Philip Zimbardo: The psychology of evil

Speaker

Philip George Zimbardo is a psychologist and a professor emeritus at Stanford University. He became known for his 1971 Stanford prison experiment and has since authored various introductory psychology books, textbooks for college students, and other notable works, including The Lucifer Effect

Summary

People like to believe the line between good and evil is clear – with them on one side, others always evil. Philip shows that this line is far more permeable – good can go bad, and ‘evil’ people can be redeemed. He defines evil as exercising power to intentionally harm (psychologically), hurt (physically), destroy, or commit crimes against humanity. Philip was part of the trial of US army reservists accused of evil acts within Iraq war, who tortured and humiliated prisoners. He became an expert witness to represent one of these guards, and was given access to the reports, photos, and the guard himself. His hypothesis was that the people themselves weren’t evil, but were put in a system where they were compelled to exercise their power in an evil way. The accused men were military police holding the prisoners in the ‘Intimidation hold’- to soften them up for interrogators to get information later. Interrogators gave them permission to “take the gloves off”.

Philip shows a 1minute montage of graphic & sadistic photos – of prisoners often naked, stacked in strange piles or sexual positions, soldiers posing happily with the prisoners. Some prisoners are covered in wounds, some with faeces. All these photos were taken by the soldiers themselves. TED has apparently edited this video to remove some of the worst.

Secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld asked “Who are the bad apples”, but Philip suggests he should have been asking a broader question in terms of ‘The Lucifer effect’ – what causes people to go evil? The issue could be:

  • Bad apples: a few isolated people committing evil
  • Bad Barrel: the system surrounding the people compelled them to commit evil
  • Bad Barrel-makers: the politicians, economic and legal system creating a system that corrupts people.

Philip illustrates that most people do not see themselves as evil, but could be compelled to do evil in a situation. Most people wouldn’t electrocute a helpless person, but an experiment was devised where a ‘teacher’ was ordered to electrocute a ‘learner’ by the technician – this is the “Milgram experiment on obedience to authority figures”. The experiment started at 15Volts (which the learner didn’t feel), and increases at 15V intervals up to 450V (which causes intense pain). The dial was labelled to show how dangerous the highest Voltages were. Importantly, the technician running the experiment said he would take full responsibility for consequences. In the first experiment 2/3s of people went all the way up to 450V shocks – despite psychiatrists predicting only 1% would do it (since only 1% of the population shows ‘sadistic behaviour’). Other experiments show up to 90% of people went all the way to 450V.

Philip contrasts this with a pastor who ‘killed’ 912 people by convincing followers to murder their families and commit suicide. This shows the danger of blind obedience, in forcing people to commit evil. He also talks of his own study – where 24 normal college boys were divided arbitrarily in 2. Some were designated guards, some prisoners. The prisoners were dehumanised and degraded, while the guards had symbols of authority to make them more important. The guards forced prisoners to simulate sodomy, and do degrading tasks like cleaning toilets with their bare hands. It quickly got out of control, and Philip cancelled the experiment early due to 5 psychological breakdowns of previously healthy people.

Anonymity is a factor – anthropologists studied warrior cultures – those who go to battle as themselves as opposed to those who wear masks, paint, uniforms to change their appearance. Of 23 cultures, those who changed their appearance were far more likely to maim, torture or mutilate their enemies. This is one of the 7 slopes to evil in new situations.

  1. mindlessly taking the first small step
  2. dehumanizing others
  3. de-individualize self (anonymity)
  4. diffusion of personal responsibility
  5. blind obedience of authority
  6. uncritical conformity to group norms
  7. passive tolerance of evil through indifference.

Most of these are systemic issues, and should be treated with more of a public health model. But they can still be broken by a ‘hero’ – people who refuse to conform to the evils. Children can be trained to think of themselves as heroes waiting or the right situation to rescue. We just need to reframe heroes away from people with supernatural powers and make it clear that ordinary people can be heroes. He talked of the private who blew the whistle on the Abu Ghraib jail, and the woman who convinced him to cancel his own experiment on prisoners and guards (who he then married a year later).

My Thoughts

Fascinating look at how evil works. Nothing more to be said – if you can stomach the shocking photos, this is a very worthwhile talk.

