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Issues in Interdisciplinarity 2019-20

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History of the Nuclear Family in Britain

The common nuclear family: parents with their two children

This chapter will tackle the debate around the emergence of the nuclear family in Britain, within and between disciplines. The nuclear family is the basic type of family, composed of a conjugal pair and their children.[1] To understand the current debates surrounding the changing nature of the family and the reasons for the apparent decline of the nuclear family, studying its emergence is crucial.

Historical Context Edit

The History of the Family only formed after 1958.[2] Initial research assigned the emergence of the nuclear family to the "structural modernisation of western societies since the 19th century".[2] The pre-nuclear family was seen as more complex in structure, changing due to nuclearization, individualism, and emotionalism.[2] From the 1970s, research became more defined, accounting the shift in family structures to a point earlier in History.[2]

Stone's 1977 research locates the late Medieval family, already concentrated around the nuclear family, within a complex system of kinship relations.[3] The family structure began forming more defined boundaries between 1500–1700, resulting in the isolated nuclear family between 1600–1700. The transformation was due to the diminishing importance of kinship and clientage, the increasing state power, and the missionary success of Protestantism.[3]

Macfarlarne (1987) provides a contradicting view,[2] arguing against a change in the structure of the English family in the early modern period, and that the family's key features were not caused by urbanisation, but actually "made such a development possible".[2]

While it is important to recognise that both change and continuity were present in the history of family,[2] this debate within history adds further complexity to taking an interdisciplinary approach.

Anthropological Approach Edit

The term "nuclear family" first emerged within Anthropology during the 1940s.[1] Anthropology, however, distinguishes that the common focus on the nuclear family as a modern institution is not justified. In the late Roman Empire, the nuclear family already existed as the smallest unit of society.[4] There have even been discoveries of the graves of nuclear families dating back to 2600 BCE, such as the one by Haak et al found in 2006 in a late Neolithic community in Germany.[5][6]

Malinowski and other functionalists viewed the nuclear family as a "universal human institution"[7][8] and ascribed nurturing as its prime function. Later Anthropologists disagreed, identifying 'The Family' as a construct linked to the state's ideology and arguing that it is the mother-child relation that serves the function of child nurturing.[7] However, a conjugal pair has always been the centre of kin relations and served as "the basis of a nuclear family".[4]

Goody points out how the language around kinship highlights the crucial role of the nuclear family in England: While Anglo-Saxon words for nuclear family members and kin members were closely related, this changed after the conquest of England in 1066. The Norman-French terms for kin members were adapted, while Germanic roots of the closest kind remained. This merge of languages isolated the nuclear family within society.[4]

Anthropologists consider an earlier time period than other disciplines, often ignoring the possibility of later origins.

Sociology approach Edit

Research on the nuclear family developed significantly from the early 1900s, with major shifts during the 20th century.[9] Sociologists have always fixated on a linear progression from extended families pre-industrialisation to the nuclear family post-industrialisation. Thus, focusing on Contemporary History in their analysis of the nuclear family has meant that they failed to consider factors pre-industrialisation.

Industrialisation of Britain, started in the 18th century and spread to other parts of the world later on.[10]

Earlier sociologists, such as Parson[11] championed this theory. They believed industrialisation of Britain caused a complete transformation in family structure; a reduction in size, prioritising of conjugal bonds rather than extended family.[9] Furthermore, it was thought that urbanisation, loosened kinship ties. The nuclear family was perceived as more suited to the higher demands of an industrial society due to their increased social and geographical mobility.[12] The popular theories of functionalism and modernism during the 1950s, formed a hierarchy of societies based on the progression towards nuclear families, which were seen as superior[13]

Revisionist Theory (1960s-1970s) Edit

Revisionists[14] challenged importance of industrialisation in the formation of the nuclear family. Anderson explains how huge changes in production were only possible after or simultaneous to changing family order.[9] The use of more historical sources and a new emphasis on class in Sociology, helped create a more complex theory of the origins of the nuclear family.[9] Gordon[11] highlighted how working class families extended to deal with the hardships of industrialisation, showing that earlier theories were oversimplified. Ultimately both revisionists and traditional sociologists were limited by their fixation on the industrialisation and didn't appreciate the influence of other events before and after it.

Economic Approach Edit

Pre-Industrial Revolution Beliefs Edit

Adam Smith is renowned as the father of modern Economics[15]

Within Economics, there is little research into the origination of the nuclear family before the Industrial Revolution. Economists such as Alfred Marshall and Adam Smith, however, outlined the presence of neolocal residences[16], which form the foundations of a nuclear family.

19th Century Origins Edit

As outlined in the Sociological Approach, Parsons' theory draws upon the economic impact of the Industrial Revolution on families. Parsons' lack of empirical evidence,[17] however, makes this theory weak from an economic perspective. Anderson's research also opposes this as he found 23% of households contained extended family[18] in an 1851 census, at the peak of industrialisation.

21st Century Research Edit

Recent research into the History of the Nuclear Family focuses more on the shift in family structure, especially the transition into the 'typical' Nuclear Family seen in the 21st Century of a couple with two children. This shift is most apparent between 1881 and 1928 when the mean number of children within a family fell from 5.27 to 2.08.[19]

The main catalysts of the shift to a smaller family structure originated during World War I. With 40-60% of recruits failing health checks during the Boer War,[20] it became clear that social reform was necessary to have a strong labour force. The Liberal Government placed the pressure of financing these reforms on the wealthy through tax policies. Many families saw a break down of their wealth and a deterioration of the man's position within the home, paired with the increase in a women's independence during and after WWI, the typical roles within a family changed. Many landowners sold parts of their estates to compensate their loss of income, and these properties were largely partitioned into smaller units to help defeat the housing crisis. The combination of these factors led to a fall in the size of the family as a focus on children and wellbeing also began to dominate families' thinking.

Overall Economic research mostly investigates the shifts in family structures and their significance within society as opposed to its origins, thus it is less significant to the debate.

Conclusion Edit

Anthropology differs in its temporal approach to the other disciplines. Economy, History, and especially Sociology tend to use historical dichotomies of before and after,[9] regarding the transformation from extended to nuclear families, disregarding periods of history that could be evaluated into analysis.

These disciplines have all evolved their arguments about the emergence of the nuclear family, especially over the last century. Whilst there are conflicts within disciplines, and more importantly between the disciplines about the emergence, an interdisciplinary approach allows a broader analysis of the topic, and a multi-faceted understanding of the implications of family structure in the ever-changing world around us.

References Edit

  1. a b Murdock G. Social structure. George Peter Murdock, .. New York: Macmillan C°; 1949.
  2. a b c d e f g Wrightson K. The family in early modern England: continuity and change. In: Hanoverian Britain and Empire, Woodbridge: The Boydell Press; 1998
  3. a b Stone L. The family, sex and marriage in England 1500–1800. London: Penguin; 1990.
  4. a b c Goody J. The European Family. An Historico-Anthropological Essay. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers Ltd; 2000
  5. Haak W et al. Ancient DNA, Strontium isotopes, and osteological analyses shed light on social and kinship organization of the Later Stone Age. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2008; 105(47): 18226-18231. Available from:
  6. Fortunato, L. Reconstructing the History of Marriage Strategies in Indio-European Speaking Societies: Monogamy and Polygamy. Human Biology. 2011; 83 (1): 87–105. Available from:
  7. a b Collier J, Rosaldo M, Yanagisako S. Is There a Family? New Anthropological Views. In: Thorne B, Yalom M. editors, Rethinking the Family: Some Feminist Questions. Boston: Northeastern University Press; 1992. Chapter 2.
  8. Malinowski B. The Family among the Australian Aborigines. London: University of London Press; 1913.
  9. a b c d e Anderson M. Sociology of the family. New York: Penguin; 1982.
  10. Industrial Revolution | Definition, Facts, & Summary [Internet]. Encyclopedia Britannica. 2019 [cited 8 December 2019]. Available from:
  11. a b Gillies V. Family and Intimate Relationships: A Review of the Sociological Research [Families & Social Capital ESRC Research Group]. Southbank university; 2019.
  12. Livesey C. [Internet]. 2019 [cited 6 December 2019]. Available from:
  13. Cherlin A. Goode's World Revolution and Family Patterns: A Reconsideration at Fifty Years. Population and Development Review [Internet]. 2012 [cited 6 December 2019];38(4):577-607. Available from:
  14. Smith D. The Curious History of Theorizing about the History of the Western Nuclear Family. 2019.
  15. Sharma R. Adam Smith: The Father of Economics. Investopedia, Investopedia, 2019 Nov 18. Available from:
  16. Smith D. The Curious History of Theorizing about the History of the Western Nuclear Family. Social Science History. 1993;17(3)
  17. Abbott D. The Family and Industrialisation. Tutor2U. 2009. Available from:
  18. Anderson M. Sociological History and the Working-Class Family: Smelser Revisited. Social History. 1976;1(3)
  19. Gente M. The Expansion of the Nuclear Family Unit in Great Britain between 1910 and 1920. The History of the Family. 2001;6(1). Available from:
  20. Winter J. Military Fitness and Civilian Health in Britain during the First World War. Journal of Contemporary History. 1980;15(2): 211.

The issue of History in the 2013 - 2016 EVD epidemic

Introduction Edit

The first outbreaks of the Ebola Virus Disease were in 1976 in the DRC and Sudan. The subsequent West African Epidemic reached mortality rates of up to 90%, more specifically in Liberia, Guinea, Mali, Sierra Leon, Nigeria and Senegal.[1] The epidemic had devastating social, political impacts on the countries’ economies and healthcare systems.

The death toll by October 2015, 11,323, begs us to question methods employed to end the outbreak.[2] Medical and biological sciences are needed to explain the origin and treatment of diseases, while understanding the cultural practices that prevented the containment of EVD requires anthropological perspectives. However, the history of these different disciplines is problematic in tackling the crisis, as scientific procedure tends to take precedence. We will therefore explore different disciplinary approaches to the 2013-2016 Ebola crisis, illustrating the benefits of interdisciplinary thinking.

Extension of the 2014 EVD epidemic in West Africa

Biology and Virology Edit

Zaire Ebolavirus is one of the most virulent pathogens within the hemorrhagic fevers.[3] The virus spreads through contact with bodily fluids. The incubation period is 21 days, during which the patient may inadvertently cause propagation. Symptoms are similar to other diseases found in West Africa such as malaria, Lassa fever and typhoid, resulting in frequent misdiagnosis.

Cases and deaths from April 2014 to July 2015 during the 2013-2015 outbreak. A total of 28, 646 cases.
Electron micrograph of an Ebola virusvirion

Its genome consists of non-segmented, negative-sense, and single-stranded RNA molecule. After contagion, the virus targets and weakens the immune system, specifically dendritic cells. In a study published by 'Cell Host & Microbe', research found that the VP24 protein on Ebola inhibits the production of antibodies.[4] Toxins trigger the release of proinflammatory cytokine and nitric oxide, which damage the endothelial lining of blood vessels. Then, the repeated coagulation reduces blood supply resulting in fatal organ failure.[5]

Immediate symptoms of Ebola

No cure exists for EVD, but in 2016 the rVSV-ZEBOV vaccine was found to be 70-100% effective.[6]

Responses Edit

1. Medical Edit

The primary aim of medical practitioners was to interrupt transmission chains by quarantining patients.[7] The EVD response privileged the work of scientists often overlooking social and cultural factors. Medical intervention was highly individualistic and included enforced quarantines, movement prohibition, traveller test points, and mandated cremation. Unsurprisingly, the effectiveness of such measures increased the stigmatisation surrounding the disease.[8]  Medical practitioners used IgM ELISA tests, RT-PCR tests, biopsy samples and viral cultures to diagnose patients and limit the spread of ebola.

Ebola Pathogenesis schematic
VHF isolation precautions poster

While there were no approved treatments, supportive care like the one recommended by the CDC was applied to alleviate the patients' suffering. This included: oral rehydration therapy, intravenous fluids, oxygen therapy, treating other infections if they occurred, and disinfecting surfaces with (>70%) alcohol wipes. Conventional medicine was used to relieve the symptoms (high blood pressure, vomiting, fever and pain).[9][10] Medical workers used experimental treatments such as immune serums, antiviral drugs and possible blood transfusions to impede the disease from victimising others. To provide relief, the doctors deployed in the infected areas set up treatment and isolation centres rather than search for a cure. Containment was the main concern so medical action was largely unquestioned.[11]

Yet this approach was occasionally met with hostility for example when 8 health workers attempting to raise awareness about EVD in a village in Guinea were murdered.[12] While historically very effective at minimising physical suffering, the massacre of health workers made it painfully clear that this historical authority is not universal. Therefore, medics must turn to anthropologists to understand the important cultural dynamics present in diverse African societies.[13]

2. Anthropological Approach Edit

Anthropological research illustrates how social and cultural factors contributed to the biological transmission of EVD during the 2013 West Africa outbreak and interfered with the corresponding medical response. Many of the affected countries suffer from poverty and the recent civil wars in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone left behind fragile health care systems and physician shortages regionally.[14] The consequent challenged quarantine, ineffective alerts and pleas for assistance facilitated further infection.[7]

An example of a hospital isolation ward

Understanding cultural practices in infected regions is integral to tackling the EVD crisis effectively. Cultural differences between health practitioners and locals was problematic in dealing with the outbreak. The WHO’s retrospective analysis of the outbreak showed locals feared how much western treatment contradicted traditional practices regarding the dying or diseased.[14] Ancestral funeral rites such as sleeping next to an infectious corpse of the community and bathing in water used to rinse corpses were attributable to 80% of cases in Sierra Leone by WHO estimates. The stigma around these cultural practices drove families to hide symptomatic relatives, leading to infection of their households. Traditions of returning dying patients to their native village elevated the risk of transmission through cross-border movement.[7]

Fear of physicians was another barrier to its eradication. In Guinea, rumours of health workers disinfecting a market contaminating people led to riots. Proving that health care responses require communication between medical practitioners and community leaders.[15] A post-colonial reading of western aid sees imperialistic thinking that disregards customs. Doctors often see locals' apprehension of western medicine as backwards tradition and the work of well-respected African healers is disregarded. Biology failed to provide a complete explanation nor complete response to EVD epidemic. Anthropological research is needed to provide culturally-sensitive aid. Moreover, theology could further inform anthropology in local religious customs.

3. Theological Approach Edit

Burials according to biomedicine and theology present contradictory practices. Biomedicine, a Western discipline, institutionalises quarantines in burials,[16] whereas West African religious preach religious inquires into pathology during burials.[17]

Burials are important in many West African religions, as the time for the deceased to enter the afterlife, join their ancestors, and overlook the living. Ill-performed rituals could trap the spirits in the living realm and taunt loved ones.[18] Bodies are cleansed and foetuses are removed from pregnant bodies to uphold natural cycles and ensure the wellbeing of both alive and dead.[19][20] Thus, religious procedures concerning remains are strictly adhered to. Disagreements over how burials should be performed have arisen during the outbreak because the meaning of burials diverges between biomedicine and West African theology. An example of this is, in Guinea, a burial was brought to standstill amidst disagreements between a Kissi family and the medical team on how to handle the remains. The body rotted as the dispute carries on, which risked further infections upon leakage.[17][21] Meanwhile, another team in Guinea substituted old repatriation rituals for the foetus’ removal, and successfully buried the pregnant body to everyone’s satisfaction.[19][21] This underpins the importance of theology in complementing biomedicine and anthropology to understand, manage, and quell epidemics like Ebola in West Africa.

Conclusion Edit

The 2013-2016 Ebola epidemic captured the world’s attention, and experts from a diverse range of disciplines sprang into West Africa’s aid; with medics handling the majority of ailments, while anthropologists liaised with communities, and religious leaders encouraging cooperation.

Unfortunately, due to the complex lexicon, disciplinary boundaries, and historical paradigms behind these disciplines; their ideas diverge on many seemingly intuitive concepts like burials, and could not communicate effectively. An interdisciplinary approach bridging knowledge between disciplines in their interpretation of treatment, healing, and well-being, could converge the efforts with synergetic effects.

Healthcare spending in West African countries such as DR Congo falls short of other countries in the continent, and public finances may be better managed with insights from governance
A mathematical model of epidemics, which could disease control centres the amount of resources needed at given points in time and where to distribute them

Further disciplines may also be introduced, such as mathematical models of disease transmission, governance theories of public healthcare, and psychological perspectives on trauma. While each discipline has developed distinct metrics and criteria for what a good approach is, coherence could be achieved between these knowledge frameworks if differences are proactively reconciled.

References Edit

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [Internet]. 2019. 2014-2016 Ebola Outbreak in West Africa. [cited 2019Dec5]. Available from:
  2. Boseley S. Ebola crisis – the story in brief [Internet]. The Guardian. Guardian News and Media; 2015 [cited 2019Dec5]. Available from:
  3. Zawilińska B, Kosz-Vnenchak M. General introduction into the Ebola virus biology and disease [Internet]. Folia medica Cracoviensia. U.S. National Library of Medicine; 2014 [cited 2019Dec5]. Available from:
  4. Servick K. Science. What does Ebola actually do? [Internet]. 13 August 2014. [Accessed 5 December 2019]. Available from:
  5. Wambani RJ, Ogola PE, Arika WM, Rachuonyo HO, Burugu MW. Ebola Virus Disease: A Biological and Epidemiological Perspective of a Virulent Virus. Journal of Infectious Diseases and Diagnosis [Internet]. 2015Jan26 [cited 2019Dec5];1(1):2–4. Available from:
  6. Henao-Restrepo AM, Camacho A, Longini IM, Watson CH, Edmunds WJ, Egger M. Efficacy and effectiveness of an rVSV-vectored vaccine in preventing Ebola virus disease: final results from the Guinea ring vaccination, open-label, cluster-randomised trial. The Lancet [Internet]. [cited 2019Dec8];389:505–18. Available from:
  7. a b c Factors that contributed to undetected spread of the Ebola virus and impeded rapid containment [Internet]. World Health Organization. World Health Organization; 2015 [cited 2019Dec6]. Available from:
  8. Pellecchia U, Crestani R, Al-Kourdi Y, Drecoo T, Van den Bergh R. Social Consequences of Ebola Containment Measures in Liberia. National Centre for Biotechnology Information [Internet]. [cited 2019Dec8];10(12). Available from:
  9. Ebola (Ebola Virus Disease) Treatment [Internet]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2019 [cited 2019Dec8]. Available from:
  10. Oleribe OO. Ebola virus disease epidemic in West Africa: lessons learned and issues arising from West African countries. Royal College of Physicians [Internet]. 2015Feb [cited 2019Dec8];15(1). Available from:
  11. Davis CP. Ebola Virus Vaccine, Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Contagious [Internet]. MedicineNet. 2019 [cited 2019Dec8]. Available from:
  12. Phillip A. Eight dead in attack on Ebola team in Guinea. ‘Killed in cold blood.’ The Washington Post [Internet]. 2014Sep18 [cited 2019Dec8]; Available from:
  13. Obeng-Odoom FMB, Bockarie MMB. The Political Economy of the Ebola Virus Disease. Social Change [Internet]. [cited 2019Dec8];48(1):18–35. Available from:
  14. a b Calnan M, Gadsby EW, Kondé MK, Diallo A, Rossman JS. The Response to and Impact of the Ebola Epidemic: Towards an Agenda for Interdisciplinary Research. National Centre for Biotechnology Information [Internet]. 2017Sep3 [cited 2019Dec7];7(5):402–11. Available from:
  15. Scott V, Crawford-Browne S, Sanders D. Critiquing the response to the Ebola epidemic through a Primary Health Care Approach. BMC Public Health [Internet]. 2016May17 [cited 2019Dec6];16(1). Available from:
  16. Kinsman J, Angrén J, Elgh F, Furberg M, Mosquera AP, Otero-García L, et al. Preparedness and response against diseases with epidemic potential in the European Union: a qualitative case study of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and poliomyelitis in five member states. Bmc Health Serv Res [Internet]. 2018 Jul [cited 2019 Dec 2];18(528). Available from:
  17. a b Fassassi A. How Anthropologists Help Medics Fight Ebola in Guinea [Internet]. SciDevNet [2014 Sep 24] [cited 2019 Dec 2]. Available from:
  18. Anderson A. African Religions. In: Kastenbaum R, editors. Macmillan Encyclopedia of Death and Dying. 1st ed. New York: Macmillan Reference USA; 2003. p. 9-13
  19. a b Maxmen A, Muller P. An Epidemic Evolves - How the Fight Against Ebola Tested a Culture’s Traditions [Internet]. National Geographic [2015 Jan 30] [cited 2019 Dec 2]. Available from:
  20. Manguvo A, Mafuvadze B. The Impact of Traditional and Religious Practices on the Spread od Ebola in West Africa: Time for a Strategic Shift. Pan Afr Med J [internet]. 2015 Oct [cited 2019 Dec 2]; 22(Suppl 1):9. Available from:
  21. a b World Health Organization. What We Know About Transmission of the Ebola Virus Among Humans [Internet]. World Health Organization [2014 Oct 6] [cited 2019 Dec 2]. Available from:

The Issue of History in Wellbeing

The different aspects of well-being.

Introduction Edit

The term “well-being” was first utilised in 1561, denoting that a person or a community is healthy, happy, or prosperous; physical, psychological, or moral welfare.[1] It is commonly understood as the desirable state of life and, although the English term arose recently, well-being has always been pursued by mankind. It is therefore investigated in various disciplines, though each one has created its definition of it, prioritising certain aspects of well-being over others. In the following paragraphs, the current theories of “well-being” in various disciplines and historical root of disciplinary boundaries will be elucidated by presenting the possible formation of their paradigms.[2]

Wellbeing in Disciplines Edit

Wellbeing within Economics Edit

Economics is a discipline that is built fundamentally on the belief that humans have unlimited wants but limited resources[3]. Economists believe that efficiency and productivity are critical as this reduces scarcity, increasing the quality of life[4] Before, wellbeing was present indirectly through the concept of utility (defined as the total satisfaction received from consuming a good or service)[5]., which was integral to the discipline[6]. Early neoclassical economists believed that goods and services could be assigned numerical values where consumption estimated the consumer's happiness[7].Thus, they believed that the Gross Domestic Product was an appropriate indicator of well-being and that maximising economic growth was the key to improving it. However, this seemed to shift starting from the 1970s[8] due to Easterlin's research (1974) revealing that people in higher-income countries were not necessarily happier than those in lower-income ones[9]. Henceforth, economists became more aware of their overly-reductionistic view of well-being; besides material well-being, there was a need to recognise subjective and relational well-being [10]. This led to the rise of “happiness economics” (observing the effect of economic and social indicators on individual happiness) and quality of life indices, which saw a shift from a focus on GDP to economics becoming more people-centric[11].

Wellbeing within Philosophy Edit

Philosophy (Greek ϕιλοσοϕία, love of knowledge)[12] is a discipline exploring problems with the nature of existence, knowledge, morality, reason and human purpose.[13] Due to the emergence of philosophical inquiry, when Thales questioned the beginning of things,[14] philosophers started to adore reasoning the hidden truth of existence rather than deriving theories through empirical research.[15][16] Wellbeing was widely discussed among historical moral philosophers. Common debates included how to ensure one’s life went well, how to live well and whether well-being was objective or subjective. The earliest theory, by Aristotle, claims that “eudaimonia” is the highest achievement of men, accomplished by pushing one’s life to its limits and thus attaining excellence (aretē).[17] Another important theory is Hedonism, ( hēdonē, pleasure in Greek), argues that wellbeing is the experience of more pleasure over pain.[18] Desire Fulfillment Theory emerged in the 19th century, partly due to the rise of welfare economics, holding the opinion that well-being lies in the fulfilment of one's desires.[19] Lastly, "Objective list theories" holds that well-being is the result of a number of objective conditions rather than the subjective experience of pleasure or the fulfilment of subjective desires.[20]

Wellbeing within Neuroscience (Psychology and Biology) Edit

The key hypothesis of positive health is that well-being will be accompanied by the optimal functioning of multiple biological systems. This biopsychosocial interplay is proposed to comprise part of the mechanistic processes that help the individual maintain functional health, and thereby extended periods of quality living[21]. Researchers argue that biological factors such as the hormonal and neurochemical levels produced by one’s brain play a significant role in the wellbeing of an individual[22]. Neuroscience studies showed that parts of the brain and neurotransmitters play a role in controlling happiness, which contributes to one’s well-being. However, a study regarding antidepressants showed that though these medications immediately boost the concentration of chemical messengers in the brain (neurotransmitters) yet people typically don't begin to feel better for several weeks or longer[23]. Experts have long wondered why, if depression was primarily the result of poor well-being, people do not feel better as soon as levels of neurotransmitters increase. This led to the paradigm shift that although a substantial proportion of the variance in well-being can be attributed to heritable and biological factors such as health, environmental, psychological and economic factors play an equally important role[24].

Evaluation Edit

As expounded above, despite several overlaps, the four different disciplines demonstrate diverging perspectives and approaches towards well-being. This shows how, when faced with a subject as abstract and undefined as well-being, the history of disciplines can become an obstacle to interdisciplinary research. Firstly, the fundamental beliefs and focus of the disciplines led them to define well-being inconsistently. The reduction of opportunity cost, decision-making and resources are critical building blocks in economic theory and thus, the narrowed economists' viewpoint of well-being being dependent on materialistic gains. Thus, even though subjective well-being data arose in the 1970s in Economics, there was still a general aversion and sceptical attitude towards it until the 1990s when happiness economics finally took off[25]. On the other hand, philosophy and psychology are more interested in the individual. This drives them to prioritise subjective well-being which is demonstrated by well-respected theories such as the Desire Fulfilment Theory. Unfortunately, this causes them to neglect the importance of material well-being. Secondly, methodology interferes with interdisciplinary collaboration. In philosophy, the theories about well-being were largely derived based on a process of intuition and logical reasoning. However, in medicine, such methods are not well-recognized as the discipline's approach is traditionally built on empirical science. Since many determinants of health can be measured which leads to the possibility of diagnosis and it is a struggle to quantify well-being, any other aspect of well-being beyond physical health is often difficult to incorporate within the discipline and its practices[26]. Lastly, terminology that seems natural in a certain discipline could lead to misunderstandings and complications during interdisciplinary collaboration. For example, the definition of "happiness" is slightly different in Economics and Psychology. While Economics strongly ties "happiness" with prosperity, Psychology recognises "happiness" in terms of the pleasure one experiences[27]. Thus, this leads to discordance when they attempt to collaborate on the topic of well-being.

Conclusion Edit

For interdisciplinary research, it is important to understand the history of different disciplines. By tracing well-being’s development within relative disciplines, the differences in theories, lexicons,methodologies, threshold concepts and paradigms are glaringly obvious and demonstrate the factors resulting in interdisciplinary boundaries. However, an understanding of each discipline’s history helps overcome interdisciplinary conflicts, fostering collaborations. For instance, the emergence of experimental philosophy and analytic philosophy, which promotes the combination of empirical research with the traditional philosophical research methodologies, bridged the gap between Biology and Philosophy. When disciplines moved past their historical boundaries, the complex and multi-faceted nature of wellbeing could then be fully appreciated. For example, Carol Ryff’s six-factor model remains one of psychology’s most predominantly accepted models that measures an individual’s wellbeing to date. Her model amalgamates theories from John Stuart Mill, Abraham Maslow, Carl Jung and Aristotle[28]. Comprising of six elements from different disciplines, her model insinuates that an individual’s psychological wellbeing is determined by his or her external environment and its various factors, which is the most balanced portrayal of well-being.

References Edit

Truth in Lie Detection through Neurolaw

Neurolaw combines law andneuroscience and explores how neuroscientific findings are applied legally.[29] At the centre of neurolaw lies the human brain as a critical factor in legal decision making and policy. Thus, neurolaw uses neuroscientific data for a better understanding of human behaviour to achieve a more accurate legal system.[30][31][32] Within a law context neuroscience is applied in subfields such as health law, constitutional law, employment law, or criminal law. Issues addressed range from potential implications of cognitive impairment on sentencing tonootropics to questions regarding techniques employed to gather neuroscientific data.[30]

Introduction Edit

Techniques in Neurolaw Edit

Neurolaw predominantly relies on brain imaging methods such as PET and fMRI.[30][31][32] These techniques explore aspects of human cognition including intention, morality, and decision making.[33] PET and fMRI acquire data about brain activity during a specific perceptual or cognitive task. Both measure time-dependent changes in local blood flow to determine the most active brain areas.[34]

Lie Detection Edit

Brain areas implicated in deception

Since the legal system often relies on witness accounts, it is important that those accounts are credible. Thus, central to the field is differentiating truth from lies and finding appropriate methods to do so. Different technologies for lie detection such as polygraphs and more recently fMRI data have since been considered.[35] A polygraph is a device measuring autonomic body responses including heart rate, respiration, blood pressure and galvanic skin reactions in response to specific questions presented to a person.[36] fMRI lie detection rests on the assumption that cognitive processes, including deception, are reflected by brain physiology. Brain regions such as the IFG, IPL, MFG and SFG have been implicated in lying.[37]

However, the controversy about using neuroscientific lie detection technology is ongoing and it is likely that interdisciplinary epistemological differences concerning truth lie at the centre of the debate.

Truth in Neuroscience & Law Edit

Truth in Neuroscience Edit

Neuroscience uses positivism and interpretivism when approaching truth.

Positivism asserts that truth is exclusively verifiable through experimentation, observation and logic.[38] Neuroscientists conduct research through observing brain activity using MRI scans, computerised 3D models and experiments involving cells and tissues to develop new treatments.[39] As neuroscientists approach truth objectively by observing and experimenting, neuroscience is predominantly positivist.

Interpretivism emphasises qualitative analysis, employing various methodologies to reflect multiple aspects of an issue.[40] For example, as feelings reflect the ability to subjectively experience states of the nervous system, it is difficult to study them empirically as direct metrics cannot quantify changes unambiguously. Thus, indirect methods based on theoretical inferences are used.[41] The subjective nature of interpretivism facilitates the understanding of subjective phenomena.

Truth in Law Edit

While law uses positivism, it also relies on social constructionism when approaching truth.

Positivism is used in judicial decision making. In a court of law, evidence is introduced to a judge or jury as proof; with admissible evidence being reliable documents, testimony and tangible evidence relevant to the case.[42] Empirical facts and logic are important legally, such as the proof of a defendant's guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

Social constructionism emphasises that "truth" is constructed by social practices, human interactions and language use.[43] In criminal law, the legality of behaviour lies in its social response rather than its content, with behaviours criminalised through social construction. The legality of behaviour can be changed by social movements; while criminality is perceived differently across cultures and time.[44] As crime is constructed socially, social constructionism is useful in understanding truth in law.

While neuroscience and law both use positivist views, the interpretivist aspects of neuroscience are distrusted in a legal context, resulting in debates such as the admission of fMRI lie detection evidence in court.

Conflicting Truth in Lie Detection Edit

Case Study Edit

Example of fMRI images of the brain

United States v. Semrau [45] illustrates the difference in interpreting truth between law's positivism and neuroscience's interpretivism. To convict the plaintiff of defrauding the healthcare benefit programme, it was necessary to prove that Semrau acted knowingly. Semrau’s appeal presented a fMRI lie detection test, testified by Dr. Steven J. Laken, CEO of Cephos Cooperation, a company that claims it uses “state-of-art-technology that is unbiased and scientifically validated” in its investigation services.[46]

Tension in Views of Truth Edit

United States v. Semrau shows that using fMRI data as evidence to verify the credibility of people's accounts is controversial. In this case the plaintiff's fatigue affected his brain scans causing inconsistencies in results.[47] This reflects a more general issue of using fMRI data in a legal context. Research on lie detection and conclusions gathered from it are usually generated in a controlled experimental setting. However, the conditions under which people try to detect lies in court are very different from the conditions usually employed in scientific experiments. Therefore fMRI data may not have sufficient external validity in court.[48] For instance, there is no perfect correlation between deception and physiological response,[49] data gathered from arousal patterns can result in false positives[50] and, as it was the case in United States v. Semrau, a person's condition can affect the results. Thus, the possibility of falsifying true narratives through erroneously interpreting empirical data raises legal liability.

Consequently, how truth is presented and interpreted is limited by legal admissibility. The prevailing tension in whether legal or neuroscientific standards should be used to determine the admissibility of brain-based lie-detection in courtrooms stems from the extent to which brain scans can demonstrate that they indeed identify what they claim to be measuring. Brain images have no inherent significance without interpretation. However, when presented as evidence to the jury in the course of a trial, they raise questions regarding the concept of truth in the legal system.

The decision to use fMRI data to prove one's innocence depends on the extrapolation between laboratory results and real life lie detection. If the laboratory results match real life lie detection, the jury may place higher evidentiary value on that fMRI data. In United States v. Semrau, fMRI evidence was excluded due to inconsistencies in tests administered to the convicted and the lack of real world examination of fMRI technology[51]

Conclusion Edit

United States v. Semrau illustrates the controversial views on truth from neuroscience and law: the courts deemed fMRI as lacking in reliability. In law, only evidence that is reliable and relevant is admissible. In neuroscience, interpretivism is necessary to relate the observed phenomenon to human subjective will. Lie detection evidence, which is partially based on interpretivist assumptions, is potentially inaccurate in analyzing people’s behaviors and thoughts, whereas courts require firm empirical evidence for the judicial process.

The interpretivist aspect of lie detection affects its judicial credibility. Thus, the distrust of interpretivist truths in law may be the main cause of the current dilemma: lie detection technology, as an upcoming product of neuroscientific development, is not yet an acceptable method to provide admissible evidence in the legal system.

Nevertheless, as techniques of gathering evidence improve, neuroscientific lie detection may reach a level of reliability that permits its use in judging criminal cases in the future.

References Edit

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Truth in the Ted Bundy Case

Truth in the Ted Bundy Case Edit

Introduction Edit

The Ted Bundy trial is one of the most notable criminal cases in US history as there was a huge disconnect between the public's perception and his crimes. The stark dichotomy between his self-presentation as the all-American boy and his heinous crimes was key to disorienting the public’s perception.[1] Since then, Ted Bundy has been of great interest in a variety of disciplines, including law, psycholinguistics, and journalism, all attempting to uncover the truth of his character and his crimes.

Bundy's Manipulation of the Truth Edit

Psycholinguistics and Truth

Ted Bundy in court[2]

Ted Bundy was known for his chameleonic personality. He was able to change his persona and behaviour to look different to different people. Some colleagues look back on him as a “compassionate counselor”, whilst others described him as “cold” and “lacking compassion”.[3] The combination of his intelligence, arrogance and charm made him both a compelling and repelling figure. Reporter Barbara Grossman aptly summarised the ‘Ted Bundy’ effect: "Sometimes I come away from an interview with Ted thinking I've got great stuff. But then the more you listen to what he says, the more you wonder what he's saying."[3]

Establishing truth in forensic contexts is a legal necessity, but becomes problematic when decisions of guilt and innocence become dependent on dialogue-based evidence. This is what happened in the Bundy case. In his final interviews, Bundy utilised the semantic field of innocence and vulnerability when describing his pornography addiction, as if he were not strong enough to withstand its allure. When speaking to the interviewer, he played to the 'all-American' archetype he knew he had been ascribed (“we are your sons”),[4] forging a deep connection with the public while drawing their attention away from his guilt.[5]

His assertions regarding pornography almost caused more controversy than his crimes, switching tactics as he began to blame society in the eleventh hour.[1] His psychopathic traits could be seen when Bundy manipulated his self-presentation (through his linguistic choices) to encourage the judge and public to create a sympathetic relationship towards him, a fallible man. Bundy created a constructivist version of his self-presentation, which did not match with reality. The subjective nature of truth is highlighted here as language can be interpreted differently. This means that everyone acquired a different perception of the reality, which was further emphasized by how the media approached his case.

Bundy in the Press Edit

Journalism and Truth

Ted Bundy's mugshot[6]

Bundy’s trial was the first nationally televised trial in the United States. Reporters flocked to his 1979 trial, marking the beginning of a genre of proto-reality television shows: murder trials.[7]

Although journalists seek to provide a fair account of facts and verified data that correspond with reality, the often subjective tools employed may distort the truth. It is at their discretion to decide who and what to focus on.[8] Recorded clippings of his trial focused on the public persona Bundy constructed through psycholinguistics, meaning the audience failed to take into account the gruesome details of his crimes.

The introduction of this technological advancement in journalism influenced the public’s perception of his character: public defenders claimed he “was very conscious of the camera”, presenting himself as a charming young man. His grandiose stage presence, screaming and impulsively marrying a woman on the witness stand, was designed to stir up controversy, simultaneously shocking and delighting the audience. His persona was so convincing that some believed that he was framed and was actually innocent.[9]

Furthermore, he was careless when he wanted to be. His acknowledgement of this added to his paradoxical ‘devilish yet charming’ reputation (“I’m the most cold-blooded son of a bitch you’ll ever meet”).[10] This stage persona that he constructed skewed perceptions as the media broadcast this as the correspondent truth.[11]

As he was able to manipulate the camera, Bundy again created a constructivist version of his true character, then broadcast by the media as the correspondent truth. This exemplifies how journalism romanticised Bundy, creating a new contested version of the truth. The objective facts of him being a convicted murderer and rapist were overshadowed by his greater-than-nature persona. These perceptions then bled into the law, as one of the judges commented “I might say you look nice today, Mr. Bundy. I’m glad to see you in proper uniform”. His charisma was highlighted by the media and therefore, hindered the judge’s ability to rule out his case with absolute objective truth.[7]

Bundy Under the Law Edit

Ted Bundy's Volkswagen in which he was first arrested.[12] The passenger seats were removed to hide his victims.

Law and Truth

The legal proceeding in an American court for criminals is that the accused person (i.e. Ted Bundy) is presumed innocent until there is enough proof to say otherwise (presumption of innocence).[13] After each side has made their case during a trial, the jury decides the sentence of the accused, reaching a decision in the most fair and informed way possible.[14] Therefore, the legal truth is based on what the attorney on each side can convince the jury of. If there is enough evidence to prove that the convicted is in fact guilty, a sentence will be decided. However, if the jury feels as if it does not have enough evidence to prove the convicted as being guilty, they will be released.

This positivist approach to the truth is very different to that in other disciplines as it states that the the accused is innocent until they are proven guilty. According to the empirical “legal truth”, Bundy was innocent at the beginning of his trials. This presumption of innocence led to his release when he was first arrested in August 16, 1975 by the Utah Highway patrol for suspicious equipment found in the back of his Volkswagen.[15]

When he was caught, the detectives did not have enough evidence to prove his involvement in the disappearance of five young women. Due to the structure of the American legal system, he was declared innocent and released from any further persecution. Had there been enough evidence to prove that he was guilty and had the legal truth reflected the absolute truth, many girls "would still be alive'', recalls Bob Hayward, the highway patrol sergeant who arrested Bundy. This reveals certain shortcomings in the legal approach to truth, which one might consider hindered by its positivist approach.[16]

Conclusion Edit

Reality can be seen through various perspectives. Journalism aims for correspondent truth, but this was skewed as who and what the media focused on, coupled with his linguistic manipulation, enabled him to construct an alternate self-presentation. This constructed truth presented by journalists subconsciously influenced the jury in Bundy’s favour. His manipulation through language bolstered this particular reality, further deepening the divide between the legal evidence against him and his outward persona.

