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


Episode 69: Personal Space Invasions – Ethical Implications of one of Psychology’s Strangest Studies

Famous Study Involving Watching Men at Urinals

Famous Study Involving Watching Men at UrinalsRemember the psychological study conducted in a men’s toilet? In the 1970s men were videotaped as they urinated – without their knowing it. Think this sounds weird? Unethical? What exactly were they looking to find out? We revisit this study and take a close look at what the critics say and what the authors themselves have to say in response. A fascinating look at the ethics, informed consent and research in psychology.

Resources for this Episode

  • Personal Space Invasions – this is episode 16 in which I first discussed this strange but memorable study.
  • The article discussed in this episode is Middlemist, R. D., Knowles, E. S. & Matter, C.F. (1976). Personal Space Invasions in the Lavatory: Suggestive Evidence for Arousal. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 33 (5), 541-546.
  • The popular press article which criticized the study (in an off-handed way) is called "Bathroom Behaviors" and it appeared in the APA Monitor on November of 1977, 8 (11), 21.
  • The critique by Koocher: Koocher, G.P. (1977). Bathroom Behavior and Human Dignity (1977). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35 (2), 120-121.
  • The reply by Middlemist, et al.: Middlemist, R., Knowles, E.S., & Matter, C.F. (1977). What to Do and What to Report: A Reply to Koocher. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 35 (2), 122-124.
  • Many thanks to Dr. Blaine Peden of the University of Wisconson-Eau Claire for all his help in putting this episode together.
  • Thanks also to Steven Soifer, founder of the Shy Bladder Center, for agreeing to be interviewed for this episode.
  • This episode from NPR is a video on personal space in Second Life: “Avatar gender and personal space invasion anxiety level in desktop collaborative virtual environments.”
  • The Shy Bladder Center website
  • The International Paruresis Association website

Episode 50: Psychological Study Ripped Straight from….the Bible?

How many scientific studies find their inspiration from a parable in the bible? Well, this one does and for my 50th episode I’ll go over a very interesting study based on the Good Samaritan parable. We’ll take another look at the topic of bystander intervention by asking the question: are people more likely to help someone if they are thinking “pious” thoughts at the time?
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After reviewing the study I’ll take a look at a couple articles that cite the good Samaritan parable and ask the question: what does the results of this study imply about the value of character education, virtues programs, codes of ethics, citizenship and ethical behavior in general?

The Good Samaritan Parable (Luke 10: 27-37)

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus…”And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down the road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by the other side. but a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers? He said, The one who showed him mercy” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Resources on Helping Behavior

  • Darley, J. M. & Batson, C. D. (1973) From Jerusalem to Jericho: a study of situational and dispositional variables in helping behavior, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 27(1), 100 – 119.
  • Samuels, S.M. and Casebeer, W.D. (2005). A social psychological view of morality: why knowledge of situational influences on behaviour can improve character development practices. Journal of Moral Education, 34, 73-87.
  • Kotre, J. (1992). Experiments as Parables. American Psychologist, 672-673.

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Episodes on Bystander Intervention and other Good Stories

Other Experiments as Parables

  • Festinger, L., & Carlsmith, J. M. (1959). Cognitive consequences of forced compliance.
    Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 58, 203-210
  • Milgram, S. (1963). Behavioral study of obedience. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology,
    67, 371-378.
  • Asch, S. E. (1951). Effects of group pressure upon the modification and distortion of judgment. In H. Guetzkow (ed.) Groups, leadership and men. Pittsburgh, PA: Carnegie Press.
  • Watson, J.B. & Rayner, R. (1920). Conditioned Emotional Reactions. Journal of Experimental Psychology, 3, 1-14.