Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
What Sparked the Study?
This experiment was initiated by Stanley Milgrim, a psychologist at Yale University. His goal was to focus on the conflict between obedience to authority and personal conscience. He examined the defenses of “obedience” as justifications from WW2 and wanted to see how it correlated to the way humans act under an authoritarian.
Using an ad in the newspaper, Milgrim selected participants for the study. A participant was paired with another person (A person that knew about the experiment). They had a fixed drawing of straws to see who would be the “learner” and who would be the “teacher”. Because the draw was fixed, the participant was always the teacher. The learner was taken into a room next to the teacher and was strapped to electrodes. The teacher went into the next room and was greeted by an electric shock machine. The shock machine contained shocks from 15 volts-450 volts. In this experiment, there was also an experimenter, played by an actor.Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
The teacher tells the learner a list of words and gives the learner a series of tests that included naming a word and asking the learner to recall its partner. The teacher was told to administer a shock every time the learner made a mistake, increasing the shock each time. The learner purposefully got the answers wrong to test the teacher. When the shocks got riskier and the teacher refused, the experimenter used four different means to urge the teacher to continue with the experiment.
Academic and commercial researchers alike are aiming towards a deeper understanding of how humans act, make decisions, plan, and memorize. Advances in wearable sensor technology along with procedures for multi-modal data acquisition and analysis have lately been enabling researchers all across the globe to tap into previously unknown secrets of the human brain and mind.
Before you write your essay it’s important to analyse the task and understand exactly what the essay question is asking. It is possible your lecturer will give you some advice – pay attention to this as it will help you plan your answer.
Next conduct preliminary reading based on your lecture notes. At this stage it’s not crucial to have a robust understanding of key theories or studies, but you should at least have a general ‘gist’ of the literature.
After reading, plan a response to the task. This plan could be in the form of a mind map, a summary table, or by writing a core statement (which encompass the entire argument of your essay in just a few sentences).
Still, as emphasized by Makeig and colleagues (2009), the most pivotal challenge lies in the systematic observation and interpretation of how distributed brain processes support our natural, active, and flexibly changing behavior and cognition.
We all are active agents, continuously engaged in attempting to fulfill bodily needs and mental desires within complex and ever-changing surroundings, while interacting with our environment. Brain structures have evolved that support cognitive processes targeted towards the optimization of outcomes for any of our body-based behaviors.
All patients come to psychiatrists with basically the same problem: the sense of helplessness, the fear and inner conviction of being unable to cope and change things.
One of the roots of this sense of impotence is some desire to partially or totally escape the pain of confronting problems because this continual battle of confronting and solving problems is a painful one, indeed. Fearing the pain involved, almost all of us, to a greater or lesser degree, attempt to avoid them like the plague. Its human, it’s understandable, and to some extent quite natural…but it is definitely not beneficial. This tendency of avoidance and the emotional suffering inherent in it is the primary basis of all human mental illness. Keeping this in mind, it is safe to say that almost all of us lack complete mental health—including psychologists themselves.Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
That’s why psychotherapy is very helpful to anyone and everyone. It is a legitimate and courageous path to personal growth and freedom which bestows people with a lot of opportunities to become stronger and healthier than average. It helps bring forth the darkest and brightest parts of one’s own self in an atmosphere of utter honesty and non-judgment.
Do we need to understand human nature, and particularly the nature of the human mind, to answer central questions in philosophy, theology and science? A powerful tradition in Western thought answered this question in the affirmative. For thinkers in this tradition, the greatest questions concerning morals, politics, and religion, and even a proper understanding of what is really involved when we “do” natural science, mathematics, and art, can be gained only from a position of knowledge concerning the actual nature of real human beings. But historically, this position on human nature was long held in abeyance by a rival tradition that re-conceived philosophy as the study of a priori truths. These circumstances have troubled scholars such as W.V.O. Quine, who famously declared that philosophers should quit their “make believe” and join forces with the natural sciences in trying to get a better handle on what the human world is really like.
As part of this broader effort to gain fundamental insights into the place of human beings in the world, the Herzl Institute is home to an ongoing project in human nature studies entitled “Human Nature, Human Mind.” Since 2009, Institute scholars have hosted international conferences and a series of public lectures aimed at exploring the history of the human-nature tradition in Western thought, and to developing constructive contributions that human nature theory can make today to morals, political theory, and theology, as well as to seemingly more remote disciplines such as mathematics, logic, and natural science.Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
What would human nature look like? To start with a preliminary definition, we might say that human nature is a relatively fixed set of characteristics of psychology, motivation, and cognition that are not the product of learning. Or, at a slightly greater remove from behavior, we might include innate capacities that can be triggered by appropriate experiences, but may also remain latent if those experiences are not encountered. (This is roughly the way that Noam Chomsky thinks about language competence in Aspects of the Theory of Syntax.)
When people have identified some psychological characteristics as being part of human nature, they usually have had one of three things in mind. First, thinkers have sometimes held that there are “innate ideas” — beliefs and concepts that are hard-wired and are not learned through experience. For example, Kant holds that the ideas of space, time, and causality are a necessary part of any intelligent being’s mental equipment. Second, thinkers have sometimes postulated that there are certain visceral emotions that come with the normal human equipment — for example, fear of loud noises, love of infants, or empathy. And third, people sometimes assert that there are some fundamental dispositions to behavior that are a part of “human nature” — for example, being self-interested, being amenable to the appeal of fairness, being monogomous or its opposites.Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
It was on a hike across Isla Del Sol in Bolivia a few years ago that I first wondered how many animals walk for pleasure – not to hunt or feed, not to find shelter or warmth, but to enjoy the act of walking itself.
I asked the question on Quora to rather unsatisfying results. The question arose again on our recent Abel Tasman hike and led me to wonder what other characteristics are unique or largely restricted to humans. This in turn led me to an old issue of New Scientist magazine and a fascinating set of articles on the six things all humans do. Some are obvious, some are amusing. All trigger a flush of recognition and a sense of belonging.
1. BEING PLAYFUL
You may have heard the fact that humans and dolphins are the only species that mate for pleasure. This, perhaps unsurprisingly, is not true. Several other animals have sex where reproduction is impossible or unlikely. What’s interesting is that few other species are as generally playful as humans.
All mammals play, says New Scientist, but no other species pursues such a wide variety of entertainment or spends so much time enjoying themselves. We enjoy not only physical activities (sports, games, dancing and even tickling) but we also play with language (making jokes, creating music) and use our imaginations. We carry our childhood sense of playfulness right into adulthood, rare among other species.
2. BEING SCIENTIFIC
As children, we learn to identify patterns. We might identify and group all the red Lego bricks together, or recognise that a two-piece brick slots above another two-piece brick. We find ourselves constantly sorting the world into categories, predicting how things work and testing our predictions.
This, says New Scientist, is the very essence of science and is evident in everything from the establishment of time and calendars to our use of measuring units and our pursuit of cosmic knowledge.
3. BEING LEGISLATIVE
Many animals adhere to simple behavioral rules (often around territory and hierarchy), but none have a sophisticated system of rules, taboos and etiquette like that of humans. Without studying every community in the world, we can’t say for certain whether each and every one has formal laws but humans, by nature, tend to have rules. These rules always involve governing behaviour in three key areas, a sign that legislating is fundamental to human nature.
First is kinship: the rights, goods and status one is entitled to and also the obligation one has to their kin (e.g. a daughter inheriting land from her mother, or a father legally obligated to provide for his son).
Second is safety: everyone worries about safety so every culture has rules that govern when someone can kill or hurt another person.Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
Third is the use of objects: the definition of ‘private property’ is far from universal but societies everywhere have rules that govern who can and cannot use certain things at certain times.
4. BEING EPICUREAN
To most animals, a meal is just a meal: a way to sustain their bodies so they can continue living. To humans, a meal can be a labour of love, a work of art, a vehicle for seduction, an event in and of itself. Friends gather to break bread while families share stories and squabbles over the dinner table. Of course, it’s not just our attitude towards food that sets us apart. Cooking, one of humanity’s greatest inventions, has made a huge difference.
