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My First Library: Boxset of 10 Board Books for Kids
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Mischel and his colleagues administered the test and then tracked how children went on to fare later in life. They described the results in a study , which suggested that delayed gratification had huge benefits, including on such measures as standardized test scores. Watts and his colleagues were skeptical of that finding.

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Ultimately, the new study finds limited support for the idea that being able to delay gratification leads to better outcomes. The failed replication of the marshmallow test does more than just debunk the earlier notion; it suggests other possible explanations for why poorer kids would be less motivated to wait for that second marshmallow.

For them, daily life holds fewer guarantees: There might be food in the pantry today, but there might not be tomorrow, so there is a risk that comes with waiting. And even if their parents promise to buy more of a certain food, sometimes that promise gets broken out of financial necessity. In other words, a second marshmallow seems irrelevant when a child has reason to believe that the first one might vanish. He has scanned the brains of hundreds of inmates at maximum-security prisons and chronicled the neural differences between average violent convicts and psychopaths. Broadly speaking, Kiehl and others believe that the psychopathic brain has at least two neural abnormalities—and that these same differences likely also occur in the brains of callous children.

The first abnormality appears in the limbic system, the set of brain structures involved in, among other things, processing emotions.

Feral Children part 1

In particular, experts point to the amygdala—a part of the limbic system—as a physiological culprit for coldhearted or violent behavior. Someone with an undersize or underactive amygdala may not be able to feel empathy or refrain from violence. Essi Viding, a professor of developmental psychopathology at University College London recalls showing one psychopathic prisoner a series of faces with different expressions.

Why does this neural quirk matter? Abigail Marsh, a researcher at Georgetown University who has studied the brains of callous and unemotional children, says that distress cues, such as fearful or sad expressions, signal submission and conciliation. Psychopaths not only fail to recognize distress in others, they may not feel it themselves. The best physiological indicator of which young people will become violent criminals as adults is a low resting heart rate, says Adrian Raine of the University of Pennsylvania. Longitudinal studies that followed thousands of men in Sweden, the U.

The second hallmark of a psychopathic brain is an overactive reward system especially primed for drugs, sex, or anything else that delivers a ping of excitement. In one study, children played a computer gambling game programmed to allow them to win early on and then slowly begin to lose. Faulty brakes may help explain why psychopaths commit brutal crimes: Their brains ignore cues about danger or punishment. Researchers see this insensitivity to punishment even in some toddlers. This insight is driving a new wave of treatment. W ith each passing year, both nature and nurture conspire to steer a callous child toward psychopathy and block his exits to a normal life.

His brain becomes a little less malleable; his environment grows less forgiving as his exhausted parents reach their limits, and as teachers, social workers, and judges begin to turn away. By his teenage years, he may not be a lost cause, since the rational part of his brain is still under construction. But he can be one scary dude. The tall, lanky teenager has just emerged from his cell.

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Two staff members cuff his wrists, shackle his feet, and begin to lead him away. Suddenly he swivels to face me and laughs—a menacing laugh that gives me chills. As young men yell expletives, banging on the metal doors of their cells, and others stare silently through their narrow plexiglass windows, I think, This is as close as I get to Lord of the Flies.

Instead of placing young offenders in a juvenile prison until they were released to commit more—and more violent—crimes as adults, the Wisconsin legislature set up a new treatment center to try to break the cycle of pathology. It would be run by psychologists and psychiatric-care technicians, not wardens and guards. It would employ one staff member for every three kids—quadruple the ratio at other juvenile-corrections facilities.

They recall their first few assessments. Each one seemed more threatening than the last. What have we done? Many of the teenagers at Mendota grew up on the streets, without parents, and were beaten up or sexually abused. Violence became a defense mechanism. Caldwell and Van Rybroek recall a group-therapy session a few years ago in which one boy described being strung up by his wrists and hung from the ceiling as his father cut him with a knife and rubbed pepper in the wounds. Some of the boys were raised in middle-class homes with parents whose major sin was not abuse but paralysis in the face of their terrifying child.

No matter the history, one secret to diverting them from adult psychopathy is to wage an unrelenting war of presence.

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Caldwell mentions that, two weeks ago, one patient became furious over some perceived slight or injustice; every time the techs checked on him, he would squirt urine or feces through the door. This is a popular pastime at Mendota. The techs would dodge it and return 20 minutes later, and he would do it again.

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  • As we pass the metal doors with their narrow windows, the boys peer out and the yelling subsides into entreaties. She pauses to banter with each of them. The young men who pass through these halls have murdered and maimed, carjacked and robbed at gunpoint. These boys have been expelled from school, placed in group homes, arrested, and jailed. If punishment were going to rein them in, it would have by now. But their brains do respond, enthusiastically, to rewards. As they ascend in status, they earn privileges and treats—candy bars, baseball cards, pizza on Saturdays, the chance to play Xbox or stay up late.

    But then I walk down the South Hall with Ebsen. She stops and turns toward a door on our left. Ebsen unlocks the door to reveal a skinny year-old boy with a nascent mustache. He fans out his collection. When he was still a preteen, he began molesting the younger girl and boy next door. The abuse continued for a few years, until the boy told his mother. At Mendota, he has begun to see that short-term pleasure could land him in prison as a sex offender, while deferred gratification can confer more-lasting dividends: a family, a job, and most of all, freedom.

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    Unlikely as it sounds, this revelation sprang from his ardent pursuit of basketball cards. Just as consistent good behavior confers basketball cards and internet radio inside these walls, so—he believes—will it bring promotions at work. He peers at me, as if searching for confirmation. I nod, hoping that the world will work this way for him. Even more, I hope his insight will endure. In fact, the program at Mendota has changed the trajectory for many young men, at least in the short term. Caldwell and Van Rybroek have tracked the public records of juvenile delinquents after their release.

    One hundred forty-seven of them had been in a juvenile-corrections facility, and of them—the harder, more psychopathic cases—had received treatment at Mendota. In the four and a half years since their release, the Mendota boys have been far less likely to reoffend 64 percent versus 97 percent , and far less likely to commit a violent crime 36 percent versus 60 percent.

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    Most striking, the ordinary delinquents have killed 16 people since their release. The boys from Mendota? Not one. To test this hypothesis, Kiehl and the staff at Mendota are now asking some young men to slide into a mobile brain scanner. No one believes that Mendota graduates will develop true empathy or a heartfelt moral conscience.