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Paris, the Morning After: Final Edition

Dec 03

G’day all!  Counting down to the Holiday Season?  I’ll take this opportunity to wish you all, the ability to stop struggling and start living.  Remember, the notion of happiness as a “good and carefree feeling” appears to be out of reach to us organisms that must contend with day-to-day living in a human form.  Much contemporary study seems to suggest that happiness is the focusing of yourself on a rich, full, and meaningful life.  And yes you can do it even if you have some significant problems that distract you.  Of course we all like to feel “good”, however desperately attempting to avoid painful feelings will only magnify them and doom you to failure.  It just might be that you will increase the chances of feeling better if you put your misery down beside you (you can always get back to it when alone in the commode!) rather than fighting uselessly against it, and devote yourself to ensuring someone else’s “happy holiday”?

I have a couple of more points to make regarding our latest topic (i.e. Paris: The Morning After), and then I promise to let it go.  I have noted that your Far Eastern, Middle Eastern, and European brothers and sisters are more interested in the fine nuances of a more sophisticated (psychological) approach than the “Nuke ’em” strategy that seems to permeate the thinking of your North American counterparts.  I suppose at this point in the “dance” that makes some sense.

Away we go then (and I wish to dedicate this post to my brother-in-law, a retired and highly successful businessman who does me the great honour of faithfully reading my modest offerings).  At some level we are all aware of using others’ behaviour to guide our own.  If a particular style of clothing is popular we may wish to emulate the style, not to be out of step (right “Woody”?).  The fashion industry for example, knows full well that we often use the preferences of others as a kind of “social proof” to sell ourselves on the idea that we should be doing the same thing.  This human tendency while mostly benign, can have tragic consequences in some situations.

The pressure we feel to conform (“go with the flow”) is also present in terrorist groups and during terrorist actions.  Passive participants can become violent in response to their perception of group norms that are not in harmony with their own.  How can a responsible caring person act in such a barbaric and bloodthirsty way, you ask?  (I’m sure I heard one of you ask????).  The answer is based upon two universal human needs (yes…..even you!!).  These are the need to be “right”, and the need to be “liked”.

Do you recall the fascinating work of Dr. Philip Zimbardo (1982) from your Psych 100 course?  He is the researcher who took young healthy male psychology students to the basement of Stanford University’s Psych Dept., and divided them randomly into a group of prisoners and a group of guards.  The guards were provided with uniforms and mirrored sun glasses.  In six days the experiment had to be terminated due to the excessive brutality of the guards and the emotional damage done to the prisoners!

The most interesting outcome of this “aborted” study was that the effects were obtained in groups of normal young men participating in a simulated situation.  The subjects’ loss of personal identity and reduced experience of self awareness had dramatic effects on their behaviour.  It was clear that the role the guards had been assigned overrode their personal characteristics.  More importantly, in tests of similar dynamics it seems that social conditions conducive to punitiveness regularly have more influence over aggressive behaviour than people’s personal characteristics (Larsen, 1971).

As crazy as it may sound, passive participants involved in demonstrations of dissent can succumb to “conformity pressure” and behave in ways that that they would not normally choose; and that others would not normally expect of them!  As a complicating factor add to this “behavioural contagion”; a common disinhibiting consequence of lowered self awareness in group situations (Wheeler, 1966).  When under the spell of this effect we feel freer to engage in behaviours that we may have previously fantasized about but would have never acted upon.  A variety of terrorist activities would suffice as examples of this effect.  Those in the group witness activities taking place that they have only previously ruminated about, and they join in.  The combination of the excitement of the activity and the identification with the “group” leads to “deindividuation” where less attention is paid to personal moral standards and more to the group’s “manifesto”.  Within the anonymity of the group, the “righteousness” of the cause, and the arousal of the action less attention is paid to personal moral standards; the individual’s self awareness and fears of being caught are reduced and uncharacteristic action is taken.

One more point regarding “deindividuation” and then I’ll leave you alone to cogitate upon the notion that all we can do is “nuke ’em”?   “Deindividuation” within a group can specifically influence individual aggressive behaviour.  To fully grasp this, a “wee” look at Zillmann’s (1983) “excitation transfer theory” will be instructive (……think they’re still with us “Woody”?). The heart of this theory notes that no matter how produced, physiological arousal dissipates slowly over time. Consequently as we move from situation to situation a residue of that arousal can persist from context to context. (Now you understand how your “esteemed leader” can be such a “loose cannon” on so many issues over such a prolonged period of time). So to use our “terrorists” as an example, arousal generated early in their cause may still be present later in the conflict; leading to the occurrence of an intensified emotional reaction rather than mild irritation. Transfer effects are likely to occur under two conditions; 1) when the subject is unaware of the residual arousal…reduced self awareness?, and 2) even if the subject is aware of the arousal, he/she is more likely to attribute it to immediate events. Sooooooo, if the “terrorists” were aware of their arousal they would more likely attribute it to the authorities “nuke ’em” efforts than to their overall frustration with not being heard.

Just to close, I’ll bet some of you “tactical troop” types are aware of the “diffusion of responsibility”. It is the answer to the question, “If responsible people at a riot outnumber the irresponsible ones at least two to one, why don’t they interfere when they see someone behaving unlawfully?” As you know, the more bystanders you have involved in a critical situation the greater the decrease there will be in prosocial behaviour. This “bystander effect” invariably finds people involved in a critical event waiting for someone else to make the first move. What we forget is that everyone else is doing the same thing; creating an instance of “pluralistic ignorance”.

So it seems that those who are involved in the prevention of these horrific acts must have a proficiency in the psychological mechanisms of aggression, the science and practice of influence, and a thorough grasp of the other side’s issues and positions. What do you think? Did you learn something? Are you one of the “nuke ’em” gang? Your foreign counterparts are interested in your thinking. They are wanting to start a dialogue. Who better to address……..most of them have either been there or are presently there.

And never forget……”The War Isn’t Over Until Both Sides Say It Is!!!”

Dr. Mike Webster
Reg’d Psych.

P.S. I’m off again, and will return in about a week. Keep those cards and letters coming in (yuk, yuk!!). I’ll get to them when I return. I’ll likely post one more article before Christmas, so won’t get into holiday wishes just yet.


From → Other, Terrorism

  1. Anonymous permalink

    Thanks for your support for the Women’s Class Action initiative. It is all appreciated. It is nice to see that there were a few males there in support. Every single bit of support is warranted. We know the truth and will get the truth.


    What the hell is going on in this world anyway?
    Everyone should just calm down….. do you think.

    Should I be concerned here


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