Science of the Spirit


Famous Milgram 'electric shocks' experiment drew wrong conclusions about evil, say psychologists

Milgram Experiment
© The Independent, UK
Experiment in obedience was flawed, according to new research.
For more than 50 years, anyone seeking proof that humans are capable of evil need only refer to the electric shocks administered by volunteers in the famous Milgram Experiment.

Now psychologists have found that the study, which showed how ordinary people will inflict extraordinary harm upon others, if someone in authority gives the orders, may have been completely misunderstood.

Instead of a latent capacity for evil, we just want to feel good about ourselves. And it is Professor Stanley Milgram's skill as a "dramatist" which led us to believe otherwise.

In his 1961 Yale University experiment, Milgram asked volunteers to give what they thought were electric shocks of increasing strength to people who were trying but failing to learn a task. The "students" were actors, but the volunteers believed the set up was genuine.

In the best known variant of the study, some two thirds of people continued all the way up to the maximum 450-volt level.
Light Saber

Why good people do bad things: psychological traps to avoid

Orange Is The New Black
© Barbara Nitke for Netflix
In Orange Is The New Black, Piper Chapman ends up in prison for carrying drug money for her girlfriend.
It's an old story: The star executive who gets caught waist-deep in a fraud scandal; the finance phenom who steals millions by skimming off the top.

What causes these smart, successful people to get wrapped up in illegal activities and unethical behavior? Dr. Muel Kaptein of the Rotterdam School of Management tackled this question in a paper about why good people do bad things.

These major crimes usually escalate from smaller offenses or lapses in judgment that are rationalized by a slew of psychological reasons.

We've collected 27 insights from Kaptein that explain a few of the various reasons why good people lie, cheat, and steal.

Tunnel vision

Setting and achieving goals is important, but single-minded focus on them can blind people to ethical concerns.

When Enron offered large bonuses to employees for bringing in sales, they became so focused on that goal that they forgot to make sure they were profitable or moral. We all know how that ended.

 Michael Dobrushin
© Associated Press
Michael Dobrushin (left) was charged by federal prosecutors as part of a scheme to cheat Medicare out of $163 million.
The power of names

When bribery becomes "greasing the wheels" or accounting fraud becomes "financial engineering," unethical behavior may be seen in a more positive light.

The use of nicknames and euphemisms for questionable practices can free them of their moral connotations, making them seem more acceptable.

Comment: The only way around these ethical traps is self-knowledge, plus a solid understanding of how psychopaths influence those around them.
  • Authoritarians! New study shows that nice people are more likely to cause harm to others
  • Knowing Me, Myself, And I: What Psychology Can Contribute To Self-Knowledge
  • The Pathocrats

Heart - Black

Psychologists have uncovered a troubling feature of people who seem nice all the time

Watch out for the nice ones!
In 1961, curious about a person's willingness to obey an authority figure, social psychologist Stanley Milgram began trials on his now-famous experiment. In it, he tested how far a subject would go electrically shocking a stranger (actually an actor faking the pain) simply because they were following orders. Some subjects, Milgram found, would follow directives until the person was dead.

The news: A new Milgram-like experiment published this month in the Journal of Personality has taken this idea to the next step by trying to understand which kinds of people are more or less willing to obey these kinds of orders. What researchers discovered was surprising: Those who are described as "agreeable, conscientious personalities" are more likely to follow orders and deliver electric shocks that they believe can harm innocent people, while "more contrarian, less agreeable personalities" are more likely to refuse to hurt others.

Infected by psychopathy: Research finds crowdsourcing is vulnerable to malicious behavior

New research has found that malicious behaviour is the norm in crowdsourcing competitions - even when it is in everyone's interest to cooperate.

Crowdsourcing provides the ability to accomplish information-gathering tasks that require the involvement of a large number of people, often across wide-spread geographies, expertise, or interests.

However, researchers from the University of Southampton and the National Information and Communications Technology Australia (NICTA) found that a significant feature of crowdsourcing - its openness of entry - makes it vulnerable to malicious behaviour.

