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Why we can’t trust our world
Table of Contents
Why We Cannot Trust our World
A. Gamblers Fallacy
B. Illusion of Control
C. Correlation and Causation
Persuasion and Social Influence
H. Anecdotal Evidence
Memory, Pseudoscience, and the American Legal System
A. Sleeper Effect
B. False Memories
C. Picking Cotton
D. Eyewitness testimony
F. False Confessions
G. Voice Stress Analysis
H. DNA Testing
Things Are Not Always What They Seem
A. Confirmation Bias
B. The Fundamental Attribution Error
C. Excitation Transfer
D. Bystander Effect
A warning of why we cannot trust our world is elicited. The basic foundations of social persuasion, memory fallibility, pseudoscience, and popular cultural misconceptions are explored. Social influence tactics that may be used in an antisocial fashion are described. The ideas of false memories and memory malleability are construed. Current problems with our legal system, in terms of pseudoscientific devices and methodologies, are illuminated. Common errors in logic (e.g., correlation vs. causation, confirmation bias, and the fundamental attribution error) are discussed. Furthermore, the public is encouraged to be educated about the highlighted concepts to reduce the chances of possible deception from individuals who would use these ideologies to cause intentional or unintentional harm .
Why We Cannot Trust our World
Many of us go about our daily lives equipped with numerous heuristics and biases that guide our daily life. Most of the time these predetermined notions within heuristics are helpful in our daily functioning. Heuristics tend to help us function more efficiently in a complex world than we would be able to without them. But sometimes, when presented with novel stimuli, heuristics may lead us astray. Imagine this series of unfortunate events. An old man is walking to his car in a parking lot, when he accidently bumps into a younger male. This younger male is highly irritated by the old man's actions and becomes very aggressive and hostile towards an "easy target". Our schemas and mental short cuts for the elderly tell us that they are often more fragile and less inclined to be able to defend themselves properly. Can anyone help this poor man from being mugged?
The elderly man talked about in the previous true story was Ed Martin, a 15th degree black belt in Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu. Budo Taijutsu is a tradition Japanese martial art that focuses on deception and assassination techniques. Ed Martin was able to walk away from his mugging encounter unharmed by his attacker. It's truly amazing how wrong we were previously about our heuristic evaluation of this elderly man. Ed Martin is quite capable of defending himself in a variety of hostile situations even though he is indeed an elderly man.
Another common error people often make in their daily lives is a sense of overconfidence in predictability for situations involving chance. Ideas such as the gamblers fallacy and the Illusion of control can often guide our thinking. Manifestations of these ideas in people's lives can lead individuals into massive amounts of debt, loss of jobs, and even loss of loved ones.
A. Gamblers Fallacy
The gamblers fallacy is an idea often implemented by gamblers that results in a line of faulty thinking. In most gamblers minds they have a tendency to think that slot machines, roulette wheels, and crap-shoots are not independent events. In other words they have the notion that the more they lose the higher probability they will have for winning again (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008). In cases which involve individuals with gambling addictions, this notion can lead to individuals losing their most valuable possessions and loved ones just because they have an error in the basic logic processing.
B. Illusion of Control
The illusion of control theory, much like the gambler's fallacy, is the idea in which individuals tend to have overconfidence in their ability to predict outcomes of events that are due to random chance (Baumeister & Bushman , 2008). One experiment that illuminates this idea was done at Yale University by researcher Ellen Langer (1975). Participants were asked to partake in a lottery and were randomly assigned to choice and no-choice conditions. Individuals that had a choice to select their random ticket felt that their value of their ticket was worth much more than the individuals that were simply given a random ticket. In some cases the participants felt that the value of their choice ticket was 5 to 8 times greater than the value of the others no-choice ticket even though the chance of winning in both conditions were equal.
Examples of the illusion of control can be found in your daily life. Often individuals will say that cars are much more safer than planes simply because the driver has more control. This line of common sense logic would be false, it is much safer to fly in a plane than to drive an automobile. Another example of the illusion of control phenomenon can be seen by individuals who own guns. People that have a gun in their house for self defense are statistically more likely to harm a friend or relative with the gun than to stop an unwelcomed intruder. According to Branas, Richmond, Culhane, Ten Have, & Wiebe (2009) individuals that owned a gun were 4.46 times more likely to be shot in a hostile situation than those did not own a firearm. Unfortunately, the illusion of control may slow down the learning process as well as induce individuals to engage in greater risk taking behaviors.
