Report on Psychology Group Meeting - Meeting, Friday, 15 December 2017

We began our meeting by returning to the question of a regular venue for our meetings. We have been informed by the Committee that The Harold Mills Centre is available at £20 per meeting excluding refreshments which we would have to bring ourselves and the question of free wi-fi has not been answered. We all agreed that for a group such as ourselves with a small regular attendance that that price was unaffordable. As for the situation regarding The Owl as a venue this remains confused still. One or two groups I understand have returned there but under what conditions seem unclear and the advice I’ve received is to continue using The Ash Tree if we find it suitable, for now at least, until matters are clarified. Under the circumstances we agreed to do so.

As this was our third meeting on research methods in psychology I felt that we must make it the last on this topic although I remember spending most of a university term studying this complex area not least for its moral and ethical ramifications. We began by watching a video clip about the famous if not notorious “Stanford Prison Experiment” conducted by Prof Zimbardo who introduces the video himself. He had created a “prison” in the university’s basement and staffed it with randomly chosen student volunteer “guards” who were devoid of any identity and similarly selected “prisoners” who were devoid of any rights. It was quite shocking to see how the behaviour of the “guards” quickly degenerated into routine and systematic brutal abuse. This became so serious that university staff insisted that the experiment be abandoned for safety’s sake. It was a chilling reminder that as Hirsch said, “…barbarism requires only: authorisation, routinisation and dehumanisation to become a social norm”.

The above was an example of experimental psychology but of equal importance can be what is known as a longitudinal study which collects information very occasionally over a lifetime that can provide data on developmental issues, especially in children, and many other issues that can affect a person’s mental, social and economic experiences for up to a lifetime. As an example we discussed the “National Child Development Study”, which began in 1958 and is intended to be a lifelong study of all the children born in the UK during a certain week in that year. The then children now approaching retirement are contacted every few years and the information gained has produced many interim reports since the study started.

Finally we looked at a particularly sinister some might say utterly immoral longitudinal study that caused outrage and political scandal in the USA when a so called whistle blower exposed its disgraceful 40 year history between 1932 and 1972. Entitled the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male”, this project involved systematically lying to a particularly poor, isolated, rural, illiterate and entirely black community. The point was to study the spread of syphilis in a “naïve” population who were systematically denied information about their diagnoses and were denied curative treatment with antibiotics even if they were pregnant women. President Clinton himself felt moved to apologies personally and authorise compensation to the victims of the study which had been instigated and supervised by the US Department of Health.

After looking at these studies I think we all agreed that with all studies independent and transparent oversight by approved ethical bodies is essential if we are to benefit from morally justifiable research.

We were due to begin our exploration of consciousness at our next meeting on the 19th January but on that date I’ll have the joy of watching my surviving son receive his Master’s Degree in a graduation ceremony at York University. We couldn’t have wished for a better Christmas and New Year gift from him. Unless anyone wishes to lead a meeting on the 19th January I’d like to suggest that we meet at our usual venue and time but on the 26th January instead. Would you please let me know your view on this either by email or at any other U3A meeting we might be attending.

John Moore – Group Leader
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