The power of association

Our brains work by association.

What do you associate with this image?

What do you associate with this image?

Recently I attacked the idea genetics had anything to do with crime. I support the ideas of John Watson the pioneer of behaviourism, who was of the opinion the genetics connection was ignorant, human behaviour is down to environmental experiences.  Watson carried out a famous experiment with Baby Albert, he showed the child cute animals which the baby loved; afterwards the animals were introduced with a loud noise that upset Albert.  When the cute animals were introduced without the frightening sound Albert showed a fear response towards them, Albert had been sensitised to associate frightening sounds to cute animals. The short video is here.

If a man is seen hitting a woman the reaction of society is quick to intervene, however if a man is being physically abused by a woman the majority of people ignore it thinking by association that the man deserved it.

Non-intervention to a person in need of help is sometimes called the Bystander Effect.  How people perceive an individual in need of help determines their response.  In this video homeless people are being harassed by three teenagers; the homeless man elicits some hesitant support from bystanders; when the teenagers are hitting the homeless man with a bat, the association of emergency increases and the bystander reaction is faster; the homeless woman being harassed by the teens results in angry, fast and aggressive bystander response, the teens could have been lynched.  In this video the male and female UK actors pretend to be ill asking for help in a busy area, they are ignored.  People won’t help because they think the individual is on drugs or is drunk.  A man in a smart suit in the same location and behaving in the same way gets instant help, people associate such people as safe and in genuine need for assistance.

Horrific events by NATO soldiers against prisoners in both Iraq and Afghanistan in degrading and abusive circumstances reveals a dark side of human nature through association.  A notorious experiment in the 1970’s called the Standford Prison Experiment placed an ordinary well-balanced group of students into a prisoner and prison-guard situation.  The prison-guards turned sadistic, abusing and humiliating the prisoners, the experiment was abandoned after six days of the planned 14-day experiment.  The prison-guards had been encouraged to see the prisoners as less than human, it brought out behaviour akin to the Lord of the Flies in the prison-guards.

The Milgram Experiment asked if the atrocities in Nazi Germany against Jews could happen in USA.  Ordinary US citizens were recruited to the experiment from all walks of life, they were asked by an authority figure to shock a person they could not see with increasing voltage if they made an error in a quiz.  65% of participants went all the way to kill the victim at 450 volts.  The positive aspect of the experiment is that if the participants saw people rebel 90% of them would rebel too.

Derren Brown is a British mentalist who in this video shows the power of negative suggestion. The participant is presented with a kitten in a cage, a big red button is indicated close by which they are told will kill the kitten with electricity if they press the button.  The participant is told not to press the button.  The participant is told they win if they don’t press the button inside two minutes.  The participant presses the button, the kitten “dies”.  The brain has no concept of reality, the brain considers whatever image it is presented with as real, there is no negative concept in the brain, thus the trap is people spend so much effort avoiding doing or being a thing they end up doing or becoming that thing.

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