienced mothers. Blood samples were regularly collected from each individual and behavioral data were recorded to determine the dominance hierarchy among the mothers. The study confirmed earlier results showing heightened reactions to stress for all mothers from conception through the end of weaning. However, the largest change in cortisol levels occurred among the lowest ranking females and was four times greater than those who were higher in the pecking order. The most likely explanation for this, say the scientists, was a lack of control.

 



Average change in cortisol levels for pregnant/lactating females in three social ranks.

Image reproduced from Hoffman et al. (2010).

 

"Low-ranking mothers may perceive their infants to be at risk from other group members to a greater extent than middle- and high-ranking females,” says Hoffman. However, unlike the higher ranking females, these low status mothers “experience greater constraints in their ability to provide protection for offspring.”

Supporting this interpretation, the team analyzed the colony’s mortality records covering a period of ten years and found that infants born to low-ranking females were much more likely to die in their first year than those born to high-ranking ones. As a result, low-ranking mothers were living in a state of constant panic. They would watch as their offspring were confronted by dangerous group members but they were powerless to do anything about it. Unable to act while their innate warning system screamed at high alert, their anxiety simply grew, expanding out of proportion as a result of the social inequality.

While this latest study on Cayo Santiago did not look at maternal abuse, previous work has shown a clear link between infanticide and extreme cases of maternal stress. But are such findings applicable for our species? After all, humans have the ability to make conscious choices and design political systems that protect the least among us. Haven’t we improved on the harsh conditions faced by our distant monkey cousins?

The answer to this couldn’t be more clear: humans are very different from macaques. We’re much worse. The anxiety caused by human inequality is unlike anything observed in the natural world. In order to emphasize this point, Robert Sapolsky put all kidding aside and was uncharacteristically grim when describing the affects of human poverty on the incidence of stress-related disease.

"When humans invented poverty," Sapolsky wrote, “they came up with a way of subjugating the low-ranking like nothing ever before seen in the primate world.”

This is clearly seen in studies looking at human inequality and the rates of maternal infanticide. The World Health Organization Report on Violence and Health reported a strong association between global inequality and child abuse, with the largest incidence in communities with “high levels of unemployment and concentrated poverty.” Another international study published by the American Journal of Psychiatry analyzed infanticide data from 17 countries and found an unmistakable “pattern of powerlessness, poverty, and alienation in the lives of the women studied.”

The United States currently leads the developed world with the highest maternal infanticide rate (an average of 8 deaths for every 100,000 live births, more than twice the rate of Canada). In a systematic analysis of maternal infanticide in the U.S., DeAnn Gauthier and colleagues at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette concluded that this dubious honor falls on us because “extreme poverty amid extreme wealth is conducive to stress-related violence.” Consequently, the highest levels of maternal infanticide were found, not in the poorest states, but in those with the greatest disparity between wealth and poverty (such as Colorado, Oklahoma, and New York with rates 3 to 5 times the national average). According to these researchers, inequality is literally killing our kids.

Did the stress associated with inequality also play a role in the death of Mary Stastch’s child? We can’t ever know what this young woman was thinking or feeling at the time but, according to Michelle Oberman who documented Mary’s story, it would have been an important factor.

“She would have been desperately in need of food, clothing, shelter, and money,” says Oberman. “Indeed, it was all but inevitable that harm would befall that child.”

While the ultimate explanation for Mary Stastch’s murder must remain stubbornly obscure from us, the conditions that give rise to her modern counterparts around the world are starting to become more clear. Even though humans and macaques shared a common ancestor more than 25 million years ago, they may have something very important to teach us about the world we live in today.

As social mammals, primates are powerfully affected by their standing in a given society. Even a bond that is as integral as that between a mother and her child can be severed if social conditions are pitted against her. If we’re serious about stressing motherhood in our society it will take more than simply reaching out to at-risk populations. It will require addressing the root cause of societal ills and preventing those risks before they start.

