You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Psychology’ category.

Why do people commit evil?  How does one get from being an ordinary citizen to someone who oversees the genocide of their neighbours?   What are the psychological states that premeditate acts of violence on the personal and societal level?  Noga Arikha is a historian who has looked into the research on how we foment and propagate evil institutions and evil acts.

 

“This is what the neurosurgeon Itzhak Fried at the University of California, Los Angeles did with his article ‘Syndrome E’ (1997) in The Lancet. A syndrome is a group of biological symptoms that together constitute a clinical picture. And E stands for evil. With Syndrome E, Fried identified a cluster of 10 neuropsychological symptoms that are often present when evil acts are committed – when, as he puts it, ‘groups of previously nonviolent individuals’ turn ‘into repetitive killers of defenceless members of society’. The 10 neuropsychological symptoms are:

1. Repetition: the aggression is repeated compulsively.
2. Obsessive ideation: the perpetrators are obsessed with ideas that justify their aggression and underlie missions of ethnic cleansing, for instance that all Westerners, or all Muslims, or all Jews, or all Tutsis are evil.
3. Perseveration: circumstances have no impact on the perpetrator’s behaviour, who perseveres even if the action is self-destructive.
4. Diminished affective reactivity: the perpetrator has no emotional affect.
5. Hyperarousal: the elation experienced by the perpetrator is a high induced by repetition, and a function of the number of victims.
6. Intact language, memory and problem-solving skills: the syndrome has no impact on higher cognitive abilities.
7. Rapid habituation: the perpetrator becomes desensitised to the violence.
8. Compartmentalisation: the violence can take place in parallel to an ordinary, affectionate family life.
9. Environmental dependency: the context, especially identification with a group and obedience to an authority, determines what actions are possible.
10. Group contagion: belonging to the group enables the action, each member mapping his behaviour on the other. Fried’s assumption was that all these ways of behaving had underlying neurophysiological causes that were worth investigating.Note that the syndrome applies to those previously normal individuals who become able to kill. It excludes the wartime, sanctioned killing by and of military recruits that leads many soldiers to return home (if they ever do) with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); recognised psychopathologies such as sociopathic personality disorder that can lead someone to shoot schoolchildren; and crimes of passion or the sadistic pleasure in inflicting pain. When Hannah Arendt coined her expression ‘the banality of evil’ in Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963), she meant that the people responsible for actions that led to mass murder can be ordinary, obeying orders for banal reasons, such as not losing their jobs. The very notion of ordinariness was tested by social psychologists. In 1971, the prison experiment by the psychologist Philip Zimbardo at Stanford University played with this notion that ‘ordinary students’ could turn into abusive mock ‘prison guards’ – though it was largely unfounded, given evidence of flaws in the never-replicated experiment. Still, those afflicted with Syndrome E are indeed ordinary insofar as that they are not affected by any evident psychopathology. The historian Christopher Browning wrote of equally ‘ordinary men’ in the 1992 book of that name (referenced by Fried) who became Nazi soldiers. The soldier who killed my grandfather was very probably an ordinary man too.

Today, biology is a powerful explanatory force for much human behaviour, though it alone cannot account for horror. Much as the neurosciences are an exciting new tool for human self-understanding, they will not explain away our brutishness. Causal accounts of the destruction that humans inflict on each other are best provided by political history – not science, nor metaphysics. The past century alone is heavy with atrocities of unfathomable scale, albeit fathomable political genesis.”

I pondered the conclusions of this essay and am reminded of the work “Ordinary Men” by (also referenced in the essay) by Christopher R. Browning that describes the psychological and sociological contagions that bring out the evil that exists in all of us.  I’m struck by, even as I write, the tendency to pathologize evil as if it were disease that somehow takes root and manifests itself on ‘good people’.  This socially sanctioned frame, looking at the literature, is shockingly incorrect as the data points to the fact that we all possess the capacity to commit heinous acts of violence, even genocide, if the conditions are right.

