Showing posts with label Phycology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Phycology. Show all posts

March 30, 2019

Women Prefer Gay Friends Than Straights

When women found out they were interacting with gay men, their body language became more engaging and intimate.
Source: Pexel
The women reported greater comfort levels when interacting with gay men compared to straight men. However, these effects changed based on a woman’s level of perceived attractiveness, such that only women who rated themselves as being more attractive reported increased comfort while interacting with a gay man. Additionally, women’s actual behavior also shifted after learning that they were interacting with a gay 

Can men and women ever just be friends? A recent study published in Psychological Science has attempted to answer this question by exploring the differences in how friendships develop between women and men as a function of the man's sexual identity. In other words, they examined how friendship development varies based on whether a straight woman is making friends with a gay man or a straight man.
Past research has shown that straight women and gay men form close relationships due to an apparent increased willingness to engage in intimate conversations1. Some have suggested that this may be because straight men and women are perceived as having less in common with each other compared to straight women and gay men2. This explanation, however, is based on the stereotypical assumptions about gay men and femininity. Consequently, researchers at the University of Texas explored an alternate potential explanation: Straight women may develop friendships with gay men more easily than they do with straight men because, when interacting with gay men, the necessity of worrying about whether the potential friend will seek to gain sexual access to them has been removed from the equation3. In other words, concerns about miscommunication over sexual interest may make straight women more hesitant when interacting with straight men. 

 To explore this issue, the researchers examined whether a woman’s awareness of a man’s sexual orientation alters her feelings of comfort with that man, and, in turn, if this changes the quality of conversational interactions4. Two studies were conducted. The first asked women to predict their levels of comfort when engaging in hypothetical conversations with men. Participants were asked to imagine sitting in a waiting room with a male stranger who initiated a conversation with them.
Initially, women provided ratings of how comfortable they would be interacting with this stranger based on a generic scenario in which they were unaware of the hypothetical man's sexual identity. Participants were then presented with a second scenario in which they were asked to imagine that during the course of that same interaction, they learned of the man’s sexual identity. Participants again indicated how comfortable they thought they would be while continuing to interact with the man after learning of his sexual identity (either gay or straight). In addition to providing ratings of comfort at each stage of the scenario, the women also indicated the extent to which they would feel anxious about the man’s sexual intentions as well as anxiety about not having anything in common with the man.
As the researchers had predicted, the results demonstrated that women anticipate being more comfortable interacting with gay men versus straight men, largely due to the removal of concerns related to the man’s sexual intentions. Women reported feeling more comfortable when they found out that their hypothetical male conversation partner was gay, rather than straight, and this association was explained by their reduced anxiety about the man’s sexual intentions.

The women reported greater comfort levels when interacting with gay men compared to straight men. However, these effects changed based on a woman’s level of perceived attractiveness, such that only women who rated themselves as being more attractive reported increased comfort while interacting with a gay man. Additionally, women’s actual behaviour also shifted after learning that they were interacting with a gay man. They were more intimate, positive, and engaging, orientating their bodies towards the man, and their conversations lasted longer.
Ultimately, the researchers concluded:
“Explicit knowledge of a man’s sexual preference not only increased a woman’s comfort with a gay man (vs. a straight man), but also affected the degree to which the women (particularly attractive ones) were willing to engage with the man on a more intimate level” (Russell et al., 2018, p.13-14).
This novel research provides insight into the development of friendships—both those between straight men and women as well as gay men and straight women. In particular, it appears that anxiety and concern over a straight man’s sexual intentions serve as a barrier that slows the pace of intimate friendship development between straight men and women, while the removal of this anxiety paves the way for women to quickly develop trusting and intimate friendships with gay men. Thus, with respect to the original question of whether men and women can ever "just be friends," the answer may hinge on whether that man is gay or straight. If he is gay, the friendship will develop more quickly and be facilitated by the woman’s reduced anxiety over his potential sexual interest, and she may engage more openly and intimately. If he is straight, anxiety and concern about his sexual intentions will delay the development of a trusting and close friendship, perhaps, in some cases, even indefinitely.