UPDATE: David Dobbs at Wired has an excellent discussion inspired by this post and raises some important questions worth considering:

I agree with what we might call the social lessons Johnson draws from these studies. But I wonder if stopping there pulls us up short of some of the more interesting scientific implications of these studies. I wonder if stopping there mires us in a vision of environment that gives it too much primacy. It suggests that environment is deterministic.

 

References:

Friedman, S. (2005). Child Murder by Mothers: A Critical Analysis of the Current State of Knowledge and a Research Agenda. American Journal of Psychiatry, 162 (9), 1578-1587 DOI: 10.1176/appi.ajp.162.9.1578

Gauthier, D., Chaudoir, N., & Forsyth, C. (2003). a sociological analysis of maternal infanticide in the united states, 1984-1996 Deviant Behavior, 24 (4), 393-404 DOI: 10.1080/713840226

Hoffman, C., Ayala, J., Mas-Rivera, A., & Maestripieri, D. (2009). Effects of reproductive condition and dominance rank on cortisol responsiveness to stress in free-ranging female rhesus macaques. American Journal of Primatology DOI: 10.1002/ajp.20793

Maestripieri, D. (1994). Infant abuse associated with psychosocial stress in a group-living pigtail macaque (Macaca nemestrina) mother. American Journal of Primatology, 32 (1), 41-49 DOI: 10.1002/ajp.1350320105

Maestripieri, D. (1995). Assessment of danger to themselves and their infants by rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) mothers. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 109 (4), 416-420 DOI: 10.1037/0735-7036.109.4.416

Maestripieri, D. (2000). Causes and consequences of infant abuse and neglect in monkeys. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 5 (3), 245-254 DOI: 10.1016/S1359-1789(98)00019-6

Maestripieri, D. (2010). Emotions, stress, and maternal motivation in primates. American Journal of Primatology DOI: 10.1002/ajp.20882

Maestripieri, D., Lindell, S., Ayala, A., Gold, P., & Higley, J. (2005). Neurobiological characteristics of rhesus macaque abusive mothers and their relation to social and maternal behavior. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 29 (1), 51-57 DOI: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2004.05.004

Oberman, M. (2002). Understanding Infanticide in Context: Mothers Who Kill, 1870-1930 and Today. The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (1973-), 92 (3/4) DOI: 10.2307/1144241

Sapolsky, R. (1998). Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company.

Image Credits: Medea prepares to kill her children. Eugene Delacroix (1862). Painting of Medea courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

About the author: Eric Michael Johnson has a master’s degree in evolutionary anthropology focusing on great ape behavioral ecology. He is currently a doctoral student in the history of science at the University of British Columbia looking at the interplay between evolutionary biology and politics. His work has appeared in the Journal of Human Evolution, the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Discover, Seed, Psychology Today, Wildlife Conservation, and The Huffington Post.

He blogs at The Primate Diaries and can be found on Facebook and Twitter: @ericmjohnson. [Image used with permission by Ben Jones Photography]

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.






Comments 16 Comments

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  1. 1. Laurette 11:06 am 11/22/2010

    A very lucid and thoughtful article on what is a very volatile, emotional, complex and little-understood social phenomenon…excellent as usual.

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  2. 2. caldararo 4:44 pm 11/22/2010

    While this reflects his hypothesis, it ignores the work of other scientists in the field. Harlow and Harlow demonstrated that female monkeys learn to be mothers and if they are not exposed to "mothering" contexts they ignore or attack their offspring. If he is going to make the jump to explain infanticide in humans then how can he explain Greek infanticide which is reflected in myth and legend (ex. the Oedipus tale)? Greeks and other people readily control population by group custom of which infanticide was one. Another problem is infanticide by male initiation as in Langurs as Sugiyama found as opposed to Phylis Jay Dolhinow’s research showed, ecological conditions seem to play a roleh (ttp://books.google.com/books?id=OYsedwLKvewC&pg=PA75&lpg=PA75&dq=phylis+jay+and+infanticide&source=bl&ots=chpRfIe16x&sig=p3prCk6Wdr11VfHMBT1RDXsSrIg&hl=en&ei=TeLqTKOUHYnmsQOQmbSwCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBUQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false) .

