Psychology Addict # 58 | Punishment – An Overview Through the Lens of Psychology.

in #psychologylast year (edited)

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Behaviour is the manner with which individuals act or conduct themselves, particularly in relation to others and the environment they are part of. Not all kinds of behaviour can be attributed to learning. For, psychological studies have shown that as well as through learning, behaviour can also arise, be sustained or modified by means of the consequences that follow it Ref.

According to the Skinnerian approach this is something that can take place either through reinforcers or punishment. While the former refers to consequences that strengthen behaviour; for example, a form of reward that leads an individual to repeat a given action. The latter concerns an event or response that lowers or eliminate a particular type of behaviour, typically an undesirable one Ref.. Just like when a parent tells their teenager they have to wash the dishes for the entire week because s/he broke the household rules (e.g. misused the credit card).

You might have noticed that the Skinnerian use of the term punishment is rather similar to its popular, common use, as in to punish a wrongdoer. There is, however, a crucial difference between the two. The lay use of it, more often than not, relates to something that only supposes to reduce unwanted behaviour, without an actual measurement of it. Also, punishment in Skinnerian terms is not so much about how aversive the event or response itself is; but instead, it is about the lowering or (ideally) eliminating effect it has on the unwanted action. The teenager’s mum and dad, for example, might as well end up sending him/her to clean the toilets of their local bus terminal, but if s/he still keeps on overspending … well, that is not really punishment.

Is Punishment Needed?

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Offender: a person who breaks the rules, or causes problems.

I am yet to come across a household, community or society with no offenders. Take my neighbourhood, for instance. My husband and I live in a lovely, green vicinity 1-hour from the capital city. Around here there is an area where just green/garden waste should be deposited. But some neighbours decided that there is where they want to dispose empty bottles as well as bits & bobs like single, broken flip-flops.

Do these individuals violate the local rules because the rules are not clear enough? Or, because there’s no consequence to their offense?

Historical events demonstrate that the possibility of being punished does keep people in check ref.. For example, during the second world war the Nazis carried out an experiment in Denmark which entailed deporting the entire Danish police force. Their aim was to test whether people would still conform to the formal rules. Offenses increased considerably ref.. This chain of events consequently led sociologist J. Toby to conclude that the prospect of being punished does keep people abiding by the rulesref...

Socialization is the process of internalizing the norms and ideas of society.

I follow the notion which proposes that it’s the process of socialization rather than punishment itself that prevents offenses from taking place. For example, the individuals who have absorbed the moral norms of their communities will be unlikely to offend because it would go against their self-concept (personal beliefs and ideas about one’s own self). Modern sociologists agree, for instance, that it is socialization which mostly brings law and order about, not the police force ref.. I am with them.

The moral norms of an environment at war are non-existent. Hence, there is no foundation upon which a self-concept can be constructed. This is not to say, however, that all that people need to cooperate with the system is a set of established rules. For, there will always be those who behave selfishly, and refuse to adopt the local rules. Situational factors/temptations, and confidence that they can escape punishment are just a couple of numerous reasons for this. See, for example, how looting broke out in Chile after a devastating earthquake struck the country Ref..

For The Sake of Those Who Abide by The Rules.

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Durkheim thought that unpunished offense demoralised those who follow the norms and abide by the rules Ref... He based his argument on psychoanalytic thinking and pondered about the need those who resist the temptation to do what is prohibited by the group have to obtain validation towards their self-control. Ref..This line of thought then posits that the social purpose of punishing rule-breakers is to demonstrate to those who cooperate with the system that their inhibition and repression of their own deviant inclinations is worthy. Some sort of reassurance. But, it appears that there is a little bit more to punishment that that.

A research paper published in the Journal of Theoretical Biology discusses that humans have an inherent predisposition to punish non-cooperators. Something which is done even in cases when punishment comes at a cost to the punisher. For example, giving up money so as to ensure someone who behaved selfishly will be penalized Ref. Fehr and Gachter has termed this process altruistic punishment, and explained that this is a mechanism which maintains and fosters group interest and collaboration Ref.. An explanation that has been supported by the findings of several laboratory studies Ref...

