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: 231: Multiple Personalities and Tips on Getting People to Help

Is there such a thing as a person having multiple personalities? What about Sybil and “All About Eve” – did they really have multiple personalities? The idea makes for great headlines and fascinating talk shows, but what’s the real story? I talk about that in this episode of The Psych Files along with giving tips on how to maximize the chances you’ll get help in an emergency and answer the question: is the new generation of teens lazy or is something wrong with the way we’re thinking about them? Another good example of Social Comparison theory.


Multiple Personalities

Social Comparison Theory


Bystander Intervention


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 229: What Makes a Song Popular? How We Detect Melody

What makes some songs so popular? Guess what – psychologists actually know a lot of the answers. In this episode we’ll listen to excerpts from Leonard Cohen’s song Hallelujah, as well as Noisestorm’s Ignite, Adele’s Someone Like You, the Enterprise Theme from Star Trek, and even two pieces of music from the motion picture Koyaanisqatsi. We’ll especially deconstruct “Hallelujah” to figure out why it is such a popular song. Many thanks to musician extraordinaire – Steve Kessler.


Key Points

  • Humans are pattern seekers (see this episode on Gestalt Principles of Perception and we seek patterns in what we see and what we hear
  • The Mere Exposure effect: if you hear anything enough times (or meet anyone enough times), they “grow on you”, i.e., liking increases with familiarity)
  • We find repetition in music across cultures
  • One segment of a song serves as a cue to the next sebment, allowing us to know what’s coming next (we even come to predict what what song will come next if we listen to the same sequence of songs over and over again)
  • “Repetition invites us into music as participants” – watch the video below which summarizes Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis’ research
  • The Psychology of Music: The Role of Expectations and Minor Chords
  • One of my listeners, Hilary, told me about this YouTube clip which perfectly captures the idea of the Mere Exposure effect when it comes to songs:


Music Featured in this Episode




Ep 228 (video): Did B.F. Skinner Raise His Children in a Skinner Box?

You may have heard this rumor about B.F. Skinner raising his children in one of his (presumably oversized) “Skinner boxes”. Is there any truth to this? Related rumors: that Skinner’s daughter became mentally ill as a result of being raised in this box and that she sued her father when she became an adult. We finally find the answer to this long held belief in this fictional interview with B.F. himself (the audio is really Skinner talking).


…Ladies Home Journal ran a piece on the new crib in 1945…The title of the article, “Baby in a Box,” as well as Skinner’s use of the word “experiment” to describe the experience likely contributed to public skepticism about the device.. The image accompanying the article was similarly damaging; it showed Deborah enclosed within the crib, peering out with her face and hands pressed up against the glass. In addition, select parts of the article were reprinted in other major outlets. As a result, many readers did not get the entire story. Some began to make inferences about the nature of the crib based on the much more famous Skinner box. The air crib therefore became associated with rewards, pellets, levers, and the like. – Joyce and Faye

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