TIME psychology

Why Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Cried in Court

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing, photo released on April 19, 2013.
FBI/Getty Images Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a suspect in the Boston Marathon bombing, photo released on April 19, 2013.

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

When bravado does battle with the brain, the brain will win

Savagery is harder than you think. As members of a highly social species, genetically coded for cooperation, compassion, and the powerful, nearly telepathic ability to experience what another person is feeling, we should not be terribly surprised that convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev shed at least a few tears in court on Monday when his aunt took the stand in the trial’s penalty phase to plead for his life.

We like to think that our criminal monsters are just that—monstrous, somehow fundamentally different from the rest of us. And in some cases that’s true: serial killer Ted Bundy is often described as sociopathic, a man incapable of empathy. Movie theater shooter James Holmes is thought to be schizophrenic, a disease that can indeed leave people incapable of feeling.

But most of the time killers are people with the same emotional software as the rest of us. And just as happens with real software, theirs got corrupted somehow. When it comes to empathy, such a breakdown takes some doing.

The human brain is wired with so-called mirror neurons, brain cells that draw us together by causing us to experience similar things at the same moment. It’s mirror neurons that explain why yawns are contagious, why a newscaster’s sudden laughing jag makes you laugh too, why newborns—who have never seen themselves in a mirror and thus have no idea what their faces look like—will open their mouths wide when an adult does. Up to 10% of the brain’s neurons are thought to have mirroring properties, which is a measure of how important they are.

When Tsarnaev’s aunt took the stand, she began crying before she even spoke. When she did speak, she could manage to give only her name, her age and her place of birth before dissolving entirely and being allowed to step down. She was seated only 10 feet from her nephew, which made her a real and tactile presence.

Tsarnaev’s cool indifference, which has been on display throughout the trial, has seemed at least partly 21-year-old bravado—magnified many times over by whatever psychological journey he took that allowed him to commit the horrific crime he did, and magnified still more by the certain knowledge that his life is over, that he will either be executed or spend the next half dozen or so decades in a cage. It pays, at least in public, to maintain a certain numbness in the face of that reality, lest it become overwhelming.

But for a man-child who may be a horror but is not a Bundy, there are limits. Another person’s tears are limits. An aunt who, in a different time and place, would surely hug you is a limit. And mirror neurons—which populate the brain of the bomber as surely as they do the brain of the doctor or the mother or the person you love—are limits too. Tsarnaev ran out of emotional room today, and the sorrow he felt is just a small part of a penalty he will pay for many years.

Read next: Boston Bomber’s Teacher Says Tsarnaev ‘Always Wanted to Do the Right Thing’

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME medicine

The Best Way to Quit Smoking Isn’t E-Cigs

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Peter Dazeley—Getty Images

In the latest in-depth review of studies investigating which smoking cessation methods work best, experts say there isn’t enough evidence to support using e-cigarettes to kick the habit

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a government-convened group of experts, says that if you want to quit smoking, you’re better off with drug-based methods, behavior modification programs or a combination of both—not puffing on e-cigarettes. There isn’t enough evidence to support claims that e-cigs, which have been touted as the latest way to wean people off tobacco, can actually help people quit.

The task force focused on studies that investigated how effective various smoking cessation methods are, for both adults and pregnant women. Drugs that address nicotine’s effects on the body, as well as nicotine replacement options, are better ways to quit, and the data suggest that they are even more effective if used together. In addition, behavioral interventions, including support groups and counseling sessions, can boost quit rates from 7-13% compared to rates of 5-11% among those who don’t use them.

MORE: E-Cigs Are Smokers’ Favorite Quitting Tool

“We have an embarrassment of riches in terms of a menu of things to offer patients who want to quit smoking,” says Dr. Francisco Garcia, director and chief medical officer of the Pima County Health Department in Arizona and member of the task force. “But every individual is different; some might respond better to behavioral therapy, some might respond better to varenicline, some might feel nicotine replacement is important to bridge them away from tobacco use.” For most people, it’s a matter of discussing with the smoker which method has the most appeal, and which one they are more likely to stick with long enough to go smoke-free.

