Psychology conference with Philip Zimbardo

Dr Adlam, head of psychology writes: The U6 psychologists went to London for a conference featuring a variety of interesting and stimulating talks. The morning began on a rather philosophical note with Philip Banyard from Nottingham Trent University addressing one of the central human themes ‘Who am I?’ He demonstrated how difficult it is to research this field, and we were left with the question hanging in the air without any satisfactory answer.

This was followed by a fascinating talk given by Britain's leading and most controversial criminologist David Wilson from Birmingham City University on ‘Saving face through murder’. Wilson clarified misconceptions about murder, which are created by the media due to the unbalanced reporting and representation of crime. We were surprised to learn that the most vulnerable section of society at risk of being murdered are males, under the age of 12 months, and that these babies are most likely to be killed by someone they know; very often by a step parent. Wilson also shared with the audience the fact that most murders occur as a result of pride, the killer attempting to save ‘face’ using a sharp object as a weapon. As an experienced prison governor, campaigner, presenter and academic Wilson concluded his presentation with a case study of a murder in a bakery with a dish as the murder weapon.

The highlight of the conference was the encounter with the eminent psychologist Philip Zimbardo, one of America's most distinguished psychologists. In My journey from Evil to Heroism with a Timely Detour  Zimbardo informed the audience about striking parallels he found between the notorious Stanford Prison Experiment, in which he created a simulated prison in the basement of the university, and happenings at Abu Ghraib. According to Zimbardo, a failure in leadership was responsible for the Abu Ghraib atrocities. Like the soldiers in Abu Ghraib and the students in the Stanford Prison Experiment, good people turn evil if they are put in a situation with power without sufficient responsibility and oversight. The lively and engaging 75-year old Zimbardo  shared his motivation for his current research, which looks at the psychology of heroism while trying to understand “What pushes some people to become perpetrators of evil, while others act heroically on behalf of those in need?” Zimbardo demonstrated how everyone can be a hero, and explained how he is aiming to teach children heroic skills, and to make them wise ‘heroes in waiting’. Christina Maslach, an equally esteemed psychologist in her own right and married to Zimbardo, reported about her involvement in the Stanford Prison Experiment as well as her subsequent research on occupational burnout.  The afternoon came to a close with Zimbardo, a larger than life figure, posing for photos and signing books. We left the conference envying Zimbardo’s energy and conviction, and with his reassurance that we all have it inside us to be heroes. Thanks to Zimbardo we felt that we left as better people than when we arrived.

 

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