March 28, 2014

Homosexual,Bisexual,Transexual,Trans-What Does it All Means?



January 12, 2014

Let’s Talk About Sex (Relationships)

why to talk about sexYour sexuality can change a lot throughout one lifetime. It can even change a lot throughout one relationship. Some of these changes can be for the better. Others can feel like they’re for the worse. When these changes occur, many men and women tend to take the wrong course of action, shutting up or shutting down. You may shy away from talking to your partner or pull away from a physical relationship you valued. You might lose interest in sex altogether or turn against yourself and your body. When people face these challenges, what they’ll often find is that talking about sex, while it may feel uncomfortable at first, can be the key to maintaining a healthy sex life and a positive sense of one’s own sexuality.
So what are some of the changes that impact a person’s sex life? These shifts can be physical or related to age. They can even be caused by medications that strongly affect one’s sexual feelings and performance. Although these are often natural alterations that our bodies go through over time, people tend to view them as embarrassing or something to be kept secret. However, the opposite is true.
Talking about these changes, be it with your partner, a friend or your doctor can lead to more understanding and self-compassion and allows you to maintain a satisfying sex life. As your body changes, you can choose to take a healthy approach to these shifts without turning on yourself and giving in to your “critical inner voices,” allowing them to tear you down or make you feel insecure. It’s important not to listen to what your inner critic tells you about these changes or to allow yourself to shut the door on your sexuality.
In addition to physical adjustments, people of all ages often face an onslaught of psychological influences that can hurt their sexuality. This can have a lot to do with the critical inner voice, which every person possesses. When it comes to sexuality a person’s inner critic often comments on their performance, their bodies or what their partner is feeling or not feeling. This “voice” keeps people in their heads instead of in their bodies.
When it comes to sex, most people tend to feel there are a lot of “supposed to’s,” as if they are supposed to perform this way or feel that way in a sexual encounter. These expectations are fueled by the critical inner voice and can lead people to feel self-conscious, insecure or disconnected when being physically affectionate. Many people can also be critical of their appearance, viewing themselves as too old/fat/unattractive/uncomfortable for sex. With all its input, your inner critic can negatively influence your sexual relationships and eventually prove the false notion that passionate relationships can’t last long-term.
The truth is that intimate relationships don’t have to lose their excitement. However, as people get closer, they tend to struggle with maintaining an alive and satisfying sexual relationship. Many people find it difficult to combine emotional intimacy and deep loving feelings with passionate sexuality. One reason this can occur, albeit mostly unconsciously, is that old issues from their past begin to surface. People may even start to experience “critical inner voices” about their sexuality that hold familiar themes from their past. For example, if you were hurt or rejected by the people who cared for you, you may have grown up feeling there is something wrong with you on a bodily level. You may have thoughts like “you are so unattractive, he/she is repulsed by you.” If you felt a lack of affection as kids, you may feel desperate for affection as an adult, having thoughts like “you need to be aggressive. he/she is not going to come toward you.” If you felt intruded on, you may have a tendency to pull away when someone gets close, thinking “he/she is so hungry towards you; you don’t really want this.”
When people start to get into their heads during sex, they lose a sense of connectedness to their partner. When they feel this distance, the sexual experience often doesn’t feel as satisfying or worthwhile. With their head flooded with self-critiques and attacks on their partner, they may start to think about just getting through the sexual situation instead of enjoying it. Emotional closeness is the most important aspect of physical intimacy. Therefore, it becomes all the more important to bring your struggles to light and talk about what’s going on.
When changes occur in you, be them physical or emotional, it can also affect your partner’s feelings about him or herself. It may trigger critical inner voices in them like, you are bored with them or that they’re unattractive to you, etc. Talking to your partner and exposing the destructive attitudes of your critical inner voices can bring you back to yourselves and can reestablish the closeness between you and your partner. Closeness, self-esteem and open communication are essential to lasting,healthy sexuality. They are also the biggest factors in sexual satisfaction.
When you open up to your partner about what’s going on in your mind in regards to your sexuality, you allow him or her to know you on a deeper level. In a certain sense, conversation can be foreplay, as it allows a couple to feel for each other and get closer. While it may feel awkward or unnatural at first, very often, when they do open up and talk about it, there are major, surprising shifts in a couple’s sexual relationship.
Too often, people let years pass without having a conversation about their sexuality. In addition to talking to your partner, you can confide in a close friend or a therapist. It’s all too easy to feel alone in your struggles, but you’d be surprised at how many people relate to exactly what you’re going through. Staying silent leaves room for your critical inner voices to fester and will make you feel worse and even like giving up on your sexuality. The more you talk, the better you are likely to feel, and the quieter the noise in your head can become.
When it comes to sex, the optimal experience involves feeling emotionally close to your partner, in touch with your body and in the present moment. I have found that by identifying and challenging destructive thought processes or critical inner voices that interfere with closeness and optimal sexual functioning, people can learn to combine love and sexuality and achieve that special combination that is so desirable in an intimate relationship. Taking a chance and talking to your partner can be the first step to achieving this goal.

