Yes, Television Can Make You Evil
David Berreby is the author of "Us and Them: The Science of Identity." He has written about human behavior and other science topics for The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Slate, Smithsonian, The New Republic, Nature, Discover, Vogue and many other publications. He has been a Visiting Scholar at the University of Paris, a Science Writing Fellow at the Marine Biological Laboratory, a resident at Yaddo, and in 2006 was awarded the Erving Goffman Award for Outstanding Scholarship for the first edition of "Us and Them." David can be found on Twitter at @davidberreby and reached by email at david [at] davidberreby [dot] com.
In the 1960's and 70's, with Americans worried about Communist hordes and Nazism a living memory, many feared that people are just naturally sheep—all too ready to conform, cower and obey.
Crime news and psychology experiments supplied what the psychologists Rachel Manning, Mark Levine and Alan Collins have identified as parables of a secular religion: People are bad because they conform. There was the story of 38 neighbors who ignored the screams of Kitty Genovese as she was being murdered. The university students who, just by simulating the role of "prison guard," became monsters. And, most famous of all, the tale of people delivering (they thought) dangerous electric shocks to a stranger—because they were ordered to. Repeated over and over, these tales simultaneously teach an explanation of human depravity and supply supposedly iron-clad proof.
Today, though, the biggest threats to society aren't obedient clones. They're people who insist on "doing their own thing," from idiots who won't recycle to lone wolves who express their political convictions by flying airplanes into buildings. And so we can now admit that none of these 20th-century folktales about conformity is what it seems.
Those awful 38 people who ignored Kitty Genovese, for example, didn't exist (as Manning, Levine and Collins showed in this paper). And the story of students turning into brutal guards during Philip Zimbardo's famous "Stanford Prison Experiment" ignores two facts, as Alex Haslam and Stephen Reicher noted when they reproduced the experiment a few years ago: First, there was a lot of individual variation among the "guards," with some refusing to abuse prisoners. Second, Zimbardo, their trusted professor, primed the guards to go medieval in the way he explained their roles to them.
Last Wednesday, a new parable was born on France 2, one of France's national networks: the documentary "Le Jeu de la Mort" demonstrated again that people are all too willing to torture a stranger. But they didn't do it out of blind conformity or slavish obedience to authority. They did it because they trust television..
Christophe Nick's documentary was a modern version of the "shock-the-stranger" experiments, first performed by Stanley Milgram in 1963 (you can read the pdf of Milgram's first published paper here.) Milgram's 40 volunteers, all men, thought they were giving a memory test to another volunteer sitting in a room next door. For every wrong answer, they were to push a button that jolted the other person with an electric shock. Even though they could clearly see that the shocks were getting stronger (from 15 volts, labeled "Slight Shock'' to "Danger: Severe Shock'' at 450 volts), all 40 went well beyond 195 volts ("very strong shock''). In fact, every one went beyond 300 volts, and 65 percent went beyond 450. The supposed experimenter simply nudged them now and then, saying things like "please go on'' or "you have no choice.'' (In reality, of course, the "victim'' was in on the deception, and not hurt.)
Horrifying, in most retellings. But, as Cass Sunstein has argued, Milgram's volunteers weren't obeying like automatons. They were making a conscious choice to take the advice of someone whose credentials and good will they were supposed to trust.
That's what happened on "Le Jeu de la Mort." The 80 "contestants" thought they were taking part in a television pilot. The "host," gently encouraging them to keep playing the game, was familiar TV meteorologist. A studio audience was yelling and clapping the way audiences do. Everything about the situation sent the message televisions have been beaming into all our brains since infancy: Trust us.
One contestant explained: "I was told ‘you must do this’ and I thought to myself, these guys know what they’re doing. I did think that guy was roasting in there. But that was not my problem, eh?"
In fact, television's power to invoke trust is stronger than science's was, even in the pre-protest, unskeptical early 1960's: Milgram's fake scientist could only persuade 65 percent of the participants to go all the way to the most extreme end of the shock-scale. The fake game show, though, scored more than 80 percent.
Why self-control makes your life better, and how to get more of it.
(Photo by Geem Drake/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
- Research demonstrates that people with higher levels of self-control are happier over both the short and long run.
- Higher levels of self-control are correlated with educational, occupational, and social success.
- It was found that the people with the greatest levels of self-control avoid temptation rather than resist it at every turn.
Ready your Schrödinger's Cat Jokes.
- For a time, quantum computing was more theory than fact.
- That's starting to change.
- New quantum computer designs look like they might be scalable.
Quantum computing has existed in theory since the 1980's. It's slowly making its way into fact, the latest of which can be seen in a paper published in Nature called, "Deterministic teleportation of a quantum gate between two logical qubits."
To ensure that we're all familiar with a few basic terms: in electronics, a 'logic gate' is something that takes in one or more than one binary inputs and produces a single binary output. To put it in reductive terms: if you produce information that goes into a chip in your computer as a '0,' the logic gate is what sends it out the other side as a '1.'
A quantum gate means that the '1' in question here can — roughly speaking — go back through the gate and become a '0' once again. But that's not quite the whole of it.
A qubit is a single unit of quantum information. To continue with our simple analogy: you don't have to think about computers producing a string of information that is either a zero or a one. A quantum computer can do both, simultaneously. But that can only happen if you build a functional quantum gate.
That's why the results of the study from the folks at The Yale Quantum Institute saying that they were able to create a quantum gate with a "process fidelity" of 79% is so striking. It could very well spell the beginning of the pathway towards realistic quantum computing.
The team went about doing this through using a superconducting microwave cavity to create a data qubit — that is, they used a device that operates a bit like a organ pipe or a music box but for microwave frequencies. They paired that data qubit with a transmon — that is, a superconducting qubit that isn't as sensitive to quantum noise as it otherwise could be, which is a good thing, because noise can destroy information stored in a quantum state. The two are then connected through a process called a 'quantum bus.'
That process translates into a quantum property being able to be sent from one location to the other without any interaction between the two through something called a teleported CNOT gate, which is the 'official' name for a quantum gate. Single qubits made the leap from one side of the gate to the other with a high degree of accuracy.
Above: encoded qubits and 'CNOT Truth table,' i.e., the read-out.
The team then entangled these bits of information as a way of further proving that they were literally transporting the qubit from one place to somewhere else. They then analyzed the space between the quantum points to determine that something that doesn't follow the classical definition of physics occurred.
They conclude by noting that "... the teleported gate … uses relatively modest elements, all of which are part of the standard toolbox for quantum computation in general. Therefore ... progress to improve any of the elements will directly increase gate performance."
In other words: they did something simple and did it well. And that the only forward here is up. And down. At the same time.
These modern-day hermits can sometimes spend decades without ever leaving their apartments.
- A hikikomori is a type of person in Japan who locks themselves away in their bedrooms, sometimes for years.
- This is a relatively new phenomenon in Japan, likely due to rigid social customs and high expectations for academic and business success.
- Many believe hikikomori to be a result of how Japan interprets and handles mental health issues.
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