    Niccolo Caldararo, Ph.D.
    Dept. of Anthropology
    San Francisco State University

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  3. 3. dudeinhammock 5:30 pm 11/22/2010

    Excellent, provocative piece. Marvin Harris wrote a lot about the prominent role of infanticide in maintaining stable population levels in h/g societies. Given the differing stages at which various societies confer personhood upon a child, infanticide isn’t seen as "killing a human being" to many, but more like post-natal abortion, presumably. Kudos for taking this one head-on.

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  4. 4. aidel 7:57 pm 11/23/2010

    Fantastic, thought provoking post. It makes sense that the same flood of cortisol that causes the anxious new mother to pull over four times within ten minutes in order to verify that the car seat is correctly secured and buckled might also cause the mother of a toddler to snatch or swat the child as a pro-active effort to silence the child in the presence of an abusive, powerful male (operating under the assumption that the mother has PTSD and is conditioned to experience overwhelming fear when a situation arises that, in her experience, would have brought about profound, negative consequences (such as a beating for saying something perceived by the powerful male as "smart"). In literature there is a similar example in the mother’s treatment of her son in Richard Wright’s *Black Boy.* The sense of danger evoked by traumatic memories is as real as the cortisol rush. It is the desire to protect or spare one’s child (one being the mother in this case) that strikes like lightening (before the mother has the opportunity to think things through) and, unfortunately, often results in abusive behavior. And it seems to me that the woman does not have to actually *be* powerless. It is enough for her to *feel* powerless, which is a problem for almost all trauma survivors. The cycle is very, very difficult (but not impossible) to break.

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  5. 5. EricMJohnson 8:48 pm 11/23/2010

    @caldararo – Thank you for your comment. Harlow and Harlow’s classic work in the 1960s was a pioneering example of primate maternal research and is largely responsible for the work that has come since. What they showed was that macaque females raised in social isolation were maladjusted as mothers. It revealed the important role that social learning (and, what was unknown until recently, epigenetics) plays in maternal behavior. However, a great deal more research has been done on this question since then.

    In Maestripieri’s AJP paper that I linked to he states, "studies of socially deprived monkeys do not offer unequivocal evidence that nulliparous females find infants aversive or that experience with infants or hormonal priming is necessary to develop adequate caregiving skills." He gives three reasons to support this conclusion. First, in these early studies (also those by Ruppenthal and Suomi in the 1970s) up to a third of the mothers displayed normal maternal behavior despite their social isolation. Second, the occurrence of abuse did not decline in these socially isolated mothers even after later maternal experience. Third, socially deprived mothers "displayed maladaptive behavior in all behavioral interactions with conspecifics" suggesting that their maladaptive maternal behavior was just one of many aberrations that came from this traumatic developmental experience.

    However, none of this applies to Maestripieri’s work that I referenced since the macaques used in his research were exposed to normal behavioral development and the Cayo Santiago study only included individuals who were experienced mothers. I also don’t see the relevance of bringing in the story of Oedipus or ancient Greek population control. Maestripieri’s work (and the larger argument I was making for human societies) is specifically related to maternal behavior. Male infanticidal behavior is another issue entirely, as are any policies implemented in an entirely patriarchal society. Sarah Hrdy (who I interviewed in this post for Psychology Today: http://j.mp/aNwKwc) has done some of the most important work on male infanticidal behavior and showed how, for unrelated male hanuman langurs, infanticide can be adaptive and translates to greater reproductive success. I would be happy to address this topic in more detail if you like. Thank you again for your stimulating comment and I apologize for the delay in responding.

