Perplexing Questions About Human Psychology Term Paper

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¶ … perplexing questions about human psychology revolves around the role of deviance. We know from empirical observation that if rats are placed in too crowded conditions, aggressive behaviors peak. When we study history, we are often amazed at the dichotomy between a species that can create such phenomenal beauty -- Beethoven, the Sistine Chapel, acts of kindness and benevolence; and such utter ugliness -- the Holocaust, Idi Amin, and Jeffrey Dahlmer. We also know, from psychological experiments, that there is a dark side within most everyone's psyche -- one that expresses itself only at certain times.

In a seminal study from 1972, for instance, Professor Phillip Zimbardo published the Stanford Prison Study and follow-up work attempting to understand the pathology of torture in greater details (Haney, Banks and Zimbardo). The Prison Study itself was a result of an experiment in which 24 "typical" college students were randomly assigned to be either "prisoners" or "guards" in a mock simulation -- a prison located in a basement area of Stanford. Almost immediately, the students began to act out their assigned roles, the guards becoming sadistic and controlling and the prisons showing passivity and depression. Even though all knew this was a mock scenario, the guards stepped beyond the boundaries of what Zimbardo had predicted and moved toward rather psychologically dangerous and sadistic tendencies. Over 30% of the guards, in fact, exhibited genuine, definable, sadism; while many of the prisoners were so emotionally traumatized that five of the mock prisoners had to be removed from the study prior to completion (Zimbardo).

What is most disconcerting is the level of baseness and utter disregard for humanity that the guards exhibited. The entire experiment quickly descended into a true show of just what the average person is capable of given the circumstances. Prior to the test, we should not that all of the men were given a number of psychological tests. Not one showed the least inclination for any negative, sadistic, or cruel behavior -- in fact, their scores on the opposite end of that spectrum were the reason they were chosen. The "guards" were not given any direct job instruction; just to keep order in the best way they judged to be permissible. In a few days, however, some of the guards began to develop tyrannical, personalities and seemed to delight in finding ways to torture the inmates. "My guards repeatedly stripped their prisoners naked, hooded them, chained them, denied them food or bedding privileges, put them into solitary confinement, and made them clean toilet bowls with their bare hands" (Zimbardo, The Lucifer Effect). Yet, throughout this, the efficacy of the torture, the antithetical behavior, remained unestablished -- thus unreasonable.

Deviance in a Social Context -- Contextually, deviance is a psychological and sociological condition in which behaviors or actions violate the cultural norms of a particular society (e.g. crime, aberrant behavior, socially unacceptable actions, etc.). Deviance is defined on a relative sliding scale that is dependent on the dominant culture of the time -- what is perfectly acceptable behavior at one time and one place is not at another time and place. Group norms are defined as a set of internal rulings that are followed by the group members in order to increase the overall efficiency of the group's activity. These norms usually refer to the members' behavior towards themselves, their hierarchical superior and group outsiders, as well as to their approach and attitude towards the work they are expected to perform. Norms are the way that individuals and groups search for solutions to problems, perform tasks (work) and even make personal and collective decisions. Norms reflect the group's culture of shared values. Norms often differ from a group to another; rules are dependent on a number of external factors. These refer to: taboo subjects, open expression of feelings, interrupting or challenging the tutor, volunteering one's services, avoiding conflict, length and frequency of contributions. Additionally, group norms tend to cluster around four types of activity: participation, decision making, mutual aid, and affective expression (Hepworth, Rooney and Ronney).

Deviance as Theory- One of the seminal questions about human nature has always been the cause/effect of the dichotomy of human behavior -- both sides of the good/evil paradigm and everything in between. The difficulty is that if deviance is a violation of social norms, then how can it be rewarded in one context and abhorred in the next? Some believe that deviance (actions, behaviors) have a large gray area. For instance, it is a criminal act to download some music onto disc or computer, yet is a common occurrence; smoking marijuana is illegal but about 60 per cent of American's either have or use it; abusing alcohol is illegal, but many people imbibe. Deviance, then, is relative to the time and place (e.g. fighting during a hockey game vs. fighting in a hospital ward), and the context of social power that defines that particular issue of deviance. This is an important concept because social power (government, authority, etc.) can criminalize actions so they are deviant in one context and not deviant in another (e.g. training people to kill in war then asking them to turn all that off in peacetime) (Goode).

There are literally dozens of theories on deviant behavior and its societal expression. Some of the more interesting ones are:

Symbolic Interactionism -- the gist is the complicated relationship between victimization and future deviance; the gulf between reality and perception and continued disenfranchising from the core of society. Deviance is thus a product of everyday social interactions with society; controlled by the manner in which people are treated within the group norm (A Theoretical Analysis of Deviance).

Differential Association -- crime and deviance is learned, not inherently a part of the individual's character. Someone who is in a cultural group that rewards certain behaviors is more likely to adapt those behaviors (Laub).

Structural functionalism -- finds that group adherence to norms and values are driving forces in deviance -- crimes may be committed for a perceived good, or by lack of ties, or because the norms that place the individual in check no longer have that power (Herman).

Conflict Theory/Control Theory -- The weakness of bonds between members of society cause deviance to manifest. Groups struggle to maximize their own benefits, which often cause behaviors that result in the powerful defining crime; all others are in conflict with society to some extent or other (Thio).

Positivism and Deviance -- Positivism is a philosophical approach that says experiences are the source of information. The goal of inquiry is to explain and predict and all knowledge is testable. The positivist approach to deviance assumes that deviance is real and that deviants have certain traits and commonalities that may be studied. In fact, understanding the traits of deviants gives the sociologist an understanding of the causes of deviance. Classical theory claimed deviance was a result of free will, rational thought and deviants/nondeviants were quite similar. Positivists argued the cause was determinism. Variables and stimuli (biological, psychological, economic, genetic) are different between deviants and nondeviants. Thus, society cannot really blame deviants; it is not anymore their "fault" than their hair color, sexual orientation, or personality type (Taylor, Walton and Young).

Society and Motivation- Can we really explain crime using a theory? Are all deviant behaviors the same? Certainly not; shoplifting is not the same as mass murder, but looking at the historical past, and combining it with modern psychological and sociological theory, one can see that there are monsters in society -- there are certain genetic traits that are predisposed to aberrance, just as those traits may be predisposed to musical or artistic genius. It seems, though, that the combination of nature and nurture (genetics and society) can enhance or detract from these expressions. Nature vs. nurture, or… [END OF PREVIEW]

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