Primatologist Richard Wrangham at Harvard University says that cooked food, which offers more calories and less chewing, was the key innovation that allowed our ancestors to evolve into smart, social creatures. He notes that chimps spend more than six hours a day chewing; humans, less than one which leaves more time for culture and development.
5. BEING CLANDESTINE ABOUT SEX
It was visiting the breeding centre on San Cristóbal in the Galápagos that changed my mind about tortoises. Until then, I saw them as wise and gentle creatures, slowly and carefully plodding through life. After the visit, they morphed into huge, horny creatures that had loud, grunting, unattractive sex in public.
Of course, that makes them no different to any other creature except humans who prefer to have sex in private. One might say this is due to centuries of social conditioning, but academics suggest a deeper reason. Secret mating happens among species with a lot of inter-male competition, says Clive Wynne, a professor of psychology at the University of Florida.
Donald Symons, anthropologist and author of The Evolution of Human Sexuality, says that men regard sex as a precious commodity and therefore enjoy it “covertly to avoid inciting covetousness”.
Harvard professor Steven Pinker agrees: “This is for the same reason that during a famine anyone with food is likely to consume it in private.”
In short, it’s not shame that drives clandestine copulation, but envy and competition instead.Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
6. BEING GOSSIPY
There is a rather unkind comment a female columnist once made about British actress Keira Knightley: “If you want to befriend a woman, ask her the question, ‘What do you think of Keira Knightley?’ In the resulting torrent of bile and loathing, you will bond.”
It’s true: humans use gossip to cement relationships, says Robin Dunbar, author of Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language. He believes that gossip is the human equivalent of primate grooming. We have too many relationships to maintain through time-consuming grooming so we engage in chat instead: “Gossip evolved for oiling the wheels of social interaction,” says Dunbar – a maxim that applies to everyone from schoolchildren to the most powerful leaders of the world.
What’s interesting is that gossip isn’t negative by nature. In his research, Dunbar found that negative comments were far less common than innocuous observations about a subject. In essence, it’s not that we like to bitch; it’s just that we like to talk. Unless of course it’s about Keira Knightley.
Past speakers in this series include: Thomas Ahnert (Edinburgh), Roger Ariew (South Florida), Lera Boroditsky (Stanford), David Chalmers (Australian National University), Steve Darwall (Yale), Gil Diesendruck (Bar-Ilan), Samuel Fleishacker (Illinois), Dan Garber (Princeton), Aaron Garrett (Boston University), Tamar Szabo Gendler (Yale), Raoul Gervais (Ghent), Michael Gill (Arizona), Knud Haakonssen (Sussex), James Harris (St. Andrews), Bennett Helm (Franklin & Marshall), Michael Heyd (Hebrew U.), Eli Hirsch (Brandeis), Daniel Jacobson (Michigan), Hilla Jacobson (Ben-Gurion), Aviv Keren (Hebrew U.), Steven Horst (Wesleyan), Peter Lewis (Miami), Joseph Mali (Tel Aviv), Ricardo Manzotti, (IULM, Milan), Angela Matthies (Stuttgart), David Owen (Arizona), Fania Oz-Salzberger (Haifa), Robert Pasnau (Colorodo), Robert Pepperell, (Cardiff School of Art), Shimon Peretz (Bar-Ilan), Steven Pinker (Harvard), Jesse Prinz (CUNY Graduate Center), Paul Rahe (Hillsdale), Frederick Rosen (University College-London), Kranti Saran (Harvard), Geoff Sayre-McCord (UNC-Chapel Hill), Eric Schliesser (Ghent), Axel Seemann (Bentley), Oron Shagrir (Hebrew U.), Silvia Sebastiani (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique), Susanna Siegel (Harvard), Amie Thomasson (Miami), Alfred Tauber (Boston University), Marius Usher (Tel Aviv), Joshua Weinstein (Shalem), Konrad Werner (Jagiellonian), Benjamin Young (CUNY Graduate Center), and Nick Zangwill (Durham).Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
Despite the widespread rejection of Creationism and Intelligent Design in our society, most of us continue to believe that humanity is “the Crown of Creation.” Even though brought about by an impersonal force, such as Nature or Evolution, we consider ourselves superior to all other living beings, incomparably more intelligent and capable of loftier, more noble, emotions, and for this reason of our cognitive and emotional superiority, fully justified in making whatever use of them we may decide upon to improve our quality of life. If the very same logic were applied to differences between human beings and it were suggested that the more intelligent people with more developed emotional life can use people who are less intelligent and less developed emotionally in whatever way that suits the former to make their lives better, many of us would be appalled. But, if asked to explain this reaction, we would have to resort to the claim of cognitive and emotional superiority again. It is clear that we have the ability to use (that is in various ways exploit, kill for food, convenience, or sport, take over the resources they need to survive, impose conditions that turn their lives into torture) other animals, while they do not have the ability to use us. So, obviously, they are not our equals. But this is not because they are all naturally less intelligent than we are, or because our emotional capacities are naturally better developed.
What drastically separates us from all other animals does not have anything to do with our biological nature at all. As a biological species we are not that different from others: apparently, there is only 2% of difference in genetic material between us and some other great apes, such as chimpanzees, and these 2% account for all of our differences–forms of our feet and legs, genitalia, body and facial hair, posture, weight and height, etc., etc.,–so it is unclear how much of this is left to account for the difference between their and our brains, presumably responsible for our superior mental capacities. Moreover, capacities can be observed empirically only in their effects, only if a person writes a book, for instance, can we say that s/he has the capacity to write a book. (Well, one may counter in this context, no animal has ever written a book: ergo, we are smarter than they are. But an overwhelming majority of us have never written a book either. Does that mean that cognitive capacities of the overwhelming majority of people are no different than those of other animals?) As to other achievements, every day now brings more evidence about the great intelligence, cognitive and emotional, of animals (innate–not, like ours, which often learned).See, for instance, “When a Wolf Dies.”Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
No, the only empirically observable characteristic which clearly separates us from other animals has nothing to do with our biological endowment: what distinguishes humanity from all other species is that, while all other species transmit their ways of life genetically, through blood, we transmit our ways of life symbolically, through such things as traditions, institutions, laws, etc. Genetic transmission–a central process within the process of life itself–is, like life itself, a biological process. Symbolic transmission is not a biological process; it is, instead, the process of culture. We empirically observe the dramatic difference between these two processes of transmission of ways of life in that animal societies within the same species keep their characteristic form across hundreds and thousands of generations and even when geographically very widespread (like wolves, for example), while human societies are infinitely variable, always reflecting their specific historical period in a specific geographical location. In other words, what distinguishes humanity from all other animals, what actually makes us human and not just animals, is culture.
It’s a question that’s reverberated through the ages – are we humans, though imperfect, essentially kind, sensible, good-natured creatures? Or deep down are we wired to be bad, blinkered, idle, vain, vengeful and selfish? There are no easy answers and there’s clearly a lot of variation between individuals, but this feature post aims to shine some evidence-based light on the matter. Here in the first part of a two-part feature – and deliberately side-stepping the obviously relevant but controversial and already much-discussed Milgram, Zimbardo and Asch studies – we digest 10 dispiriting findings that reveal the darker and less impressive aspects of human nature:Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
We view minorities and the vulnerable as less than human
Through history humans have demonstrated a sickening willingness to inflict cruelty on one another. Part of the explanation may be that we have an unfortunate tendency to see certain groups – especially outsiders and vulnerable people perceived as low status – as being less than fully human. One striking example of this “blatant dehumanisation” came from a small brain-scan study that found students exhibited less neural activity associated with thinking about people when they looked at pictures of the homeless or of drug addicts, as compared with higher-status individuals. Many more studies have since demonstrated subtle forms of dehumanisation (in which we attribute fewer mental states to outsiders and minorities) and there have been further demonstrations of blatant dehumanisation – for instance, people who are opposed to Arab immigration or in favour of tougher counter-terrorism policy against Muslim extremists tended to rate Arabs and Muslims as literally less evolved than average. Among other examples, there’s also evidence that young people dehumanise older people; and that men and women alike dehumanise drunk women.
