Tag Archives: Children

Human Intelligence and Helpless Infants

The Economist reports about research by Steven Piantadosi and Celeste Kidd from the University of Rochester who tried to explain why humans tend to be intelligent. Their answer: Because human babies are extraordinarily helpless when compared with other animals.

… human infants take a year to learn even to walk, and need constant supervision for many years afterwards [indeed]. That helplessness is thought to be one consequence of intelligence—or, at least, of brain size. In order to keep their heads small enough to make live birth possible, human children must be born at an earlier stage of development than other animals. …

… helpless babies require intelligent parents to look after them. But to get big-brained parents you must start with big-headed—and therefore helpless—babies. The result is a feedback loop, in which the pressure for clever parents requires ever-more incompetent infants, requiring ever-brighter parents to ensure they survive childhood.

Crime and Punishment

In a blog post, Alex Tabarrok argues that Gary Becker was wrong to argue that an optimal punishment system combines a low detection and punishment risk with a very severe punishment conditional on detection. Tabarrok argues:

We have now tried that experiment and it didn’t work. Beginning in the 1980s we dramatically increased the punishment for crime in the United States but we did so more by increasing sentence length than by increasing the probability of being punished. …

Why did the experiment fail? Longer sentences didn’t reduce crime as much as expected because criminals aren’t good at thinking about the future; criminal types have problems forecasting and they have difficulty regulating their emotions and controlling their impulses. … As if that weren’t bad enough, by exposing more people to criminal peers and by making it increasingly difficult for felons to reintegrate into civil society, longer sentences increased recidivism.

Instead of thinking about criminals as rational actors, we should think about criminals as children. … So what is the recommended parenting approach? … one thing all recommendations have in common is that the consequences for inappropriate behavior should be be quick, clear, and consistent.