Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Obedient "Puppets with Perception" ?

As was the case yesterday, today's post also was fuelled by a film available via Netflix: Experimenter. The film is a dramatised biographical tale of American social psychologist Stanley Milgram's controversial experiments in the early 1960s, when he attempted to discover how powerful is the human tendency to obey authority, even when against all moral and ethical instincts.

Below is Milgram's newspaper advertisement used to find participants in the experiment:

Milgram, Jewish by birth, was born on 15 August 1933 in New York City. (Natal chart set for 12 noon is shown, for reference - am not interpreting it at this time. Click on chart image for larger view.)

Milgram was powerfully affected by events of the Holocaust, later re-kindled by the trial of Adolf Eichmann in the 1960s. Milgram's experiments, only partially depicted in the film, have been strongly criticised on several fronts. His results showed that 65% of those tested were capable of inflicting serious, possibly fatal pain upon another person, when directed to do so, and to continue doing so by a figure they assumed to be an "authority". The film Experimenter, as I've discovered from later reading around the net, didn't show all of Milgram's variations to his basic experiment. Results from those variations, as percentages of compliance to instructions rose to 100% or, alternatively dropped to zero when conducted under different situations and circumstances. However, it does remain sad enough, and bad enough that even in certain specific circumstances the majority of those tested could be successfully instructed to obey a direction which they knew was physically, and possibly psychologically, harming or even fatal to another person. For a brief outline of the experiment with illustrations see HERE.

There are lots of articles around the internet written by those more qualified than I am, expanding on Milgram's experiment and criticisms of it, along with current ideas and discussion of relevancies of his findings. There have also been other films on the topic. It's a very interesting subject, and never goes out of date. Other parts of Milgram's later researches, include those related to the "6 degrees of separation" idea.

For an overall interesting, readable and fairly current article, I'd recommend this from the Atlantic magazine in January 2015
Rethinking One of Psychology's Most Infamous Experiments by Cari Romm.

The piece ends with
Trying to get a consensus among academics is like herding cats,” Reicher [Stephen Reicher, a professor of psychology at the University of St. Andrews and a co-editor of the Journal of Social Issues’ special edition] said, but “if there is a consensus, it’s that we need a new explanation. I think nearly everybody accepts the fact that Milgram discovered a remarkable phenomenon, but he didn’t provide a very compelling explanation of that phenomenon.
What he provided instead was a difficult and deeply uncomfortable set of questions—and his research, flawed as it is, endures not because it clarifies the causes of human atrocities, but because it confuses more than it answers.
Or, as Miller put it: “The whole thing exists in terms of its controversy, how it’s excited some and infuriated others. People have tried to knock it down, and it always comes up standing.

THOUGHTS: How far are we humans "puppets with perception" - a phrase used in the film? Are some of us more able to break free of our strings, and if so, what does it take? As I typed that line I was reminded of a the first line of a song I blogged about once upon a time "are we human or are we dancer?" (HERE).

Does astrology feed in to any predisposition for refusal to obey? Do transiting planet positions in relation to natal or mundane charts feed in to it? Is it a particular DNA pattern, is it an inherited trait, or simply random, according to situation?

A certain amount of obedience is required in a civilised society. We are trained from babyhood to obey certain rules, for our own well-being, and for the well-being of others. Religion imposes other sets of rules and here, for some, can come an early opportunity to practice rebellion - or not.

Laws which must be obeyed shape our society, most are for society's good, but always depending on the regime in place at any given time.

By the time we reach adulthood we really have become well-trained as obedient beings, having gone through the mincing machines of schools, maybe colleges, maybe even the ultimate mincing machine of freedom of action, the military. So, faced with an experiment, its purpose explained as something quite different from its true motive, carried out by authentic scientists, it could seem unsurprising that so many people continued willing to inflict pain upon an innocent colleague when continually instructed to do so by an authority figure. We all think we'd not do it. I shouted at the TV, to the first guy doing the inflicting of pain in the film, "Stand up and walk out, damn it!" But would I have done that myself, in those circumstances? I hope so. I cannot be 100% certain, nor could any of us - in certain circumstances. In that particular circumstance, though, I feel fairly confident I would have refused to participate.

One important aspect of this experiment (and certainly of other, later, experiments by different scientists) would be how many of those being tested truly believed what they were told about the research, and whether they suspected that all was not aboveboard, but keeping that suspicion to themselves. That factor would definitely skew results significantly. The original experiment had the best chance of being "valid" in that respect, I guess. Later experiments along the same lines, must surely have been tainted by some candidates being aware of what was really going on via hearsay, or through publicity of earlier experiments.


mike said...

Psychology suffers the same vulnerability as astrology. The field of psychology is NOT a science, though the practitioners desperately desire to validate empirical findings toward more than an applied pseudo-science:
"That's right. Psychology isn't science. Why can we definitively say that? Because psychology often does not meet the five basic requirements for a field to be considered scientifically rigorous: clearly defined terminology, quantifiability, highly controlled experimental conditions, reproducibility and, finally, predictability and testability."

Milgram's hypothesis is a well-known feature of human values demonstrated over eons of human history: humans can manipulate, suppress, and abuse other humans, typically for rewards of security and-or material gain. That "dirty X-gene" again...doing whatever it takes to survive under duress. Denial of others' rights and freedoms, or simple humanities, should we feel that the provision would impinge on our own for whatever reason.

