While reading The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil by Philip G. Zimbardo, I have found myself thinking a lot about the Stanford prison experiment. This psychological experiment was led by Zimbardo and this book is his first full account of what actually happened. The Stanford prison experiment was a study into the psychological effects of the prison experience which was conducted at Stanford University in 1971. The funding for this experiment was provided by the U.S. Office of Naval Research, with interest from both the Navy and Marine Corps into the relationship between military guards and prisoners.
I first learnt about the Stanford prison experiment thanks to watching Veronica Mars (“My Big Fat Greek Rush Week” S03E02). However reading through The Lucifer Effect, I did not expect there to be so many different psychological ideas going on at once. I know simulating an environment will need different researchers and involve a lot of analysis but I kept thinking of different things that will need to be looked at and the list kept growing and growing. Take for example the experiences the prisoners would feel, disorientation, de-personalisation (as well as dehumanisation) and so much more. It was interesting that the guards took on this mentality that this experiment was looking at prisoner behaviour and felt the need to take on the role of a stereotypical guard.
The term “enclothed cognition” sprung to mind while reading the book. An idea that the clothes that you wear can psychologically influence you. Within an experiment of enclothed cognition, some people are asked to perform brain exercises; half were dressed in a lab coat. The results ended up with the group wearing the lab coat performing better than the others. They then went on to give everyone a lab coat, half were told it was a painter’s coat and the others, a doctor’s coat. The results were similar, with the people wearing what they thought was a doctor’s coat performing better than the others. The application of a military uniform and reflective sun glasses seemed to have a dominating affect towards the treatment of the prisoners.
There is a lot more worth talking about, with the Stanford prison experiment but I will live it with those few ideas. I am working through The Lucifer Effect slowly and I might add more posts about what I have been thinking. However I would like to mention that there is a movie called The Stanford Prison Experiment about to be released about what happened in this study that looks fascinating. I am very interested in seeing how it translates but I am sure it will be traumatising.
If you follow me on twitter you might of seen me tweet;
Ask.FM is a social network where people can ask each other questions. To feed everyone’s nasicism and give people a chance to talk about one of their favourite subjects, themselves. I joined because I thought it would be a good chance for people to get to know me better and well, it also looked fun. Deep down I thought it would be a place where people can get to know me better, ask questions and I would answer honestly. If I think about it the majority of the questions I’ve answered came from my wife (who already knows the answer), myself or just by rolling the dice and getting a random question. If I really think about it there is a small percentage of my twitter followers who might read those answers (probably a smaller percentage that I expect) and I doubt anyone reads those tweets and clicks on the link.
This is an Internet form of The Spotlight Effect; which is a psychological theory that theorises that people tend to overestimate the extent on which others notice. Like when you go out in public and think everyone is looking at you, or becoming self conscious about the way you’ve dressed or your hair. But in actual fact the amount of people that have noticed you or what is happening in your life is very little. Most people are too focused on their own world and you are just part of the backdrop. If you asked a stranger what you wore last time they saw you, they are unlikely to remember.
There are dozens of experiments to support the Spotlight Effect; we are the centre of our own universes and naturally think others are paying attention but in reality they are thinking the same thing. People don’t often think of themselves as biased but when it comes to ourselves and the Spotlight Effect we can’t help to have a blind spot. Even if we overestimate the amount of attention we receive, is there a way to condition ourselves to not be so self-conscious?
My wife and I were raised in in religious homes, she was raised Catholic and I come from a Pentecostal background. This often leads to some interesting debating on theology. While we are both accepting of each other’s theological views, both seem to think we are right. In psychology this is known as the Third Person Effect.
The hypothesis predicts that individuals overestimate the information they receive while generalise others. There is a misconception that the information an individual has is based on experience or fact and anyone that may disagree are falling for lies or propaganda from sources you may not know or trust. While in truth, most thinks that anyone who believes differently to themselves are gullible. That means most people believe they are far less susceptible to persuasion that they really are. We are smart, intelligent and thus not susceptible to these persuasions (more on the Dunning-Kruger Effect in the future).
We are affected by persuasion from the media, family, teachers, mentors and religious leaders. Yet we never want to believe that we are being persuaded, we don’t want to think that others influence our opinions. When we see something that may not align with our person ideals we can be defensive or automatically disregard the message as a lie or a persuasion for the weaker minded.
You’ve heard it all before; “I can see right through those lies” “People are such sheep or so stupid” and my favourite, the theosophy I want to live by; “I prefer to lead, not follow”. A lot of people think this, and with mass media and even con artists out there, so many of us must be delusional. We might even go to the extreme as to think we need to help them, stop them from falling into the trap. This could lead to censorship, banning or maybe something worse. The ‘them’ we often try to save could be anyone, children or gay and lesbians and so on.
From one extreme of a harmless debate on theology to censorship or brainwashing; these may not be connected but the whole idea of the Third Person Effect and persuasion is an interesting one. We want to think we are independent thinkers and see ourselves as having an open mind. When we disagree with someone do we automatically think they are wrong? We may not want to try and help this weak-minded people that are ignorant of ‘our’ truth but we might shake our head or feel sorry for them.
Points to think and comment on
- We tend to think we are not like the people that we work with or went to school with or even live in the same location as us. We are unique but everyone else is thinking the same thing.
- Mass media often use research and marketing to try and cut through the Third Person Effect.
- How can we truly be open minded and independent thinkers?
Culture is all around us, especially in the music and the media, but we tend to miss it. I missed this one because I missed the show entirely but this bit of insight makes me want to watch the show.
David Lynch’s cult classic Twin Peaks has a few great examples culture. Mainly the use of dream-analysis; Dale Cooper solved the death of Laura Palmer in his sleep, literally. But he doesn’t remember, he knows that he knows but it’s been kept from him. He states in the show ‘My dream is a code waiting to be cracked – break the code, solve the crime’
Interestingly enough Lynch didn’t have an interpretation of the dream, it was an after thought; he had a ‘waking dream’ of this whole dream sequence and decided to add it into the show.
I’m sure The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud would have come in handy in solving the crime. But what is the book really about? Freud description is;
In the following pages, I shall demonstrate that there is a psychological technique which makes it possible to interpret dreams, and that on the application of this technique, every dream will reveal itself as a psychological structure, full of significance, and one which may be assigned to a specific place in the psychic activities of the waking state. Further, I shall endeavour to elucidate the processes which underlie the strangeness and obscurity of dreams, and to deduce from these processes the nature of the psychic forces whose conflict or co-operation is responsible for our dreams.
Though the book is widely considered to be his most important contribution to psychology, I have serious doubts about this book. For starters, people think differently and I suspect that they would dream differently as well. I don’t pretend to understand the whole Dream Interpretation theories; I just don’t think every dream would fit neatly into these interpretations.