Some additional reading on the two experiments mentioned

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanford_prison_experiment

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Derek Sivers: How to start a movement

Speaker

Derek Sivers is best known for being the founder and former president of CD Baby, an online CD store for independent musicians.

Summary

Derek shows a video of a crowd forming around a single shirtless dancer (the leader). He dances alone for a while, then someone else comes forward. They dance together for a while, and are embraced as equals. Then a couple more come over and start dancing, and soon a large crowd forms around them.

So what can we learn from this?

  • As a leader, you must encourage your first followers. Embrace them as equals and treat them well.
  • The first follower is the one who turns someone from a shirtless nut into a leader. The leader will get the credit, but the followers are brave for getting it started.
  • Once a group is formed, the rest will start flocking towards it. Suddenly it isn’t weird or risky – if they’re quick they can still be part of the ‘in’ crowd, rather than feeling left behind.
  • For this reason, an early follower is a special kind of leadership.
  • If you see a single person with a good idea, be that first follower.

My Thoughts

Fun short talk, with some nonetheless useful messages. Nearly half of the video is the opening and ads that accompanied older TEDs.

Matt Killingsworth: Want to be happier? Stay in the moment

Speaker

As an undergrad, Killingsworth studied economics and engineering, and worked for a few years as a software product manager. He now studies happiness.

Summary

Most people want to be happier, and will seek better jobs, cars, houses because they believe it will make them happier. The paradox of happiness is that once these things are achieved, people do not feel any happier. Scientific studies recently have focussed on happiness itself. While they found education and income can have an effect, it tends to be small. Happiness seems to be about the moment-to-moment interactions rather than lifetime achievements, so Matt devised an iPhone app that would survey people about their happiness at random points of the day. By tracking people’s instantaneous happiness over the day, and asking what they’re doing, who they’re with at the time, we can understand what causes happiness. This gave 650,000 surveys from 15,000 people, from a wide variety of countries, occupations, marital statuses, ages, and incomes.

People possess the ability for their mind to wander – to think about something other than what they are currently doing. This is good for planning and thinking during menial tasks – but is it good for happiness? Perhaps if you think about something pleasant while doing something unpleasant your happiness should increase? To answer this, one of Matt’s survey questions was “are you thinking about something other than what you’re currently doing?”, and whether they were thinking about something pleasant or unpleasant. The data showed that when people’s minds wandered, they were significantly less happy. This was true regardless of what they were doing – even during a less enjoyable activity (commuting). As for what they were thinking about, people thinking pleasantly were slightly less happy than people focussed on the moment. People thinking about unpleasant things were 24 percentage points less than those who weren’t mind wandering. So mind-wanderers are less happy. He also saw that people mind-wandered before being unhappy, showing it is causative.

How often do we mind-wander? About 47% of the time – it is very frequent. So it is a frequently occurring variable in people’s unhappiness.

My Thoughts

Focus focus focus. I enjoy scientific studies, and appreciate the detail Matt went to to draw his conclusions. He argues convincingly that mind-wandering makes people unhappy, regardless of what they are doing or thinking about. However, are these thoughts nonetheless important? Especially when stressing or thinking about unhappy things, is it better to think about and resolve the issues? My thoughts are probably not – usually a mind-wander is unlikely to solve a serious problem, though there are ‘Eureka’ moments littered throughout history (where a new theory comes while taking a bath, or drinking).

After seeing this talk, I will try to focus on the moment more. It has benefits for time management as well – to do a single task rather than trying to conquer multiples at once.

Susan Colantuono: The career advice you probably didn’t get

Speaker

Susan Colantuono is the CEO and founder of Leading Women. She is the author of No Ceiling, No Walls: What women haven’t been told about leadership, which takes a close look at the conventional wisdom keeping women from rising from middle management.

Summary

Women now occupy 50% of middle management positions, but less than a third of that portion in upper management. Leadership skills are required at all levels of management – defined by using your own skills and engaging with others to help the organisation achieve its goals. However in the highest positions, the most important skill is ‘Business, strategic, and financial acumen’ – or the ability to understand the business, and people’s roles. This is the skill that is missing in the advice given to women – not because they are incapable of achieving it but because it isn’t recognised as a skill they are advised to acquire.