But for certain populations, there isn’t enough data to support one strategy over another. Among pregnant women, for example, there haven’t been many studies to show how drug-based methods might affect the developing fetus, so it’s hard to determine if the benefits of quitting outweigh he risks represented by the medications. So for now, the task force advises that pregnant women rely on behavioral, non-drug strategies to help them stop smoking.

MORE: This Is The New Best Way to Quit Smoking, Study Finds

And for e-cigarettes, the data is sparse. The panel concluded that there was “insufficient” evidence to determine whether e-cigarettes improve or hinder quit rates.

TIME psychology

Sympathy (of a Sort) for Aaron Hernandez

Goodbye to all that: Hernandez being arrested on June 25, 2013—his final day as a free man
George Rizer for The Boston Globe Goodbye to all that: Hernandez being arrested on June 25, 2013—his final day as a free man

Jeffrey Kluger is Editor at Large for TIME.

How should a civilized society punish its monsters?

Aaron Hernandez belongs in hell—literally. If the fiery pit really exists, the former New England Patriot who was just sentenced to life without parole for the murder of a friend, is awaiting trial for two earlier murders and is being sued by man whom he allegedly shot in the eye and left for dead, deserves a confirmed reservation in the lowest circle. What Hernandez and a lot of people like him don’t deserve, however, are the prisons in which they are serving their much-deserved sentences—at least in the conditions under which they will serve them.

The news stories that followed Hernandez’s conviction adhered to schadenfreudean form: watch as the man who used to wear number 81 dons the uniform of inmate W106228; watch as the one-time owner of a 7,100 sq. ft. home is locked inside a cell smaller than a parking space. There’s a certain understandable satisfaction in that: Criminal justice is at least partly about retribution—civil society venting its anger at its most uncivil members. And a killer like Hernandez has a lot of anger coming to him. But when does a lot become too much, especially if civil is the way a society wants to remain?

Just how Hernandez will do his lifetime of time is not yet set; a lot will depend on his behavior, his safety, and how much humbling the administrators of the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center outside of Boston believe he needs. But at best he can expect to remain inside his cell 19 hours out of every 24. Solitary confinement is a possibility—and that will mean 23-hour-a-day lockdown with an hour outside in a small, caged recreation area. He will eat his meals alone in his cell.

If Hernandez does wind up so deep in the correctional hole, he won’t be alone. Roughly 2.3 million people are incarcerated in the U.S. and an estimated 80,000 of them are either in solitary confinement or some other kind of segregated housing. That includes the more than 3,000 inmates on death row, most of whom remain there for years or decades. That once included too the 151 inmates who have been released from death row since 1973 after wrongful convictions were exposed and overturned. In many states, 23 hours in the cell also means no TV, radio, books, music, magazines, or any other distractions.

Conditions like that may be designed to break the spirit, especially in the case of gang members or other violent prisoners, but they also wreck the mind—and fast. As TIME reported in 2007, electroencephalograms show that it takes only a handful of days in isolation for prisoners’ brain waves to shift to a pattern indicating isolation and delirium. As long ago as 1890, the U.S. Supreme Court condemned solitary confinement for its tendency to leave prisoners in a “semi-fatuous condition,” a form of punishment some investigators now call “no-touch torture.”

Suicide rates are disproportionately high among the punitively entombed, as are hallucinations, violent episodes, panic, paranoia, and self-mutilation. And since it is underlying mental disorders that often land inmates in prison in the first place, the time they spend in the hole only exacerbates the problem.

