Family violence against children in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic: a review of current perspectives and risk factors

The situation of crisis produced by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic poses major challenges to societies all over the world. While efforts to contain the virus are vital to protect global health, these same efforts are exposing children and adolescents to an increased risk of family violence. Various criminological theories explain the causes of this new danger. The social isolation required by the measures taken in the different countries, the impact on jobs, the economic instability, high levels of tension and fear of the virus, and new forms of relationships have all increased levels of stress in the most vulnerable families and, therefore, the risk of violence. In addition, mandatory lockdowns imposed to curb the spread of the disease have trapped children in their homes, isolating them from the people and the resources that could help them. In general, the restrictive measures imposed in many countries have not been accompanied by an analysis of the access to the resources needed to reduce this risk. It is necessary to take urgent measures to intervene in these high-risk contexts so that children and adolescents can develop and prosper in a society which is likely to undergo profound changes, but in which the defense of their rights and protection must remain a major priority.

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Parental Social Isolation and Child Maltreatment Risk during the COVID-19 Pandemic

On March 11, 2020, COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. The social isolation and economic stress resulting from pandemic have the potential to exacerbate child abuse and neglect. This study examines the association of parents’ perceived social isolation and recent employment loss to risk for child maltreatment (neglect, verbal aggression, and physical punishment) in the early weeks of the pandemic. Participants (N = 283) were adults living in the U.S. who were parents of at least one child 0–12 years of age. Participants completed an online survey approximately 2 weeks after the World Health Organization declared that COVID-19 was a pandemic. The survey asked about recent changes (i.e., in the past 2 weeks) to employment status, parenting behaviors, use of discipline, use of spanking, and depressive symptoms. Nearly 20% of parents had hit or spanked their child in the past two weeks alone. Parents’ perceived social isolation and recent employment loss were associated with self-report of physical and emotional neglect and verbal aggression against the child, even after controlling for parental depressive symptoms, income, and sociodemographic factors. Parents’ perceived social isolation was associated with parental report of changes in discipline, specifically, using discipline and spanking more often in the past 2 weeks. Associations were robust to analyses that included two variables that assessed days spent social distancing and days spent in “lockdown.” Study results point to the need for mental health supports to parents and children to ameliorate the strain created by COVID-19.

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Why using fear to promote COVID-19 vaccination and mask wearing could backfire

So, why not use fear to drive up vaccination rates and the use of masks, lockdowns and distancing now, at this moment of national fatigue? Why not sear into the national imagination images of makeshift morgues or of people dying alone, intubated in overwhelmed hospitals? Before we can answer these questions, we must first ask two others: Would fear be ethically acceptable in the context of COVID-19, and would it work? For people in high-risk groups – those who are older or have underlying conditions that put them at high risk for severe illness or death – the evidence on fear-based appeals suggests that hard-hitting campaigns can work. The strongest case for the efficacy of fear-based appeals comes from smoking: Emotional PSAs put out by organizations like the American Cancer Society beginning in the 1960s proved to be a powerful antidote to tobacco sales ads. Anti-tobacco crusaders found in fear a way to appeal to individuals’ self-interests.

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The politics of fear: How it manipulates us to tribalism

People have always used fear for intimidation of the subordinates or enemies, and shepherding the tribe by the leaders. Recently, it appears that Pres. Trump has used fear by suggesting in a tweet that four minority congresswomen go back to the places they came from.

There is a longstanding history of employing the fear of “the others,” turning humans into illogical ruthless weapons, in service to an ideology. Fear is a very strong tool that can blur humans’ logic and change their behavior.

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Sociality during the acquisition of abstract and concrete concepts

Sociality influences both concrete and abstract concepts acquisition and representation, but in different ways. Here we propose that sociality is crucial during the acquisition of abstract concepts but less for concrete concepts, that have a bounded perceptual referent and can be learned more autonomously. For the acquisition of abstract concepts, instead, the human relation would be pivotal in order to master complex meanings. Once acquired, concrete words can act as tools, able to modify our sensorimotor representation of the surrounding environment. Indeed, pronouncing a word the referent of which is distant from us we implicitly assume that, thanks to the contribution of others, the object becomes reachable; this would expand our perception of the near bodily space. Abstract concepts would modify our sensorimotor representation of the space only in the earlier phases of their acquisition, specifically when the child represents an interlocutor as a real, physical “ready to help actor” who can help her in forming categories and in explaining the meaning of words that do not possess a concrete referent. Once abstract concepts are acquired, they can work as social tools: the social metacognition mechanism (awareness of our concepts and of our need of the help of others) can evoke the presence of a “ready to help actor” in an implicit way, as a predisposition to ask information to fill the knowledge gaps.