C. Correlation and Causation
Moving on to an even greater error in thinking; the idea in which we tend to confuse correlation, the relationship or association between two variables (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008) and causation, a relationship that exists when a researcher can assert that the independent variable caused the observed changes in the dependent variable (Toothaker & Miller, 2004). (This conflict in logic is often accompanied with the third variable problem.) For example, suppose a recent study came out stating that increased ice cream sales seems to be making sharks more aggressive, and therefore leading to more shark attacks. A normal person may either accept this fact or reject it as being bogus. However, a person that is keen with science or statistics may look into this study and realize that there is indeed a valid relationship between shark attacks and ice cream sales. For instance, there is a positive correlation between shark attacks and ice cream sales, but that does not mean that increased ice cream sales are causing more frequent shark attacks. Correlation does not imply causation. When we bring the third variable problem in to the equation we can see that there may be a third part to this equation that could be influencing both behaviors. One likely possibility is that heat or temperature is causing both increased ice cream sales and greater aggression in sharks. Armed with the knowledge that correlation does not imply causation, an informed individual will be able to better interpret his/her world and make sense of what was once a confusing premise.
Persuasion and Social Influence
Jim Jones was a stunningly brilliant man. Jones earned numerous degrees from the University of Indiana and Butler University. In the mid to late 1950s he preached racial equality and formed his own religious organization dubbed Wings of Deliverance. Soon after its conception, Wings of Deliverance changed its name to the People's Temple and became a member of the Christian community underneath and alongside the Disciples of Christ. Jim Jones was even ordained a minister even though he had no theological training. Jones and his followers practiced many behaviors that are not seen within mainstream USA culture. For example, Jones and company practiced catharsis and a communal life. Income and items of worth were cycled through Jones and then redistributed among his followers. If a member of the People's Temple caused an infraction or crime against the community, group members would vote to see if the individual was guilty or not. Guilty individuals would be forced to "box" in a ring with bigger strong community members as a form of punishment. Children that were found guilty were often spanked by Jones himself (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008).
Due to strange behavior and abnormal punishments, Jones was asked to break up his organization. Jones and some of his followers were not happy about this idea and proceeded overseas so that they could continue with their unique life style. Relocated in Guyana, located in south America, Jim Jones and his band of followers founded Jonestown. Living conditions were harsh, food was scarce, and work was long and tiresome. Armed guards were stationed around the town to keep local "mercenaries" from pillaging their camps (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008).
Jim Jones also claimed that he had special abilities that allowed him to communicate with spirits, administer and evoke healing , as well as the power to see into the future. His followers obeyed his commands and he was met with little resistance. It would seem that most individuals truly believed in him and his powers of the supernatural. With a twisted sense of religion behind him, Jones would awake his subjects and conduct ceremonies and rituals of worship to God in the middle of the night. Over time Jones informed the members of Jonestown that they may have to make the "ultimate sacrifice" for "their cause". The idea of a "revolutionary suicide" was told to Jones' followers and that it may be necessary to show others that they are truly loyal to Jones and his ideas. Jones assured members of Jonestown that they could come and go as they pleased, but some were often faced with hardships when wanting to leave from the armed guards that patrolled the outskirts of the camp (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008).
What once seemed like a good cause turned into a nightmarish reality. Fearing retribution, Jones summoned his followers and instructed them to carry out a their "revolutionary suicide". The people of Jamestown were organized into lines, Children and infants went first, and were told to drink Kool-Aid laced with deadly poisons and tranquilizers. Mothers willingly poured the poisonous concoction down their children's throats. 914 people committed mass suicide, 276 were children (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008). A few rebellious members fled into a nearby forest. . . Jones himself was later found dead with a self inflicted gun wound to the head.
Jonestown is an example of how one individual can have power over others. However, simple persuasion tactics are used daily in many cultures throughout the world. When you purchase a new home or automobile, the individual will often try to persuade you to commit to a purchase. Furniture and appliance salesmen will use methods of persuasion to sell their products. Even academic schools will try to produce reasons for why their university is the best and why you should study at their prestigious campus. In the remainder of this section common methods of persuasion used in your daily life will be explained; so that you, the reader, may recognize these applied concepts when they are presented to you in your daily life and chose for yourself whether or not you really believe in what the persuader is portraying.
One way Jones persuaded individuals can be seen still in our culture today. This idea is called the Foot-in-the-door technique. The basic concept of this technique is to ask an individual for a small request. "Please sir can I have a few minutes of your time." And then over time once small requests are agreed to slightly larger requests are asked of the stranger. In Jones' case he asked individuals to voluntarily donate 10% of what they earned to the People's Temple. Then he upped the request to 25% of all members incomes. Towards the end he asked members for a mandatory 100% donation of their income (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008).