As an example, Susan was discussing with some executives what they look for in people with executive potential: they recognise personal success & work ethic, and they recognise people skills. When asked about high level strategy and business understanding they say “That’s a given”. When Susan asks women how many have heard that this skill is important, very few have had that advice. Most advice given to women relates to developing negotiating skills, personal branding, networking and self confidence. This is good advice for reaching middle management positions, but is not enough to reach executive level. Additionally, performance & talent systems focus on personal achievement & leadership, and are not directing people to develop business or strategic skills.

Men are doing a better job of developing business skills through mentoring and networking – being sponsored by someone at the top. In one case, an executive mentored a man and a woman – helping the man learn the business and helping the woman develop self-confidence. At the time he didn’t realise he was treating them differently.

Actions that can be taken from these findings: For women to develop they need to demonstrate financial acumen. Even for people not at middle management yet, by weaving financial or strategic information into project reports it can really impress those above. For executives, these findings should cause concern – it shows a lack of strategic alignment if their middle managers do not understand the skills expected of them to advance. Additionally, boards should demand proportional succession pools to fill future executive positions, with CEOs and HR prepared to help high potential employees get the skills needed. By recognising and acting on this, we can close the gender gap at the top.

My Thoughts

Very worthwhile topic and wonderful result – to identify what is missing in middle managers to help them become executives. Although I am not a woman, personally I will take the advice to develop high level strategic skills in the workplace.

However, I’m not entirely convinced that the only thing missing is the advice to develop business, strategic and financial skills. I would have thought that people aiming for executive positions should be capable of recognising they need these skills. It is possible that executives do not see women as having these skills – similar to the example in Susan’s talk who mentored his men and women differently. In this case the women can’t just learn the skills, they need to take the chance to show them off as much as possible as well.

Regardless, an enjoyable and useful talk.

Drew Curtis: How I beat a patent troll

Speaker

Drew Curtis is creator of Fark.com – an internet news aggregator.

Summary

In January 2011, Fark was sued along with MSN, reddit, yahoo for violation of a patent. The patent was for “creation and distibution of news releases via email”. This happens all the time, where a simple thing that is already happening can be patented, especially for a new emergent technology. These ‘Patent Trolls’ often sue major companies, ending in out of court settlements allowing them to claim they won the case.

The flaw in the case against Fark was that news release has a specific meaning in media – a press release by a company. Drew believed this meant he was not in violation, but a quirk in patent law is that the burden of proof is on the defendant to prove they have not violated the patent. Best case is that this can cost $2million and take 18 months to prove if they win. Most of the other companies in this case opted to settle out of court despite none of them violating the patent.

When Drew demanded screenshots showing where Fark had violated the patent, his troll was very quick to want a settlement: immediately demanding Drew’s “Best and final offer”. He offered nothing and no non disclosure agreement, and they accepted. This allowed him to talk about his experience in a way most other companies could not.

What Drew learnt about this case

  • Don’t fight the patent, fight the infringement – it’s a lot easier to prove that you haven’t infringed.
  • Either say you have no money, or that you’d rather spend money fighting the troll instead of giving it to them. Patent trolls need to recover their money, and if they’re less convinced they’ll get anything they are no longer interested in pursuing the case.
  • Tell them you will make this process as annoying and painful and difficult for them. These are the strategies a patent troll will use on you, but they need a quick return so it works really well when you reverse it.

“Do not negotiate with terrorists” – lawsuits from patent trolls have cost the US economy more every year than the all time cost of terrorists on US soil. Patent law is big, and driven by the needs of industries that want to protect inventors (healthcare industry) versus producers. These forces are on opposite ends of the patent spectrum, and patent trolls manage to exist in the gaps between them.

My Thoughts

Good summary of the dangers of patent law, and how to fight a frivolous lawsuit. Drew presents well and has a lot to tell us in such a short talk.

Pamela Meyer: How to spot a liar

Speaker

Pamela Meyer is author of “Liespotting”, which pulls together research on deception from a number of sources.

Summary

Everyone is a liar, but the goal to spotting liars isn’t to trick them or play ‘gotcha’, but to understand the truth.

Truth #1 Lying is a cooperative act – it needs the hearer to believe.