Not only is this inhumane, it also perverts the criminal justice system. When Jose Padilla, the so-called dirty bomber now serving 21 years on terrorism charges, was preparing to stand trial in 2007, his lawyers challenged his fitness to do so, arguing that the three and a half years he had spent in solitary had rendered him unable to assist in his own defense. It was an argument that availed Padilla little, but it provides a credible avenue for other defense attorneys involved in similar cases.

Worse, inmates who are not serving life terms and are eventually released to the streets after long stretches in segregated confinement are likelier to re-offend violently—a combination of rage and lack of social contact destroying whatever self-regulatory faculties they once had. In 2013, Colorado prison director Tom Clements, who had begun reforming the state’s solitary confinement policies, was gunned down by a former prisoner who went straight from solitary confinement to freedom, a sudden trip across dimensions he was clearly not able to handle. His successor, Rick Raemisch, has continued the reforms and even spent nearly 24 hours in an isolation cell as a way of both sampling the experience and demonstrating his commitment to limiting its use.

Pressure for reform is coming as well from prison staffs—who live every day with the dangers that accrue when violent criminals are driven systematically mad. Last year, the Texas prison guards’ union wrote a letter to the state’s department of criminal justice asking that the use solitary confinement be curbed, that even some death row inmates be integrated into the prison population and that such sanity-preserving privileges as TVs, tablets, and the option of a prison job be more widely offered.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the state had already made impressive progress, reducing the solitary confinement population by 25% since 2006. But that still leaves 7,100 inmates—2,400 of whom have diagnosed with psychiatric illnesses or mental disability—locked away alone. A handful of other states including New York, Colorado, and Mississippi have also begun reforming their solitary confinement policies.

Compassion for monsters is not easy to achieve—and the slope gets slippery fast. Hernandez is one thing, but what about Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who is still waiting to see if he will be sentenced to death or life? What about Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols or 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui? Your pure evil may be different from my pure evil, so how do we decide? The only thing all of these criminals have in common is that they once had lives, freedom, and, in the case of Hernandez, fame and great wealth too—and they forfeited it all. We can punish them and pen them without forfeiting an important part of ourselves as well.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME medicine

Puerto Rico Governor Signs Executive Order to Legalize Medical Marijuana

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Getty Images

The order goes into immediate effect

The governor of Puerto Rico signed an executive order Sunday to permit the use of medical marijuana in the U.S. territory.

“We’re taking a significant step in the area of health that is fundamental to our development and quality of life,” Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla said in a statement. “I am sure that many patients will receive appropriate treatment that will offer them new hope.”

Padilla noted that research supports the use of marijuana to relieve pain and symptoms from disorders that range from multiple sclerosis to glaucoma.

Puerto Rico’s health secretary has three months to release a report on how the executive order will be implemented in the territory and what its impact will be, the Associated Press reports. Medical marijuana is legal in 23 U.S. states.

[AP]

TIME Research

Parents May Pass On Sleepwalking to Their Kids

Somnambulant parents likely to have kids who walk in their sleep too

Kids are more likely to sleepwalk if their parents also did, a new study suggests.

The new research, published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, found that over 60% of kids who developed somnambulism had parents who were both sleepwalkers.

The study authors looked at sleep data for 1,940 kids whose history of sleepwalking and sleep terrors (episodes of screaming and fear while falling asleep) as well as their parents sleepwalking were reported through questionnaires.

The data showed that kids were three times more likely to become a sleepwalker if they had one parent who was, and seven times more likely to sleep walk if both parents had a history of it. The prevalence of sleepwalking was 61.5% for kids with dual parent sleepwalking history.

The overall prevalence of sleepwalking in childhood reported among kids ages 2.5 to 13 years old was 29.1%, while the overall prevalence of sleep terrors for kids between age 1.5 to 13 was 56.2%. Kids who had sleep terrors were more likely to also develop sleepwalking, compared to kids who did not have them.

“These findings point to a strong genetic influence on sleepwalking and, to a lesser degree, sleep terrors,” the study authors write. “This effect may occur through polymorphisms in the genes involved in slow-wave sleep generation or sleep depth. Parents who have been sleepwalkers in the past, particularly in cases where both parents have been sleepwalkers, can expect their children to sleepwalk and thus should prepare adequately.”