The Foot-in-the-door technique can also be seen with individuals raising a petition. For example, someone might come to your door and ask you to sign a petition. After words they might also ask you to donate to their cause. Interestingly enough, if they ask the lower request first you will be more likely to proceed with their next request (giving their cause a donation). Even children will use this technique on their parents (often without realizing it). Little jimmy may ask for example, "can I go spend the night at Nate's house?" If yes, little jimmy may push the envelope further and ask, "could I also spend the night?" The Foot-in-the-door technique is one way of gaining influence over another person.
The Low-ball technique is implemented by asking a small fee from the consumer while keeping other fees hidden from them. Keep in mind that money is just simply being used as an example and there are other ways that this technique can be implemented.
Cialdini, Cacioppo, Bassett, & Miller (1978) conducted a study at Arizona State University which shows a trend with the Low-ball technique. Experimenters asked students to participate in an experiment and 56% agreed. After agreeing, the experimenters informed the participants that the study was going to take place at 7am and that if they wanted to withdraw now they could. None withdrew after agreeing to participate in the experiment, and 95% of the individuals actually showed up for the experiment. This was compared to a control group in which only 24% agreed to participate while being told upfront that the study was to begin at 7am.
The Bait-and-switch method is often carried out by department stores. These department stores will place ads in local newspapers and ads online promising a very good deal for this hot new product or appliance. However, when the consumer goes to purchase the product the product will be out of stock leaving only less appealing products (and possibly more expensive products) in stock.
Bait-and-switch tactics are still used today in similar fashion to that of the Trojan Horse. Hackers or groups of hackers will sometimes create trojans, or viruses. Today some of these trojans come in harmless looking email attachments or freeware that is free for anyone to download and install on to their personal computer. Once this virus is on a person's computer the trojan is free to either destroy data on the persons computer or collect sensitive data and relay it back to the original source. Sensitive data collected could be bank account numbers, social security numbers, and other private data that you do not want others to have access to.
Bait-and-switch methods are also used in politics, something that effects all of us. For example, the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama was elected with a land slide victory. One of his main promises was to bring forth change and end the Iraq war in the middle east (bait). As of October, 2010 (almost two years after being elected) Obama's promise has been somewhat carried out and most of the troops stationed in Iraq have been allowed to come home. However, some of the troops stationed in Iraq are simply being transferred or given new tours of duty to Afghanistan, to partake in another similar war (switch).
An effective way to persuade someone is to start with a big request, then retract to smaller more reasonable request. This method of gaining influence over others is called the Door-in-the-face technique. Though this technique seems counter intuitive and isn't used as often as other persuasion techniques, it seems to still hold power over others. For example, if someone were to come to your door and ask you for a donation of $1000 to fund breast cancer research, you would likely say no. After the $1000 request the good Samaritan may then ask you for a $10 donation instead. If the $1000 request was made before the original wanting of a $10 donation you would be more likely to agree to this strangers cause.
A study conducted at Arizona State University by Cialdini, Vincent, Lewes, Catalan, Wheeler, Darby (1975) sheds light on the Door-in-the-face technique. Participants were asked to spend time with juvenile delinquents for two hours a week for two years. After the participants refused, the researchers requested that they spend a one-day trip at the local zoo with the juvenile delinquents instead. 50% agree to this "smaller" of the two requests. While a control group yielded only 17% of participants agreeing to spend a one-day trip at the zoo with "trouble makers", when asked directly.
Another counter intuitive persuasion technique is called the Pique technique. This idea of persuasion is implemented by asking the target for a novel donation or action. For example, when buying a new house. It may be more persuasive to bid XXX,325 for the home (the X variable being under the asked amount for the house) instead of bidding XX5,000 for it. Psychologically by giving a novel request it makes it somewhat more appealing. (In this case the novel request was the $325 at the end of the offer as opposed to simply rounding up or rounding down to the nearest thousand place or hundredths place.)
A study done by Santos, Leve, and Pratkanis (1994) illuminates this idea of the Pique technique. Experimenters went out in to the field and ask people for change. The control group simply asked for change in general while the experimental group asked for a specific amount of change, 17 cents. 23% of the control group complied with the request. While 37% in the Pique condition complied with experimenters. Thus, it would seem that asking someone for a novel request will lead them to a higher probability of carrying out your request, than by just asking for something in general.