Nonetheless, in the same way punishment is guided by altruistic principles it is also driven by vengeance Ref.. These guided actions are even mediated by different brain regions, as neurobiological models of punishment have revealed Ref.. PET scans have shown that while the former kind is associated with activity in the dorsal striatum, with activation increasing alongside the severity of the punishment inflicted. Reflecting, therefore, a greater sense of personal loss, but also a goal-oriented actionRef.. Vengeful punishment has been seen to link with the activation of amygdala-centred pathways, which ignites a rather impulsive route to punishment that is partly mediated by aggression, by retaliationRef.. What is more, this amygdala-dependent pathway plays an important part in the avoidance of future interaction with the target, or in ostracising it altogether Ref..

In this way rather than interpreting unpunished offenses as a means of demoralising individuals who embrace the community norms, it would be appropriate to view it as a threat to the stability of social cooperation. As a way of allowing cheaters to obtain gains at the expense of those who play fairly.

To Punish or Not To Punish? That Is The Question.

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Still, at the same time research shows that punishment increases in-group cooperation, none of it found that it elicits cooperation from the part of the offender Ref.. This is something widely known among Skinnerians too. B.F Skinner himself stated that “a person who has been punished will not be less inclined to behave in a given way, at best he learns to avoid punishment” Ref.. And that is in part due to the fact that punishment mostly informs individuals about what not to do, and often fails to guide offenders towards the behaviour that is desired by the community or society. Reinforcement (rewards) is what indicates the direction that ought to be taken.

However, if punishment needs to be implemented in order to preserve social cooperation and the morale of those who play by the rules it mustn’t be the kind that allows vengeance and intimidation to occur. It should instead be the kind that reasonably and transparently displays the offenses that have been committed. This is something that in turn enhances socialization (and consequently the self-concept of members). For it clearly lays out the type of skills and conduct that are required and valued within the group. After all successful societies have arisen because cooperation have championed selfishness. And that is because humans have an extraordinary capacity to work together in large numbers for the improvement and betterment of the greater good. In this manner, if action needs to be taken to punish those who pose a threat to the system. Greater efforts then become required to reinforce the behaviour of those who conform with the norms.

A promising formulae to start anew.


Image Source:1, 2, 3, 4

Reference List:

Altruistic punishment in humans

Beyond dignity and freedom

Chile earthquake: Troops sent in to deter looting and violence.

Is punishment necessary?.

Punishment and cooperation in nature.

Strong reciprocity and human society

The behaviour of organisms.

The neurobiology of punishment


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Thank you my dear reader,

For once again taking the time to read my writings. You make my journey on this platform purposeful & meaningful. I wish you a day filled with productivity and peace of mind 😊

Abigail.

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My dear Abigail,

What a topic to take on. This even tops near death experience, I think, for the potential to provoke discussion, even controversy.

I live in a country where mass incarceration is a fact. The notion of rehabilitation has been abandoned (behavior modification). It's all about vengeance. A consequence: large segments of the population are ostracized ("amygdala-dependent pathway plays an important part in the avoidance of future interaction with the target, or in ostracising it altogether"). The ostracism is reinforced by laws that prevent felons from fully reintegrating into society. This is not only devastating to individuals and communities, but undermines the cohesion of the nation as a whole.

However, we, in my country, cannot have a rational, science-based discussion about punishment (incarceration and its consequences) because the issue of retribution comes to the fore. The efficacy of 'punishment' is irrelevant to many people. The indifference to efficacy is most glaringly evident when the issue of the death penalty is raised. An overwhelming number of legitimate studies indicate that the death penalty does not deter crime. And yet, a large percentage (a growing percentage!) of people in my country support it.

As for punishment within the family...I look back on my own parenting and realize that when I thought punishment was necessary, it was often because I was at a loss for how to effectively manage the children without it. Punishment is a default mode. It's quick, easy, and everybody says it's good. But I agree with you. The best way would be to have the children internalize values so they carry these with them wherever they go, for the rest of their lives.

Would I do it better, if I had another chance? I think so. Maybe not perfect, but better.

This post is so rich. All of yours are, but wow. Such an important topic.

Thanks, Abigail. I will of course resteem and tweet this out. I'm going to tweet it out every day for a week :)

With even more regard (is that possible?), affection and respect,

Your New York friend, from punishment-ridden USA

AG

And yet, a large percentage (a growing percentage!) of people in my country support it.

