I recently attended the Science Online 2011 conference in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. It was a great meeting, and I made lots of new friends and had a ton of fun while I was there. I learned so many new things that it will take several posts to share them with all of you. One fun aspect of the conference was live-Tweeting, which I’d never done before. Together, scientists, librarians and science writers using the #scio11 hashtag reached the 1 centiBieber threshold.
See, Justin Bieber accounts for 3% of all Twitter traffic, or about 3 million Tweets per day. In Twitter parlance, a “hashtag” is a way of identifying the subject of a particular tweet. On Saturday Jan 15, the #scio11 hashtag had a volume of 0.03% of Twitter traffic, or about 1 centiBieber. My single tweet promoting this post will be 0.01 milliBieber or 10 nanoBiebers.
But one of the neatest things I learned was about a sport I’d not heard of before: chess boxing. I thought it was a joke at first, but Andrea Kuszewski, one of the coolest people on Earth, posted up a complete explanation in her guest blog for Scientific American. In it, she suggests that maybe more chess boxing would result in less of a chance of violence as we saw in Tucson on January 8.
Chess boxing (video here and here) is a sport that, you guessed it, combines chess and boxing. Participants engage in five three-minute boxing rounds sandwiched between six four-minute rounds of speed chess. A win is attained by either a knockout, a checkmate, or points.
Chess boxing is a sport “invented” in the science-fiction graphic novel Froid Equator (“Equator Cold“), by Enki Bilal.
The key to chess boxing is emotion regulation. It’s challenging, because you have to set aside the emotions that necessarily occur when someone is trying to beat the crap out of you, and focus on a game that requires a lot of brainpower and concentration. Anyone who has ever tried to make a presentation or take a test after having a fight with a spouse, or almost getting involved in an automobile accident, can attest to the difficulty of emotion regulation.
Kuszewski argues, and I agree, that lack of emotion regulation may play a large role in the behavior of violent criminals. Perhaps what is needed in our society is more skill in emotion regulation. Maybe what we need is Little League Chess Boxing, or a Golden Gloves Chess Club as an after-school activity.
This is not the first time that psychiatrists have speculated that emotion regulation plays a key role in controlling violent behavior. David Garabedian was a worker who applied lawn chemicals, some of which may or may not have triggered violent behavior. On March 29, 1983, Garabedian was urinating on the side of Eileen F. Muldoon’s house (Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Garabedian, 399 Mass. 304) when she discovered him. Understandably upset, the customer confronted Garabedian whereupon he killed her by strangling her with the drawstring of his hoodie and then pummeled her face with rocks.
At his trial, psychiatrist David Bear surmised that Garabedian’s violent behavior was triggered by the exposure to lawn chemicals (some of which are anti-cholinesterases, a kind of nerve agent which has been shown to spark violent behavior in some research animals). Further, Bear speculated that Garabedian, who was a quiet and reserved man before and after the incident, was unable to control the chemically induced flood of violent emotion because he lacked experience in regulating violent behavior, since it was the first time for him to feel such emotions—he had “no prior history of aggression or violence.” The jury was unconvinced, and convicted Garabedian of first-degree murder.
Could emotion regulation be the key to reducing violent behavior? Kuszewski thinks so. Perhaps we should require all those wanting to purchase weapons to complete a chess boxing certification first.