The Fast-approaching-deadline technique is also used as a method of persuasion. Though somewhat intuitive, this technique gains power over others by simply saying our product will soon be unavailable to the general public. This idea that what is rare is better than what plentiful is often implemented with the Fast-approaching-deadline method. This persuasion technique can often be seen on late night television infomercials, forcing the individual to make a decision often when they are sleep deprived. Previous research shows that, sleep deprivation can often lead to poor decision making as well as impairment of inhibitions, similar to a state of being drunk.
This technique is also often used in late night television infomercials. The basic idea of the That's- not-all technique is to offer a request, often sometimes inflated, and then before the buyer can make up his her mind the seller will add a bonus to the purchase or lower the cost of the product. Doing these steps in a carefully planned order can lead to the sellers product looking more appealing than it really is.
H. Anecdotal Evidence
One last common method that is often used in persuading others is the use of anecdotal evidence. Testimonies are often an effective way of swaying others. One of these reasons being that it is hard to discount a genuinely positive claim about a product. "It worked for me and it will for you!" One common mistake that the lay person will make in this kind of logic is mistaking anecdotal evidence for actual data or research conducted on the respective procedure or product. One popular example is Subway's Jared, an individual that ate lots of subway sandwiches and lost weight. Keep in mind his exercise routine is often never talked about during Subway's persuading commercials. This is just one of many examples of this persuasion tactic
Memory, Pseudoscience, and the American Legal System
The American legal system is something that effects us all in the United States. The last place you would want to find corruption and pseudoscience is in the American judicial system. Unfortunately, the judicial system in the United States is crawling with pseudoscience and misconceptions. As we inquiry, we will find common methods of forensics such as voice stress analysis, polygraph testing, and faulty eyewitness identification are not valid techniques; that should be used in a legal system that can determine the fate of its citizens. We will also discuss some techniques that are valid and which should be used in determining the innocents of a convicted individual.
Before we dive into the pseudoscientific poison that corrupts our legal system, some common misconceptions about memory need to be brought into the light. First of all, our memory is often not as good as we perceive it to be. In terms of brute force memorization, individuals can only remember 7 + or - 2 independent items. Some individuals seem to be better at memorization than others, but for the vast majority this magic number of 7 (Reisberg, 2006) seems to hold true for short term memory. Long term memory is more powerful in terms of the amount of information that can be held. However, even though more information can be held in long term memory its accuracy is often effected. Ideas such a sleeper effects and false memories can often influence long term memory and make them inaccurate.
A. Sleeper Effect
The sleeper effect is the basic idea in which an individual forgets the source from which knowledge was gained. Interestingly enough, this can have some major effects on our interpretation of that knowledge when it is recalled in the future. Pratkanis, Greenwald, Leippe, and Baumgardner (1988) conducted a study that produced stunning results. Individuals were exposed to a prestigious argument and a prestigious presenter, that participants often rated as being more persuasive (in the present). However, over time participants seemed to forget the source in which the knowledge came from and thus rated the knowledge less persuasive as time increased. The opposite effect seemed to happen as well. Individuals presented with a less prestigious argument or a presentation done by a lay individual seem to be less persuaded than the latter. However, over time, participants then seemed to forget the source in which the knowledge came from and thus the knowledge became more persuasive. Time seems to have an effect on memory decay. The more time that goes by, it would seem, the more that memory can be altered and distorted from its original conception.
B. False Memories
Fascinating research has been done on the topic of false memories in cognitive psychology. One very robust finding of false memories, was animated by a study conducted by Roediger & McDermott (1995) of Rice University. Participants were asked to recall a list of words that they were exposed to. For example, some of these words were bed, rest, awake, etc. Participants were then asked to recall from memory the words that they had just heard. Over a series of trials, 55% participants tended to list a word that was not listed in the original exposure list. For this example the target word of interest was sleep. Though all the words in the exposure list related to sleep, the word sleep was not actually in the original list of words. Memory fallibility, at first, in this case does not seem like a very big deal. But when we tend to find similar results in eye witness testimonies, the results can become sickening.
Another powerful experiment that illuminates the idea of false memories, was a study done by Bernstein & Loftus (2009). This studies goal was to not only observe false memories but to implant them in a fashion that would / could occur in real life. In this specific study individuals were under the impression that they became sick after eating egg salad when they were in their youth. Later in the study individuals were literally served egg salad and asked to eat it if they wanted to. Individuals in the experimental condition (told they had gotten ill after eating egg salad) did not eat the egg salad or did not eat as much as a control condition. Loftus and party did similar studies with strawberry ice cream, peach yogurt, asparagus, pickles, and hard-boiled eggs. In terms of the asparagus stimuli, experimenters were inclined that they could implant false memories to produce the opposite effects. The study was conducted and sure enough individuals that were given positive false memories about asparagus tended to like it more than a control group that did not receive the false memory manipulation.