I am deeply puzzled by this @agmoore2. What kind of bias underlies this sort of thinking? Punishment is a very complex topic. I understand humans have an urge to punish, something which may have stemmed from the very grounds that laid the foundations for our moral values. With fairness/unfairness being one of them. We just simply do not tolerate what is deemed unfair, unjust. It's deeply ingrained in us (please, my dear do watch this video. It's 3 minutes long.)

But then, as a species, we learnt behaviors that prevent selfishness from undermining cooperation - altruistic punishment. Except that we did not leave the old habits behind: punishment as an act of vengeance, of aggression, of ostracism (pretty much like it is done in non-human animals societies). Maybe because the socialization process has stagnated in our modern world. But, how can people build a sense of self-concept in a society where rewards (opportunities, recognition) are limited, and punishment (fines, prison, debt) is aplenty? Where there is little to sacrifice, or lose for the greater good of the group? If one has nothing to lose ... well ... a vicious cycle begins :/

As for children, punishment should come as a means to inform them about how the world works. Punishment is an ugly word, I know. But here we are using it in Skinnerian terms. As a tool to diminish or eliminate undesirable behaviour. Children will inevitably act in ways that are not desirable, because they're constantly exploring (this is very good!). But, in my opinion, it is not fair, mainly on the child, to just reward their desired behaviour and leave the undesirable ones undealt with because of fear of punishment. They need to know there are consequences to not conforming, to going against the rules.

There is nothing wrong with sitting a small child on the sofa; let's say after he kicked another kid, and calmly tell him: "now, I need to tell you that there are other ways of dealing with your frustrations .... and so on and on ... I will leave you here for 5 minutes so you can reflect on what you did". If this sort of event reduces the child impulsive reactions; well, not only is that punishment, but also responsible caring. Because it prepares that child to be function in society :) but alas! Parents are understandably so very drained, and tired and impatient that they often end up resorting to the quick methods!

Thanks, Abigail. I will of course resteem and tweet this out. I'm going to tweet it out every day for a week :)

Weeeeeeeee !!! THANK YOU my dear. Your support is invaluable to me. Your encouraging, motivating feedback, your re-esteems, your sharing my work with the world out there ... oh, words can not thank you enough, or express the extent of my gratitude <3

You do live in my heart :*

I am deeply puzzled by this.... What kind of bias underlies this sort of thinking?

I am afraid you are too clever for me. I tried to avoid this in my comment because it is controversial. Many, many of the original settlers who came to the United States (then the New World) were motivated by religion. They were dissenters, most of them adhering to a strict fundamentalist interpretation of Christianity (you referred to the Salem Witch Trials in one of your previous blogs). It would be hard to overestimate the influence of these religious origins on the development of US culture, and law. I think the inclination to impose a strict moral code, a kind of righteousness (an eye for an eye), influences our penal system. It is impervious to science and reasonable argument.

The influence of fundamentalist religion hangs over this country in other ways--for example, sex education. I love that my country was settled by freedom seekers. I love that this nation was founded by people who had courage and passion enough to come to a raw place and fight for principle (and survival). Some of these settlers were my direct ancestors. However, the legacy of fundamentalist religion is now a kind of yolk that limits the freedom of others.

You see why I avoided this 800 pound gorilla in the room:))

And speaking of gorillas (or simians, anyway)--I loved the video. I had actually seen that before but needed a refresher. The rage, the indignation, of the slighted monkey. Just wonderful.

Of course I share your blogs. It's a public service. I think you should schedule a TED talk. 😇

I don't know how you get these gems out so quickly. I just plod along slowly.

Have a wonderful weekend, dear friend.

Affectionately,

AG

Thank you for the history lesson my dear. Thank you so much <3
You too have a wonderful weekend!
Much, much love ❤️☀️🍁

Dear Abigail,
I'm sorry if this came off as a history lesson. You are fully aware of history, I know. I was just trying to address your reference to 'bias'--In God We Trust is actually the official motto of the US. Right up there with the eagle eagle.png
I so much enjoy our dialogues on this, and other subjects. I've learned a great deal.