November 30, 2013

Why People Shop

  • Arrest: A shopper is restrained after a row broke out at the Asda store in Cribbs Causeway, Bristol, this morning
    Arrest: A shopper has been arrested after a row broke out at the Asda store in Cribbs Causeway UK
  • I don't lay people on the couch and talk to them about why they buy things. I'm not that kind of psychologist. I use my skills as a psychologist to understand the motivation to buy.
  • Medscape: On the basis of your research and observations, why do we buy things? What are some of our motivations?
  • Dr. Yarrow: I just finished a new book on that subject, Decoding the New Consumer Mind, so a short summary might be hard! I suppose if I were to narrow it down to the one most important thing, I would say that buying usually involves relationships in one way or another. The motivation for almost everything we buy has something to do with connecting with other human beings. Even when it comes to practical purchases, the particular brand or product we choose relates to our connections with other human beings.
  • Medscape: I know this isn't your area of expertise, but in terms of psychiatric or psychological conditions or disorders, what's been linked with shopping behaviors, either as a cause or an effect?
  • Dr. Yarrow: You're right; I don't directly research shopping addictions or compulsive shopping. I'm not a specialist in the disorders around shopping. However, in my new book I do talk a lot about, and document pretty carefully, increases in anxiety, societal anger, individualism, and loneliness. I'm not classifying them as pathologies, but more just shifts toward negative psychological states.
  • These shifts have definitely affected how we shop and how we buy. For example, I'm saying that everyone approaches the marketplace with more anxiety because as a culture, we're a more anxious group of people. People feel less trusting of everything: schools, businesses, government, the media. At the same time, they're less connected to and nurtured by other people in their community. Many of these relationships have been disintermediated by our use of technology.
  • People therefore have higher levels of anxiety, and we know that people process information differently and make decisions in different ways when they're anxious. So when they shop, they're a bit more defensive; they start from a position of distrust, and therefore retailers have to do more to win their interest and loyalty.
  • Medscape: What are some potential relationship-driven motivations to shop, whether conscious or unconscious?
  • Dr. Yarrow: There are so many. I think there are some very fundamental ways that people use shopping as a way to connect with other people. For example, our use of technology has turned us into speed demons when it comes to processing information. We want it fast and therefore rely more on symbols and visual data to inform our perceptions. We also look for symbols to understand other people -- what people are wearing, what they own, and what brands they attach to are shorthand ways of understanding and communicating with other people.
  • I also see a lot of people using shopping as a way of calming their anxiety. For example, if you're going through any life-stage transition, from getting married to having a baby, I think shopping is used as a way to mentally prepare and calm anxiety. As people go through the process of selecting products, they are mentally visualizing their new future. In a way, it's like runners and athletes who use visualization to enhance their performance.
  • "Retail Therapy" and Neuroimaging Findings
  • Medscape: Going back to your anxiety example, does this mean that the old "retail therapy" cliché has some truth?
  • Dr. Yarrow: Yes. I wrote an article about that for Time [1] -- about how shopping really can be therapeutic. In addition to preparation, it's also a way to express creativity. Online browsing is used by a number of the consumers I've interviewed as a little break, and of course it's also a conversation starter and a way for people to connect with others.
  • Medscape: Neuroimaging research[2] has reported spikes in reward-circuit dopamine activity related to shopping, similar to those seen in addictive behaviors, such as drug use and overeating. Is there an addictive component to shopping in some people?
  • Dr. Yarrow: I do think that there are a lot of people who rely on the dopamine rush that comes with finding a bargain or something special as a way to add a little bit of oomph to their life. I think that's probably the most problematic aspect of shopping: that people become almost, I think, addicted to the bargain hunt.
  • Medscape: Stampeding to the mall on Black Friday: Is it some combination of thrill- or reward-seeking, along with affecting our relationships with friends and family (eg, buying them a gift)? Or knowing the holidays are coming, could the motivation be less complex: They just want to save money?
  • Dr. Yarrow: I think there is a really wide variety of people who like to shop on a day such as Black Friday. In my interviews, I've found that some fall into the camp who are really bargain-crazy -- those who think they're going to be the one to get that giant television for $100, and if they do, they feel like winners. There's a thrill in it for them; it's almost competitive-sport shopping. But I do think this group is the minority of Black Friday shoppers.
  • Back to relationships, I think for many people it's a tradition. It's something that they've always done. People are off from work that day, and some are with extended family; it becomes an event greater than just shopping. It's the kick-off to the holiday season: visiting Santa, window decorations, the lighting of tree. I think the social aspects of it are very important to a lot of people.