C. Picking Cotton
In 1984 Jennifer Thompson was a, 4.0 GPA, 22 year old college student in Burlington, NC. Jennifer had been home alone asleep, when an intruder cut her phone lines and broke into her residence. Jennifer Thompson was awakened by an African American in her home. She begged and pleaded with her assailant to not harm her. She said things like "take my credit cards, any of my belongings, and even my car". The intruder then informed her that he was not here for her belongings. . . Jennifer's assailant, armed with a knife, proceeded to brutally rape her. While being raped, instead of trying to block out the fact that she was being ravaged, Jennifer proceeded to study her assailant so that if she survived she could later identify her assailant. After the deed was done, miss Thompson tricked her rapist into letting her get up to get him a drink. She then used this opportunity to egress from the house. After being the victim of a barbaric rape, Jenifer Thompson was able to escape from her assailant (Later we would find out that her assailant also raped a second women that night) (Thompson-Cannino, Cotton, & Torneo, 2009).
Soon after the crime, Jennifer was met with detective Mike Gauldin. Mike Gauldin was in charge of the investigation to catch Jennifer's rapist. Together, Jennifer and the detective made a composite sketch for Jennifer's assailant. Over the course of the next few days, Jennifer was asked to look at a photo lineup. She was instructed that her attacker may or may not be present in the lineup. After about 5 minutes of deliberation, Jennifer picked a photo. The detective then complimented her on a job well done. Soon thereafter, Jennifer was then presented a physical lineup of possible assailants. Again, she was instructed that the possible suspect may or may not be there. One by one each suspect was asked to step forward and say a line stated by the assailant during the night of the crime. After each suspect stated their lines, miss Thompson was pretty sure it was between suspects 4 and 5. The respective parties were asked to redo the their lines. Finally Jennifer Thompson chose number 5. Jennifer was then informed, that was the same individual she had picked in the photo lineup. Jennifer felt a sense of relief and accomplishment in finding her assailant and bringing him to justice (Thompson-Cannino, Cotton, & Torneo, 2009).
Number 5 was Ronald Cotton. Ronald Cotton felt astonished that he had been convicted of rape, for he did not and would not commit such a crime. When asked where he was during the act of the crime, Cotton got his weekends mixed up. Therefore, his original alibi given did not match up. Ronald Cotton did indeed seem guilty of this horrific crime. Cotton convicted of rape and was given a life sentence plus 50 years in prison(Thompson-Cannino, Cotton, & Torneo, 2009).Ronald Cotton was admitted to a jail in North Caroline's central prison. While in incarceration, Cotton worked in the jail's kitchen and sang in the choir. During his stay in prison Ronald Cotton soon met an individual by the name of Bobby Poole. Poole worked with Cotton in the kitchen. They were often confused and mistaken for one another. Poole was called Cotton and Cotton was called Poole. It was at this time that Cotton realized that this may very well be the person that committed that dreadful rape back in 1984. Letter after letter, Cotton contacted his attorney with the notion that he had found the man who he had been falsely accused for(Thompson-Cannino, Cotton, & Torneo, 2009).
Mr. Cotton was granted a second trial. Jennifer Thompson was furious with the notion that her possible rapist was going to be let out of prison. During his second trial Ronald Cotton was convicted of a second rape that night back in 1984. Even though the real rapist Bobby Poole was in the room, Jenifer did not recognize him. So not only was Ronald Cotton not freed he was also convicted of a second rape that dreadful night. Years went by and Cotton continued to persistently fight his case. While in prison Ronald Cotton became aware of the O. J. Simpson case and heard about something that he did not know about. DNA evidence was used in O.J. Simpson's murder trial. Convinced that DNA evidence may help his own trial, Cotton informed his lawyer and the process slowly began to take effect.
Eleven long years later, through DNA evidence, Ronald Cotton was proven to be innocent. Bobby Poole was the actual rapist of Jennifer Thompson. Jennifer Thompson was devastated that she made such a critical mistake that put an innocent man behind bars for 11 years. She was so sure that she had identified the correct person (Thompson-Cannino, Cotton, & Torneo, 2009). Even now when she dreams about that terrible night or recalls about that night's events, she still sees Ronald Cotton's face. Not Bobby Poole's. Since then Jennifer and Ronald have became good friends and travel the country together informing people about faulty eyewitness identification. Since Cotton's release, over 260 individuals have been released from incarceration due to faulty eyewitness testimony through DNA evidence (Innocence Project, 2010).