I definitely believe that we humans can behave as puppets! Proof surrounds us daily. Puppetry requires a master to pull the strings.

Our current politics is a perfect example. Here's a quote from the past that fits our today (unknown author...read the link):
“When fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in the flag and waving a cross.”

mike (again) said...

Two essays that are quasi-fitting to your topic:

"... So it used to seem. But a change has come about. The wealthiest and most powerful in Europe, Australasia and North America have turned the myth to their advantage. In this version of Robin Hood the traditional poor – the unemployed, the disabled, refugees – have been put into the conceptual box where the rich used to be. It is they, the social category previously labelled ‘poor’, who are accused of living in big houses, wallowing in luxury and not needing to work, while those previously considered rich are redesignated as the ones who work terribly hard for fair reward or less, forced to support this new category of poor-who-are-considered-rich. In this version the sheriff of Nottingham runs a ruthless realm of plunder and political correctness, ransacking the homesteads of honest peasants for money to finance the conceptual rich – that is, the unemployed, the disabled, refugees, working-class single mothers, dodgers, scroungers, chavs, chisellers and cheats."

"... Resilience presents a challenge for psychologists. Whether you can be said to have it or not largely depends not on any particular psychological test but on the way your life unfolds. If you are lucky enough to never experience any sort of adversity, we won’t know how resilient you are. It’s only when you’re faced with obstacles, stress, and other environmental threats that resilience, or the lack of it, emerges: Do you succumb or do you surmount?"

Twilight said...

mike + (again) ~ Sticky morning here - modem went out (or something) no internet for a while and internittently yesterday too. Technician visited, eventually sorted it out. Then my new computer chair arrived (old one's seat had given up the ghost by leaning far to the right - can't be havin' that!) No instruction leaflet enclosed for putting it together, nothing online other than a home-made video of someone in the same predicament. Anyjazz managed, but it still doesn't feel as it did in the store. Maybe I'll wear it in like new shoes.

So.....let's see - puppets and obedience. I think the quote (or words to that effect) at the end of your first comment was by Sinclair Lewis, used to see it bandied around a lot while George W. was in the White House.

Agreed, we are all susceptible to our strings being pulled, and we all have 'em - even the kings, queens, oligarchs, corporate leaders etc. We peasants just don't get many chances to pull theirs - but we could, one day!

The most disturbing thing about Milgram's experiment, as presented in the film, was that the people giving the electric shocks were under no duress at all. They were being instructed by a person they identified as an authority, that's all. It'd have been different if they were being threatened with something, or if a family member or friend had been threatened - but that wasn't the case. All they had to do was to refuse to adminsiter the shock, either from the beginning, or later as the shocks became stronger, and near fatal strength. In most cases the obedience they had learned from childhood must have left such a deep groove in their minds that they were unable to leap out of it.

While preparing the post, looking for a picture or two on Google Image, I was struck by the amount of pics referring to "obedience to God" and His "laws". No doubt this kind of thing forced into kids has a lot to answer for, whereas they are not routinely taught to object when told to do something they see as wrong (or so I guess).

Resilience - yes we don't know our own likely response until we've experienced whatever's being discussed. Even then, we could react differently a second time from how we acted in an earlier, similar situation. Thinking on one's feet (or ass if sitting) must be a really good skill to try to acquire, and can be a big help in adverse situations.

mike (again) said...

I trust that your digital-and-derriere command center is functioning again.

No, that is NOT a quote from Sinclair Lewis (read the link).

Misquotes seem plentiful nowadays. Ben Carson found that out with his attributed-to-Stalin misquote during last Saturday's debate (aka debacle):
“'Joseph Stalin said if you want to bring America down you have to undermine three things—our spiritual life, our patriotism, and our morality,' Carson confidently stated."

Both quotes have questionable sources, with varying degrees of expression, but neither Lewis nor Stalin.

Humans seem inordinately dazzled by authority and persons-of-power, so it's no surprise repeatedly pushing the button or flipping the switch came easily, if for no other reason than being paid to do so, or to appear conforming and compliant. But maybe there's more to it. If you are surprised by Milgram's research, look at Zimbardo's prisoner-guard study (think Abu Ghraib):


"Lord of the Flies" may be fiction, but it's well-founded in observations of human behavior.

Bob said...

Nature and nurture.

The charts are the nature part. How they are expressed may be strongly affected by the nurture part. Quite different for a child born and raised in Harlem in New York and one born and raised in the Upper East Side.

Twilight said...

mike (again) ~ Digital is fine, derriere not so good. ;-O Will have to trek back to Office Depot tomorrow with chair in 2 pieces (to fit it in the car) to get either refund, or replacement with the one I sat in in the store...guy on phone said this will be fine. We shall see!

Hmmm - a misquote eh? It's thrown around a lot - Sinclair Lewis, from that big writers' conference in the sky, must be wishing he'd written it.

Yes, I did read about Zimbardo's study. Nasty!

We are a nasty species with a few decent attributes - on good days.

Twilight said...

Bob ~ Yes, I guess that really is the key to much of it!