UMD Reads The Righteous Mind

A blog for and about the 2013 UMD First Year Book Project

Elephants Rule

Hello incoming students! My name is Arielle Ais and I’m a junior here at UMASS Dartmouth and a psychology major. I’d just like to talk about Chapter 3 of The Righteous Mind and the things that stood out to me that maybe stood out to you as well. The two sections that stood out to me were the sections called “Psychopaths Reason but Don’t Feel” and “Babies Feel but Don’t Reason”.

In the section “Psychopaths Reason but Don’t Feel”, Haidt says that “psychopathy is a genetically heritable condition that creates brains that are unmoved by the needs, suffering, or dignity of others” (73). He also says that psychopaths do not show emotions that indicate that they care about other people. He mentions earlier in section one, “Brains Evaluate Instantly and Constantly” about how our brains process and evaluate everything.  He says, “Brains evaluate everything in terms of potential threat or benefit to the self, and then adjust behavior to get more of the good stuff and less of the bad” (64).  Since the brain of a psychopath evaluates differently, they are not concerned about everyone else’s feelings. They are probably not seeing you as a threat; typically, psychopaths are very into themselves.

It really blew my mind that psychopaths can be born with this condition. I always felt that we developed from mostly our environment. It reminds me of the nature vs nurture debate. The book makes it seem like psychopathy comes only from genetics but  it can’t be for every psychopath. What do you guys think? Do you think that when it comes to our development that it is mostly from our genetics (nature) or the environment we live in (nurture)?

In the next section about the babies, Haidt says that “psychologists have found that by six months of age, infants are watching how people behave toward other people and they are developing a preference for those who are nice rather than those who are mean” (75). My question is if psychopathy is a genetic condition that someone is born with and by six months of age we are learning how to feel, at what point does a psychopath lose that ability? Empathy is a part of our emotions and if psychopaths lack emotions, does this develop after the six month mark or before? How do you think this relates to Haidt’s analogy about the elephant and the rider and our morals? What do you think Haidt means when he says “But the rider’s job is to serve the elephant, not to act as a moral compass”(73) in relation to these sections of the chapter?


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275 thoughts on “Elephants Rule

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  1. Jennifer Pacheco on said:

    In my opinion, psychopath’s are not born with it, they grow up and are raised with it. The way that parents raise their children, whether it is in a caring, loving manner, or an aggressive, violent way, the kids keep to that attitude. For the rest of their lives they become mean and cannot sympathize for anyone, not even themselves. This may be cruel, but its all because of their guardians, that is just not right.

  2. Shane Connolly on said:

    I believe that, while psychopaths may be born with the ability to feel, it is in their nature that they will eventually lose that once their ability to reason activates. In a documentary I once watched on the Science Channel, scientists conducted experiments on young children about whether or not they felt emotions such as shame or guilt. At the end of the experiments, they concluded that most children don’t begin to reason until age five, which is when I believe most children will begin to display psychopathic behavior. Further evidence that being able to feel can be lost is the fact that children are born being lactose tolerant, but would become lactose intolerant as they aged. While that has since been largely phased out, the idea that functions present during the first few years of an infant’s life being phased out is not entirely unlikely.

  3. John Nguyen on said:

    Psychopathy is all dependent on the upbringing of the child. A child wouldn’t just one day become a psychopath out of nowhere. There has to be a reason behind the psychopathy even if it is genetic. Genes determine a persons characteristics but it does not define them.

  4. Perth Chuntorn on said:

    I agree that the psychopath is a important thing . Also the psychopaths and refer between two things such as reason but don’t feel and feel but don’t reason. So in this section they talked about two things are related together such as an elephant and rider, they have to be connected as the brain evaluate and command.

  5. Kyle Garvey on said:

    I disagree with the fact that Nurture has a larger role towards a person being a psychopath then Nature. It is possible however that Nature does play a role but psycopathy I believe is mostly Nurture. For example the Una bomber had a brother who was raised in the same house and was not a psychopath. If the nurturing process were what made him a psycho them his brother would have been the same. The two brothers were not brought up the same but they would have had the same morals so they would be both psychos. Abuse has been linked to psychopathy during a persons childhood, which could have been either Nature or Nurture depending on who was doing the abusing. If the parents were abusive then Nurture was a bug factor but it could have also been abuse from school or other activities. The una bomber was primarily against technology which was spurred by his hate for one of his college professors. He was put through a test for students under a lot of stress and basically cracked under the stress and grew a hate for colleges and may have been a factor towards his becoming a psychopath.