D. Eyewitness testimony
A current hot topic in eyewitness testimony research lies in how the lineup is conducted. Simultaneous-lineups vs. sequential-lineups is a current study of interest. Sequential-lineups seemed to be much better than simultaneous-lineups, the one that is currently being used. A large meta-analysis was conducted by Gronlund, Carlson, Daily, and Goodsell (2009) at the University of Oklahoma. Over 2000 participants were analyzed on their eyewitness abilities. Though sequential-lineups seem to be slightly better, the findings are not as good as first believed. The sequential-lineup procedure was robust in 2 out of 24 trials over the simultaneous-lineups. Some implications were found that suggest that a sequential-lineup will reduce the number of false hits found in eyewitness procedures. That is to say that innocent people will be more less likely to be found guilty due to faulty eyewitness identification. However, these findings are not very much better than the simultaneous-lineups. One more puzzling finding immerges from the study. Positioning effects seem to have an effect on pointing out a potential suspect. In other words, one may be picked out of a lineup in a sequential-lineup more often than another just because of their position in the lineup. Gronlund and colleagues ends their article by sending out a call-to-arms basically saying that, look guys we really need to find a better way of doing this, because as of right now eyewitness procedures, whether simultaneous or sequential, they are not working as well as we think. Errors are being made and innocent people will continue to be placed behind bars unless something is done to correct eyewitness procedures.
Before we dive into the problems with polygraph testing, lets recall the difference between correlation and causation. Once again correlation does not imply causation. For example, one could state that as global warming has increased, the number of pirates plundering the seas has gone down. Therefore to solve the problem of global warming we need to start bringing back pirates, because to do so would reduce the global climate back to safe temperatures. This line of logic would, of course, be considered inaccurate. Though there is indeed a negative correlation with the number of pirates and global warming, one variable does not have an influence on another. A similar error can be seen with just the basic theory behind the polygraph test.
Though the inventors behind the polygraph lie detection device probably had good intentions, this device is an excellent example of a modern pseudoscientific device that is highly embraced in our society. Though not usable in some states in a court of law, the FBI and CIA both still embrace this device to some degree. The error with the polygraph testing device lies in what it measures. The polygraph measures physiological changes in the body such as heart rate, galvanic skin response, and respiration. Though there may be some correlation between the physiological changes in the body and a truth or a lie, individuals whom use polygraph tests are not directly measuring the truth factor. In essence what the polygraph machine is measuring, is varying degrees of arousal. So, polygraph examiners believe that asking an individual if they committed a crime will induce a physiological response, and it will. And from that heightened state of arousal, polygraph testers hope to tell whether or not the individual is telling the truth. This type of logic is, just like our correlation examples of ice cream sales causing shark attacks, flawed.
The methodology behind the polygraph lie detector is fairly simple. Polygraph examiners are taught to establish a baseline for their subjects. And from this baseline, varying degrees of arousal will be obtained when more stimulating questions are asked. The basic premise behind the machine is the hope that when a guilty individual is asked if they committed a crime, that they while produce a physiological response in a certain way that is different from the way an innocent person would. Or experimenters will also try to figure out, what a lie looks like on a graph for a specific person and what a valid statement looks like for that same person. Keep in mind that we are not directly measuring the validity of the statement, but rather a physiological response in an individual. We as humans love finding patterns in our environment. However, we need to make sure that the respective pattern actually means something or if it is just a pareidolia.
The literature and studies done about the polygraph machine often show mixed results. Some studies show 98% accuracy (Iacono, 1989) while others show 50% accuracy (the same accuracy you would expect to see while flipping a coin) (Iacono, 1989). Studies that show evidence for 98% accuracy are often studies that are done by the individuals that are selling the product. Often these types of results are untypical and cannot be replicated because they were originally never accurate in their conception.
As of right now in our culture, the validity of the polygraph is not as good as it seems, though not as random as a coin flip. The reasoning behind this idea is because the polygraph test is a great tool that is used in getting guilty individuals to confess to a crime. Though it is hard to tell, this is probably why the CIA and FBI keep the devices around because they know that even though its true validity is inaccurate, it still works as a great tool that will make a guilty party confess to a crime. Sometimes when confessions are given in polygraph research, its findings are often stated that the polygraph did its part in showing that the individual was a deceitful person (Iacono, 1989).
F. False Confessions
While on the topic of confessions, it is now time that were clear up a common misconception about confessions. That common misconception is that an innocent person would never confess to a crime that they did not commit. This idea is false. An innocent person under the right conditions, such as torture, will almost always confess to a crime they did not commit (Leo, 2008). Such tactics, that are used to obtain a confession are often referred to as the third degree. Currently in the United States the third degree, for the most part, has been abandoned due to being unethical, inhumane, and non-fact producing. Though directly banned from police protocol, ruminants of the third degree can still be seen today.
