February No.2 2021

‘You are what you think’ by Vincent Fosdike

People often respond to the word Psychology in a defensive manner. At least those who have no knowledge or experience of it. It is a vast field and seems to have grown almost exponentially since the 1960s. Am I allowed to guess that you are now thinking of the words swinging, acid, psychedelic and groovy? You see I can read your mind thanks to my study of the subject!

The fear that the discipline engenders gives rise to its own counterculture with words and phrases like, shrink, trick-cyclist and fraudster. Practitioners are sometimes viewed as expensive pedlars of the obvious or in need of help themselves. These same practitioners may find themselves challenged at dinner parties to account for why a guest finds himself experiencing a phobia or a compulsion. He/she then sticks their neck out with a suggestion or two only to be met with a scornful repost that he has added nothing to their understanding of the problem, (they knew that already). Of course, they may be right but then again they have overlooked the fact that just a couple of seconds earlier they have been given an answer which they may have “appropriated” and credited to their own intelligence or worldliness thus levelling the score against a professional. 

However there are many sub-divisions of psychology and selection for jobs such as officer training, air crew in civil flying, and professional management in industry make use of tests in both psychology and social psychology to assess candidates. 

I took these subjects for three years as components of my first degree. In the exams, as with any degree one is expected to apply subject knowledge to evaluate the merits and demerits of a question. Naturally well-rounded arguments must be employed. During the course the class is encouraged to engage in some infighting over current theories and research.

I found the research methods intriguing. And perhaps this is what makes some “naysayers of the discipline” hostile to it. The methods are just not quite cricket. Respectable institutions don’t shine bright lights in people’s eyes and shout at them. But they have been known to persuade people to give each other “electric shocks” at fatal voltages (so the subject is told). In other cases subjects are “primed” to see events on film or even participate in them and then asked what they saw. A well-known experiment “primed” a group to expect a violent incident involving a stranger running through a room full of people waving a handgun. An actor then ran through their 

room waving a banana. The subjects were asked to write down witness statements which revealed that all of them saw a gun. The event was filmed and they were stunned to see the banana clearly visible in his hand. Such deceptions can go deeper – you might like to speculate on the witness statements produced if subjects who already know of this experiment have a similar version performed on them. There are endless variations often involving a “plant” who may seed false information to a group in order to find out how this affects decision making and perceptions of “trustworthy” people, the object being to see why and who we trust and in what situations.

Well like a diligent student I swotted up on these experiments, the theories that underpin them or arise from the results. They were really quite enlightening. Not so much for what they seemed to show but from what I learned about how devious the designers were, positively Machiavellian! I found them very entertaining. Their mechanisms emerge in comedy, interrogation, therapy, stress management not to mention dream analysis. For me the entertainment aspect grew and grew with the course.

One evening my fellow students and I were sharing a pint or two with the lecturer who seemed to be having a gloomy time and was perhaps hoping that a student group of young hopefuls would lift his spirits. Sadly, he seemed to be out of luck as the conversation had become analytical and intense and turned on a deep and abstruse question.

Suddenly he turned towards me and pointed with a baleful glare stopping all conversation, declaring,  “He knows the answer…….. I know he does, and do you know how I know? Do you know what he does during my lectures?”  His voice was now plaintiff. The group, not least myself, waited for enlightenment. “HE LAUGHS”!

Yes I did pass the papers.

Bar Room Reminiscence — A Wave of Apprehension

I recall the time when my wife decided that her hair needed cutting forthwith, but no appointment was available with her trusty stylist. In desperation she suggested that I “help her” she would show me how. Time stood still. I contemplated the possible consequences of (a) helping (b) backing out! Not much in it either way. I was shown how to lift and trap the strands of hair in my fingers and cut across them so as to achieve a layered effect!!!! Then led to the bathroom sink. At the first attempt it was decided she would hold the hair and I would cut. Even my cutting was not right, apparently I had nicked her finger (denied). On my telling her not to fuss my services were dispensed with. A few minutes later she sought my assistance to plaster a cut she had made on her knuckle (I was out of the room so not guilty).

She was quite pleased with the cut (hair not finger), but it just needed a little further trimming on one side. I assured her it was fine, but no. Back to the bathroom she went whilst I made a nice cup of tea in preparation for her triumphant return. It seemed that a second plaster was required for another wound. Still the tea was o.k. and she was delighted when our neighbour noticed that she had had her hair done. She was able to gloss over his kind enquiry about the plasters whilst giving me slight sideways glance.

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