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  6. 6. Kirk P. 4:14 am 11/25/2010

    I think you are on the right track here and I like the overall message of the article. It sounds to me like you might be advocating the merits of a socialist or even communist society in which wealth is more evenly distributed? I think this would help to improve many of the problems we have in the United States today.
    I have some pretty good firsthand knowledge of the damage that can be caused from being the focus of unjust and oppressive group harassment and hostility. I have been physically sick for 5 years now, and I am still bothered emotionally by some events which occurred in my past that were very much based on people’s attempts to establish themselves within a desirable social hierarchy at my expense. Granted, the physical sickness was the real underlying problem which weakened my resolve in regard to social events which never would have affected me to a significant degree otherwise, but nevertheless, stress caused by social shunning can do a lot of damage even to those who understand the nature of the vast majority of “humans” and the common tendency for people to try and manipulate, exploit, oppress, and shun anyone who is considered different, weak (for whatever reason), a competitor, or who holds an opposing viewpoint (just to name a few reasons to earn the wrath of more animalistic among us).
    However, I wouldn’t go so far as to claim that real, definitive social hierarchies exist in which one person is genuinely “higher” or “lower” within any particular social hierarchy, because such claims serve to legitimize the false hierarchy that is created with the intent of convincing people that they are in fact “lower” or “higher” humans. Status in a social hierarchy is very much relative to personal perception. For example, just because ten people might view me as a “lower” member of a particular social hierarchy does not mean that I would in fact be a “lower” member of that particular hierarchy. It just means that 10 people are trying to convince me that I am a “lower” member in order to disempower me by controlling or influencing my thoughts, perceptions, and actions. In my own mind I might very well perceive the hierarchy in question as an attempt by 10 “lower” people to deny my rightful and obvious status as a “higher” individual. In addition, there are always many “hierarchies within hierarchies” which need to be taken into consideration if the true picture is to be seen.

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  7. 7. Kirk P. 4:14 am 11/25/2010

    Having said this, I also understand that social hierarchies based on material measurements are probably a different story. My beliefs or perceptions don’t particularly influence my wealth, connections, innate talents, number of friends, or paid occupation (except in the sense that they often determine or influence, with time, the attained level of these elements). So, this first argument about the illusory or inherently deceptive nature of social hierarchical structures is only meant as a minor quibble to get you thinking about the concept of social hierarchies in a slightly different manner.
    In many cases, the most significant damage(s) that come from the stress of poverty, oppression, inequality, shunning, and unfair treatment are self-imposed. As you probably know, Bobby Wright calls this self-destructive state of mind imposed by the forces of oppression mentacide. People who are subject to extreme oppression often internalize the views of the oppressors and punish themselves for social “crimes” which they haven’t even committed, since the social “crimes” which some people punish themselves for were in fact created or manufactures by the oppressors to control the oppressed. When somebody calls me worthless enough times, I may start to believe that I am worthless and my actions may change accordingly.
    The real danger inherent in most negative social situations involving hierarchical struggles is the potential for the oppressed to turn their sense of injustice inward and take self-destructive actions because they can’t perceive through their own eyes that they have done nothing wrong, they only perceive the situation from the eyes or ideology of the oppressor. The real danger isn’t the shunning, or the oppression, or the poverty in and of themselves, it’s the drugs taken in despair, or the drinking, or other risky kinds of behaviors (sexual, criminal, economic, or political) that are but the reflection of the oppressor’s deep influence over the subconscious mind of the oppressed. Infanticide is one of the self-destructive actions that falls within the aforementioned categories. More specifically though, infanticide is a form “negative group checking” where one member of an oppressed group punishes or takes a self-destructive act on another member of the very same group because that member has internalized the ideology of the oppressors and seeks to “punish” or “police” the group of which they are a part in order to help maintain the current inequitable order in the service of the oppressors.

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  8. 8. Kirk P. 4:15 am 11/25/2010

    My first two arguments are simply what I feel are important considerations related to your article and are not meant to be taken as particular criticisms of your work. They are just my thoughts after reading the article. I am concerned, however, with the fact that you used an individual with a connection to psychiatry (however slight this connection may be) and the American Journal of Psychiatry as sources for an article that seems to be pushing the merits of social equality, human rights, and the more equitable distribution of wealth. Not only are psychiatrists very highly paid, “high status” members of the greater United States and Western sociocultural sphere, but they have a very long history of imprisoning, brainwashing, humiliating, forcibly medicating, and even torturing (electric shock therapy and worse) members of the “lower”, “outsider”, “rival”, and “undesirable” classes. Have you read The Manufacture of Madness: A Comparative Study of the Inquisition and the Mental Health Movement by Thomas Szasz? If you haven’t, the book is worth a read – the man speaks the truth. In my perception, and in the perception of many members of the perceived “lower” or “outsider” classes, psychiatrists and psychiatry (and even medical doctors and dentists, but to a different degree and in different ways) are agents of the “oppressive” classes who help to create, control, police, and define class lines.

