The Cummings Center for the History of Psychology has released the third episode of its 5 Minute History Lesson series. This latest episode explores the Robbers Cave experiment undertaken by Muzafer and Carolyn Wood Sherif. The full episode is embedded above and available on the Cummings Center’s YouTube channel, along with other episodes in the series.Share on Facebook
Adding to the recent trend in popular uptake of classic mid-century controversies in psychology (see for example the acclaimed television series Masters of Sex, which fictionalizes the groundbreaking sex research conducted by Masters and Johnson), October sees the release of Sundance Festival feature Experimenter (find our earlier coverage of the festival here), a film written and directed by Michael Almereyda about Stanley Milgram’s still infamous studies on obedience to authority.
Starring Peter Sarsgaard and Winona Ryder, the film dramatizes the ethical quandaries for which Milgram’s work became a poster child and contributed to the development of increased ethics regulation in psychological research. It also provides a characterization of Milgram himself, and contextualizes the infamy of his studies in light of his personal and professional lives.
The reception of Milgram’s work by public press has always promoted its more scandalous aspects (as we say in the field, it’s a ‘sexy’ topic for journalists), and as such this feature length is only the latest in a long line of media representation that Milgram has attracted since he published his conclusions. See our other blog coverage of these, starting with Shatner’s 1975 fictionalization; multiple renditions from the Travel, and Discovery channels, BBC, and ABC, often including attempts at actual replication of the experimental conditions; as well as a French mockumentary commenting on reality TV.
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The New York Times reports that a film, titled ’37’, on the infamous Kitty Genovese murder is in the works. The Genovese case is often credited with providing the impetus for research into the bystander effect, whereby bystanders fail to intervene in an emergency situation as a result of a diffusion of responsibility. The notion that bystanders failed to intervene in the Genovese case – including the NYT‘s initial erroneous accounting of 37 such individuals – has been called into question (see our previous posts on this myth here). As the NYT reports,
Whether the classic account of the murder is factually true has been disputed for years. The disturbing article in The New York Times at the time (“37 Who Saw Murder Didn’t Call the Police”) got the probable number of witnesses wrong, among other facts. Some people did call the police; at least one neighbor comforted the victim as she died. But over the years, Kitty Genovese has become more than a true-crime statistic. She’s attained the status of a myth aswirl in urban dread.
More details about the film ’37’ can be found in the NYT piece.Share on Facebook
In a recent piece on the Somatosphere blog, historian Laura Stark describes the making of “vulnerable populations” in medical experimentation. Currently writing a book on the emergence of “normal control” subjects in medical research, Stark uses her research on LSD experimentation at the US National Institutes of Health post-WWII to discuss the idea of “vulnerable populations.” The above video features excerpts from some of Stark’s oral history interviews with research subjects used as “normal controls” in this research.
As she describes in “How to make a “vulnerable population”,”
The category of the “vulnerable population” is itself a product of modern (American) bioethics, which invented the concept in its recent vintage and gave it specific meaning in public parlance. The field of modern bioethics emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, and in the post civil-rights period, the bioethical concept of the “vulnerable population” was coded with contemporary rights-based concerns: about minorities, about prisoners, and more. The specific meanings and people associated with “vulnerable populations” were embedded in 1970s human-subjects regulation, as well as in popular discourse….
The concepts of modern bioethics operate at another level, too. Ian Hacking coined the term “moral kinds” to tag what he called meta-ethical issues that people—including scholars—come to embody. We are working to develop Ian Hacking’s framework to show how law (especially U.S. human-subjects regulations) shapes both the memory practices of historical actors and the interpretive practices of present-day scholars. In sum, we are interested in how the concepts of bioethics, such as “vulnerable populations” codified in 1974 and later extended beyond the United States, have narrowed the range of possibilities available to scholars for interpreting empirical evidence. We like Hacking’s approach because it offers a way to investigate how the governing moral sensibilities of a specific time and place both constrain and liberate scholars themselves. The secular, North American, rights-revolution ethos of modern bioethics, we suggest, limits how questions about research practices in the human sciences are conceptualized, and can deflect questions about the historicity of the discipline of bioethics as a knowledge-making enterprise in its own right. We aim to explore medical knowledge-making alongside the ontology of modern bioethics—to ask how, when, where, and with what effects the terms and priorities of this expert domain developed. In doing so, we hope to capture a fuller repertoire of institutions, sensibilities, and activities that eventually came to constitute modern science and biomedicine.
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The Cummings Center for the History of Psychology has released the second episode in its series 5 Minute History Lesson. The episode is discusses the life and work of psychologist Ruth Howard and features audio from a telephone interview with Howard by Even the Rat was White author Robert Guthrie. More details on the video can be found here. (The first episode in the series was on psychologist James V. McConnell.)
The Cummings Center for the History of Psychology has just released the first video in a new series 5 Minute History Lesson. Episode 1, featured above, explores the life and work of psychologist James V. McConnell. A second episode, on Ruth Howard Beckham, is scheduled for release this summer.Share on Facebook
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,
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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.
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.Share on Facebook
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.Share on Facebook
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.Share on Facebook