Moreover, Ted Bundy made no attempts to appear innocent on camera, yet the legal system put forward an empirical stance due to the “presumption of innocence” principle. Consequently, the complexity of his case urges us to consider a pluralistic view of the truth: perhaps all these different iterations are facets of the same truth, thus an example of interdisciplinarity at work.

References Edit

  1. a b Caputi J. The Sexual Politics of Murder. Gender & Society [Internet]. 1989;3(4):437-456. Available from:
  2. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, Public Domain. Ted Bundy in court [Internet]. [cited 1 December 2019]. Available from:
  3. a b Ramsland K. The Bundy Effect [Internet]. Psychology Today. 2015. Available from:
  4. Dorman, C. (2018). Confession of Ted Bundy (open captions). [video] Available at:
  5. Smithson R. Rhetoric and Psychopathy: Linguistic Manipulation and Deceit in the Final Interview of Ted Bundy. Diffusion: The UCLan Journal of Undergraduate Research. 2013;6(2).
  6. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory, Public Domain. Ted Bundy in court [Internet]. [cited 1 December 2019]. Available from:
  7. a b Lauredo M. Serial Killer Ted Bundy Found the Spotlight During His Miami Trial [Internet]. Miami New Times. 2019 [cited 27 November 2019]. Available from:
  8. The elements of journalism – American Press Institute [Internet]. American Press Institute. 2019 [cited 27 November 2019]. Available from:
  9. Nordheimer J. All-American boy on Trial. The New York Times [Internet]. 1978 [cited 27 November 2019];. Available from:
  10. Michaud S, Aynesworth H. Ted Bundy: Conversations With a Killer: The Death Row Interviews. Authorlink; 2000.
  11. Shelton J. How The Televised Trial Of Ted Bundy Created Reality TV [Internet]. Groovy History. 2019 [cited 27 November 2019]. Available from:
  12. Ted Bundy's Volkswagen [Internet]. [cited 1 December 2019]. Available from:
  13. The American System of Criminal Justice | Stimmel Law [Internet]. 2019 [cited 15 November 2019]. Available from:
  14. Criminal [Internet]. 2006 [cited 20 November 2019]. Available from:
  15. FRANCIS S. Trooper who arrested Ted Bundy dies at 90 [Internet]. GOOD4UTAH. 2017 [cited 19 November 2019]. Available from:
  16. Ortiz M. Utah law enforcement helped bring Ted Bundy down [Internet]. abc4 news. 2015 [cited 22 November 2019]. Available from:

Truth in Free Will

Introduction Edit

Free will and the discussion surrounding its existence are pivotal to determining whether people can be held responsible for their actions.[1] In 2015, "Scientific American" found that 60% of its readers believed in free will, despite disciplines such as neuroscience providing new evidence to suggest that free will is an illusion, with neuroscientists proposing the alternative standpoint of determinism.[2]

One particularly unusual case demonstrates how the debate over the existence of free will is relevant to modern society.

MRI highlighting the approximate location of the orbitofrontal cortex.

Legal Case Study Edit

This case saw a man take a sudden, previously non-existent interest in child pornography, making sexual advances towards his step-daughter and staff at a sexual rehabilitation centre despite a strong contradiction to his own moral compass. He was subsequently sentenced to prison for child molestation. After experiencing strong headaches and an uneven gait, he underwent a neurological exam, revealing a tumour that had displaced his right orbitofrontal lobe.[3] The tumour was removed and mere hours later his behaviour and gait had returned to normal. Later, his sexual deviancy recommenced and he began to experience more headaches, with brain scans indicating the tumour had returned. After having it removed, he appeared to have been cured again.

This begs the questions: to what extent is the man truly culpable for his sexual deviance? Were his actions caused by medical factors beyond his control? If so, do we need to rethink our laws to incorporate loss of free will?

Truth in Free Will Edit

Free Will in Christianity Edit

Christianity is characterized by its view that humans not only consist of a material body, but also a distinct non-material soul that connects them with God, who is entirely non-material. This substance dualism is opposed to the idea of materialism or monism, which claim that humans, like everything in the world, are governed solely by physical laws. Dualism allows for the existence of free will and the freedom to make alternative choices in life because the interactionalist mind or soul can act upon the physical brain.[4] Current theologians like Barth and Cobb also argue that human actions and intentions are not purely physically determined, but subject to self-determination, asserting the existence of agent-based free will within the discipline.

Christianity holds two truths closely; the parameters of good and bad deeds and the existence of free will. Moral freedom is therefore strongly linked to a specific moral code, to give up selfish desires and transcend to selflessly sacrificing oneself for one's neighbours. Every human is encouraged to follow that 'law' of model behaviour for their souls to rest in heaven. This law therefore regulates the decisions agents make with free will. Luther formulates this paradox as the Christian individual being "free lord of all; subject to none" whilst being a "dutiful servant of all, subject to all in love."[5]

Free Will and Christianity in US Law Edit

Despite the fact that the US has secularism explicitly enshrined in their original constitution as well as the Bill of Rights, there are plentiful arguments proving that religion, particularly Christianity, still plays a significant role in US law. 125 religious lobbies like the Christian Coalition currently work at shaping legal processes and policies in favor of their ideologies.[6]

The strong connection between Christianity and US law could explain its implications regarding free will. Indeed, a comprehensive analysis of US law has found significant remnants of substance dualism within it.[7] This is evident with the standard of taking into consideration the intentions of an individual when attributing accountability for a criminal action, reinforcing ‘our identity as moral agents capable of making free choices' and making the assumption that we have conscious control over our physical brain, including our desires.[7] This is something modern neuroscience is finding to be an unsustainable view, prompting the need for reconsideration of these basal truths which have shaped the legal system.

Truth in Determinism Edit

Determinism Demonstrated Edit

Libet laid the foundations for determinism in modern neuroscience in an experiment where he found that the start-time of the neural activity to cause motor action preceded the time of conscious intention to act by at least several hundred milliseconds, suggesting conscious will has no role to play in causing the action.[8]

A stream of studies since have corroborated and extended Libet's findings.[9][10][11] Subsequently, leading neuroscientists such as Harris accept that unconscious activity begins before conscious conception of an action and therefore argue free will "cannot be mapped on to any conceivable reality".[12]

Neuroscientists attribute the unconscious activity to the biochemical function of the brain.[12] This makes it highly rational to dismiss free will after assessing these studies from a neuroscientific perspective. Yet, the fact that this particular conclusion has been drawn is based on the ideas of truth within the discipline with regards to theory of mind.

Physicalism in Neuroscience Edit

Sperry's study of 'split brain' patients in 1968 demonstrates neuroscience's position on theory of mind. By performing experiments with patients who had previously had their corpus callosum severed, Sperry was able to show that both hemispheres of the brain could work independently of one another, with different functions.[13][14]

Remarkably, each hemisphere of the brain produced a distinct conscious personality, which occurred due to the alteration of brain structure.[15] This propelled the idea that all mental phenomena such as consciousness and the illusion of free will are determined by biological structure and function, resulting in the discipline strengthening its relation to physicalism.[16]

Positivism and physicalism in this way determine the ideas formed about free will within neuroscience.[17] It follows that an interactionalist mind is not considered a reason to explain where and how unconscious activity begins from a neuroscientific perspective, leading prominent figures in the discipline to discard free will and make determinism a truth itself.

Conflicts about Truth Edit

An interdisciplinary approach to free will, applying neuroscience to law and philosophy in the emerging discipline of neurolaw, presents the opportunity to update our moral assumptions, and hence our social frameworks, relative to modern scientific consensus.[18]

Application to Case Study Edit

To consider the neurological aspect of the aforementioned case study, we consider clinical psychologist Cantor's assessment of the culprit. He proposed that the tumour merely impeded the man’s decision making process, interfering with his ability to regulate his behaviour which had previously suppressed his internal paedophilic desires. Thus, with regards to free will and culpability, whether or not the man truly wanted to act on these sexual desires was irrelevant; he had no liberty to make a different choice given the composition of his brain, and therefore no had no free will.

Conclusion Edit

A complete overhaul of the foundational principles of law in respect to free will in attempt to reconcile these differences in truth may not necessarily lead to a more functional society. Psychological studies have shown people with a deterministic world view have a reduced sense of retribution and are more likely to cheat when the opportunity is provided.[19][20]

This demonstrates that the application of determinism to law may create focus on a system of rehabilitating and reintegrating offenders and construct a more reformative justice system. However, for a functional society the illusion of free will may need to be sustained. Further interdisciplinary cooperation may allow a practical resolution to be reached.

References Edit

  1. Fischer JM. The Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory. Oxford University Press; 2004. Free will and moral responsibility; p.321.
  2. Scientific American. Site Survey Shows 60 Percent Think Free Will Exists [Internet]. 2015 Jan 15 [cited 2019 Dec 8]. Available from:
  3. Burns JM, Swerdlow RH. Right Orbitofrontal Tumor With Pedophilia Symptom and Constructional Apraxia Sign. Arch Neurol. 2003;60(3):437-40.
  4. Calef S. Dualism and Mind. IEP. 2005. Available from:
  5. Peters T. Free Will in Science, Philosophy, and Theology. Theol Sci. 2019;17(2):149-53.
  6. Davis DH. Law, the U.S. Supreme Court, and Religion. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion. 2016 Aug 31. DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780199340378.013.449
  7. a b Pardo MS, Patterson D. Philosophical foundations of law and neuroscience. U Ill L Rev. 2010.
  8. Libet B, Gleason CA, Wright EW, Pearl DK. Time of conscious intention to act in relation to onset of cerebral activity (readiness-potential). Neurophysiology of Consciousness. 1993:249-268.
  9. Fried I, Mukamel R, Kreiman G. Internally generated preactivation of single neurons in human medial frontal cortex predicts volition. Neuron. 2011 Feb 10;69(3):548-62.
  10. Bode S, He AH, Soon CS, Trampel R, Turner R, Haynes JD. Tracking the unconscious generation of free decisions using uitra-high field fMRI. PloS one. 2011 Jun 27;6(6):e21612.
  11. Soon CS, Brass M, Heinze HJ, Haynes JD. Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain. Nature neuroscience. 2008 May;11(5):543.
  12. a b Harris S. Free will. Simon and Schuster; 2012 Mar 6.
  13. Lienhard DA. Embryo Project Encyclopedia [Internet]. Arizona: ASU; 2017. Roger Sperry’s Split Brain Experiments (1959–1968); [cited 2019 Dec 5]. Available from:
  14. Sperry RW. Hemisphere Deconnection and Unity in Conscious Awareness. Am Psychol. 1968;28:723–33.
  15. Niebauer C. No Self, No Problem. Hierophant Publishing; 2019.
  16. Gligorov N. Determinism and Advances in Neuroscience. AMA J Ethics. 2012;14(6);489-493.
  17. Mastin L. The Basics of Philosophy. Physicalism [Internet]. 2019 [cited 5 December 2019]. Available from:
  18. Burns K, Bechara A. Decision Making and Free Will: A Neuroscience Perspective. Behav Sci Law 25. 2007:263-280
  19. Shariff AF, Greene JD, Karremans JC, Luguri JB, Clark CJ, Schooler JW, Baumeister RF, Vohs KD. Free will and punishment: A mechanistic view of human nature reduces retribution. Psychological science. 2014 Aug;25(8):1563-70.
  20. Vohs KD, Schooler JW. The value of believing in free will: Encouraging a belief in determinism increases cheating. Psychological science. 2008 Jan;19(1):49-54.

Truth in The Nanjing Massacre

The Nanjing Massacre Edit

Memorials in Nanjing claim there were 300 000 victims, including the Nanjing Massacre Museum[1]

The Nanjing Massacre was an incident which occurred during World War II, where Japanese soldiers allegedly looted, raped and murdered their way through Nanjing.[2] However, there are few facts about the Nanjing Massacre that are universally accepted as truth.[3] The time frames claimed for the massacre ranges from three weeks, starting December 13,[3] to three months between December 1937 and February 1938,[2] and neither the geographical extent of the conflict, nor the number of victims have been agreed upon.[4] The number of victims claimed ranges from 100[2] to 300 000.[1]

Perspectives Edit

History Edit

The purpose of history as a discipline is generally seen as finding the truth about the past.[5] However, it's debatable whether it's actually possible to find an objective, historical truth, or if such a truth exists. The Nanjing Massacre is an example that presents a challenge to "positivist empiricism"[4] in history. Different sources claim different facts about the event and due to both Chinese and Japanese suppression of the event at the time, there's a lack of primary sources.[2] This is problematic, since primary sources are key in historical research and constructing a historical narrative.[6] An additional aspect to the problem is that large amounts of propaganda was produced at the time, particularly in the form of photographs, which means the sources that do exist need to be critically examined and evaluated, with the possibility remaining that they might be false.[7]

Historian Daqing Yang argues that the closest one can get to a historical truth is through convergence in the arguments made by historians. He identifies four points on which there's convergence about the Nanjing Massacre:

However, using convergence as a method to determine truth is questionable. Historians are only likely to converge on general points, as seen from Yang's examples. When trying to determine specifics, convergence is of limited use. A case in point is the limited convergence on the number of victims. Part of that is due to the lack of evidence, which limits the research and opens up to more speculation.[6] Additionally, the sources that do exist tend to be biased or incorrect, hindering historians from finding the true number of victims. The other part of the problem is the inherent bias of the researchers, particularly strong in the case of the Nanjing Massacre, which will influence how they interpret the evidence available. In summary, the Nanjing Massacre provides an example of historical pluralism, wherein there exists many different versions of the truth and none can really be determined to be more true than the others.[8]

Philosophy Edit

Memory and Truth Edit

A crucial point in the primary sources that exist is the authenticity and truthfulness of the memories recounted. Sven Bernecker outlines the theory that authenticity refers to how accurately a person's memory corresponds with their individual experience, while truthfulness is defined by how accurately a person's memory corresponds with the objective events that occurred.[9] A key question is then whether victims of the Nanjing Massacre's accounts are only authentic, or if they are also truthful. While authentic memories are useful for providing the subjective experiences of the victims, a lack of truthfulness, caused by misunderstanding, misconception or lack of context, can cause issues when determining the truth of the event.

Coherence vs. Correspondence Edit

There are two important theories on truth in philosophy. Coherence theory defines truth as an individual's subjective set of beliefs without validating an objective truth.[10] In this view, both the accounts from the Chinese victims and the Japanese aggressors would be deemed true. Correspondence theory instead posits that truth is defined by how accurately it relates to a universal set of laws and facts.[10] By this theory, there would be an objective truth of the Nanjing Massacre, with a determined time period and number of victims.

Sociology Edit

Truth is defined differently by various schools of sociology. The two most well-known definitions are positivism and interactionism. Positivism claims that truth exists externally and can be obtained through scientific methods.[11] Interactionism claims that truth is a social construct which needs to be understood emphatically.[12]

A Phenomenologist's View Edit

Phenomenologists, also known as symbolic interactionists, believe that reality is constituted by people’s view of it. Hence, there are indefinite versions of truth in the universe.[13] Applying this idea to the Nanjing Massacre, truth would be defined by the soldiers, victims and civilians who were affected. Thus, there would be no definite truth for the event, as everyone would have had their own experience and interpretation of it, especially so because of the disruptive and chaotic nature of war.

Challenges in Obtaining Truth Edit

Max Webber claims the only way to obtain truth is by “verstehen”: empathising with people who lived through the experience.[13] Implementing phenomenological methods in research,[14] accounts ought to be gathered from the eye-witnesses, in qualitative and detailed forms to retain their authenticity. However, this can pose a practical issue to researchers.[15] Given the sensitivity of the incident of Nanjing Massacre, witnesses can be reluctant to reveal their personal experience[16] and recalling the incident could be particularly traumatic for the victims.[17] On the other hand, the aggressors can be more hindered in speaking about the incident. They could either be in denial, or feel too guilty and ashamed to admit their actions.[18]

Different Truths in the Nanjing Massacre Edit

Exploring the Nanjing Massacre from the perspective of different disciplines raises the question: is it possible to find an objective truth about an event that is ultimately an aggregate of subjective experiences? Does such a truth exist?

Intuitively, there should be some aspects of the Nanjing Massacre that have an objective truth. For instance, there should, technically, be a determined number of people who died during the Nanjing Massacre. Death is rooted in a biological fact, as opposed to more generally being a victim, which is determined by culture or the state.[19] However, in order to determine how many people died in the massacre, there would first need to exist a time-frame for how long the massacre went on, and the geographical extent of it. Otherwise, it isn't clear which deaths should be counted.

History suggests that consensus will lead towards truth, however, ultimately each historian will construct their own version of the historical narrative.[6] With sufficient evidence and sound reasoning, their narrative can be accepted as truth, but this truth will be subjective. Sociology and philosophy provide different perspectives on truth and interpreting evidence, which also suggest that no objective truth can be found.

The potential lack of an objective truth does not mean the Nanjing Massacre should not be studied. There is value in exploring the different subjective truths and historians, as well as others, making interpretations of the information available, as this provides a richer understanding of the event and, ultimately, of us as humans.

References Edit

  1. a b How to Visit Nanjing Massacre Museum « China Travel Tips [Internet]. 2019 [cited 27 November 2019]. Available from:
  2. a b c d Fogel J. The Nanjing Massacre in history and historiography. Berkeley: University of California Press; 2000. Available from:
  3. a b Dixon J. Dark pasts. London: Cornell University Press; 2018. Available from:
  4. a b c Yang D. Convergence or Divergence? Recent Historical Writings on the Rape of Nanjing. The American Historical Review [Internet]. 1999 [cited 24 November 2019];104(3):842-865. Available from:
  5. Dunning W. Truth in History. The American Historical Review [Internet]. 1914 [cited 25 November 2019];19(2):217-229. Available from:
  6. a b c Howell M, Prevenier W. From reliable sources: an introduction to historical methods. 1st ed. Ithaca: Cornell University Press; 2001
  7. Higashinakano O, Kobayashi S, Fukunaga S. Analyzing the "photographic evidence" of the Nanking massacre. Tokyo: Soshika; 2005. Available from:
  8. White H. Historical Pluralism. Critical Inquiry [Internet]. 1986 [cited 7 December 2019];12(3):480-493. Available from:
  9. Bernecker S. The Authenticity of Memory. Memory. 2009;:213–39.
  10. a b Reid LA. Correspondence and Coherence. The Philosophical Review. 1922;31(1).
  11. Feigl H. Positivism | Definition, Characteristics, History, & Facts [Internet]. Encyclopedia Britannica. 2018 [cited 6 December 2019]. Available from:
  12. Interactionism [Internet]. 2019 [cited 6 December 2019]. Available from:
  13. a b Hewitt J, Shulman D. Self and society. Boston: Allyn & Bacon; 2011. Available from:
  14. Dudovskiy J. Phenomenology - Research Methodology [Internet]. Research-Methodology. 2019 [cited 6 December 2019]. Available from:
  15. Qualitative methodologies: ethnography, phenomenology, grounded theory and more [Internet]. [cited 6 December 2019]. Available from:
  16. Williams K. Nanking [Internet]. Women's Media Center. 2014 [cited 6 December 2019]. Available from:
  17. Debiec J. A Traumatic Memory Can Be Near Impossible to Shake [Internet]. Michigan Health Lab. 2019 [cited 6 December 2019]. Available from:
  18. Nanjing Massacre denial [Internet]. [cited 6 December 2019]. Available from:
  19. Thompson K. Victimology [Internet]. ReviseSociology. 2019 [cited 6 December 2019]. Available from:

Truth in the Prison System

Introduction Edit

The concept of prison arose in the 18th century as an institution that aimed to replace the capital punishment system, by punishing individuals who have committed illegal offenses whilst simultaneously aiming to reform them.[1] The United States has the highest incarceration rates globally, with approximately 1,471,200 individuals imprisoned in 2018.[2] While incarceration rates have generally decreased since 2017,[2] the effectiveness of the American penal system in achieving criminal reform and reducing crime is still controversial: a study showed nearly "two-thirds of all prisoners are rearrested within three years of release".[3]

Orleans Prison Parish. Louisiana held the record for the most incarcerations per capita for nearly two decades, until 2017, when it was overtaken by Oklahoma.[4]

Different disciplines view the effectiveness of rehabilitation differently, thus providing multiple perspectives about the success of prison rehabilitation.

Sociology and Prison Group Behaviour Edit

Stanton Wheeler used the concept of 'prisonization' to illustrate the impact of prison socialisation on rehabilitation. He argues that prisoners undergo “prisonization” when they assimilate into the prison culture, resulting in a difficult rehabilitation process.[5] Prisoners internalise a criminal outlook and are less likely to follow the conventional value and moral system, especially as their time in prison increases, based on empirical research on prisoner conformity levels to ‘good’ values and norms. Since they risk being alienated from other inmates by conforming to staff rules, they would mostly choose non-conformity to rules. However, prior to release, conformity increases.[5]

Additionally, Donald Cressey uses the Theory of Differential Association to argue that the best way to reform criminals is to integrate them into noncriminal groups so they inherit the desired values of a law-abiding citizen. He extends this theory to explain that the behaviour exhibited by a felon is not solely a product of group interactions but an inherent characteristic of the group itself.[6] By this reasoning, the ideal approach to reform criminals requires an attempt to change the entire group behaviour which subsequently alters individual behaviour. Consequently, individual therapy and counselling is not sufficient to alter the group’s culture. A backwards approach is taken whereby the whole group is reformed to alter individual behaviour.

Economics and the Cost of Prison Edit

Rather than evaluating the efficiency of the institution using recidivism rates, economists focus more on economic reintegration as an indicator of the success of prison systems.[7] Earned incomes which are obtained by the successful incorporation of criminals back into the labour market provide financial stability, which economists argue will inherently reduce recidivism by dis-incentivising the desire to commit crime.

Statistics show that "incarceration reduces average lifetime income growth by one-third",[8] highlighting how imprisonment makes economic reintegration harder; the prison system actually prevents future national economic growth by causing a deterioration of human capital.[8] An analysis of work and opportunity before and after incarceration showed that 55% of prisoners have a reported income after release.[7] Even of those with an income, it is often less than that of an individual with a full-time job paid at minimum wage.[7]

Economics also highlights the cost of prisons. The direct cost - equivalent to the amount taxpayers pay - is estimated to be $80 billion a year in the US, whereas indirect cost is between $500 billion to $1 trillion per year.[7] Economics provides a widened understanding of the complete economic cost of prisons which includes opportunity costs such as the "foregone wages of incarcerated persons, increased infant mortality, and increased criminality of children with incarcerated parents, and higher welfare costs associated with families of incarcerated parents".[8]

Psychology and the Effects of Institutionalisation Edit

A block of solitary confinement cells. It has been well-documented that solitary confinement can cause extreme detrimental effects in inmates, including panic attacks, depression and paranoia, and some suffer hallucinations.[9]

It can be argued that prisons are effective at preventing crime due to deterrence theory,[10] as individuals weigh the possibility of incarceration versus their desire to pursue criminal activity. However, evidence suggests that once imprisoned, inmates are more likely to reoffend as the prison institution socializes them towards heightened criminality through peer influence or the ‘hardening’ necessary to integrate within the unpredictable prison environment.[10]

The effects of institutionalization present significant obstacles to post-prison adjustment, from the disabling consequences of ‘prisonization’ to exacerbated mental illness from lack of proper treatment that focus on the needs of the individual rather than as a group.[11] According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 56% of state prisoners have a mental health issue, with only 1 in 3 having received treatment since incarceration.[12] Prisoners face a difficult transition after release and have a 13-fold increase in risk of death from cardiovascular disease, homicide, suicide, and drug overdose in the first two weeks after prison release as compared to a similar demographic sample.[13] Prison victimization, nonviolent or violent, also contributed to depressive and post-traumatic stress symptoms, made worse by the inescapability of the prison environment.[14]

Conclusion Edit

The main tension evident between sociology and psychology is the approach in criminal reform that each discipline advocates for. Sociology focuses on reforming the group, while psychology advocates for an individual-based approach. Furthermore, they have different constructions of truth due to different approaches of defining 'efficacy'. Sociology judges the good/bad behaviour of inmates, while psychology looks at well-being - emphasizing the poor mental health consequences of imprisonment. These varying versions of truth create contrasting conclusions about the success of prisons, where sociology seems to support the prison system while psychology does not.

Embedded in sociology’s approach to prisoner rehabilitation is a social constructionist view, which contrasts with psychology’s interpretivist view of addressing prisoners’ psychological well-being. Social constructionism is anti-essentialist, opposing the idea that a person has a discoverable nature which is what traditional psychology understands.[15] Sociology, by proposing group rehabilitation of prisoners, reveals its social constructionist focus on the process of social interaction that creates certain phenomena or forms of knowledge.

Social constructionism also views knowledge as historically and culturally specific, distinct from psychology’s view that human nature can be universalised.[15] This can be problematic if psychology tries to obtain truth by using a methodology that establishes conclusions based on group generalizations that cannot always successfully be extrapolated to all individuals.

In contrast to both psychology and sociology, which advocate for behavioral and mental reform, economics instead emphasizes rehabilitation for the sake of reintegration into the workforce. It takes a more positivist approach as it attempts to establish a conclusion through empirical observation and analysis. This perspective differs from other more qualitative-based disciplines that measure the success of the prison system by evaluating inmate behaviour, rather than the cost and contributions they may have on the economy before and after incarceration.

However, it is often difficult to measure such costs, made evident by the controversial National Institute of Justice report published by Edwin Zedlewski in 1987. His cost-benefit analysis was described as ‘fatally flawed’ by experts who argued that Zedlewski assigned inflated social costs to crimes, producing skewed results.[16] Thus, even in a quantitative-based discipline like economics, it is difficult to obtain conclusive truths because of the inherent bias present in methodological approaches when assigning costs.

Each discipline alone fails to capture the complexity of the discussion surrounding prison efficacy. Variations in how each discipline measures success in prisons leads to clashes surrounding whether the modern-punishment system is successful. Hence, with each discipline highlighting a unique but important perspective, analysing this issue through an interdisciplinary lens is crucial to provide a complete picture.

References Edit

  1. Coyle A. Prison [Internet]. Encyclopædia Britannica. 2019 [cited 26 November 2019]. Available from:
  2. a b Kang-Brown J, Schattner-Elmaleh E, Hinds O. People in Prison in 2018 [Internet]. New York: Vera Institute of Justice; 2019 p. 1. Available from:
  3. Solomon A, Kachnowski V, Bhati A. Does Parole Work? Analyzing the Impact of Postprison Supervision on Rearrest Outcomes [Internet]. Washington, D.C.: Urban Institute; 2005. Available from:
  4. Gelb A, Compa E. Louisiana No Longer Leads Nation in Imprisonment Rate [Internet]. 2018 [cited 8 December 2019]. Available from:
  5. a b Wheeler S. Socialization in Correctional Communities. American Sociological Review [Internet]. 1961 [cited 1 December 2019];26(5):697. Available from:
  6. Cressey D. Changing Criminals: The Application of the Theory of Differential Association. American Journal of Sociology [Internet]. 1955;61(2):116-119. Available from:
  7. a b c d Turner A. Work and opportunity before and after incarceration [Internet]. Brookings. 2019 [cited 25 November 2019]. Available from:
  8. a b c Corwin III T, Johnson D. Plus a Life Sentence? Incarceration’s Effects on Expected Lifetime Wage Growth. SSRN Electronic Journal [Internet]. 2019;:1-5. Available from:
  9. Dingfelder S. Risks of solitary confinement [Internet]. 2019 [cited 8 December 2019]. Available from:
  10. a b Resodihardjo S. DO PRISONS MAKE US SAFER? THE BENEFITS AND COSTS OF THE PRISON BOOM - edited by Steven Raphael and Michael A. Stoll. Public Administration [Internet]. 2011;89(2):709-710. Available from:
  11. Haney C. The Psychological Impact of Incarceration: Implications for Post-Prison Adjustment [Internet]. 2002 [cited 7 December 2019]. Available from:
  12. Bureau of Justice Statistics. Mental Health Problems of Prison and Jail Inmates. Bureau of Justice Statistics; 2006. Available from:
  13. Binswanger I, Stern M, Deyo R, Heagerty P, Cheadle A, Elmore J et al. Release from Prison — A High Risk of Death for Former Inmates. New England Journal of Medicine [Internet]. 2007 [cited 7 December 2019];356(2):157-165. Available from:
  14. Johnson Listwan S, Colvin M, Hanley D, Flannery D. Victimization, Social Support, and Psychological Well-Being. Criminal Justice and Behavior. 2010;37(10):1140-1159. Available from:
  15. a b Burr V. Social constructionism. London: Routledge; 2015
  16. DiIulio J, Piehl A. Does Prison Pay? The Stormy National Debate over the Cost-Effectiveness of Imprisonment. The Brookings Review [Internet]. 1991 [cited 8 December 2019];9(4):28. Available from:

Truth in the Formation of Social Groups

Human interaction and development are governed by our social groupings. Commonly, a social group is defined as two or more people who interact with one another, share similar characteristics, and collectively have a sense of unity. Social groups are considered to have followed a gradual evolution from need-based relations like in hunter-gatherer groups to comfort-based relations as in friendships; their existence and progression is undeniable, but how and why do they form?

Disciplines such as geography, biology, psychology and sociology have come up with different explanations for this phenomenon. While some of these are sources of contradiction, others complement one another and help us understand where truth resides in the formation of social groups.

Location Edit

Geography Edit

Rivers allow for transport and therefore communication

The physical features of a location affect formation of groups in multiple ways. According to Edward C. Hayes structures like forests and swamps are barriers preventing contact between people, whereas mountain passes and rivers are ideal for intercommunication, and thus for social development: his claim being that ‘isolation tends to stagnation’.[1] Similarly, bigger groups tend to form (and thrive) around areas where food is plentiful. Another influence of geographic location is that it dictates societal norms and cultural practices such as sport and art. Just as siestas are uncommon in cool climates where daylight might be limited, figure skating is not particularly common in tropical climates. Hence it can be seen that geographical factors play an important role in determining how a given social group might appear and behave.

Proximity Edit

It is apparent that human social groupings are largely limited by who can be found in close proximity - that is, we tend to form groups with the people who happen to be around us. The regularity of interaction brought about as a result of being nearer to one another creates a sense of familiarity and comfort, thus leading to the formation of a social group.[2] This idea was documented by Theodore Newcomb and is known as the proximity principle.

Genetic Influences Edit

Humans are biological beings; this fact alone makes biological sciences relevant to social behaviour and, therefore, to our predisposition to commit to social groups - which can be studied from an empirical point of view. Positivist approaches have been used in order to determine the molecular analyses of social interaction, including a broad array of animal models, and the use of Williams syndrome to study the influence of a selected group of genes on our social behaviour. In the first case, experiments in fruit flies concluded that genes influence the social behaviour of an individual through their effects on brain development and physiology, this linkage being sensitive to both genetic and environmental variation, and to their interaction.[3]

In the latter case, scientists used schizophrenia disorders patient-derived stem cell models to investigate the true cellular effects of our genes that influence our social behaviour, and therefore, our need to engage in a social group. This further helped scientists to identify which genes have an impact on our social behaviour and they found that common polymorphisms in the gene GTF2I found in the Williams syndrome deletion area, are associated with reduced anxiety in the general population.[4]

Although biological studies on humans relating to the formation of social groups haven't been conclusive thus far, biology plays an incontestable part in human behaviour and therefore in all its manifestations.

The need to belong Edit

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs[5]

The need to belong is an intrinsic motivation for humans to socially interact and be accepted, also causing phenomena such as social comparison and self-representation as a means to conform to social groups they wish to join.[6] According to psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, belongingness, along with physiological, security, and esteem needs are characterised as a “deficiency need”, a basic need that must be satisfied to achieve a comfortable life.[7]

The need to form social bonds and groups is part of our instincts and as important as securing necessities such as food, and shelter.[8] The phenomena can be seen in ages as early as infants, who seek to form social bonds without knowledge of their social world.[9] Furthermore, people experience a reluctance to break social bonds even when the relationship is a wholly negative experience.[10] The need to establish social bonds stems from the theory that forming social groups drastically increased survival, whether it be that it provided security in times of danger or it was easier to reproduce.[11]

Solidarity and Social Cohesion Edit

The evolution of social groups and their different types can be studied in sociology, the focus here, however, will be on what maintains these groupings.

According to Émile Durkheim, traditional societies are relatively homogenous and essentially based on kinship, age and sex. Group cohesiveness is founded on mechanical solidarity, which relies on resemblance between individuals and their conformity to traditional social norms, values and roles. Individuals who do not fit the social standards are usually excluded and depicted as the internal enemy,[12] occasionally leading to phenomena such as “witch hunts”.[13] However, as first pointed out by Durkheim and developed by Kai T. Erikson, this form of deviance can actually play an important role in keeping the social order intact.[14]
In complex societies, Division of labour often provokes the replacement of mechanical solidarity to organic solidarity. People become both more specialised and independent. Individual differences are not only tolerated they become crucial to social cohesion.[15]

As a positivist, Durkheim wanted sociology to be considered as the science which studies the objective reality of social facts.[16] However, staying neutral in sociology is challenging, his theories were undeniably influenced by the socio-historical context of his time. Additionally, as mentioned by Robert K. Merton, methods adopted from physical sciences (in an attempt to be as close to the truth as possible) aren't always able to explain social behaviour and laws. Finally, different truths exist in sociology and theories regarding the formation of social groups, for example Neil Smelser and others [17] have criticised Durkheim for overlooking how aspects of mechanical solidarity persist in modern societies.[18]

Collating truths Edit

Studying the formation of social groups through the perspectives of multiple disciplines, a dizzying array of often contradictory conclusions can be found. These disagreements arise from the individual “truths” of each discipline and their varying positivist and interpretivist views and allow us to observe social groups with a more holistic view.

Geography, psychology, and sociology take on a positivist attitude when regarding their "truths"; however, they tend to draw conclusions from trends in empirical data - ignoring phenomena that deviate from the trend. For example, proximity is a positive factor in social grouping, yet it can also cause social division. These holes in "truths", however, can be filled by looking at the sociological perspective of the human tendency to form social groups with people who share a commonality. On why social groups form at all Biology might answer: because it is coded in our genes to do so, with Psychology reinforcing this with evolutionary perspectives. When looking at each disciplines' conclusions at a glance, they may seem unconnected or even contradictory, but upon deeper inspection, their truths fit together to reveal a bigger whole.

References Edit

  1. Hayes, E. (1914). Effects of Geographic Conditions Upon Social Realities. American Journal of Sociology, [online] 19(6), pp.813-824. Available at: [Accessed 4 Dec. 2019].
  2. Newcomb, T.M. (1960). Varieties of interpersonal attraction. In D. Cartwright & A. Zander (Eds.), "Group dynamics: Research and theory" (2nd ed., pp. 104-119).
  3. Robinson G, Fernald R, Clayton D. Genes and Social Behavior. Science [Internet]. 2008;322(5903):896-900. Available from:
  4. Pearse Y. Identifying the Genes That Influence How We Interact With Others [Internet]. Pacific Standard. 2018. Available from:
  6. How the Need to Belong Influences Human Behavior and Motivation [Internet]. Verywell Mind. [cited 2019 Dec 6]. Available from:
  7. Maslow AH. A theory of human motivation. Psychol Rev. 1943;50(4):370.
  8. How Maslow’s Famous Hierarchy of Needs Explains Human Motivation [Internet]. Verywell Mind. [cited 2019 Dec 6]. Available from:
  9. Need To Belong (SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY) - IResearchNet [Internet]. [cited 2019 Dec 6]. Available from:
  10. Selterman D. The “Need to Belong” - Part of What Makes Us Human - Luvze [Internet]. Luvze. 2012 [cited 2019 Dec 6]. Available from:
  11. Baumeister RF, Leary MR. The need to belong: desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychol Bull. 1995 May;117(3):497–529.
  12. 1. Vollhardt J, Migavecha K, Tropp L. Social Cohesion and Tolerance for Group Differences [Internet]. ResearchGate. 2009 [cited 8 December 2019]. Available from:
  13. Bergesen A. A Durkheimian Theory of "Witch-Hunts" with the Chinese Cultural Revolution of 1966-1969 as an Example. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion [Internet]. 1978;17(1):19. Available from: http://A Durkheimian Theory of "Witch-Hunts" with the Chinese Cultural Revolution of 1966-1969 as an Example
  14. Erikson K. Notes on the Sociology of Deviance. Social Problems [Internet]. 1962;9(4):307-314. Available from:
  15. 5. Durkheim E, Lukes S. The division of labour in society. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan; 2013.
  16. Swingewood A. A short history of sociological thought. Basingstoke: Macmillan; 2000.
  17. 8. Schiermer B. Durkheim's Concept of Mechanical Solidarity – Where Did It Go?. Durkheimian Studies [Internet]. 2015;20(1). Available from:'s_Concept_of_Mechanical_Solidarity_-_Where_Did_It_Go
  18. Haferkamp H, Smelser N. Social change and modernity. Berkeley: University of California Press; 1992.

Truth in Nazi Germany

Political Influence on Truth in Nazi Germany Edit


Social Constructivism Edit

In social constructivism 'knowledge is a human product that is socially and culturally constructed in an active manner and not something that can be discovered.'[1] Truth in Nazi Germany can be analysed from a constructivist approach since the manipulation of information, through propaganda, altered people's understanding of the truth.

Propaganda Edit

Propaganda is 'any information, ideas, doctrines, or special appeals disseminated to influence the opinion, emotions, attitudes, or behaviour of any specified group in order to benefit the sponsor either directly or indirectly.'[2] Nazi propaganda constructed a society with national priorities and values by targeting four major themes: 1) prioritising national unity; 2) racial purity; 3) hatred of common enemies, particularly the Jews, and 4) charismatic leadership. Hitler argued propaganda's 'task is not to make an objective study of the truth, in so far as it favours the enemy, and then set it before the masses with academic fairness; its task is to serve our own right, always and unflinchingly'[3]—essentially promoting the construction of societal truth. Hitler aimed to create a narrative that painted himself as Germany's saviour and created the image of a united front that could blame a common enemy for their misery.

Creating their own truth was clearly of critical importance to the Nazi regime as on the 14th March 1933, a few months after Hitler's seizure of power, he established the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. This ministry ensured propaganda infiltrated most aspects of everyday German life: Nazi values were successfully communicated through art, music, theatre, books, radio, educational materials and the press.[3]

Examples of Propaganda Edit

Education Edit

Through the political strategy of altering the education system, Hitler ingrained core Nazi values, which he viewed as intrinsically German. He hoped 'these young people will learn nothing else but how to think German and act German... And they will never again be free.'[4] Education now focused on sports, history and racial science, emphasised through 'Aryan biology,' 'German mathematics' and 'Nordic physics.'[5] These values were further promoted through youth programs.

