10 January 2010
Tuesday/January/12 2010 Filed in: Philosophy / World View
The Birds and the Bees
An individual ant, bee or bird doesn't seem all that brilliant, yet the behaviors of colonies, hives and flocks are efficient, effective, complex, orchestrated and...in a word...brilliant.
Scientists continue to be intrigued and baffled by the genius of swarms, where intelligence isn't resident within any particular ant, bee or bird, but rather, is manifest within the group itself.
In a National Geographic article, ant-researcher Deborah Gordon said it this way, "simple creatures following simple rules, each one acting on local information. No ant sees the big picture."
That's fine for insects and fowl but that certainly doesn't apply to us humans, right?
After all, we're each blessed with top-of-the-food-chain brains that have devised complex and intricate systems of leadership and structured management.
Professor Jens Krause of the University of Leed's Faculty of Biological Sciences believes that groups of humans -- even with all our sophisticated mental software -- behave in ways that aren't always all that sophisticated.
Professor Krause and his associates believe that a small minority of about 5% control the actions of a human crowd.
Experiments were conducted where groups of people were asked to walk randomly around a large hall. Embedded in the groups were a few people with instructions about where to walk but with orders not to talk to others in the crowd.
In every experiment, followers fell into formation behind the embedded members, self-organizing into winding, snake-like structures.
Does that help to explain disturbing scenes as in the video below?
Not quite as elegant as birds-in-flight, is it?
And while we're on the subject, hasn't every war been an unfortunate game of follow-the-leader with entire nations falling into snake-like formation behind a tiny few who seem to act like they know where we all should be going?
Who's really in charge here?
On the lighter side, what happens when we turn the equation around to consider how the individual deals with the will of the crowd
We touched on the topic of conformity yesterday in our Psychologia Apocalypzia post.
Let's take another look in a video that is funny but also quite frightening, no?
Monday/January/11 2010 Filed in: Science / Technology
Smile! You're on Candid Camera!
Reality TV was born at the dawn of the medium
Candid Camera, created by Alan Funt, first hit the television airwaves in 1948 and by the 1960's was one of TV's most popular shows.
Observing human behavior in unusual situations
Real people, filmed by a hidden camera, were maneuvered into awkward situations staged by the Candid Camera crew.
The program concept is often credited as the inspiration for programs like Ashton Kuchter's Punk'd, The Jamie Kennedy Experiment and Shannon Doherty's Scare Tactics.
But this program had far greater influence on modern culture than that.
Candid Camera helped bring an end to one of the most interesting and, literally, most shocking aspects of the field of experimental behavioral psychology.
The Stanley Milgram Obedience Study
Among the millions of Candid Camera viewers was Yale University psychology professor, Stanley Milgram, who used this program as a template for one of the most controversial and most revealing psychological experiments of all time.
You've heard about this experiment.
People were told to administer a quiz, via a telephone hookup, to a person located in another room.
The people asking the questions were told to pull a switch that would give the people answering the questions an electric shock if the response was incorrect.
A white-smocked professional running the experiment demanded that each wrong answer would require a step-up in the voltage.
Two out of three would have killed for a wrong answer
65% of participants pushed the voltage to the lethal level when told to by the white-smock guy, despite the blood-curdling screams -- or worse the post-screaming silence! -- of the people with the wrong answers.
Of course, in reality, there was no juice connected to the switch and the person providing the wrong answer was an experiment-insider screaming on cue.
But the person asking the questions and throwing the switch didn't know that.
The Prison Experiment
Illusion becomes reality
The Philip Zimbardo Prison Experiment was supposed to run for two weeks but was pulled after 6 days. Things got out of hand.
Students were divided into two groups: prisoners and guards. A realistic prison environment was created and in a very short time, the artificial became the real.
Each group began to not only act out its role but began to embrace it.
Some of the guards exhibited cruel and sadistic behavior while prisoners became docile and obedient -- even though any of the participants could have exited the experiment at any time.
The Bottom Line
Experiments of this type are no longer permitted in psychological study for reasons of professional ethics.
We find it keenly interesting, however, that these tactics abound in advertising, entertainment and government, not to mention in so-called enhanced interrogation of the so-called intelligence community.
In the words of Alan Funt, Candid Camera creator:
"The worst thing, and I see it over and over, is how easily people can be led by any kind of authority figure, or even the most minimal signs of authority."
Ethical or not, these experiments reveal more about the human psyche than those who profit from such manipulation want us to know.