Sunday February 24, 2013
A liíl psychological knowledge...
BIG SMILE NO TEETH
By JASON GODFREY
Itís funny how sometimes itís the elective course you signed up for on a whim that stays with you long after graduation.
One of the best electives I took in university was Psych 205 Abnormal Psychology.
Besides introducing me to the different personality disorders which meant I spent the entire term trying to figure out which disorder I had, despite the Professor warning us that there was the risk that we would become obsessive compulsive trying to deduce which one we had, thus fulfilling a kind of self-fulfilling prophesy, it was one of the best classes I ever took.
But no, potentially becoming OCD wasnít why it was a great elective. Neither is the fact that for extra credit the university encouraged students to loan themselves out to the psychology department as guinea pigs to take part in experiments.
These included ďWhat is your reactionĒ, where they recorded my response to being at a dinner party when a guest passes wind, and the slowing of reaction times due to alcohol, which consisted of a grad student yelling at me to ingest my glass within 30 seconds or their experiment would be ruined, which, on reflection, was pretty similar to most nights in university.
Psychology was incredible for the basics I learned about the human psyche. Itís amazing the things that stick with you in life. My basic everyman knowledge of psychology learned back in Psych 205, an elective I didnít need to take, is one of those things that has stuck with me and seems to come up all the time.
Itís the little things. Like when someone puts their hands behind their heads and raises their arms exposing their armpits Ė itís a primal posturing for dominance. I guess spreading their odour is the primary goal here, which seems contrary to most social conventions as spreading your personal BO doesnít win people many popularity contests.
But the idea is sound. Your father putting his hands behind his head after dinner suddenly doesnít seem so innocuous.
Or one day my professor told us to think of a crime we would like to commit and to write it on a piece of paper and pass it to the person next to us. We all did as he said, and then he instructed us to read the paper of the person next to us, which was pretty shaky as it was completely plausible the person next to any of us might have written, ďKill the person next to meĒ.
The professor then told us that the crime most university undergraduates would like to commit was bank robbery and he instructed us to open the papers we had received. Sure enough, by a show of hands, most of us had written bank robbery. So had I. Itís a shame to be so predictable.
We also learned about the Milgram experiments. A researcher from Yale University named StanleyMilgram, in the wake of Nazi war criminals being put on trial, wanted to answer the question many people were asking, namely, how could people commit the types of crimes carried out during the Holocaust.
He devised an experiment where an authority figure directed a subject to administer higher and higher electric shocks to a make-believe patient.
The idea was to see how many regular people would administer the highest voltage to the patient who was, in fact, a pre-recorded actor screaming and shouting on the other end.
Basically Milgram believed the answer to how the Naziís did what they did was that they were just following orders and therefore not violating their own moral code. He ended up being right. The majority of the subjects in milgramís experiment, despite showing signs of distress, administered the highest voltage Ė a lethal shock Ė without coercion more excessive than a person in a lab coat telling them in plain terms that it must be done.
Milgramís experiments were controversial because of the ethics of exposing subjects to inflicted insight, namely finding out that they would fatally harm others, but his findings also revealed a great deal about human nature.
Many psychologists questioned the ethics of putting subjects in the sort of high stakes situations Milgram put his subjects in. Itís sort of funny that psychologists may question potential harm caused to subjects for the sake of research while reality TV shows never question what they put their participants through for the sake of entertainment.
But I digress.
How many times do I fall back on my rudimentary knowledge of abnormal psychology to understand whatís happening around me?
Abnormal Psych has formed the basis for how I understand peopleís behaviour which might be terrible since I never took more advanced classes, but for better or worse itís stuck with me and this little write-up has been all done so that you never look at someone putting their hands behind their heads the same way again.
Jason Godfrey can be seen hosting The LINK on Life Inspired (Astro B.yond Ch 706). Write to him at email@example.com