Have the most wonderful, peaceful weekend.
Love and respect, ❤
AG

I'm sorry if this came off as a history lesson
Please take that apology back straight away! 😇 I know you were not trying to lecture :) But the insight you provided was to me very informative, like in a lesson, and I truly appreciate it! Plus, I am more acquainted with European history than with American history. So, there you go :D

Also, I forgot to thank you for those links you shared here. For the next few months I am going to take some lessons on the latest in forensic psychology (one never stops), and I have already seen that I will have to conduct research on offenders rights, rehabilitations in prison and so forth... every bit of material is valuable!

All right! Make sure you take that apology back sooner than later 😘
Much love from a warm Evening in Portugal!
Movie time over here 😊

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Thank you, friend. Removed
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Behaviour… My current problem (and not at the place in my life you may think about) :)

Modern sociologists agree, for instance, that it is socialisation which mostly brings law and order about, not the police force ref.. I am with them.

I am with you there too, although I would tend to say it depends on the level. For little things, threats of punishment may work for some time, but having people collectively behaving for the common good is much more beneficial. There is here no reason to bring punishment onto the scene. Rewarding the very good ones could yield the same effects than punishing the bad behaviours, of even have a better impact. However, we also need punishment for clear exaggerations at the same time, to define the limits no to cross.

This being said, I would like to emphasise that I rarely punish my kids. But sometimes, it is needed. There are clear lines that should not be crossed (and they (generally) know it).

Rewarding the very good ones could yield the same effects than punishing the bad behaviours, of even have a better impact.

Many people do offend because they don't even have accesses to the opportunity of being rewarded. If they truly felt social mobility is genuine and accessible to everyone they would not resort to breaking the rules and infringe social norms. In that case rewarding the very good ones could yield even better results indeed.

I am very pleased you have that instance towards your children's upbringing. Of course punishment is important for the development of a child. A child will not bloom into being socially functional if they are left to their own devices, or if only their good behaviour is addressed while the naughty one are ignored.

My next post will be about this. As I see a lot of caregivers refraining from saying "no" to the little ones, or avoiding to set limits to their actions altogether. This is not good for the children's self-esteem, resilience and overall future mental health.

Have a most wonderful week @lemouth.
Wish you and the family all the best, always.

My next post will be about this. As I see a lot of caregivers refraining from saying "no" to the little ones, or avoiding to set limits to their actions altogether.

And I can see the result of that at the university... It is not good, believe me.

I am looking forward to read your next post :)

Hello Abi, my sister works as a teacher for young children and I know there are very strict guidelines in terms of punishing students. In fact your not supposed to even say "no" to students. I know when I was going through school (30-40 years ago!) physical punishment was still being dished out for relatively minor infractions. I wonder if we have gone too soft in that time?

Btw nice to see you back posting regularly!

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I am a kindergartenteacher and a grandmother. Living with children I always tried to avoid punishment. The reaction from parents or others has to be in relation to the "wrong" behavior like a consequence of it. Punishing is most of the time to reduce loved things (freedom, money, internet...) that has nothing to do with consequences... thanks for your thoughts and infos! Greetings from Germany Kadna

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Hello Kadna :) It's nice to see you here. Good opportunity to thank you for your support (including re-esteeming my last post)!

behaviour can also arise, be sustained or modified by means of the consequences that follow it

The consequence meaning either reinforcement or punishment. It has been largely demonstrated that this sort of consequence does either give rise to, maintain or alter behaviour :D. With punishment being, in Skinnerian terms, an event that follows an action that leads to the decreased frequency of it.

I do agree that when it comes to children a more productive way to inform them about rules and norms is through reinforcement. Because, as observed in the article, punishment is limited in the way that only tells them what not to do, and often fails to guide them towards the desired conduct. Children more than any one are the ones who need information and guidance. Through kindness and compassion that is :)

The little ones who are under your care are indeed privileged ones!

Greeting from Portugal,
Best,

Abigail.

Thank you for your support too 😉 maybe you know @agmore?

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@agmoore lives in my heart Kadna :) So, yep. I do know her!

I like her very much. She reads my Posts by heart.

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Wish you could see my face...such a smile. So happy you and @abigail-dantes have made a connection. Perfect :))

Yes, life is perfect ;-)

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And you live in mine, my dear Abigail. Thank you so much!



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When I saw this post, I remembered a humorous statement I once made; "in a typical African home, you can be punished for an assumed offence".