They observed such behaviour in a number of recent popular crowdsourcing competitions, through analysis based on the 'Prisoner's Dilemma' scenario, which shows why two purely 'rational' individuals might not cooperate, even if it appears that it is in their best interest.

Comment: From Adventures With Cassiopaea - Chapter 35:
Nash's theory inspired the most famous game of strategy of all social scientists called The Prisoner's Dilemma, which goes as follows: Imagine that the police arrest two suspects and interrogate them in separate rooms. Each one is given the choice of confessing, implicating the other, or keeping silent.

No matter what the other suspect does, each suspect's outcome - considered alone - would be better if he confessed. If one suspect confesses, the other ought to do the same and thereby avoid the harsher penalty for holding out. If one of them remains silent, the other one can confess, cut a deal for turning state's evidence, and the one who remains silent gets the whammy. Confession, or "cooperation," is the "dominant strategy." Since each is aware of the other's incentive to confess, it is "rational" for both to confess.

And here we come to the realization of the power of the psychopath and how Game Theory is being "used" against us. You see, the psychopath, having no conscience, does not have the ability to "imagine" the consequences of the noncooperation in terms of being able to "feel" it. Without this ability to imaginatively feel the consequences, he is virtually fearless, and can therefore direct his behavior according to his own fantasized outcome with no regard whatsoever to reality, remembered experiences, the imagined experiences of others, and so forth. That is to say, for the psychopath, rationality is determined by virtue of the idea that it is self-serving to the max. "Rationality" is the assumption that everyone else is looking out for number 1, and to hell with everybody else.

NEVER confessing, thus becomes the psychopath's "dominant strategy."

The reader will probably immediately see the dynamic of human relations involving a psychopathic personalities and a "normal" human. Psychopaths, having no conscience, always play their dominant strategy which is totally "rational" without the influence of emotions conjured up by imagination. They do not modify their behavior or choices based on emotion or consideration for the feelings or motivations of others. They will implicate the normal person in the "prisoner's dilemma," and will refuse to confess their own guilt, because they simply have no ability to perceive hurting another as morally reprehensible. This is the psychopath's "dominant strategy." They will never, in such a situation, consider cooperation.

Normal people, on the other hand, having conscience and emotion, will make choices based on imagination reinforced by emotion. In some cases, in the prisoner's dilemma, they will refuse to confess out of loyalty to the other, never realizing that the other might be a psychopath who has not only refused to confess his own guilt, has undertaken to make a deal for himself by implicating the other. Some people may even confess in order to "save" the other person from suffering pain, never realizing that they have been manipulated into this role by a psychopath who is all the while saying "Yes, he did it! I am innocent!" when, in fact, the truth is the exact opposite.

It's easy to see that in any interaction between a psychopath and a normal person with full range of emotions, the psychopath will always "win."


Danger of normalizing and glorifying psychopathic perception of reality: Reading 'Fifty Shades' linked to unhealthy behaviors

© G.L. Kohuth
Amy Bonomi is chairperson and professor in Michigan State University's Department of Human Development and Family Studies.
Young adult women who read "Fifty Shades of Grey" are more likely than nonreaders to exhibit signs of eating disorders and have a verbally abusive partner, finds a new study led by a Michigan State University researcher.

Further, women who read all three books in the blockbuster "Fifty Shades" erotic romance series are at increased risk of engaging in binge drinking and having multiple sex partners.

All are known risks associated with being in an abusive relationship, much like the lead character, Anastasia, is in "Fifty Shades," said Amy Bonomi, the study's lead investigator. And while the study did not distinguish whether women experienced the health behaviors before or after reading the books, it's a potential problem either way, she said.

"If women experienced adverse health behaviors such as disordered eating first, reading 'Fifty Shades' might reaffirm those experiences and potentially aggravate related trauma," said Bonomi, chairperson and professor in MSU's Department of Human Development and Family Studies.