Promotion of Anti-semitism Edit

Anti-semitic messages were constantly repeated in Nazi propaganda. For example, the slogan printed on the bottom of the anti-semitic newspaper Der Stümer was "Die Juden sind unser Unglück!" (The Jews are our misfortune!)[6]

Psychological Tactics Edit

Nazi policies not only altered the information accessible to the public, but they also psychologically influenced the attitudes and behaviours of citizens.

Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda of Nazi Germany

Illusory Truth Effect Edit

"If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it." [7]— Joseph Goebbels

Goebbels' quote alludes to a phenomenon recognised in cognitive psychology as the 'illusory truth effect,' which explains that repetition of statements makes them seem more plausible, thus blurring the distinction between truth and misinformation. Previously, researchers believed that limitations to the illusory truth effect included an individual's knowledge — the more informed an individual was on a subject, the less they could be convinced by contradictory statements. Nonetheless, a 2015[8] and a 2019 study[9] both concluded that this effect 'occurs across all levels of plausibility.'[9] In other words: 'illusory truth effects occurred even when participants knew better.'[8]

Why this effect works is explained by psychologist Tom Stafford: rather than 'being rigidly logical about every piece of information you hear,' our brain uses heuristics — shortcuts, such as 'relying on how often you've heard something to judge how truthful something feels' — to determine the plausibility of a piece of information.[10]

Goebbels' obvious understanding of the illusory truth effect explains why the Nazi party developed its political strategies (including indoctrination through education and propaganda) based around the concept of repetition. Furthermore, no matter how extreme the claims and ideologies spread by the Nazi party may seem now, the findings from the 2015 and 2019 studies help to explain why fascist Nazi ideologies and Hitler's constructivist truth were able to spread so effectively.

Manipulation of Historical and Economic Truths Edit

Nazi propaganda capitalised on the low morale caused by the bleak economic conditions and German disillusionment following their defeat in World War I. Hitler exploited and even altered historical truths to further his own cause.

Economic Chaos Edit


After World War 1, the economic instability in Germany increased dramatically. The German government struggled to pay reparations and so printed large amounts of money, leading to hyperinflation.[11] The German mark collapsed, and the middle classes lost their incomes and savings. The Great Depression of 1929 further crippled Germany, as the Americans recalled the loans which had been keeping the economy afloat, and unemployment levels skyrocketed.[12] Hitler exploited this economic misery to increase support for the Nazis, especially amongst the middle and upper classes who were afraid of potential austerity measures under the Weimar government.[13] In economics, rational choice theory emphasises the importance of logic and self-interest in decision-making.[14] Indeed, many Germans voted for the Nazis simply because they made a 'pro-active calculation of the benefits they would derive from the Nazi program'[15] and concluded it was the rational choice to maximise their economic utility. Hitler was aware of this truth and used it to his advantage, gaining support by promising to abolish unemployment and raise living standards. Furthermore, Hitler even manipulated official statistics, examples of empirical truth, to prove the economic success of his policies.[16]

Stab-in-the-back Myth Edit

Another way in which Hitler manipulated the truth was through the use of 'scapegoats' — groups of society which he blamed for Germany's political and economic problems. Hostilities towards these groups grew heavily during World War 1. Hitler blamed Germany's defeat on the democratic Weimar government, portraying them as the 'November criminals' who stabbed Germany in the back by signing the armistice.[17] In reality, this was not objectively true as Germany had suffered huge losses and could not feasibly continue fighting.[18] Hitler also used the war to further promote anti-semitism by claiming that the Jews had evaded their duty to fight. The Judenzählung census of 1916 was an attempt to prove this lack of Jewish military involvement as an objective truth. Crucially, the true findings were kept classified by the War Ministry as they 'failed to uncover any evidence of Jewish wrongdoing.'[19] However, the mere existence of the census still succeeded in validating the Nazi's anti-semitic ideology.[19] Furthermore, the Jews were used as scapegoats for Germany's economic problems due to their relative wealth and business success. Hitler concealed and distorted the empirical truth regarding the Jewish population, consequently gaining acceptance of his anti-semitic beliefs and facilitating the Nazi's rise to power.

Evaluating Truth in Nazi Germany Edit

George Orwell: 'the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world'.

The Nazi party’s ability to gain and maintain power was largely a result of the reality they constructed for the German people through the manipulation and destruction of empirical truths. They successfully utilised their understanding of psychology, history and the economic conditions of the time to enhance the effectiveness of their political strategies in altering German perception of truth. Despite these disciplines traditionally having different methods of determining truth, whether that be a constructivist, empirical or other approach, combining the individual analyses arising from these methods enriches our understanding of how truth was constructed in Nazi Germany. This interdisciplinary approach to how truth is fabricated is crucial to understanding and combating the effects of global misinformation.

References Edit

  1. Swanwick T, Forrest K, O'Brien B. Understanding Medical Education: Evidence, Theory and Practice. John Wiley & Sons; 2018.
  2. North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Nato Standardization Agency Aap-6 – Glossary of terms and definitions, p 188.
  3. a b Nazi Propaganda [Internet]. [cited 5 December 2019]. Available from:
  4. Hoffmann H. The Triumph of Propaganda: Film and National Socialism. 1st ed. Berghahn Books; 1996.
  5. Brendon P. Death of truth: when propaganda and 'alternative facts' first gripped the world [Internet]. The Guardian. 2017 [cited 29 November 2019]. Available from:
  6. Der Stürmer! [Internet]. 2009 [cited 29 November 2019]. Available from:
  7. Goebbels J. Joseph Goebbels On the "Big Lie" [Internet]. 2019 [cited 3 December 2019]. Available from:
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  9. a b Fazio L, Rand D, Pennycook G. Repetition increases perceived truth equally for plausible and implausible statements. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review [Internet]. 2019 [cited 3 December 2019];26(5):1705-1710. Available from:
  10. Stafford, T.  How liars create the ‘illusion of truth’. [Internet] 2019 [cited 5 December 2019]. Available from:
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Truth in the Creation of the Universe

Introduction Edit

There have long been discussions across the disciplines about the origin of the universe. This is a multifaceted debate and although it's generally represented as a dispute between science and theology, an appreciation of how disciplines including Art, Literature, Computer Science and Philosophy contribute to the question is important. Each discipline conveys their own truth surrounding creation, providing different types of evidence to strengthen their argument. The issue of 'power' also plays into the debate due to historical biases surrounding the validity of contrasting evidence and the long-standing power of the Church.

Cross-Disciplinary Creation Truths Edit

Cosmology and Philosophy Edit

The Hubble Space Telescope

Examining the disciplines of cosmology and philosophy together, regarding creation, is integral. Modern cosmology originated in 1917 with Einstein's Static Model of the Universe, though evolved to incorporate physics, maths and astronomy.[1] The practice of studying the cosmos originated in earlier societies; each establishing unique theories for understanding the heavens. Greek philosopher Aristotle argued there were four elements: fire, water, earth and air, and that all space was filled with one of the elements.[2] Other theories include: the Brahmanda Cosmic Egg Theory (15th-12th century B.C) which depicted a cyclical universe containing a cosmic egg which continually expanded and collapsed, and the Einsteinian Theory (20th century) where the universe was identified as dynamically static. Today, cosmology is dominated by the Big Bang Theory (Edwin Hubble), which states the universe originated as a dense, hot mass around 14 billion years ago and from that point, it has been expanding.[3] However, opposing theories such as the Steady State Theory and the Oscillating Theory currently coexist alongside the Big Bang Theory.[4]

Cosmology is largely based on observation; it's impossible to run experiments on the entire universe. Thus, it requires philosophical debate. Cosmology is dealing with the concept of the beginning; the Big Bang is widely accepted as the prominent creation theory, but how do we conceptualise the "nothing" that preceded it? These are philosophical issues, therefore a combined understanding of philosophy and cosmology is necessary in addressing the origin of the universe.[5]

Theology Edit

In John 17:17 of the Bible, Jesus speaks to God on behalf of his disciples saying “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth”. Christianity teaches an absolute truth; truth is the word of God, as truth is the reality that God has created and defined.[6] Truth in Christianity surrounding ‘the creation of the universe’ is presented through creationism.

Creationism states that “matter and all things were created... by an omnipotent Creator, and not gradually evolved or developed”.[7] Many Christian denominations believe in biblical inerrancy; that the bible is “without error or fault in all its teaching”, meaning that the Genesis creation narrative, where God created the universe in six days, is interpreted as fact. Evidence for creationism has been argued through intelligent design theory: “that certain features of the universe and living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as natural selection".[8] Thomas Aquinas, an 11th century Catholic philosopher, argued that "wherever complex design exists, there must have been a designer; nature is complex; therefore nature must have had an intelligent designer".[9]

Contrastingly, there is also an argument for biblical allegory; a view that the bible should be interpreted rather than taken literally. This allows for belief in both a scientific and religious truth simultaneously, as they are no longer mutually exclusive.

Art and Literature Edit

For over 6,000 years, man has been depicting the cosmos in art; illustrating versions of truth surrounding the creation of the universe.[10] Michelangelo's depiction of the Book of Genesis on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel portrays God creating the Earth in six days, resting on the seventh.[11] These pieces of artwork align with the creation story told in Christian theology. Commissioned by Pope Julius II, this artwork demonstrates the power of the Church in representation of truth.

Michelangelo's depiction of 'The Creation of Adam' on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

In Literature, the creation stories have been frequently retold within both fiction and non-fiction writing. Milton's Paradise Lost portrays a universe where Heaven is at the top, Hell at the bottom, and chaos in-between. However, several scholars have commented on the parallels between science and religion within Milton's work. Paul Nurse draws on the relationship between Milton and Galileo, with Milton citing sunspots and other cosmological phenomena observed through Galileo's telescope within Paradise Lost; 'Milton slips seamlessly between the traditional religious views of the time and the modern 17th century thinking on science'. Karl Popper examines the similarities between science and faith, expressing the fact that 'Science avoids un-testable theories, unlike religion which takes matters on faith. However... science itself depends upon assumptions that come close to matters of faith'. Art and Literature have become spaces of discussion and innovation which are imperative to a more comprehensive and inclusive truth surrounding the question of creation.[12]

Computer Science Edit

Computer science has a positivist philosophy towards truth as it looks for an empirical truth that is rational, objective and derived from scientific methodology.

The mathematical Fibonacci spiral which has many natural manifestations.

Nick Bostrom suggested that either “(1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any post-human civilisation is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history... ; (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation” concluding the likelihood of the latter was greatest.[13] The theory of the universe being created as a computer simulation evolved from the idea of exponential human advancement. In 1972, the ‘Pong’ game was created which involved only basic pixelated shapes. In 2000 ‘The Sims’, a life simulation video game, was released, and now virtual reality games are gaming’s newest innovation. The prospect of a ‘posthuman’ civilisation existing who have created a computer-simulated universe is not so preposterous as first thought and this idea of a 'higher power' draws parallels with theological creationism.

There are numerous claims of supporting evidence. Firstly, the universe behaves mathematically (e.g. the Fibonacci sequence in nature), thus reflecting the computer code from which it was written. Furthermore, everything in the universe can be broken up into subatomic particles which imitates a pixilated video game. A simulation hypothesis also accounts for inconsistencies in quantum mechanics, such as the ‘measurement problem’, which is a paradox where measurements supporting quantum mechanics are theoretically impossible.[14]

Conclusion Edit

Many disciplines examined within this chapter are single-minded in regard to their version of truth surrounding creation, and the "absolute truths" of cosmology, theology and computer science produce significant tension. This is a prominent example of how the issue of truth prevents interdisciplinary research, which would inevitably lead to an enhanced understanding of creation. There are individuals within disciplines who acknowledge the potential role of numerous factors culminating in the creation of the universe; Scientists who believe in God and writers who portray both sides to the debate. However, as this specific case study is entrenched in power struggles and historical viewpoints, prominence for these academics is difficult. We have concluded that truth surrounding this question should not be categorised into one discipline, and that it's imperative not to prioritise scientific truth because it is quantifiable, but to recognise the potential role of many different versions of truth when examining the creation of the universe.

References Edit

  1. 10. Philosophy of Cosmology (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) [Internet]. 2017 [cited 6 December 2019]. Available from:
  2. 14. Finding Our Place in the Cosmos: From Galileo to Sagan and Beyond [Internet]. The Library of Congress. [cited 6 December 2019]. Available from:
  3. 12. Mastin L. Cosmological Theories Through History - The Physics of the Universe [Internet]. 2009 [cited 6 December 2019]. Available from:
  4. 11. Williams M. Big Bang Theory: Evolution of Our Universe - Universe Today [Internet]. Universe Today. 2015 [cited 6 December 2019]. Available from:
  5. 13. Falck B. Why cosmology without philosophy is like a ship without a hull – Bridget Falck | Aeon Ideas [Internet]. Aeon. 2018 [cited 6 December 2019]. Available from:
  6. MacArthur J. What Is Truth? [Internet]. Grace to You. 2009 [cited 2 December 2019]. Available from:
  7. Definition of creationism | [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2 December 2019]. Available from:
  8. Behe M, Meyer S. What is Intelligent Design? [Internet]. Discovery Institute. 2019 [cited 7 December 2019]. Available from:
  9. The Washington Post. Summarizing the Judgment on Intelligent Design. [Internet]. 2005 [cited 5 December 2019];. Available from:
  10. Kramer, M. (2013). Cave Art Reveals Ancient View of Cosmos. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Dec. 2019].
  11. (2019). Sistine Chapel ceiling. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Dec. 2019].
  12. Fox-Skelly, J. (2011). Darwin and Milton: two views of Creation | The Repository | Royal Society. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Dec. 2019].
  13. Bostrom N. Are We Living in a Computer Simulation?. The Philosophical Quarterly [Internet]. 2003 [cited 7 December 2019];53(211):243-255. Available from:
  14. Solon O. Is our world a simulation? Why some scientists say it's more likely than not. The Guardian [Internet]. 2016 [cited 7 December 2019];. Available from:

Truth in Gender

Introduction Edit

Gender is observable through both empirical and social disciplines. Examining various truths in gender presented by different disciplines allows for a deep understanding of the difficulty of restricting the parameters of gender to a unique definition.

Sex and Gender Edit

Sex (Biological) Edit

Individuals are initially biologically determined by their chromosomes. Males have a pair of XY sexual chromosomes whereas females possess XX chromosomes, resulting in hormonal differences that distinguish the two sexes. The Sex-determining Region Y gene, (on the Y chromosome), produces androgens (male sex hormones)[1] responsible for the anatomical differences. This gene is not present in the X chromosome, resulting in the individual being female.

Secondary sex determination occurs when anatomical differences are created from different gonadal hormones produced. In males, testosterone promotes the development of structures such as the penis, facial hair and a deep voice while AMH induces degeneration of Mullerian ducts, resulting in the female reproductive tract being absent. Where testosterone and AMH are absent in females, degeneration of mesonephric ducts and differentiation of Mullerian ducts occurs, giving rise to the reproductive tract and other characteristics such as low muscle mass, breasts and high voice.

Gender (Psychosexual) Edit

Gender encompasses the attitudes, roles and behaviours associated with being a given sex. It is a more fluid concept than sex, being perceived as a spectrum rather than dichotomy.

Gender Development Edit

There appears to be no universal truth behind gender development. Theories typically compete on the basis of whether development occurs through environmental or biological factors.

Biological Edit

Hormones Edit

Hormones play a key role in sex development, varying between the sexes and influencing gender development.

Male (left) and female (right) hormones (Ganong, 2005, pg.429, pg.440)[2]


Testosterone, abundant in males, is released in the womb, causing the development of male sex organs and contributes to the ‘masculinisation’ of neural structures by affecting the hypothalamus. Higher levels are associated with reduced vocalisation and social engagement in toddlers[3] and higher levels of aggression and competitiveness in adults, with female children given male hormone injections displayed more aggressive behaviour later in life.[4]

Oestrogen Oestrogen is significant in female development by acting in the development of female sex organs and controlling the menstrual cycle. It is also linked to behavioural factors such as heightened fear responses.[5]

Size difference between male and female SDN[6]
Neural Structures Edit

Neural structures have been found to vary between the two sexes.[7] The comparatively larger sexually dimorphic nucleus(SDN) found in male brains[8] is associated with higher aggression and copulating behaviour.[9] MRI scans have also shown that when engaging in language tasks, women utilised both left and right hemispheres whereas men used only the left, which suggests that females' brains have more complex phonological processing ability. This also displays the higher independence of brain hemispheres in males.[10]

Genetic Markers Edit
Female XX (left) and male XY (right) chromosomes[11]

Chromosome-specific genes are believed to cause gender variations. Higher proportions of X-chromosome genes are associated with intellectual development, especially social intelligence, believed to cause the lower number of neurodevelopment disorders in females(approx.4:1).[12] Evolutionary sciences are often utilised to explain the genetic differences.[13]

Individuals with atypical chromosomes are studied and compared to isolate genetically-influenced behaviours that are genetically influenced.[14] For example, those with Klinefelter syndrome(two or more chromosomes in males) are more likely to experience gender dysphoria[15] displaying the connection between gender perceptions and chromosomes. Patients also showed more empathic responses towards verbal rather than visual stimulus.[16] However, the results of such studies are mostly speculative as the responsible gene is often unidentified.

Social Edit

Such supporting observations in biological explanations allow for the establishment of a synthetic (empirical) truth. However there is no valid and complete way of measuring other environmental factors and motivations, resulting in observations being subject to a degree of interpretation and observer bias.

Advocates of social explanations reject biological explanations. For instance, PMS has been said to be more of a social construction rather than a biological fact,[17] which is utilised by feminists as an example of the medicalisation of women’s lives through biological explanation of emotions, suggesting an exaggeration of the impact of oestrogen in previous studies.

Social Learning Theory Edit

This theory suggests that gender is learnt through observation and imitation of others, focusing on environmental factors in gender development. Main processes involved are vicarious reinforcements and punishments - when behaviours are learnt through observations and judgements regarding their appropriateness based on the favourability of consequences.

Social learning theory suggests that boys and girls are differentially reinforced for different behaviours and this accounts for distinctly different gender roles, behaviours and attitudes. The child identifies with role models and imitates their behaviour. Four meditational stages in this process was identified- attention, reproduction, motivation and motor reproduction .[18]

Smith and Lloyd (1980) observed adults with 4 to 6-month-olds. Boys were given a hammer-snapped rattle to encourage adventurousness whilst dolls were given to girls with reinforcement for passivity and 'being pretty'.[19] This not only supports the role of differential reinforcement of gender-appropriate behaviours from early childhood, but also suggests that social explanations have temporal validity and explanatory power in terms of less rigid gender roles over time.

Anthropological Edit

Anthropological cross-cultural studies illustrate differences in gender roles across cultures, thus highlighting the cultural influences on gender. Mead (1931) studied tribal groups in New Guinea and found differences in their behaviour. People in the Arapesh tribe took on feminine roles (gentle, responsive behaviours) while people in the Mundugumor tribe were aggressive and hostile (Western stereotype of masculinity). People in the Tchambuli tribe organised themselves along the reverse of the Western gender stereotypes where women organised village life and were dominant while men held decorative roles and were passive.[20]

Biosocial Edit

This approach deviates from both biological determinism and social constructivism, instead presenting gender to be influenced by biological factors but also malleable to social influences.[21] Some biosocial approaches suggest that evolutionary differences caused by environmental characteristics between the sexes are no longer the same, resulting in alterations to sex chromosomes, such as the degeneration of the Y chromosome.[22]

Contemporary, meta-analytical methodologies allow for critical reassessments of previous biological and social studies. For example, in the examination of gendered variation of children's toy preferences, biological causes, such as girls exposed to higher levels of androgens displaying more interested in male-typed toys,[23] are taken into account alongside social influences, such as stereotyped preferences displaying more consistently in group rather than dyadic circumstances.[24] Further meta-regression detect that the gender equality status of subjects' country and year of study to have almost no effect on behaviour during early childhood where children still largely preferred gendered toys, but increases with age with deviated impacts,[25] presenting the conclusion that the complex interaction between social and biological factors are what determines gendered preferences.

Reference List Edit

  1. Hiort O. The differential role of androgens in early human sex development. BMC Medicine [Internet]. 2013 [cited 13 November 2019];11(1). Available from:
  2. Ganong, W. (2005). Review of Medical Physiology (22nd ed.). NY: McGraw-Hill
  3. Alexander, G. M. (2014). Postnatal testosterone concentrations and male social development. Frontiers in Endocrinology, 5, 15.
  4. Hines, M. (1982). Prenatal gonadal hormones and sex differences in human behavior. Psychological Bulletin, 92(1), 56.
  5. M.A. Morgan, D.W. Pfaff, Effects of Estrogen on Activity and Fear-Related Behaviors in Mice, Hormones and Behavior, Volume 40, Issue 4, 2001, ISSN 0018-506X,
  6. Hofman MA, Swaab DF. The sexually dimorphic nucleus of the preoptic area in the human brain: a comparative morphometric study. J Anat. 1989;164:55–72.
  7. Hofman, M A, and D F Swaab. “The sexually dimorphic nucleus of the preoptic area in the human brain: a comparative morphometric study.” Journal of anatomy vol. 164 (1989): 55-72.
  8. Swaab D, Hofman M. Sexual differentiation of the human hypothalamus: ontogeny of the sexually dimorphic nucleus of the preoptic area. Developmental Brain Research [Internet]. 1988;44(2):314-318. Available from:
  9. Ngun TC, Ghahramani N, Sánchez FJ, Bocklandt S, Vilain E. The genetics of sex differences in brain and behavior. Front Neuroendocrinol. 2011;32(2):227–246. doi:10.1016/j.yfrne.2010.10.001
  10. Shaywitz, B., Shaywltz, S., Pugh, K. et al. Sex differences in the functional organization of the brain for language. Nature 373, 607–609 (1995) doi:10.1038/373607a0
  11. Graves Jennifer A. Marshall (2004) The degenerate Y chromosome – can conversion save it?. Reproduction, Fertility and Development 16, 527-534.
  12. Printzlau, F., Wolstencroft, J. and Skuse, D.H. (2017), Cognitive, behavioural, and neural consequences of sex chromosome aneuploidy. Journal of Neuroscience Research, 95: 311-319. doi:10.1002/jnr.23951
  13. Abbott JK, Nordén AK, Hansson B. Sex chromosome evolution: historical insights and future perspectives. Proc Biol Sci. 2017;284(1854):20162806. doi:10.1098/rspb.2016.2806
  14. McLeod, S. A. (2014, Dec 14). Biological theories of gender. Simply Psychology.
  15. Parkinson, John. (2007). Gender identity in Klinefelter's syndrome and male hypogonadism: Four cases of dysphoria. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. 41. A70-A70.
  16. van Rijn S, Barendse M, van Goozen S, Swaab H (2014) Social Attention, Affective Arousal and Empathy in Men with Klinefelter Syndrome (47,XXY): Evidence from Eyetracking and Skin Conductance. PLOS ONE 9(1): e84721.
  17. Rodin, J., & Timko, C. (1992). Sense of control, ageing, and health. In M. G. Ory, R. P. Abeles, & P. D. Lipman (Eds.), Aging, health, and behaviour (p. 174–206). Sage Publications, Inc.
  18. Mcleod S. Albert Bandura | Social Learning Theory | Simply Psychology [Internet]. 2016 [cited 15 November 2019]. Available from:
  19. Smith C, Lloyd B. Maternal Behavior and Perceived Sex of Infant: Revisited. Child Development. 1978;49(4):1263.
  20. Mead M. Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies. 1st ed. New York: William Morrow and Company; 2003.
  21. De Melo‐Martín, Inmaculada. "When Is Biology Destiny? Biological Determinism and Social Responsibility." Philosophy of Science 70, no. 5 (2003): 1184-194. doi:10.1086/377399.
  22. Abbott, Jessica K et al. “Sex chromosome evolution: historical insights and future perspectives.” Proceedings. Biological sciences vol. 284,1854 (2017): 20162806. doi:10.1098/rspb.2016.2806
  23. Meyer-Bahlburg, H.F.L., Dolezal, C., Baker, S.W. et al. Arch Sex Behav (2004) 33: 97.
  24. Fabes, R.A., Hanish, L.D. and Martin, C.L. (2003), Children at Play: The Role of Peers in Understanding the Effects of Child Care. Child Development, 74: 1039-1043. doi:10.1111/1467-8624.00586
  25. Todd, BK, Fischer, RA, Di Costa, S, et al. Sex differences in children's toy preferences: A systematic review, meta‐regression, and meta‐analysis. Inf Child Dev. 2018; 27:e2064.

Truth in the treatment of hysteria at the end of the 19th century

Introduction Edit

Nowadays hysteria is defined as a psychological disorder characterized by conversion of psychological stress into physical symptoms or a change in self-awareness.

The treatment of hysteria has been the object of multiple experimentation. It has always been known throughout history by doctors and researchers under different names and under different forms. What led to such a confusion within the scientific community is the lack of knowledge about the cause of such mental disorder.

Ever since the ancient Egyptian and Greek societies, diverse truths within multiple disciplines, were enlightened with the objective of coming up with the definitive cure.

Social perspective on hysteria Edit

Historical approach of hysteria Edit

Bertha Pappenheim also known as Anna O. in Studies on Hysteria

The first officially submitted explanation of hysteria goes back to the 4th Century B.C, in Ancient Greece; they believed that its cause was the instability of the uterus, which was applying pressure on other organs. The first form of treatment was to place “good smells” near women’s vagina.[1] Multiple theories quickly emerged, linking the hysteria with the retention of menstrual blood, which led to the emergence of marriage as a cure for hysteria. Later on they started to believe that sex was the cure since semen was thought to have healing and purification properties.[2] These treatments are an example of a social truth determined by ancient history.

Religious perspective influenced by misogyny Edit

The medieval most common approach to hysteria was highly influenced by religion; it was considered from a demonological perspective.[3] Women were considered inferior to men, a popular assertion was the statement of Thomas Aquinas, “the woman is a failed man”.[3] Physicians could not find a physical cause of the disease, then they assumed it was related demonological causes for the association of women to the sin. Thus these women were tortured or directly sentenced to death. This approach to the mental disorder within women evinces a misogynistic truth in the medieval society.

Feminist reading on hysteria cases Edit

Bertha Pappenheim (Anna O) was diagnosed with hysteria in 1880 when she was twenty one years old. Pappenheim could speak Italian, French and English in addition to her mother language. During her hysterical crisis she was unable to speak German but was spontaneously fluent in foreign languages.[4] During childhood the capacity to formulate sentences coincides with the realization of the patriarchal structure within the family. From a psychoanalytic feminist perspective of the aphasia of Pappenheim it is possible to read her rejection of a cultural identity;[4] her inferior position in a patriarchal society represented by the structure of her orthodox family. She was an intelligent educated woman assigned to the monotonous activity of nursing her father for her gender condition while her younger brother was studying in university, restricted to women at that time. Later on, she became an important activist feminist and grew apart from the patriarchal values of her orthodox family.[4]

The case study of Anna O is an example of the relegation of feminine subjectivity. If we take a feminist analysis on hysteria cases we can find an overlooked truth of patriarchal societies; the body of a hysteric might be signifying social untoward feelings in some cases. The expression “hysteric” is used in the popular culture to discredit feminine anger or frustration. Although feminist are plenty conscious of what is frustrating them they are often associated with hysterics.

Jean-Martin Charcot

Questioning the Ancient truth (a medical perspective) Edit

In the identification of the causes Edit

The Ancient explanation reached consensus during more than a millennium, until Jean-Martin Charcot (1825–1893), a French neurologist, decided to tackle conflicting theories about hysteria’s causes. First of all, he refuted the dogma that hysteria was an exclusively feminine disorder.[5] Nevertheless, he conceived a classification which went against the Ancient truth of hysteria, since he discovered that it could take numerous forms, hence it could not be treated as one unique disease. Thanks to his experiments, Charcot reached a truth closer to reality than it was before. He maintained the idea that causes of hysteria were organic and physical but added that a psychological approach had to be taken in account.

In the treatment method Edit

He mentioned a “psychogenetic origin”.[5] Using hypnosis, he managed to prove his statement, making his patients forget their trauma and noting that the hysteria had disappeared. However, hypnosis, even though it worked, could not be considered as a proper treatment since it was only temporary. Hence, hypnosis drew the path to prove that there were psychological implications of hysteria, and not only physical ones. In this case, the treatment method has been used as a tool to reach truth, and not as a way to heal patients.

Sigmund Freud, by Max Halberstadt

A psychological perspective on Hysteria: the creation of psychoanalysis. Edit

From October 1885 until February 1886, Freud was the pupil of Charcot. He was immensely impressed by the work of his mentor, but later on he started think critically about the medical approach of his time and began to develop his own ideas. The case study of Anna O, whose real name was Bertha Pappenheim, published in Studies on Hysteria, inspired him. Dr Breuer, while treating Pappenheim, established the psychoanalytical strategy of the “talking cure”.[6]

Freud started to see a common pattern in the patient’s backgrounds and symptoms. He explained that the cure for hysteria was about uncovering the traumatic incident which had supposedly given rise to the symptoms.

Freud transformed Breuer’s strategies into a discipline which goal was to reconstruct repressed memories through interpretation and free-association. He developed a ‘pressure technique’, a system of free-association.[7] Freud considered this technic very effective and completed it with the ‘mental pressure’ technique when he started to analyze the hysteria case of Elisabeth von R.

His patients were healing thank to his therapy which was very shocking at that time. It was reasonable for him to believe in the effectivity of his technique. Freud explained that ‘we can guess the ways in which things are connected up and tell the patient before we have uncovered it’.[8]

With this new definition and treatment of the hysteria, Freud created a new truth, which we defined later as psychoanalysis; a treatment of mental harms governed by what we define as psychology: the scientific study of how the human mind works and the way it influences behavior, or the influence of a particular person's character on their behavior.[9]

Freud didn’t create the psychoanalysis in opposition to the work of Charcot on hysteria, but as a complement of his approach.[10] Indeed, the failure of the medical community at diagnosing correctly hysteria is also one of the main events that led to the development of this new truth.

MRI of the patient's brain - the yellow coloration corresponds to the activation of the cortex parts implied in her paralysis

Conclusion Edit

The multiple truths relative to the treatment of hysteria create a case study in which disciplines clash. The social truth on the treatment of hysteria is, in its construction, the result of a conflict between a feminist, a theological and a historical point of view. Furthermore, this sociological truth isn’t compatible with a scientific approach, that was, later, completed by a psychological truth. Recent neurological studies have proved, in 2007, that hysteria has psychological causes, checking the thesis of Freud and Charcot.[11]

References Edit

  1. Ada McVean. The History of Hysteria. McGill University; 2017.
  2. Parker, Robert. Miasma: Pollution and Purification in Early Greek Religion. Oxford University Press. 1996.
  3. a b Cecilia Tasca, Mariangela Rapetti, Mauro Giovanni Carta, and  Bianca Fadda, Women And Hysteria In The History Of Mental Health Clin Pract Epidemiol Ment Health. 2012
  4. a b c Dianne Hunter, Feminist Studies, Vol. 9, No. 3 (Autumn, 1983), pp. 464-488
  5. a b Georges Didi-Huberman, Invention de l'hystérie : Charcot et l'iconographie photographique de la Salpêtrière, éditions Macula, Genève, 2012. (ISBN 978-2-86589-004-0)
  6. Freud S. Breuer J. Studies on Hysteria. Leipzig and Vienna: Franz Deuticke;1895.
  7. Bachner-Melman. R & Lichtenberg. P. Freud's Relevance to Hypnosis: A Reevaluation. American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis [Internet]. 2001[cited 2019 Dec 01]. Available from:, 37-50 DOI:
  8. Webster R. Freud, Charcot and hysteria: lost in the labyrinth. 2003 Apr 10 [cited 2019 Dec 1]. In: Freud (Great Philosophers). RICHARDWEBSTER.NET [Internet]. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. 2003 - [about 5 screens]. Available from:
  9. Cambridge dictionary [Internet]. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2008. Psychology; [cited 2019 Dec 01]; [about 1 screen]. Available from:
  10. De Marneffe, D. (Looking and Listening: The Construction of Clinical Knowledge in Charcot and Freud. Signs. 1991.  17(1) : 71-111.
  11. Kanaan RA, Craig TK, Wessely SC, David AS. Imaging repressed memories in motor conversion disorder. Department of Psychological Medicine, King's College London, Institute of Psychiatry; 2019

Truth in Abortion

The abortion debate is one of the most polarising everyday controversies, dichotomizing people into being either "pro-choice" or "pro-life". "Pro-choice" insists that women should be able to choose whether or not to abort, whereas "pro-life" prioritises the life of the embryo.[1]

The abortion debate is considered to be a moral dilemma, as views on the matter typically stem from opinions on the following:

  • When life begins. Is an embryo alive upon conception or at its first heartbeat?
  • Whether or not life implies "personhood"[2]. Killing a person is considered murder, whereas killing a fish isn't. Is an embryo a person or not? Hence, is abortion murder?
  • Whether one's quality of life is or isn't a factor. Is knowing that an embryo could have a poor quality of life sufficient reason for abortion? Should a mother be able to terminate if completing the pregnancy would worsen her quality of life?

A short case study: Professor Lejeune's Dilemma Edit

Leujeune's observation : a karyotype with Down Syndrome

Jerome Lejeune was a twentieth-century Catholic geneticist. In 1958 he discovered an abnormal chromosome on the 21st pair, proving a relationship between mental disability and a chromosomal anomaly.[3] Whilst his work earned him numerous scientific awards, he was troubled that his research was used to identify disabilities including Down Syndrome with the aim of terminating pregnancy due to the difficult life that awaited such children. As pro-abortion movements began growing in size, Lejeune's theological understanding of truth prevailed; he gave anti-abortion conferences worldwide, arguing that pregnant women weren't given enough information and foresight about a life with disabled children.

Interpretations of Truth by Academic Disciplines Edit

Developmental Biology & Psychology Edit

Through an objective approach,[4] developmental biology models an accurate account of the growth of organisms, using methods of experimentation.[5] It is especially concerned with embryonic development, and hence pertinent in understanding reproduction: the first cell formed after fertilisation, the zygote, contains all the necessary material to sustain life and develop into a complete individual. Thus, from this perspective, life begins at conception. However, whilst a zygote is a form of life, so are parents' germ cells and billions of other cells we lose everyday. In this case, is killing a sperm cell abortion?

Similarly, psychologists seek to understand the relationship between the human minds and behaviors.[6][7] A fetus is considered a subject in psychology and therefore "alive" at 32 weeks when its brain develops the ability to reason.[8] Psychologists also argue that personhood begins at 18 months, where a newborn develops self-awareness,[9] which is arguably, as stated by René Descartes, the main characteristic of a person: "I think therefore I am".[10]

Studies have classically shown that abortion can lead to depression and anxiety for women,[11][12] but recent research has also shown that unwanted pregnancy, terminated or not, may cause negative side effects.[13]

Empirical scientists often have narrow perceptions of truth: they create a constantly-growing field of evidence for other disciplines to then draw their own conclusions. Science isn’t concerned with the abortion debate as much as it seeks to deepen our knowledge about life itself.

Sociology & Law Edit

Sociology follows a deflationary, interpretive[14] approach, observing patterns in order to understand of the development of human society.[15] There are, however, less common sociologists who seek positivist truth through research and methodical testing. Sociology plays a crucial role in the abortion debate due to its influence on law-making. The Roe v. Wade, 1973[16] case provides a framework to consider the legal position on abortion.

Roe v. Wade Edit

Roe v Wade, 1989, Jane Roe and her lawyer on the steps of the Supreme Court

Positivist studies proving that premature birth survival rates increase exponentially after the third trimester[17] fostered the court’s understanding of when life begins. The court inferred, that abortion should be legal during the first trimester and legal only if necessary to protect the mother's health during the second and third, implying a fetus is considered “more alive” in the later trimesters.

As of 1971, there were no legal cases where a fetus was considered a person. This was an argument made by the plaintiff, Jane Doe, who used the pattern-seeking nature of sociological truth to conclude that a fetus must therefore not be a person. Quality of life wasn't mentioned as a factor in the case, but the verdict maintained that a woman's right to privacy, stated under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution,[18] fostered her right to an abortion on any grounds whatsoever during the first trimester.

Biblical Theology Edit

Biblical theology is the study of God according to the Bible.[19][20] Pontius Pilate asked "What is truth?",[21] to which Jesus replies "I am the way, the truth and the life".[22] Theological truth isn't quantifiable, nor existentially relevant;[23] it is the "self-expression of God",[24] following the coherence theory of truth, with God as the fixed system against which truth is measured.

A depiction of Adam & Eve

The cornerstone of Biblical theology is the Ten Commandments, one of which is "You shall not kill".[25] Theologists might follow the biological view that human life begins at conception, thus concluding that Biblical doctrines that forbid abortion should be universally accepted, even if the life of the woman is at stake. On the other hand, a theologist could argue that the portrait of personhood starts with Adam & Eve in the New Testament, not with an objective explanation of conception. A person is portrayed as a complex being, with the ability to make irrational decisions: to kill, to lie, among others, as "God created men to be an image of his own eternity".[26] Following this line of reasoning, a fetus is not a person, but a pregnant woman is. If a fetus is not to be considered as a person until it matches the description of Adam & Eve, the life and well-being of a woman should be placed above that of an unborn child.

Interdisciplinary views & Conclusion Edit

Whilst biologists recognise the beginning of life as conception, ignoring the concepts of personhood and quality of life, psychologists specifically focus on the mind and its two significant milestones, resulting in a divergent conclusion: life begins at 32 weeks and personhood 18 months after birth. It applies its positivism to consider the quality of life and how abortion may affect it. Sociology, from its deflationary point of view, doesn't have one specific point at which it considers life to have begun and demonstrates interpretivism in its conclusion, in the Roe v. Wade case, that a fetus isn't a person and that quality of life is immensely significant. Theology establishes, through the coherence theory, that personhood begins at a much later point than the other disciplines. God is eternal and has no beginning, hence we cannot determine the point at which life begins, nor whether quality of life matters.

The overlap in views from many different disciplines makes abortion a never-ending debate. But by breaking down the disciplines' conception of truth, it allows us to look past the abortion controversy as being strictly binary and to better understand where differing views stem. In his case, Lejeune wasn't able to reconcile his theological understanding of truth with his scientific one, ultimately choosing to prioritize the former. The dilemma he faces is one of many examples showing how different definitions and interpretations of truth within disciplines can play out in global issues.