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What evolves in the evolution of social learning?

Social learning is fundamental to social life across the animal kingdom, but we still know little about how natural selection has shaped social learning abilities on a proximate level. Sometimes, complex social learning phenomena can be entirely explained by Pavlovian processes that have little to do with the evolution of sociality. This implies that the ability to learn socially could be an exaptation, not an adaptation, to social life but not that social learning abilities have been left untouched by natural selection. I discuss new empirical evidence for associative learning in social information use, explain how natural selection might facilitate the associative learning process and discuss why such studies are changing the way that we think about social learning.

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Testosterone disrupts human collaboration by increasing egocentric choices

Collaboration can provide benefits to the individual and the group across a variety of contexts. Even in simple perceptual tasks, the aggregation of individuals’ personal information can enable enhanced group decision-making. However, in certain circumstances such collaboration can worsen performance, or even expose an individual to exploitation in economic tasks, and therefore a balance needs to be struck between a collaborative and a more egocentric disposition. Neurohumoral agents such as oxytocin are known to promote collaborative behaviours in economic tasks, but whether there are opponent agents, and whether these might even affect information aggregation without an economic component, is unknown. Here, we show that an androgen hormone, testosterone, acts as such an agent. Testosterone causally disrupted collaborative decision-making in a perceptual decision task, markedly reducing performance benefit individuals accrued from collaboration while leaving individual decision-making ability unaffected. This effect emerged because testosterone engendered more egocentric choices, manifest in an overweighting of one’s own relative to others’ judgements during joint decision-making. Our findings show that the biological control of social behaviour is dynamically regulated not only by modulators promoting, but also by those diminishing a propensity to collaborate.

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Co-evolution of cooperation and cognition

How does cognitive sophistication impact cooperation? We explore this question using a model of the co-evolution of cooperation and cognition. In our model, agents confront social dilemmas and coordination games, and make decisions using intuition or deliberation. Intuition is automatic and effortless, but relatively (although not necessarily completely) insensitive to context. Deliberation, conversely, is costly but relatively (although not necessarily perfectly) sensitive to context. We find that regardless of the sensitivity of intuition and imperfection of deliberation, deliberating undermines cooperation in social dilemmas, whereas deliberating can increase cooperation in coordination games if intuition is sufficiently sensitive. Furthermore, when coordination games are sufficiently likely, selection favours a strategy whose intuitive response ignores the contextual cues available and cooperates across contexts. Thus, we see how simple cognition can arise from active selection for simplicity, rather than just be forced to be simple due to cognitive constraints. Finally, we find that when deliberation is imperfect, the favoured strategy increases cooperation in social dilemmas (as a result of reducing deliberation) as the benefit of cooperation to the recipient increases.

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Social Relationships and Health: A Flashpoint for Health Policy

Social relationships—both quantity and quality—affect mental health, health behavior, physical health, and mortality risk. Sociologists have played a central role in establishing the link between social relationships and health outcomes, identifying explanations for this link, and discovering social variation (e.g., by gender and race) at the population level. Studies show that social relationships have short- and long-term effects on health, for better and for worse, and that these effects emerge in childhood and cascade throughout life to foster cumulative advantage or disadvantage in health. This article describes key research themes in the study of social relationships and health, and it highlights policy implications suggested by this research.

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The psychology of health and well-being in mass gatherings: A review and a research agenda

Mass gatherings bring large numbers of people into physical proximity. Typically, this physical proximity has been assumed to contribute to ill health (e.g., through being stressful, facilitating infection transmission, etc.). In this paper, we add a new dimension to the emerging field of mass gatherings medicine. Drawing on psychological research concerning group processes, we consider the psychological transformations that occur when people become part of a crowd. We then consider how these transformations may have various consequences for health and well-being. Some of these consequences may be positive. For example, a sense of shared identity amongst participants may encourage participants to view others as a source of social support which in turn contributes to a sense of health and well-being. However, some consequences may be negative. Thus, this same sense of shared identity may result in a loss of disgust at the prospect of sharing resources (e.g., drinking utensils) which could, in turn, facilitate infection transmission. These, and related issues, are illustrated with research conducted at the Magh Mela (North India). We conclude with an agenda for future research concerning health practices at mass gatherings.

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