"Likewise, if they read 'Fifty Shades' before experiencing the health behaviors seen in our study, it's possible the books influenced the onset of these behaviors."

Comment: Fifty Shades of Grey is just one example of literature that glorifies psychopathic and sadistic perception of reality. More so, it makes it appear as cool and desired. No wonder normal women's psyche develops disorders in order to cope with the stress.


Is humanity a failed experiment? 10 shocking facts about society that we accept as normal

© Unknown
When you take a moment and look around at the world, things can appear pretty messed up. Take 5 or 10 minutes and watch the 6 o'clock news. Chances are, the entire time, all you are going to see is war, conflict, death, illness, etc. Sure, this is part of the mainstream medias content strategy to sell drama and keep people focused on it, but besides that it reveals something real about the current state of our world.

I believe Michael Ellner said it well in his quote: "Just look at us. Everything is backwards, everything is upside down. Doctors destroy health, lawyers destroy justice, psychiatrists destroy minds, scientists destroy truth, major media destroys information, religions destroy spirituality and governments destroy freedom."

Now obviously Ellner's quote is a simplified way of looking at our current state, but in many ways it's bang on. Most of what we do in the name of "good" ends up destroying something else in the process and is passed off mainly in the name of profit.

We've seen over and over again how our ways have brought us to a point where we are destroying everything in our path, so the question must be asked, isn't it time for change? Are we fully capable, honest, and determined enough to look at our past, where our actions and though-patterns have brought us to this point, and now do something completely different in order to restore balance?

Comment: All aspects of our lives on Earth are infected when we allow psychopaths to take positions of leadership. Andrew M. Lobaczewski called this phenomenon Pathocracy, in his book Political Ponerology: A Science on The Nature of Evil adjusted for Political Purposes:
Pathocracy is a disease of great social movements followed by entire societies, nations, and empires. In the course of human history, it has affected social, political, and religious movements as well as the accompanying ideologies and turned them into caricatures of themselves. This occurred as a result of the participation of pathological agents in a pathodynamically similar process. That explains why all the pathocracies of the world are, and have been, so similar in their essential properties.

Identifying these phenomena through history and properly qualifying them according to their true nature and contents - not according to the ideology in question, which succumbed to the process of caricaturization - is a job for historians.

The actions of [pathocracy] affect an entire society, starting with the leaders and infiltrating every town, business, and institution. The pathological social structure gradually covers the entire country creating a "new class" within that nation. This privileged class [of pathocrats] feels permanently threatened by the "others", i.e. by the majority of normal people. Neither do the pathocrats entertain any illusions about their personal fate should there be a return to the system of normal man.
See also: The Triumphant Beast

"Humanity is a Cosmic body and each individual is a cell in that body. But the humanity we see today is a disease-ridden idiot - a shambling, ragged, beast covered with oozing pustules of corruption representing science, religions and government - stumbling from one self-inflicted disaster to another. There can be only one outcome and this, too, is documented: in ancient literature describing how other 'mighty' cultures have ended:"
As it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the time of the Son of Man. [People] ate, they drank, they married, they were given in marriage, right up to the day when Noah went into the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all.

So also [it was the same] as it was in the days of Lot. [People] ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; But on the [very] day that Lot went out of Sodom, it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed [them] all. That is the way it will be on the day that the Son of Man is revealed.

On that day let him who is on the housetop, with his belongings in the house, not come down [and go inside] to carry them away; and likewise let him who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot's wife! Whoever tries to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will preserve and quicken it.

I tell you, in that night there will be two men in one bed; one will be taken and the other will be left. There will be two women grinding together; one will be taken and the other will be left. Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other will be left.

Then they asked Him, Where, Lord? He said to them, Wherever the dead body is, there will the vultures or eagles be gathered together. Luke 17: 26-37


Writing by hand benefits the brain: The lowdown on longhand

My Catholic school third grade teacher was extremely tough on me. Her biggest gripe was my handwriting, which looks more like an EKG scan than penmanship. For years, I harbored not-so-fond memories of her, but now I know that her strictness about penmanship was actually helping my brain develop. Recently, scientists have shown that longhand writing benefits the brain.