Truth #2 We are against lying… and covertly for it

Lying can manifest as corporate fraud, which costs nearly a trillion dollars a year in the US, or it can betray national secrets. In many cases lying defines our social interations – to protect ourselves, to protect others, to portray ourselves differently to what we are, to lie to a partner, we lie to a stranger 3 times within 10 minutes of meeting them. The thought of this makes people recoil in horror. However, the more intelligent the species, the more they rely on deception. Children grow up with lies and by the time they are in the workforce they are living in a ‘post-truth society’.

Trained Lie spotters get to the truth 90% of the time, while untrained people get there 54% of the time. Pamela studies Bill Clinton’s denial of his affair with Monica Lewinsky “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” – later proven to be a lie. She looks at how his speech patterns and language betrays him.

  • He uses overly formal language
  • he distances himself from “that woman”
  • he uses qualifying language.

Clinton didn’t do this, but Pamela also stays on the lookout for too much or too little detail in the statements, and repeating the question to stall for time.

She also looks separately at body language symbols of liars:

  • They don’t always fidget, some completely freeze their upper bodies.
  • We think liars won’t look you in the eye, some look too much to compensate
  • They often smile to show sincerity, but it is a fake smile, and they are not smiling in the eyes
  • Body language cues can be giving the opposite of the words – eg shaking head while saying yes or shrugging shoulders while telling a confident, good story.

Giveaways in attitude, when conversing with a deceptive person:

  • An honest person will be enthusiastic and help brainstorm to discover the real suspect.
  • an honest person will be infuriated throughout the whole process if they suspect they are being accused – it won’t just be in flashes
  • an honest person will want a strict punishment for the person who committed the crimes.
  • In contrast a deceptive person will talk only in chronological order and get confused when asked to tell it differently (change the order)
  • A deceptive person will be withdrawn from the conversation
  • A deceptive person will add way too much irrelevant detail

A lot of small tells can also show deceptive behaviour – changing blink rate, or putting physical barriers between the asker and themselves, or changing their tone of voice. But these can happen naturally as well, it is only when they happen in clusters that you should be suspicious. When dealing with a suspected liar, be curious and friendly, treat them with dignity, and don’t be too aggressive.

The world is getting more interconnected, people are sharing a lot. By learning to spot lies, you are telling the world that you will not be part of the lie – that your world is a truthful one.

Julian Treasure: How to speak so that people want to listen

Speaker

Julian Treasure is the chair of the Sound Agency, a firm that advises worldwide businesses – offices, retailers, hotels on how to use sound.

Summary

Sometimes you talk and get the feeling that noone is listening. Julian starts by listing the ‘7 deadly sins’ of conversation – basically people don’t want to listen if you are doing this

  1. Gossip (speaking about people who aren’t present, and probably saying nasty things about the listener later)
  2. Judging (judging the person you are speaking to, and finding them wanting)
  3. Negativity (negative outlook)
  4. Complaining (achieves nothing)
  5. Excuses (passing problems of the world on to everyone else)
  6. Lying
  7. Dogmatism (mixing up facts and opinion)

However there are 4 positive, powerful ways to improve your conversation style – summarised as HAIL.

  • Honesty – be true and clear with what you mean
  • Authenticity – be yourself, stand in your own truth
  • Integrity – do what you say, be trustworthy
  • Love – wish people well

You can also look at how you say it – tools in your speech patterns to enhance your speech.

  • Register – a deeper voice from the chest speaks with more power and authority.
  • Timbre – how the voice feels or sounds – distinct from tone or loudness.
  • prosody – the sing-song or up and down of the movement – opposite of montonous. Some problems are an upward inflection at the end of every sentence to make everything a question?
  • Pace- a rapid pace, then slowing down for emphasis. Or just pausing occasionally can be very powerful.
  • Pitch – a higher pitch can make you sound more excited
  • Volume – quiet to make people lean in and pay attention, louder can also show excitement. Don’t broadcast loudly all the time.

Finally he discusses 6 vocal warmup exercises – to get you ready before you need to talk. This includes breathing, making noises with lips, ‘rapberries’, lalala on tongue, practising a rolled ‘r’, and moving through the whole range of pitch.