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Topic: Relating the Class to World Events
I’d like you to see how relevant psychology is to the things that happen in the world around you, so that is exactly what I want you to do in this assignment! You will create a short written piece and then critically assess the work of five of your peers. The grade that your peers give you will constitute 20% of your mark in this course.
Your task is to pick a current event – any current event you find particularly interesting – and analyze this event in the context of the course material. Specifically, your written piece should do the following:
- You should begin by clearly describing the important aspects of your chosen event.
- Describe ONE psychological concept that you are going to relate to the event.
- Explain how this psychological concept applies to the event.
- Finally, you should draw a lesson, conclusion or recommendation from your analysis.
The important idea here is that you will be showing that you really understand psychological phenomena by clearly showing how it applies to real life.
We have not specified a hard cut-off in terms of word limit, but you should be aiming for about 500 – 700 words.
If you use any sources of information outside of the course, be sure to provide a citation, as I did in the example below.
In early 2004 we began to hear news stories about the abuses happening at Abu Ghraib, a prison run by the American Army in Iraq The stories presented horrible depictions of torture, humiliation and sexual abuse of Iraqi prisoners at the hands of America soldiers. Images then circulated showing prisoners stripped naked, piled in human pyramids, made to stand in uncomfortable poses, threatened by dogs, and hooked up to wires that they thought might deliver electric shocks. These acts looked evil and inhumane, and many Americans were shocked that any member of their army would engage in such behavior.
However the Stanford Prison Experiment conducted by Philip Zimbardo in the 1960s provides a possible explanation of how soldiers might come to do this In the Stanford Prison Experiment young men were randomly assigned to serve as either guards or prisoners in a mock prison context. The guards were told to oversee the prisoners, but then were generally given free reign to do that however they wished. When the prisoners initially did not take the exercise seriously the guards began to become more and more aggressive in terms of their treatment of prisoners. Zimbardo, the self-proclaimed Warden of the prison, did not punish this aggression but, rather, became fascinated with this change of dynamic. Thus, to some extent, the aggression was rewarded. Initially one guard lead the aggression, but over time the other guards joined in. In just a matter of days with this permissive context, the level of aggression rose higher and higher. Prisoners were stripped naked, threatened, and forced to do demeaning things (e.g., kiss on another, walk to the washroom naked with a bag over their head, etc). Prisoners who did not comply were placed in a very small closet for long periods of time and were denied social contact, blankets and food. Although the prisoners and guards seemed quite similar in personality at the beginning of the experiment, the prison context seemed to change both groups. The guards became aggressive and, one could say, evil whereas the prisoners became submissive and distraught. The experiment ended only after one prisoner had a complete nervous breakdown.
The Stanford Prison Experiment highlights the relevance of context in terms of shaping how people behave. It shows that generally good people can perform essentially evil acts if the context allows, and especially if it supports, evil acts. Abu Ghraib was a real prison, and the guards there were encouraged to “soften up” prisoners before they were interrogated. Thus guards likely were rewarded for intimidating and demeaning prisoners, a supposition supported by the free way in which the took and shared photos of their deeds. It is almost as though they did not see the evil in what they were doing. Why? Because no-one in that context made them feel it was evil. To the contrary, they were likely rewarded.
Thus the Abu Ghraib scandal shows that Zimbardo’s results do not just happen in the lab, they also happen in the real world. Yes we can punish those who do the evil deeds, but the lesson from the Stanford Prison experiment is that we must also consider, and reform, any context that permits or rewards evil deeds. The context is to blame perhaps as much, if not more, than those who behaved wickedly within it. It is not clear that this lesson was learned at Abu Ghraib. Ultimately three soldiers were punished for their acts, but the punishment stopped there Those who created and oversaw the prison were not punished even though it was they would created the environment that rewarded evil. The hope is that, going forward at least, those who administer prisons in the future will see the need to control the acts of those with authority before those acts cross ethical boundaries.
You will be graded on the following along a scale of 0 – 5 (Did not do – Excellent):
- How well you describe the event
- How well you describe the psychological concept
- Your application of psychological concept to current event
- The quality of your conclusion (the lesson or recommendation)
You will also be asked to provide feedback about what was done well and what could be improved.
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