Deliberate self-harm (DSH) refers to intentionally self-inflicted injuries, and is mainly explained by abuse or neglect, severe psychopathy or at least a trait of a mental disorder. Most functions of DSH serve intrapersonal motives but interpersonal reasons are also found. These range from seeking for attention, pity and sympathy, to benefits like care, help or avoidance of unpleasant tasks or persons. To the latter belongs the deterrence of assaulters, a benefit, especially desirable for prisoners due to the hostile and brutal environment of prisons. This book scrutinizes two hypotheses of avoidance of attacks in prisons by the use of episodes of DSH as costly signals building upon the signaling theory developed in economics and biology. The first hypothesis is that DSH is an honest signal of fearlessness intended to repel other inmates from attacking. The second deals with the avoidance of assaulters by signaling madness via DSH to achieve relocation into an asylum. The underlying motive in this case is the need of protection, and thus, DSH serves as a cry for help to prison authorities. All necessary requirements of both hypotheses are examined, provided with evidence from existing research and analyzed with the help of mathematical models.
Chapter 2.3, Display of the non-suicidal self-injuries:
To function as a signal the incidents of NSSI have to become known to the target audience, in this case to the possible assaulters. This is a logical criterion because otherwise the performed acts of NSSI could not work as a signal if it is not sent to the audience and therefore can never be perceived. Any conscious form of display is hence a form of active signalling (Gambetta, 2009). However, this is not limited to display of the results through exposure of the affected areas (e.g. turn up sleeves to present injured arms), it is also possible through witnessing the process of NSSI itself or by relying on credible sources to spread news about the act (e.g. cell mates, guards).
The process of signalling alone does not specify the meaning of the sent message; it only states that a message is sent. Therefore display is evidence for interpersonal usage of NSSI as for intrapersonal purposes the self-injurers in the majority of cases resort to NSSI in private (Nock, Prinstein and Sterba, 2009) and mostly hide the traces, marks or scars. But display does not restrict the motivations in the production of the signal exclusively to interpersonal motives. It is possible that at first NSSI is carried out of intrapersonal reasons and it becomes accidentally known to the audience and then shows an interpersonal effect whereby the self-harmer learns how to rationally use NSSI and possibly continues using the behavior, coopting it for interpersonal motives in addition to the intrapersonal reasons (Gambetta, 2009).
In conclusion any form of deliberate display is directly linked to interpersonal effects and therefore separates neatly between solely intrapersonal usage of NSSI and interpersonal use, which still can be accompanied by intrapersonal motives. In consideration of the hypothesis to use NSSI as a strategic means to deter attackers the extent of interpersonal and intrapersonal reasons in production of the signal is not important, it is only crucial that there are interpersonal motivations involved which are revealed automatically by conscious display of the committed acts of NSSI. However, the conscious display to the possible assaulters does not render the requirement of linkage to conflicts unnecessary as this linkage shows not only that interpersonal reasons are involved but also restricts them from various interpersonal motives (e.g. cry for help to prison authorities) to the ones that matter for the hypothesis. More precisely, this means that the need to deter assaulters arises when there are conflicts and hence the elevated chance of attacks exists.
2.4, Intended message of non-suicidal self-injuries:
As already stated before NSSI can signal various messages ranging from attention seeking to provocation of revulsion with which the signaller wants to achieve social-positive or social-negative reinforcement. In case of NSSI as a rational device to deter attackers the reinforcement is social-negative because an aversive stimulus is removed, precisely the physical pain and the mental humiliation caused by the assaulters. This limits the possible messages sent by NSSI according to Gambetta to signals of madness or fearlessness (Gambetta, 2009).
Used as a signal of madness the prisoner appears more threatening and dangerous due to his demonstration of unpredictability and therefore the perceiver might fear that the signaller could also hurt him in an episode of lunacy. This anxiety is justified even if the perceiver is significantly stronger as the potential insane prisoner might strike any time and in total irreverence of consequences for his own health which he fairly presents by harming himself. So the natural defence of being stronger or well-organised with other prisoners that are ready to perform retaliation does not work against danger from probably insane prisoners. In total the effect of using NSSI as a signal to show madness is to indicate the possibility of irrational actions and therewith the generation of fear by unpredictable acts in general (Schelling, 1980). But if there is an asymmetry of force, in detail that the possible attacker is accompanied by other prisoners and thus they form a whole group of assaulters, the signal of madness loses a lot of its threatening effect. Even if the attackers assume that their victim might be insane and thus capable of irrational acts of defence or revenge, the chance of being the actual target is much smaller in a group. Hence the terrifying effect of madness is gone and this is the main reason why madness is not considered to be a message effective enough to deter assaulters according to Gambetta.
Another point to mention is that signalling madness is more likely a signal for prison authorities to relocate the signaller into a mental hospital. In this case the signal of NSSI is sufficient due to the fact that the prisoner might hurt himself severely or unwittingly kill himself by his next attempt. Additionally it is also mentionable that many psychologists view NSSI on a continuum with suicide (Zahl and Hawton, 2004; Houston, Hawton and Shepperd, 2001) hence NSSI could be the beginning of a behaviour that gradually increases in severity and leads ultimately to suicide. Except for the inflicted danger to himself, an insane prisoner could also possibly kill or severely hurt other prisoners or personnel. These kind of occurrences could lead to serious political trouble and therefore the jobs of the current prison administration might be at stake. These coherences are well known and there are documented cases in which the hope of transfer is highly assumed to be involved in the decision to perform NSSI or suicide attempts (Haycock, 1989). Furthermore the existence of madness aimed to deter attackers and of madness to be transferred to an asylum would complicate the whole hypothesis due to the fact that additional criteria have to be established to distinguish between them. And as shown before, madness as a signal to avoid being attacked by a group of assaulters is probably ineffective and therefore it is supposed for simplicity that all such signals are in this case directed to prison authorities.
That does not mean that the signal of madness and its effects are completely ineffective but the focus is on another message, namely fearlessness. According to Gambetta this is the main message in incidents with an asymmetry of force that means when the signaller could be easily overpowered by a group of attacking prisoners. Because of the weakening of madness as the transported message there is no need to look closer at the assaulters' fear of irrational acts as this is inferior to the effects of demonstrated fearlessness.
These effects are the indifference or immunity of the victim to physical attacks and therefore the inability of the attacker to control or humiliate him. Furthermore it demonstrates that the assaulters could not infect worse pain on the signaller than he already did by himself and hence there is no feeling of power over the signaller. This might together with indifference diminish the joy and purpose of the assaulters to pick on the signaller.
The attackers' motive is in this case supposed to be instrumental aggression (i.e. taking control over others) (Campbell et al., 1999) which is a goal-directed means to deal with interpersonal conflicts. A positive correlation between instrumental beliefs and physical aggression in prisoners exists evidentially (Archer and Haigh, 1997) and self-reports of bullies in prison reveal that asserting power is indeed a reason for their behaviour (Ireland and Archer, 1996). But if the instrumental aims of the assaulters are most likely not satisfied due to the demonstration of fearlessness and hence lack of control, there might be a chance that the attackers do not engage in physical violence against the signaller. This renders fearlessness suitable for the idea of deterring attackers by displaying it via resorting to acts of NSSI.
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- Artikel-Nr.: SW9783954896615
- Artikelnummer SW9783954896615
- Wasserzeichen ja
- Verlag Anchor Academic Publishing
- Seitenzahl 86
- Veröffentlichung 01.02.2014
- ISBN 9783954896615
- Wasserzeichen ja