TIME Crime

Mother Tosses Baby Off Bridge, Then Jumps

The mother is charged with attempted homicide

A teen mother was seen throwing her baby over a Pennsylvania bridge and into the water below, before jumping off the bridge herself.

The apparent attempted murder-suicide happened Sunday around 1:45 p.m in the city of Allentown, KTLA 5 reports. Witnesses said the 19-year-old mother was seen pushing the baby in a stroller before throwing the child, and then herself, over the Hamilton Street Bridge.

The mother was found unconscious under the bridge and the baby was found 700 yards downstream. Police officers were able to perform CPR on the child. Both the mother and the baby are expected to survive, according to Allentown Police Capt. William Reinik.

The mother has been charged with attempted homicide, NBC10.com reports.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

This Kind of Sugar Triggers Unhealthy Cravings

TIME.com stock photos Food Snacks Candy Peach Rings
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Fructose may mess with how our brains process rewards, a new study says

A new study shows a type of sugar found naturally in fruit may increase cravings for high-calorie foods.

In a small study of 24 people published in the journal PNAS, researchers found that fructose — which we primarily consume as an added sweetener in processed foods — was associated with activity in some areas of the brain that process rewards.

MORE: This Is the No. 1 Driver of Diabetes and Obesity

The researchers gave the volunteers cherry-flavored drinks that were sweetened with fructose on one day and drinks sweetened with glucose on another day, and asked them to report their hunger levels.

Neuroimaging scans of the participants showed more activity in the orbitofrontal cortex and visual cortex of their brains, which are involved in reward processing, when they looked at images of food after they ingested fructose compared to glucose.

The researchers also showed the men and women images of high calorie foods and asked if they would like to have food now, or if they would like a monetary bonus later on. When drinking fructose, the individuals were more likely to say they wanted the food reward right away rather than money later on.

“These findings suggest that ingestion of fructose relative to glucose results in greater activation of brain regions involved in attention and reward processing and may promote feeding behavior,” the study authors write. It’s possible, they suggest, that fructose has less appetite suppressing effects compared to glucose. As TIME has previously reported, the two types of sugar are metabolized differently in the body.

The findings are still preliminary and the study sample was small, but this isn’t the first time that fructose has been linked to possibly unhealthy effects. A previous 2015 study published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings showed that, when compared to other types of sugars and sweeteners, fructose was linked to worsening insulin levels and glucose tolerance—a driver for pre-diabetes—and it was linked to harmful fat storage and markers for inflammation and high blood pressure.

So does that mean you should give up eating fruit? No, says study author Dr. Kathleen A. Page, an assistant professor of clinical medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California told the New York Times. “It has a relatively low amount of sugar compared with processed foods and soft drinks,” she said.

TIME psychology

How Birth Order Will Shape the New Royal Princess

It's never easy being a second-born—especially when your big brother is going to be king

Dear Royal Princess:

You’re having some kind of week—what with labor and birth and the entire planet waiting for pictures of you so they can smile and swoon and make strange smoochy noises at the mere sight of you. It’s all good, and the last thing I want to be is the skunk at the monarchical picnic, but there’s one detail folks may have neglected to mention and you might as well learn about it now. His name is George—or Georgie as all those smoochy people call him—and he’s got plans for you.

George is your big brother. He’s only 20 months old and the world finds him adorable, but you won’t—for a lot of reasons. For starters, at some point in your childhood he will sit on your head. Actually, at a lot of points in your childhood he will sit on your head—and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.

The main problem with George is not that he’s third in line to the throne and you’re fourth. That just happens to be one of the downsides of your family business. The problem is one that’s familiar to the rest of us serfs and colonists: he’s the first born, and you’re not.