References Edit

  1. Planned Parenthood. Can you explain what pro-choice means and pro-life means? [Online] Available at:
  2. Wikipedia page on Personhood. [Online] Available at:
  3. Jérôme Lejeune Foundation. About Jérôme. [Online] Available at:
  4. Wikipedia page on Biology. [Online] Available at
  5. Heilbron, J. The Oxford Companion to the History of Modern Science. Preface. 2003.
  6. The British psychological society. What is psychology? [Online] Available at:
  7. Thomason, M., Brown, J., Dassanayake, M., Shastri, R., Marusak, H., Andrade, E., Yeo, L., Mody, S., Berman, S., Hassan, S., & Romero, R. Intrinsic functional brain architecture derived from graph theoretical analysis in the human fetus. 2014.
  8. Hopson, J. Fetal Psychology. 1998. [Online] Available at:
  9. Rochat, P. Department of Psychology. Emory University. Five levels of self-awareness as they unfold early in life. 2003. [Online] Available at:
  10. Miceli, C. Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am”. 2018. [Online] Available at:
  11. Reardon, D. The abortion and mental health controversy: A comprehensive literature review of common ground agreements, disagreements, actionable recommendations, and research opportunities. 2018. [Online] Available at:
  12. Christchurch Health and Development Study, Christchurch School of Medicine & Health Sciences, New Zealand. Abortion in young women and subsequent mental health. 2006. [Online] Available at:
  13. Committee on Reproductive Health Services. The Safety and Quality of Abortion Care in the United States. 2018. [Online] Available at:
  14. Positivist Blog. Antipositivism. [Online] Available at:
  15. Department of Sociology. University of Warwick. What is Sociology and why study it? [Online] Available at:
  16. Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica. Roe v. Wade: Summary, Origins, & Influence. 1999. [Online] Available at:
  17. Irish Neonatal Health Alliance. Definition of Premature Birth. [Online] Available at:
  18. Legal Information Institute. 14th Amendment. [Online] Available at:
  19. Newsletter. What is the academic field of Christian Theology? [Online] Available at:
  20. Newsletter. What is the academic field of Biblical Theology? [Online] Available at:
  21. 38th verse in Сhapter 18 of the Gospel of John in the New Testament of Christian Bible.
  22. 14th chapter of the Gospel of John in the New Testament of the Christian Bible.
  23. Theopedia. Truth. [Online] Available at:
  24. MacArthur, J. What Is Truth? 2008. [Online] Available at:
  25. Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica. Ten Commandments. Old Testament. 1998. [Online] Available at:
  26. Wisdom of Solomon. Chapters 2:20-2:23.

Interdisciplinary Depictions of Human Nature

Introduction Edit

Human nature is most often defined as the set of fundamental social and psychological traits that dictate the dispositions of human beings. [1][2][3][4][5]It forms a basis of how we conceptualise the world, allowing us to learn and form culture. Because it touches on the very essence of our humanity, human nature has been at the centre of an intellectual dispute for centuries and a focal point of research across disciplines.

This chapter aims to contribute to the discussion with an emphasis on the inherency of violence in humans. It will explore the cultural norms and methodologies that form the research paradigms underpinning predominant theories of human nature, and the effects of these truths on other disciplines and areas outside academia.

Factors influencing the Truth Edit

The Confirmation Bias in Philosophy Edit

The lack of objective evidence available, combined with the difficulty to dissociate oneself from the object of study, constitutes a notable challenge when trying to form a theory of human nature. It is therefore particularly difficult to approach human nature from a positivist perspective.

Thomas Hobbes was the key proponent of 'summum malum'

In a similar manner, pre-existing opinions - shaped by beliefs, mental models, socio-economic background and prevailing societal views, can influence the research of any academic.[6] This is known as the confirmation bias. Its impact is particularly significant on the philosophy of Hobbes and Locke, whose theses on human nature have historically served as premises for other disciplines’ theories,[7] as well as for the accepted opinion of whole societies.

Religious and Theological Influences Edit

In Western civilisation, the idea of a flawed, thus violent, humanity embodied in the Original Sin is part of a narrative of human nature[8] passed down for centuries. This regnant sentiment certainly oriented western philosophical thought, among which Thomas Hobbes’ proclamation of a natural summum malum [9]- state of nature - as the natural human state. It can therefore be argued that by influencing the creation of a theory, religious ideology also conditions the reader’s mindset, and on a larger scale, that of society.

Historical Influences Edit

The English civil war came as a justification for Hobbes' theory: "The reader wishing to imagine what life in anarchy would be like need no more than consider the fate of those who used to live in peace, under a single government, and who have now descended into a civil war".[10]

Projecting current events onto a general statement of humanity is not an individual tendency of Hobbes. In fact, Thucydides, writing during the plague of Athens, formulated similar views about human nature.[11] In an example of historical influences and in this case strong societal influences as well: John Locke arrived at his theory of 'tablula rasa' largely because of the Enlightenment movement. There is a direct relationship between experience and conclusion, especially because thought experiment, experience and observation are the key methodologies for philosophical theorising.

Nature versus Nurture Edit

Two main theories have shaped the debate around the origins of violent behaviour: the “blank slate ” idea according to which humans are born without innate traits, is the standpoint from which most social sciences have studied human actions. On the other hand, evolutionary biology and psychology pose violence as an evolved genetic predisposition, influenced by biological factors.[12]

Locke's idea of the mind as a "white paper"(Book II, Chap. I, 2) is often opposed to Hobbes' state of nature

Sociology versus Evolutionary Biology Edit

Mainstream sociology textbooks still adopt the traditional Standard social science model (SSSM) [13] (which establishes culture as the single factor shaping the mind) as the cornerstone for theories explaining social behaviour. This social constructionism approach entails the assumption of certain fundamental traits and dispositions in mankind,[14] yet the lack of empirical evidence to support them makes the discipline prone to criticism by modern science. By proposing an evolving theory of human nature, Darwin challenged this very idea of a set and constant human nature.[15]

Developmental Psychology Edit

Developmental psychological studies on infant cognition are an example of scientific research challenging the tabula rasa theory. Following a series of experiments on toddlers and infants revealing early altruism in young children,[16] several psychologists from the Yale Infant Cognition Centre interpreted the results as a rebuttal of the nurture argument. However, such findings were subsequently questioned as early altruism in human beings was shown to be limited. Such events could be explained by what Jeremy I. M. Carpendale calls “the psychologists’ fallacy”: psychologists’ interpretations of early altruism in children’s actions may merely be a reflection of previous assumptions.[17]

Given the limitations of the biology-sociology dichotomy, some psychologists now advocate for an alternative theoretical paradigm: an integrated model merging biological and cultural theories to unravel the question of human nature.

Alternative views about the origins of violence Edit

If the representation of the bloodthirsty, primitive male, unable to control his violent urges has historically dominated scientific thought, consequently influencing the collective myth of the 'killer ape'; the self-evidence of this narrative has more recently been challenged by Douglas P. Fry.[18] Drawing data from archaeology, anthropology and primatology as well as through 'game theory and cost/benefit analyses',[19] it is argued that humans' propensity for peace is much more widespread than acknowledged.

Societal Implications of Endorsing a Truth of Human Nature Edit

The implications of a discussion about human nature go beyond the academic sphere. As previously explored, theories and society shape each other reflexively: theories are born from researchers' ontological and epistemological position, and can in return impact societal views. This allows for the emergence of societally accepted truths of human nature, an example of which is the idea of warfare as an evolved adaptation.

Depending on the dominant view, discourse about human nature can be used to propagate fear,[20] or in the case of a genetic explanation of violence, to justify and lessen responsibility for conflict. There is also a tendency among scholars, politicians, and more generally society to concentrate on violent episodes, comparable to the media's tendency to focus on bad news.[21] However, it is also worth mentioning that an assumption of inherent peacefulness in mankind would require the vilification of some groups of people to explain the existence of violence in the world.

References Edit

  1. (2019). Definition of HUMAN NATURE. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2019].
  2. (2019). Definition of human nature | [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2019].
  3. (2019). HUMAN NATURE | meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2019].
  4. (2019). Home : Oxford English Dictionary. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2019].
  5. (2019). Home : Oxford English Dictionary. [online] Available at: [Accessed 3 Dec. 2019].
  6. Pranas Žukauskas, Jolita Vveinhardt and Regina Andriukaitienė (April 18th 2018). Philosophy and Paradigm of Scientific Research, Management Culture and Corporate Social Responsibility, IntechOpen Available from: [Accessed 7 Dec. 2019].
  7. Strauss, Daniel. (2009). Philosophy: Discipline of the Disciplines.
  8. (2019). BBC - Religions - Christianity: Original sin. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Dec. 2019].
  9. Evrigenis, I. (2019). The State of Nature: The Oxford Handbook of Hobbes - oi. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Dec. 2019].
  10. Hobbes, T. (2019). Leviathan. [S.l.]: Ancient Wisdom Publication, p.p.232.
  11. Reeve, C. (1999). Thucydides on Human Nature. Political Theory, 27(4), pp.435-446.
  12. BBC Radio 4. Human Nature. In Our Time: Science. 2002
  13. Leahy, T. The elephant in the room: Human nature and the sociology textbooks. Current Sociology. 2012; 60(6): 806.
  14. Leahy, T. The elephant in the room: Human nature and the sociology textbooks. Current Sociology. 2012; 60(6): 816.
  15. Wikipedia Contributors. Natural morality [Internet]. Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation; 2019 [cited Dec 8 2019]. Available from:
  16. Hamlin, J., Wynn, K. & Bloom, P. Social evaluation by preverbal infants. Nature. 2007; 450: 557-559
  17. Carpendale, J.I.M., Kettner, V.A. and Audet, K.N. Helping or Interest in Others' Activity?. Social Development. 2015; 24: 357-366.
  18. 2. Fry D. The human potential for peace. New York: Oxford University Press; 2006. p. 2
  19. Fry, D. (2013). War, Peace and Human Nature. 1st ed. New York: Oxford University Press, p.543
  20. Fry, D. (2013). War, Peace and Human Nature. 1st ed. New York: Oxford University Press, p.5.
  21. Pinker, S. (2019). The media exaggerates negative news. This distortion has consequences | Steven Pinker. [online] the Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 7 Dec. 2019].

Truth in Cults

This piece will discuss the role of truth within the interdisciplinary field of cults around the world. How does truth act like an interdisciplinary issue regarding cults ?

Introduction Edit

File:Illuminati Eye.svg
The Illuminati, often considered as a conspiracy theory, fits the definition of a cult and is commonly used in popular culture.

Upon studying cults, discrepancies have arisen between various academic disciplines, with each field giving their own answers as to what a cult is. All of these disciplines have a particular vision on what is true, false or blurred regarding cults. With no true definition existing; they are only subjective truths, with each discipline viewing cults through their academic lens.

The word cult, by itself, appeared in the Latin language as ‘cultus’ meaning ‘to cultivate’ or ‘to worship’ and was initially used to describe the religious practices in the Antiquity; rituals, offerings and prayers. The purpose of these ‘cultus’ was to cultivate the benevolence of the Gods.[1] However, as time has passed, disciplines have adopted different definitions of cults. Overall, as a subjective truth, it is challenging for disciplines to combine and study cults because of their differing definitions.

The lens of Sociologists Edit

Nowadays, cults are referred to 'New Religious Movements' in Sociology. They are groups whose beliefs are recognized by the society as 'unorthodox', whose members show excessive devotion to a person, an idea, an object and whose leader uses manipulative methods of persuasion and control over the followers (financially, sexually...)[2]

Based on earlier definitions of cults by Troeltsch,[3] Howard P. Becker distinguished four categories of religious behaviors in his sociological classification of 1932 : churchly (ecclesia, denomination), sectarian (sects, cults). The definition ended up to be ; ‘Small religious groups lacking in organization and emphasizing the private nature of personal beliefs’.[4] Later, works built on these characteristics focused on the fact that cults were a derivation of predominant religious cultures (leading to tensions). Cults arose spontaneously over new beliefs detaching from traditional beliefs and practices.

However, Roy Wallis argued in 1970 that cults were in fact characterized by ‘epistemological individualism’ and didn’t have a clear place of final authority beyond its individual members. He described cults as ‘loosely structured’ with ‘vague boundaries’[5]

The tension lies in the fact that cults are supposed to be secret and even nonexistent to public knowledge. Thus, the truth about what they are and how they function is an issue in Sociology. Studies show that 1000 cults existed in 2017;[6] the apprehension regarding cults isn't complete... The modern understanding and its true value about cults are complex and uniquely diverse (there is more than one 'true vision').

A legal blur Edit

In law, a cult is considered as valid if it is « a group of individuals with some common religious or metaphysical-philosophical ideology » and it does not consider the presence of a charismatic leader like in sociology. However, making cults illegal may be difficult considering cults intrinsic nature. To be effective, the law usually refers to the activities or rituals mostly done by cults instead of merely forbidding the association of people under a religious practice. The European Parliament states that: “Legally, there was no such thing as a 'cult'. The laws on associations and those guaranteeing freedom of religion, freedom of conscience and the right of association were applicable to cults, and should be adhered to.”[7]

There is therefore a distinction between types of legality, yet an overwhelming assumption that cults are negative and have detrimental effects on the public sphere.[8] To assess whether cults are indeed a threat to society, the law examines the public opinion made on these religious movements as well as the legal and political constraints in play. There is therefore a legal blur on the true definition of a cult, making interdisciplinary work challenging.

In Psychology Edit

A table to show Psychological Characteristics Of Cult Members, Leaders, Recruitment Techniques, and Techniques To Prevent Members Leaving

Psychological definitions of cults involve that members (a) have a shared belief system, (b) display high levels of social cohesiveness, (c) are strongly influenced by the group’s behavioral norms, (d) impute charismatic or divine power to its leaders and (e) cults have alien and deviant values from the culture that the group lives in.[9][10] Thus, cults have many overlapping features with other groups with firmly held common beliefs. Psychology assumes a continuum from normal beliefs and behaviors to those observed in cults. Arthur Deikman[11] argued that the psychological processes that explain the behaviors of cult members are not abnormal, but the same as those that everyone uses in everyday life (distortion of perception, biased thinking, and the inoculation against beliefs and values of others).

Modern psychology therefore explains through general psychological tendencies of behavior and beliefs why cult practice occurs, rather than describe it as purely ‘other’ or ‘unusual’ as in Sociology. To explain the formation of cults, psychologists have investigated the psychological characteristics of people who join cults[12][13] and of cult leaders,[14][15] and the techniques used to persuade people to join and stay in cults.[16] Psychologists also study long-lasting psychological distress experienced by people who leave cults,[13] with 27 to 95% experiencing clinical symptoms.[17] This research has contradicted traditional litigation against cults,[18] which used to focus on economic damages. A limitation of psychological research into cults is that direct observations of cult practices and leaders are usually not possible, and results are mainly based on interviews with people who have left the cult.

A different religious approach Edit

Evolution of cults and new religious movements deviated from Christianity in the United-States since 1775

Religious studies only find legitimate a new religious movement if it involves a deity or a spiritual aspect which comes in reaction with a troubling political context.[2] Religious Studies considers that violence is also a fundamental criteria to understand what makes a new religious movement a “cult”, or not, along with the presence of a spiritual aspect. It is noted that a cult has a form of systematic violence, either psychological or physical. A cult can also use the violence occurring in the world to convince its members to join. Violence is not systematic and omnipresent in a religion.[19]

Religious studies also consider cults according to the historical foundations. The diagram on the right shows an example of how fractures in religious history lead to the rise of cults. If a cult succeeds to persist over a long period and develop itself, it can be considered a religion.[2]

Conclusion Edit

The discrepancy lying between the mentioned disciplines' perception of truth regarding cults, results in a very challenging interdisciplinary work. In Sociology, Psychology, Religious Studies and Law, the definition varies because of what disciplines focus on, influencing what is seen as true or not from each lens. In Sociology, the emphasis is on the popular opinion. In Law, it is considered illegal if fundamental freedoms are neglected. A psychologist's point of view overlaps with sociology when defining cults as outside the boundaries of accepted beliefs and treatment of members. In explaining the formation of cults, Psychology focuses more on the continuum from 'normal' to 'abnormal' beliefs and behaviors. Finally, in Religious Studies, the highlight is on violence, that cults tend to link closely with religion. There are persuasive examples where the research of one discipline has altered the practice of another, such as in psychology and law.

References Edit

  1. Cult: Definition of Cult by Lexico (Affiliated to the Oxford English Dictionary) [Internet]. Lexico Dictionaries | English. Lexico Dictionaries; [cited 2019Dec3]. Available from:
  2. a b c Klein E. & Rozansky K. & Gordon C. & Mumm C. & Nishimura L. Explained Season 2 Episode 1 "Cults". Netlfix; 2019
  3. Schaper E. Ernst Troeltsch [Internet]. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc.; 2019 [cited 2019Dec5]. Available from:
  4. Boundless. Boundless Sociology [Internet]. Lumen. [cited 2019Dec6]. Available from:
  5. Wallis, Roy Scientology: Therapeutic Cult to Religious Sectabstract only Archived 14 June 2006 at the Wayback Machine(1975)
  6. Janja Lalich. Why do people join cults? [Internet]. Youtube video. Ted Ed; 2017 [cited 2019Dec7]. Available from:
  7. Colombo Svevo, M. P. (1997, March). Cults in Europe. Retrieved November 26, 2019, from
  8. Ogloff JRP, Pfeifer JE. Cults and the law: A discussion of the legality of alleged cult activities. Behavioral Sciences & the Law. 1992;10(1):117–40
  9. Galanter M. Cults: Faith, Healing and Coercion. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
  10. Galanter M. Forest JJF. Cults, Charismatic Groups, and Social Systems: Understanding the Transformation of Terrorist Recruits, in James J. F. Forest, ed., The Making of a Terrorist: Recruitment, Training, and Root Causes. Westport, CT: Praeger; 2006: 51–70.
  11. Deikman AJ. The Wrong Way Home: Uncovering the Patterns of Cult Behavior in American Society. Boston: Beacon Press, 1990.
  12. Curtis JM, Curtis MM. Factors related to susceptibility and recruitment by cults. Psychological Reports. 1993; 73(2): 451-460.
  13. a b Clark JG. Cults. JAMA. 1979; 242(3):279-281.
  14. Saco V. The Psychology of Cult Leaders. Weblog. 2017. Available at:
  15. Gannon M. What do Cult Leaders have in Common. Weblog. 2019. Available at:
  16. West LJ Persuasive techniques in contemporary cults: A public health approach. Cultic Studies Journal. 2002; 7(2): 126-149.
  17. McKibben JA, Lynn SJ, Malinoski PA. Are cultic environments psychological harmful. Cultic Studies Review. 2000; 1: 91-111. Available from:
  18. Freckelton I. “Cults”, calamities and psychological consequences. Psychiatry Psychol Law. 1998; 5(1): 1-46.
  19. Bromley, D. G., & Melton, J. G. Cults, religion, and violence. New York: Cambridge University Press; 2002 Chapter 1 - Page 1,2,3

Truth in Cambridge Analytica Scandal


This Wikibook chapter explores how the truth about the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal is portrayed in different disciplines and why these contrasting truths create an interdisciplinary issue.

Case Study: The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica Scandal Edit


The scandal was publicized in 2018 when the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica (CA) was reported to have been harvesting data from Facebook profiles to sway the 2016 United States presidential campaign in favour of Republican candidate Ted Cruz.[1] Upon further investigation, CA was found to have influenced more than 200 elections worldwide,[2] including Donald Trump's 2016 campaign,[3] where the data of up to 87 million Facebook profiles was compromised.[4]

The acquisition of the data Edit

In 2013, the data scientist Aleksandr Kogan developed a personality quiz app called "thisisyourdigitallife", which paid people to answer 120 questions,[5] but first required the user to provide access to their Facebook activity.[6] Kogan was researching the link between Facebook activity and personality. Later that year, Kogan was contacted by the firm SCL Group, a parent company of CA, with a business proposal: SCL would pay Kogan to get more people to take the survey[5] if he provided them with the gathered data. SCL was interested in the app as it gathered data from its users as well as their friends' data,[6] such as likes, posts, comments, location, and even private messages.[7] An estimated number of 270 000 people took the survey,[8] compromising the private data of 87 million people.

Law Edit

Under 2013 Terms of Service, Facebook's Application Programming Interface (API) allowed developers to access the data of an individual in question and their friends.[9] Kogan's 2013 operations were legal since Facebook users were expected to have agreed to the terms and conditions that put them at such data extraction risk. However, Facebook changed its API version in April 2014, limiting the data scope new app developers could have, but giving existent apps a one-year enforcement delay to redesign their software to match the new API.[10] Kogan had the right to keep harvesting data under the 2013 API for one more year. Consequently, in 2015, "thisismydigitallife" ceased its operations but was allowed to keep all the data it had harvested.[10] Regarding the initial agreement between Kogan and Facebook, Kogan explicitly stated his possible intention to sell,[11] to which Facebook knowingly agreed, although it conflicted with sections of Facebook's Platform Policy.[10] The positive and objective truth from the discipline of law is that the data collected by Kogan was gathered and sold to CA legally.

The 1948 version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Human Rights Edit

Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares the right to privacy. We see a clear violation of this principle as it was unrighteous to gather users' personal data without consent as it took advantage of the users' unawareness and trust. Facebook was therefore fined £500,000 [12] by the Information Commissioner's Office in the UK for the supposed breaching of British Privacy Law section DPP1 (Data Protection Principles), as the data collection was carried out unjustly, although legally.

The exploitation of the data Edit

Psychology Edit

The OCEAN Model

To influence the voters, CA quantified 5 different personality traits in all 87 million profiles following the OCEAN (The Big Five Personality Traits) model:[6] Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism.[13]

Once the psychographic information was obtained, CA chose to target some voters on the topic of creation of jobs: a person scoring high in the "openness" category was targeted with an ad on gaining experience through work,[6] whilst a highly neurotic person got another ad on receiving security and emotional stability through work.[6] Micro-targeting voters is much more efficient as it appeals to the individual, rather than being a mass distribution of one advertisement.

Data Science Edit

A simplified artificial neural network

To convert the raw data into individual OCEAN profiles, CA used a process called data mining, which predicts information based on patterns. CA began by developing a training data set (the initial Facebook activity and answers to the survey), on which they could base the target variable data set on (Facebook data they wanted to make predictions on).[6] Using artificial neural networks, the CA team mathematically linked the initial Facebook data (270000 survey participants) to their self-declared personality attributes by continually optimizing the weight of neural network connections to perfect prediction processes.[6] Once this training data set perfected, they applied it to the target variable set,[6] which resulted in 87 million OCEAN personality predictions of astounding accuracy.

CA used another algorithm that generated custom Facebook ads for each individual,[6] as Facebook's extremely lenient Advertisement Policy allowed such political targeting to take place.[14]

Ethics, Politics, and Media Edit

From the viewpoint of democratic ideals, social platforms being manipulatively used for micro-targeting voters is unethical because it violates the fundamental "fair and free" aspect of democracy. It gives rich campaigners the ability to indirectly suppress freedom of choice. However, this is an example of subjective truth. From a consequentialist and autocratic point of view, manipulating people in order to guide society for the autocratic "greater good" is justified. The media calling out what happened in 2018 puts into light the democratic bias which forms our current definitions of what is right and what is wrong.

Ethics as a discipline and concept is socially constructed. Thus, a constructivist approach to the scandal allows for a better understanding of why, as advocates of democracy, some people believe it was unethical.

Law Edit

From the perspective of the objective and positivist truth gathered from international Law, the exploitation of personal data by CA in 2016 does not have any legal consequences as it was conducted under jurisdiction. The data mining for psychographic profiles was legal as CA owned the raw data, and the micro-targeting of voters through Facebook is legal as their Advertisement Policy allows this.[15] Although CA's influence in the 2014 and 2016 elections possibly violated US election law which forbids foreign involvement in elections, the issue has not been taken to court.[16]

Conclusion Edit

To understand the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it is imperative to take an interdisciplinary approach as the disciplines of law, data science, psychology, and politics come into play. However, we observe that the objective and positive truth provided by law clashes with the constructivist and subjective truth provided by ethics. Legally speaking, nothing illicit took place: the reason personal information was accessed was a loophole in Facebook's API. Using psychology and data science, CA was able to transform the data into information warfare and as a consequence influence over 200 elections worldwide. However, from a modern-day ethical perspective, this was a malicious and predatory act as it undermined the fundamental values of democracy and violated human rights. This scandal exemplifies an interdisciplinary issue related to the concept of truth: the law maintains that nothing wrong happened, while modern-day ethics clearly condemns the scandal.

References Edit

  1. Davies H. Ted Cruz campaign using firm that harvested data on millions of unwitting Facebook users [Internet]. The Guardian. December 2015 [cited 25 November 2019]. Available from:
  2. The global reach of Cambridge Analytica [Internet]. BBC News. 2018 March [cited 25 November 2019]. Available from:
  3. Lewis P, Hilder P. Leaked: Cambridge Analytica's blueprint for Trump victory [Internet]. The Guardian. 2019 [cited 25 November 2019]. Available from:
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Truth in the advertisement of tobacco

Introduction Edit

The truth of the advertisement of tobacco in the 20th century should be viewed through interdisciplinary lenses. The particular issue of truth is that we have to consider the problem of objective truth, supported by evidence, and subjective truth that is unique to an individual and goes beyond mere facts.

The advertisement of tobacco products has been continuously subjected to false information about potential effects on health - due to lack of research or due to tobacco firms trying to hide or mitigate the truth in order to attract more costumers. To accurately assess the complexity and the importance of the truth in the advertisement of tobacco, we have to view it from a medical and psychological perspective.

Medical Approach Edit

First we view the truth of advertisement in the tobacco industry through the lens of medicine. Medicine as a discipline aims for objective truth - particularly how smoking affects health. It uses a positivist approach in its research to gather evidence to determine whether health-related claims in the advertisements are true or false.

In the first half of the 20th century medical research about negative effects of tobacco products was still in its early stages, leaving room for many false claims used in the advertisement. The latter not only failed to address the negative health effects of smoking, but also professed false claims about positive, beneficial effects of smoking - from cigarettes that help reduce throat irritation to cigarettes as a way of treating asthma, hay fever or cold.

Filters Myth Edit

One of the most prominent examples of inaccurate facts used in the advertisement of tobacco was the so called "filter myth"[1]. The tobacco industry promoted filters as "the greatest health protection in cigarette history[2]". Chemists were aware that filters actually removed no additional tar or nicotine - proving a deliberate decision to advertise false information for economic gain. These health claims boosted Viceroy cigarette sales and new filter cigarette brands started flooding the market. In 1952 Kent introduced filters made of crocidolite asbestos, which was later discovered to cause many health-related problems, including mesothelioma, a fatal form of cancer. However, here one can argue that false claims were made as a consequence of lack of research or evidence.

Smoking is “the most extensively documented cause of disease ever investigated”[3] . With increased medical research through the century, more negative health effects related to smoking were discovered. Medicine contributed to the issue of truth in advertising of tobacco with its efforts for objective truth in the matter - disproving the claims made in ads of positive effects on health.

However, it is important to note that while medicine aims for objective truth, there are still subjective components present (biases in research). We can also see that the truth of medicine is not in any way absolute and is constantly changing due to new research, evidence - and will continue to do so in the future.

Psychological Approach Edit

Second we view the truth of advertisement of tobacco through a psychological approach. Truth in psychology differs importantly from that of medicine - while medicine is concerned with objective truth, psychology focuses more on the subjective truth of each individual. In other words, psychology's primary concern is not whether the claims about health effects of cigarettes are objectively true or false, but rather how different marketing techniques influenced people's perception of truth - essentially, why people believed those claims, how different social groups responded to them and how their subjective truth was changed.

File:Lucky Strike cigarettes ad.jpg
Lucky Strike used physicians in their ads to support their claims that cigarettes provide "throat protection against irritation against cough"
"BELIEVE IN YOURSELF!": Ad for Phillip Morris cigarettes portrays a woman who looks proud, confident, glamorous - capitalising on women's liberation movements

Prominent Public Figures in Advertisement Edit

The tobacco industry has used entertainers, politicians, doctors, dentists and other prominent figures in their advertising. Their common feature is that people trust them and their judgement that smoking is good for them. Even though the ad might not contained false information, which is an issue of objective truth, it subtly influenced people's own subjective truth. By using a certain public figure, that is regarded as responsible, trustworthy, or admirable, tobacco firms created a perception that smoking is something desirable, socially acceptable and essentially healthy and good for the targeted consumer[4].

The example with health professionals advertising tobacco products is even more significant. It combined false claims of positive health benefits (objective truth) with doctors' authority and social status that made people believe those claims (subjective truth). "The physician constituted an evocative, reassuring figure to include in their advertisements"[5]


At the beginning of the 1920s, tobacco industries started targeting women in their advertisement to expand their market. They advertised smoking as an act of "emancipation, stylishness, sophistication, and sexual allure"[6] . They captured women's attention and encouraged them to associate cigarettes with their fight for greater emancipation and independence[4]. The strategy and aim of such advertising was to persuade women to adopt this "truth" promoted by tobacco industry[7]. Women believed that they could obtain social popularity, respect and confidence by smoking. By promoting this notion of independence and desirability of women smoking, advertisers succeeded in influencing the individual's perception of how cigarettes help you to achieve that goal [8].

As with the medical approach it is important to recognise that while psychology is largely concerned with the subjective truth of each individual, it still conducts its research in the most objective manner possible, as well as it aims for objective truth as to how to advertise to target different social groups, employing both positivist as well as normative approach in its research.

Conclusion Edit

Truth was an issue in the advertisement of tobacco for a large part of the 20th century, because of the lack of medical research that allowed tobacco firms to incorporate misleading and untruthful claims in their advertisement to appeal to consumers. Medical approach to advertising of smoking focuses on the so called objective truth, in particular how advertisement used false claims about health effects of smoking. With increased medical research through the century, medicine provides empirical evidence to disprove such inaccurate claims. However, to accurately assess the issue of truth in the advertisement of tobacco, one has to also consider the subjective truth of each individual - in our case the consumer who believed those claims. Psychology focuses on this issue, and studies how marketing techniques in advertising influenced people's subjective truth, and essentially made them believe the tobacco industry's claims.

In conclusion, to assess the complexity and the importance of the truth in the advertisement of tobacco, we are required to use an interdisciplinary approach. By studying how different disciplines, in our case medicine and psychology, approach and see the truth, we are provided with a more complete picture and more accurate view of the actual truth in the advertisement of tobacco.

Sources Edit

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Evidence in Dreams

Introduction Edit

"Does the waking description of what happened in a dream accurately and completely represent the person’s feelings, thoughts, and sensations within the dream-as-dreamt?" [1]

Given the natural curiosity of Humans, we have always been fascinated by Dreams and their significance. One has permanently struggled to attain the true meaning of Dreams and never fully came to a definite and empirical conclusion. In Antiquity they were considered prophecies and divine callings. Dreams therefore exerted a powerful influence on civilisations. People would try to induce dreams by performing rituals usually based on sacrifices and worships.[2] With the evolution of science during the 20th century, came the advancement of dreams' studies in neurosciences and psychoanalysis. People progressively realised that dreams did not have a divine aspect, and are now mainly viewed as "meaningful hidden truths" of their unconscious desires and thoughts.[3]

In this chapter, we will examine, through an interdisciplinary approach, the use of evidence in the study of Dreams to see whether it allows us to better understand their significance or not. Nevertheless, evidence, which seeks to examine data carefully, support research and arguments, is a complex notion differing in each field of study.[4] Thus, we will also highlight through our research the diverging methods of evidence utilised in the following disciplines.

Different disciplinary perspectives in the study of Dreams Edit

Neurosciences Edit

Some areas of the brain

In Neurosciences, experts have used the positivist method of enquiry to approach dreams. Positivism relies on empirical indicators which attempts to represent truth. In this discipline, X-rays, brain scans such as MRI scan, encephalogram account for evidence.[5] Neurosciences drift from the dream itself to focus upon the biological mechanisms initiating them. Experts have discovered that the coherence of the information received by our brain is dealt by the prefrontal lobe which is asleep during our slumber. This underlines the incoherence of our dreams and why we struggle to remember them properly. Michel Jouvet and his colleagues conducted an experiment on cats to locate the probable area from which dreams originated. They discovered that dreams emerge on the bridge linking the spinal marrow and the brain. Furthermore, neurotransmitters play a key role in the control of dreams. Indeed, some moving signals between the brain and the body are inhibited by specific neurotransmitters which paralyse us momentarily to hold us in bed.[6]

Even though this method of enquiry seems to be efficient, it has raised concerns among the scientists' community. In such cases, empirical data is supposed to be free of bias but all the experiments are conducted by humans which - despite their best intent - remain humans. Thus, they are influenced unwittingly by their beliefs and own experiences, and data can be analysed in different ways depending on the purpose. Hence, empirical data is not 100% reliable and possesses a little margin of error which calls into question the authenticity of evidence in Neurosciences and scientific disciplines in general.[7]

Sigmund Freud

Psychoanalysis and Philosophy Edit

Psychoanalysis and philosophy are closely tied thanks to Austrian philosopher Sigmund Freud, recognised as the founder of psychoanalysis. The latter is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as 'A therapeutic method [...] for treating mental disorders'.[8] Understanding psychoanalysis requires studying the philosophy of the Unconscious through dreams. Freud devised the theory that humans are in constant struggle between their Conscious and their Unconscious. We try to repress the latter as much as possible, but loose this control when we fall asleep. Freud actually refers to dreams as 'The royal road to the unconscious', since dreams enact our intentions to fulfil unconscious desires.[9] Psychoanalysis, thus, uses qualitative evidence shown in our dreams, enabling a new way to understand the human personality.[10] Moreover, psychoanalysis interprets dreams using a strictly scientific method: to understand repressed desires in his patients, Freud follows a precise systematic approach. However, psychoanalysis in its whole cannot be totally objective as the patient describes his own dream. We may therefore suggest that this discipline uses empirical subjective evidence. Nevertheless, according to scientists, subjective evidence is not sufficient to scientifically demonstrate a dream's significance since the information may be biased. The dreamer's testimony subjectivity unveils psychoanalysis' limit to find evidence of a dream's significance.

Therefore, adding philosophy when using psychoanalysis is fundamental to overcome the limits of psychoanalysis. Indeed, philosophy aims to discover a truth, or evidence of a truth through permanent questioning. Thus, questioning the results found by psychoanalysts allows to effectively assess which data is more reliable and hence find better evidence in the study of dreams.

Law Edit

Law and most of the humanitarian disciplines use the interpretivist method of enquiry to approach dreams' significance. Interpretivism analyses people as individuals and focuses on how different aspects of culture and reality shape people within the chosen society. In this case, the methods of evidence implemented are mostly subjective: questionnaires, social trends, interviews, personal beliefs and experiences. In justice, one might not believe Dreams could be used as testimonial evidence. However, counter-examples can be found. For instance, a mother tried to prove that her husband was an unfit father and should not be granted visitation since he had made some incestious dreams about his two daughters. She used her husband's dream journal to prove the existence of said dreams. While it can certainly be argued that those dreams are troublesome, some people have advocated against this evidence. Indeed, the man made this type of dream twice, he usually dreamt of women of his age, denying the pedophile thesis.[11]

This highlights the main concern raised about dreams : the lack of certainty over their true value. As Kelly Bulkeley said in Dreaming as inspiration: evidence from religion, philosophy, literature, and film "how do we ever know a dream report has not been edited, revised, embellished, or completely fabricated by the dreamer?".[12] Hence, it is hard to adjudicate in favour or against the use of dreams as evidence because it is an unconscious phenomenon making their us as evidence a controversial matter.

Conclusion Edit

In Antiquity, the lack of scientific tools and rational evidence lead to an equivocal interpretation of dreams. With the evolution of science, disciplines based their studies on more convincing evidence. Nevertheless, dreams are still very hard to study, because of their personal aspect and how the evidence used in each field differs. Disciplines such as Neurosciences, Psychoanalysis tend to prioritise quantitative data and experiments whereas Philosophy and Law will justify their studies with literary texts and case studies. This is due to their diverging opinion on what constitutes an accurate definition of evidence in their field of study. Their lack of consideration of other disciplines equally emphasises this confrontation between differing evidences.

The present discordance between contrasting types of evidence applied in scientific and humanitarian disciplines creates a clash within the research of dreams. Thus, disabling us to get an accurate knowledge on how dreams are interpreted when doing this interdisciplinary approach.

Consequently, we believe that there must be an increasing interrelatedness between disciplines to reduce the divergence of their studies. An interdisciplinary approach would legitimise the final conclusion on the knowledge discovered, assembling the study of various disciplines. Thus, allowing us to have a broader and clearer spectrum of the subject studied.

References Edit

  1. Bulkeley K, Dreaming as inspiration: evidence from religion, philosophy, literature, and film, 2010, II. Quality of evidence (32-33)
  2. Pelham L. The History Of Dreams In Ancient Cultures [Internet]. 2019 [cited 28 November 2019]. Available from:
  3. Morewedge, Carey K.; Norton, Michael I. (2009). "When dreaming is believing: The (motivated) interpretation of dreams". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 96 (2): 249–264.
  4. Evidence | Origin and meaning of evidence by Online Etymology Dictionary [Internet]. 2019 [cited 23 November 2019]. Available from:
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  11. Slovenko R. Dreams as evidence. Journal of Psychiatry and Law,. 1995;23(1):191. Available at :
  12. Kelly Bulkeley, Dreaming as inspiration: evidence from religion, philosophy, literature, and film, 2010, II. Quality of evidence (32-33)

Evidence in Religious Experience

Religious experiences can range from ineffable out of body sensations to interactions with the divine as if through the use of our normal bodily senses.[1] This chapter considers an interdisciplinary approach to understanding these experiences, and how this is challenged by the variances in methodologies and forms of evidence across numerous disciplines.

