I was talking to my father about how I don't think I could stand to be an experimental psychologist - that is, I couldn't perform surgeries on animals, or order them killed for study. Not on any consistent basis; it leaves me feeling drained and guilty. And it seems like a great deal of the most interesting work is done that way. I remember getting very excited last semester by a guest lecturer's explanation of the work he was doing to cure Alzheimer's, but in the methods section of one of his papers I saw he'd used hundreds of rats in a study, and the study was only one of many. It's not that I disapprove of the study. It's not that I don't want him to continue working like that. But I knew when I saw it that I couldn't do it myself. To kill something takes a peculiar kind of - well, I don't know if it's a strength or a weakness, but it takes something I don't have. I'm not saying I could never kill anything, only that I couldn't do it consistently, and it would take too much out of me to be personally worthwhile.
Anyway, I've gone over all this before in my journal, but I was explaining it to my father. And he nodded sympathetically, and we moved on to discussing my other classes. And I told him that I thought my social psychology course had been rather useless, neither as morally or academically challenging as my neuroscience course. "It's all just fuzzy science," I complained to him. "Or else it's clear science that goes over what we already seem to know. It seems like a waste of time."
"That's funny," he said. "Because it was social psyschology that got you interested in psychology in the first place."
I have always been fascinated by the Zimbardo Experiment, also known as the Standford Prison Experiment
. One of the most famous experiments of modern times, it placed twenty-four random people - mostly young, white, middle-class males - in a prison simulation. Things quickly spun out of control. The guards began to exhibit sadistic tendencies, forcing prisoners to sleep on concrete floors or stay in isolation rooms, denied food, bathroom breaks, even clothing. The prisoners began to show signs of mental trauma. After only six days (the experiment was supposed to run for two weeks) it was all called off.
Since then, I've researched better-conducted and even more appalling experiments (the Milgram Experiment
springs to mind, and also the work of Latane and Darley
) but Zimbardo was the one who first shocked me. I began to read my father's psychology books, and buy some of my own. It was only later that I began to be interested more in the physicality of it, the anatomy, the chemistry. I'm still interested in that, but perhaps it's not the place for me, if animal experiments are necessary. Perhaps I could enjoy a career as a social psychologist, provided it was more in line with Milgram's work than, you know, cultural studies.
I'm going to look into this. Maybe I can spend next spring or next summer at a social psychology institute.