Tag Archives: morality

Cyberbullying– Is the Internet to blame?

After the highly publicized suicides of several US teens, a nation-wide discussion about the dangers of bullying has been sparked. In Massachusetts, 9 teens are facing charges for their bullying, which, prosecutors argue, led to the suicide of 15 year-old Phoebe Prince in January. As in the case of Phoebe Prince, modern bullying often takes place off school grounds in a form that past generations were more protected from. Nowadays, cyberbullying (bullying online or through cell phones) is becoming increasingly common.

An article in Psychology in the Schools outlines some of the elements differentiate cyberbullying from regular bullying. The author reviews past research on online behaviour among children, in an attempt to understand why young people are increasingly becoming involved in cyberbullying. According to the authors, there is much research suggesting that the anonymity of the Internet is fostering disinhibition and reducing concern for others. Psychologists and authors of the book “Mean Girls, Meaner Women” seem to support this; they argue that bullying is becoming increasingly common because young people aren’t being require to interact with each other face-to-face, and instead learn communication skills over the Internet. If this is the case, perhaps we should expect to see an increase in other examples of anti-social behaviour from teens who intensively communicate online.

However,  it also might be a bit unfair to place the blame entirely on the Internet, when other factors (e.g. parenting, education, etc.) probably still play a strong, if not stronger, role in developing children’s sense of right and wrong. Perhaps the Internet provides a new setting for bullies to harass victims, a place harder for victims to get away from. But maybe those kids would have been bullies even before the Internet and cell phones.

Read more: Cyberbullying: A preliminary assessment for school personel.

Mad Scientists: Can we ever revisit Milgram’s diabolical studies?

By Erica Zaiser

Every student of social psychology remembers studying Stanley Milgram’s famous experiment. His studies shaped future thinking about authority, extreme group behavior, and morality. Many of those same psychology students, captivated by the lure of such exciting and revealing studies, would have also learned that you can no longer actually do that kind of research anymore.

The BBC recently reenacted the Milgram experiment for TV and now, the French have added their own twist. The BBC recently reported on a French TV documentary, which showed that under the guise of a game show, contestants were willing to send an electrical shock to other contestants– sometimes at dangerous levels. These types of TV “experiments” are not subject to the same ethical considerations social psychologists are. Of course, this also means they are also not subject to the same expectation of scientific rigour.  It’s always somewhat exciting to see confirmation (even in a highly unscientific setting) that what was shown by Milgram in the 60s may  still hold true today. However, the potential harm to participants from that type of experiment justifies the ethical limitations preventing such research.

Is there a middle ground?

Some psychologists have found that they can still re-do old experiments but also reduce potential harm to their participants by moving the experiments from the physical world into a virtual world. Two researchers in France used virtual reality to re-examine Milgram’s ideas. Like Milgram, they found that participants showed more obedience when they couldn’t see the victim and they also found that participants felt less distress when the victim was from North Africa than when he was of their same ethnic background.  Virtual reality has opened up a way for psychologists to do research on extreme behaviour, but minimize harm to participants.  Perhaps both psychologists and participants can benefit from future use of virtual reality as a medium for experiments.

Read more: Reopening the study of extreme social behaviors: Obedience to authority within an immersive video environment

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How we are moral

In November 2009, the Philippine Commission on Elections issued a disqualification against an LGBT partylist group, accusing it of advocating immorality. This in turn, triggered an ‘I Am Not Immoral’ campaign by members of the LGBT community and supporters. The issue of morality, according to Steven Pinker pervades all aspects of our lives, and he refers to moral goodness, as ‘something that makes us feel worthy as human beings’. Morality has been deemed universal and yet culturally expressed. Pinker identifies five aspects of morality: harm, fairness, community (or group loyalty), authority and purity, acknowledging that each culture may choose to give more preference to any aspect over another.
Krebs (2008) looks into the evolutionary beginnings of morality and discusses adaptations in the brain brought on by both early and modern circumstances. These early circumstances have caused certain adaptations, decision making strategies, that are triggered in modern events that evoke familiarity of setting, such as the need for certain responses such as obedience, conformity or others. One also must understand the adaptive functions of morality in order to understand what it is. Using the evolutionary theory, morality is when an individual’s genetic self-interest is promoted through a genuine concern for the welfare of others.

Krebs (2008). Morality: An Evolutionary Account. Perspectives in Psychological Science

The Moral Instinct (Steven Pinker)

Gays legally deemed immoral and a danger to youth



Photo: “Innocence so suffocating, now she cannot move” by Samantha Rose Pollari, c/o Flickr. Some Rights Reserved

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Mothers, Sex Tapes and Gender Morality

Coleen NolanColeen Nolan’s recent televised revelation that she made a sex tape provides an interesting example of how talk and discourse is saturated with moral work. Her self-confession allowed for a host of consequential moral assumptions to be made about her making of a sex tape. These assumptions rest on the known-in-common attributes that are associated with gender categories. The apparent ‘shock’ experienced by her sons, panel and audience about the revelation allows us to see her actions as a ‘breach’ to the common-sense cultural knowledge about how ‘moral types of women’ (e.g. mothers) should behave.

Wowk’s (1984) research from a murder suspect interrogation and Stokoe’s (2003) neighbour disputes research provide interesting examples of this moral accountability in practice. Their data revealed that peoples’ perceptions of morality, in relation to women, were aligned with specific activities and characteristics for ‘good mothers’ (e.g. ‘sexually discreet’, ‘mother-as-childcarer’) and ‘bad mothers’ (e.g. ‘being overtly sexual’, ‘swearing’). They also found that moral judgments were often non-explicit and smuggled in through indirect references to illicit behaviour in order to subtly police moral boundaries. Coleen’s sons, the panel and the audience therefore, by their very (re)actions, can be seen to be unavoidably engaged in producing and sustaining a gendered moral order out of the particulars provided by Coleen.
square-eyeLoose Women – Coleen Nolan

square-eyeColeen Nolan shocks the Loose Women TV audience – and her sons – as she admits to starring in a sex tape

square-eyeSocial Psychology and Discourse

square-eyeMothers, Single Women and Sluts: Gender, Morality and Membership Categorization in Neighbour Disputes

‘Teen girls abused by boyfriends warns NSPCC’: Standardised Relational Pairs and Membership Categorisation Analysis.

male_sex_relationship_symbolThe ‘Partner exploitation and violence in teenage intimate relationships’ research by the NSPCC and Bristol University provides us with an interesting (and alarming) glimpse at ‘standardised relational pair’ categories (Sacks, 1992) and the moral accountability attached to them (Jayussi, 1984). Sacks’ work on categories and their deployment found that certain categories go together like ‘boyfriend–girlfriend’. Members of these categories which form ‘standardised relational pairs’ have rights, responsibilities and duties to each other. In our example ‘boyfriend–girlfriend’, it is presumed that each person should provide a safe, supportive, caring and respectful relationship environment for each other to grow and develop. It follows then that category pairs and associated predicates (rights, responsibilities etc) are relational in the sense that one may be expected to follow the next with accountability as a moral-procedural requirement. Breaches between these categories and predicates ‘one in six said they had been pressured into sexual intercourse and 1 in 16 said they had been raped’, tend to generate moral outrage/alarm and interactional repair solutions ‘parents and schools can perform a vital role in teaching them about loving and safe relationships, and what to do if they are suffering from violence or abuse’.
square-eyeTeen girls abused by boyfriends warns NSPCC

square-eyeGender-Based Violence

square-eyeObjectification Theory and Psychology of Women: A Decade of Advances and Future Directions

square-eyeA tutorial on membership categorization