  6. Tenzin Sonam on said:

    I think psychopaths come from both nature and nurture. Every psychopath is different. Many psychopaths come from rough families but also many are well raised. For some it could be 100% nature and for others it could be 100% nurture. For the majority I think it is a combination for nature and nurture.

  7. Brianna Pierre on said:

    I agree with Emilie that nature and nurture both play a large role in the upbringing of a psychopath, but personally I think nurture plays a larger role because when a child is born they mostly spend time with their parents and everything they learn the first few years of their life are from their parents.

  8. Hayden O'Brien on said:

    When Haidt says “But the rider’s job is to serve the elephant, not to act as a moral compass”(73) I believe he means that our conscious reasoning (rider) is meant not to guide our automatic processes (elephant), but rather to create reasons for the elephant to believe the direction it turns in as well as convince others to turn in that same direction. The rider simply views the outside world and perceives it in a way the elephant can view as a “method to its madness,” using a metaphor to describe another. The elephant on the other hand is not guided or controlled by the rider. It simply trudges forward throughout other distractions.

  9. Oscar Lainez on said:

    I honestly feel like when it come’s to becoming a psychopath, it is a mixture of both nurture and nature. You can have a hard time growing up so that you are able to not have any emotions and become a psychopath. You can also have defect and not have any emotions also makes sense.

  10. William Hanley on said:

    I believe while some psychopaths are born with out feeling, in the majority of the cases the upbringing of one can affect the emotional and mental stability. Things such as abusive parents or traumatic events could lead to a psychopathic disconnect.

  11. Brittney Rodriguez on said:

    I believe that when it comes to our development that it is from both our genetics and the environments we are raised in. In certain genes there are markers that indicate an individual is more likely to have violent tendencies. Although this individual has these tendencies, I think that based on the environment they are raised in they could deal with them in a better way. I believe that infants are all born the same. Even though an infant is born with this gene, I don’t think that at the young age of 6 months they would already be displaying characteristics of a psychopath. Rather than the child exhibiting these traits from birth I feel they would need to experience some sort of trauma, small or large, that would enter them into the beginning stages of a psychopath.

  12. I believe a psychopath is developed and not born in this world. Usually in most cases its how you’ve been raised. Most psychopaths are made from the bad environment they are surrounded by. They could of been not loved enough as a child which could cause the child to have no emotion and cause the child to not care about anything at all in world. These signs can lead the child to snap in a negative way which could lead the child to be a psychopath.

  13. Chelsea Romanish on said:

    Although there’s no way to be sure, I believe that your surroundings and experiences together shape who you become, the way you think, and how you generally behave. (For most people) As with anything, there can always be rare exceptions, and in this case people who lack emotion and the ability to care must have gone through something to make them different from the rest of us. Either some traumatic experience or extreme isolation would cause someone to be unexposed to needed nurture or a typically caring environment. Part of our development could very well come from our genetics, but that would mean those traits would be more or less the same for all of us. For those who are different in an extreme way (those who are extremely self centered and unempathetic) must have had something unique happen to them to make them the way they became. Intuition is something that I believe comes naturally, only under the “right” circumstances. If someone was brought up without a healthy and needed amount of affection, maybe they can’t develop a sense of affection on their own since they don’t really know what it is. Maybe they don’t loose the ability to be empathetic, rather they were just never exposed to it. And if you never experience self intuition, you can’t really develop morals for yourself. You cant reason what you don’t have.

  14. Sunha chung on said:

    hi my name is sunha. i believe that psychopaths are both developed from nature and nurture. In my opinion anyone can become a psychopath because of bad experiences on their childhood life or from an event that impact oneself to change dramatically. Psychopaths can be born with this condition, however i believe that through constant treatment and effort to get better to fit in can cure this. I consider psychopath as badly diseases that can be cured.

  15. Jonothon Cawley on said:

    hi my name is Jon. I think that psychopaths are developed from a combination of nature and nurture. It would seem that a child’s upbringing and environment would have the most direct impact on how they would act. Motherly love vs. a hard knock life. But from seeing some diseases first hand, such as autism, I know that genetics can greatly effect how a person perceives events and situations. My brother has a type of autism and before medication and treatment he seemed almost empty. It was like he wasn’t capable of showing remorse or regret for actions he knew that were wrong. There was no moral compass.

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