I am a published psychologist, author of the Stanford Prison Experiment, expert witness during the Abu Ghraib trials. AMA starting June 7th at 12PM (ET).
I’m Phil Zimbardo -- past president of the American Psychological Association and a professor emeritus at Stanford University. You may know me from my 1971 research, The Stanford Prison Experiment. I’ve hosted the popular PBS-TV series, Discovering Psychology, served as an expert witness during the Abu Ghraib trials and authored The Lucifer Effect and The Time Paradox among others.
Recently, through TED Books, I co-authored The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It. My book questions whether the rampant overuse of video games and porn are damaging this generation of men.
Based on survey responses from 20,000 men, dozens of individual interviews and a raft of studies, my co-author, Nikita Duncan, and I propose that the excessive use of videogames and online porn is creating a generation of shy and risk-adverse guys suffering from an “arousal addiction” that cripples their ability to navigate the complexities and risks inherent to real-life relationships, school and employment.
When we spoke with Jane McGonigal her definition of excessive gaming was playing 4 or more hours a day. With porn, 2 or more hours a week is considered a heavy user. It really depends on your symptoms. Are you motivated to engage in other real life activities? Are you having trouble socializing with other people? With porn, are you turned on by real life people? If you answered no, you're probably using one or both to excess.
i'm not sure how this pertains to Professor Zimbardo's research but i'd recommend checking out yourbrainonporn.com and /r/NoFap for more info on how chronic masturbation can affect your brain's reward system. How this relates to social interaction would be conjecture for my part but worth checking out at any rate.
Yourbrainonporn.com is a very informative website, I highly recommend checking it out.
If you could conduct any human bahaviour experiment, without risk to those participating, what would it be? What is your hypothesis for how it would turn out?
The answer to this provocative question is given in the introduction to chp 16 in my Lucifer Effect book (2007) where I invited anyone to perform a Reverse Milgram experiment. Milgram was able to demonstrate the relative ease with which ordinary people, 1000 of them, could be systematically led to administer increasingly dangerous levels of shock to an innocent victim by means of gradually raising the shock level with each trial by only 15 volts, until by the end of 30 shocks the voltage was raised to a near lethal 450 volts. At least 2 of every 3 participants went all the way down that slippery slope.
Now can we demonstrate the opposite, that ordinary people can be gradually led to engage in increasingly "good" socially redeeming deeds up to a point of engaging in extremely altruistic, heroic actions, which initially they assert they would never be willing to do?
It would have to be well crafted with early assessments of the prosocial value of each target action on the way up the slippery slope of goodness. It might have to be individually tailored to the values and interests of the target person, thus for some giving one's time is precious, for others it would be money, or working in undesirable conditions, or with an unattractive population of people, etc.
It would be sad to conclude that it is easier to get ordinary people to do evil, than to do heroic actions, so I personally welcome someone to systematically take up my challenge, and I will serve as free consultant.
Another really great question. For those unaware, modern-day psychological studies (or anything even remotely involving testing humans) have to go through fairly rigorous scrutiny from ethics committees to ensure that no harm lasting damage is done. Up until relatively recent times these committees weren't necessary and researchers had much more freedom - often at the expense of their subjects.
I remember seeing a video of one of John Watson's experiments, on operant conditioning, where he would purposely scare a baby every time it showed interest in animals. Eventually the baby was conditioned to fear the animals. Here's a video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_detailpage&v=9hBfnXACsOI#t=165s
In short: You learn a lot without ethics, but you often harm the people involved.
in the olden days researchers had total power to do anything to their "subjects" whether human or animal, children or prisoners-- in the name of science. Some abused this privilege and Human Research committees were developed in order to create a better balance of power between researchers and their participant,and are now essential for the conduct of all research. A problem is created however, when they become excessively conservative and reject almost all research that could conceivably 'stress' participants even by having them think about a stressful situation. Thus nothing like the Milgram study or my Stanford Prison study could ever be done again. Is that good? Is that bad? Open issue for debate.
From the findings of the Stanford Prison Experiment, and perhaps even the Milgram experiment, do you personally believe that, under the right circumstances, anyone has the capacity to do anything, absolutely anything?
In the Milgram study, SPE, and many other similar studies on the power of social situations to transform the behavior of good people in evil directions, the conclusion is the majority can easily be led to do so, but there is always a minority who resist, who refuse to obey or comply. In one sense, we can think of them as heroic because they challenge the power of negative influence agents (gangs, drugs dealers, sex traffickers; in the prison study it's me, in the Milgram experiment it's Milgram). The good news is there's always a minority who resist, so no, not everyone has the capacity to do anything regardless of the circumstances. I recently started a non-profit, the Heroic Imagination Project (www.heroicimagination.org) in an attempt to increase the amount of resistors who will do the right thing when the vast majority are doing the wrong thing. There needs to be more research though, and we are in the process of studying heroism and the psychology of whistleblowing; curiously, there is very little so far compared to the extensive body of research on aggression, violence, and evil.