Arikha states that “empathy is rarely universal” and that “Family belonging and social belonging are separate. When they meet, as happened in Bosnia and Rwanda when families turned on each other, the group identity prevails”.   Chilling statements such as these implode the ideas we carry around about common human decency and common human morality and empathy.  The story we tell ourselves, about ourselves, is bullshite and these bullshit assumptions are what we run ‘civilized’ society on.  I think this false narrative allows people to be repeated shocked and horrified when tales of wanton bloodshed and genocide hit the news – it is seen as a huge deviation from the norm.  Yet, if we look at humans, it isn’t a particular large leap from our observable behaviours.

We – ‘the good guys’ – ran a government sanctioned torture program.  Oh, certainly we had our legal pretzelese to mask and make torture palatable for the general public. Never the less, dodgy legal justifications do not nullify the social and psychological ramifications of one’s nation endorsing the institutional infliction of pain on others.  I think we are still seeing the negative effects of the torture revelations running through our western societies .

Essay’s like Arikha’s make me contemplate how much projection we engage in as a society to protect ourselves from the rather brutish reality of our societal and geo-poltical existence.

(*edited for early morning writing)

 

For those who don’t get the male gaze, another similar concept is the Panopticon and the theory that goes behind it. See also the Observer Effect study by Hawthorne (1950).

Something to brighten, or darken your day.

 

 

A couple of minutes of interesting psychology/philosophy to start your day. :)

Ambiguity, the palette of our world, just isn’t the best for us.

  Another hurdle for those who wish to change society.

“Social scientists spend a lot of time and effort criticizing, deconstructing and otherwise problematizing various systems, institutions, ideologies and policies. However, it is much less common for researchers to develop alternative social arrangements that could be plausibly implemented in the “real world.” And it is exceedingly rare for social scientists to meaningfully engage with the public and policymakers in order to help translate those possibilities into realities. However, these latter steps are arguably the most important for actually mitigating the social problems researchers identify and analyze.

Again, people tend to stand behind established orders, even ones that are highly dysfunctional, even ones they don’t particularly like or believe in, unless and until there is a viable and attractive alternative they can rally behind instead.  Absent options, critique approaches futility.

Social science could be much more impactful, therefore, if researchers utilized their expertise to not merely articulate what doesn’t work (and why)—but to really push themselves to think through what could work better. And not, could work in an ideal world, or what would’ve worked in a counterfactual past, or what will work in an envisioned future (assuming x, y and z). The focus should be on what practical steps can be plausibly taken, by actual agents, here and now, to make headway on social problems.”

 

Full Article by available on Counterpunch.

 

cogntivebiasDon’t feel bad about this, we are all in the same boat when it comes to making bad decisions or being unduly influenced.  The science behind advertising and persuasion has come a long ways, and knowing how they manipulate you and the rest of the public is valuable knowledge.  James Garvey lists three of the ways we are vulnerable to persuasion the Representative Heuristic, the Availability Heuristic, and the Anchoring Effect.  Before we can discuss these systems though a brief overview of how we think and the short cutting our brain does that makes life generally go well but not always thoughtfully.

[…] by distinguishing between two kind of thinking:fast, automatic, intuitive thinking and slow, reflective, rational thinking.  You can imagine that these two kinds of mental activities are the work of two parts of your mind, two systems that swing into different kinds of action to accomplish different tasks.  The part that is responsible for first kind of thinking is called system 1 or the Automatic System, and the part the engages in slower, more careful thought is called system 2 of the Reflective System. 

     System 1 operates quickly and automatically,  This feels instinctive and intuitive, and it requires no effort on your part.  System 1 is in charge when you orient yourself to a sudden sound, wince involuntarily when you see something that disgusts you, read anger in the lines on someone’s face, and recognize written words in your native tongue – it all just clicks fluently and automatically, without you thinking about it at all. 

   The work of System 2, the Reflective system, takes effort, an act of deliberate concentration on your part.  Your deliberative efforts are limited and cannot be sustained for very long without degradation, a phenomenon called ego depletion.   System 2’s work is voluntary, slower that your gut reactions, and associated with the experience of choice and agency. 

[…]

   The two systems interact with each other in a number of surprising ways,  System 1 typically engages in a kind of constant monitoring, throwing up a series of impressions and feelings that System 2 might endorse, ignore, check, focus on, act upon, or simply go along with.  Much of the time System 2 is in a low power state, aroused only when the Automatic system encounters something it cannot handle. 