Actually, where I grew up, people see "punishment" differently. There are many reasons you may be punished like:

  • Staying a few days without punishment might also attract punishment. 😃
  • When you're punished and you cry, you might be punished again to stop crying. Etc.

When I talk about punishment, I'm not referring to this kind of punishment quoted below

they have to wash the dishes for the entire week because s/he broke the household rules

Even without punishment, you'd still need to wash the dishes as part of your normal duties.. I'm talking about receiving strokes of cane, beating with slippers, etc.

This has made some kids to live in fear of being punished and they tend not to relate freely with their parents. Some of them are even scared of revealing some secrets to them for the fear of being punished.

In my opinion, I think people (parents also) should focus more on reinforcements, rather than punishment. If a child knows that he will be appreciated for behaving well, he'll try his best to do that.

Nice piece again Abbey. Much love from Nigeria

Sammii!!

I am not quite sure if this is appropriate but your comment actually made giggle!
Well, this part:

Staying a few days without punishment might also attract punishment.

Can you believe that? That is punishment for the sake of punishing. How confusing that might be for a child! My 9 year-old nephew often gets punished. I strongly disagree with it. But, hey, I am not his mum and dad. Last Christmas his punishment was not getting a gift, because he disrespected his grandmother (he shouted at her). Like you observed here I think this sort of approach just alienates the child, and I think it caused them to lose trust in their parents. I believe there are other ways of teaching a child that there are consequences to wrongdoing.

Punishing by means of physical aggression. NO, just simply no! This has a huge potential to kick start a very negative pattern or misbehaviour. It is very sad that people nowadays still resort to this mode of discipline. Those parents need to be better informed! To shape their children's behaviour through reinforcement, if anything. Just like you observed.

Thank you my dear Sammi, for your invaluable, constant support! You rock :*
Lots of love from hot Portugal! <3

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In my opinion, all violence, whether it be by word, switch, fines or downvotes, is to be avoided. There is always a loving way to effect desirable social behavior, conforming or not.

You seem to be saying that sometimes violence has a positive effect in that it increases conformity, but that rewarding conforming behavior is just as important. Am I reading your post right?

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hello Miss Abi, hope you are doing well. oh i got lots of absences in your blogs, guess i've to admit that , i am just really having much of my time for offline especially for Alex. anyway, i can tell you more of that privately hehe. thanks always.. 😘

I can actually relate on this topic of yours, applying it to myself being a mom , asking to punish or reward my kids , well honestly speaking Ms. Abi , i do them both i guess haha. i consider maybe slapping them in their butt or hand if they did something wrong , just to let them know that that is not okay or sometimes getting toys from their hands ( toys they did use for example to hit each other ) . But of course i always feel guilty at the end of each day for hurting them a bit. on the other hand. I also use reward , rewarding them because they did something nice and is listening to me , sometimes foods they love or hugs and kisses. hehe. i think that either would work depending on the personality of the people involve. but for me i use both haha, but i would like to learn to have less punishment for my kids...
thanks for another worth reading piece Miss. Abi. again thank you always and forever. we love you!!! lots of hugs and kisses from PH to Portugal , take care always ... 😘❤️❤️❤️

Hello my dear @zephalexia <3 :)

I most certainly noticed your absence. And looks like my assumptions were right! The offline world with the children is keeping you extra busy ;) It's wonderful to hear from you, though.

I know you are a loving mum, and I follow the belief that children also need to be informed about when they do something wrong. I do tend to tell mums to try to avoid little bum slapps 😆 I prefer the odd: "you sit down here and think about what you did, young lady.".

You are a great, great mum my dear. And there is nothing you should feel guilty about. You discipline and love your little ones. How lucky they are! They have a mum who thoroughly prepares them for the challenges of life.

Much love to you always from hot Portugal :* :D

One would of course prefer a society where punishment is not needed at all but sometimes people just don't follow the rules because they are aware that they won't experience any consequences. It's a sad fact of life. But having said that. Charity as well as good manners begins at home. If we taught our children and if our parents have taught us and so forth we shouldn't have had a problem to start off with. Good article. Thought provoking

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Hello @dkkarolien :)

Like you, I also think it's sad that some people (not the majority) only conform to society's norms because of the possibility of being punished. The point you made about the values that are nurtured at home is a truly valid one. The foundations of socialization and morality are indeed laid by the examples set by caregivers.