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  9. 9. Kirk P. 4:16 am 11/25/2010

    When you write that “Another international study published by the American Journal of Psychiatry analyzed infanticide data from 17 countries and found an unmistakable “pattern of powerlessness, poverty, and alienation in the lives of the women studied.”", I think it is important to consider that in some people’s opinion psychiatrists often find and even create “problems” in the “lower” classes in order to provide justification for the medication and control of those same populations. Many of the very same problems may exist within the “higher” classes (yes, even poverty), but they will seldom be “discovered” by psychiatrists, because psychiatrists are interested in controlling controllable classes, not in “healing” the “mentally ill”. People are not powerless until and if they accept that they are powerless. A study by a psychiatrist that claims an individual or group is relatively powerless, alienated, or whatever else does not make the claim true, except in the fact that such claims influence the perceptions of those who are labeled and thereby influence and even control their actions. Just as importantly, claims made by psychiatrists are very capable of influencing powerful, but otherwise “good” people to act in negative ways toward targeted groups.
    My comments on psychiatry are not meant particularly to attack the merit of your article. As I wrote, I think your article has merit and I think it was written in the service of the “good”. Your article is impressive in its own way – one of the better short articles I have read in a couple of months or so. But I don’t think psychiatry has much to teach the oppressed about the true nature of social hierarchical structures. Forgive the overly long post. Happy Thanksgiving!

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  10. 10. Raghuvanshi1 10:52 am 11/25/2010

    My experiences are limited with only India.In India some mother or say joint family killed child only if he is born as a bastard.Another child killing happen if child is girl, Killing baby girl is long tradition because birth of girl is not good omen.For poverty reason killing child is very very rare in India.

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  11. 11. aidel 1:15 pm 11/26/2010

    Fact correction: ECT is not a form of torture and is still (although infrequently) employed in extreme cases of intractable depression. It is considered a measure of last resort because of the stigma attached to it and the possible side effects.

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  12. 12. aidel 1:29 pm 11/26/2010

    Your understanding of the discipline of psychiatry is outdated to say the least. The fact is that psychiatrists’ couches tend to be occupied by the more (not less) affluent members of society. The unfortunate people who are both poor and mentally ill tend to be invisible to the rest of us — either because they populate the very small number of institutions that are left or because people simply don’t know that the homeless person they just pretended not to see is a Vietnam veteran with severe PTSD. The relationship between powerlessness, poverty and social injustice is NOT a social construct.

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  13. 13. Kirk P. 12:44 am 12/3/2010

    Not real interested in getting into a debate about it. This will be my last post. I have a lot of other work to get to. I appreciate that some people don’t see psychiatry the way I do. But then again, most people have had little to no direct experience with the darker aspects of psychiatry. It’s easy to claim ECT is not torture when you’re not getting it because no one has locked you up in a mental institution against your will without any real just cause. In the past, there is no question ECT was torture. In the present, the situation is more questionable but still ECT is misused on many occasions.
    As to your second point, while psychiatrist’s coaches may tend to be occupied by the more affluent members of society (since psychiatrists charge ridiculous amounts of money to brainwash ‘patients’), have checked a community psych ward or mental hospital lately? Psych wards are often used to ‘punish’ members of the lower class for not having a home. They are also used to "treat" thought criminals for not adhering to the standardized norms of modern society. Psych wards are often used in other countries to house political prisoners who question the authority of any important aspect of the state. The situation is much the same here, but not quite as bad, in my opinion. Spend a week at a psych ward observing what goes on and then if you still believe what you do I might respect that opinion.

    Anyway, I am not one to spend a lot of time posting on forums and things. I am too damn sick to be wasting what time I have left arguing. The article is not bad. I will try to keep your comments in mind, but until I see validity to your arguments in real life my opinions won’t change about psychiatrists and the relation of psychiatrists to the lower, marginalized, and otherwise ostracized members of society. Have a nice day and keep struggling for what’s right.