What’s more, the inclination to dehumanise starts early – children as young as five view out-group faces (those belonging to people who live in a different city or who are of a different gender than the child) as less human than in-group faces.
We already experience schadenfreude at the age of four
That last finding is particularly dispiriting since we often look to young children to give us hope for humankind – they are seen as the sweet and innocent ones who have yet to be corrupted by the grievances of adulthood. And yet many other studies show that very small kids are capable of some less-than-appealing adult-like emotions. For instance, a study from 2013 found that even four-year-olds seem to experience modest amounts of Schadenfreude – pleasure at another person’s distress, especially if they perceived the person deserved it (because they’d engaged in a bad deed). A more recent study found that by age six children will pay to watch an antisocial puppet being hit, rather than spending the money on stickers. Oh, and maybe you should forget the idea of children offering you unconditional kindness – by age three, they are already keeping track of whether you are indebted to them.Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
We believe in Karma – assuming that the downtrodden of the world must deserve their fate
On a related note, so strong is our inherent need to believe in a just world, we seem to have an inbuilt tendency to perceive the vulnerable and suffering as to some extent deserving their fate (an unfortunate flip-side to the Karmic idea, propagated by most religions, that the cosmos rewards those who do good – a belief that emerges in children aged just four). The unfortunate consequences of our just-world beliefs were first demonstrated in now classic research by Melvin Lerner and Carolyn Simmons. In a version of the Milgram set-up, in which a female learner was punished with electric shocks for wrong answers, women participants subsequently rated her as less likeable and admirable when they heard that they would be seeing her suffer again, and especially if they felt powerless to minimise this suffering. Presumably derogating the woman made them feel less bad about her dismal fate. Since then, research has shown our willingness to blame the poor, rape victims, AIDS patients and others for their fate, so as to preserve our belief in a just world. By extension, the same or similar processes are likely responsible for our subconscious rose-tinted view of rich people.
We are blinkered and dogmatic
It’s not just that we are malicious and unforgiving, we humans are worryingly close-minded too. If people were rational and open-minded, then the straightforward way to correct someone’s false beliefs would be to present them with some relevant facts. However a modern classic published in 1967 showed the futility of this approach – participants who believed strongly for or against the death penalty completely ignored facts that undermined their position, actually doubling-down on their initial view. This seems to occur in part because we see opposing facts as undermining our sense of identity. It doesn’t help that many of us are overconfident about how much we understand things, and that when we believe our opinions are superior to others, this deters us from seeking out further relevant knowledge.Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
We would rather electrocute ourselves than spend time in our own thoughts
Maybe if we spent a little more time in contemplation we would not be so blinkered. Sadly, for many of us, it seems the prospect of spending time in our own thoughts is so anathema we’d actually rather electrocute ourselves. This was demonstrated dramatically in a 2014 study in which 67 per cent of male participants and 25 per cent of female participants opted to give themselves unpleasant electric shocks rather than spend 15 minutes in peaceful contemplation. Although others questioned the interpretation of the results, at least one other study has shown people’s preference for electrocuting themselves over monotony, and another found cross-cultural evidence for people’s greater enjoyment of doing some activity alone rather than merely thinking (also replicated here). The gist of these findings would seem to back up the verdict of the French philosopher Blaise Pascal who stated that “All of man’s troubles come from his inability to sit quietly in a room by himself”.
We are vain and overconfident
Our irrationality and dogmatism might not be so bad were they married with some humility and self-insight, but actually most of us walk about with inflated views of our abilities and qualities, such as our driving skills, intelligenceand attractiveness – a phenomenon that’s been dubbed the Lake Wobegon Effect after the fictional town where “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average”. Ironically, the least skilled among us are the most prone to over-confidence (the so-called Dunning-Kruger effect). This vain self-enhancement seems to be most extreme and irrational in the case of our morality, such as in how principled and fair we think we are. In fact, even jailed criminals think they are kinder, more trustworthy and honest than the average member of the public. Our vanity manifests in other ways too: for instance, researchers believe that our preference for donating to charities that share our initials is a form of “implicit egotism”.Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
We are moral hypocrites
Not only do we tend to overestimate our own virtuousness, we are also inclined to moral hypocrisy. Findings in this area suggest it may pay to be wary of those who are the quickest and loudest in condemning the moral failings of others – the chances are the moral preacher is as guilty themselves, but of course they happen to take a far lighter view of their own transgressions. In one study to show this––suitably titled “The duality of virtue: Deconstructing the moral hypocrite”––researchers found that people rated the exact same selfish behaviour (giving oneself the quicker and easier of two experimental tasks on offer) as far less fair when perpetuated by others, than by themselves. Similarly, there is a long-studied phenomenon known as actor-observer asymmetry, which in part describes our tendency to attribute other people’s bad deeds, such as our partner’s infidelities, to their characters, while attributing the same deeds performed by ourselves as due to situational influences. These self-serving double-standards could even explain the common feeling that incivility is on the increase – recent research showed how we view the same acts of rudeness far more harshly when they are committed by strangers than by our friends or ourselves.
We are all potential trolls
Unfortunately, as anyone who has found themselves in a spat on Twitter will attest, social media may be magnifying some of the worst aspects of human nature, no doubt in part due to the online disinhibition effect, and the fact that anonymity (easy to achieve online) is known to increase our inclinations for immorality. While research has suggested that people who are prone to everyday sadism (which is a worryingly high proportion of us) are especially inclined to online trolling, a study published last year revealed how being in a bad mood, and being exposed to trolling by others, together double the likelihood of a person engaging in trolling – in fact, these situational factors were a stronger predictor of a person’s trolling behaviour than their individual traits, leading the researchers at Stanford and Cornell to conclude “that ordinary users will also troll when mood and discussion context prompt such behavior”. Of course this implies that initial trolling by a few can cause a snowball of increasing negativity, which is exactly what the researchers found when they studied reader discussion on CNN.com, with the “proportion of flagged posts and proportion of users with flagged posts … rising over time”.Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
We favour ineffective leaders with psychopathic traits
One way for us to mitigate against our human failings would be if we were inclined to choose leaders with rare virtuousness and skill. Sadly, we seem to have the opposite knack. Consider for a moment President Donald Trump. In seeking to explain his voter appeal, Dan McAdams, a professor of personality psychology, recently concluded that Trump’s overt aggression and insults have a “primal appeal”, and that his “incendiary tweets” are like the “charging displays” of an alpha male chimp, “designed to intimidate”. Trump’s supporters will disagree, but if McAdams’ assessment is true it would fit into a wider pattern – the finding that psychopathic traits are more common than average among leaders. Take a survey of financial leaders in New York that found they scored highly on psychopathic traits but lower than average in emotional intelligence. In fairness, there have been some null and contradictory findings on this topic too, but a meta-analysis (an overview of prior evidence) published this summer concluded there is indeed a modest but significant link between trait psychopathy and leadership emergence, and that this has practical implications – especially since psychopathy also correlates with poorer leadership performance.
We are sexually attracted to people with dark personality traits
To worsen the situation, not only do we elect people with psychopathic traits to become our leaders, evidencesuggests that men and women are sexually attracted, at least in the short-term, to people displaying the so-called “dark triad” of traits – narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism – thus risking further propagating these traits. One study found women’s physical attraction to a man was increased when he was described as having dark traits (as self-interested, manipulative and insensitive) compared with being described in the same way (in terms of his interests and so on), but with reference to the dark traits removed. One theory is that the dark traits successfully communicate “mate quality” in terms of confidence and the willingness to take risks. Does this matter for the future of our species? Perhaps it does – another paper, from 2016, found that those women who were more strongly attracted to narcissistic men’s faces tended to have more children.Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
Are we doomed? One comforting caveat – most of the dating research relevant to that last item was based on European American samples and may not generalise to other cultures (in fact a study out this year found that among Asian Americans, it was those men and women with more pro-social traits who were more successful at speed dating). But then again, there is a lot more depressing research that I could not fit into this article, such as the studies showing we’re more motivated by envy than admiration, the shocking prevalence of lying (a habit we start at age two), and the manipulativeness of babies – they fake cry you know!