There is no set circumstance for an individual to have a religious experience (partly due to different practices across world faiths) thereby leading to conflicts between disciplines in how evidence of religious experiences are collected since there is much scope for contention.[2] There is also a paradox underlying an interdisciplinary approach: scientists seek empirical evidence for religious experiences, yet to others the experiences themselves constitute evidence — evidence for the existence of a higher power.[3] This therefore exacerbates the issue of evidence and perpetuates the age-old divide between religion and science that prevents researchers from understanding the root causes of religious experience.[4]

Interpretivist Evidence Edit

Interpretivism centres around a contextualised, in-depth insight into respondents’ lives, their different understandings of objective reality and individual motivations. In this way, religious experiences aren’t homogenous but dynamically shaped by culture.[5] In the fields of theology and the social sciences, interpretivist evidence is used and this approach avoids imposing pre-conceived understandings upon evidence, instead examining experiences in isolation.[6]

Theology Edit

Theologists focus on the recount of personal experiences, believing that evidence from this is self-explanatory and non-refutable.[7] They argue that due to the large quantity of religious experiences recorded throughout history, it would be unreasonable to suggest that they were all false.[8] Hence, to an extent, the existence of religious experiences can be seen as evidence of some kind of God. The common phrase used when describing religious experience of ‘seeing God’ itself is linguistically suggestive of an evidential occurrence as to see is an objective action.[9] They propose that although emotions or feelings dominate religious experiences, there must be elements of judgement and perception for the witness to view the experience as a true event. Since there is no test that can be done to prove someone’s account as true, often the quantity of people reporting similar experiences is used as a way to measure its reliability as evidence.[10]

Social sciences Edit

Eminent cultural anthropologist Clifford Geertz termed the study of human life "not an experimental science in search of laws but an interpretive one in search of meaning”.[11] Historically, anthropologists and sociologists have used a mix of quantitative (closed-ended surveys and statistical methods) and qualitative (open-ended surveys or interviews) evidence when studying religious experience. However focus has recently shifted towards examining how meaning is created retrospectively through the construction of narratives, how events given a moral ordering according to overarching themes drawn from culture. Since the objective existence of religious experiences are only fleeting, the memory, interpretation, linguistification, recounting, emplotment and narrativization is the “data” which sociologists must study.[12]

Positivist Evidence Edit

Positivist evidence elucidates religious experience in terms of observable, measurable and empirical factors. This approach attempts to uncover generalisable laws of nature and human behaviour that can explain religious experience, often trying to express the inexpressible.[13] Theories formed in the disciplines of psychology and neuroscience which use positivist evidence ultimately rely on hard evidence collected.[14]

Psychology Edit

Psychologists have examined the cognitive structures of individuals who have encountered religious experiences. Subjects who reported religious experiences had higher scores on the Repression-Sensitization scale, which measures one's openness to unusual, reality-threatening aspects of experience. There is a relation between religious experiences and schizotypy, which is also about openness to non-logical aspects of experience.[15] Physiological explanations for this finding is due to the activation of the right brain hemisphere. Intense arousal produced by ecstatic dancing and singing could also lead to religious experiences. Additionally, it was found that individuals were often in a state of stress or despair before their experiences.[16]

Neuroscience Edit

Laboratory studies have concluded that religious experiences are linked to the biological construct of human brains.[17] The brain was studied during significant spiritual experiences, such as observing the grey matter of praying Franciscan nuns and meditating Tibetan monks.[18] Images showed increased activity in the frontal lobes, the attention area, and decreased activity in the posterior superior parietal lobe. This area of the brain primarily orients us in space, helping us to generate an awareness of the physical limits of the self. The decrease in activity in the area could mean that the individual fails to find the borderline between the self and the outside world, and hence such a distinction does not exist. Thus, the brain perceives that the self is endless and intimately interwoven with everyone and everything the mind senses, giving an unquestionably real feeling of spiritual transcendence.[19]

Tensions and conflicts Edit

Different forms of evidence create friction between disciplines. When quantitative fields gather evidence to support their research, this gives rise to the problem of determining the subjective state of the individual being tested. Measuring spiritual states empirically while not disturbing such states is almost impossible.[20] An interpretivist approach would challenge this methodology given the idiosyncratic nature of religious experiences. Many instead believe that the study of religious experiences should primarily focus on individual accounts, rather than biological, psychological or sociological explanations which may diminish their importance.[21]

However, empirical researchers would disagree with the above given that testimonies differ so greatly it becomes difficult to reach a common understanding. The variation in intensity, duration, and multiple influences one's surroundings may have on the experience, will undeniably give rise to unique religious experiences. Coupled with the differences in the way each individual perceives such experiences, recounts of incidents will differ vastly. Primary data gathered in interpretivist studies therefore cannot be generalised or replicated, perhaps lessening its validity.[22] Other weaknesses of interpretivism include the untrustworthiness of those retelling these accounts and bias on behalf of the researcher, whose cultural background and religious beliefs might skew how the qualitative evidence is gathered, interpreted and presented.[23] Lastly the use of religious language amongst evidence presents an issue. Since positivism restricts assertible reality to the realm of sense experience, religious language such as ‘holy spirit’ is deemed meaningless as it’s not moored in our experience of the physical world.[24]

Synthesising approaches Edit

Positivist and interpretivist evidence addresses fundamentally different questions: one seeks to quantify, summarise and generalise whereas the other offers meaning and perspective. To fully understand the complexity of religious experiences, there should be a synthesis of positivist and interpretivist evidence. Rather than presenting religion as a neurological illusion and product of biology, science can play a supportive role to theology, thereby providing a more comprehensive understanding of religious experiences.[25] This has led to the emergence of neurotheology, which seeks to understand the relationship between brain science and religion.[26] Certain numbers are emphasized in religious traditions, such as 40 in the Bible (40 days and nights of the flood; the Jews wandered the desert for 40 years) and multiples of five in the Quran (Five Pillars of Islam and Ten Ancillaries of the Faith).[27] The quantitative processes of the brain strengthen one's belief in the message associated with the numbers. Hence, it is evident how a more holistic understanding of religious experiences can be achieved by incorporating findings from seemingly contrasting fields.

References Edit

  1. Edwin, J. Religious Experience. 2015. Available at:
  2. James W. The varieties of religious experience. New York, N.Y.: Longmans, Green; 1917.
  3. Yandel K. The Epistemology of Religious Experience. 2nd ed. Wisconsin: Cambridge university press; 1993.
  4. Clark, Ralph W. The Evidential Value of Religious Experiences. International Journal for Philosophy of Religion,1984. 16(3):189–202. JSTOR,
  5. Jackson R. Teaching about Religions in the Public Sphere: European Policy Initiatives and the Interpretive Approach. Numen. 2008; 55(2-3): 151-182.
  6. Budden A. Pathologizing Possession: An Essay on Mind, Self, and Experience in Dissociation. Anthropology of Consciousness. 2003; 14(2): 20.
  7. Biernot D, Lombaard C. Religious experience in the current theological discussion and in the church pew. HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies. 2017; 73(30).
  8. Religious Experience, Argument for the Existence of God. 2019. Available at:
  9. Taves, A. Religious experience reconsidered: a building-block approach to the study of religion and other special things. Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, c2009. Available at:
  10. Stefon M, Pelikan J. Christianity. 2019. Available at:
  11. Geertz, C. The intepretation of cultures. New York: Basic Books.1973.
  12. Yamane, D. Narrative and Religious Experience. Sociology of Religion, 2000, 61(2):171–189. JSTOR,
  13. McPherson, T. Positivism and Religion. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 1954, 14(3): 319–331. JSTOR,
  14. Nelson, M. Psychology, Religion, and Spirituality. New York, N.Y.:Springer; 2009.
  15. Argyle M. The Psychological Perspective on Religious Experience. Religious Experience Research Centre. 1997; 3(6).
  16. Calhoun L, Cann A, Tedeschi R, McMillan J. A correlational test of the relationship between post traumatic growth, religion, and cognitive processing. Journal of Traumatic Stress. 2000; 13(3): 521-527.
  17. McNamara P. The neuroscience of religious experience. 1st ed. Cambridge: Cambridge university press; 2009.
  18. Heffern, R. Exploring the biology of religious experience. 2001. Available at:
  19. Heffern, R. Exploring the biology of religious experience. 2001. Available at:
  20. Sayadmansour A. Neurotheology: The relationship between brain and religion. Iranian Journal of Neurology. [Internet]. 2014; 13(1):52-5. [Cited 26 November 2019]. Available at:
  21. Taves, A. Religious experience reconsidered: a building-block approach to the study of religion and other special things. Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, c2009. Available at:
  22. Paley W, Brougham and Vaux H, Bell C, Potter A. Paley's natural theology. New York: Harper & Bros.; 1878.
  23. Paley W, Brougham and Vaux H, Bell C, Potter A. Paley's natural theology. New York: Harper & Bros.; 1878.
  24. Webb, Mark, "Religious Experience", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.) <>.
  25. Biernot D, Lombaard C. Religious experience in the current theological discussion and in the church pew. HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies. 2017; 73(3).
  26. Sayadmansour A. Neurotheology: The relationship between brain and religion. Iranian Journal of Neurology. 2014; 13(1): 52-5. Available at:
  27. Sayadmansour A. Neurotheology: The relationship between brain and religion. Iranian Journal of Neurology. 2014; 13(1): 52-5. Available at:

Evidence in the Causes of Homosexuality

This article examines evidence within the disciplines of developmental psychology, epigenetics and endocrinology when studying the causes of homosexuality, providing a wider understanding of the topic, due to the issues presented by evidence in these disciplines.

Developmental Psychology Edit

A theory in Developmental Psychology, labelled ‘Exotic becomes Erotic’[1] (EBE) states that a child’s nature affects their interest for gender-conforming activities and peers. Applied to both homosexual and heterosexual individuals, children who do not conform to gender norms supposedly feel unfamiliarity with same-sex peers, producing increased autonomic arousal (i.e. erotic or romantic attraction) for members of the same sex[1].

Data taken from a study in San Francisco[2] concludes conformity to gender norms in childhood as being the most significant childhood indicator of sexual orientation for adult men and women. The study supporting this theory uses an observational research methodology - commonly found within developmental psychology.

The data from the San Francisco study[2] presents evidence in the form of quantitative data, with no clarification on the classification of ‘gay’, ‘lesbian’ or ‘heterosexual’ individuals in the study. Individuals who were bisexual or did not fit into these categories may have been included in the table. Moreover, the study defines ‘sex-typical activities’ as ‘baseball and football’ for boys and ‘hopscotch, playing house or jacks’ for girls. With no proof supporting these assumptions, we see a common weakness in observational studies within developmental psychology - where evidence is susceptible to researcher bias, and accurate quantitative data cannot be produced.

The study in San Francisco[2] suggests a clear causal link between gender non-conformity in childhood and a homosexual orientation in adulthood, yet observational studies cannot permit cause and effect conclusions[3]. Developmental psychology often uses the case study research method[3] - which do not allow conclusions to be generalised to a larger population. Therefore, there are clear flaws existing in the evidence presented within this discipline.

Epigenetics Edit

According to epigenetics, sexual orientation is determined by the epigenome. The evidence that support this hypothesis lies in a series of empirical studies conducted on identical twins and the analysis of their DNA. Tung Ngun looked at the DNA of 47 set of twins, where 37 of them were discordant --meaning that one was gay and the other heterosexual-- and 10 where both twins identified as gay. By collecting and analyzing their DNA, he found that discordant twins had indeed the same code, but the way it functioned differed[4].

Epigenetic marks (epi-marks) settle themselves on top of the genome and produce a chemical reaction which activates or deactivates parts of the gene. This process is called DNA methylation and acts according to the needs of a situation, affecting the overall expression of the gene[5]. In this case, epi-marks are responsible for switching on and off sex-specific traits: whether they be sexual identity, sexual preference or the development of genitals [6]. Indeed, they are closely linked to the amount of testosterone one is exposed to. The more testosterone one is exposed to, the higher the likeliness to be sexually inclined towards women (and vice versa)[5].

Ngun and his team later looked at “at the associations between specific epi-marks and sexual orientation in one group, then tested how well those results could predict sexual orientation in the second group”[7]. They reached a 70% of accuracy, which compared to previous studies is a leap forward, but still demonstrates a gap in the evidence manipulated[7].

As epigenetics remains a relatively new discipline, the studies may lack core information about epigenomes, which might hinder the validity of results when studying external subjects such as the etiology of sexual orientation. Furthermore, the small sample size render the results inapplicable to wider populations. It has also not looked at other degrees of sexual orientation on the Kinsey scale, such as bisexuality. Finally, although empirical evidence employed in genetics is presumably objective, the experts manipulating it are inevitably biased, and might alter end results.

Endocrinology Edit

According to the field of endocrinology, and more specifically neuroendocrinology, sexual orientation is determined prenatally by the action of hormones in the human brain, precisely involving the sexually dimorphic nucleus (SDN) located in the hypothalamus. The evidence supporting this thought lies in various experiments conducted on ferrets, among other animals[8]. This SDN which is usually around 2.2 times larger in male than in female brains[9], according to neurobiology, defines sexual orientation: A larger SDN as seen in men will lead to an attraction to females and a smaller SDN as seen in women will lead to an attraction to males[10].

Endocrinological studies and experiments have shown that the size of the SDN is conditioned by natural testosterone levels during the prenatal and perinatal period of a human’s life, thus explaining the usual preference of men for women and vice versa[11][12]. However, it is important to note that the field of endocrinology considers not only testosterone important to the development of the SDN but also estrogens formed from testosterone by aromatase. These claims are demonstrated through the evidence provided by multiple studies on test subject animals: rats or rams which possess sexually specific average SDN size differences similar to humans[13].

Homosexuality, then, would be caused by abnormalities regarding hormonal development affecting in turn the growth of the SDN, once again supported by the use of experimental evidence conducted on test subject animals, more specifically lab rats treated perinatally with hormones such as testosterone and estrogen or ATD, an aromatase inhibitor, to reverse their sexual partner preference[14][15][16].

As a response to the apparent fluctuation in human sexuality that is observable in our societies, endocrinologists affirm that sexual orientation and sexual behavior are separate: the prior being a definite set in stone biological preference determined by endocrinology which cannot be changed after development, and the latter being a non-reflective behavior adopted by humans in specific contexts[17]. Thus, they deny the possible use of sexual behavior as evidence on the cause and nature of homosexuality and choose to rely solely on empirical endocrinological experimentation.

Finally, Endocrinology falls short of fully explaining animal sexual orientation; humans have defined not only heterosexuality and homosexuality, but attraction to both sexes: bisexuality. Endocrinology cannot in the present day provide an explanation of bisexuality, as it lacks the required evidence to emit or test any hypotheses. This situation begs that question of whether it is therefore wise to make use of only empirical and endocrinological evidence to explore the causes of homosexuality, and if the attachment to this form of evidence only does not hold research back.

Evaluating evidence Edit

Evidence can be presented in different manners through a range of disciplines, with there being no absolute method to collect data. Positivistic ideologies produce representative results which generalise and summarise in certain disciplines, whilst those with interpretivistic viewpoints produce results giving meaning and experience. Through all disciplines however, evidence can be manipulated to verify the truth or falsity of one's claim or the ideologies of their own discipline. The evidence disciplines choose to use differs from one another, creating differences in their views on the roots of homosexuality. By gathering the evidence of the studies made by developmental psychology, epigenetics and endocrinology, and looking at them together, one can achieve a more holistic vision of the issue.

References Edit

Evidence in the Afterlife

Introduction Edit

Any argument made on the existence of an afterlife requires an extent of conjecture due to the nature of death itself prohibiting first-hand accounts of afterlife experiences. Evidence found within one discipline also often contradicts that of another. It is therefore necessary to take a critical and interdisciplinary approach to explore the evidence used to debate the existence of an afterlife.

Across the Disciplines Edit

Humanities Edit

Religion Edit

Book of the Dead, painted on an Egyptian coffin (c. 747 – 656 BCE)

Most evidence for the afterlife in Religion rely on interpretations from works of art, literature, or teachings, such as artwork found in churches (like the Chatres) depicting images of an afterlife [18] and literature that alludes to heaven, hell, or reincarnation.[19] Some examples include the Ancient Egyptian portrayals of afterlives through “The Coffin Texts” and “The Pyramid Texts”.[20] In religions like hinduism and buddhism, the afterlife is dominantly portrayed by art,[21] like the wheel of rebirth which “visually communicates... the realms of reincarnation”, and their practices.[22] Other notable examples are the Holy Bible,[23] prayers and fables,[24] and anecdotes from those claiming to have experienced an afterlife.[25]

However, it is acknowledged that since there is little non-human-made evidence within religion (most coming from texts or art), different biases can influence the interpretations of evidence.[26] For example, the most cited anecdotal interviews for reincarnation are from children,[27] universally known for their imagination and creativity. Moreover, this evidence may have been manipulated by religious leaders in order to influence followers.[28]

Religious evidence therefore tends to lack a sense of objectivity due to being interpretivist and more prevalent in pieces of art and literature, and can lack a sense of credibility due to the potential use of fiction, imagination, or hyperbole.

Anthropology Edit

Anthropological evidence can be construed from cultural and archaeological perspectives. The existence of an afterlife is closely integrated with anthropology because, although the biological inevitability of death is shared by all species, humans are the primary origin of death concerns and are the initial creators of heterogeneous systems of afterlife beliefs.

Qualitative social research methods are essential for making an ethnographic approach towards collecting cultural evidence of an afterlife’s existence, focusing on observing and interpreting contemporary societies and their cultures, namely death rituals and ceremonies. The evidence is highly interpretivist and empirical. Many global indigenous tribes still exercise systems of afterlife beliefs, which act as a relief for ambivalence and fear toward death. Especially for less developed societies, the existence of the afterlife affects a society's cooperation, both culturally and economically.[29] It is important to note that anthropology originated in the West in the 19th century. Therefore, when interpreting evidence of an afterlife in native societies, it is often done under the influence of imperialism. Charles Eastman wrote regarding an afterlife among plains Indians: “The idea of a ‘happy hunting-ground’ is modern and probably borrowed, or invented by the white man”;[30] which also suggests the cross-cultural nature of the evidence of afterlife belief and how it is closely linked with other disciplines such as religion, history and sociology.

For archaeological anthropology, there exists physical evidence such as artefacts, architecture and texts that were used in the afterlife rituals. With the help of other disciplines, anthropologists can examine and analyze these using advanced technologies, thus providing a more detailed insight into ancient afterlife beliefs.

Sciences Edit

Physics Edit

An empirically supported idea within physics is the law of conservation of energy, claiming that energy and matter can only be transferred [31] Consequently, a deceased human’s matter only transfers through decomposition. This suggests that the Christian belief of resurrected bodies being of “incorruptible matter” is an “oxymoron and impossibility in our universe”.[32] Moreover, Galileo and Newton demonstrated that matter remains constant throughout the “observable universe”, evident through the observation of “spectral lines of light”.[33] This questions a physical difference between life and the afterlife, suggesting life after death remains on this plane of existence. Evidence from physics, which tends to be more objective, conflict with the interpretivist religious evidence. Overall, positivist evidence can be used from physics to suggest life after death is the entropy of nutrients from decomposing bodies rather than another conscious state of being.

Psychology Edit

Ascent of the Blessed by Hieronymus Bosch, many believe that the painting captures the idea of near-death experiences

In psychology, evidence surrounding the afterlife is generally interpretivist, dealing with investigating origins of belief in the concept, the development of such thoughts, and near death experiences (NDEs). Belief in the afterlife has been proposed as a means of dealing with individual mortality: while enhancing positive death perspective, such beliefs also allow an acceptance of the negative aspects of death.[34] The idea of immortality of the soul may also be an intuitive religious concept.[35] Hence, some psychological evidence suggests that the idea of an afterlife has been constructed to ease the human experience as opposed to arguing for its existence.

NDEs are often characterized by the sensation of being in a different dimension, where the usual perception of space-time disappears while the physical dimension vanishes.[36] Psychologist Emily Williams Kelly states that NDEs show that a form of consciousness exists even after brain activity becomes abnormal.[37] Kelly argues that “if our conscious experience totally depends on the brain, then there can’t be an afterlife -- when the brain is gone, the mind is gone. But [...] when the brain seems to be virtually disabled, people are still having these experiences.”.[38] NDEs can also be reproduced by drugs such as ketamine [39] making further psychological study more accessible. However, subjects are not definitively (irreversibly) dead [40] during NDEs, making the NDE argument for the existence of the afterlife potentially less credible. However, research conducted by the Loyola University Medical Center shows that even after being clinically diagnosed as brain dead, some patients continued to show electroencephalographic activity for 36.6 hours.[41] This is an example of empirical evidence that exists even in situations of definitive death, although the necessity for an interpretivist approach in such cases must be noted.

Evidence for the afterlife in psychology can vary between working towards understanding the nature of human belief in the afterlife and personal accounts; it therefore combines both empirical and subjective evidence. As the concept of the afterlife is an inherently human idea, taking a psychological approach to investigating its evidence is appropriate since psychology is the science of the human mind/behaviour. However, it requires the use of perspectives from other disciplines such as philosophy, making such investigation interdisciplinary.

Evaluation Edit

Evidence for or against the existence of an afterlife can be seen to be very speculative, with evidence either being very interpretivist or positivist. While more positivist evidence decreases the influences of biases, afterlife is closely associated to wellbeing and choice and as such, subjectivity is necessary. Although both are needed for a more holistic understanding, conclusions from the different evidence conflict. This questions the credibility of each discipline’s evidence and questions the superior way into continuing to study this debate.

References Edit

  1. a b 1. Bem D. Exotic becomes Erotic: A Development Theory of Sexual Orientation. Psychological Review [Internet]. 1996 [cited 8 December 2019];103(2):320-335. Available from:
  2. a b c Bell, Alan P; Weinberg, Martin S; Hammersmith, Sue Kiefer; Alfred C. Kinsey Institute for Sex Research (1981), Sexual preference : its development in men and women, Indiana University Press, ISBN 978-0-253-16672-2
  3. a b 2. Methods of Collecting Data | Boundless Psychology [Internet]. 2019 [cited 8 December 2019]. Available from:
  4. Healy M. Scientists find DNA differences between gay men and their straight twin brothers [Internet]. Los Angeles Times. 2015 [cited 9 December 2019]. Available from:
  5. a b National Geographic Explains the Biology of Homosexuality [Internet]. 2013 [cited 9 December 2019]. Available from:
  6. William R. Rice, Friberg, Urban and Sergey Gavrilets. "Homosexuality as a Consequence of Epigenetically Canalized Sexual Development." The Quarterly Review of Biology 87.4 (2012): n. pag. Print. PMID 23397798 doi:10.1086/668167
  7. a b Balter M. Homosexuality may be caused by chemical modifications to DNA [Internet]. Science. 2015 [cited 9 December 2019]. Available from:
  8. Paredes, R.G. & Baum, M.J. (1995) Altered sexual partner preference in male ferrets given excitotoxic lesions of the preoptic area anterior hypothalamus. J. Neurosci., 15, 6619–6630.
  9. Hofman, M A; D F Swaab (1989). "The sexually dimorphic nucleus of the preoptic area in the human brain: a comparative morphometric study". Journal of Anatomy. 164: 55–72. PMC 1256598. PMID 2606795.
  10. Swaab DF (2008). "Sexual orientation and its basis in brain structure and function". PNAS. 105 (30): 10273–10274. doi:10.1073/pnas.0805542105. PMC 2492513. PMID 18653758.
  11. Jacobson, C.D., Csernus, V.J., Shryne, J.E. & Gorski, R.A. (1981) The influence of gonadectomy, androgen exposure, or a gonadal graft in the neonatal rat on the volume of the sexually dimorphic nucleus of the preoptic area. J. Neurosci., 1, 1142–1147.
  12. Roselli C, Stadelman H, Reeve R, Bishop C, Stormshak F (2007). "The ovine sexually dimorphic nucleus of the medial preoptic area is organized prenatally by testosterone". Endocrinology. 148 (9): 4450–4457. doi:10.1210/en.2007-0454. PMID 17540718.
  13. Roselli, C.E., Larkin, K., Schrunk, J.M. & Stormshak, F. (2004) Sexual partner preference, hypothalamic morphology and aromatase in rams. Physiol. Behav., 83, 233–245.
  14. Houtsmuller, E.J., Brand, T., de Jonge, F.H., Joosten, R.N., van de Poll, N.E. & Slob, A.K. (1994) SDN-POA volume, sexual behavior, and partner preference of male rats affected by perinatal treatment with ATD. Physiol. Behav., 56, 535–541
  15. Jacobson, C.D., Csernus, V.J., Shryne, J.E. & Gorski, R.A. (1981) The influence of gonadectomy, androgen exposure, or a gonadal graft in the neonatal rat on the volume of the sexually dimorphic nucleus of the preoptic area. J. Neurosci., 1, 1142–1147.
  16. Henley, C.L., Nunez, A.A. & Clemens, L.G. (2009) Estrogen treatment during development alters adult partner preference and reproductive behavior in female laboratory rats. Horm. Behav., 55, 68–75.
  17. Jacques Balthazart (2011) The Biology of Homosexuality, Oxford
  18. Terence Nichols, "Death and Afterlife: A Theological Introduction", Brazos Press, 2010
  19. Louis Ginzberg, "This Sacred Earth: Religion, Nature, Environment", Psychology Press, 2004
  20. J. Edward Wright, "The Early History of Heaven", Oxford University Press, 2000
  21. Terence Nichols, "Death and Afterlife: A Theological Introduction", Brazos Press, 2010
  22. Stephen F. Teiser, "Reinventing the Wheel: Paintings of Rebirth in Medieval Buddhist Temples" Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2007
  23. "The Holy Bible" Crossway, 2001
  24. Terence Nichols, "Death and Afterlife: A Theological Introduction", Brazos Press, 2010
  25. Hans TenDam, "EXPLORING REINCARNATION", December 2012
  26. Terence Nichols, "Death and Afterlife: A Theological Introduction", Brazos Press, 2010
  27. Hans TenDam, "EXPLORING REINCARNATION", December 2012
  28. Thomas Christianson, "Spiritual Manipulation: How To Spot It And What To Do About It” “Relevant Magazine”, October 13, 2016
  29. J Pediatr Nurs, "Death Rituals Reported by White, Black, and Hispanic Parents Following the ICU Death of an Infant or Child", 2016 Mar-Apr; 31(2): 132–140
  30. Gary R. Varner, "Ghosts, Spirits & the Afterlife in Native American Folklore and Religion", OakChylde Books/Lulu Press, 2010
  31. Barbara Montero "What Does the Conservation of Energy Have to Do with Physicalism?", December 6, 2006
  32. Terence Nichols, "Death and Afterlife: A Theological Introduction", Brazos Press, 2010
  33. Terence Nichols, "Death and Afterlife: A Theological Introduction", Brazos Press, 2010
  34. Patricia A. Schoenrade, "When I Die...: Belief in Afterlife as a Response to Mortality", 1989
  35. Vera Pereiraa, *, Luís Faíscab and Rodrigo de Sá-Saraivaa " Immortality of the Soul as an Intuitive Idea: Towards a Psychological Explanation of the Origins of Afterlife Beliefs", Journal of Cognition and Culture 12, 2012
  36. Ines Testoni, Enrico Facco & Federico Perelda, "Toward A New Eternalist Paradigm for Afterlife Studies: The Case of the Near-Death Experiences Argument", World Futures, 2017
  37. Lisa Miller, "Beyond Death: The Science of the Afterlife", TIME, 2014
  38. Lisa Miller, "Beyond Death: The Science of the Afterlife", TIME, 2014
  39. Jansen, K.L.R. "The Ketamine Model of the Near-Death Experience: A Central Role for the N-Methyl-D-Aspartate Receptor", Journal of Near-Death Studies, 1997
  40. Dell’Olio, A.J, "Do Near-Death Experiences Provide a Rational Basis for Belief in Life after Death?", SOPHIA, 2010
  41. Grigg MM, Kelly MA, Celesia GG, Ghobrial MW, Ross ER, "Electroencephalographic Activity After Brain Death", Arch Neurol, 1987

Evidence in the Nature of Crime

This chapter investigates the use of evidence in explaining the existence and nature of crime from a multitude of disciplinary perspectives. It analyses methodological disciplinary histories to highlight evidence as an ongoing issue in interdisciplinary research.

Historical and Methodological Issues Edit

File:Caricature of the Legal System during the Republic of Weimar (1927).jpg
Figure 1: Anti-propaganda poster (Weimar,1927)

Crime is defined as the intentional commission of an act usually deemed socially harmful or dangerous and specifically defined, prohibited, and punishable under criminal law.[1] The following two historical examples demonstrate that a monodisciplinary approach can be socially disruptive, as methodologies inaccurately portray criminal evidence.

Firstly, law as an anthropological construct defines what is considered a crime, which has allowed the mischaracterisation of evidence to support political agendas, demonstrated by the case of judicial bias in the Weimar Republic.[2] Figure 1 shows the judge harshly prosecuting leftist criminals, portrayed by the caption "we are going to protect the Republic from you", compared to the caption "we will protect the Republic for you" to right-wing criminals (seen on the right-hand side) who committed similar crimes. This demonstrates how the same laws can be used to protect or prosecute based on political agenda by changing the narrative derived through evidence analysis.[3]

Furthermore, Cesare Lombroso's Atavism Theory, suggests criminals were subhuman compared to non-criminals based on specific inherited physical attributes.[4] His theory faced criticism due to poor methodology and the reductionist approach that relied on and consequently perpetuated racial stereotypes. This shows how correlation can be misinterpreted as causal relationships.[5]

Current Disciplinary Perspectives Edit

Economics Edit

The Homo Economicus is the main assumption which classical and neo-classical economic theories are based upon, which has largely influenced the perception of the criminal as a 'rational profit maximiser', who analyses the costs and benefits of committing a crime. Ultimately, a criminal act is pursued if the total pay-off, considering costs of sanctions such as fines or imprisonment, are higher than the pay-off from alternative legal methods to procure money.[6]

The utility function illustrates the basic model of crime as a positive function of income (where utility derived from committing a crime varies according to income):


Where U is individual's utility function, P is the subjective perception of the risk of being caught and convicted, Y is monetary income from committing the offence, and f is the monetary equivalent of the punishment. If the utility is positive, the rational individual will choose to commit the crime but will not if the utility function is negative.[7]

Evidence is based upon economic models relying on assumptions to simplify reality, where empirical tests focusing on statistical analysis are predominantly carried out. The key methodological assumption of rationality used in research has enforced this monodisciplinary silo, however, though scholars reject the primary assumption, the rigorous statistical tests used have impacted methodologies in sociology, highlighting that using interdisciplinary research methods provides more representative evidence.[8]

Biology Edit

Biology explains the aetiology of criminal behaviour from a neurological perspective, focusing on brain-body interactions as well as studying particular hormones.

Neurophysiological research shows that brain abnormalities affecting our ability to feel emotions such as fear, guilt and empathy, are involved in behavioural symptoms of psychopathy. In a clinical study, individuals displaying violent and psychopathic traits had significantly reduced amygdala volumes since childhood, and tended to carry out premeditated crimes, whereas those displaying impulsive aggression demonstrated amygdala hyperactivity.[9] This confirms the notion of biological evidence in explaining the sub-types of criminals and that biological risk factors aid in predetermining future criminal behaviour. Nonetheless, although there is a correlation between structural brain abnormalities and psychopathic behaviour, more research needs to be undertaken to examine whether a causal relationship exists between them.[10]

Furthermore, in a separate study, researchers concluded that individuals with relatively high baseline testosterone levels were 28% more likely to engage in criminal behaviour compared to those with relatively low levels, suggesting that higher levels can be associated with aggression and dominant behaviour typical in criminals.[11] However, testosterone levels are inaccurate measures as they fluctuate throughout the day in response to various environmental stimuli, making correlation to deviance difficult to conclude.[12]

Therefore, as “biology is not destiny”, a holistic view is needed to understand criminal acts. Other factors such as social and environmental interventions need to be considered as it can mitigate the relationship between biological risk factors and crime, reducing the prevalence rate of crime in society.[13]

Sociology Edit

One of the most prominent claims in sociology is that social realities are dynamic, and thus, what is recognised as a crime by law could depend on cultural and geographical differences.[14] Therefore, there can be no homogeneous agreement about what constitutes a crime, where even felonies such as murder or mutilation, which for most western individuals would be considered severe, first-degree crimes, are acceptable parts of some tribal traditions.[15]

Hence, sociological studies focus more on individual factors and public arenas when looking for evidence behind criminal behaviours, such as age, ethnicity or parental and social background.[16] This type of systematic characterisation of social groups, called typological evidence, is based on Edwin Sutherland's Differential Association Theory, arguing criminal behaviour lies in the values we acquire through our social circles.[17] This was originally a counterargument to the biological evidence suggesting deviant behaviour is rooted in an individual's DNA.[18]

Furthermore, sociologists believe that criminal behaviour is more of a reaction to a social phenomenon,[19] rather than an action of the individual. This interpretation is an essential part of Emile Durkheim's Labelling Theory, that sees the evidence for crime in social prejudice, as individuals become deviant when a deviant label is applied to them.

Sociological evidence is rooted in a combination of empirical research and interpretive analysis to reach a comprehensive conclusion. The effective dual-methodology draws from multiple disciplines, serving as a stepping stone for a whole new discipline, criminology.[20] However, those opposing sociological methodologies suggest that, because of its partially interpretive nature, explanations of evidence often do not devote enough attention to "white-collar" crimes and can act "selectively" when evaluating research. For example, studies focus predominately on male experience rather than looking at intersectionality between gender, race, and class.[21]

Evaluating Evidence Edit

Historically, conscious misinterpretation of evidence was used to further political and racial supremacy, criminalising minority ethnic groups and anti-governmental beliefs. However, presently, despite accessibility to advanced evidence, misunderstanding of the nature of crime is still prevalent due to interpretation from a monodisciplinary perspective.[9]

Economics is founded on unrealistic assumptions of human nature, disregarding qualitative and theoretical evidence, while primarily utilising quantitative empirical data. Furthermore, biological methodology does not prove causal relationships, such as the correlation between amygdala volume and psychopathic behaviour. Had the analysis included sociological perspectives, it would have taken into account the interaction between biological and environmental aspects. In comparison, sociology acknowledges that both quantitative and qualitative evidence is essential to understand how sociocultural factors influence the nature of crime.

Due to problems caused by monodisciplinary perspective in research, there is a need for interdisciplinary scholars to overcome the disconnection by employing a holistic outlook. As we have witnessed through historical examples, ulterior motives influence conclusions drawn from evidence to support the discipline's objective, whereas an interdisciplinary researcher would be void of bias. Therefore, to achieve a comprehensive understanding of the nature of crime and further issues, in-depth, interdisciplinary research methods and analysis must be employed.

References Edit

  1. Clarke D, Edge I. Crime [Internet]. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc.; 2019 [cited 3 December 2019]. Available from:
  2. Chiao V. What is the Criminal Law for?. Law and Philosophy [Internet]. 2015 [cited 9 December 2019];35(2):137-163. Available from:
  3. Sigward D. Holocaust and human behavior. 1st ed. Mass Brookline; 2017.
  4. Epstein S. Speaking of slavery. Cornell University Press. [Internet]. 2001. [cited 1 December 2019]. Available from:
  5. Wolfgang M. Pioneers in Criminology: Cesare Lombroso (1825-1909). Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology. Vol 52 Issue 4. [Internet]. 2019 [cited 3 December 2019];52(4):2. Available from:
  6. Erling Eide, Paul H. Rubin and Joanna M. Shepherd (2006), "Economics of Crime", Foundations and Trends® in Microeconomics: Vol. 2: No. 3, pp 205-279.
  7. Piliavin I, Gartner R, Thornton C, Matsueda R. Crime, Deterrence, and Rational Choice. American Sociological Review [Internet]. 1986 [cited 25 November 2019];51(1):101. Available from:
  8. Beteille A. Economics and Sociology: An Essay on Approach and Method. Economic and Political Weekly [Internet]. 2000 [cited 1 December 2019];35(18):8. Available from:
  9. a b Pardini D, Raine A, Erickson K, Loeber R. Lower Amygdala Volume in Men is Associated with Childhood Aggression, Early Psychopathic Traits, and Future Violence. Biological Psychiatry [Internet]. 2014 [cited 1 December 2019];75(1):73-80. Available from:
  10. Weber S, Habel U, Amunts K, Schneider F. Structural brain abnormalities in psychopaths-a review. - PubMed - NCBI [Internet]. 2019 [cited 4 December 2019]. Available from:
  11. Booth A, Granger D, Mazur A, Kivlighan K. Testosterone and Social Behavior Vol. 85, No. 1, Pp 167-191 [Internet]. JSTOR. 2006 [cited 1 December 2019]. Available from:
  12. Long N, Nguyen L, Stevermer J. It’s time to reconsider early-morning testosterone tests. The Journal of Family Practice [Internet]. 2019 [cited 3 December 2019];. Available from:
  13. Raine A. Anatomy of violence - the biological roots of crime. Penguin Books Ltd.; 2014.
  14. 5. de la Sablonnière R. Toward a Psychology of Social Change: A Typology of Social Change. Frontiers in Psychology [Internet]. 2017 [cited 21 November 2019];8. Available from:
  15. Frembgen, J. (2006). Honour, Shame, and Bodily Mutilation. Cutting off the Nose among Tribal Societies in Pakistan. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, [online] 16(3), pp.243-260. Available at: [Accessed 30 Nov. 2019].
  16. 3. Sampson R. Whither the Sociological Study of Crime?. Annual Review of Sociology [Internet]. 2000 [cited 24 November 2019];26(1):711-714. Available from:
  17. 4. Morris E, Braukmann C. Behavioral approaches to crime and delinquency. New York: Plenum Press; 1987.
  18. Gelles R, Levine A. Sociology. 6th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill College; 1999.
  19. 7. Deflem M. Ferdinand Tönnies on crime and society: an unexplored contribution to criminological sociology. History of the Human Sciences [Internet]. 1999 [cited 21 November 2019];12(3):87-116.
  20. 6. Deflem M. Sociological theory and criminological research. Amsterdam: Elsevier/JAI; 2006.
  21. Renzetti C. Feminist Theories. Oxford Bibliographies Online Datasets [Internet]. 2009 [cited 20 November 2019];1:40-50. Available from:

Evidence in Intermittent Fasting

This chapter discusses the use of evidence concerning biology, sociology, marketing, among others, when analysing intermittent fasting to outline the importance of an interdisciplinary approach and explore issues facing interdisciplinary researchers. To grasp a better understanding of why intermittent fasting is an important topic, a discussion about how our eating choices are impacted everyday through advertisements is necessary.

Introduction Edit

The act of fasting, defined by the Oxford Dictionary as "a period during which you do not eat food",[1] has been a common practice for centuries. In Ancient Greece, it already enjoyed vast popularity and was heavily endorsed by Hippocrates for its benefits.

Ever since, fasting has been used for medical and religious reasoning. It plays a great role in the world's major religions. In Christianity and Judaism, fasting is associated with mourning and atonement for sins. Islam made fasting easy by correlating it with self-purification during Ramadan. Passages from the Quran illustrate how people are encouraged to fast:"…And fasting is good for you, if you only knew." (Ch.2:v.185)[2]

Today, one of the most common types of fasting is intermittent fasting. This emboldens individuals to eat during a certain period of time, for example, six hours, and then, to fast for the remaining time, in this case, 18 hours. Alternative approaches on intermittent fasting exist, namely alternate-day fasting, periodic fasting, and time-restricted feeding, each allowing you to eat for different lengths of time.

In the last decades, the volume of academic research on intermittent fasting has increased, each discipline coming up with its own form of evidence.

The social construction of "three meals a day" Edit

Anthropological view on eating patterns Edit

Anthropology concentrates on the behaviour of our ancestors and individuals from primitive and Palaeolithic cultures who lived their lives as hunter-gatherers. Anthropologist showed that these individuals used to hunt for food to ensure their survival.[3] Thus, their next meal was often unpredicted, unscheduled, and could fluctuate depending on the season. Even though they were unaware of their eating patterns, individuals in the primitive society used to fast as a way of life.[4]

Sociological view on eating patterns Edit

Sociology, which studies "the interaction and collective behaviour of organised groups of human beings",[5] focuses on how eating habits were established and became cultural patterns through time. The evidence found, such as field research through observation and scholarly books, have confirmed that eating at regimented times is a cultural pattern people have embraced because there is comfort in predictability[6].