[…]

  Our mental resources are therefore limited.  It is an effort to bring System 2 into play, and it can be overloaded by trying to do too much.  So evolution has taught us a number of shortcuts, rules of thumb or heuristics, which conserve our mental energies and serve us well most of the time.

[…]

  But it also means that we go wrong in systematic, predictable ways – we are constitutionally susceptible to cognitive biases, and in turn, we can be nudged.

[…]

   We use shortcuts to arrive at judgments too.  […] It’s a large part of the theoretical framework behind contemporary persuasion, and it’s already shaping our world and changing our lives. 

 

   Consider this description of Steve. 

   ‘Steve is very shy and withdrawn, invariably helpful, but with little interest in people, or in the world of reality.  A meek and tidy soul, he has a need for order and structure, and a passion for detail’

   What do you think Steve does for a living?  Is he more likely to be a farmer, salesman, airline pilot, librarian, or physician?  Once you have an answer to that question , ask yourself what job he is least likely to have.

[…]

    Very many people, including me when I first read that description , conclude that Steve is most likely a librarian – how could this shy guy like that possibly be a salesman? – and in coming to this conclusion we make use of what Kahneman and Tversky call the representativeness heuristic.   We let our automatic faculties rip and take a short cut to an answer.  If one slows down and thinks about it, though, there are a lot more farmers than librarians in the world.  That’s extremely pertinent information if you are trying to guess which job on a list is most likely for anybody, and it should lead us to conclude that it’s most likely Steve is a farmer, maybe a shy and withdrawn farmer, but still a farmer.  The probability that Steve is a librarian is instead assessed by the extent to which the description of Steve matches up with or is representative of stereotype of a librarian we have in our heads. 

[…]

  We do this entirely automatically, and it has an effect on a host of judgments – how likely we think politicians are to be good leaders, how likely a new business is to succeed, and how likely our doctor is to be competent. 

[…]

   People who understand persuasion will take care to fit the right stereotype and make it easier for us to come to conclusions about them automatically. 

 

A second set of biases result from what Kahneman and Tversky call the availability heuristic.  When we think about how likely some even is, we’re affected by how readily examples come to mind. 

[…]

brain   We are likely to over-estimate the number of wayward politicians, shark attacks and meltdowns at nuclear plants because we can probably easily recall instance of such things.  The problem is that how easily we can recall something has less to do with how likely or common or worrying an occurrence is and more to do with what we happen to have heard about in the news recently and how striking that news was to us.  The news you choose to watch therefore has a lot of power over you,  The stories it repeats reinforce your susceptibility to the availability effect. 

[…]

   We over-react at first, then under-react as time goes on.  […]  Because of its salience, we think homicide is more common that suicide, but it isn’t.  In fact, Americans are more likely to take their own lives than be murdered or die in a car crash, but because murder and car accidents are more newsworthy, dramatic and available that suicide, we concern ourselves more with home alarm systems and airbags than the signs of depression. 

   A final kind of bias identified by Kahneman and Tversky, perhaps the most interesting and difficult to accept of the three, is called the anchoring effect.  When people first think about a number and try to estimate an unknown quality, the initial number affect their guess, anchors it – the estimate they make tends to stay near by.  Again, the rule of thumb in play isn’t too bad a guide, and we use it all the time.  What’s the population of Pittsburgh? If you don’t know, but you do know that Philadelphia is the largest city in Pennsylvania, and it has about 1.5 million people in it, you might feel able to guess about Pittsburgh.  It’s certainly smaller than Philadelphia – maybe it’s half the size, so perhaps Pittsburgh has a population of few than 750,000,  Maybe 600,000?

    anchoringThere are two very weird facts about this familiar process of guessing a quantity,  First we tend to undercook the adjustments we make from the original guess.  Once we have a number and begin adjusting in the direction we think is right, we tend to stay too close to the anchor, possibly because once we find ourselves in uncertainty, we can’t think of a good raise to carry on, so we play it safe and stop too soon.  Pittsburgh is smaller that Philadelphia, so we adjust downwards, but how far downwards?  In fact, this example we stayed much too close to the anchor, as we usually do.  Just 300,000 people live in Pittsburgh.