A strange thing is happening in modern philosophy: many philosophers don’t seem to believe that there is such a thing as human nature. What makes this strange is that, not only does the new attitude run counter to much of the history of philosophy, but – despite loud claims to the contrary – it also goes against the findings of modern science. This has serious consequences, ranging from the way in which we see ourselves and our place in the cosmos to what sort of philosophy of life we might adopt. Our aim here is to discuss the issue of human nature in light of contemporary biology, and then explore how the concept might impact everyday living.
The existence of something like a human nature that separates us from the rest of the animal world has often been implied, and sometimes explicitly stated, throughout the history of philosophy. Aristotle thought that the ‘proper function’ of human beings was to think rationally, from which he derived the idea that the highest life available to us is one of contemplation (ie, philosophising) – hardly unexpected from a philosopher. The Epicureans argued that it is a quintessential aspect of human nature that we are happier when we experience pleasure, and especially when we do not experience pain. Thomas Hobbes believed that we need a strong centralised government to keep us in line because our nature would otherwise lead us to live a life that he memorably characterised as ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’. Jean-Jacques Rousseau embedded the idea of a human nature in his conception of the ‘noble savage’. Confucius and Mencius thought that human nature is essentially good, while Hsün Tzu considered it essentially evil. Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
The keyword here is, of course, ‘essentially’. One of the obvious exceptions to this trend was John Locke, who described the human mind as a ‘tabula rasa’ (blank slate), but his take has been rejected by modern science. As one group of cognitive scientists describes it in From Mating to Mentality (2003), our mind is more like a colouring book, or a ‘graffiti-filled wall of a New York subway station’ than a blank slate.
In contrast, many contemporary philosophers, both of the so-called analytic and continental traditions, seem largely to have rejected the very idea of human nature. A prominent example is our colleague Jesse Prinz at the City University of New York, who argues forcefully for what is referred to as a ‘nurturist’ (as opposed to a ‘naturist’) position in his book Beyond Human Nature: How Culture and Experience Shape the Human Mind(2012). More recently, Ronnie de Sousa argued that modern science shows that human nature does not exist and, drawing on Jean-Paul Sartre’s notion of radical freedom, concluded that this favours an existentialist philosophical outlook. We beg to differ.
What exactly does science tell us about the idea of a human nature? If we take evolutionary biology seriously, then we certainly should reject any essentialist conception of it, such as Aristotle’s. There is no immutable, clearly defined ‘essence’ that characterises human beings, and only them, within the whole animal world. From Charles Darwin onward, the scientific consensus has been pretty clear: we are but one species among millions on Earth, members of a not particularly numerous branch of the tree of life, endowed with unusually large and structurally complex brains. Our particular lineage gave origin to the species Homo sapiens at least 300,000 years ago, resulting from a long evolutionary period, which unfolded over millions of years from the point of divergence from our most recent common ancestor with the chimpanzees, our closest phylogenetic cousins.
Put that way, it would seem that biology does indeed do away with any idea of human nature: whatever characteristics our species possesses are the result of a continuous process of evolutionary differentiation from other species of primates, and there is no reason to believe that such process is over, or will be any time soon. Moreover, people are fond of citing the famous figure that humans and chimpanzees differ ‘only’ in about 1-2 per cent of their genomic sequence, implying that we are not really as special as we’d like to think.Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
But as Kevin Laland has pointed out in his book Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony: How Culture Made the Human Mind(2017), that small percentage translates into thousands of structural changes at the genetic level, which in turn can be combined to yield millions of ways in which humans are distinct from chimpanzees. Just because the difference is small in percentage, it doesn’t mean it is not both very obvious and highly consequential.
In light of this, we think that the picture emerging from evolutionary and developmental biology is – contrary to the widespread opinion among contemporary philosophers – one that very much supports the notion of human nature, just not an essentialist one. Human nature is best conceived of as a cluster of homeostatic properties, ie of traits that are dynamically changing and yet sufficiently stable over evolutionary time to be statistically clearly recognisable. These properties include characteristics that are either unique to the human species, or so quantitatively distinct from anything similar found in other animals that our version is unquestionably and solely human.
Take language, for instance. Plenty of other animals (and even plants and bacteria) communicate, meaning that they exchange signals aimed at improving their own or their kin’s survival. But no other living species has anything even remotely like human language, with its complex grammar and high levels of recursion (where a linguistic rule can be applied to the results of the application of the very same rule, and so on). Other animals, such as octopuses, have large, complex brains and nervous systems, but no other animal has both the size (relative to the body) and especially the structural asymmetry and layering of the human brain; for instance, its enormously developed frontal cortex, which is in charge of reward, attention, short-term memory tasks, planning and motivation.
The list could go on and on, but the basic point is that it is fallacious to state that there are no fundamental differences between humans and other animals just because the boundaries are fuzzy and dynamic (over evolutionary time). As Justice Potter Stewart said, in a case about pornography versus art in 1964: ‘I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it.’ A modern biologist and a scientifically informed philosopher could say something very much along the same lines about human nature. We all know it when we see it.Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
Now, if human nature is real, what are the consequences from a philosophical perspective? Why should a philosopher, or anyone interested in using philosophy as a guide to life, care about this otherwise technical debate? Let’s explore the point by way of a brief discussion of two philosophies that provide particularly strong defences of human nature and that are aligned with cognitive science: existentialism and Stoicism.
The temptation to link existentialism with the idea of a tabula rasa is understandable. At the heart of existentialism is Jean-Paul Sartre’s idea that ‘existence precedes essence’, meaning that we didn’t choose to be born, but we’re free to figure out what to do about it. Sartre took this very seriously, speaking of freedom as a lack – or a gap – at the heart of consciousness, and claiming that we’re free even when in chains. In one of his more radical statements, he wrote: ‘Never were we freer than under the German occupation. We had lost all our rights, and first of all our right to speak. They insulted us to our faces … They deported us en masse … And because of all this we were free.’ It is perhaps not surprising that Sartre is frequentlymocked for overstating the extent to which we are free.
Even Simone de Beauvoir thought he took it too far, particularly when he told her that her seasickness was all in her head. In her autobiography The Prime of Life (1960), she wrote: ‘If you gave way to tears or nerves or seasickness, [Sartre] said, you were simply being weak. I, on the other hand, claimed that stomach and tear ducts, indeed the head itself, were all subject to irresistible forces on occasion.’ Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
Although de Beauvoir also accepted that existence precedes essence, she was more attuned than Sartre to the ways in which our ‘facticity’ – the facts of our existence – influence our lives. For example, we can’t choose our bodies or the economic and social situations in which we find ourselves, and often we see other people as the immutable banes of our existence. De Beauvoir argues that although we’re not free from our natural condition, it doesn’t define our essence, which is how we create ourselves out of our facticity. We don’t live only to propagate the species as animals do; rather, we are beings who look for meaning in our lives, and we do it by taking risks to overcome ourselves and our situations. This is human nature: perpetually seeking to escape our natural condition, to transcend – surpassing the given – towards self-chosen, concrete goals. But this isn’t at all easy, and is one of the reasons why anxiety is a fundamental theme of existentialism. To be human is to live in ambiguity because we are forever caught in a tension between the facts of our lives and the will to overcome them.