  • So we've got our competitive-sport shoppers and our holiday tradition shoppers. But of course, we don't live in a Normal Rockwell society anymore. Every year, we have a growing number of people who live alone. We have a lot of people who don't necessarily have families nearby, and so it's also simply a social activity. Shopping is way to get out and about and interact with people.
  • Medscape: Research shows that much of the pleasure derived from rewarding behaviors is often more associated with the anticipation of a behavior (eg, taking a drug or gambling) than with the behavior itself. I would imagine the same is true for shopping in some people?
  • Dr. Yarrow: Yes, absolutely. For example, I think the anticipation of Black Friday as the day when there will be good deals is strong. Cyber Monday, too -- people shop because they anticipate bargains. It's contributed to a tradition, and the anticipation is part of the excitement. In other realms of shopping and buying, the thrill of the purchase is extended when people spend time thinking about buying in advance; the brain registers the feeling almost as if it were happening in the moment, which naturally gives you extra minutes of juice.
  • Medscape: Shopping has also been linked with amygdala activation, suggesting an emotional component to shopping. Any number of activities can resonate emotionally for people, but generally speaking, what have you learned from your research and observations about the relationship between shopping and emotion?
  • Dr. Yarrow: When it comes to Black Friday, I'd say the biggest threat to shoppers would be what happens to our bodies when we get in stressful situations -- that is, the autonomic nervous system arousal that accompanies being in crowded, stressful places or experiencing a fear of missing out. Shoppers often get home and wonder why they bought what they bought. They weren't thinking logically amidst the hyperarousal and stress.
  • I think retailers rely on this. I always recommend to consumers that they wait 20 minutes until their body relaxes, and their mind can start taking over again before they make a purchase. Or to resist buying things that they can't return.
  • Another thing that's problematic about Black Friday is the investment of time standing in line and getting up at 4:00 in the morning. It means that people want to see a return: They're determined to purchase something. This is true for outlet malls, too.
  • Odors, Colors, and a Gender Divide
  • Medscape: What techniques do marketers and retailers use to coax us into shopping and buying?
  • Dr. Yarrow: Without a doubt, retailers know that the brain capacity of shoppers, especially on Black Friday, is a little more limited, so they're going to rely on symbolic cues and sensory input to help guide decision-making. I think what consumers might not be aware of is that major retailers are really knowledgeable about how we process symbols, everything from colors to particular words. They use smells. They use music. They know that when people touch things, they're more likely to buy them. They know that things located in the center of a display are more likely to be purchased. They know all of these things.
  • Consumers don't, though. Shoppers think they're being logical in their choices, and they don't necessarily know, for example, that when they see red they unconsciously process "cheaper," or that when one product is located by itself, they unconsciously register "special and expensive." Symbolic cues, flooding the senses, eliciting a fear of missing out with bargains -- consumers think they're immune to these tactics, but I've seen very few who actually are immune.
  • Medscape: How about those overly chatty or overly pushy sellers?! Does this actually work?
  • Dr. Yarrow: No; they're falling out of favor. Consumer backlash on that has been pretty strong; it's related to the trust issue I mentioned earlier. It's also one of the reasons why a lot of people shop online: They don't like being assaulted by salespeople or pressured in a store. They want help when they need help, and not a moment before and not a moment after. Retailers are struggling with how to give people information at exactly the point they need it and not overdo it.
  • Medscape: One more question, Dr. Yarrow: How do men and women shop differently, including across generations?
  • Dr. Yarrow: They shop much differently, although it's converging a little bit. Younger men tend to enjoy shopping more than older generations of men. They grew up in malls, and they're more comfortable with and acculturated to shopping environments; whereas it feels more foreign to baby-boomer men, and they're less comfortable with it.
  • Still, if you look at all men -- even lumping in younger men -- they tend to procrastinate a lot more than women. They also tend to be more impulsive, especially in purchasing gifts. And they respond more powerfully to rankings: things like "the best-selling," "the number 1," "the ultimate."
  • Anyway, if you go to a mall a day or 2 before Christmas, it's likely to be all men. I'm not stereotyping men when I say this. They're the first to admit it: "I hate shopping, I'm not going until I have to."
  • References
  • Yarrow K. Is retail therapy for real? 5 ways shopping is actually good for you. Time. April 16, 2013. Accessed November 18, 2013.
  • Hartston H. The case for compulsive shopping as an addiction. J Psychoactive Drugs. 2012;44:64-67. Abstract 