Today, cursive writing is becoming a lost art as note taking with laptops becomes more and more prominent in classrooms. But what we are losing is much bigger than a few scratches on a page - we are losing a robust way of learning.

Comment: Read more about the benefits of longhand (handwriting):


Lies and distrust a part of life at age seven

Trust and deception
© Hallgerd/iStockphoto
Trust and deception: Children learn not to always trust what someone else tells them by the age of seven.
We are not born with the ability to lie and distrust, but appear to acquire these 'skills' at around seven years of age, researchers have found.

The team of child psychologists and game theorists published their results today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In their study, a group of 69 children ranging in age from three to nine were engaged in two separate games designed to test their ability to think and act strategically in a social situation.

"One of my areas of interest is in children's ability to protect themselves from misinformation from other people, so I'm naturally interested in children's strategic thinking about other people," says co-author Dr Melissa Koenig, associate professor of child psychology at the Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota.

The researchers found that children seem to acquire the ability to act strategically based on their assessment of other people's motivations, and learn that they don't always need to trust or tell the truth, at around six or seven years of age.

In the first game -- called 'sender-receiver' -- a piece of candy is hidden in one of two boxes. The sender knows the location of the candy but the receiver does not. The sender points to one of the boxes, not necessarily the box containing the candy. The receiver then selects a box.

If the receiver finds the candy, they get to keep it, and if not, the sender gets the candy, so the sender has an incentive to deceive the receiver if they think the receiver will believe the deception.
Life Preserver

Many nurses unprepared to meet dying patients

A study of more than 200 students has shown that many nurses in training feel unprepared and anxious when faced with the prospect of meeting patients during end-of-life care.
Most nurses in their work care for patients who are dying. A study of more than 200 students has shown that many nurses in training feel unprepared and anxious when faced with the prospect of meeting patients during end-of-life care.

Scientists from the Sahlgrenska Academy have interviewed 222 nursing students at the University of Gothenburg, the University of Skövde and the Ersta Sköndal University College. The interviews dealt with their thoughts about caring for dying patients, their ideas about how to support and meet the patient in dialogue, and their own feelings when faced with dying patients.

Beyond understanding

The interviews showed that even though many students view death as a natural part of life, many find the idea of death to be frightening, and beyond understanding.

"Death awakens feelings of helplessness, insecurity and insufficiency in most nursing students. Some find it natural to talk about death, while others consider it to be the worst thing that can happen and have difficulty coping with the need to talk about it," says Susann Strang, scientist at the Sahlgrenska Academy.

Power trips cloud thinking, lead to illusions of superiority and control

man in suite cloudy head
n life and in fiction we see power "going to the head" of a leader or other person in a position of authority over others. We've all watched this happen in our experience. Some of the most common effects are feelings of superiority and the poor treatment of subordinates.

We also see the more dangerous aspects of power trips, such as when those in power make mistakes on a large scale due to what we might consider their arrogance. The heads of large corporations ignore common sense or advice and make big moves that prove disastrous, for example. The underestimating of the costs of wars by political and military leaders is another example.

Comment: Most of these heads of state and corporations are actually psychopaths. They have risen to positions of power because that is what they crave and they will do anything to achieve their aims, no matter the cost to society. In most of these cases, these are not 'mistakes' or 'underestimating' the costs of war because they could not care less.Their arrogance and feelings of superiority often lead to their demise, but during their monstrous reign and fall they force the society of normal humans to suffer the devastating consequences of their actions.
Psychopathy and the CEO: Top executives have four times the incidence of psychopathy as the rest of us
Psychopaths run the world

How much does power really affect our thinking though? It's a question that recent research has looked at. More specifically, researchers have asked if power creates illusions of control. Does it cause the holder to overestimate his or her ability to control or affect outcomes? The answer seems to be a definite yes. To some extent we actually lose our ability to realistically assess matters and our ability to control events when we are put in a position of power.