Biology might seem to offer a simple explanation for some limitations. For example, consider the old-school argument that women are ‘naturally’ suited for caregiving roles. This is both a wrong and a harmful way to think about our nature. It’s wrong because, as de Beauvoir points out in The Second Sex (1949), gestating babies is a biological female function, but rearing children is a social commitment. And it’s harmful because the assumption that biology sets our destiny is oppressive. Historically, women have been defined primarily by the same biological functions they share with other animals, tethered in myths about femininity, and robbed of the opportunity to transcend.
Natural obstacles provide a different sort of limitation. It might be absurd for de Beauvoir to persist with sailing if she vomits constantly, but giving up on her goals because of seasickness is stupid, too. Sometimes, we don’t have the power to break our chains, and we fail in our projects, but resignation is not the answer. To transcend is to recognise our resistances and failures, and to rebel against them creatively. This perspective matters because it emphasises that, while there are fixed elements to our being, we are not fixed beings, since we are (or ought to be) free to choose our projects. Neither biology nor natural obstacles limit our futures to a great extent, and how we live out our human nature will vary because we give different meanings to our facticities. An authentic life is about acknowledging these differences, and stretching ourselves into an open future. It does not follow that this openness is unlimited or unconstrained. We are limited, but mostly by our own imagination.Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
For the Stoics, human nature circumscribes what humans can do, and what they are inclined to do
An interesting contrast here is provided by a philosophy that is in some respects very different, and yet shares surprising similarities, with existentialism: ancient Greco-Roman Stoicism, which has seen a remarkable revival in recent years. The Stoics thought that there are two aspects of human nature that should be taken as defining what it means to live a good life: we are highly social, and we are capable of reason. Therefore, to ‘live according to nature’, as they advised us to do, means to apply reason to the improvement of the human polis. In turn, the way to accomplish the latter is to improve one’s judgment (the faculty of prohairesis, which distinguishes us from any other animal species), and to exercise the four cardinal virtues of practical wisdom, courage, justice and temperance.
At first glance, it might seem that human nature plays a far more crucial role in Stoicism than in existentialism. Indeed, it is tempting to accuse the Stoics of committing an elementary fallacy, to argue for a particular way of life by appeal to nature. But Seneca, Epictetus and co were excellent logicians, which should make us pause before dismissing their philosophy so quickly. On closer examination, it is clear that for the Stoics, human nature played a similar role to that played by the concept of facticity for the existentialists: it circumscribes what human beings can do, as well as what they are inclined to do. But the parameters imposed by our nature are rather broad, and the Stoics agreed with the existentialists that a worthwhile human life can be lived by following many different paths.
Indeed, Stoic literature even features a story similar to the debate between de Beauvoir and Sartre on seasickness. It is told by the Latin author Aulus Gellius, who writes about a Stoic philosopher experiencing a severe storm while on a ship. Gellius noticed how the philosopher became pale and trembled in the midst of the storm. Once things had calmed down, he asked the philosopher how come his Stoicism had not prepared him better to withstand those frightening moments. His response is illuminating:
When some terrifying sound occurs, either from the sky or from the collapse of a building or as the sudden herald of some danger, even the wise person’s mind necessarily responds, and is contracted and grows pale for a little while, not because he opines that something evil is at hand, but by certain rapid and unplanned movements antecedent to the office of intellect and reason. Shortly, however, the wise person in that situation ‘withholds assent’ from those terrifying mental impressions; he spurns and rejects them and does not think that there is anything in them which he should fear.Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
In other words, just as de Beauvoir explained to Sartre, the ‘facticity’ of our biology is here to stay, but we have a choice about how to regard it and manage it. And that’s what philosophy teaches us.
The Stoics grounded that teaching in an approach most famously associated with Epictetus, the 2nd-century slave-turned-teacher who became one of the best-known philosophers of antiquity. He developed a whole ethics based on the idea that we play a multiplicity of roles in life: some of them are given (we are all human beings, sons or daughters of our parents, and so forth), and some are chosen (our careers, whether we wish to have children and become parents or not).
How we play these roles is up to us. In Book I of the Discourses, Epictetus discusses the case of two slaves who react differently to the same demeaning situation (having to hold their master’s chamber pot while he’s relieving himself). What determines the difference is how the slaves see themselves as human beings, a concept not that different from the existentialist notion of authenticity. Epictetus concludes the analysis of that example by admonishing his students in a way that Sartre and de Beauvoir might have approved of: ‘Consider at what price you sell your integrity; but please, for God’s sake, don’t sell it cheap.’
It’s not only modern science that tells us that there is such thing as human nature, and it’s no coincidence that a number of popular modern therapies such as logotherapy, rational emotive behaviour therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy draw on ideas from both existentialism and Stoicism. No philosophy of life – not just existentialism or Stoicism – could possibly exist without it.
If we were truly tabulae rasae, why would we prefer certain things to others? What could possibly urge us to seek meaning, to build relationships with other people, to strive to improve ourselves and the world we live in? We do all that because we are a particular kind of intelligent social animal, just as the Stoics thought. And we do it within the broad constraints imposed by our (biological as well as contingent) facticity, as the existentialists maintained. There is no single path to a flourishing human life, but there are also many really bad ones. The choice is ours, within the limits imposed by human nature.Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
outside the lab. (Heck, with online studies, you don’t even have to put on pants.) But Uri Gneezy and John List are known for their field experiments, testing hypotheses in the real world. Last year they published a book, The Why Axis, that reveals a bundle of counterintuitive findings in areas such as health care, education, crime, and discrimination. I thought I’d share a few of them, along with links to relevant papers.
Note that the book doesn’t just rattle off findings, as I’m about to do, but shares the human stories and drama behind their field experiments—for example, List calling one of his associates a “wimp” for not getting out of the car to recruit a subject in a rough part of Chicago. (The subject? A young girl named Gabriella with the chance to attend an experimental and life-changing preschool.)
1. Fines (and rewards) can backfire.
When day care centers started charging a $3 fine for parents who picked their kids up 10 minutes late, delayed pickups increased drastically. The fee changed the meaning of lateness from a social imposition to a convenience that can be purchased (inexpensively). In another study, kids collected less charity for a cause when they received a monetary bonus for their efforts. They no longer thought of the task as altruism, but as a low-paying job. “So,” the authors write, “the moral of the story is to either pay enough, or don’t pay at all.”Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
2. A temporary reward can change behavior permanently.
When college students were paid $100 to go to the gym eight times in a month, they were still twice as likely as other students to be going to the gym after the payment period ended. They’d gotten over the hump of starting a routine.
3. Men are not more competitive than women everywhere.
A game was devised in which the player tries to throw tennis balls into a bucket. A player can choose to win money for each point, or to compete and win money by outscoring another player. In the United States and among Masai villagers, about twice as many men as women chose to compete. But among the matrilineal Khasi people in India, more women than men competed. “For the Khasi, nurture is king—or queen, as the case may be,” the authors write. Matrilineal societies have other differences. In a public-goods game, men and women among the Khasi invested more in the group than did people in the neighboring village of Assamese. “When women have stronger economic influence, the society becomes more consensual and public-spirited.”
4. Women can be nudged to compete.
A job was advertised on Craigslist, saying, in some cases, that the payment was “$17.60,” and in others, “$17.60 and negotiable.” In the first case, men were much more likely than women to negotiate on payment; in the second, women were slightly more likely. The second ad also cut the gender gap in applicants in half.
5. Payment increases test scores.
When inner-city kids were told right before a test that they could earn money if their test scores improved over their last score, their scores increased 5 to 10 percentile points. “It showed that an important part of the racial achievement gap was not due to knowledge or ability, but simply to the students’ motivation while taking the test,” the authors write.Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
6. You can elicit more donations by conveying less need.
Letters were mailed asking for donations to a cause, saying the cause had already raised 10%, 33%, or 67% of its goal. As standard practice, charities say they’re at 33%, but 67% worked best. Instead of donors thinking they could free ride on others’ contributions toward a nearly-completed goal, they preferred to follow the leader, thinking a cause must be good if it’s doing well.
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7. Opt-out checkboxes increase donations.