February 19, 2013

Telepathy Between Couples, True or a Fable?

Dr Who star Matt Smith shares a gay kiss 

When Julie Beischel met Mark Boccuzzi at a conference and agreed to participate in an experiment on telepathy, she didn’t immediately tell him about the powerful connections she’d felt to him; after all, they were strangers.
Now married, however, Beischel and Boccuzzi credit telepathy for helping them meet and fall in love.
“It was like nothing I had ever encountered,” Beischel said.

The data from the experiment backed up her perception, however, and the couple eventually asked Dean Radin, senior scientist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS) that conducted the summer study program, to marry them. Now, they are co-writing a book, Psychic Intimacy: A Handbook for Couples, that will highlight practical applications of telepathy for couples. In fact, they’ve suggested that Radin turn the experiment into a dating service.
The field of parapsychology can be tricky for scientists to navigate. At best, they’re known as a fringe group; at worst, they’re lumped together with astrologers and fortune tellers. NIH funding is hard to come by. People were often surprised that Beischel, a “hard-core” scientist with a PhD in pharmacology and toxicology, wrote a book about mediums.
But Beischel, Radin and many others are confident in their ability to answer most skeptics’ question affirmatively: Is telepathy real?
Radin tells the story of Hans Berger, the German who recorded the first human electroencephalogram (EEG) in 1924, who fell while riding a horse and was almost run over by a team of horses racing down the road inches from his head. His sister, many miles away, sensed the danger and insisted that her father send a telegram to find out what was wrong. She had never sent a telegram before, and the experience left Burger so curious that he switched from studying math and astronomy to medicine hoping to discover the source of that psychic energy.
About 100 years later, the explanation is still largely a mystery, but about 200 published experiments reveal mental connections that are “way beyond chance,” Radin said. Not knowing how it works, though, is uncomfortable for many scientists.
“Looking at the experiments and the data, it’s very clear something is going on,” Radin said. “There is doubt because we don’t have a good explanation for it yet.”
Still, even his most skeptical friends have shifted their thinking; while they may not believe it’s real, they no longer feel as strongly that it’s not, Radin said.
(yes that’s Dr. Who on the pic..Adam)

October 26, 2012

Why Are Mean Man So Good Looking?