This is a great question. I've always read the Stanford Prison Experiment (as well as one of my favourite papers, On Being Sane in Insane Places) indicating that humans are a product of our surroundings. Under the right circumstances, and when expected to act in a certain way, we have a tendency to completely change our behaviours and succumb to these expectations.
This opens up much broader questions as to why this happens. Perhaps Prof. Zimbardo can shed some light, I always thought it played well off of Erving Goffman's "stage" social interaction theories (which says we have different personalities based on the audience to whom we are presenting ourselves) and Zygmunt Bauman's theories of modernity, which have a firm basis in the "self" vs the "other".
In simple terms: the Stanford Prison Experiment, as well as all those mentioned above, shows that we have a tendency to behave in a way that conforms to our perceived expectations that others have for us.
It should be noted that people act in the way we expect them to act under rather specific circumstances. Stanley Milgram was very serious about his shocks, and changed many of the variables of the experiment around. Sometimes the "observer" was a "doctor" with a lab coat, sometimes they were another layman, sometimes the shockee was in the same room, sometime he was in the other room, different commands were used of varying urgency, the gender of the participants was noted, etc. etc.
We only ever hear in media that the experiment showed that people will do anything under order, but not that it has to be under the right circumstances. It makes a simpler and more sensational headline when you cut out the second part I suppose.
One problem with the public understanding of Milgram's research was that people saw his movie - "Obedience" - and did not read his book - Obedience to Authority. His movie, which he made very early in his research program, only included one set of variables, that is the victim (aka "learner") is remote and the experimenter and "teacher" are in proximity of each other. What most people do not realize is that Milgram performed 19 different experimental variations on his basic paradigm; in some scenarios the learner and teacher were in proximity and the experimenter was remote -- and obedience dropped significantly. For me the two most important findings of the Milgram research were two opposite variations, the first one in which participants were told to wait while the alleged previous experiment was finishing up, and they saw the participant (confederate) go all the way up to 450 volts. 91% of the participants in that condition went all the way up to the maximum voltage possible (450 volts). On the other hand, when the new participant was told to wait while a previous set was finishing, and observed the alleged participant refused to go on, 90% of the new particpants then refused to continue the shocks beyond a moderate level.
This means we are powerful social models for one another. When others see us engage in prosocial behavior it increases the likelihood that they will do the same, but when we see evil and the exercise of power we are drawn into that frame of mind and are more likely to engage in anti-social behavior. For me that is the prime takeaway message from the Milgram experiment. By the way, in passing, Milgram also included a condition with women as participants, and they behaved exactly as the men did. Two-thirds of them also went all the way up the shock scale.
I'm curious to know more about your mental state as the experiment was going on. As I understand it, even as your subjects were internalizing their roles, the experiment began to draw you in as well, making you less of a neutral observer and more of a participant in the experiment as well. Is this an accurate observation, and if so, what was it about the experiment that made it so powerful?
What is unique about SPE compared to almost all other research is that it went on day and night for nearly a week rather than the usual one hour experimental period. That means it became our life - for the guards, prisoners, staff, and for me. Over time, I internalized the role of prison superintendent in which my main concern was the security of my institution when faced with threats from prisoners. In that mindset, as prisoners had psychological breakdowns, my main task was to get suitable replacements from the waiting list rather than to perceive that the study should be terminated given we had proven our point that the situation was able to influence good people to do bad things. I describe this process of transformation in great detail - I think in Chpt 10 - of the Lucifer Effect.
I was wondering if any women were involved in your experiment on video games and porn? I would assume that women who had the same "addictions" would show the same symptoms, though if this weren't the case, I feel a different factor may be at work. Were women left completely out or was there a reason other than "we were studying only men"? Also I wanted to thank you for doing this AMA! Your work is amazing.
We didn't do an experiment on video games or porn, we conducted a survey. New research from Mikhail Budnikov on Computer Game Addiction revealed that at high levels of addiction, according to his scale, men are three times more likely to be high on computer addiction than women, and women are twice as likely to be low. This study examined 300 Russian medical students, and was presented at a Stanford University psychology conference last week.
We focused on guys because they are more likely to use both porn and video games for longer periods of time. It's not that women don't play games or watch porn, it's that men more often use both to excess and in social isolation.
