Talk: Psychology and You

David Groves made a welcome return as a speaker at the October Todmorden U3A general meeting, giving part two of a talk entitled Psychology and You. By way of a subtitle he described the discipline as “the scientific study of mind and behaviour.” He started by giving a brief recap of his first talk, outlining significant landmarks in Western scientific discovery in order to illustrate and emphasise the fact that psychology is a discipline which employs the scientific method to verify its findings.

Each of those attending found a handout on their chair listing the various branches of psychology and also the various applications psychology has in society, along with some of the jobs in which graduate psychologists could apply their learning. The other side of the handout included some of those drawings of illusions where one sees two faces in one sketch, and a couple which one stares at to find there is more to the image than is at first apparent. The mind playing tricks.

David started with first impressions and the “halo effect”. Social psychologists have found that attractiveness can produce what is known as a halo effect. Essentially, we tend to assume that people who are physically attractive are also friendly, intelligent, pleasant, and likeable. First impressions do count but are, of course, mediated by experience when we get to know a person better.

David referred to a number of studies in the areas of ethics and morality and said that psychologists have demonstrated that we are not born with a conscience. Jean Piaget spent many years studying the development of morality in children. David outlined one of Piaget’s observations. Four children were playing a board game together. A six year old was losing and deliberately knocked his game piece off of the board. Another child told the teacher that the rules had been broken. The offender was told to sit in the corner.

The next day the children are again playing the board game. A ten year old child reached to move his game piece, lost his balance and placed his elbow into the middle of the board. All of the pieces bounced around, and flew off of the board. The offender of the previous day complained to the teacher. The teacher asked “Did you do it on purpose, or was it an accident?” The reply came that it was an accident. The teacher responded with agreement. She directed all four children to go back to playing the game. The six year old, upset by the teacher’s solution, protested, “It’s not fair! Yesterday I knocked off one piece and I had to sit in the corner? How come he doesn’t have to? He knocked off all the pieces!” The ten year old interjected, “It’s fair because you did it on purpose!” The younger child just doesn’t understand, and continued to insist it isn’t fair. This example illustrates how the development of a more sophisticated sense of fairness is one that progresses as children get older.

David then turned to research done on the research into the differences between men and women in making moral choices. Lawrence Kohlberg, based on research conducted exclusively on men, concluded that justice is the highest claim of morality. In doing so, David explained, his colleague, Carol Gilligan, saw this as down-grading women’s moral judgements based on exercising care. Gilligan did a study with 24 pregnant women who were considering abortion. These women discussed their choice within a care orientation rather than a framework of justice. Responsibility was interpreted as exercising care; not being selfish meant not causing hurt.

David continued by citing a famous experiment conducted at Princeton University in which a group of theology students was asked to walk across campus to deliver a sermon on the topic of the Good Samaritan. As part of the research, some of the students were told that they were late and needed to hurry. Along the route, the researchers had placed an actor, who was lying on the ground in pain and in need of help. In their haste to give a sermon on compassion, 90% of the “late” students from completely ignored the needs of the suffering person. Some of them literally stepped over him.

David spoke of how twins are studied to learn more about the contributions of inherited factors and the impact of the environment in determining behaviour. Introducing a lighter note, he said how the town of Twinsburg, Ohio, holds a twins convention every year. At the latest one. In 2012, 2096 sets of twins attended, of whom, 864 were identical, of these 81 were over 61 years old.

Towards the end of his talk, David realised he was running out of time but had said nothing about Freud and psychoanalysis. Before taking questions, he made a few quick remarks on the topic. Perhaps the subject of “Psychology and You Part 3”? Suggested subtitle, “Psychoanalysis and its Discontents.”

U3A Chairman, Jean Pearson moved the vote of thanks before Membership Secretary, Anne Foster presented the customary token of appreciation to David.

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