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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

The perfect conversation for summer on the value of play throughout our lives.

What’s so fascinating is how Dr. Stuart Brown first come to study play — by studying mass murderer Charles Whitman:

"In 1966 when I was just beginning to take over and office as an assistant professor of psychiatry, a young man by the name of Charles Whitman went up to the Texas Tower in Austin, Texas, after killing his wife and mother. He perpetrated what was then the largest mass murder in the history of the United States, killing 17 additional people and wounding 41. And because I had done some studies of violence in the course of my residency in neurology and psychiatry, and because in August in Texas most people who are important are elsewhere, I was put in charge of the behavioral aspect of trying to figure out why Charles Whitman did this horrendous crime. And we brought in the world’s experts to try to figure out the motivation of Charles Whitman, even though he had been killed by vigilante crossfire at the top of the tower.

And so for a very intense period of time, in addition to doing very detailed toxicologic and — studies of his body, we retrieved as much information as possible from his prenatal area all the way up to the last hours before he died. And without going through that entire story, one of the major conclusions, which struck me and has certainly stuck with me since, was that a remarkably systematic suppression of any free play — which was largely the result of his father’s overbearing and intense personality — prevented Charles Whitman from engaging in normal play at virtually any era of his life, including his early infancy.

We thought at the end of the Whitman study that this was such a bizarre aberration in human behavior that it probably was not something one could generalize from. So as a result of the funding available and the availability of research subjects in the prison system in Texas, a team of us then studied all the young murderers whose crime was essentially homicide without their being career criminals, and we did an in-depth study of them, their families, and compared them to as well-matched a control and comparison population as we could. And, lo and behold, we discovered that the majority of them — in fact 90% level — had really bizarre, absent, deficient, seriously deviant play histories.”

Feedback loops are powerful tools that can help people change bad behavior. Just as important; they can encourage good habits, turning progress itself into a reward.

—from Thomas Goetz’s “The Feedback Loop” in Wired

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

(via ripandread)


SoundSeen: Chris Farrell Puts Neuroeconomics and “Cleansing” in Focus
Trent Gilliss, online editor

The production tour for this week’s program with Paul Zak was rather circuitous. After Krista’s interview in late March, schedules and time lines became hectic and we had resigned ourselves to the fact that it wasn’t going to make for an hour-long production. A couple months later, Kate, our managing producer, asked about the interview and thought it was worth reviewing with fresh ears. Fortunately, she did, and we now have a program.

With all the interesting information about trust and oxytocin influencing personal financial decisions, Paul Zak’s statement about “the cleansing effect of recessions” prompted more questions for me:

"Economists talk of the cleansing effect of recessions. So recessions are necessary because they kind of cull out the companies that are not providing the best customer service, that are not making a profit, that are not providing some product or service that people need. And when those businesses go out of business, then those resources are redeployed to more important uses. The machines are reused; the people get different jobs. And so this keeps the economy kind of efficient. We don’t want to kind of limp along and have high levels of inefficiency just because we love the name General Motors or love the name of some company if they can’t kind of keep up with the herd. So competition drives that and that’s an important part of maintaining efficiency.

But I think the same thing can happen in individual lives. I think as we get towards the end of every boom period, today or two years ago, the end of the 1990s and dot-com bubble, the end of the ’80s and this kind of “me,” “greed” generation, I think we do get out of whack because human beings are adaptable and we are watching what other humans are doing. We also become adaptable to this sort of yuppie, ‘more stuff for me’ lifestyle.

So I think, from a spiritual perspective, that recessions are also cleansing. So I think it’s very important that we don’t shy away from recessions and we don’t try to outlaw them. I think we should say, ‘Hey, there were excesses. This is how the excesses are corrected. And the excesses were both kind of on the macro level and even perhaps in my own life. Maybe I got a little over-excited about the extra bonuses I was getting and the bigger car. And now I want to sit down and reevaluate what’s really important to me.’ So I think there are great analogies between the micro and the macro, and we should embrace that.”

These are bold statements that have implications. So, after our final editorial session, I suggested that perhaps Krista might ask Chris Farrell, APM’s resident expert on economics and all things financial, for a broader perspective on the field of neuroeconomics and its place within the larger world of economics. And, more explicitly, Krista asked Chris about his view of Zak’s perspective on moments of economic and moral “cleansing.” Chris’s historical and critical analysis I found helpful, and surprising.

I’m not sure if there are absolute right or wrong answers to this final point, but there are consequences. How do you think about this?


Michael McCullough on Revenge and Forgiveness
Shiraz Janjua, Associate Producer

A show we’re working on features psychologist Michael McCullough. He wrote a book about the evolutionary psychology behind the behaviors of forgiveness and revenge, and how that affects everyone from primates to politicians (huge gap, I know). He says we need to understand those origins in order to better serve our moral institutions today. Above is a clip from the rough cut of the show that makes the animal kingdom sound like The Godfather.

McCullough is a Ph.D. at the University of Miami in the departments of Psychology and Religious Studies. His many scientific papers focus on forgiveness and revenge, gratitude, and religious development in people’s lives. Some introductory ones:

He recently wrote something for The Huffington Post on the virtue of forgiveness — timely wisdom for the future president of the U.S., whoever that may end up being. “The ability to control revenge and broker forgiveness among groups in conflict is a crucial, though underappreciated, element of statecraft.”

The show should be online and on the air in two weeks.