On this note, why do you frame social isolation as a negative quality? Though most people desire human interaction, I feel exactly the opposite. I see dealing with others as a hassle that is better avoided. By deriving my happiness from inanimate sources, I avoid the stress and conflict inherent to spending time with other people. Video games and porn allow me to live very comfortably by myself.
hi HAPPY LONER It is perfectly fine for anyone to choose a solitary life style of an introvert; artists, scientists and others often do so. My concern has been since 1972 with those who are excessively shy and WANT to make social contact, but fear rejection and so end up as reluctant social isolates. See my early book-- Shyness: What it is, What to do about it. Now the new problem facing our society is the negative, unintended impact of excessive internet and video use by everyone, and especially guys on video games and freely accessible porn. They are isolating themselves from society, from friends, from girls by choosing to spend their time alone playing games or with themselves in a totally introverted Video World.
Based on your results, how would you suggest American imprisonment be altered, if at all?
Shortly after the time we first published the results of SPE, the head graduate student of the research, Craig Haney, and I became very much involved in prison reform in California, working with the department of corrections, teaching courses on the psychology of imprisonment, organizing courses for prisoners in Soledad prison, being expert witnesses in trials about solitary confinement as cruel and unusual punishment, and also working to highlight the psychologically and physically devastating effects of "supermax" prisons.
However, in 1973, there were about 350,000 Americans in prison. This year there are more than 2 million Americans caged in the prison system at local, state, and federal levels. More than twice as much as any other country in the world. It is a national disgrace as far as I'm concerned, and with those big numbers goes reduced programs for rehabilitation, recreation, therapy, and really any concern about prisoners ever being able to live a normal life outside the prison. And this is because 3 factors: economic, political, and racial. Prisons have become a big business for many communities; many prisons are becoming privatized, which means they are for profit only. They have become political in so far as politicians all want to be seen as tough on crime, encouraging prosecutors and judges to give prisoners maximum sentences, including 25 years to life, for non-violent offenses. Racially, prisons have become dumping grounds for black and hispanic young men, so that there are now more of these young men in prisons than in college.
The whole system is designed not to help prisoners. At this point, my optimism about improving the American prison system has been severely tested and it will really take a major change in public opinion and also in basic attitudes from the top down. It's a systemic problem; it's not like some warden in a particular prison is a bad guy, everyone's attitudes needs to change to become more humane. This needs to start with the President, governors, and mayors taking a strong compassionate stance. Pragmatically, citizens have to realize that it costs them through their taxes $1 million to keep one prisoner locked up for 25 years.
Let me start this off by saying I respect your work immensely, especially the Stanford Prison Experiment.
You have done a brave move, coming to the internet talking negatively about video games and porn.
You address three very complicated subjects (education, relationships, employment) that you believe are effected by two factors (porn, video games). First, can you show that there has been some sort of "Demise" for males when it comes to these things? As far as I am aware men still dominate the SATs and most arenas of education, and in areas where women do better like college graduation, men don't appear to have gotten any worse, they just aren't doing as well as women. For relationships/employment, there are a billion factors that need to be taken into account with our generation like the fall of marriage, the recession/outsourcing/automation, the rise of the internet in general, etc.
For example, perhaps it's not that people who watch a lot of porn have a problem with socializing, it's that people who watch lots of porn overwhelmingly tend to spend too much time on the internet in general, which correlates with bad social lives. Or perhaps people who watch a lot of porn do so because they know they have little chance with the ladies.
Finally, can you explain why there isn't a similar trend happening to women these last two decades? Women by all studies are the largest/fastest growing demographic for video games and porn.
Thank you, and much respect. I would love to get some more information.
Thank you JustinTime112. Let me reiterate that we have nothing against porn and video games themselves. In addition to raising awareness about the potential downsides of using either to excess, we discuss their benefits and promote video games as a positive prosocial force. Few things can bring people together like games do.
If you look at why guys are gaming and using porn you'll find that they are both symptoms and causes of the overall demise. There is definitely reciprocal causality where a person may watch a lot of porn or play video games to excess and have social, sexual, and/or motivational problems. It creates a cycle of isolation.
Men don't dominate education anymore. They may score slightly better on some areas on the SAT (like math), but their overall academic performance is not as good as girls'. Women are now getting 57% of all bachelors degrees. By 2016 it's predicted that women will get 60% of bachelors degrees, 63% of masters degrees, and 54% of doctorate degrees. It's not a question of IQ, guys are not putting in the effort, and it translates into a lack of career options. Women under 30 are now earning more than guys their age.