The Reid Nine-Step Method (Leo, 2008) is a current procedure of police interigation in which confessions are an ultimate goal. This nine-step method is often used as a teaching tool for instructing police on how to handle potential suspects in a given crime. More specifically this process is used by police to invoke anxiety and produce seemingly decreased consequences should s/he confess to the crime. This psychological billyclub also is enhanced by denying individuals the ability to rebut, express anger or hostility, smoke, or engage in any other tension-relieveing practices (Leo, 2008). The only seemingly way out being, a written confession signed by the "suspect".
G. Voice Stress Analysis
One last pseudoscientific method of prosecution found in our legal system, is called voice stress analysis. Proponents of voice stress analysis software claim that their software can detect lies due to certain fluctuations found in the voice. Like the polygraph test relies on physiological patterns to detect lies, voice stress analysis depends on patterns found in voice fluctuation. Supposedly, a valid statement will look different than a statement that is invalid or that is in fact a lie.
It would seem that proponents of the voice stress analysis rely merely on voice fluctuations to figure out whether or not a statement is valid or false. Once again, just like the polygraph test, we have a measurement problem. Voice stress analysis software is not measuring the truth of the statements. Voice stress analysis is measuring fluctuations in human speech. In theory, it would seem, that voice stress analysis does less than even the polygraph does. Because at least the polygraph measures physiological responses. The voice stress analysis software is simply a verbal recording device.
Research is limited for voice stress analysis. Research from the companies that make the software yield results that mirror statistics of the polygraph tests. Under these biased testing protocols, results yield a staggeringly high validity. According to study conducted by Waln & Downey (1987) of Kansas State University, voice recordings were analyzed using typical voice stress analysis software. Results yielded certain fluctuation patterns may be due to anxiety, but certain supposal "patterns" do not imply deception. The authors also concluded that voice stress analysis should not be used when screening future employees. Thus, just like polygraph testing, voice stress analysis is another excellent example of a pseudoscientific device.
It is somewhat frightening that a pseudoscientific devices or procedures can determine the fate of its citizens. Though there is awareness for the problems of these findings among experts, the general populous seems unsure about the validity of these lie detecting devices and procedures. Unfortunately, there is a lot of big money and businesses tied to these devices, so these problems, regardless of their severity, are not going to simply disappear overnight.
H. DNA Testing
In terms scientific evidence, DNA testing is highly reliable source of evidence that should be used in court when possible. DNA evidence has exonerated numerous innocent individuals that were wrongly convicted. To date, 260 individuals have been exonerated through DNA evidence (Innocence project, 2010).
Things Are Not Always What They Seem
Why we cannot trust our world is quite a terrifying premise and is one that should not be taken lightly. In the following few wheel scrolls the topics of confirmation bias, the fundamental attribution error, excitation transfer, and the bystander effect will be explored.
A. Confirmation Bias
The confirmation bias is a huge error in logic that is often used in our daily lives. The confirmation bias allows for superstitious behavior to seem real and tricks us into believing events unfold in paranormal ways. In other words, the confirmation bias allows us to view "hits" and disregard "misses." People implement this error in logic in many ways. For example, superstitious individuals that believe in bad luck, often avoid things such as breaking mirrors, walking under ladders, opening umbrellas indoors, and coming in contact with stray black cats. For the superstitious individual, when one of these events takes place (such as breaking a mirror) the respective individual will often look for bad luck events or bad things to start happening to them. If one tries to look for bad things in this world of ours, regardless of whether or not s/he as broken a mirror, they will inevitably find bad events and negativity.
The confirmation bias can also be animated through stereotypes as well. All Caucasians cannot dance or lack rhythm, all African Americans are lazy and like fried chicken, and all Hispanics are illegal immigrants that are also loud and obnoxious. In most causes stereotypes are inaccurate. However, when we see a Caucasians lack of dance ability, African Americans ordering Kentucky Fried Chicken, or Hispanics having a family party at the local park, our stereotypes and ideologies of these concepts are reinforced through the confirmation bias. The idea of a Caucasian person having a party, African American being a bad dancer, or a Hispanic ordering fried chicken is not as salient as the their respective stereotypes being personified.
