Ep 232: Psychologists Involved in Torture: What To Do About It?

You may have heard from the US Senate report on terrorism and the “enhanced interrogations” that a small group of psychologists were involved in the interrogations of detainees from the 9/11 incident. How could psychologists, who have a long tradition of concern and adherence to ethical standards in the treatment of others, become involved in such activities? Is it justified? More important: would YOU have become involved in these activities in the swirl of confusion and fear after the attacks? We examine these issues in this episode of The Psych Files.


Questions to Ask Yourself

  1. Might you have become involved in the development or monitoring of questionable “enhanced interrogation” techniques if you were asked to do so by the government? Remember the context: the time is just after the 9/11 attacks (though it did continue for years afterward) when there was a great deal of fear and uncertainty over what terrorists might do next.
  2. What do the results of the Milgram and Zimbardo studies suggest about your answer to the above question?
  3. If it is found that the APA altered its ethical code in order to allow psychologists to become involved in these questionable interrogations, what should the APA do next to rectify the situation?
  4. Does the fact that these were “bad men” make what we did okay?
  5. What do you think of B.F. Skinner’s comment that knowing that someone is a “bad man” does no good in helping us to make sure that man’s actions won’t be repeated?

Psychology’s Involvement in Detainee Interrogations


Ep 230: Questionable Research – With A Famous Psychologist Involved

Might you be able to rid yourself of an illness by “turning back the clock”? That is, by immersing yourself in a time in your life when you were not ill? We know that thinking about things in a positive way – which we sometimes call “reframing” can make us feel and act differently, and we know that the “placebo effect” is real, but how far can these ideas be taken Psychology has always struggled to separate itself from those who would “borrow” good ideas and take them too far or twist them in ways that promise people too much. We’re now more sensitive than ever about how psychological research is conducted and there are a lot of questions about a proposed new study by Ellen Langer that seems to be skirting some serious ethical issues in order to carry out a study with cancer patients – a study that could be done much less elaborately than is planned. Is this groundbreaking research, or as James Coyne suggests, quackery? We’ll find out what’s going on in this episode of The Psych Files. And by the way, what the heck is the nocebo effect? We find out.

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Ep 221: The Facebook Experiment: Reaction from Psychologists

Facebook Experiment on Social ContagionYou may have heard that Facebook manipulated the content of user’s New Feeds during January of 2012 so that some users saw more positive posts than others, which other Facebook users saw more negative posts. They interpret this as an indication of Social Contagion on a massive scale (almost 700,000 Facebook users were part of the study). How did this affect these users? Did those who say negative posts become more negative and vice versa? The answer is that the research indicates that some of them – though a very, very few of them – did subsequently write posts that were similar to the ones that saw on their News Feed. How big of an effect is this? Is it unethical? Does agreeing to Facebook’s Terms of Use constitute “informed consent“. I examine these questions in this episode of The Psych Files.


Resources on the Facebook Study

Below is a map I put together with resources on the Facebook experiment. It’s a large map and if you want to view it in a larger size click here.


Create your own mind maps at MindMeister

Again – here’s the link to the map that will open full screen.

Ep 211: Is a Little Deception Okay? Paid Crowds and Native Advertising

crowds for hireWe face more moral “dilemmas” in everyday life than maybe we don’t realize. How do we resolve them? In this episode I discuss two interesting moral dilemmas: a) should you employ for-hire crowds of actors to attend your event in order to make it look like you’re more popular than you really are? and b) should you place your advertisements on web and print pages in such a way that they don’t really look like ads at all? I discuss the moral questions involved in “native advertising“. You’ll find some unique examples of Kohlberg’s stages of moral development.


We’re all getting really good at using technology to avoid advertisements, but as we all know, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” – companies have to get you to find out about their products and hopefully buy them. But when do we step over the line? Is a little deception okay?

Resources on Native Advertising and Crowds for Hire


Related Episodes

How to Memorize Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development

The Psychology of Fundraising

Resources on Kohlberg

List of Good Resources on Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development


Episode 119: Are You Lying in that Email?

Have you ever been less than truthful in an email? Or perhaps a little more blunt or emotional than you might have been if you delivered your message in person? Why is it that people can sometimes be so mean in their online comments? In this episode I explore why we communicate differently in the online world than we do in person by discussing an article on the "finer points of lying online".


Moral Disengagement

  • The article discussed in this episode is : The finer points of lying online: E-mail versus pen and paper. Naquin, Charles E.; Kurtzberg, Terri R.; Belkin, Liuba Y.
    Journal of Applied Psychology. Vol 95(2), Mar 2010, 387-394.
  • Definition of Moral Engagement from Wikipedia:

Moral disengagement is a term from social psychology for the process of convincing the self that ethical standards do not apply to oneself in a particular context, by separating moral reactions from inhumane conduct by disabling the mechanism of self-condemnation.