Women are most likely the fastest growing demographic for video games and porn because there were not as many of them playing to begin with. Gaming companies are putting out more games that appeal to women too, like Farmville.
Zim: signing off
I wish that I had more time to answer the many provocative questions that so many of you posed on this my first AMA ever.
However, I am in now in the little Sicilian Village of Cammarata, in the mountains between Palermo and Agrigento, where my grandparents, Philip and Vera, emigrated from to New York many decades ago. I have started a non-profit educational foundation that provides college scholarships to up to 20 deserving HS graduates in three local towns (also San Giovanni Gemini and Corleone), as well as creates computer labs in the primary and high schools. In addition, we sponsor both psychology science conferences and cultural festivals (poetry, photography, fine art, and music). Our foundation also supports the local volunteer service for the psychologically and physically handicapped, ARCA. In this work, I am indebted to the generous contributions of Steve Luczo, CEO Seagate Technology, whose maternal grandparents came to America from a farm in Corleone.
I am now on my way to oversee our music festival at the local cinema. Ciao, one and all.
1.) How do you feel about being used as the "what not to do" example in virtually every experimental psychology textbook and course out there?
2.) Do you have any advice for aspiring behavioral scientists? I assume there are a lot of us reading this AMA and it would be really exciting to get tips from one of the best.
3.) Okay, so clearly I haven't read The Demise of Guys, but I did find a short synopsis online and I'm curious...could you define "damaging"? The synopsis said "failing socially, sexually, and in school," which is still vague to me, and in the extremely limited population of males I know, it doesn't seem to hold up that friends my age (early 20s) are less "successful" in these general areas than older males (my father and his friends, late 50s) say that they were when they were in their 20s.
4.) In my attempt to find a synopsis I stumbled on this interview, which at the end says women report that internet porn makes men emotionally unavailable. Was this actually a majority opinion? I ask because I've never actually heard a female my age say she is very uncomfortable with men visiting internet porn...I've only ever heard the opinion from older women.
5.) How do you think women are affected by internet porn? Because let's be honest, men aren't the only ones who enjoy browsing it from time to time.
That was really long, but if you had the time to answer one or two, I would be really excited. I just graduated with a psychology degree, so this is like a Justin Bieber AMA for me. Thanks for doing this!
I'll combine 1 and 2, and will address 3, 4, and 5 in other questions people are asking.
In answering your first two questions I resent being considered a what-not-to-do researcher based on the stressing effects of the SPE experience on the prisoners and the guards. That study continues to highlight important dynamics of the human condition of which I am proud to have been a part of.
However, in the past 40 years, I have been working in a dozen other areas which are as interesting and more important, although less dramatic. Perhaps my most important contribution has been the pioneering research I did on understanding shyness in adolescents and adults, and starting the first shyness clinic to treat that condition more than 30 years ago, which is still in operation at Palo Alto University. During that same time I have done research on cults, terrorism, the social psychology of madness, and perhaps most important, my research on the psychology of time perspective (www.thetimeparadox.com). See my website, www.zimbardo.com, for more on my other work.
Advice I would give to an aspiring behavioral scientist: be curious about the nature of human nature. Constantly be observing how people behave in everyday situations, always asking the question: I wonder what would happen if this or that were changed...
To add onto this, could it also be that the reason women feel men aren't "available" is because they are holding men to their gender role of having to be the breadwinner, and are not accepting of men who do not fit this? Also, with the porn makes men "emotionally unavailable" to women. Could it be that the women themselves just can't relate to the men either? Why is it the men have to relate to them but not the other way around?
It's a new world out there for everybody. In America, and really throughout the world young people have fewer opportunities for employment, to demonstrate their abilities, and professional attributes. The diminished opportunities are a problem for men and women, but young women under 30 are surpassing their male counterparts academically and financially for the first time. Women are becoming more desirable to hire than guys. Relating it to gender role expectations, since women are able to take care of themselves financially, it creates new challenges for men. If you're a guy, and you're not the breadwinner, what are you? What new role should men be developing? All the new roles threaten the traditional concept of masculinity. This makes it more difficult for guys and girls to relate to each other as equals.
Broadening out the answer...
Because of the new difficulties facing guys in this changing, uncertain world, many are choosing to isolate themselves in a safer place, a place where they have control over outcomes, where there is no fear of rejection, and they are praised for their abilities. Video games are this safer place for many of these guys. They become increasingly adept and skilled at gaming, refining their skills, and they can achieve high status and respect within the game. This is not something you see women doing, they don't need to get respect that way. We (my co-author Nikita Duncan and I) have nothing against playing video games, they have many good features and benefits, it is the big HOWEVER, that when played to excess they can hinder a guys ability and interest in developing his face-to-face social skills (games are designed to get everyone to play to excess, we call this the enchantment factor). In addition, the variety and intensity of video game action makes other parts of life, like school, comparatively boring, and that creates a problem with academic performance which in turn requires medication to deal with ADHD, which then leads to other problems down the road.