(This posting is dedicated to Dan who ask that question)

People who are bad know how to make themselves look good.
It's no secret that when it comes to making a positive first impression, physical attractiveness helps. But it isn't just good looks that play a role — personality figures in, too. People with dark personality traits, such as narcissism and psychopathy, tend to be highly appealing to others. But why should this be — is there something special about them? A new study explores whether the magnetism of mean individuals is due to inherent or superficial qualities.

Nickolas Holtzman of Washington University in St. Louis and his colleagues were curious about the difference between unadorned and adorned attractiveness. As they point out, research in this area is muddled because comely individuals are grouped together without regard to how much conscious effort they put into their appearance — that is, how effectively adorned they are. And that's what these scientists wanted to to unpack: What personality traits are associated with effective adornment, that is, the ability to put oneself together in an appealing way? Such an investigation would require experimentally manipulating how people present themselves, and then having them rated by impartial observers. So they devised a clever study, and did just that.

Are egoists naturally better looking than their nicer counterparts, or are they relying on strategic modifications? To be sure, some individuals engage in what's technically known as adorned attractiveness. Examples of this phenomenon include wearing stylish clothing, flattering makeup, and fashionable items that serve to enhance one's physical appearance. Conversely, unadorned attractiveness refers to “enduring” features, such as facial symmetry. Put another way, some folks are naturally attractive with minimal effort, and others clean up really well.

Specifically, Holtzman and his team wanted to see if people who dress to impress possess different personality tendencies than those who put in less effort. The traits in question were two well-known configurations of personality, The Dark Triad and The Big Five. The former refers to narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism (e.g., guile), while the latter encompasses extraversion (sociability and enthusiasm), agreeableness (friendliness and kindness), conscientiousness(organization and work ethic), emotional stability (calmness and tranquility), and intellect (creativity and curiosity).

The sample was comprised of 111 undergraduates, with an average age of 19.35. Women and men accounted for 64 and 36 percent of the sample, respectively. The racial breakdown was: 67% Caucasian, 23% Asian, 8% African American, and 2% from another group.

In order to isolate the components of attractiveness — adorned and unadorned — a full-body photograph of the test “targets” were taken under two different treatments. In the adorned condition, no adjustments were made: participants were photographed just as they were when they entered the laboratory. In the unadorned condition, however, the investigators sought to capture people in the “most neutral and yet natural state possible,” without the benefit of any beauty enhancers (such as a flattering hairstyle). Accordingly, these students received something of an anti-makeover: They changed into gray sweatpants and a black T-shirt, and removed accessories and the like (e.g., jewelry and eyeglasses). 

Those with long hair tied it behind their heads, so as to eliminate the potential influence of enticing tresses; also men who shaved their beards. They were then instructed to make a neutral facial expression and look straight at a camera. The resulting photographs were subsequently shown to and rated by observers who had no familiarity with the targets. 

The participants were assessed for The Dark Triad and The Big Five personality traits in two ways. First, they completed self-report questionnaires. Second, they were rated by peers who knew them well. The items for The Dark Triad, for example, included: ‘‘is strategic, manipulative about people’’ (Machiavellianism) “has high vanity; is conceited’’ (narcissism), and ‘‘hurts people; appears reckless’’(psychopathy).

What did the researchers find? Mathematical correlations revealed that the three interrelated traits forming the Dark Triad were significantly associated with effective adornment. In other words, people with dark personalities knew how to look good. Perhaps of some concern is that the effect for psychopathy — often considered the ‘‘darkest’’ trait — was the most robust.Why do callous characters present themselves so well? The authors reason that individuals with these ill-disposed tendencies may experience greater self-esteem or satisfaction from the additonal attention they receive when they dress up, encouraging them to remain stylish. It may also be that creating an attractive veneer leads to romantic liaisons, especially those of a short-term nature. Briefer mating opportunities are, according to research, especially appealing to members of The Dark Triad Club.

