Friday, February 07, 2014

Distortion of Psychology: There’s No Defense for Affluenza

Examining the psychological underpinnings of the misnamed “affluenza” defense, there’s no “there” there. Let’s take Couch’s history of a lack of appropriate consequences for his behavior. In essence, this part of the defense’s argument rests on the assumption that knowing the law is not enough to deter someone from criminal acts. Instead, the person must have experienced deleterious consequences for his or her socially inappropriate or illegal behavior in the past. Otherwise (it seems to follow), the threat of legal consequences will appear empty since the person hadn’t experienced consequences before. This argument doesn’t hold water...Even though Couch’s parents may not have taught him that his inappropriate behavior has negative consequences, this doesn’t mean that he was incapable of learning this lesson in other areas of his life. We know that people are sensitive to context and accurately distinguish between consequences that will occur in one situation but not in another. Even rats and other animals learn to make analogous types of discriminations based on context. They learn that if a light is on when they press a lever, they’ll receive a food pellet, but when the light is off they won’t. If you’ve spent time around preschoolers you know that they are sensitive to context—to how much they can “get away with” when Person A is in charge of them versus Person B. High-school students learn that a substitute teacher has less authority, and thus they may act up with him or her in ways they would never consider with their regular teacher. more

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