Sociologist Robin Fox revealed how breakfast times used to depend on social status rather than nutritional needs.[7] The upper-class had later breakfasts than the working class, suggesting they had time for leisure activities.

However, this eating pattern no longer works with today’s modern schedules.[6] Evidence, particularly a survey overseen by the US Department of Agriculture, exposed a deviation from breakfast and lunch being the main meals[8] to lunch and dinner. We can, therefore, deduce that modern itineraries dissonate with the eating patterns we have adopted.

Scientifical evidence on Intermittent fasting Edit

Genetical Perspective Edit

Genetics examines the "heredity and variations of organisms".[9] Researchers question eating habits based on our genome. Undoubtedly, as humans used to live as hunters-gatherers, oscillating between periods of fast and feast, the genes selected were adapted to our originative lifestyle. Looking at our genotypes' evolution we can have a better understanding of our metabolism. Evidence illustrate that the "three meals a day" pattern answers social requirements rather than obliging our bodies' metabolism.

Evidence, from scholarly articles and genetical experiments, shows that a current major health issue, insulin resistance, may be the consequence of the encounter between the genomes selected during the Palaeolithic era and our current lifestyle, characterised by the abundance of food.[10][11]

One experiment undertook[10] subjected eight men to fasting, following up with laboratory reports of blood flow and insulin rates. The results show that intermittent fasting improves our metabolic status and increases insulin action, reducing the mismatch between our genotypes and eating habits.

Physiological Perspective Edit

Physiology focuses on the impact of Intermittent fasting on our bodies. Scientists entrust on evidence suchlike experiments on rodents and humans to show its benefits. Studies show that intermittent fasting improves metabolism's stress resistance across species, proving that this diet contributes to lifespan extension.

Furthermore, intermittent fasting aids the function and resilience of the cardiovascular system. As evidence, scientists have observed a decrease in heart rate and blood pressure of rats that were undergoing intermittent fasting.[12]

Another study published in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry unveiled that intermittent fasting improved left ventricular function and recovery of blood pressure and heart rate.[12]

Neurosciences Perspective Edit

Neurosciences inspect the consequences of intermittent fasting on our brain and our memory by mainly using evidence from brain scans or MRI. Some studies have found that putting mice on intermittent fasting leads to an increase in their memory and improves their reaction to stress.[13]

Consumerism in society Edit

Following the emergence of marketing and consumerism in the food industry, the methods that are used to sell products have changed substantially as time passed. Our eating habits can be explained by the advanced marketing techniques that they use, encouraging us to overeat.

Marketing and overeating Edit

One of the key factors behind overeating is choice. Being exposed to the same stimuli, particularly food, will numb senses leading to "sensory-specific satiety". Therefore, people eat more when they have more food choices.[14] For example, 'Starbucks' claims that there are over 80.000 possible drink combinations available.[15] The powerful marketing techniques behind this array of variety are personalisation and convenience which persuade consumers into a purchase.

Annual advertising budget for brands of food and beverages in USA[16]

The psychology of overeating Edit

Advertising, as defined by Cambridge Dictionary “the business of trying to persuade people to buy products”,[17] is deeply enrooted in the food industry. This industry is always looking to persuade people to overeat “to satisfy stockholders”.[18] They allocate substantial amounts of money on food advertising, therefore insinuating the impactful role it has on consumer purchases.

Evidence, namely the study led by the University of Wollongong, clearly suggests the influence advertisements have on eating behaviours. Participants were required to watch movies segments interspersed with either food or non-food advertisements over six days. The results of the study found participants ate more after being exposed to promotions.[19]

Conclusion Edit

The evidence clearly suggests that Intermittent fasting is beneficial for our health and that the "three meals a day" approach is solely a social construction. Yet, our eating habits remain unchanged.

The lack of cohesion and thorough discussion on evidence between the disciplines led to an underestimation of the importance of fasting. By bringing together evidence on fasting with an interdisciplinary spectrum, it would improve its' analysis and is more likely to impact on society's flawed eating habits.

Nonetheless, even if an interdisciplinary researcher tried to link the evidence, he would still face the issue of recognition. Findings done by more subjective disciplines such as social sciences or marketing are often disregarded by scientifical branches of academia that perceive evidence done through experiments as absolute. Therefore, there is a fundamental disagreement on the actual nature of evidence leading to disharmony of opinions as previously seen.

References Edit

  1. Definition of “fast” from the Oxford Dictionary. Available from
  2. The Holy Quran - Chapter: 2: Al-Baqarah [Internet]. [cited 27 November 2019]. Available from:
  3. Harari Y. Sapiens A Brief History Of Humankind [Internet]. 2019 [cited 26 November 2019]. Available from:
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Evidence in the Diagnosis of Schizophrenia

Introduction Edit

The ever-increasing influence of neuroscience within the mental health field has brought to light both the shortcomings of psychology's past as well as the obstacles facing psychology as it moves forward.[1] Methodologically speaking, these obstacles are frequently presented as a dichotomy between quantitative and qualitative forms of evidence gathering, the implications of which being their opposition or incompatibility. As a result, it is not uncommon for the so-called competing sides to clash with one another. However, it is the contention of a growing number of holistic practitioners that this forced mutual exclusivity proves not only a mistake, but an impossibility; due partly to the nature of the social sciences, wherein overlapping biological, social, and psychological influences are the topic of much debate.

This particular matter takes the forefront of nosographic considerations in the diagnosis of schizophrenia, which must attempt to reconcile “objective knowledge of brain functioning with the subjective experiences of schizophrenia.”[2]

The following article outlines and critiques the most prominent evidence-gathering approaches for the diagnosis of schizophrenia, before presenting an interdisciplinary framework as a promising means to bridge the division between quantitative and qualitative inquiry.

Schizophrenia summary (script)

Schizophrenia Edit

Schizophrenia is a psychiatric disorder marked by distortions in reality, changes in language patterns and behaviour, and is often accompanied by auditory or visual hallucinations, along with delusional or paranoid thinking.[3] While the mechanisms of schizophrenia are unknown, mental health professionals, alongside neurologists and geneticists, speculate that the primary causes of schizophrenia are genetic and environmental.[4]

Biological Evidence Edit

Genetics Edit

Abnormalities in the schizophrenic brain

The microscopic quantitative approach seeks to define a relationship between the genomic loci and the disorder. Different experimental methods have been used, e.g. the linkage analysis (Ng et al. in 2009) and the candidate gene approach.[5] These methods have identified specific genes linked to the illness such as DISC1.[6] These experiments lack reliability because of the many alleles that are associated with the disease and other mental disorders. The solution was to conduct a Genome-wide association study whose findings were replicable and achieving a Genome-wide significance. However, they could not be specific to schizophrenia.[6]

Anatomy Edit

Difference between a schizophrenic and a non-schizophrenic brain

The macroscopic quantitative approach is to identify brain's structure abnormalities using MRI and CT scans (Whitford et al. in 2006).[7] With these imaging methods researchers discovered that mental illness frequently correlated with ventricular enlargement and a decreased volume of grey and white matter.[8][9] These anatomical variants mostly affect the patient’s language processing functions which are a symptom of many mental disorders.

However, the ventricular enlargement is usually only noticeable in the latter stages of schizophrenia[7] and therefore of limited usefulness in early diagnosis.

Socio-Anthropological Evidence Edit

Social sciences are needed to conceptualise and analyse "subjective" data, a central part of schizophrenia research.[10]

Culture and Environment Edit

Anthropology primarily provides qualitative evidence. Human beings, within their cultural context,[11] tend to take into account various less tangible components of diagnosis.

Schizophrenia is pathoplastic in nature; hallucinations are shaped by the individual’s environmental influences. For example, ancestry-worship is a common theme in hallucinations amongst rural Africans.[12]

Ethnographic studies have estimated that black people are six times more probable to be diagnosed as schizophrenic than average in the UK.[13] Cognitive explanations suggest that British-African and Afro-Caribbeans express their thoughts differently from Caucasians. Psychiatric clinicians fail to identify cultural idioms and are more likely to diagnose patients from ethnic minorities with mental disorders. This elicits the question of what behaviour is considered abnormal and whether the criterion is fully dependent on the socio-cultural norms that surround the individual.[14] Moreover, 'ethnic density’, associated with the social isolation of Afro-Caribbean communities in Western culture due to migration, has proven to be more of an influence than their socioeconomic status.[15] Further variables to consider:

  • Differences between genders.
  • Age, especially in findings indicating men to be prone to schizophrenia earlier than women, leading to their earlier hospitalisation.[16] The earlier diagnosis of men may also indicate a delay in diagnosing women, though they have generally shown better response towards the treatment.[17]
  • The release of oestrogen as a possible explanation for the abovementioned, although further research will be necessary for its consideration as a form of therapy.[18]
  • Marital status, as studies like that of Denmark and Mayhem's Case Registers appear to indicate that single young men are more likely to suffer schizophrenia.[19] It is important to note, however, that no evidence supports marriage as a preventative method to schizophrenia.[20]

Psychological Evidence Edit

Contemporary Psychology Edit

As behavioural psychology has gained steady prominence through its adherence to more recognisable scientific research and evidence gathering practices, an inverse correlation may be seen in the utilisation of subjective phenomenal experience as a nosographic tool in much of “mainstream psychology.”[21] Increasingly, however, it is becoming evident that the complex nature of the human experience cannot be satisfactorily reduced to mere numerical data.

One criticism of neurobiological perspectives holds that they leave out the “person”. This presents a particular point of tension for those who conceptualise schizophrenia as an alteration of the experience of self or of ipseity (ipse being the Latin "self"),[22] with ipseity defined as the experience of “basic self” through the awareness that 'I am the subject of this thought and I am the cause of the thought'.

Several alterations in ipseity may occur. One aspect is hyper-reflexivity, wherein the self-consciousness of oneself is exaggerated. In this state, previously unnoticed subconscious thoughts are experienced akin to external objects. Another facet is diminished self-affection, wherein the subject experiences decreased consciousness of themselves as the subject of their thoughts/actions. This leads to a passivity feeling described by patients as “I don't feel myself”; “I am half awake.”[23] In schizophrenia, the above are accompanied by loss of contact with reality. Those with 'healthy' psychology view the world through articulation and context, defined as “common sense”; but for those with schizophrenia, the world appears decontextualised.[24]

Future Research Edit

Neglect of the first-person perspective in empirically-based approaches to the diagnosis of schizophrenia has reinvigorated interest in phenomenological diagnostic approaches, as popularised by Jaspers, Minkowski, Binswanger, Blankenburg, and Conrad.[25] These approaches argue that neglecting the first-person perspective on alterations in ipseity—as the DSM-IV is disposed to do— "poses a serious threat for the validity of contemporary research: merely subjective phenomena are generally subjected to strict [third-person perspective] operationalizations and thereby dissected from their rich first-personal experiential qualities – however central those may be for the schizophrenic condition.”[25]

Given that first-person experiential qualities may include qualitative data about both a patient’s attitude towards their illness as well as information about their surroundings, the interdisciplinary relevance of this line of inquiry is made readily evident.[26]

Looking toward the future of research in schizophrenia, studies on the potentiality of phenomenologically inspired interventions and models, like those conducted by Nischk, Dölker, Rusch, and Merz,[25] as well as those focused on person-centred psychopathology,[26] show great promise as complementary methodologies to supplement current practices which find difficulty bridging the qualitative-quantitative evidence gap. Ultimately, more research will be necessary to determine the contribution of these efforts conclusively; however, these models presently appear to hold the most promise for expressing the validity, repeatability, and reliability of qualitative accounts of schizophrenia, such as those from introspection.

References Edit

  1. Stanghellini G, Bolton D, Fulford W. Person-Centered Psychopathology of Schizophrenia: Building on Karl Jaspers’ Understanding of Patient’s Attitude Toward His Illness [Internet]. Schizophrenia Bulletin. 2013 [cited 4 December 2019]. Available from:
  2. PARNAS, J. (2012), The core Gestalt of schizophrenia. World Psychiatry, 11: 67-69. doi:10.1016/j.wpsyc.2012.05.002
  3. Schizophrenia [Internet]. World Health Organization. 2019 [cited 18 December 2019]. Available from:
  4. Owen M, Sawa A, Mortensen P. Schizophrenia [Internet]. HHS Author Manuscripts. 2016 [cited 18 December 2019]. Available from:
  5. Avramopoulos D. Recent Advances in the Genetics of Schizophrenia [Internet]. Molecular Neuropsychiatry. Karger Publishers; 2018 [cited 2019Dec16]. Available from:
  6. a b Henriksen MG, Nordgaard J, Jansson LB. Genetics of Schizophrenia: Overview of Methods, Findings and Limitations [Internet]. Frontiers in human neuroscience. Frontiers Media S.A.; 2017 [cited 2019Dec16]. Available from:
  7. a b DeLisi, E. L. Concept of Progressive Brain Change in Schizophrenia: Implications for Understanding Schizophrenia [Internet]. OUP Academic. Oxford University Press; 2008 [cited 2019Dec16]. Available from:
  8. DeLisi LE, Szulc KU, Bertisch HC, Majcher Mundefined, Brown Kundefined. Understanding structural brain changes in schizophrenia [Internet]. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience. Les Laboratoires Servier; 2006 [cited 2019Dec16]. Available from:
  9. Nemade R, Dombeck M. Evidence that schizophrenia is a brain disease [Internet]. Patricelli K, editor. Gulf Bend MHMR Center. [cited 2019Dec16]. Available from:
  10. Angela, Jones, Bernini, Marco, Callard, Ben, et al. Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Phenomenology of Auditory Verbal Hallucinations [Internet]. OUP Academic. Oxford University Press; 2014 [cited 2019Dec16]. Available from:
  11. E. Valentine D. Charred lullabies : chapters in an anthropography of violence [Internet]. 1996. Available from:
  12. Dein S. Recent Work on Culture and Schizophrenia: Epidemiological and Anthropological Approaches. Global Journal of Archaeology & Anthropology. 2017Jul;1(3).
  13. The British Institute of Psychiatry (2000)
  14. Littlewood R, Lipsedge M. Aliens and alienists ethnic minorities and psychiatry. London: Routledge; 1997.
  15. D. Bhugra, P. Jones. Migration and mental health. Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, 7(3), 216-222. [Internet]. 2001. Available from:
  16. Hafner, H., an der Heiden, W., Behrens, S., Gattaz, W., Hambrecht, M., Loffler, W., Maurer, K., Munk-Jorgensen, P., Nowotny, B., Riecher-Rossler, A. and Stein, A. Causes and Consequences of the Gender Difference in Age at Onset of Schizophrenia. [Internet]. 1998. Oxford Journals. Available from:
  17. Nasser, E., Walders, N. and Jankins, J. The Experience of Schizophrenia: What's Gender Got To Do With It? A Critical Review of the Current Status of Research on Schizophrenia. [Internet] Oxford Journals. 2002. Available from:
  18. Riecher-Rössler, A. and Kulkarni, J. Estrogens and Gonadal Function in Schizophrenia and Related Psychoses. Current topics in behavioral neurosciences.[Internet]. 2011. Research Gate. Available from:
  19. Häfner, H., Riecher, A., Maurer, K., Löffler, W., Munk-Jørgensen, P., & Strömgren, E. How does gender influence age at first hospitalization for schizophrenia? A transnational case register study. Psychological Medicine.[Internet]. 1989. Available from:
  20. Riecher, A., Maurer, K., Löffler, W., Fätkenheuer, B., Heiden, W. and Häfner, H. Schizophrenia — a disease of young single males?. [Internet]. 1989. Springer Link. Available from:
  21. Parnas, J., Sass, L. and Kendler, K., 2008. Philosophical issues in psychiatry: Explanation, nosology and phenomenology.[Internet]. 2008 [cited 02 Dec. 2019]; Available from:,+nosology+and+phenomenology&ots=HNXChhc5Nt&sig=o39F_mVwU4VkkTPymsWcRkzJR0c&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=Philosophical%20issues%20in%20psychiatry%3A%20Explanation%2C%20nosology%20and%20phenomenology&f=false
  22. Sass, A. L, Josef. Schizophrenia, Consciousness, and the Self [Internet]. OUP Academic. Oxford University Press; 2003. Available from:
  23. Pérez-Álvarez M, García-Montes JM, Vallina-Fernández O, Perona-Garcelán S. Rethinking Schizophrenia in the Context of the Person and Their Circumstances: Seven Reasons [Internet]. Frontiers in psychology. Frontiers Media S.A.; 2016. Available from:
  24. Stanghellini G. Disembodied spirits and deanimated bodies: the psychopathology of common sense. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press; 2006.
  25. a b c Nischk D, Dölker C, Rusch J, Merz P. From Theory to Clinical Practice: A Phenomenologically Inspired Intervention for Patients with Schizophrenia [Internet]. Psychopathology. 2015 [cited 4 December 2019]. Available from: /
  26. a b Stanghellini G., Bolton D., Fulford W. Person-Centered Psychopathology of Schizophrenia: Building on Karl Jaspers’ Understanding of Patient’s Attitude Toward His Illness [Internet]. Schizophrenia Bulletin. 2013 [cited 4 December 2019]. Available from:

Evidence of the Second World War in France

Introduction Edit

From 1940 to 1945, the French State committed to a collaboration with Germany under the Vichy-Regime which lead to a division of beliefs in society in the post-war period. There was a lack of ‘official truth’ in France during that somber period as a result of the privatization of the main sources of evidence, such as official archives. This paper aims to study the evidence used to shape the truth in that time, and how interdisciplinary research helped set the collective memory of the French people.

Construction of the collective memory Edit

Map of France 1940-1944.[1]

By studying infrastructural and geographical changes one can learn about a region's history and subsequently that of its residents. Hence, the concept of evidence in geography is an important factor in the process of establishing a memory of past events. History restores and generates geographical evidence.[2] Plaques, memorials, museums amongst other symbols built all over the country illustrate a government's aim to create a collective memory.[3] Their geographical omnipresence or absence in the public space, shaping the landscape and the urbanism, strongly influences the psychology of people and reconstructs their memories. The territorial distribution plays a major part in this process.

To unify its post-war divided country, the French government led by De Gaulle constructed a new collective memory overemphasizing the myth of the Résistancialisme and omitting the dark sides of their history. However, most of the official museums and memorials dedicated to the resistance and deportations during WW2 appeared decades after the war as a result of the restoration of the truth.[4] Most of them are settled in the Vichy area. Although resistance occurred there, it might be perceived as an attempt to boast its role in the region which collaborated the most.[5] Prior to this, only a few private memorials were disseminated across the country. This absence of official museums suggests a struggle of the government to forget its past.

Museums are needed as pedagogical tools to pass on memories. Without this type of evidence, it becomes easier to erase parts of history. Evidence-based education uses evidence to identify starting points for teaching and learning. Information on past experiences from teachers are points used as evidence to establish academic curriculums.[6]

Duty of remembrance designates a moral obligation to commemorate a tragic historical event to prevent its reoccurrence. Politics impact what evidence is taken into consideration to expand throughout education. In this case study, the duty of remembrance influences the evidence French education is based on. Consequently, pedagogy allows scholars to acquire constructed memory, thus considered as an 'official truth'.[7]

Law and justice, presumed as a moral concept within the judiciary, approach evidence epistemologically. Validity and justification, as well as truth, are crucial elements when considering evidence in a legal sense. However, approaches to evidence in justice and the law vary distinctively with respect to different legislatures. Even if there is no consensus concerning its definition, legal evidence has to be viewed as an independent concept. It is primarily seen as a means in the process of proving a claim or accusation to be true or false. When referring to evidence in a court case, this is the most common meaning. In this particular sense, evidence can be oral in the form of testimonies, visual as in documents or physical with regard to objects. Evidence in the law has to be factual and valid.[8]

Under the rule of the Vichy-Regime, France’s legislation changed drastically. Whilst collaborating with Germany, France’s defeat was mainly believed to be the fault of Jews and foreigners which prompted several anti-Semitic statues and xenophobic laws to be imposed. These statues led to the deportation and mass-murder of many French Jews as they were being denaturalized as citizens. Proving the Vichy-Regime’s complicity with Germany after the war was deemed difficult as there was a lack of legal evidence. The first time France admitted to being partially at fault for deportations and the genocide of WW2 was 1995 by then-president Chirac. This period of failed recognition of France's fault was crucial in shaping the collective memory, as the lack of evidence meant that living in denial was easy.[9] Despite Vichy France’s undeniable antisemitism, they did not actively want to aid the Germans in their crimes against French Jews. Regardless, the issue itself was that they discriminated against a minority and thus singled them out, which consequently enabled the Germans even further.[10]

Construction of the individual memory Edit

Phenomenology uses experimental neuropsychology and philosophical qualitative research methodologies to understand how experience is lived by an individual. This discipline observes how identities evolve throughout time and how memories are recalled. Testimonies are therefore biased evidence, constantly modified in the consciousness by time and environment.[11] Phenomenological methods include oral history, diary methods and qualitative interviews paying particular attention to individuality. Oral history allows to subjectively and realistically describe an event as lived by an individual for instance, whereas interviews supply information on the perception of concepts such as forgiveness and reconciliation. These methods are critiqued for their lack of quantitative research methods resulting in low generalizability.[12]

Testimonies found in literature, art and documentaries are considered by many as controversial types of evidence. After WW2, testimonies and personal pieces played a crucial role in forging a collective truth and giving a voice to victims of the collaboration. Based on deeply personal experiences, artwork from this period became a persuasive and forceful testament to the effects and consequences of the Vichy-Regime. Art, literature, and film making from this period all approach evidence in a similar manner, namely by looking at the human experience and trying to convey their reality and emotions.[13] However, evidence expressed in these forms is considered subjective and deemed inferior or unviable by other disciplines, such as justice and sciences, which require empirical data. Whilst this vast body of artistic expression is a testament to experiences of the collaboration, it is not considered sufficiently factual or objective by all disciplines. In the field of psychology, it is increasingly accepted that expressing lived phenomena through art fosters psychological resilience. This can allow one to uncover truthful events. For example, a long investigation consisting of survivors describing their different coping processes was conducted. These documentaries were often censored by the government. The movie "The Sorrow and the Pity” by Marcel Ophuls which described the life of the French during the occupation and showed that they were actually very few to resist, for instance, was censored until 1981.[14]

Conclusion Edit

Regardless of Vichy France’s collaboration with Nazi Germany and thus its liability for many crimes, deportations, and murders, committed during that period, it seemed rather difficult to find evidence of any misconduct. Through interdisciplinary research, encompassing evidence in law, art, geography, and education, the truth was finally established and France's malpractice during the collaboration was acknowledged. This illustrates the value of interdisciplinary methods. They help to understand complex problems and gain an adequate understanding of issues, often englobing different disciplines. The importance of variability in approaches to knowledge is considerable in terms of taking all aspects and perspectives into account and thus in finding an adequate and more truthful response.[15]

References Edit

  1. Botev, R., [Internet]. 2008. Available at:
  2. Barcellini, S., “ L’intervention de l’État dans les musées des guerres contemporaines“ In : Musées de guerre et mémoriaux: Politiques de la mémoire [Internet]. Paris : Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme, 2005. Available at: French.
  3. Fleury, D. , "Plaques, stèles et monuments commémoratifs : l’État et la « mémoire de pierre » ." Revue historique des armées [Internet], 2010. Available at:, French.
  4. Greenberg, R., "La représentation muséale des génocides". Gradhiva [Internet], 2007. Available at:, French.
  5. Walsh K. Collective Amnesia and the Mediation of Painful Pasts: the representation of France in the Second World War, International Journal of Heritage Studies, [Internet], 2001. Available at:, French.
  6. Masters, G., “The role of evidence in teaching and learning“.[Internet]. 2018 August. Available at:
  7. “Devoir de mémoire“. [Internet]. Available at: , French.
  8. Ho, H. L., “The Legal Concept of Evidence.“ The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Winter 2015 Edition, [Internet]. Available at:
  9. Fette, J., “Lawyers during the Vichy Regime: Exclusion in the Law. In Exclusions: Practicing Prejudice in French Law and Medicine“, 1920-1945 (pp. 133-161). Ithaca; London: Cornell University Press, 2012. Available at:
  10. Talbott, J., “Vichy Reconsidered.“ The Journal of Interdisciplinary History [Internet]. 1974, p. 635-647. Available at:
  11. Eustache, M. , “Mémoire et identité dans la phénoménologie d'Edmund Husserl : liens avec les conceptions des neurosciences cognitives.“ Revue de neuropsychologie, 2010. Volume 2(2), 157-170. Available at:
  12. Bloor, M. and Wood, F., “Phenomenological methods.“ In: Keywords in Qualitative methods. London: Sage Publications, 2006. French.
  13. Cyrulnik, B., “La nuit j'écrirai des soleils“, éditions Odile Jacob, 2019. French.
  14. Nezri-Dufour, S., "Primo Levi ou la transmission difficile de la mémoire de la Shoah", Cahiers d’études romanes, p.2-5. 2016. French.
  15. Thomson, J. , Newell, W.H. , "Advancing interdisciplinary studies", Handbook on Undergraduate Curriculum, 1996, p.3-6

Evidence: Is private school really better than public school?

Introduction Edit

It is a common, universal belief that private school provides a higher quality of education than public school; this assertion serves as one of the main justifications for parents choosing a private education for their children.[1] This chapter aims to discuss the validity of this claim, by presenting conflicting evidence and examining its veracity from multiple disciplinary perspectives closely linked to education studies, in order to bring attention to potential issues encountered when conducting interdisciplinary research in this field.[2]

Ancient and modern philosophers have identified varying purposes of education. While a functionalist view suggests education equips students with the right qualities and skills to function in prevailing socio-economic conditions, the traditional platonic view theorizes education's broader goal to help one's soul ascent from the cave of ignorance.[3][4] Dissimilar education philosophies and ideologies contribute to differences in operations and subsequent educational outcomes in private and public schooling.

The origin of private education lies in religion, taking heavy influence from Catholic schooling.[5] Gradually, private schools evolved from the classic curriculum to provide an alternative to government-run public schools. However, the claim that private education is superior to that of public school was not backed by empirical evidence until 1981 when Coleman published a pioneering study that started the public-private debate. Through quantitative research, he reached the controversial conclusion that private schools provided a more effective education and experienced less racial segregation than public schools. This led to numerous follow-up studies; some criticized Coleman's methods and conclusions, while others asserted his findings.[6] Currently, there is still a notable lack of consistency in scientific research regarding this topic.[7]

Disciplinary Approaches Edit

In economics, the most common measure of effectiveness in education is academic achievement, particularly in key disciplines such as mathematics and English.[8] Attendance and failure to complete high school, progress into further education, and performance at university and in the labour market are also indicators of quality of education.[9][10][11]

Research is conducted through quantitative methods, analyzing cross-sectional data to compare performance across schools. A standard method of comparison involves calculating predicted scores an average public school student would attain at private school and comparing them to actual past results at public school.[12] Ways of controlling external factors in econometric models include grouping students into socioeconomic status (SES) levels through surveying parents' income, level of education and available educational resources at home, and considering elements such as race/ethnicity and disabilities.[13]

Although results are mixed, there is a general consensus that private schools achieve better results overall, but it cannot be presumed that this implies direct causation. One study suggests that the selective enrolment of high-level SES students at private school results in a higher proportion of students better suited to conventional education methods, thus possessing a naturally higher potential for academic achievement.[14] This highlights the uncertainty regarding the degree to which schools influence the performance of their students. Some criticisms blame the lack of research examining progress over time; however, the inability to arrive at a universal conclusion using econometric evidence can be traced to several larger issues, such as the complexity of individual school systems, the influence of non-quantifiable factors and widely differing research methods.[15]

Sociology examines the interaction between socio-economic factors, such as family background, and academic performance in schools. The evidence is congregated upon both external and internal issues of social class, gender, and ethnicity.[16] Social scholars highlight that the benefits of private schools are recognized through the inherited experience and funding of families.[17] They argue that disparities in educational performance were not affected by the type of school children attended or school differences between social classes, but rather by the students’ background, individual aptitudes, and gender.[18]

Quantitative research is conducted to determine the number of people who share the same views on the question being asked. This research incorporates an interview method that investigates the issues affecting the performance of students. There is compelling evidence that students from low-income families with African or Caribbean ethnicity perform worse than students from other backgrounds.[19] Family income also influences educational success, as evidenced by a statistical analysis of examination results.[20]While working-class girls perform better than working-class boys, they still lack behind middle school children.[21] Sociologists conclude that scholastic accomplishments depend on students’ levels of physical and cultural capital.[22]

The studies reveal some limitations. Sociologists cannot state confidently on what is the particular causal effect of students attending private schools due to the high entry-level of students going to private schools compared to public schools.[23] Even where substantial evidence is evaluated, the omission of unobserved differences can still be biased in estimating the effects.

Educational psychology investigates how academic performance is affected by factors such as well-being. Psychologists gather empirical evidence from quantitative questionnaires, they also devise tests and criteria to measure components of well-being.[24] The strength of evidence is checked by its statistical significance, with measurements such as p-value and standard deviation.

Whether students in private schools have better or poorer well-being is contested. A study on the mental health of Chinese private high school students found that they face significantly higher levels of negative emotions such as compulsion, depression, hostility, and paranoid ideation than their counterparts in public schools.[25] Another study, however, found that anxiety and fear levels of Chinese high school students did not differ between private and public schools.[26] The impact of private school is less significant than that of gender, family, and culture that sociology tries to tackle.[27] Moreover, the relationship between well-being and academic performance is also complex. The positive relationship between well-being and academic is supported by a wealth of studies.[28] But scholars also noticed a trade-off between education performance and well-being in many private schools, which can, in turn, impede academic achievements.[29]

The contradicting results show that psychologists use varied methods to study mismatched aspects of well-being and measure discrepant forms of academic performance, thus they are supported by divergent evidence. Some evidence is weak due to the unreliability of self-completed questionnaires and the relativity of self-reported emotions - respondents may be dishonest and they can have vastly different interpretations to the same number when asked to rank emotions.[30] As Richard Popp argues, emotion is a socio-cultural product; thus, sociology can help explain the larger forces that contribute to inconsistent understandings and presentations of well-being.[31] Meanwhile, unclear causal and correlation mechanisms require econometric thinking to elucidate how well-being affects and is affected by academic performance.

Conclusion Edit

After exploring the topic of public versus private school from several disciplinary viewpoints, it becomes clear that current monodisciplinary approaches are not sufficiently able to deal with problems encountered in research. The complexity of education systems requires a comprehensive approach beyond linear analysis, combining quantitative and qualitative research methods across multiple fields within Education Studies to overcome their individual limits.

However, current research shows a lack of coherency even within their own disciplines, largely due to varying research methods. The resulting inconsistent and contradicting conclusions create difficulties when applying interdisciplinary methods, which highlights the need for standardisation and further research into key elements of education to reach a valid, reliable and accurate conclusion regarding the long-standing debate of private versus public schooling and beyond.

Evidence in Addiction

Introduction Edit

We define addiction as a persistent compulsive need for a substance or an activity that, in the long term, is detrimental to an individual's quality of life. Addiction is a complex topic which has created much controversy over its meaning, effects and treatment methods. This has yielded various research from different disciplines: Neuroscience, Psychology and Economics. Due to different methodologies, sources, intent and data, evidence has created tensions between the disciplines. However, when combined, they facilitate a more holistic understanding of the cause, nature and effect of addiction and therefore make useful contributions to governments' decision making to decrease the harm caused.

Evidence in Neuroscience Edit

Brain imaging technologies provide most of the evidence used in neuroscience to study addiction. Imaging shows which parts of the brain are activated during craving, satisfaction, and withdrawal. Imaging studies show that during satisfaction or craving, the prefrontal regions of the brain are activated in a pattern that involves sections of the brain associated with reward, motivation, memory, and cognitive control.[32] Imaging also shows that dopamine levels in the brain increase during craving and satisfaction and that this increase deregulates the prefrontal regions of the brain which causes a loss of rational behavior and compulsive drug intake.[33]

The main imaging technologies are positron emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). PET measures brain activity by detecting the radioactivity emitted by injected positron-emitting isotopes —regions with high radioactive activity are associated with brain activity. fMRI measures the brain activity by detecting the changes in blood oxidation —when a region of the brain is more active, it consumes more oxygen. Other imaging technologies include Computed tomography (CT), Electroencephalography (EEG), Magnetoencephalography (MEG) and Near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS).[34] However, there are limitations in the quantitative methods used in brain imaging. They do not seem to measure subjective emotions and perception.

Another source of evidence for the study addiction in neuroscience are animal models of substance use disorder. For example, a study in nonhuman primates showed how environmental factors affect neuronal circuits, in turn influencing addictive behavior. The study showed that social status, dominant or subordinate, affects dopamine receptors' expression in the brain, which then influences an individual's drug intake.[35] However is it rigorous to extrapolate results from primate testing to apply to humans, with more complex society and interactions?

Evidence in Economics Edit

Economics traditionally assumes humans displaying fully informed autonomous rational behaviour, thus understanding addiction is problematic when building supply-demand models of consumption. Evidence for addiction is usually in the context of drugs, both legal and illegal, taken from real-world case studies where independent variables are already in place for experimental analysis.

There is still a lack of control variables, but these ‘natural experiments’ are valuable because they cannot easily be synthetically recreated, for example, economists cannot simply change the drinking age for selected groups of teenagers simply to study the result on behaviour.[36] An example of identifying causality from a real-world case study is where researchers Norstrom and Skog took advantage of a phase-in of retail alcohol sales in Sewden, and studied the link of this policy with crime rates.

Data studying crime rates is also used in cost-of-illness methodologies, which provide quantitative evidence of the financial costs generated by consumption of addictive substances. These encompass both direct costs, such as those of health-care and social services, as well as indirect costs such as premature mortality, early retirement and costs relating to crime.[37] Limitations in the cost-of-illness methodology include difficulties in making precise estimations, especially for the indirect costs.[37] Additionally, indirect costs do not consider qualititative data such as burden on family members.

Price elasticity models show the ratio of change in quantity consumed to change in price, giving a more precise idea of the behavior of consumers of addictive substances.[38] For example, Caulkin discusses studies focusing on specific groups of consumers, demonstrating that marijuana consumption of high school students in the U.S. was less responsive to price changes than that of Australian adults [38]. Nevertheless, looking at elasticity evidence as an average concerning figures for drugs, addicts are grouped in with recreational drug users, so the individual personal elasticities are skewed by non-addicted users.

Evidence in Psychology Edit

Psychological methods for obtaining evidence include creating hypothetical yet functional models, for example, positive and negative reinforcement models,[39] based on controlled qualitative data provided by social experiments to identify patterns in human behavior for addiction. These experiments can be specific, measuring differing effects on individuals obtained through patient-practitioner interactions. Broader case studies are also used as evidence to support models. One study looked at treatment programs, finding that patients who had supportive and constructed relationships were more likely to benefit from the treatment, it showed a 41% variance and helps to support functional models.[40]

However, various data needs to be collected to continuously modify models.[41] For example, the positive and negative reinforcement model which is highly based on quantitative data from studies on alcoholism shows that addicts stay addicted to maintain the positive effects of the addiction and to avoid the negative side effects of withdrawal. Though this model is supported by studies done on alcohol addiction, it cannot explain why psychoactive drugs which do not have withdrawal effects can be highly addictive.

Combining Evidence in Government Intervention Edit

An interdisciplinary approach is essential in government policy-making. Governments should have a holistic view of addiction, considering evidence used by different disciplines to reduce cost to society.

Government intervention to reduce addiction has included tax increase for addictive substances, marketing bans, raising awareness through education, and legislation such as imposing a minimum age to buy a substance.

Decisions tend to be based on evidence of past world events, much of which is provided by economic data. To create innovative ideas of combatting abuse of addictive substances, using prediction models such as those used in psychology is beneficial. Rather than designing policies which fix the results of drug overuse, governments can consider ways to combat addiction at the source, by considering both qualitative and quantitative evidence, as well as ‘natural’ and ‘hypothetical’ experimental data used by the different disciplines.

To incorporate neuroscientific evidence, governments could consider theories developed from studying brain scans, explaining causes of addiction. It can also help understanding addicts' decision making. In addition, when looking at aspects of psychology such as cognition, the evidence can be more ambiguous than is presented by neuroscience. This could support by keeping ideas concrete and potentially creating effective treatments that would work physically, but also find the root cause of addiction.

Furthermore, psychology can build on neuroscience by understanding how individuals’ particular environments are more vulnerable to addiction, or to relapse after treatment. This can consequently allow economists to understand the psychology of addiction when it considers real-world case study evidence to build policies. For example, Bernheim and Rangel [42] discuss a policy of subsidising rehabilitation centers and treatment programs, with evidence from psychology illustrating that addicts are in fact rational enough to understand their condition, yet environmental factors play a large role in fostering that addiction.

This short study of evidence in addiction shows how an interdisciplinary approach is crucial when using academic research to solve real world complex issues.