So if you meet someone who is effectively making the most with what he's got, take note. It doesn't necessarily mean that he gravitates to the dark side, but the results of this study suggest that you may want to beware.
Follow me on twitter@VinitaMehta2

October 14, 2012

Why Americans Can Be Manipulated with Speed and Ease?

Why are Americans so easy to manipulate?(Credit: Sebastian Kaulitzki via Shutterstock)
This article originally appeared on AlterNet.
 What a fascinating thing! Total control of a living organism!  — psychologist B.F. Skinner
The corporatization of society requires a population that accepts control by authorities, and so when psychologists and psychiatrists began providing techniques that could control people, the corporatocracy embraced mental health professionals.
In psychologist B.F. Skinner’s best-selling book Beyond Freedom and Dignity  (1971), he argued that freedom and dignity are illusions that hinder the science of behavior modification, which he claimed could create a better-organized and happier society.
During the height of Skinner’s fame in the 1970s, it was obvious to anti-authoritarians such as Noam Chomsky (“The Case Against B.F. Skinner”) and Lewis Mumord that Skinner’s worldview—a society ruled by benevolent control freaks—was antithetical to democracy. In Skinner’s novel Walden Two (1948), his behaviorist hero states, “We do not take history seriously”; to which Lewis Mumford retorted, “And no wonder: if man knew no history, the Skinners would govern the world, as Skinner himself has modestly proposed in his behaviorist utopia.”
As a psychology student during that era, I remember being embarrassed by the silence of most psychologists about the political ramifications of Skinner and behavior modification.
In the mid-1970s, as an intern on a locked ward in a state psychiatric hospital, I first experienced one of behavior modification’s staple techniques, the “token economy.” And that’s where I also discovered that anti-authoritarians try their best to resist behavior modification. George was a severely depressed anti-authoritarian who refused to talk to staff but, for some reason, chose me to shoot pool with. My boss, a clinical psychologist, spotted my interaction with George, and told me that I should give him a token—a cigarette—to reward his “prosocial behavior.” I fought it, trying to explain that I was 20 and George was 50, and this would be humiliating. But my boss subtly threatened to kick me off the ward. So, I asked George what I should do.
George, fighting the zombifying effects of his heavy medication, grinned and said, “We’ll win. Let me have the cigarette.” In full view of staff, George took the cigarette and then placed it into the shirt pocket of another patient, and then looked at the staff shaking his head in contempt.
Unlike Skinner, George was not “beyond freedom and dignity.” Anti-authoritarians such as George—who don’t take seriously the rewards and punishments of control-freak authorities—deprive authoritarian ideologies such as behavior modification from total domination.
Behavior Modification Techniques Excite Authoritarians
If you have taken introductory psychology, you probably have heard of Ivan Pavlov’s “classical conditioning” and B.F. Skinner’s “operant conditioning.”
An example of Pavlov’s classical conditioning? A dog hears a bell at the same time he receives food; then the bell is sounded without the food and still elicits a salivating dog. Pair a scantily-clad attractive woman with some crappy beer, and condition men to sexually salivate to the sight of the crappy beer and buy it. The advertising industry has been utilizing classical conditioning for quite some time.
Skinner’s operant conditioning? Rewards, like money, are “positive reinforcements”; the removal of rewards are “negative reinforcements”; and punishments, such as electric shocks, are labeled in fact as “punishments.” Operant conditioning pervades the classroom, the workplace, and mental health treatment.
Skinner was heavily influenced by the book Behaviorism (1924) by John B. Watson. Watson achieved some fame in the early 1900s by advocating a mechanical, rigid, affectionless manner in child rearing. He confidently asserted that he could take any healthy infant and, given complete control of the infant’s world, train him for any profession. When Watson was in his early forties, he quit university life and began a new career in advertising at J. Walter Thompson.
Behaviorism and consumerism, two ideologies which achieved tremendous power in the twentieth century, are cut from the same cloth. The shopper, the student, the worker, and the voter are all seen by consumerism and behaviorism the same way: passive, conditionable objects.
Who are Easiest to Manipulate?
Those who rise to power in the corporatocracy are control freaks, addicted to the buzz of power over other human beings, and so it is natural for such authorities to have become excited by behavior modification.