Checkboxes were added to some Smile Train mailings that let a donor report, “This will be my only gift. Please send me a tax receipt and do not ask for another donation.” This once-and-done letter raised about twice as much money, from more donors—and donations from this group did not decrease afterward. Offering a choice to opt out was basically a gift to the recipient, encouraging a gift in return. Entering people in a raffle also increases donations, for the same reason, and those donations increase after the raffle is over.
The studies in this book focus on people’s motives—for studying, or competing, or helping—but in the end, the book is a long argument for empiricism, in any domain. The authors’ parting words: “Experiment! Go out—white coat and pen-protector are not required—and find out what’s really going on.”
Psychodynamic theory is an approach to psychology that studies the psychological forces underlying human behavior, feelings, and emotions, and how they may relate to early childhood experience. This theory is especially interested in the dynamic relations between conscious and unconscious motivation, and asserts that behavior is the product of underlying conflicts over which people often have little awareness.
Psychodynamic theory was born in 1874 with the works of German scientist Ernst von Brucke, who supposed that all living organisms are energy systems governed by the principle of the conservation of energy. During the same year, medical student Sigmund Freud adopted this new “dynamic” physiology and expanded it to create the original concept of “psychodynamics,” in which he suggested that psychological processes are flows of psychosexual energy (libido) in a complex brain. Freud also coined the term “psychoanalysis.” Later, these theories were developed further by Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, Melanie Klein, and others. By the mid-1940s and into the 1950s, the general application of the “psychodynamic theory” had been well established.Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
The Role of the Unconscious
Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis holds two major assumptions: (1) that much of mental life is unconscious (i.e., outside of awareness), and (2) that past experiences, especially in early childhood, shape how a person feels and behaves throughout life. The concept of the unconscious was central: Freud postulated a cycle in which ideas are repressed but continue to operate unconsciously in the mind, and then reappear in consciousness under certain circumstances. Much of Freud’s theory was based on his investigations of patients suffering from “hysteria” and neurosis. Hysteria was an ancient diagnosis that was primarily used for women with a wide variety of symptoms, including physical symptoms and emotional disturbances with no apparent physical cause. The history of the term can be traced to ancient Greece, where the idea emerged that a woman’s uterus could float around her body and cause a variety of disturbances. Freud theorized instead that many of his patients’ problems arose from the unconscious mind. In Freud’s view, the unconscious mind was a repository of feelings and urges of which we have no awareness.
The treatment of a patient referred to as Anna O. is regarded as marking the beginning of psychoanalysis. Freud worked together with Austrian physician Josef Breuer to treat Anna O.’s “hysteria,” which Freud implied was a result of the resentment she felt over her father’s real and physical illness that later led to his death. Today many researchers believe that her illness was not psychological, as Freud suggested, but either neurological or organic.Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
The Id, Ego, and Superego
Freud’s structural model of personality divides the personality into three parts—the id, the ego, and the superego. The id is the unconscious part that is the cauldron of raw drives, such as for sex or aggression. The ego, which has conscious and unconscious elements, is the rational and reasonable part of personality. Its role is to maintain contact with the outside world to keep the individual in touch with society, and to do this it mediates between the conflicting tendencies of the id and the superego. The superego is a person’s conscience, which develops early in life and is learned from parents, teachers, and others. Like the ego, the superego has conscious and unconscious elements. When all three parts of the personality are in dynamic equilibrium, the individual is thought to be mentally healthy. However, if the ego is unable to mediate between the id and the superego, an imbalance is believed to occur in the form of psychological distress.
Freud’s theories also placed a great deal of emphasis on sexual development. Freud believed that each of us must pass through a series of stages during childhood, and that if we lack proper nurturing during a particular stage, we may become stuck or fixated in that stage. Freud’s psychosexual model of development includes five stages: oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital. According to Freud, children’s pleasure-seeking urges are focused on a different area of the body, called an erogenous zone, at each of these five stages. Psychologists today dispute that Freud’s psychosexual stages provide a legitimate explanation for how personality develops, but what we can take away from Freud’s theory is that personality is shaped, in some part, by experiences we have in childhood.
Carl Jung was a Swiss psychotherapist who expanded upon Freud’s theories at the turn of the 20th century. A central concept of Jung’s analytical psychology is individuation: the psychological process of integrating opposites, including the conscious with the unconscious, while still maintaining their relative autonomy. Jung focused less on infantile development and conflict between the id and superego and instead focused more on integration between different parts of the person. Jung created some of the best-known psychological concepts, including the archetype, the collective unconscious, the complex, and synchronicity.
At present, psychodynamics is an evolving multidisciplinary field that analyzes and studies human thought processes, response patterns, and influences. Research in this field focuses on areas such as:Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
- understanding and anticipating the range of conscious and unconscious responses to specific sensory inputs, such as images, colors, textures, sounds, etc.;
- utilizing the communicative nature of movement and primal physiological gestures to affect and study specific mind-body states; and
- examining the capacity of the mind and senses to directly affect physiological response and biological change.
Psychodynamic therapy, in which patients become increasingly aware of dynamic conflicts and tensions that are manifesting as a symptom or challenge in their lives, is an approach to therapy that is still commonly used today.
The Behavioral Perspective
Behaviorism is an approach to psychology that emerged in the early 20th century as a reaction to the psychoanalytic theory of the time. Psychoanalytic theory often had difficulty making predictions that could be tested using rigorous experimental methods. The behaviorist school of thought maintains that behaviors can be described scientifically without recourse either to internal physiological events or to hypothetical constructs such as thoughts and beliefs. Rather than focusing on underlying conflicts, behaviorism focuses on observable, overt behaviors that are learned from the environment.
Its application to the treatment of mental problems is known as behavior modification. Learning is seen as behavior change molded by experience; it is accomplished largely through either classical or operant conditioning (described below).
The primary developments in behaviorism came from the work of Ivan Pavlov, John B. Watson, Edward Lee Thorndike, and B. F. Skinner.
Ivan Pavlov and Classical Conditioning
The Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov was widely known for describing the phenomenon now known as classical conditioning. In his famous 1890s experiment, he trained his dogs to salivate on command by associating the ringing of a bell with the delivery of food. As Pavlov’s work became known in the West, particularly through the writings of John B. Watson, the idea of conditioning as an automatic form of learning became a key concept in the development of behaviorism.Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
2/3’s of the teachers (participants) continued to the highest voltage, 450, a deathly shock. Revealing 65% of the participants would’ve killed someone because a person of authority told them to. All of the participants continued to at least 300 volts. Milgrim did 18 variations of this study, revealing similar outcomes. Milgrim explained the participants behavior by suggesting people have two types of behavior in social situations. The first behavior is the autonomous state, stating that people direct their own actions and take responsibility for the results. The second behavior is the agentic state, stating people allow others to direct their actions and pass the consequences to the person who gave the orders.
When I first learned about this in psychology class, I was immediately interested. This experiment really opened my eyes onto the extent people can go once following orders given by an authoritarian. This also really interests me because of its relation to WW2. I have never thought of a defense for the cruel actions inflicted by people at that time, but I thought Milgram’s approach was genius.
The Milgrim Experiment video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ek4pWJ0_XNo
Experiment #2- The Clark Doll Experiment
What sparked the experiment?
To aid in the case of Brown vs The Board of Education, Thurgood Marshall relied on the help from social scientists who had been studying the effects of segregation on African American children. The scientists’ names were Kenneth and Mamie Clark, they were asked by Thurgood to repeat experiments on the children of Clarendon County, South Carolina.Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
Clark handed the African American children four dolls. Similar in all aspects except for their race, 2 boy dolls and 2 girl dolls. The Clarks asked the children a series of questions including: “Which doll looks the prettiest?” and “Which doll looks the most like you?”.
The study showed that most of the African American students at the time preferred the white doll over the black doll. The children would say the black doll was “bad” and they even went to the point where they said they most closely resembled the white doll because it was prettier. These experiments showed solid proof that African American children viewed themselves as “inferior to white children”, a thought they could have for the rest of their life. The results were used to persuade the courts that school segregation was making the African American children feel lesser, to the point where they hated themselves for the color of their skin. The American Supreme Court ruled that “separate but equal” schools were anything but equal.
