Thursday, February 24, 2011

Free Online Violence Prevention Course

From Joan Tabachnik...

Hi All

I thought that some folks might find this helpful. It is very theoretical, but gives a great overview of prevention from a public health perspective.

Free On-Line Violence Prevention Course!

Each year, more than 53,000 people lose their lives to violence. In addition to the tremendous physical and emotional toll, violence has substantial medical and lost productivity costs. In 2000, these totaled more than $70billion in the United States. The figure grows when we add criminal justice system costs, social services, and other expenses.

As Dr. Rodney Hammond, Director of CDC's Division of Violence Prevention, says, "Violence isn't something that just happens that you can't do anything about. It can be prevented. "One way CDC is helping the nation prevent violence is a free on-line course that's available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It's called Principles of Prevention.

The course, which offers continuing educationcredits, teaches key concepts of primary prevention, the public health approach, and the social-ecological model. Participants complete interactive exercises to learn to help prevent five types of violence:
  • Child abuse and neglect
  • Intimate partner violence
  • Sexual violence
  • Suicide
  • Youth violence
The course is designed for those working to stop violence from ever happening. It helps professionals move from the problem to the solution. This course teaches the fundamentals of effective violence prevention methods and incorporates the growing body of research on what works.

The Principles of Prevention course includes:
  • Interviews with leading experts in the field
  • Dynamic graphics
  • Interactive exercises
  • Compelling storytelling that makes the case for violence prevention
The course is available at

For additional information on Principles of Prevention, contact Jennifer Middlebrooks (

Thanks to Joan for sharing this information.


Friday, February 18, 2011

Testosterone Affects Social Intelligence

From the "Early Edition" of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences...

Jack van Honk, Dennis J. Schuttera, Peter A. Bosa, Anne-Wil Kruijt, Eef G. Lentjes, and Simon Baron-Cohen (2010). Testosterone administration impairs cognitive empathy in women depending on second-to-fourth digit ratio. (link to abstract)

Let me say first that this is a really cool paper. Let me say second that I will not do it full justice, simply because it includes reference to a lot of stuff that is out of my professional realm, as it were. Nonetheless, I think there are some really interesting bits in here that persons who work with sexual offenders might need to consider, at least in extrapolating aspects of the findings to our client population.

I've been thinking a lot recently about denial, minimization, and empathy; mostly, because of Ruth Mann et al.'s talk at the ATSA conference in Phoenix. Specifically, I'm interested in the role of emotions management (or, perhaps, emotions dysregulation) in sexual offense risk.

Principally, it has always fascinated me that many of my sexual offending clients seem so darned normal when they are not offending--an observation made by most who work with this population.

When we, the nonoffending world, engage in behavior that elicits a negative response from the people around us, we typically stop and check in with those folks to see what's the matter. At least, that's what happens most of the time.

Presumably, victims of sexual abuse give off clear signals (overt or otherwise) that the experience of being abused is aversive, painful, horrifying, etc. How is it that offenders are somehow able to "turn off" whatever cognitive mechanism it is that should cause them to "stop and check in to see what's the matter"?

After the fact, many offenders can demonstrate some degree of empathy with the role of sexual offense victims, although some research suggests that they have difficulty empathisizing with their own specific victim(s). I think the research on this topic still has lots to answer.

So, what do van Honk et al. have to add to this?

Well, you may need to take a conceptual or logical leap with me, but I think what they've found is helpful in maybe better understanding what might be happening for some of our offending clients.

The role of testosterone in sexual offending is pretty clear in some senses, but not so clear in others. In that the vast majority of sexual offenders are male, the link is pretty clear. But how some men become involved in this behavior while others do not is what makes it less so.

The literature on the use of therapeutic sex drive reduction as a treatment option for some sexual offenders is varied in its conclusions. There appears to be at least a subgroup of sexually offending males who may benefit from lowered serum testosterone, either by physical or chemical castration. In North America, the latter is the most typical approach--with several medications having been suggested as possible avenues for "turning down the volume," as it were, regarding intrusive sexual thoughts and fantasies, potentially leading to offending.

However, what is apparently unclear is whether those who benefit from pharmacological interventions have too much testosterone to begin with (which does not always seem to be the case) or that their bodies seem to make much better use of the testosterone available (which also does not always seem to be the case). I don't know the answer, and would love to hear from any endocrinologically minded readers out there who might clarify in a comment to this post.

Van Honk and colleagues conducted a very interesting study in which they administered sublingual testosterone or placebo to a group of 16 young women and then measured any possible effects on social intelligence, specifically cognitive empathy. In a crossover, double-blind, placebo-controlled, within-subjects design (what a mouthful, eh?), these folks then used Baron-Cohen's Reading the Mind in the Eyes Task (RMET) as the behavioral measure of social intelligence. They also measured right-hand second-to-fourth (2D:4D) digit ratio because, as they explain, this is a proxy of fetal testosterone. If you, like me, had no previous idea what this was, it is the length ratio of the right hand’s second (i.e., index) to fourth (i.e., ring) finger. This is how they explain measuring this ratio in the paper:

Digit Ratio Measurement. Digit ratio was measured from a scan of the right hand of the subjects. The use of scanned images is a valid method to measure finger lengths. When conducting this scan, we ensured that details of major creases could be seen. Lengths of the second and fourth digits were measured from the ventral proximal crease of the digit to the fingertip by using Adobe Photoshop. When there was a band of creases at the base of the digit, measurement was taken from the most proximal crease.