References Edit

  1. Green F, Anders J, Henderson M and Henseke G. Who Chooses Private Schooling in Britain and Why? (pdf) Centre for Learning and Life Chances in Knowledge Economies and Societies, 2017.
  2. Bartlett S, Burton D. Introduction to Education Studies. SAGE publishing, 2016.
  3. Losin P. Education and Plato's Parable of the Cave. Journal of Education. 1996;178(3):49-65.
  4. Yang, PD and Cheng, YE. Educational mobility and transnationalization: a critical and culturalist perspective, in Gleason, N. (ed) Higher Education in the Era of Fourth Industrial Revolution. Singapore: Palgrave. 2018. DOI: 10.1007%2F978-981-13-0194-0_3.
  5. Middlekauff R. Ancients and axioms. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press; 1963.
  6. Coleman J. Public Schools, Private Schools, and the Public Interest. Public Interest, Summer 1981; 64:19.
  7. Neal, DA. What Have We Learned About the Benefits of Private Schooling?. Economic Policy Review, March 1998; 4:1.
  8. Rouse CE. Private School Vouchers and Student Achievement: An Evaluation of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, May 1998; 113:2, 553–602
  9. Evans WN, Schwab RM. Finishing High School and Starting College: Do Catholic Schools Make a Difference?. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, November 1995; 110:4, 941-974
  10. Horowitz JB, Spector L. Is there a difference between private and public education on college performance? Economics of Education Review, April 2005; 24:3, 189-195
  11. Bedi AS, Garg A. The effectiveness of private versus public schools: the case of Indonesia. Journal of Development Economics, April 2000; 61:2 463-494
  12. Kingdon G. The Quality and Efficiency of Private and Public Education: A Case-Study of Urban India. Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, February 1996; 58:1, 57-82
  13. Lubienski ST, Lubienski C. A New Look at Public and Private Schools: Student Background And Mathematics Achievement. (pdf) SAGE Publishing, May 2005
  14. Mancebón MJ, Muñiz MA. Private versus public high schools in Spain: disentangling managerial and programme efficiencies. Journal of the Operational Research Society, 2008; 59:7, 892-901
  15. Goldhaber DD. Public and Private High Schools: Is School Choice an Answer to the Productivity Problem?. Economics of Education Review, 1996; 15:2, 93-109
  16. Abott, D. Private Schools – Are they better or what?. 2009
  17. Morgan, W. R. (1983). Learning and student life quality of public and private school youth. Sociology of Education, 187-202.
  18. Ndaji, F., Little, J. and Coe, R. (2016). A comparison of Academic Achievement in Independent and State Schools. Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring, Durham University, p.43.
  19. Demie, Feyisa, and Christabel McLean. "Black Caribbean Underachievement in Schools in England." 2017.pdf.
  20. Bartlett, S. and Burton, D. (2016). Introduction to education studies. 4th ed. SAGE Publications Ltd, p.416.
  21. Bartlett, S. and Burton, D. (2016). Introduction to education studies. 4th ed. SAGE Publications Ltd, p.416.
  22. Farooq, M. S., Chaudhry, A. H., Shafiq, M., & Berhanu, G. (2011). Factors affecting students’ quality of academic performance: a case of secondary school level. Journal of quality and technology management, 7(2), 1-14.
  23. Ndaji, F., Little, J. and Coe, R. (2016). A comparison of Academic Achievement in Independent and State Schools. Centre for Evaluation and Monitoring, Durham University, p.43.
  24. Mcleod, Saul. Research Methods. 2017
  25. Li, H., & Prevatt, F. Fears and Related Anxieties in Chinese High School Students. School Psychology International. 2008; 29(1), 89–104.
  26. Ibid.
  27. Ibid.
  28. Gutman, L. M. & Vorhaus J. The Impact of Pupil Behaviour and Wellbeing on Educational Outcomes (pdf) Department for Education. 2012: Research Report DFE-RR253.
  29. Heller-Sahlgren, G. Smart but unhappy: Independent-school competition and the wellbeing-efficiency trade-off in education. Economics of Education Review. 2018; 62, 66-81. DOI: 10.1016/j.econedurev.2017.10.005
  30. Sugay, Celine. How to Measure Happiness With Tests and Surveys (+ Quizzes). 2019.
  31. Popp, R. K. Commercial pacification: Airline advertising, fear of flight, and the shaping of popular emotion. Journal of Consumer Culture. 2016: 16(1), pp. 61–79. DOI: 10.1177/1469540513509640.
  32. Volkow N, Fowler J, Wang G. The addicted human brain: insights from imaging studies. Journal of Clinical Investigation [Internet]. 2003;111(10):1444-1451. Available from:
  33. Volkow ND, e. (2019). Dopamine in drug abuse and addiction: results of imaging studies and treatment implications. - PubMed - NCBI. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8 Dec. 2019].
  34. Demitri, M. M.D. Types of Brain Imaging Techniques [Internet]. Psych Central. 2019 [cited 3 December 2019]. Available from:
  35. Volkow N, Fowler J, Wang G. The addicted human brain: insights from imaging studies. Journal of Clinical Investigation [Internet]. 2003;111(10):1444-1451. Available from:
  36. Caulkins, J. and Nicosia, N. (2010). Addiction and Its Sciences: What economics can contribute to the addiction sciences. Addiction, [online] 105(7), pp.1156-1163. Available at:
  37. a b Andlin-Sobocki, P. (2004). Economic evidence in addiction: a review. The European Journal of Health Economics, [online] 5(S1), pp.s5-s12. Available at:
  38. a b Caulkins, J. and Nicosia, N. (2010). Addiction and Its Sciences: What economics can contribute to the addiction sciences. Addiction, [online] 105(7), pp.1156-1163. Available at:
  39. Farber, P. D., Khavari, K. A., & Douglass, F. M. (1980). A factor analytic study of reasons for drinking: Empirical validation of positive and negative reinforcement dimensions. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 48(6), 780–781.Available from:
  40. Gifford, E, Humphreys, K. The psychological science of addiction. Addiction. SSA. 2007. Volume 102 (issue 3): pages 352-361.Available from:
  41. Robinson, E.T, Berridge, K.C. the psychology and neurobiology of addiction: an incentive-sensitization view. Addiction. SSA. 2000. Volume 95 (issue 8s2): pages 91-117. Available from:
  42. 1. Bernheim B, Rangel A. A New Economic View of Addiction [Internet]. 2005. Available from:

Power in corporate aggregation

Introduction Edit

This wikibook sheds light on the issue of power associated with the increasing trend towards aggregation that corporations are following. Aggregation refers to a company offering a variety of unrelated services. Throughout this wikibook, we also refer to “bundling”, which is defined as “the offering of multiple non-substitutable products for a single, combined price”.[1] Here we focus on both and their benefits for corporations and their effects on consumers.

Why do customers value bundling? Edit

Behavioural economics Edit

According to Hogg, “behavioural economics is the study of economic decision making in the light of advances in psychology”.[2] By focusing on “idiosyncratic psychological ways people make decisions,'' this interdisciplinary field has found that people have bounded rationality when faced with complex situations and will attempt to simplify the decision-making process.[2] Service bundling frequently caters towards that propensity.

Firstly, bundling provides convenience and facility when purchasing services. Due to cognitive limitations, including how collecting and processing all relevant information during decision-making is neither realistic nor efficient for the consumer, humans tend to adopt simple heuristics.[3] Rather than making the most economically optimal decision, consumers simplify the process by only focusing on either price, style etc.,[3] because “complex decisions are costly in time and effort”.[2] Bundling offers only “one decision point” that is the easiest and quickest choice and one provider to deal with which requires the least amount of effort. There is only one transaction taking place which is more favourable to consumers since “payments are associated with negative emotions”.[2][4] Behavioural economics stresses that “consumers are prone to inertia” because of a tendency to exert “least effort to comprehend and evaluate”.[2] Therefore, customers become susceptible to bundling as it simplifies the “mental accounting” process.[2]

Secondly, for customers, categorising their purchases clarifies their financial budgeting, makes the purchase more attractive and ensures the compatibility of the items.[5] During a purchase, the client focuses their attention on the most important product of the bundling but evaluates the total cost by adjusting with the other items. Even if the bundle price isn’t much cheaper than the combined prices of separate items, consumers prefer bundled products. Moreover, discounted prices on bundling encourage the customer to buy sooner than they otherwise would have.

Finally, when a customer builds trust with the supplier and has his products bundled, the customer is less likely to change his providers. By becoming familiar with the products of the brand, instinctively the client is not going to change his consumer habits due to the "status quo".[6] They prefer to stick to old habits and not risk a new brand. However, paradoxically, a person with less experience with the products of a brand is more likely to buy a bundle than a regular buyer.[7]

Why do companies aggregate services? Edit

Information economics Edit

Information economics explores how information affects markets and institutions and, in particular, how imperfect information creates asymmetry, which, in general terms, theorises that inefficient and sub-optimal outcomes in certain markets arise due to an imbalance in information.[8] Companies and corporations then leverage their information to gain further economic power over the consumer and market power over their competitors.

One such example is explored in United States v. Loew's Inc: A Note on Block-Booking.[9] The Supreme Court at the time banned block-booking, which was the practice of bundling films of varying popularity and selling them together to exhibitors, under the grounds that this would be compounding monopolies by using the popularity of more successful films to convince exhibitors to also buy the less successful films. Stigler points out that block-booking does not necessarily force exhibitors to pay more, disputing the Supreme Court's decision. He concludes that pricing by block is instead used to garner more profit.

Something similar happens in corporate aggregation when companies bundle services under a one-time fee or paid subscription. Notably, Amazon has done this with their Prime membership, adding more and more services since they introduced Prime in 2005.[10] Consumers and Amazon have information asymmetry, which Amazon exerts on the consumer, as the consumer has to find pricing for all of Amazon's services separately to overcome the imbalance.

Psychology Edit

Psychology focuses on the key strategy of personalisation which is often employed through the companies’ different aggregated services to ‘trap’ consumers. There are two theories in which psychology argues the merits of aggregation: sense of control[11] and information overload.

As psychology advocates, due to the unique nature of personalisation, consumers almost feel special and in control of their own experience. The need for control is felt within everyone, but particularly the consumer who is often at a loss in the exchange of goods. Moreover, the apparent choice of surrendering data further convinces consumers of a sense of control and power, playing into the intended psychological effects desired by corporations.

Information overload, whilst less prevalent in aggregation, is still an influential psychological concept. Firms limit the choices within services available, which psychologists claim reduces stress on consumers, and makes them more likely to interact with a corporation’s services[12] giving corporations power over what consumers can literally see and use.

Analysis of power from an interdisciplinary perspective Edit

Between economics and psychology, the effects of aggregation are well explored. But more broadly, economics seems to focus on the companies and markets rather than the individual consumer, which psychology covers. This means that, naturally, economics holds more relevance for businesses in terms of practical and quantitative understanding. In general, economics holds greater power in this topic than psychology from the perspective of businesses, which is the primary perspective as only businesses can decide which services to aggregate or products to bundle and the consumer is left relatively powerless.

However, the combination of economics and psychology provides a powerful modelling of human economic behaviour and shows that both disciplines are pertinent in this topic. Bringing psychology to bear on economics issues introduces new concepts such as prospect theory[13] which explains that consumer’s decisions are not always optimal. Another important theory is the dual-conform theory[14] which emphasises that consumers' judgements don't always have rational expectations and thus the cognitive biases in consumer’s decision-making need to be taken into account for a realistic prediction of behaviours. Hence, behavioural economics, as an interdisciplinary field, becomes a powerful tool in understanding “actual consumer behaviour”[2] as it offers a nuanced approach to economic theory and rational behaviour.[3]

Further power is created between the two disciplines, in particular through the oft-ignored similarities that they share, specifically on consumer behaviours. Framing effects and information overload[15] belong in both disciplinary fields and modern researchers are increasingly highlighting this fact. Especially with consumer behaviour, firms may use “price complexity”[3] or provide consumers with insufficient/too much information to make “an appropriate comparison” among bundled services.[3] This helps firms massively cultivate power as they manipulate the ideas within the disciplines to exploit consumers in the consumer-driven world today.

Aggregation is the future business model that firms are steadily adopting. This interdisciplinary approach recognises that consumers are not a monolith and thus, provides firms with the power of corporate aggregation.

Bibliography Edit

References Edit

  1. Adams W, Yellen J. Commodity Bundling and the Burden of Monopoly. The Quarterly Journal of Economics. 1976;90(3):475.
  2. a b c d e f g Hogg T. Would you like Wi-Fi with that? The behavioural economics of bundles. [Internet]. London: Plum Consulting; 2016. Available from:
  3. a b c d e Fatas E, Fletcher A, Heap S, Harker M, Hanretty C, Hviid M, Lyon B, Mariuzzo F, Mehta J, Sugden R, Price C, Zhu M. Behavioural Economics in Competition and Consumer Policy. Norwich: University of East Anglia ESRC Centre for Competition Policy; 2016: 29-33.
  4. Oppewal H, Holyoake B. Bundling and retail agglomeration effects on shopping behavior. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services. 2004;11(2):61-74.
  5. Oppewal H, Holyoake B. Bundling and retail agglomeration effects on shopping behavior. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services. 2004;11(2): 68.
  6. Lipowski M. Service Bundling from the Perspective of the Customer. Annales Universitatis Mariae Curie-Skłodowska, section H, Oeconomia. 2015;49(3): 109.
  7. Oppewal H, Holyoake B. Bundling and retail agglomeration effects on shopping behavior. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services. 2004;11(2): 74.
  8. Akerlof GA. The Market for "Lemons": Quality Uncertainty and the Market Mechanism. The Quarterly Journal of Economics. 1970;84(3):488–500.
  9. Stigler GJ. United States v. Loews Inc.: A Note on Block-Booking. The Supreme Court Review. 1963;1963:152–7.
  10. Yurieff, K (CNNMoney, New York). Everything Amazon has added to Prime over the years. [Online]. Available from [Accessed 3rd December 2018].
  11. Pacheco, N.A, Lunardo, R, Santos, C.P. A perceived-control based model to understanding the effects of co-production on satisfaction. BAR, Braz Adm Rev. 2013;10(2).
  12. Diepens CWA. Information Overload: The Impact on a Consumer’s Product Choice Online. [Bachelor thesis]. Tilburg, Netherlands: University of Tilburg; 2017.
  13. Kahneman D, Tversky A. Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk. Econometrica 1979;47(2): 263.
  14. Fatas E, Fletcher A, Heap S, Harker M, Hanretty C, Hviid M, Lyon B, Mariuzzo F, Mehta J, Sugden R, Price C, Zhu M. Behavioural Economics in Competition and Consumer Policy. Norwich: University of East Anglia ESRC Centre for Competition Policy. 2013: 13-15.
  15. Budescu D, Erev I, Rapoport A, Zwick R. Games and human behavior. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum;1999

Power in single-parent families

Single parents are a vulnerable group that exist at the intersection of three main issues affecting their wellbeing and that of their children: socioeconomic resources, psychology, and education. By considering individual disciplines, we discuss how power dynamics within and between Education, Economics and Psychology influence them.

Background Edit

It seems obvious that single parent families have existed for all of human history, whether due to separation, widowing, or parents simply being single. However, they were not studied until relatively recently: some of the earliest work began around 1920-30 (and this was neither unbiased nor rigorous)[1] and until around the 1970s, the subject was not widely studied. It may be argued that, as single parents are overwhelmingly women,[2] the delay was because this gendered social issue did not garner interest from academics until more women were academics. Possibly for this reason, relatively little research exists on single parent families.

Power inequalities remain a factor within the study of single parents. Firstly, a large majority of existing studies on single parent families were done in the “Global North”, specifically the U.S. Although some academics in recent years have attempted to compare single parenthood between different countries,[3] more research is nonetheless necessary to understand the transferability of most studies. In a similar vein, race is also being studied as a dimension of single parenthood: findings indicate single parenthood may be viewed differently in different racial subcultures,[4] although children's educational outcomes are dependent on parental relationships and involvement rather than race.[5] Finally, an unusual dynamic surrounds gender as a factor in single parenthood: most single parents are women, so single fathers are often studied separately, and with different results.[6]

Education Edit

Power in Education is the fundamental precondition for political development, democracy and social justice.[7] Education is crucial to children's futures; however, children in single-parent households experience “a greater risk of dropping out of school, of leaving home early, of poorer health, of low skills and low pay.”[8] In the ‘Global North’, governments allocate funds to education for single-parent families. In the ‘Global South’, such funds don’t exist, though education is especially vital in single-parent families in the ‘Global South’ for three reasons. Firstly, “young single mothers are even less likely to have a good education or job experience, which relegates them to low paying jobs within the range of jobs available to women in general.”[9] With lower income, mothers are less able to invest either time or money into their children's education. Secondly, “schools with more children from single-parent families deal with less effective teaching and learning time.”[10] In the ‘Global South’, schools are few and single-parent families numerous, culminating in an even greater disruption in children’s education.[11] Finally, “children might be ashamed of the fact that their parents are no longer together.[…] These emotional problems are expected to reduce children’s concentration at school and impair their educational performance.”[12] Without quality education, children have lower social mobility, and the same issues propagate to the next generation.

However, when considering the well-being of the children of single parents, if research focuses only a lack of education, it fails to consider the influence of social policy and economic security. Some studies argue that the decreased educational advantage of single parents has little effect on their disadvantage in seeking employment, or the education of their children.[13] In the midst of such disagreement, it is not enough to consider these factors in isolation; researchers must also consider their interaction.

Economics Edit

Power in Economics is the ability of an individual to improve their standard of living. It is more simply defined as the freedom one has to make decisions that benefit them, and the inability of (or inertia towards) external factors reducing that freedom.[14] An important indicator of economic power is purchasing power and, therefore, employment.[15]

Single parenthood is increasingly common among lower socioeconomic groups possessing fewer socioeconomic resources, including education; this is called the 'Diverging Destinies Thesis'[16] and is important when discussing their wellbeing. In several countries, high rates of single parents use employment to support themselves.[12] However, employment is less lucrative for single-parents, for many reasons. One of these is gendered inequality: single parenthood is highly skewed towards women,[2] and moreover gender inequality in employment has the harshest consequences for them. Their reduced likelihood of finding employment in the first place compounds with the gender wage gap, pay penalties for part-time work, and inconsistent work schedules. For women of colour, these issues are further compounded by racial biases in the labour market,[17] and age (since single mothers are often young). Women are also much likelier than men to exit employment entirely as a result of parenthood.[18]

Evidently, single-parent households are influenced greatly by a lack of economic power (which is itself heavily impacted by power in gender). Thus, families already short on socioeconomic resources lack the financial freedom to escape their cycle.

Psychology Edit

In Psychology, there are several types of power. Most significant in single-parent households is “covert negative power, which is based on passive-aggression and is manifested in behaviours indicating weakness, incompetence, and self-destructive tendencies that manipulate others in the interpersonal world by arousing their feelings of fear, guilt, and anger.”[19] This phenomenon involves a refusal to accept power over one's life, and can affect the mental health of family members.

This and other psychological factors are often detrimental in single-parent households. Figures show that children from single-parent families are twice as likely to suffer from mental health problems as those living with married parents.[20] The figures, from the ONS annual report on UK social trends, showed one-fifth of those living with a divorced, separated or widowed parent suffered from at least one disorder. In contrast, only 8% of boys living with married parents suffered from mental disorders. And for parents, studies have reported as high as a threefold risk of depression and substance use in single mothers compared to married mothers.[21]

Therefore, single parenthood becomes a clear risk factor for mental health problems for both children and adults, further increasing parents' psychological distress and difficulties,[22] which contribute to a vicious cycle by putting parents at a socioeconomic disadvantage.[23] Psychological factors often go unaddressed by public policy, possibly because psychology is seen as "soft" science.

Overall, power evidently has a significant role in single-parent families, both in their own mental health, and in how they are treated.

Conclusion Edit

The disciplines explored above clearly show that single-parent households are disadvantaged in many ways. Parents have greater economic and psychological hardship, leading to their children having difficulties in school and mental health, and ultimately having worse outcomes. While some research has explored how these factors interact,[23] there is not enough to come to a clear answer as to how best to support these families. Public policy illustrates well which disciplines are actually given weight, and it clearly reflects that socioeconomic status and education drive single-parent social policy, with psychology rarely mentioned.[24] Moving forward, researchers (and politicians) must consider single-parent families from every angle, weighing each discipline, to truly maximize outcomes.

References Edit

  1. McClure WE. Intelligence of Unmarried Mothers, II. The Psychological Clinic 1931Oct;20(5):154–7. Available from:
  2. a b Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. OECD Family Database [internet]. 2016 [cited 2019 December 8]. Available from:
  3. Wong YI, Garfinkel I, McLanahan S. Single-Mother Families in Eight Countries: Economic Status and Social Policy. Social Service Review 1993;67(2):177–97. Available from:
  4. Gabriel A, McAnarney ER. Parenthood in Two Subcultures: White, Middle-Class Couples and Black, Low-Income Adolescents in Rochester, New York. Adolescence 1983Fall;18(71):595. Available from:
  5. Gutman LM, Eccles JS. Financial Strain, Parenting Behaviors, and Adolescents' Achievement: Testing Model Equivalence between African American and European American Single- and Two-Parent Families. Child Development 1999;70(6):1464-76. Available from:
  6. Hanson SMH. Single Fathers with Custody: A Synthesis of the Literature. In Schlesinger B. The One-Parent Family in the 1980s: Perspectives and Annotated Bibliography 1978–1984. Toronto: University of Toronto Press 1985;57–96. Available from:
  7. Schaeffer U. Knowledge is power: why education matters [internet]. 2012 [cited 2019 December 7th]. Available from:
  8. Adamson P. Unicef's Child Wellbeing in Rich Countries [internet]. 2013 [cited 2019 December 1st]. Available from:
  9. Dowd NE. In Defense of Single-Parent Families. NYU Press 1997. Available from:
  10. Pong S. Family structure, school context, and eighth-grade math and reading achievement. Journal of Marriage and Family 1997Aug;59(3):734-46. doi: 10.2307/353957.
  11. van Ewijk R, Sleegers P. The effect of peer socioeconomic status on student achievement: A meta-analysis. Educational Research Review 2010;5(2):134-50. Available from:
  12. a b de Lange M, Dronkers J. The triple bind of single-parent families. Bristol University Press 2011. Available from:
  13. Härkönen J, Bernardi F, Boertien D, Eur J. Family Dynamics and Child Outcomes: An Overview of Research and Open Questions. Population 2017;33(2):163-84. Available from:
  14. Ozanne A. Power and Neoclassical Economics: A Return to Political Economy in the Teaching of Economics. Palgrave Macmillan 2016.
  15. Amadeo K. Economic Power, Who Has It, How to Get It [internet]. 2019 [cited 2019 December 8]. Available from:
  16. Mclanahan S. Diverging Destinies: How Children Are Faring Under the Second Demographic Transition. 2004
  17. Kennelly I. ‘That Single-Mother Element’: How White Employers Typify Black Women. Gender and Society 1999;13(2):168-92. Available from:
  18. Nieuwenhuis R, Need A, Van Der Kolk H. Institutional and Demographic Explanations of Women's Employment in 18 OECD Countries, 1975–1999. Journal of Marriage and Family 2012;74:614-30. Available from:
  19. Firestone R. Personal Power [internet]. Psychology Today April 2009 [cited 2019 December 7]. Available from:
  20. Batty D. Single-parent families double likelihood of child mental illness [Internet]. the Guardian 2019 [cited 7 December 2019]. Available from:
  21. Behere AP, Basnet P, Campbell P. Effects of Family Structure on Mental Health of Children: A Preliminary Study. Indian J Psychol Med 2017;39(4):457–63. doi:10.4103/0253-7176.211767.
  22. Cherlin AJ, Furstenberg FF, Jr, Chase-Lansdale L, Kiernan KE, Robins PK, Morrison DR, et al. Longitudinal studies of effects of divorce on children in Great Britain and the United States. Science 1991;252:1386–9. Available from:
  23. a b LS Beeber, Perreira KM, Schwartz T. Supporting the mental health of mothers raising children in poverty: how do we target them for intervention studies?. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 2008;1136:86-100. doi:10.1196/annals.1425.008.
  24. Cancian M, Meyer DR. Reforming Policy for Single-Parent Families to Reduce Child Poverty. RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences 2018;4(2):91-112. doi:10.7758/rsf.2018.4.2.05.

Power in Pornography

Introduction Edit

Sex work and the web (13885789827)

Neil Malauth, a psychology student at UCLA, calculated that 1 in 6 internet searches are Pornography.[1] This implies that the pornographic industry has the Power to impact a high number of internet users, shaping their views on sexuality in ways that can be both beneficial and damaging. However, as well as a sociological impact, Pornography also generates power dynamics in economics and health that manifest through inequal funds or access to health services. In this article, we will be using video pornography as a case study to exemplify how power affects these disciplines.

Sociology Edit

This section looks at how certain social groups are empowered or disempowered through pornography.

Disempowering Pornography Edit

Fluffer on set

Pornhub, among the most popular pornography websites, released its statistics for the year 2018. In the list of most searched categories, minority groups such as “Japanese”, “Ebony”, and “Lesbian” rank in the top 5, while others such as “Transgender” reside further down the list. This reflects the perpetual sexualization and fetishization of certain individuals based on their ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity, mirroring the power dynamics where one only exists through the lens of the majority as a sexual fantasy instead of an equal human being.

Titles of pornographic videos containing black, Asian or Latino actors are often very stereotypical and derogatory[2]. This not only encourages a caricatural understanding of these minority groups but it also greatly limits the opportunities of actors and contains them to a restricted set of roles. As stated earlier, transgender has become increasingly popular and mainstream and is now an important part of modern pornography[3]. However, transgender pornographic videos are synonymous with being machine-like sexual individuals, which is dangerous when this industry is one of the biggest in terms of transgender representation. This means young men, the targeted audience, get a false and damaging portrayal of transgender people, leading to high rates of violence and sexual abuse against trans women. Indeed, the report of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey organized by the National Center for Transgender Equality shows that 47% of transgender people are sexually assaulted at some point in their lifetime[4]. This reflects the power of pornographic videos to influence the viewer's mindset which creates scenes of vulnerability for minorities.

Empowering Pornography Edit

An abstract depiction of a female human back

While the impact of pornography at representing certain groups is done at a small scale today, it's arguable that pornography isn't problematic by nature but by the way it is used. The idea that damaging pornography (that objectifies certain groups through discriminatory stereotypes) is a symptom of Discrimination and Objectification in wider society rather than an origin of the latter is a view shared between multiple pornography advocates.[2][3]

The main argument in defense of pornography is that it has the power to shift sexual narratives in favor of pornography that promotes consent and health in its practice and becomes a manifestation of minority advancement and empowerment.

This is what the arising field of ethical porn seeks to establish. This area of the industry validates more 'niche' sexual preferences, broadening the spectrum of sexual liberation. The driving view is the idea articulated by Cindy Gallop that, “When you force anything into the darkness, you make it much easier for bad things to happen, ... The answer is to open up.” [4]

This could explain why a study undertaken at Minnesota State University wrote: "Two qualitative studies have found that gay, bisexual, and queer men report very few negative effects of porn consumption.".[5] While pornography can be degrading for certain minorities, it also validates various sexual preferences that illustrate the capacity of pornography to empower certain groups.

Similarly, some Liberal Feminists use the influence of pornography as a medium for sexual liberation and personal fulfillment.[6]

The power within pornography is its nature as an outlet for people with particular sexual fantasies to escape repression and find liberation. Brian McNair introduces this notion in 2002 as the 'democratization of desire" in his book, Striptease Culture: Sex, media and the democratization of desire.[7]

Economics Edit

The pornographic industry's revenues are estimated to be worth $97 billion a year globally.[8] This sum is divided amongst different talents such as writers, directors, sound technicians, actors, and more. However, as in many industries, inequalities of remuneration exist between different jobs which reflect the power dynamics of income inequalities.

The industry contains payment inequalities firstly between genders where, interestingly, men are paid less than women. An actress receives between $800 and $1000 per scene, while a man receives $500 to $600, almost twice as less.[9] This difference illustrates women's economic power over men in pornography as they are considered to be central to financial gain.

Ethnicity and sexuality also determine the remuneration of actors. Income can vary up to 40% depending on the ethnic origin of an actor. An actress from Eastern Europe gains 30% to 40% more than a French or English actress.

Furthermore, in the USA African-American actors gain nearly half as much as a caucasian actor.[10] A white actress can double her payment if she performs in a scene with a black man.[11] This is because these arrangements are considered "unusual" which increases their popularity.[12] These financial inequalities highlight the issue of power in economics.

Health Edit

The area of health, concerning the wellbeing of actors, relates to the issue of power in pornography through inequality in access to services and influence over the use of preventive measures.

The lack of access to health resources for adult film actors results from the freelance nature of their work. As described by Danny Wylde, actors are paid for individual jobs. They, therefore, lack health insurance or any facilitated access to health services. Danny Wylde's career was ruined because of the industry's excessive use of Sildenafil (viagra).[13]

Erectile dysfunction (Erection)

There is an increase in STDs within the porn industry: nearly 50% of 168 actors studied were either tested positive to having chlamydia, gonorrhea or both.[14] These actors are exposed more frequently to STDs and STIs yet receive no health support once infected.

However, in the Netherlands, sex workers are "encouraged but not required" to have screenings for diseases and infections multiple times a year.[15] and are protected by free government-funded healthcare. This validates sex work as a profession and implies that adult film actors aren't faced with inequalities in access to healthcare.

Another representation of power in pornography is the disapproval of the use of condoms which undeniably increases transmissions between actors. A study found that filmmakers believe the use of condoms decreases the "marketability" of porn, resulting in a minimal percentage of heterosexual porn being shot using such preventive measures, encouraging workers to put themselves at risk.[16] These power dynamics within pornography pervade the disciplines of health and economics.

Conclusion Edit

It is clear that power is an issue that permeates a number of disciplines, in this case, economics, sociology, and health, which we have illustrated through the analysis of power dynamics and inequalities in the pornographic industry.

References Edit


Power of the Unconscious in Decision Making

Introduction Edit

The concept of the unconscious was developed in the early twentieth century by Sigmund Freud. Defined as the ‘reservoir of feelings, thoughts, urges, and memories outside of our conscious awareness', he proposed that the ‘unconscious’ guides and justifies most of human behaviour.[1]

Freud's conception of the human mind

Freud's conceptions did not achieve much conclusive support among scientists then. However, today, greater emphasis has been given to unconscious mental processes by “individuals working in different disciplines, on different problems, but linked by a common goal of wishing to elucidate the properties of the mind"[2]

Specifically, this work focuses on the role of the unconscious in decision making, where "a preferred option or a course of actions is chosen from among a set of alternatives based on certain criteria".[3] It discusses the power of the unconscious within Neuropsychology, Economics and Sociology; and address its implications in Law.

A Neuropsychological Perspective of Decision-making Edit

Overview of decision making : A complex brain process Edit

Experiments have demonstrated that the decision-making behavior was mainly associated with the prefrontal cortex. Decision-making comprises of two processes: Evaluation and Classification. Evaluation involves a judgment based upon different options, compared to a set of normative goals. Whereas, Classification involves comparing and evaluating the possible outcomes of the available options.

There are four levels to decision-making:

The first is reached automatically, namely a recognition-primed decision; the second defines a decision based upon one’s values to prefer one option. The third incorporates long-term or contextual information, opening for emotional weight. Finally, the last level consists of unprecedented decisions, leading new options to be created.[4]

Role of the Unconscious in Decision-making Edit

Scientists have been led to think that choices are the result of an elaborate conscious process. However, neuropsychological studies have proven the contrary. American brain scientist, Benjamin Libet, conducted an experiment[5] aimed at discerning the inner brain activity when one makes a decision. He discovered the so-called "readiness-potential",[6] a brain signal occurring a fraction of a second before the decision was consciously made. Although results can be debated, this experiment challenges our perception of “free will”. From this perspective, humans’ consciousness is not responsible for making a decision, the brain is.

A Sociological Perspective Edit

Sociologists have increasingly been arguing that 'the social world leaves enduring imprints on individuals' minds which then serve as foundations for these individuals' future actions'.[7] Studies have emphasized the importance of social interaction in understanding the role of the unconscious in choice-making. Constructed environments and human interactions within it are two contributing social contextual factors.

Constructed Environments Edit

Socially constructed environments include, for instance, schools and neighbourhoods. People’s choices are highly sensitive to “features of choice environments.” [8] For example, research explored how conditions of scarcity— with regards to time, resources and energy— can mold individuals' decisions.[9] Through vast experiments, it is shown that time pressure or poverty tends to lead to fewer humans' subconscious trade-offs. Furthermore, social norms derived from a culture within a context is another significant factor forming the unconscious part of decision-making.

The Group of "Others" Edit

'The more similar the comparison situation is to one’s own, the more powerful the effect of others’ behavior.'.[10] Other than the environment, the impact of 'other individuals' is also remarkable when understanding unconscious decisions. According to social categorization theory, individuals usually perceive people around as members of one’s “ingroup” (like me) and “outgroup”(not like me), and people tend to support or act like fellow members.[11] This concept is also revealed in peer influence— individuals show they belong to a group by adopting a taste or an action. The need for a sense of belonging and social approval is the underlying cause of unconscious decision making.

The Unconscious within Behavioral Economics Edit

Behavioral economics Edit

While decision-making is unconsciously affected by emotions or external factors, we can perceive humans as unpredictable actors [12] as opposed to classic economists assumption that humans are rational. Behavioral economists tend to anticipate irrational decisions by dissecting the unconscious decision making process through a psychological lens to understand the consumer's brain and thus adjust marketing strategies.[13]

Unconscious consumption patterns Edit

Several patterns have been highlighted by behavioral economists. According to David Brooks in The Social Animal, individuals proceed to a choice architecture before making decisions, relying on few principles. One of these principles notably illustrates that we make choices based on comparison. He also stated that ‘Every decision gets framed within a certain linguistic context’. Indeed, if the formula ‘Limited Units’ appears next to a product, the consumer is likely to buy more units than he would normally. Likewise, the environment in which we consume (odours, music...) is also highly influential.[14] Therefore, depending on our unconscious emotional state, external factors can seriously influence if not control economic choices.

Overall, the concept of unconsciousness provides economists and market researchers with a new perspective to understand consumer behaviors, empowering them to better coordinate the market and the economy.

Implications of Unconscious Bias in Law Edit

The concept of an unconscious bias was introduced as 'the new science of unconscious mental processes...(with) substantial bearing on discrimination law'.[15] They are beliefs and stereotypes about certain social groups that develop outside of a person's conscious awareness explaining why people act on them without meaning to.[16]

While fairness is striven for, implicit bias and its implications on decision-making compromises this right. As racial disparities pervade the system, discussions about bias in this context mostly surround implicit racial biases. Across studies, there is consensus that people of colored skin are victims of inequality arising from bias. For example, black defendants have a higher possibility of being treated harshly in the courtroom as opposed to their white counterparts. Similarly, juries often exhibit bias against defendants of a race different from that of the majority.[17]

From this, we witness how the unconscious helps perpetuate cycles of inequality. Hence, the awareness and understanding of unconsciouness is fundamental to eliminating discrimination and reshaping power dynamics in our society.

Power of the Unconscious in Decision-Making as an Interdisciplinary Issue Edit

Developments in the role of the unconscious within decision-making across disciplines have contributed to the philosophical debate around free will, where individuals are self-determined. Accepting the unconscious as the driving force of our decision making process implies that free will is an illusion.[18][19] This view inevitably challenges the foundation of disciplines and their way of approaching issues. For instance, in law, presuming that free will is an illusion undermines the criminal legal system by putting into question the moral responsibility of individuals.[20][21]

If we live in a society governed by the unconscious and its biases, what then are the implications for interdisciplinary research? Do experts possess unconscious biases against their counterparts from other disciplines? Do they unconsciously undermine research done by experts of a different ethnicity or gender?

In this wikibook, we have explored how the concept of the unconscious revolutionized ways of thinking across disciplines. Furthermore, we have highlighted how unconscious decision-making can perpetuate inequality in society, and potentially create barriers in interdisciplinary research.

References Edit

  1. S. Freud. L'inconscient. Métapsychologie. 1915
  2. Tallis F. Hidden Minds: A History of the Unconscious. 2002.
  3. Wang Y, Ruhe G. The Cognitive Process of Decision Making. International Journal of Cognitive Informatics and Natural Intelligence. 2007;.
  4. K. G. Volz, R. I. Schubotz, D. I. Cramon. 'Decision-making and the frontal lobes'. Current Opinion in Neurology. 2006. Available from
  5. Libet Experiments. Information Philsopher. December 3. Available from:
  6. Readiness Potential and Neuronal Determinism: New Insights on Libet Experiment. Journal of NeuroScience. 2018. Available from:
  7. Lawrence W. Active Intuition: The Patterned Spontaneity of Decision-Making. 22 October 2018.Available from:
  8. Elizabeth B, Fred F. Decision-Making Processes in Social Contexts, Annual Review of Sociology. 2017. Available from:
  9. Elizabeth B, Fred F. Decision-Making Processes in Social Contexts, Annual Review of Sociology. 2017. Available from:
  10. Elizabeth B, Fred F. Decision-Making Processes in Social Contexts, Annual Review of Sociology. 2017. Available from:
  11. Evelyn C., Mary M. Group-based Differences in Perceptions of Racism: What Counts,to Whom, and Why Social and Personality Psychology Compass. 2015. Available from:
  12. Gino Fr. The Rise of Behavioral Economics and Its Influence on Organizations. Harvard Business Review. 2017. Available from
  13. Partington Ri. What is behavioral economics ?. The Guardian. 2017. Available from
  14. Piyanka Ja. 5 Behavioral Economics Principles Marketers Can’t Afford to Ignore, Forbes. 2018. Available from
  15. Greenwald A, Krieger L. Implicit Bias: Scientific Foundations. California Law Review. 2006;94(4).
  16. Brownstein M. Attributionism and Moral Responsibility for Implicit Bias. Review of Philosophy and Psychology. 2015;7(4).
  17. Berghoef K. What Does Implicit Bias Really Mean? [Internet]. ThoughtCo. 2019 [cited 4 December 2019]. Available from:
  18. Sam Harris. The Illusion of Free Will. 2012. Available from
  19. Cave St. There’s No Such Thing as Free Will. The Atlantic. 2016. Available from
  20. English Ro. Guilty, but not responsible ?. The Guardian. 2012. Available from
  21. Flynn Ja. Neurolaw: Criminal Justice in a World without Free Will. Brown Political Review. 2018. Available from

Power and Pregnancy

Introduction Edit

As the source of human species renewal, pregnancy can be considered the ultimate source of power. However, while it is the female body that is the physical source of this power, a cross-disciplinary examination shows that often it is controlled by, and serves the interests of, individuals, groups, or ideas other than the woman herself.[1]

Power is generally seen as either ‘power over’[2] or ‘power to’,[3][4] with diversity within these categories. This chapter approaches the issue from 4 disciplinary perspectives, each with different conceptualisations of power both now and in their past.

Medical History Edit

Fragment of Hippocratic oath, Papyrus

Physicians exist in a place of hypothetical power over life, as illustrated by the Hippocratic oath, whereby the cultural necessity to believe that physicians are benevolent is underpinned by the potential for harm. This tenuous contract between those who have knowledge and those reliant on it is inescapably reliant on a power imbalance. Pregnant women do not fit into this paradigm: as harbinger of life, they become active subjects, causing a backlash to realign the power dynamics. Doctors take up the role of ‘special bodies of public power’ and ‘institutions of coercion’[5] in ways bodies like the police cannot. Normally emphasis on the human relationship between the physician and patient curtails this, but when societal status quo is threatened, doctor-patient interpersonal relationships become oppressive, feeding into the discipline as a whole. For example James Marion Sims, the ‘father of modern gynecology’,[6] routinely experimented on pregnant black slaves without anaesthesia or any modern conception of consent. Female slaves’ lack of agency over their high pregnancy rate echoed their lack of cultural or political power as commodities creating more commodities. Sims was a ‘special body’ wielding power over his patients, as the dehumanisation of slaves made the Hippocratic Oath irrelevant. When Sims later operated - with anaesthesia - on white women his work was denounced as invasive, ‘reckless and lethal’, illustrating how the power of pregnancy is contextual. Sims’ techniques allowed the cure of vesico-vaginal fistula. A vaginal speculum and a rectal examination position are named after him.