I feel this experiment gave us an impeccable view on the way the minds of the African American children worked at the time. It proved that the children felt lesser, which is a terrible way to feel about the color of your skin. I’m so happy that this court case favored Brown because integrated schools are how schools should be. All students are given the opportunity to achieve and be the best version of themselves and I think that the opportunity given to the children of the US is an incredible one to have. This case paved the way for an integrated and better society.
For more insight on the topic, watch the movie “Separate but Equal”
Experiment #3- 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment
What sparked the experiment
To monitor how social situations affected human behavior, psychologist Philip Zimbardo decided to set up a mock prison experiment. The experiment took place in the basement of a Stanford psych building. Similar to the Milgram experiment, an ad was placed into a newspaper looking for volunteers to participate in the experiment. The team chose 24 undergraduates who were deemed physically and mentally healthy. Half of the participants were randomly chosen to be prisoners and half were chosen to be guards.Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
Setting up the experiment
To closely simulate the experiment, they called people who had experiences in the situations, one person being an ex-prisoner of seventeen years behind bars. They created prison cells with steel bars and cell numbers, and set up hidden cameras and a p.a. system to monitor the prisoners and guards. They also created “the hole” as solitary confinement for bad behaving prisoners. The prisoners were arrested and taken to the “Stanford County Jail” and processed as a normal inmate would be. Each prisoner had been stripped searched and doused in spray to kill germs. After going through the entry process, each prisoner was given a uniform that consisted of a smock like dress, stocking cap (to represent a shaved head), heavy chains on ankles, and rubber shoes. This was necessary in setting up their prison simulation. Each prisoner was issued an id number that now was how they were known. When talking, prisoners could only be referred to by their inmate number.
The participants who took on the role of guards had no training. They could do whatever they felt necessary to be obeyed by prisoners. They made their own set of rules based on how they felt the prison should run, and these rules were carried out by the prisons warden.
The first day of the experiment passed by easily until the second morning where a rebellion had broken out. The prisoners ripped off their stocking caps and name tags and barricaded their cells with beds. Of course, this rebellion had to be taken care of by the guards, the guards broke into each cell, stripped the prisoners, took the beds out, and forced the leaders of the riot into “the hole”. The people who did not participate in the riot were given special privileges such as beds and food. Because there weren’t enough guards to always be on hand to physically take care of the “inmates”, the guards decided to use psychological tactics to punish bad prisoners. Prisoners were subjected to cruel punishments and emotional torture, so much to the point where prisoners were beginning to be released.Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
The experiment was supposed to last two weeks, but ended up lasting only 6 days. Prisoners basic human rights were being taken away and experimenters could no longer watch the suffering. One third of the guards began to show extreme violence and were put in a position of too much power. Even Zimbardo himself internalized the experiment. During the experiment, two prisoners had to be removed due to emotional distress. Of more than 50 visitors, one lady was the only one to raise concerns and that was when Zimbardo decided to end the experiment.
I think this experiment is the definition of “taking things to the extreme”. It put the men in too high of a position of power that led them to become sadists. I also do wonder if normal prisons are subject to the same psychological changes as the one’s demonstrated in the experiment. Are we giving guards too much power over inmates? This experiment leaves me with lots of open ended questions that I would like answers to.
Literature has been a major part of human culture throughout human existence. It has always been used as a way of defining how humans interact with each other. Literature is defined as ‘the writings of a period, language, or country’. If ancient times are also to be considered, then myths, legends, and theatre, which passed down literary ideas, and social critiques before the time of the written word, should also be included in this definition. The plays of William Shakespeare are a perfect example of pieces of literature that are not only entertaining, literature for literature’s sake, but also provide great insight into human nature. In one form or another, literature is entrenched as an expression of the ways of humanity, and so by absorbing it, one can gain a greater understanding of human behaviour. Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
Our behavior toward each other is the strangest, most unpredictable, and most unaccountable of all the phenomena which we are obliged to live,” said the American physician and essayist Lewis Thomas. “In all of nature, there is nothing so threatening to humanity as humanity itself.”
Equally true is that there is nothing so enriching to humanity than for humans to deeply understand themselves—to study our inner workings, the foundation from which all else springs, and use this knowledge to grow an understanding of ourselves and the world.
The study of human nature (if it isn’t obvious by my work) is something that fascinates me. How do memories impact our lives? Why do we have status anxiety or feel envy towards others? What is talent? How does beauty affect us? Does practice really make perfect or does it merely invite “the perfection desired?”
In my commonplace book, the notes on human nature have aged five years from when I began intensely reading and writing. I want to share what I’ve collected on my journey thus far—insights from a constellation of luminous thinkers who masterfully expresses fundamental truths about who we are and why we do what we do.
These insights have helped me have empathy for people who, normally, I wouldn’t care to have any empathy for. These notes have grounded me in times of uncertainty, misunderstandings, and sheer ignorance. And above all, they have made me appreciate one truth to life: we’re all doing our best with what we have and what we know.
Robert Burton, a neurologist and novelist, explained that our brains reward us with dopamine when we recognize and complete patterns. Stories are patterns: beginning, middle, and end. Stories clear up ambiguity in our minds—something that the brain doesn’t enjoy—so it rewards us with a dopamine cookie for organizing the mess into meaning.
Understanding the utility and predisposition to tell stories is an elemental power. The story you told yourself about your boss giving you harsh feedback is just that—a story that you invented. The way you describe the interaction can be a source of delight or contempt. Maybe this was the first time she spoke to you in this tone, and because it was an unfamiliar sensation, you told a story to self-protect. But what details did you miss out on? What did you accentuate or ignore?
By sticking to the original story, it impacts the way you think and behave. The great thing about these stories is that they’re written in pencil—you can go right in there, erase the harsh words, pay attention to different things, and change the story to change the outcome.Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
It’s human nature to be social
Our hardwiring for sociality is perhaps one of the most under-appreciated aspects of our nature. It is, as I learned a bit late, the fabric of our being. Almost everything—from table manners to fashion to social media to taking selfies to our identity—is because our brains are wired to be social.
As Matthew Lieberman said in Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect,
We are wired to be social. We are driven by deep motivations to stay connected with friends and family. We are naturally curious about what is going on in the minds of other people. And our identities are formed by the values lent to us from the groups we call our own. These connections lead to strange behaviors that violate our expectation of rational self-interest and make sense only if our social nature is taken as a starting point for who we are.
It’s human nature to imagine
Psychologist Dan Gilbert, in Stumbling Upon Happiness, shared a profound truth about our species when he said, “we think about the future in a way that no other animal can, does, or ever has, and this simple, ubiquitous, ordinary act is a defining feature of our humanity.”
The act of imagining is such a beautiful and mysterious function that rarely gets the appreciation it deserves. To literally create a mental picture in your mind about something that hasn’t happened or may not happen, to be able to visualize the details and derive pleasure from this is simply extraordinary—it’s a power that’s worth harnessing and understanding so we can use it properly.
But what’s the root of this—why, exactly, do we have this power that other animals don’t? Our brains differ and that makes all the difference, but what deeper insights are there? Gilbert continues by explaining how a desire for control pairs with humans’ need to imagine:
Prospection can provide pleasure and prevent pain, and this is one of the reasons why our brains stubbornly insist on churning out thoughts of the future. . . . We want to know what is likely to happen so that we can do something about it.Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
The fact is that human beings come into the world with a passion for control, they go out of the world the same way, and research suggests that if they lose their ability to control things at any point between their entrance and their exist, they become unhappy, helpless, hopeless, and depressed. And occasionally dead.
