Report on Psychology Group Meeting - Meeting at The Ash Tree, Barkston Ash, Friday, 17 November 2017

We met once again at The Ash Tree pub in Barkston Ash with the intention of continuing our enquiry into the research methods used in psychology. To begin with, however, we decided to have a December meeting despite it being the Christmas season and I have since booked our usual room for Friday the 15th between 1 and 3pm.

We then began to discuss psychological research methods in general picking up from where we had left off last time with perhaps an emphasis on its ethical aspects. Although it was a side issue we delved into the psychology of selection by interviewing and some of us related their peculiar experiences when involved in this very common life situation. As a former personnel clerk I commented on the very common failure to select the best job candidate and suggested that work of the job interviewer was a role that people in general think anyone should be able to do but that this is too often not the case. Dennis then gave us the benefit of his long experience of working in the engineering industry and commented on what he had learned from experts on this type of formal interaction. This was very interesting and hopefully I’ll be able to persuade him to go into this in more detail at a future meeting.

Speaking of asides we then discussed the ethical conduct of the brilliant Austrian Jewish physicist Dr Lise Meitner whose key original work on nuclear fission for peaceful purposes, in the opinion of many scientists, well deserved a Nobel Prize. She had realised before anyone else that the fission process she was researching could be used to build an atomic bomb but adamantly refused to contribute in any way to its construction project as she felt that using such weapons would be barbaric.

Mention was also made of the now infamous 40yr long “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male”, in the USA that took place between 1932 and 1972. In this study illiterate poor blacks were systematically lied to and denied curative treatment, even if they were pregnant women, for those who had become infected with syphilis. We did not know the details so I undertook to research this topic for the next meeting.

We then looked at three famous psychological experiments concerned mainly with social conformity even under extreme conditions. All three experimenters Asch, Milgram and Zimbardo were Jewish and were investigating the perceived role of extreme conformity in the Holocaust during World War 2. Exploring the application of experimental scientific methodology in the search for causal factors in psychological issues can become very abstract and complicated so I decided to look mainly at the ethical factors involved and whether any such problems could be justified in terms of what was learned.

The Asch conformity experiment it was agreed had produced some intriguing results at no great stress to those involved so we moved on to the Milgram conformity experiment. This controversial study involved calculated deceit but this time in the apparent inflicting of painful, possibly fatal electric shocks to the experimental ‘subject’. The proportion of people who were apparently willing to do so surprised many people and this work is now considered to be a classic experiment. The ethical problem was the obvious stress caused to the ‘naïve’ subject but as there were no lasting ill-effects we though that the procedure was probably justified.

We then moved on to what has become known as Zimbardo’s notorious “Stanford Prison Experiment”. We had by then, however, run out of time and we’ve had to postpone its study until our next meeting at The Ash Tree on Friday the 15th December, between 1 and 3pm.

I look forward to seeing everyone again then.

John Moore – Group Leader
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