I am very glad you like this post.

thank you for taking the time to read and provide such wonderful feedback.

Have a great day !

B.F. Sinners work was interesting. He basically laid a foundation for understanding human behavior along with Pavlov and a few others. What you said about socialization and the individual adopting the norms of society into their self concept was very interesting. I don't know if I've ever heard that before but it makes a lot of sense to me. I also liked the part about punishments being a signal to people who abide by the rules. I found that part really interesting as well.

I have read a few studies on people punishing others at a cost to themselves. One study demonstrated that participants often turn down an opportunity for a monetary reward in order to stop a fellow participant, who acted unfairly, from receiving their own monetary reward. What was interesting about that study was that individuals who scored higher on the psychopathy scale often accepted the rewards regardless of how the other participant acted. They didnt seem to care that the other participant acted unfairly as long as they themselves got a reward. It was an interesting study.

Nice conclusion to your article. Reinforcing good behavior is far more important then punishing bad behavior as it provides a lot more information to the individual in terms of morals, ethics, societal norms...etc. Nice work as usual!

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Hello @leaky20 😊

It is always wonderful to hear that somehow my writings have provided you with some new info and delivered an interesting read to you :) To this day the works of Skinner (in particular) and other early behaviorists still fascinate me.

Oh! What a most incredible find about individuals presenting higher scores on the psychopathy scales! Incredible, what it says about their judgement of fairness and cooperation, or really, what it says about their concern toward the group as a whole. Amazing! Thank you for sharing this info here with me :) I am writing it down to look into it whenever I have a free minute.

You guys have a great afternoon ahead!
I wish you two all the best always ...
:)

I just realized that I did a really poor job explaining he study I'm talking about. Lol. I was referring to the study known as the "ultimatum game." In it, two people have to split a sum of money and one participant makes an offer how the money will be split. If the second participant accepts the offer both recieve the amount of money provided by the original offer. If the offer is rejected then neither participant receives anything. Both participants are aware of the terms before the offer is made. In most cases participants behave fairly making offers at 40-50% split and generally, offers below 30% are rejected. Despite the fact that rejecting the offer is actually an irrational behavior, participants generally will take the punishment of receiving nothing in order to punish the other person for being unfair. In the case of psychopaths, they often accept unfair distributions, even very unfair ones. These participants generally saw any offer as a win for them - "money in their pocket."

Moral of the story: It's more rational to take the money regardless of the fairness of the offer but it's not socially cooperative, so the average person will typically reject an unfair distribution.

The study reminded me of your article because of the social cooperation aspect of it and the accepting punishment in order to punish others aspect.

Enjoy the rest of your day as well :)

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Oh, I see ... Thank you for taking the time to explain things further @leaky20 :)

Hello you....
Your post slipped right under my radar this week...I must be getting old or something.

Soooooooo much to say on this excellent piece...

I'm gonna have to do a full post on my blog, to give it justice.... and I'll link it on here.

It might be a day or two, though.
A very thought provoking article, respect.

I hope you're doing well
x

Hello there @lucylin :D

Even though my schedule is getting tight now with the end of the summer holidays, I'm doing fine thank you :)

I am so pleased to hear you enjoyed reading this post. I am awaiting to see what you're going to come up with. I remember once you did something like this about my post on Envy. It was quite cool having my work deconstructed like that!

Hope you're guys are all good too!!
Take care.
x

...silly moods are not what's required for the measured deconstruction!
(it's sooooo demands a full reply.)

Don't worry , I'll get serious sometime soon....honest..lol

https://steemit.com/blog/@lucylin/misconstrued-marketing-research-group-asks-girls-which-do-you-prefer-to-use-on-yourself

....everything very good, here, thanks.

Great analysis. I've noticed that natural consequences seem to be taken more seriously by some people than human-invoked consequences. For example, people who are more prone to drama seem more likely to flaunt the law or parental rules. But you can't escape natural consequences - like gravity - and we all seem to respect our "Mother" Nature, regardless of how rebellious we are. 🙂

This is very nice feedback @geke. It went straight into the heart of this entire discussion, with a very to the point conclusion :)

Thank you for stopping by :*

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oops...double post

Glad to know I'm not the only one who double posts every now and then :D