Biological and Social Evolution Edit


An understanding of power as physical ability can be applied to the physical and social evolution of human beings. From a medical perspective, the nine month gestation period puts women in a position of physical dependency. The obstetrical dilemma suggests childbirth is more difficult for humans than other species, due mainly to the size of the foetus’ head. Humans are an altricial species: the infant is born neurologically underdeveloped compared to similar species because the mother’s body would not be able to birth a child with a more developed brain. Human childbirth significantly diminishes the mother’s physical power. Furthermore, altricial species are born immobile and helpless, and must be cared for extensively by the mother. The Energetics of Gestation and Growth (EGG) hypothesis [7] contests the obstetrical dilemma by suggesting that women give birth when their body reaches the maximum metabolic rate for survival. While the reasons given are different, both theories claim that childbirth pushes the mother's physical power to absolute capacity.


Studies have shown that historically women’s social status was dependent on how much they could provide for the community. Previously, in hunter-gatherer societies women’s gathering provided three times more calories than men’s hunting,[8] but the Neolithic Revolution lead to settlement and farming, to which male physical strength was more suited. Women were less able to contribute to the production economy, and turned to domestic work.

Settlement, a social phenomenon, may have influenced biological evolution by enabling a carbohydrate-rich diet that altered foetal anatomy to make them shorter and fatter,[9] thus further complicating pregnancy and cementing the male-female division of labour that remains prominent to this day. [10]

Sociology Edit

Arnold Van Gennep described a rites of passage as an individual's journey from a group to another, characterised by the stages of separation, liminality and aggregation. For nine months, the expectant mother inhabits the vulnerable stage of liminality- belonging neither to her old life as a lone individual nor to her new life as a mother.

Sociologists Warren and Brewis researched the distress felt by pregnant women at the lack of jurisdiction over their changing body in the context of the Western obsession with body modification.[11] Calming personal gestures such as touching the pregnant belly can be an expression of a deeper anxiety about personal bodily autonomy, and serve to domesticate a foreign body. The normalisation of others touching the belly, usually a breach of acceptable social behaviour, shows that the baby is already separate from the mother, belonging more to society.[12]

Even before childbirth, the mother is expected to put the interests of the foetus above her own, a principle that extends into motherhood more broadly.

While there has long been a pressure for women to remain attractive throughout their lives, the obsession with getting back into shape postpartum is intense. The Romanisation[13] of pregnancy sells an image far divorced from the heavy physical realities. The sexualisation of pregnancy, such as in photoshoots by Demi Moore are equally glorifying. However, the performative aspect can be both distressing and empowering, considering that in the past women have been completely isolated and deprived of their sexual power.

Political Geography Edit

Historically, pregnancy has been a demographic resource that has been controlled in order to increase a nation’s geographical, material and ideological power.[14][15] Foucault described such population control techniques as ‘biopower’.

Different economic systems have favoured various types of geopolitical power, while remaining heavily dependent on population

Annual birth rate, Romania

The Mercantilist focus on promoting domestic industry lead to major efforts to increase the working population to increase production and gain material power[16]. Writers like Jean Francois Melon[17] proposed population-control measures that were implemented throughout Europe. As well as maximising domestic production, nations used their colonies to provide essential goods, and ensured stability within these by encouraging the growth of the settler population;[18] for instance, shipping young brides across the Atlantic for male settlers. While the immediate gain was material power, settler colonialism ultimately brought geographic power, and permanently changed the ethnic and cultural landscape.

European Communist states sought material power, as success legitimised Communism to the Capitalist world. Most did not regulate fertility, with the exception of Romania and Bulgaria, which issued bans on abortion.[19] However, Romania did not seek autonomy from the West,[20] but from the Soviet Union, after its rejection of internationalism in 1964. The new generation was an experiment in the “political reconstruction of the family”.[21][22]

Within Western capitalism, it is the relational power between intergovernmental organisations that is increasingly sought-after. The post-industrial shift from the manufacturing sector to the service sector has meant that population growth no longer equals economic growth, marking a sharp decline in economically-driven population control.[23]

Conclusion Edit

Hannah Arendt[24] describes power as something that “springs up” between people and “vanishes when they disperse”. While the above disciplines have wildly different understandings of power, they are all inherently relational. At a fundamental level they concern the relationship between the pregnant mother and the rest of the world, be it be through her gynaecologist, her anatomy, her culture, her society, her identity, or her state.

References Edit

  1. O'Brien M., The Politics of Reproduction, Unwin Hyman; 1983.
  2. T. Waters and D. Waters,Weber's Rationalism and Modern Society: New Translations on Politics, Bureaucracy, and Social Stratification, Chapter 7: Politics as vocation, New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2015
  3. Dowding K. Rational Choice and Political Power, Aldershot: Edward Elgar; 1991.
  4. Pitkin H. Wittgenstein and justice, Berkeley: University of California Press; 1993.
  5. Friedrich Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and State, 1884
  6. [1] Sara Spettel and Mark Donald White, The Portrayal of J. Marion Sims’ Controversial Surgical Legacy, Division of Urology, Department of Surgery, Albany Medical College, Albany, New York
  7. [2] Dunswort, Warrener, Deacon, Ellison, and Pontzerd, Metabolic hypothesis for human altriciality, 2012
  8. [3] Torben Iversen and Frances McCall Rosenbluth, Explaining Occupational Gender Inequality: Hours Regulation and Statistical Discrimination, 2011, Seattle Washington
  9. [4] Barras,The real reasons why childbirth is so painful and dangerous, BBC, 2016
  10. [5] Casper Worm Hansen, Peter Sandholt Jensen, Christian Skovsgaard, Gender Roles and Agricultural History:The Neolithic Inheritance, 2015
  11. [6],S. Warren, J.Brewis, Matter over mind? Examining the experience of pregnancy, Sage Publications, 2004
  12. [7] Sally Raskoff,Pregnancy and social interactions,, 18 July 2013
  13. [8] Kelly Oliver, Knock Me Up, Knock Me Down, Columbia University Press, 2012
  14. Flint C, Introduction to geopolitics. 2nd ed, Abingdon: Routledge; 2011.
  15. Painter J, Jeffrey A. Political Geography. 1st ed., London: SAGE; 2009.
  16. Overbeek, J. (1973). Mercantilism, physiocracy and population theory. Honolulu: Population Institute, East-West Center
  17. Melon J.F. Essai politique sur le commerce, Paris, Guillaumin, 1736
  18. [9] Gordon N, Ram M, Ethnic cleansing and the formation of settler colonial geographies, 2016
  19. Gal S, Klingman G. The Politics of Gender after Socialism. 1st ed., Chichester: Princeton University Press; 2000.
  20. [10] M. Percival, M. Britain's ‘Political Romance’ with Romania in the 1970s,
  21. Kligman G. The politics of duplicity. 1st ed., University of California Press; 1998.
  22. Iepan F. Children of the Decree. Romania; 2004 (film)
  23. Gimenez M. Marx, Women and capitalist social reproduction, Brill
  24. Arendt H. The human condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press; 1958.

Power in Guilt

Introduction Edit

Guilt can be defined as doing something which breaks legal or moral laws.[1] However, the feeling of guilt does not always overlap with factual guilt. The study of guilt is difficult, insofar as there are power conflicts between the social construction of guilt and its biological basis. This WikiBook will focus on the perception of guilt through the perspective of (the sociology of) religion (Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christianity), law and biology.

Biology of Guilt Edit

Diagram showing location of the Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex within a human brain.

The neurological root of guilt as a withdrawal emotion remains somewhat ambiguous. However, studies comparing the brain circuitry of individuals with psychiatric disorders against those without such conditions furthered research on the Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex (vmPFC) and its interactions with the Orbitofrontal Cortex (OFC)[2] as a determinant in guilt-specific emotion.[3] A correlation could be drawn between the increased frequency of antisocial behaviour, seemingly void of such mediating emotions as guilt, and the dysfunction of the OFC and vmPFC regions of the brain. With such dysfunctions arising from both injury and developmental abnormalities,[2] it could be argued that the role of physical anatomy in guilt perception is conclusive. Even so, any external, social influence must be mediated via such structures[4] and so is inevitably susceptible to their influence.

From an evolutionary perspective, guilt can be seen as an indicator of altruism[5] and so, in turn, a promoter of social cohesion.[6][7] This perspective, however, ignores the individualist advantage that is key to allow guilt to act as an evolutionarily stable strategy in natural selection.[8] The most frequent conclusion is that guilt serves to mediate the behaviour of an individual against transgressive actions, to establish a stable role within their social structures and so optimise the likelihood of survival to reproduce.[9]

Perhaps unlike social factors, that vary among different communities, the influence of biology on emotional decision making holds power in its universality and ability to provide empirical evidence. This is, however, a potential issue in terms of research. Whilst the discipline is universal, it is not individually comprehensive. To study the topic of guilt from a solely biological perspective ignores the vast social structures that drive perceptions of guilt across the world.[5][7]

Socio-Theological Perspective Edit

Christianity remains a prominent religion today, with its 2 billion followers[10] projected to rise to nearly 3 billion by 2050.[11] Thus, Christian notions such as guilt and penance remain powerful for many people. One would assume that, with religion being dogmatic, their definitions would be constant, but differences in interpretation of Scripture and outside influences mean that this is not the case. This complicates their study.


The condemnation of (acts of[12][13]) homosexuality has led, for example, to a lot of internal conflict for religious homosexuals[14] and complications for the legalisation of gay marriage.[15] It has, however, been suggested that there is no reason to interpret Scripture as “anti-homosexual”.[16] It may then be the case that it is not necessarily the dogma itself that perpetuates the homophobia in religion, but rather an interpretation assigned by intolerant individuals which has remained dominant today.

The church has historically had to tailor its doctrines to economic and political factors to retain its power; this can be seen in the case of "indulgences" as penance (giving money to the Catholic Church to receive partial pardon of sins), which was encouraged by Pope Innocent III in order to finance his Crusade projects.[17] Indulgences (especially on behalf of the wealthy), however, do not seem to quite fit the usual definition of penance: "...undergoing some penalty as an expression of sorrow for sin or wrongdoing".[18] A similar argument may be made for the construction of the church Our Lady of Kazan,[19] whereby an entrepreneur was convinced by a priest to contribute heavily through being told this would constitute penance.


Religion is a powerful factor that influences people's perceptions of guilt, but its own definitions are arguably heavily influenced by factors like economics, politics, and the prejudices of its interpreters. This makes it harder to arrive at a definite conclusion as to what said definitions are and thus even harder to study them and solve pressing real-world problems.

Legal Perspective Edit

Legally speaking, there is a distinction between legal guilt and factual guilt. Factual guilt is concerned with the plain fact whether the suspect committed a crime, i.e. broken the law,[20] or not. However, in order to convict someone of a crime, it needs to be proven. Therefore, someone can be factually guilty, but without proper evidence, they would be considered legally innocent.[21]

The Case of the Norfolk Four Edit

On July 7, 1997, in Norfolk, Virginia, eighteen-year-old Michelle Bosko was raped and murdered in her apartment. Her body was found by her husband the next day. The first suspect, Danial Williams, confessed after eight hours of interrogation and threats of the death penalty. However, his DNA did not match the crime scene’s and police turned to Joseph Dick, Jr. He confessed under similar circumstances, but his DNA was not a match either. The pattern continued until, seven men were accused of the crime, four of which confessed. Even after the actual killer, Omar Ballard, confessed to having committed the crime alone, the four suspects were charged and the last ones only exonerated in 2016.[22]

Surprisingly, ¼ of wrongful convictions involve false confessions. This is mainly due to the psychological tactics police officers use to get confessions via the power imbalance between suspect and interrogator. Often, police officers are over-confident in their ability to tell apart those who are lying or not.[23] Together with long interrogations, threats of harsher punishments, or even promises of leniency, coupled with the provision of false evidence, they are able to get confessions out of innocent victims, either because they see no way out, or they might have become convinced of their own guilt.[24] This conviction can go as far as apologising to the victim's family for a crime one did not commit, as was the case with Joseph Dick.[25]

The suspect's changed perspective on their own guilt makes it even more difficult to study. Confessions are not reliable, in or outside the court of law, if the suspects themselves are not sure of the facts anymore. The determination of legal guilt, therefore, needs to rely more on biological evidence than the malleable memory of the suspects.

Conclusion Edit

Whilst biology may have apparent power in its ability to rationalise an ambiguous concept and produce data that is universal to all humans, no matter of location or religion, it would be arrogant to extrude it as the sole influence in guilt and so ignore the power of huge structures (i.e. religion and the legal system) that drive social perceptions of guilt.

Ultimately, no-one specific discipline can produce complete research into the perception of guilt. Such research requires the evaluation of power dynamics that twist both how we perceive guilt in our social communities and then how such perceptions are processed through our biology. Therefore the recognition and critique of sources of power in such disciplines is essential to allow comprehensive and representative research.

References Edit

  1. Oxford English Dictionary [Internet]. [Place unknown]: Oxford University Press; [year unknown].guilt, n.; [cited 2019 Dec 07]; [about 8 screens]. Available from:
  2. a b Wagner, U., N'Diaye, K., Ethofer, T. and Vuilleumier, P. (2011). Guilt-specific processing in the prefrontal cortex.. 1st ed. [ebook] Geneva: Department of Neuroscience, University Medical School, University of Geneva, p.1. Available at: [Accessed 4 Dec. 2019].
  3. Hiser, J. and Koenigs, M. (2018). The Multifaceted Role of the Ventromedial Prefrontal Cortex in Emotion, Decision Making, Social Cognition, and Psychopathology.. 1st ed. [ebook] Madison: Department of Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Available at: [Accessed 30 Nov. 2019].
  4. Stevens, J. (2019). 1st ed. [ebook] Lincoln: University of Nebraska, Department of Psychology, p.289. Available at: [Accessed 31 Nov. 2019].
  5. a b O'Connor, C. (2016). Guilt, Games, and Evolution | Emotion Researcher. [online] Available at: [Accessed 29 Nov. 2019].
  6. Jaffe, K., Florez, A., Manzanares, M., Jaffe, R., Gomes, C., Rodriguez, D. and Achury, C. (2014). On the Bioeconomics of Shame and Guilt. 1st ed. [ebook] Journal of Bioeconomics. Available at: [Accessed 4 Dec. 2019].
  7. a b ScienceDaily. (2019). Why We May Feel Guilty. [online] Available at: [Accessed 30 Nov. 2019].
  8. Rosenstock, S. and O'Connor, C. (2018). When it’s Good to Feel Bad: Evolutionary Models of Guilt and Apology. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 Dec. 2019].
  9. Breggin, P. (2015). The biological evolution of guilt, shame and anxiety: A new theory of negative legacy emotions. Medical Hypotheses, [online] 85(1), p.Abstract. Available at: [Accessed 29 Nov. 2019].
  10. Hackett C, Grim B. Global Christianityː A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population [Internet]. Pew Research Centre; 2011 p. 9. Available from:
  11. Hackett C, Connor P, Stonawski M, Skirbekk V. The Future of World Religions: Population Growth Projections, 2010-2050 [Internet]. Pew Research Center; 2015 p. 59. Available from:
  12. Saint Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, permission from Amministrazione Del Patrimonio Della Sede Apostolica. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Edition [Internet]. "Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." (...) Under no circumstances can they be approved." Available fromː
  13. Orthodox Church in America. Synodal Affirmations on Marriage, Family, Sexuality, and the Sanctity of Life [Internet]. 1992. "Homosexuality is to be approached as the result of humanity’s rebellion against God, and so against its own nature and well-being. It is not to be taken as a way of living and acting for men and women made in God’s image and likeness. (....) [People with homosexual tendencies] are to seek assistance in discovering the specific causes of their homosexual orientation, and to work toward overcoming its harmful effects in their lives." Available from:
  14. Pietkiewicz, I. and Kołodziejczyk-Skrzypek, M. (2016). Living in Sin? How Gay Catholics Manage Their Conflicting Sexual and Religious Identities. Archives of Sexual Behavior, [online] 45(6), pp.1573-1585. Available at: [Accessed 7 Dec. 2019].
  15. The Editors of the Encyclopædia Britannica. "Same-sex marriage". Encyclopædia Britannica [Internet]. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc.; September 28, 2019. Retrieved on December 8, 2019. Available fromː
  16. Witt, Rev. C. Homosexuality and the Bible [Internet]. Holy Redeemer M. C. C. 1995. Available from:
  17. Lawrence G. Duggan. "Indulgences". Encyclopædia Britannica [Internet]. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc.; November 25, 2015. Retrieved December 8, 2019. "...and the popes even encouraged it, especially Innocent III (reigned 1198–1216) in his various Crusading projects. (From the 12th century onward the process of salvation was therefore increasingly bound up with money.)" Available fromː
  18. Oxford English Dictionary [Internet]. [Place unknown]: Oxford University Press; [year unknown]. penance, n.; [cited 2019 Dec 07]; [about 8 screens]. Italicisation of 'penalty' and 'sorrow' on behalf of section editor. Available from:
  19. Köllner T. "Works of Penance: New Churches in Post-Soviet Russia". In: Verkaaik O, ed. by. Religious Architecture: Anthropological Perspectives [Internet]. 1st ed. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press; 2013 [cited 8 December 2019]. p. 83-98. Available from:
  20. Thomas DA, Bernard TJ, Allott AN, Clarke DC, Edge ID. Britannica Academic [Internet]. [Place unknown]: Encyclopaedia Brittanica; [Date unknown]. Crime; 2008 January 11 [updated 2012 March 26; cited 2019 December 6]. Available from:
  21. Chamberlin Law Firm [Internet]. Florida: Chamberlin Law Firm; [Date unknown]. In the courtroom – the difference between legal and factual guilt; 2018 March 15 [cited 2019 December 6]. Available from:
  22. Schaffer M, Possley M. The National Registry of Exonerations [Internet]. [Place unknown]:University of California Irvine Newkirk Center for Science & Society, Michigan State University College of Law, University of Michigan Law School; 2012. Joseph Dick, Jr.; 2016 Dec 22 [updated 2018 Dec 4; cited 2019 Dec 6]. Available from:
  23. Ainsworth J. Why Do Innocent People Confess to Crimes They Did Not Commit? A Consideration of the Linguistic and Psychological Characteristics of False Confessions and Forensic Linguistic Suggestions for Reforms to Prevent Conviction of the Innocent. In: Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Law, Language and Discourse: Multiculturalism, Multimodality and Multidimensionality; 2012 Apr 20-23; Hangzhou, China. Marietta, Georgia, USA: The Americans Scholars Press; 2013. Available from:
  24. Herbert I. The psychology and Power of False Confessions. APS Observer Magazine [Internet]. 2009 Dec [cited 2019 Dec 06]; 22(10):[page number unknown]. Available from:
  25. Berlow A. What Happened in Norfolk? The New York Times Magazine [Internet]. 2007 Aug 19 [cited 2019 Dec 07]. Available from:

Power in Blaxploitation Cinema

Poster for Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971), the film generally regarded as kickstarting the Blaxploitation genre.

Blaxploitation is a subgenre of exploitation films produced in the 1970s, which controversially exploited 'symbolic meanings of blackness' to entice a growing audience of African-American cinemagoers.[1] These films were produced by a predominantly black crew and were the first to depict strong black protagonists backed by a supporting cast of relatable black characters.[2] However, these films have been criticised due to their excessive use of violence, profanity and sexualised content and their potential impact on black youth.[3]

The impact of these films can be analysed from a range of disciplinary perspectives. Whilst an economist may view the subgenre as a successful venture that generated an income for studios and helped to revitalise a dying industry, a film studies scholar or moral philosopher may make arguments that delve beyond financial success and consider the context and social impact that blaxploitation films have had.

Economics Edit

History Edit

Historically, the study of economic ideas had traditionally been the realm of moral philosophy. However, as economic systems became more complex throughout the Renaissance and Enlightenment periods, so too did their study. In the 19th century, scholars specialised in the subject and academic journals and textbooks such as Marshall’s Principles of Economics were published, heralding the professionalisation of economics as an academic discipline. As a discipline, economics focuses on production and dealing with phenomena such as prices, money and markets.[4] When looking at Blaxploitation cinema, applied microeconomic theory could be used to establish whether the films benefited the economy and its agents. Economic principles surrounding resource allocation and the demographics of the labour pool can be considered by economists when viewing the Blaxploitation film movement.

Economics in Blaxploitation Cinema Edit

Profit and loss is a key principle of microeconomic theory, a concept which stems from the supply and demand curve. This makes is easy to make an economic argument in favour of Blaxploitation as the films generated a lot of money and helped to revitalise a declining industry. It is especially important to consider the economic situation of Hollywood after the U.S. Supreme Court antitrust ruling of 1948 in which the main studios lost their monopoly on the film industry.[5] The movie Shaft, for example, is claimed to have saved the studio MGM from bankruptcy as it grossed over $16 million after its first year.[6]

Blaxploitation films enabled the development of black producers, directors and actors, welcoming a more diverse specialist workforce to Hollywood. On a local level, this reduced unemployment and aided the development of the black workforce. Jim Brown reiterates this view stating that: "Maybe the Black films weren't of the highest quality, but Black people were getting experience in the industry".[7] Dr Eithne Quinn, a historian at the University of Manchester, although recognising the violent and sexual nature of movies such as Shaft and Superfly, acknowledges the fact that there have rarely ever been more black workers on a film production in US history.[8]

Film Studies Edit

History Edit

A photograph of Richard Roundtree, who was an iconic actor during the 1970s starring in films such as "Shaft".

Film studies emerged as a discipline in the 20th century, as scholars became interested in the artistic, cultural and political character of cinema and its impact on society.[9] Film studies is tied to film theory, which emerged in the early 20th century, and reiterated the relationship between cinema and “society at large”[10] including the impact of individual viewers. Louis Delluc, a French film Director, affirmed that “cinema will make us all comprehend the things of this world as well as force us to recognize ourselves.''[11]

Film Studies in Blaxploitation Cinema Edit

Certain film critics judged Blaxploitation films based solely on their aesthetic quality. For example, Clayton Riley saw 'Shaft' as lacking both style and substance.[12] It is, however, impossible for film studies to disregard the context of Blaxploitation films due to their historical and social impact. Salisbury Tracey explains that Blaxploitation was a historic movement in which Black people “seized control of their own creative expression".[13]  Regardless of whether these implications were positive or negative, Dr. Eithne Quinn also describes this era of cinema as a "rich moment in black cultural history".[14] Blaxploitation films were responsible for the insertion of leading black actors across cinema. As Melvin Van Peebles said “The black audience finally gets a chance to see some of their own fantasies acted out - about rising out of the mud and kicking some ass”;[15] Blaxploitation helped to define a new identity for black people. Joshua K. Wright also suggests that these films reflected the power struggle of Black people at the time, thus providing an alternative form of resistance.[16]

Ethics Edit

History Edit

In the West, moral philosophy is considered to have emerged Greece with the work of the Sophists.[17] While discussion of ethical matters is evident in the work of pre-Socratic philosophers such as Democritus,[18] it was only following societal changes in the fifth century BCE that an interrogation of existing ethical concepts became necessary. Homeric notions of 'good' based on social hierarchy lost their relevance whilst an increased awareness of other cultures created questions surrounding the 'local' or 'universal' nature of moral rules. Moral concepts became confused, leaving the Sophists to define moral terms and explore what it means to live a good life.[17] As such, ethical theories may best be understood as attempting to answer Socrates' question: ''how should one live?"[19]

Ethics in Blaxploitation Cinema Edit

One theory is Jeremy Bentham’s Utilitarianism, which views ‘good’ as reducible to pleasure. For Bentham, a good action is one that results in a positive ‘net utility’, meaning more pleasure is produced than pain. This ‘net utility’ can be calculated using the ‘hedonic calculus’, a series of seven factors weighted numerically.[20] When analysing Blaxploitation cinema through a utilitarian lens we can see the importance of both the pleasure produced in the audiences who flocked to see these films as well as in the studio executives who profited from their success.[21] However, a utilitarian would weigh this against the pain that may result from highly stereotyped representations of the black community.[1] Despite this, the impressive box office returns may ultimately suggest the ‘net utility’ of these films to be positive, leading the utilitarian to brand them ‘good’, a declaration that is made crucial due to the history of the discipline.

History of the Disciplines and Blaxploitation Edit

In attempting to understand the impact of Blaxploitation, economics provides us with a largely quantitative approach, focusing entirely on produce, capital and labour. As the discipline has developed to focus on these factors, an economist may argue that the discipline allows for an objective analysis of Blaxploitation. A film studies professor may analyse the issue from a qualitative lens, examining the movement’s cinematic quality as well as the impact it had on society, whilst neglecting the financial rewards reaped by the Blaxploitation movement. A moral philosopher's perspective may align closer to that of the film studies scholar, as the discipline also takes a qualitative approach, despite it approaching Blaxploitation from a more objective angle. A greater emphasis will be given to trying to define whether or not the films were right or wrong, using ethical systems such as Bentham's Hedonic Calculus.[20] It is clear that the histories of these disciplines render them inherently restrictive, ignoring key factors explored by the others.

References Edit

  1. a b Harris KM. Boys, Boyz, Bois: An Ethics of Black Masculinity in Film and Popular Media. Oxford: Routledge; 2006.
  2. Arnold L. Renaming Blaxploitation by Looking at Today’s Film: Black Heroes, White Villains, and Trump’s America; 2019.
  3. Washington M, Berlowitz MJ. A Field Study of “Blaxploitation” Films. Journal of Black Psychology. 1981;8(1): 41-51. Available from: [Accessed 8th December 2019].
  4. Backhouse RE. The Penguin History of Economics. Penguin, London; 2002
  5. De Vany A. Was the Antitrust Action that Broke Up the Movie Studios Good for the Movies? Evidence from the Stock Market. American Law and Economics Association [Internet]. 2004;6(1):135-153. Available from:
  6. Hartmann J. The Trope of Blaxploitation in Critical Responses to "Sweetback". Film History. 1994;6(3):382-404.   
  7. Brown J. How to Survive In Hollywood Between Gigs. Ebony. 1978;(Vol. 33 No. 12):38.
  8. Quinn E. "Tryin' to Get Over": "Super Fly", Black Politics, and Post—Civil Rights Film Enterprise. Cinema Journal 2010; 49(2): .
  9. Polan D. Scenes of Instruction: The Beginnings of the U.S. Study of Film. Berkeley: University of California Press; 2007.
  10. McDonald K. Film theory. Routledge; 2016.
  11. Abel R. French Film Theory and Criticism; 1993.
  12. Riley C. Movies. The New York Times. 1971;Section D, Page 13.   
  13. Salisbury T. The Good, the Bad & the Ugly - 21st Century Blaxploitation : Movies, Music, Television & Literature; 2012.
  14. Quinn E, Krämer P. Blaxploitation. In LRW, MH, editors, Contemporary American Cinema. Open University Press. 2006
  15. Fu P. China Forever : The Shaw Brothers and Diasporic Cinema. University of Illinois Press; 2008.
  16. Wright J. Black Outlaws and the Struggle for Empowerment in Blaxploitation Cinema. Spectrum: A Journal on Black Men. 2014;2(2):63.   
  17. a b MacIntyre A. A short history of Ethics. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul; 1967
  18. Golob S, Timmermann J, editors. The Cambridge History of Moral Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2017.
  19. Plato. Gorgias, in Platonis Opera, ed. J. Burnet. Oxford: Clarendon Press; 1903.
  20. a b Burns JH, Hart HLA. (eds.) The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham: An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation. New York: Oxford University Press; 1996.
  21. Guerrero E. Framing blackness: The African American image in film. Temple University Press; 2012.

Power Over Disney Princesses

Introduction Edit

The Disney Company is a $130 billion dollar net worth corporate giant, responsible for the output of 200 children’s fantasy movies, which holds a significant amount of socioeconomic power, evoking complex issues in a number of disciplines.[1][2] As a leading player in family entertainment, the portrayal of controversial stereotypes within the Disney Princess franchise has been criticised for its negative social impacts. To evaluate how Disney has been shaped by power imbalances within sociology and economics, this argument explores the main tendencies in the representation of women since the first Disney Princess, Snow White. These disciplines have shaped the perception of princesses, and have engendered changes to their representation according to sociological and economic paradigms. One can disclaim the scope of this argument as qualitatively restrained, since it comes from a Western social stance, as Disney’s initial target audience was the middle class US family.

Disney Princesses

Sociology Edit

Power of patriarchy Edit

Each Disney princess has reflected the American gender stereotype from their respective time period. The first princess was released in 1937 as Snow White, illustrating a story of a domestic worker being heroically saved by her true love’s kiss.[3]  This mirrors the regression of women’s rights in the post-Great Depression era, where many workers were forced out of their jobs and thus, working women were unfavoured and seen as ‘un-American’.[3] Thus the power of men within society restricted the role of women within the household. A profound change in the characterisation of Disney princesses only came after the mass cultural paradigm of the 1970s, where women gained rights such as equal pay and higher education.[4] Subsequently, Disney introduced more independent princesses such as Belle and Ariel, who rebel against Gaston and King Triton, both characters embodying patriarchy.[5] The result of Disney exhibiting social norms within their entertainment medium means that gender stereotypes are reinforced and subconsciously sowed into the minds of the audience. Moreover, as a family entertainment provider, Disney has the responsibility of shaping young people’s social perspectives and standards.[4] Therefore, the recurrent relationship between society and media is crucial in understanding how power in sociology has a cyclical effect on how social norms are created and reinforced.

Power of objectification Edit

The discipline of animation carries the outdated stigma of depicting the female body as sexual, that has been so prevalent throughout Art History and society: the male gaze. This is an issue in Disney’s cartoons because of how most female characters (both human and not) are drawn and animated in an inappropriately sexualised way, epitomising a Westernised idea of beauty.[6][7] Animation also holds power in the way that it influences the psychology of its viewers, in this case children, as children best absorb information through moving image and sound.[6] This is a sociological issue because of the concern that young girls could be influenced in the long-term by exposure to misogynistic stereotypes of women in Disney movies; for instance, believing that it is acceptable to use their physical appearance and sexual power over men to their advantage, as displayed by the character Megara in Hercules, who is used as a sexual tool, a seductress.[8] This supports the sociological misconception that the physical appearance of a woman is more powerful than her intellect: objectification. Disney Princesses seem unable to keep themselves out of danger, regardless of their intellectual merit, to the extent that they almost always need rescuing.[9] When a character, for example Pocahontas, does defy this stereotype, the focus still comes back to her marital status despite her display of independence and strength as a female heroine.[10]

Economics                              Edit

Power of Consumerism Edit

The power of the economic system is evident in how Disney princesses have been depicted as domestic characters. After the Second World War, the US experienced an economic boom. Mass production resulted in a period of expansion, which established their current economic system where overall higher living standards and prosperity settled in. Furthermore, the emergence of a consumer  society emphasised the hyperproduction of goods, especially household products that were specifically aimed at women through targeted advertising (toasters, laundry machines).[11] Women were then associated with household chores and voluntary unemployment in the sense that it suggested them a recurrent consumption pattern which idealized the idea of the housewife.[12] Ways of consuming  were transformed by the economic conjuncture. Disney was influenced by this power that endorsed a certain representation of women. For instance, Cinderella is pitiful and purer than her sisters because she takes care of the home, in the hope of acquiring the freedom to attend the ball.[13] The economic situation has led Disney to create princesses who complied with American standards (their initial place of mass distribution), to later attempt to develop universal princesses, representative of countries where their merchandise is distributed. To capitalize on this success with children and to satisfy the consumer society's demand, Disney trademarked Princesses into a franchise to promote their image.[14]

Power of Globalisation Edit

The power of globalisation influenced Disney to aspire for their Princesses to better reflect the diversity of their viewers.[15] Globalisation is an economic phenomenon that has had a paramount effect on transforming the representation of culture on American media.[16]  Augmentation of trade, critics and contestation of  American Imperialism, through the acceleration of information exchanges  have completely transformed the vision of princesses. The power of globalisation influenced Disney to aspire for their Princesses to better reflect the diversity of their viewers.[17] Films of the latter decades of Disney,  illustrate the need to represent more races. Indeed, new princesses come from different countries, for instance Mulan 1998 (Chinese princess), Jasmine 1992 (Arabic princess) which stand as a products of a globalized world and the universalization of Disney’s audience. Although it is crucial to note that minorities are misrepresented that Disney’s vision remains mainly Western-centered. This fundamental change is fuelling the need to  represent more cultures in children’s cartoons, for example Vaiania, Disney’s first a Polynesian princess and the latest  princess announced by Disney will be latina american.

Conclusion Edit

It is evident that Disney Princesses have mirrored the power imbalance within socioeconomic norms of the US. By intertwining the quantitative nature of economics and the qualitative aspect of sociology, a more objective conclusion can be reached in understanding how power within various disciplines regarding the role of women have influenced one another to create a globalized effect. The influence of a growing consumerist economy prescribing gender stereotypes to its products is significant in upholding traditional gender roles, parallel to the ongoing culture of the male gaze within contemporary art forms. Accordingly, power disparity in sociology and economics has led to a vision of woman that is now being challenged.

An obstacle to approaching issues through this interdisciplinary perspective is that both disciplines rely heavily on research at an extensive scale in society, and individual experiences are neglected. Thus, in order to reach a more balanced conclusion, integrating psychology will be beneficial for further research.

References Edit

  1. Hoffower H. A family feud over a $400 million trust fund, a massive fortune that left one heiress with an inferiority complex, and a sprawling media empire. Meet the Disney family. [Internet]. Business Insider. 2019 [cited 7 December 2019]. Available from:
  2. The Walt Disney Company [Internet]. 2019 [cited 7 December 2019]. Available from:
  3. a b Moran, M. (2019). 1930s, America - Feminist Void? The status of the Equal Rights Movement during the Great Depression. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Dec. 2019].
  4. a b Barber, M. (2019). Disney’s Female Gender Roles: The Change of Modern Culture. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Dec. 2019].
  5. Hansen M. Disney Culture John Wills. Rutgers University Press, 2017. The Journal of American Culture [Internet]. 2018;41(3):324-325. Available from:
  6. a b Johnson RM. The evolution of Disney princesses and their effect on body image, gender roles, and the portrayal of love. Educational Specialist. [Internet] 2015 [cited 2019 December 8] 6:10-12. Available from:
  7. McBride J. [Internet] Study finds Disney Princess culture magnifies stereotypes in young girls. [Updated 2016, cited 2019 December 8] Available from: (accessed 8 December 2019).
  8. Primo C. Balancing Gender and Power: How Disney’s Hercules Fails to Go the Distance. Social Sciences. [Internet] 2018 [cited 2019 December 8]; 7(240): 6. Available from: doi: 10.3390/socsci7110240.
  9. Leek C. [Internet] Masculinity and Disney’s Gender Problem. [Updated 2017, cited 2019 December 8] Available from:
  10. Gill I. Feminist Figures or Damsels in Distress? The Media’s Gendered Misrepresentation of Disney Princesses. Young Scholars in Writing [Internet] 2016 [cited 2019 December 8]; 13:105-106. Available from:
  11. Unknown author. The Rise of American Consumerism | American Experience | PBS [Internet]. 2019 [cited 4 December 2019]. Available from:
  12. Fredericks, M. Media portrayal of Gender Stereotypes in the 1950s: Walt Disney‘s Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty [Undergraduate Senior Thesis]. Department of History, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire; 2009.  [cited 3 December 2019] Available from :
  13. Guizerix, J. From Snow White to Brave: The Evolution of the Disney Princess [Undergraduate Senior Thesis]. Wilkes Honors College of Florida Atlantic University; 2013.  [cited 4 December 2019] Available from:
  14. Ray, E. G. Part of Their World: Gender Identity Found in Disney Princesses, Consumerism, and Performative Play [MA Thesis]. Brigham Young University - Fine Arts and Communications; Theatre and Media Arts;  2009. [cited 4 December 2019] Available from:
  15. Garcia Zarranz L. Atenea. Mayagüez, P.R.: Facultad de Artes y Ciencias, Universidad de Puerto Rico; 2007. Available from :
  16. Williamson J. Welcome to PIIE [Internet]. PIIE. 2019 [cited 8 December 2019]. Available from:
  17. Globalisation and the Evolution of Disney [Internet]. Cultural Economy of the media. 2017 [cited 8 December 2019]. Available from:

Power in Voluntourism

Voluntourism refers to international volunteers "seeking a tourist trip that is mutually beneficial, that will contribute not only to their personal development but also positively and directly to the social, natural and/or economic environment.[1]" Initially started by Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO) in 1958 and the US Peace Corps in 1961[2], voluntourism aimed to curb mass tourism. However, despite initial altruistic intentions of sustainable and alternative tourism[2], the industry has grown exponentially with 1.6 million voluntourists travelling per year[3].

Power can be defined as possession of control, authority, or influence over others[4]. Power arises as an intrinsically interdisciplinary issue when considering frictions between mono-disciplinary approaches and the interrelations between different disciplines. We have isolated two conventionally contrasting disciplines, history and engineering, to illustrate how power continues to shape the academy and its attitudes when addressing problems in voluntourism.

Disciplinary viewpoints Edit

History: voluntourism bordering on neo-colonialism Edit

History is intrinsically bias due to the power of the writer, in the case of colonialism: white Western men. Postcolonial theory claims that “discourse is socially constructed.[5]” Colonialism is justified as the Western need to 'develop' the Global South. Postcolonial theory argues that colonisation has affected West-South relationships in the long-term. Historically, academia has failed to exhibit complexities in the power within the relationship between the “coloniser and colonised.[6]” This highlights modern inequalities within voluntourism, with even VSO condemning it as a “a new form of colonialism.[7]” The ‘white saviour’ concept encompasses the superiority of western countries executing western ideas of development. Despite shifts in vocabulary from 'civilising' a country, to ‘developing', to 'saving' the environment and the local population, the outcome is the same[8]: western countries retain control over resources and the population. Power inequalities are sustained through modern media coverage of the Global South: Kolkata is reduced by the media to “a city on the verge of collapse[9]” despite it also being one of the richest cities in India[10]. Focusing on poverty induces a West-South power hierarchy through the power of Western media, subsequently legitimising the need to help which attracts Western volunteers.

Postcolonial theory aims to give voice to the subaltern[11]. However, we still lack the viewpoint of hosts in academia: is postcolonial theory rewriting history from another viewpoint and stealing once more the voice of the subalterns? The power hierarchy within the discipline of history remains as long as a biased elite are writing the history.

Engineering: Western vs Local approaches to construction Edit

The role of engineers is to install systems to provide food, water and shelter as well as transport and waste disposal strategies in ever-changing environments [12]. Power is an issue within the discipline due to conflicting cultural attitudes towards building infrastructures for communities, which can be demonstrated through voluntourism.

The engagement of untrained volunteers in construction projects raises concerns over the quality of project outcomes. Manager Frederikke Lindholm of the Vietnamese NGO The Shelter Collection, shares “I know of school trips where local builders were working during the night to straighten the walls of a house built by foreign student volunteers the previous day[13].” The majority of volunteers have no prior construction training when enrolling on international building projects, but pay large amounts of money to charities to partake as an experience<