Your mom and your dad—lovely people, by all accounts—are no different from other parents when it comes to baby-making; they’re ruled by their genes and genes are greedy. The only thing they want is to be reproduced over and over and over again. That makes moms and dads want to have lots of babies, which is good, but they don’t treat all those babies exactly the same.

The first-born—Georgie in your case—gets a head start on food, attention, medical care, education and more. Before the second-born—you, in your case—even comes along, that makes the big sibling a better bet to survive childhood, grow up and have babies of his own, which makes the genes smile. In your family, of course, there’s plenty of food, money and other resources to go around, but back in the days of one of your many royal grandpas—let’s say Edward III, who had the rotten luck to be in office in 1348 when the black plague was making its rounds—surviving childhood wasn’t such a sure thing.

So moms and dads, who have already invested a lot of resources in the first born, tend to favor that child, with later ones getting what’s left over. Corporations call this sunk costs (you’ll learn about this at Eton). In the case of the monarchy, it’s called “an heir and a spare”—but you didn’t hear that from me.

This is an arrangement that suits that first product just fine, which is why big brothers and sisters tend to play by the rules. Your job—and the job of any littler royals who may come along after you—will be to try to upset that order. It’s why later-borns tend to be more rebellious and to take more risks than first-borns. You’ll be likelier to play extreme sports than big bro George. Even if you and he play the same sports, you’ll choose a more physical position—say, a catcher instead of a pitcher in baseball (which is a sport like cricket except the bat is thinner and the ball moves faster and there’s this thing called the infield fly rule and…never mind). In the event you ever become Ruler of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of other Realms and Territories around the world—and a whole lot would have to go wrong in your family for that to happen, so don’t start getting measured for the cape yet—you’d be a more liberal, less conventional monarch than your big bro will be.

Later-borns are more inclined to be artists too, and if there is a comedian in the family, it’s likeliest to be the very last-born. This makes sense, since when you’re the smallest person in the nursery, you are in constant risk of getting clocked by someone bigger, so you learn to disarm with humor.

As you get older, other perils await—ones that are especially problematic for royal families. You don’t really know your grandpa Charles yet, but you’ll find he’s a pretty well-behaved guy (OK, there was the thing with grandmum Camilla, but that’s for him to explain to you). The same is true of your dad. How come? Because they’re both going to be king one day.

As for your Uncle Harry? Ask him about what he wears to Halloween parties (not good) or to play pool in Las Vegas hotel rooms (not much). And if he hasn’t always been the picture of royal reserve, well, neither have your great-grandpa Phillip or your great uncle Andrew. (One day, ask Uncle Andy about a special friend of his named Miss Stark—and if you really want to get a laugh, call her Auntie Koo.) That’s what comes from having lots of money, too much free time, and being really, really close to the throne but never getting to sit on it.

In fairness, it’s not just you royals who get up to mischief when a big sib is the star and you’re not. Something similar has happened here in the colonies. Ever heard of Donald Nixon or Billy Carter or Roger Clinton or Neil Bush? Probably not, but trust me, don’t be those guys.

None of this is for you to worry about yet. Even royal babies are just babies, so for now sleep in, fatten up and hang with mom as much as you can—especially if it keeps your dad away from her. Trust me, the middle-child gig is even worse.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Kids Overeat When They’re Stressed, Study Says

Especially if their parents use food as a reward

Next time you watch Bambi with your kids, you may want to hide the ice cream: A new study shows that 5-to-7-year-old children tend to eat more when they’re sad.

According to a new study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, kids are more likely to overeat when they are upset, especially if their parents have used food as a reward in the past. The study notes that stress eating is a learned and unnatural behavior, since stress and emotional turmoil usually reduce appetite, rather than increasing it. The fact that children were found to have stress eating tendencies at this age suggests that emotional overeating is something children learn in early childhood, perhaps because of the way their parents feed them.