    Second, it doesn’t matter where the first figure comes from, it will still anchor our estimates, even it has nothing at all to do with the domain in question.  According to at least one understanding of what’s going on in such cases, sometimes System 2 is in charge, finding what it hopes to be a reasonable anchor and adjusting off it to estimate an unknown quantity.  But sometimes System 1 gets hooked on an anchor and freely associates, without our conscious control, and the cascade of associations ends up affecting our later estimate, whether it’s reasonable or not. 

   Tversky and Kahneman illustrated this second kind of anchoring with a rigged roulette wheel – it showed numbers from 0 to 100 but it actually stopped on either 10 or 65.  They spun the wheel and asked a group of students to write the number down, and then answer two questions.

   ‘Is the percentage of African nations among the UN members larger or smaller than the number you just wrote?’

  ‘What is your best guess of the percentage of African nations in the UN?’ 

    The average guess of those who saw the number 10 was 25 percent.  The average guess of those who saw the number 65 was 45 percent.  A roulette wheel is not a particularly informative thing if you’re trying to work out how many African nations are members of the UN, but still, those who saw the high number guessed higher than those that saw the low number.  Even ludicrous anchors have an effect on us”

-James Garvey.  The Persuaders pp. 55 – 66

 

Yeah, so being wary of your System 1 answers is probably a good thing.  Bad news for the anchoring effect, as even when you’re told about it, it still works on you. :/

hindsight

 

This Blog best viewed with Ad-Block and Firefox!

What is ad block? It is an application that, at your discretion blocks out advertising so you can browse the internet for content as opposed to ads. If you do not have it, get it here so you can enjoy my blog without the insidious advertising.

Like Privacy?

Change your Browser to Duck Duck Go.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 376 other followers

Progressive Bloggers

Categories

August 2018
M T W T F S S
« Jul    
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  

Archives

Blogs I Follow

The DWR Community

The Feminist Kitanu

Spreading the dangerous disease of radical feminism

trionascully.com

Author. Humourist. Entertaining Dinner Guest.

Double Plus Good

The Evolution Will Not BeTelevised

la scapigliata

writer, doctor, wearer of many hats

Mars Caulton

Teaching Artist/ Progressive Educator

liberated558

Still she persisted

Old Wives' Tales

feminism, motherhood, writing

Female Personhood

Identifying as female since the dawn of time.

Not The News in Briefs

A blog by Helen Saxby

SOLIDARITY WITH HELEN STEEL

A blog in support of Helen Steel

thenationalsentinel.wordpress.com/

Where media credibility made a comeback.

BigBooButch

Memoirs of a Butch Lesbian

RadFemSpiraling

Radical Feminism Discourse

a sledge and crowbar

deconstructing identity and culture

The Radical Pen

Fighting For Female Liberation from Patriarchy

Emma

Politics, things that make you think, and recreational breaks

Nordic Model Now!

Movement for the Abolition of Prostitution

The WordPress C(h)ronicle

These are the best links shared by people working with WordPress

HANDS ACROSS THE AISLE

Biology, Not Bigotry

fmnst

Peak Trans and other feminist topics

There Are So Many Things Wrong With This

if you don't like the news, make some of your own

Gentle Curiosity

Musing over important things. More questions than answers.

ANTHRO FEMINISM

A place for thoughtful, truly intersectional Feminist discussion.

violetwisp

short commentaries, pretty pictures and strong opinions

Revive the Second Wave

gender-critical sex-negative intersectional radical feminism

Trans Animal Farm

The Trans Trend is Orwellian

Princess Henry of Wales

Priestess Belisama

miss guts.

just a girl on a journey

writing by renee

Trigger warning: feminism, women's rights

RANCOM!

Happily Retired

twanzphobic since forever

• • • • it's mocktacular! • • • •

freer lives

A socialist critique of gender ideology

Centering Women

A radical feminist page made for women only

radicalkitten

radical Elemental feminism

yumicpcake

A fine WordPress.com site

Feminist Twitches

Gender, Culture, Food, and Travel

RANCOM!

Happily Retired

A Radical TransFeminist

when I said "fuck the patriarchy", I didn't mean it literally

%d bloggers like this: