Category Archives: Video

History of Psych at Sundance

Two films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival take inspiration from now infamous experiments from psychology’s past. Experimenter, starring Peter Sarsgaard, centres on Stanley Milgram’s controversial obedience to authority experiments,

In 1961, social psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted the “obedience experiments” at Yale University. The experiments observed the responses of ordinary people asked to send harmful electrical shocks to a stranger. Despite pleadings from the person they were shocking, 65 percent of subjects obeyed commands from a lab-coated authority figure to deliver potentially fatal currents. With Adolf Eichmann’s trial airing in living rooms across America, Milgram’s Kafkaesque results hit a nerve, and he was accused of being a deceptive, manipulative monster.

Experimenter invites us inside Milgram’s whirring mind, beginning with his obedience research and wending a path to uncover how inner obsessions and the times in which he lived shaped a parade of human behavior inquiries, including the “six degrees of separation” findings. Constantly subverting expectations with surprising structural and stylistic choices, writer/director Michael Almereyda transmutes the crusty period biopic form into something playful, energetic, and deeply satisfying—taking bold risks to yield profound insights, like all great experiments. —C.L.

The Stanford Prison Experiment, starring Billy Crudup, explores Philip Zimbardo’s study of the same name. The film is described on the Sundance site as follows,

It is the summer of 1971. Dr. Philip Zimbardo launches a study on the psychology of imprisonment. Twenty-four male undergraduates are randomly assigned to be either a guard or a prisoner. Set in a simulated jail, the project unfolds. The participants rapidly embody their roles—the guards become power-hungry and sadistic, while the prisoners, subject to degradation, strategize as underdogs. It soon becomes clear that, as Zimbardo and team monitor the escalation of action through surveillance cameras, they are not fully aware of how they, too, have become part of the experiment.

Based on the real-life research of Dr. Zimbardo (who was a consultant on the film), The Stanford Prison Experiment is a dramatic period piece that remains relevant over 40 years later. Along with an impressive cast, including Billy Crudup as Zimbardo, Kyle Patrick Alvarez (C.O.G., 2013 Sundance Film Festival) delivers an intense, visceral film about the role of power that plays to both chilling and exhilarating effect. —K.Y.

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The Wellcome Collection’s Interactive Mindcraft

The Wellcome Collection has launched an interactive exhibit Mindcraft. As introduced in the video above,

Mindcraft explores a century of madness, murder and mental healing, from the arrival in Paris of Franz Anton Mesmer with his theories of ‘animal magnetism’ to the therapeutic power of hypnotism used by Freud.

Through an immersive scrolling interface including image galleries, video, and interactives, Mindcraft will take you on a journey that asks who really is in control of their own mind, and where does the mind’s power to harm or heal end?

Mindcraft is written by author and curator Mike Jay, and developed by award-winning digital agency Clearleft. Mindcraft can be explored on a desktop browser or tablet.

Explore Mindcraft online here.

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Video: Jill Lepore’s “How Wonder Woman Got Into Harvard”

In the above video Jill Lepore, Professor of American History at Harvard University and staff writer for the New Yorker, discusses her work on the history of Wonder Woman before Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Lepore’s The Secret History of Wonder Woman was recently released by Random House. (For more on Lepore’s work on Wonder Woman see here.)

Tip o’ the hat to Ben Harris for alerting us to this video.

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NYT Retro Report: “Long After Sybil”

The New York Times‘s Retro Report has produced a short documentary on the now infamous case of Sybil. As the article accompanying the documentary notes,

The “Sybil” story began in the mid-1950s. At its center were the Minnesota-born Ms. Mason and her intense relationship, first in the Midwest and later in New York, with a psychoanalyst, Cornelia B. Wilbur. Dr. Wilbur’s determination that Ms. Mason had 16 personalities — people of varying manner and ages, including two who were male — did not come about in a vacuum. She was well aware of “The Three Faces of Eve,” a 1954 report by two psychiatrists who worked with a woman said to have had three distinct personalities. (As Eve in a 1957 film based on that study, Joanne Woodward won an Academy Award for best actress. Years later, she did a neat Hollywood pivot by playing the psychiatrist in the first movie version of “Sybil,” with Sally Field as the patient.)

Dr. Wilbur did not write up her findings in some dry professional journal. Instead, she went looking for a large audience, and enlisted a writer, Flora Rheta Schreiber, to produce what became a blockbuster. But as the years passed, challengers began to speak up. One was Herbert Spiegel, a New York psychiatrist who said that he had treated Ms. Mason when Dr. Wilbur was on vacation. Dr. Spiegel described his patient not as a sufferer of multiple personality disorder but, rather, as a readily suggestible “hysteric.” A harsher judgment was rendered in the 1990s by Robert Rieber, a psychologist at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a New York City school where Ms. Schreiber taught English. After listening to tape recordings that he said Ms. Schreiber had given him, he concluded that “it is clear from Wilbur’s own words that she was not exploring the truth but rather planting the truth as she wanted it to be.” Debbie Nathan, a writer interviewed for this Retro Report documentary, piled on still more skepticism in her 2011 book, “Sybil Exposed.” Perhaps inevitably in a dispute of this sort, counter-revisionists then emerged to denounce the doubters and to defend “Sybil” as rooted in reality.

The full documentary can be viewed online here.

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Alfred Binet: Naissance de la Psychologie Scientifique

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Historian of Medicine Alexandre Klein, a postdoctoral fellow at the Université d’Ottawa has recently released a web documentary on Alfred Binet. The French language documentary, a collaboration with film maker Philippe Thomine, can be viewed in full here.

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Milgram’s Obedience to Authority Experiment on Mysteries at the Museum

Stanley Milgram’s infamous obedience to authority experiments have made their way to the Travel Channel. The study appears – in highly dramatized form – in the February 6th episode of Mysteries at the Museum.  Helping describe the study is Cathy Faye, Assistant Director of the Center for the History of Psychology in Akron, Ohio. The simulated shock generator from Milgram’s experiment now resides in the Center’s Museum.

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Kitty Genovese Documentary: The Detached Americans (1964)


For your Friday viewing pleasure, we present The Detached Americans a 1964 TV documentary on the Kitty Genovese case (see previous AHP posts on Genovese here). In 1964 Genovese was murdered and it was widely reported that numerous witnesses to the murder – as many as 38 – failed to intervene. The  case is often cited as the basis for what is known as the bystander effect in social psychology, whereby individuals fail to aid in emergency situations when others are present. This failure to help people in need is often attributed to a diffusion of responsibility, as it is assumed that others present will offer assistance. Happy viewing!

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Summer Reading: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

If you are a follower the Facebook page of the Society for the History of Psychology (Division 26 of the American Psychological Association) you will have seen their recent post of video from the Kellogg experiment (above). Luella and Winthrop Kellogg reared a female chimpanzee named Gua, alongside their infant son Donald for a period in the 1930s, comparing their respective development across species lines.

For anyone looking for some end of summer reading, Karen Joy Fowler‘s novel We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves provides an interesting fictionalized account of the Kellogg’s experiment and its aftermath. Fowler, herself the daughter of an Indiana University professor of animal behaviour, discusses the influence of the Kellogg’s work on the book in an interview available on her website here. Although inspired by the Kellogg experiments, the novel alters several fundamental elements of the study. Fowler’s story is told from the perspective of a daughter raised with an ape sister, rather than a son. The story is described as follows:

Meet the Cooke family: Mother and Dad, brother Lowell, sister Fern, and our narrator, Rosemary, who begins her story in the middle. She has her reasons. “I spent the first eighteen years of my life defined by this one fact: that I was raised with a chimpanzee,” she tells us. “It’s never going to be the first thing I share with someone. I tell you Fern was a chimp and already you aren’t thinking of her as my sister. But until Fern’s expulsion, I’d scarcely known a moment alone. She was my twin, my funhouse mirror, my whirlwind other half, and I loved her as a sister.”

Rosemary was not yet six when Fern was removed. Over the years, she’s managed to block a lot of memories. She’s smart, vulnerable, innocent, and culpable. With some guile, she guides us through the darkness, penetrating secrets and unearthing memories, leading us deeper into the mystery she has dangled before us from the start. Stripping off the protective masks that have hidden truths too painful to acknowledge, in the end, “Rosemary” truly is for remembrance.

A detailed review of the book by Barbara Kingsolver in the New York Times can be found here.

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Video Interview: Sleep in the Age of Shakespeare


Psychologist Peter Hegarty, of the University of Surrey, has interviewed English scholar Garrett Sullivan, of Pennsylvania State University, on the history of sleep. From ideas about sleep in the age of Shakespeare to Descartes to Freud, Hegarty and Sullivan discuss our changing understandings of sleep and embodiment across the centuries. The full video is featured above.

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Film: Adaptive Behavior in Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels

Continuing our recent series of posts (here and here) on University of Oregon psychologist Lester Beck’s films, we bring one final film to your attention: Beck’s 1942 footage Adaptive Behavior in Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels (below). The film is described as follows,

Arranged and photographed by Lester F. Beck, a professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Oregon. Beck also wrote the script for Human Growth, the first sex education film shown in Oregon schools in 1948. Filmed in part at Crater Lake, OR. Shows golden-mantled ground squirrels (which resemble, but are not, chipmunks) first at play in the wild, and then learning increasingly complicated tasks in a lab (coerced by nuts). Silent short full of unintentional humor and pathos. Was the basis for the popular educational film Squeak the Squirrel (1952).

The later film, Squeak the Squirrel (above), Continue reading Film: Adaptive Behavior in Golden-mantled Ground Squirrels

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