Porn adds to the confusion. Especially for young guys, who grow up watching hard-core porn online. They are developing their sense of sexuality around porn, and it doesn't include real people. So when they encounter a real live woman down the road, it will be a very foreign and anxiety provoking experience. Instead of just watching a screen, now their communication skills and whole body has to be engaged, and there is another person there with their own sexual needs. There's a great website out there, Fight the New Drug (www.fightthenewdrug.org), that illustrates what happens when you use porn to excess. If a guy watches porn frequently, most likely he will be less attracted to and have less desire for women in real life.
Again, we're not saying women don't play video games and watch porn, they do. But they don't do it as much as guys. And the concept of watching porn is definitely a guy thing. It's the combination of EXCESSIVE video game playing and porn use that creates a deadly duo, leading to ever more social isolation, social alienation, and inability to relate to anybody, especially girls and women. Porn and video games have addictive qualities, but it's not the same as other addictions. With alcohol, drugs, or gambling you want more of the same, but with porn and video games you want different - you need novelty in order to achieve the same high. We call this arousal addiction. In order to get the same amount of stimulation, you'll need new material, seeing the same images over and over again will become boring. Both of these industries are poised to give you that endless variety, so it's up to each individual what the best balance is for engaging in these digital outlets and other activities in their lives.
Our TED book, Demise of Guys, is really a polemic meant to stimulate controversy and argumentation around these topics and encourage others to do research on the different dimensions of these challenges, and for society to come up with solutions. Excessive gaming and porn use are really symptoms as well as causes of a broader problem that includes the high percentage of guys who are growing up with fathers playing an active role in their lives by setting boundaries, and teaching them the value of delayed gratification.
Could porn and video games be a symptom, not the problem?
I don't know if you're aware, but there are a number of male subcultures that have appeared over the last twenty or so years. These subcultures, Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW) and Pick Up Artists (PUA), are both growing relatively rapidly. Each of them is defined by a different perspective on interactions with society and the general break down of what is viewed as the social contract. Men are still held to their end of the contract while women have been allowed to break it.
To further this, men often are put in situations where their traditional gender roles are expected and deviation from these roles often leads to social stigma. Porn and Video games are places where men can exist outside of the rigid social roles that are normally attached to men. To further this, we can look at boys from an early age. If you follow labeling theory, boys are often marginalized by their teachers in schools. Ally Char-Chellman covers this topic in her ted talk. To tie this to labeling theory, boys are often told, repeatedly, or through example that they will fail or aren't as good as girls. This has been reaffirmed by gender based bias in the classroom PDF warning.
Now to another point, are men being made risk-averse by porn, or are they risk-averse and turning to porn? If you look at divorce rates within the United States, they are relatively high. This is just a quick and dirty look at divorce rates. However, there is little social incentive for men to marry if they're going to be divorced almost half the time or more. With alimony laws and child support, the amount of money that men are having to spend is relatively massive compared to their take home income. Often times more than half will disappear into a system that does not guarantee access to their children. Further, these risks don't only happen within marriage. Unmarried men who become fathers of children have to deal with Putative father's registries, and other legal hurdles to become a part of their children's lives. You may have heard recently about the head of the Utah Adoption Council retiring. Fit fathers were pushed aside to allow for hasty adoptions. Even those that followed all the necessary legal steps were forced out.
Is it a wonder that men are becoming risk-averse? Society has said jumped and many men have only to have the floor pulled out from under them.
All of your points are valid. We are marginalizing men in many ways that need to be talked about publicly. In so many places guys are made to feel unwelcome or unneeded, in subtle and not so subtle ways. How do you think a guy feels on the first day of college when all the girls in the dorm are given whistles? He learns, if he hasn't already been told, that his body is a potential weapon. And a woman learns she is a potential victim. Schools, especially lower grade levels have become completely feminized as well, with about 1 in 9 teachers being male. Without more guys as teachers or mentors, boys get the idea school is not a place for them. Society is making guys risk-averse so they seek out things like video games and porn. At least they can explore their fantasies through those outlets.
You say that excessive use of video games and online porn is creating a generation of shy and risk-averse guys.
What is excessive? Is there any amount of video game and online porn use that is 'healthy'? If these had been available when you were growing up, would you have used them?
Edit: "risk averse" changed from "risk adverse".
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