It’s human nature to wear multiple masks
I can recall many times when I was truly baffled by my friends’ or coworkers’ behaviors. Their ability to change their tone, body language, and attitude around specific people was like possessing the adaptability of a chameleon. It made me wonder if I did the same thing around different people, if it was that blatantly obvious that my voice or facial expressions changed the moment a new person was added into the equation.
It’s like going from workplace language to at-the-bar language at the flip of a switch without knowing it. I believed that who I was at this moment was who I was in any environment or context—until I read a fabulous insight from David McRaney in You Are Now Less Dumb that made me, well, less dumb:
The idea is this: You put on a mask and a uniform before leaving for work. You put on another set for school. You have a custom for friends of different persuasions and one just for family. Who you are alone is not who you are with a lover or a friend. You quick-change like Superman in a phone booth when you bump into old friends from high school at the grocery store, or the ex in line for a movie. When you part from that person, you quick-change back. The person on your arm forgives you. He or she understands; after all, he or she is also in disguise. It’s not a new or novel concept, the idea of multiple identities for multiple occasions, but it’s also not something you talk about often. The idea is old enough that the word person derives from persona, a Latin word for the mask a Greek actor sometimes worn so people in the back rows of a performance could see who he was onstage. This concept—actors and performance, persona and masks—has been intertwined and adopted throughout history. Shakespeare said, ‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.’ William James said a person ‘has as many social selves as there are individuals who recognize him.’ Carl Jung was particularly fond of the concept of the persona, saying it was ‘that which in reality one is not, but which oneself as well as others think one is.’”Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
It’s human nature to play tit for tat
I give you a present and you feel compelled to reciprocate. I hold the door for you and you rush to hold the next door for me. I hurt you and you want to hurt me worse. Why?
Jonathan Haidt, in Happiness Hypothesis, explains why the game of tit for tat is built into our nature and how our social hardwiring is the root cause:
Vengeance and gratitude are moral sentiments that amplify and enforce tit for tat. Vengeful and grateful feelings appear to have evolved precisely because they are such useful tools for helping individuals create cooperative relationships, thereby reaping the gains from non-zero-sum games. A species equipped with vengeance and gratitude responses can support larger and more cooperative social groups because the payoff to cheaters is reduced by the costs they bear in making enemies. Conversely, the benefits of generosity are increased because one gains friends.
Tit for tat appears to be built into human nature as a set of moral emotions that make us want to return favor for favor, insult for insult, tooth for tooth, and eye for eye. Several recent theorists even talk about an “exchange organ” in the human brain, as though a part of the brain were devoted to keeping track of fairness, debts owed, and social accounts-receivable. The “organ” is a metaphor—nobody expects to find an isolated blob of brain tissue the only function of which is to enforce reciprocity.
It’s human nature to form tribes and label outsiders
A tribe, according to author Seth Godin, is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. “For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.”
People who buy and collect sneakers—called sneakerheads—are a tribe. The vegan community is a tribe. The runners that meet at 5:30 a.m. on Sunday are a tribe. People who subscribe to HONY are part of a tribe. Trump’s supporters are a tribe.
Think back on the idea that we’re wired to be social—forming tribes, and also shunning outsiders, is the work of our nature. It makes me wonder if the world can truly unite as one—what happens when there are no outsiders, when there’s no one left to shun to make us feel better about ourselves?
In Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me), psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson explain it clearly:
Evolutionary psychologists argue that ethnocentrism — the belief that our own culture, nation, or religion is superior to all others — aids survival by strengthening our bonds to our primary social groups and thus increasing our willingness to work, fight, and occasionally die for them. When things are going well, people feel pretty tolerant of other cultures and religions — they even feel pretty tolerant of the other sex! — but when they are angry, anxious, or threatened, the default position is to activate their blind spots. We have the human qualities of intelligence and deep emotions, but they are dumb, they are crybabies, they don’t know the meaning of love, shame, grief, or remorse. The very act of thinking that they are not as smart or reasonable as we are makes us feel closer to others who are like us. But, just as crucially, it allows us to justify how we treat them.Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
It’s human nature to see losses as more powerful than gains
For the vast majority of human history, avoiding threats and potential losses has been a matter of life or death. Over time, our species learned to view the prospect of loss more powerfully than the possibility of gains. Although our world is much safer today, we’re still hardwired like our ancient ancestors and thus are prone to making the same irrational decisions. (Here’s a must-read paper by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky who pioneered the notion of loss aversion.)
A solid example of this is the sunk cost fallacy. Sunk costs are investments that you cannot recover: time, money, and effort. For example, you go to a movie and within fifteen minutes you hate it. What would you do? Most people would stay, justifying the time it took to drive to the theatre and the cost of the ticket. Rather than gaining back 2 hours of time to do something more enjoyable and take the loss of a half-hour and $12, most of us would finish the movie.
This is a flat-out bad decision, and when we continuously make decisions like this, it compounds and also forms habits. Ignoring sunk costs is hard because losses hit us in the gut. This is why ending a relationship that lasted for many years is so difficult and painful. The memories of good times, the struggles that you had to overcome, all the vacations you took and the great sex you’ve had, and for what—to throw it all away? The thought of that triggers us to become defensive of what we have, because we just can’t imagine being happy without it; we can’t imagine what replaces it or if it will ever be replaced.
It’s human nature to gossip
I always viewed gossiping as one of the most depraved and fruitless human behaviors. If you went through any kind of schooling, then you know how toxic and shame-ridden gossiping can be. It undermines someone’s confidence, self-worth, and identity, all the while bolstering the other parties’ egos. It is usually the soil where lies are planted as seeds and begin to germinate as more people water their false opinions on it. I would sometimes catch myself with a friend, stop myself, and say, “Look at us—we’re talking about someone who isn’t even here!”Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
It’s one of the behaviors that I just try not to take part in, whether in the living room of my friend’s house or at the workplace. But it’s worth understanding why we do this, and Edward O. Wilson, in The Meaning of Human Existence, explained it well:
All human social behavior is based on prepared learning, but the intensity of the bias varies from one case to another as a product of evolution by natural selection. For example, human beings are born gossips. We love the life stories of other people, and cannot be sated with too much such detail. Gossip is the means by which we learn and shape our social network. We devour novels and drama. But we have little or no interest in the life stories of animals—unless they are linked in some way to human stories. Dogs love others and yearn to return home, owls ponder, snakes sneak, and eagles thrill at the freedom of the open sky.”
So when you’re at a bar and hear two colleagues gossiping about another colleague, it’s okay to be frustrated about this display of weak character or pettiness of ego-inflation, but equally important to realize is that it’s a display of the human condition, and therefore you should know where to place your emotions.
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“It is very reasonable for humans to want to understand something of our context in a broader universe, awesome and vast,” said the great scientist Carl Sagan in The Varieties of Scientific Experience. “It is also reasonable for us to want to understand something about ourselves. Since we have powerful unconscious processes, this means that there are parts of our selves that are hidden from us. And this two-pronged investigation into the nature of the world and the nature of our selves is, to a very major degree, I believe, what the human enterprise is all about.”
Hopefully these insights have stirred your curiosity and have opened your mind to more questions about how our species thinks, feels, and behaves. Use this knowledge daily. Like the gossiping example, if you had no knowledge about why this behavior happens or what the root cause is, it’s easy to let every whisper of gossip raise your ears and make you hot around your neck. No need to live life like that—the futility of unnecessary provocations can be alleviated through a healthy and steady understanding of ourselves.Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
Psychology is the study of people’s behavior, performance, and mental operations. It also refers to the application of the knowledge, which can be used to understand events, treat mental health issues, and improve education, employment, and relationships. The subject lies at the intersection of applied, educational, and theoretical science.
There are sub-areas of psychology, including:
- Physical conditions
- Human development
The subject involves other areas of study, including humanities, natural sciences, and the social sciences.
What does Psychology mean? Where does it come from? Hank gives you a 10 minute intro to one of the more tricky sciences and talks about some of the big names in the development of the field. Welcome to Crash Course Psychology!! Psychological Studies That Give Insight into the Human Mind Essay Paper
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