The researchers divided the kids into two groups, asked them to color a picture, and then told them they would get a toy once the coloring was done. With one group of kids, the researchers withheld a crayon that was needed to complete the drawing, which meant the kids couldn’t get their prize. This was a “stressful situation” for the children. While the researchers pretended to look for the crayon so the kids could complete the drawing, kids snacked on a few different items around the room. Afterwards, the researchers found that the kids in the “stressful” situation ate more than the kids who were able to finish their drawing and get the toy, especially if their parents said they had used food as a reward in the past.

The study found that children were much more likely to stress eat if their parents over-controlled their eating, by doing things like using food as a reward or withholding food for health reasons. According to the researchers, these practices can override children’s natural hunger instincts, instead making food into a reward or an emotional comfort.

But because the sample size is relatively small (41 parent-child duos) more research is needed before we’ll get a clearer picture of how exactly parents’ feeding practices affect the way kids think about stress eating.

 

 

TIME Addiction

Health Experts Angry FDA Still Doesn’t Regulate E-Cigarettes

TIME.com stock photos E-Cig Electronic Cigarette Smoke
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Prominent medical groups are asking the government to hurry up

A year has passed since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed new regulations for e-cigarettes, cigars and waterpipe tobacco, to prevent them from being sold to minors and to require manufacturers to add health warnings to labels—but the new rules still haven’t gone into effect.

Now, public health experts are urging action, arguing it’s unacceptable that it’s taken so long given data shows use of these products among minors has spiked.

Earlier this week, 31 health and medical groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Heart Association wrote a letter to President Obama asking for the federal government to finalize the “long-overdue” regulation. The medical groups say cigar and e-cigarette brands are using marketing tactics that they feel appeal directly to young people, like promoting candy and fruit-flavored products, and they want regulations to put an end to it.

“It’s no wonder use of e-cigarettes by youth has skyrocketed,” the letter reads. “This process has already taken far too long. We cannot afford more delays that allow tobacco companies to target our kids with a new generation of tobacco products.”

Health experts are concerned over a recent U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that showed e-cigarette use among middle school and high school students tripled between 2013 to 2014 and hookah use doubled. The report showed that e-cigarette use among high schoolers increased from 4.5% in 2013 to 13.4% in 2014, which is a rise from approximately 660,000 students to 2 million.

“My concern is always the first-time users,” says Shyam Biswal, a professor in the department of Environmental Health Sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “It’s bad it took so long to make a dent in [conventional] tobacco users, and we are now starting something else, and we are just waiting and waiting and waiting. We don’t have the data that e-cigarettes are a gateway [to other tobacco products], so we just wait. It should not be like that.”

In a statement sent to TIME, the FDA said it “remains concerned about the significant increase in e-cigarette and hookah usage among youth.” The agency wrote:

These staggering increases in such a short time underscore why FDA intends to regulate these additional products to protect public health. Rulemaking is a complex process, and this particular proposed rule resulted in more than 135,000 public comments for the agency to review and consider. FDA is committed to moving forward expeditiously to finalize the rule that will extend its authority to additional tobacco products such as e-cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, and other currently unregulated tobacco products.

Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco Center for Tobacco Control Research & Education, said he hopes that when the regulation is finalized there are no loopholes. “Given that the White House has blocked eliminating menthol from cigarettes for years despite strong evidence—including from the FDA’s own analysis that doing so would protect public health—I am not holding my breath,” he said.

Several states and local governments have regulated items like e-cigarettes on their own. Data shows at least 42 states and 1 territory currently prohibit the sale of e-cigarettes or vaping/alternative tobacco products to minors.

“I just hope that the final FDA rule does not do anything to make that process more difficult,” said Glantz.

The medical groups concluded in their letter that “further delay will only serve the interests of the tobacco companies, which have a long history of using product design and marketing tactics to attract children to harmful and addictive products.”

When asked for a comment about the letter, the White House’s Office of Management and Budget referred TIME to the FDA.

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