Alfie Kohn, in Punished by Rewards (1993), documents with copious research how behavior modification works best on dependent, powerless, infantilized, bored, and institutionalized people. And so for authorities who get a buzz from controlling others, this creates a terrifying incentive to construct a society that creates dependent, powerless, infantilized, bored, and institutionalized people.
Many of the most successful applications of behavior modification have involved laboratory animals, children, or institutionalized adults. According to management theorists Richard Hackman and Greg Oldham in Work Redesign (1980), “Individuals in each of these groups are necessarily dependent on powerful others for many of the things they most want and need, and their behavior usually can be shaped with relative ease.”
Similarly, researcher Paul Thorne reports in the journal International Management (“Fitting Rewards,” 1990) that in order to get people to behave in a particular way, they must be “needy enough so that rewards reinforce the desired behavior.”
It is also easiest to condition people who dislike what they are doing. Rewards work best for those who are alienated from their work, according to researcher Morton Deutsch (Distributive Justice, 1985). This helps explain why attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)-labeled kids perform as well as so-called “normals” on boring schoolwork when paid for it (see Thomas Armstrong’s The Myth of the A.D.D. Child, 1995). Correlatively, Kohn offers research showing that rewards are least effective when people are doing something that isn’t boring.
In a review of the literature on the harmful effects of rewards, researcher Kenneth McGraw concluded that rewards will have a detrimental effect on performance under two conditions: “first, when the task is interesting enough for the subjects that the offer of incentives is a superfluous source of motivation; second, when the solution to the task is open-ended enough that the steps leading to a solution are not immediately obvious.”
Kohn also reports that at least ten studies show rewards work best on simplistic and predictable tasks. How about more demanding ones? In research on preschoolers (working for toys), older children (working for grades) and adults (working for money), all avoided challenging tasks. The bigger the reward, the easier the task that is chosen; while without rewards, human beings are more likely to accept a challenge.
So, there is an insidious incentive for control-freaks in society—be they psychologists, teachers, advertisers, managers, or other authorities who use behavior modification. Specifically, for controllers to experience the most control and gain a “power buzz,” their subjects need to be infantilized, dependent, alienated, and bored.
The Anti-Democratic Nature of Behavior Modification
Behavior modification is fundamentally a means of controlling people and thus for Kohn, “by its nature inimical to democracy, critical questioning, and the free exchange of ideas among equal participants.”
For Skinner, all behavior is externally controlled, and we don’t truly have freedom and choice. Behaviorists see freedom, choice, and intrinsic motivations as illusory, or what Skinner called “phantoms.” Back in the 1970s, Noam Chomsky exposed Skinner’s unscientific view of science, specifically Skinner’s view that science should be prohibited from examining internal states and intrinsic forces.
In democracy, citizens are free to think for themselves and explore, and are motivated by very real—not phantom—intrinsic forces, including curiosity and a desire for justice, community, and solidarity.
What is also scary about behaviorists is that their external controls can destroy intrinsic forces of our humanity that are necessary for a democratic society.
Researcher Mark Lepper was able to diminish young children’s intrinsic joy of drawing with Magic Markers by awarding them personalized certificates for coloring with a Magic Marker. Even a single, one-time reward for doing something enjoyable can kill interest in it for weeks.
Behavior modification can also destroy our intrinsic desire for compassion, which is necessary for a democratic society. Kohn offers several studies showing “children whose parents believe in using rewards to motivate them are less cooperative and generous [children] than their peers.” Children of mothers who relied on tangible rewards were less likely than other children to care and share at home.
How, in a democratic society, do children become ethical and caring adults? They need a history of being cared about, taken seriously, and respected, which they can model and reciprocate.
Today, the mental health profession has gone beyond behavioral technologies of control. It now diagnoses noncompliant toddlers with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and pediatric bipolar disorder and attempts to control them with heavily sedating drugs. While Big Pharma directly profits from drug prescribing, the entire corporatocracy benefits from the mental health profession’s legitimization of conditioning and controlling.

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