Generally, women demonstrate greater cognitive empathy than men, which I doubt many readers will find terribly surprising. However, van Honk and crew found that those women administered the testosterone had significantly lower performance in regard to cognitive empathy and that this was found even with only one administration of the hormone! Further, this was "powerfully predicted" by the participant's 2D:4D ratio. To quote:

Our data thus not only demonstrate down-regulatory effects of current testosterone on cognitive empathy, but also suggest these are preprogrammed by the very same hormone prenatally.

Further, in using the RMET procedure, the authors were able to show that testosterone administration to the female subjects in this study led to significant impairment in the cognitive empathic ability to infer emotions, intentions, feelings, and other mental states from the eye region of the face.

So, I'm thinking...Men have more testosterone and men are more inclined to commit acts of sexual violence, which they ought to know--in the moment--will cause significant pain and suffering in the victim during the assault. Further, it is to be expected that the emotions experienced by the victims would be easily ascertained from facial expressions. Is it possible that the lessened cognitive empathy / social intelligence that seems implicit in sexual assault is related in some way to the presence of testosterone? Is it possible that some of our clients may have a marker in the way of the 2D:4D ratio?

I'd be very interested to hear what others think.


PS For those who are interested in such things, reknowned "theory of mind" scientist and autism specialist extraordinaire Simon Baron-Cohen is cousin to Sacha Baron-Cohen of Borat fame.

Friday, February 4, 2011

A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety

On a tip from Andrew Harris of the Correctional Service of Canada...

Many of us in the field of sexual offender risk management have been talking lately about the relative utility of various risk predictors; the discussions often centering on static and dynamic factors. I have blogged on this variously over the last couple of months. Of course, we're all struggling to do our best to make sure that we leave no stones unturned in our quest for accuracy in recommending one management strategy over another. The overarching question is: How can we do this better?

In a recent publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), Terrie Moffitt and a long list of collaborators from such far-flung locations as North Carolina, the UK, Canada, and New Zealand give us a really cool little paper about childhood self-control and adult quality of life in a longitudinal investigation they call the Dunedin Study (Dunedin is in NZ). Of course, this has relevance for us because general self-management is a key dynamic risk predictor in most of the popular schemes (Stable-2007, VRS:SO, SRA).

In a study following 1000 persons born in Dunedin from birth to age 32, the authors show that childhood self-control predicts physical health, substance dependence, personal finances, and involvement in crime. Interestingly, in another group of 500 sibling pairs, they showed that the siblings with poorer self-control had more negative outcomes, in spite of being raised in the same household by the same parents.

In many ways, this is not terribly earth-shattering, in that a good number of us have always suspected or known this to be true. The best part is that Moffitt et al. tell us that we can fix a lot of problems for a lot of people by teaching them self-control techniques. Doesn't this gel nicely with the recent renaissance in positive psychology regarding antisocial behavior?

Like others, I was a student for a very long time. I often say that the most important course I ever took was Grade 9 typing, which is likely true. Second on the list, though, is easily a certificate course I took in Life Skills Coach Training at George Brown College in Toronto when I was post-Bachelor’s but still trying to get into a Master’s program. However, this wasn't life skills like how to tie your shoes, open a bank account, boil water, etc. The Saskatchewan NewStart program was initiated in the late 1960s as a basic job readiness initiative for Aboriginal Canadians. Some time later, the YWCA in Canada adopted the curriculum and morphed it into Life Skills, which many Social Service Worker and Human Services Counselor students now take as a part of their diploma training (equivalent to an Associate's Degree in the USA). In the YWCA version, Life Skills are defined as "problem-solving behaviors appropriately and responsibly used in the management of personal affairs."

In many ways, Saskatchewan NewStart is a self-regulation model, predating our currently-popular Good Lives Model. In fact, I am a total adherent to the idea that our goal is to assist our clients in developing "balanced, self-determined lifestyles" incongruent with continued offending and other antisociality. The idea is that successful people are able to balance self, family, leisure, community, and job, while making good decisions about how those lifestyle domains are managed. Sound familiar? Don’t those domains approximate “human goods” in the GLM nomenclature? Of all the stuff I learned in school, this little certificate in Life Skills has most affected my thinking and practice in working with clients and in attempting to craft a little balance and self-determination in my own life.

Anyhow, back to Moffitt et al. and the Dunedin Study…

They were able to show that children with good self-control are more likely to be healthy, wealthy, and non-criminal as adults. This speaks a lot to what I would argue is a need for “life skills” type programming for children and youth. As a parent, I’ve often wondered where and how kids learn how to solve their problems and manage their personal affairs. Unfortunately, many parents (me included) “rescue” their children so often that kids don’t learn how to solve problems or deal with the “skinned knees” of life. This extends to self-control, which apparently extends to a balanced, self-determined lifestyle and all sorts of other good things. Go figure.