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  14. 14. Kirk P. 4:38 am 12/3/2010

    hah. Something about that second comment made me come back and post one more time.

    Aidel writes "The unfortunate people who are both poor and mentally ill tend to be invisible to the rest of us — either because they populate the very small number of institutions that are left or because people simply don’t know that the homeless person they just pretended not to see is a Vietnam veteran with severe PTSD. The relationship between powerlessness, poverty and social injustice is NOT a social construct."

    Maybe the reason the "mentally ill" are invisible to people is because they don’t become "mentally ill" until psychiatrists label them as mentally ill? Maybe they are locked in the few remaining institutions (thank god they have closed as many as they have due to lithium) because they are powerless, poor, and can’t get out because the psychiatrists like to keep powerless people in "prisons without sentences" because they provide justification for the funding of those institutions? People who have supporting families, money, or power usually can get out – everyone else has serious trouble getting out because they are powerless with no connections to the outside world. If the psychiatrist says you are mentally ill, even if you aren’t, they can keep you in for a real long time.

    Granted, there are a few people who have serious problems in institutions, but the thing i think most common people would be shocked to discover is that for everyone 1 person locked up in a mental institution with a real problem there are 3 or 4 people who are don’t have any real problem at all except that a group of people conspired (family, "friends", cowokers) to get rid of them by locking them away in a system where your freedom or imprisonment is determined by psychiatrists and group meetings with biased nurses who have a vested interest in keeping people in the system for as long as possible. Blatant lie-ing in court, falsification of records, pressure to give up rights, and convenient misrepresentation of what really occurred are the norm among mental hospital and psych ward personnel. Sounds unbelievable in the good ole’ USA? Believe it… that’s what’s happening.

    Also, don’t forget that though there may be many less mental hospitals than there used to be, there are still many psych wards, where people are kept for months at a time without any real access to helpful lawyers, where rights are commonly manipulated, abused, or ignored, and where humiliation and group brainwashing are the most common means of "treatment".

    Link to this
  15. 15. caldararo 12:44 am 12/4/2010

    Thank you for your comment. I was mainly concerned when I see terms used like "While this latest study on Cayo Santiago did not look at maternal abuse, previous work has shown a clear link between infanticide and extreme cases of maternal stress." "clear" in this case. I do not think you can say that the Harlow results are invalidated because a "third" of the mothers acted normally. The assumption was they all would if there was a "clear" like between a mother instinct and the behavior. The Normal " acting mothers also fall into a variety of the conditions of cases, some were raised with wire mothers, some with cloth, others with bottles of different sorts and some handling. Some normally raised mice will kill, ignore or abandon pups for a variety of reasons presumably associated with fitness in some eyes, or if they are handled too much by humans. Are you then arguing that human stressed mothers are not responding to fitness, or that they should not have children. What is stress in humans and monkeys, is it a comparable factor that can be clearly associated with hormonal status? I think the public can read a lot into some loaded terms especially how such stories are advertised.

    Link to this
  16. 16. caldararo 12:46 am 12/4/2010

    Thank you for your comment. I was mainly concerned when I see terms used like "While this latest study on Cayo Santiago did not look at maternal abuse, previous work has shown a clear link between infanticide and extreme cases of maternal stress." "clear" in this case. I do not think you can say that the Harlow results are invalidated because a "third" of the mothers acted normally. The assumption was they all would if there was a "clear" like between a mother instinct and the behavior. The Normal " acting mothers also fall into a variety of the conditions of cases, some were raised with wire mothers, some with cloth, others with bottles of different sorts and some handling. Some normally raised mice will kill, ignore or abandon pups for a variety of reasons presumably associated with fitness in some eyes, or if they are handled too much by humans. Are you then arguing that human stressed mothers are not responding to fitness, or that they should not have children. What is stress in humans and monkeys, is it a comparable factor that can be clearly associated with hormonal status? I think the public can read a lot into some loaded terms especially how such stories are advertised.

    Link to this

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