B. The Fundamental Attribution Error
The fundamental attribution error is another error in logic in which individuals attribute negative attributes directly towards a person's personality or the way they are instead of looking at the unique circumstances that they are in. One example of the fundamental attribution error is as follows: suppose you are driving down the highway going the speed limit, when suddenly you are cut off by someone. Typically we will react by calling the other driver names or honk on the horn. Now imagine the same situation again, except now the "bad driver" that cut you off has an individual in the car that is in desperate need of medical attention. Even though the "bad driver" is doing a negative thing by cutting you off s/he could be doing it for a very important reason.
A classic example of the fundamental attribution error comes from a study done by Jones and Harris (1967). Jones and Harris conducted a study in which participants were assigned to groups to read a pro-Castro essay and an anti-Castro essay. In one condition participants were told that the writers were able to freely choose which essay they wanted to write (pro or anti Castro). Results from this condition concluded that participants favored the writers that were anti-Castro over the writers that were pro-Castro. In the second condition, participants were told that the writers were given the essay topic (pro or anti-Castro) due to the outcome of a coin flip. Even though writers were assigned to pro and anti-Castro conditions by the flip of a coin, participants in the study still seemed to favor the anti-Castro writer more than the pro-Castro writer. The fundamental attribution error, is a good example of why we need to take the circumstances of a given situation into account before we fully evaluate an individual that seems like a bad or evil person.
C. Excitation Transfer
Moving on to excitation transfer, we can see an error in logic processing as well as the ability of an individual to have power over another. Excitation transfer is manifested when people involved in a current situation are put into a state of high arousal. And in this high state of arousal, the individual will attribute mixed-up feeling of that arousal towards another source. Excitation transfer is often implemented by males (knowingly or unknowingly) taking their dates to scary or suspense filled movies. While their partners are in heightened state of arousal (being scarred for example) the male will kiss or hold their female counter part. Females will often misattribute this heightened sense of arousal to, "O I must really like this person" or "we must be falling in love."
A study illustrating the idea of excitation transfer theory was conducted by Dutton and Aron (1974). In this study an attractive female researcher was in the middle of one of two bridges. One bridge was safe, sturdy, made of heavy oak, and fairly short. The other bridge that was picked to elevate arousal levels, was long and narrow, tended to sway, and was made of rope and light wood.
The attractive female researcher approached men on the middle of both bridges and asked them to complete a short questionnaire. Afterwards the female then told the men that she would explain more about the study when she had more time. The beautiful female then put her name and number on the corner of a piece of paper, ripped it out, and gave it to the participant. The measurement in this study was whether or not the male subjects called the attractive female. Sure enough, more males on the less safe bridge tended to call the female research assistant back than males that took the questionnaire on the safer bridge. This confirmed the researchers proposal that fear can be converted into love or liking.
D. Bystander Effect
The bystander effect is the happening that often occurs when an individual is in a group of people in which s/he fails to help in an emergency situation. In 1964, Catheriene (Kitty) Genovese was brutally stabbed to death and raped in public. Over 30 people heard her cries for help and no one helped her. The police were summoned about an hour after the attack took place. . .
Unfortunately, the bystander effect is very real and an extremely serious problem in our natural behavior. To study the bystander effect further, Darley and Batson (1973) conducted an experiment that consisted of asking students from the Princeton Theological Seminary. Students whom attended this school were studying to become ministers. Participants were asked to conduct a seminar about the story of the Good Samaritan; the closest remnant of the bystander effect in the bible. The participants were divided into early, on-time, and late conditions. Upon arriving at the seminar, the ministers to-be had to walk past a distressed individual that was coughing and moaning, in order to enter the building. Though our ministers to-be were conducting a seminar on the story of the Good Samaritan, the majority of them did not stop to help the individual that was in duress. Time tended to play a significant factor in the willingness of others to help. The more time people have the more willing they seem to stop and help a person in distress.
So how do we fix this problem of the bystander effect if even ministers to-be make this type of error? Educating people about how to indentify duress and to not fear taking action, seems like the best way. Not all individuals are aware of how to respond to emergency situations. The American Red Cross often instructs their trainees to take action and to get others involved in life threatening situations, such as CPR, choking, and cardiac failure. Simply telling another bystander to call 9-1-1 will help a shell shocked person get involved in helping with an emergency!
We have talked about common errors in logic, persuasion, pseudoscientific devices justified in our legal system, and common unfavorable behavioral patterns that exist in our society. The goal of this text is to not only spread awareness of these common misconceptions and malbehaviors, but to reduce the likelihood of preventable catastrophes from reoccurring.
"Nach dem Spiel ist vor dem Spiel."
"After the game is before the game."
Why We Cannot Trust our World
William B. Huffman
University of Central Oklahoma
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