Z_Man study psychology

Zimbardo has the muscle to study psychology. Do you?


Sometimes when looking for a job, you realise that you haven’t studied something that matches with your interests or personality. You may even come to the conclusion that you may need to dip back into university to pick up new skills. Our new “Why you should study” series is aimed at showing you the most interesting and insightful nuggets of knowledge for a variety of different subject areas. This week: why study psychology.

1.Study psychology so you don’t become a murderer

In 1961, social psychologist Stanley Milgram ran a series of experiments on the limits of authority and conformity. Coming from a Jewish family, Milgram paid close attention to the trial of Nazi and Holocaust-faciliator Adolf Eichmann. In the trial, Eichmann said that he was only following orders. This raise the question in Milgram’s mind of whether normal people would carry out similar atrocities, just because they were told to.

In his experiment (see above) participants were put in a situation where they thought they were administering electric shocks to a subject with a heart condition (who is actually just a recording). Every time the subject go the question wrong, the participant must zap him. This continues until 30 times until the subject screams of pain and drops to the floor. The participant is then told to continue zapping for every non-response.

How many people would make it all the way to the end of the experiment, in their minds killing someone and then zapping their corpse another ten times? What percentage? 65 percent. And a further 80% at least getting up to the killing stage.

The effect of authority and conformity is strong. Study psychology so you don’t accidentally kill someone.

2.Study psychology so you don’t go to jail

Similar to Milgram’s study, Philip Zimbardo’s 1971 experiment on power and roles also shows the dark side of humanity.

In this experiment, students were randomly sorted into being prisoners or guards and told to play those roles for a few days. What ensued was an interesting look into power relationships. Within a day, prisoners were revolting and guards using different forms of verbal and physical abuse to maintain order and, by extension, their authority. The experiment had to stop early to protect the participants as guards were almost to the point of sexually assaulting prisoners.

It shows how, in a bad situation, even normal people can become monsters.

3. Study psychology so you can get a hug (possibly more)

To counter-balance the “humanity is screwed” theme in the last two studies, here’s a happy one.

Psychologist Kenneth Gergen put a group of male and female students in a pitch-black room. In one condition, he told them that they’d have meet these people again and in another, he said they’d never meet any of these people again. In the first condition, everyone acted normally: they spoke, were polite and left. In the second condition, something interesting happened.¬†Almost 90% of subjects touched someone else on purpose. More than half hugged someone. A third ended up kissing. Almost 80% of the men and women reported feeling sexually excited.

One way of interpreting this experiment is to say that humans have a fundamental desire to connect with others. Pull back the veil of social forays and all you have are people in a room hugging. Isn’t that nice?

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