A Conversation with Philip Zimbardo and Nikita Coulombe

Looking for an interesting read? Enjoy this conversation with Philip Zimbardo and Nikita Coulombe about Man, Interrupted.


You are writing about generational issues. Why did you separate genders and deal only with males?

PHIL: Because, young men are failing academically, socially, and sexually as never before. In contrast, young women are surpassing their male counterparts in every field: in schools at every level— elementary schools, high schools, universities, at work places. With surveys, interviews, and research we tried to determine the symptoms, find out the causes and implications. We concluded that many young males of this generation could be described as shy, introverted, impulsive, and lacking conscientiousness. My concern in the coming years, if this process continues, is that young men will opt out of society all together.

You claim that dysfunctional families hit our young generation. But why more boys than girls? Do you argue for a traditional family when it is going through dramatic changes?

PHIL: In an ideal family mother and father give different things to children. They give different kinds of love. Mothers give unconditional, nurturing love. Fathers demand discipline and give love conditionally. They reward their kids according to their achievements. But now many boys grow up without a father at home due to single motherhood and high divorce rates where fathers are less likely to get custody. Without fathers, young men lose their motivation to achieve.

NIKITA: Being raised by a single mom creates a ripple effect throughout a young man’s life, from elevated stress hormones as a child, higher likelihood of ADHD and behavioral problems as an adolescent (there is also reciprocal causality between gaming and ADHD), and not having proper male role models to show him the way to be a man and later on a father himself. Even for young men that do have a father the average teen boy spends just half an hour per week in one-on-one conversation with his dad versus 44 hours in front of a TV or computer screen.

Why are boys attracted to video games?

PHIL: Due to social isolation, lack of real life goals, and stifling social roles reinforced by a lack of positive male role models, boys find joy “living their life in their room.” They can win in the game, and they can win without any negative consequences. Because they are unsuccessful in real life they seek security, validation and satisfaction in cyberspace. Video games are exciting, intense, and full of actions, full of becoming “warriors.” But this addiction can cause a series of problems: they lose real relationships, after all the video excitement they find school, and any work boring. It can result in mental disorders. And it can bring out excessive aggressiveness from them if they are playing violent games.

According to your book the other new addiction for young men is the online pornography.

PHIL: High speed online pornography is a new phenomenon that became ubiquitous in the last several years. It cannot be compared to anything else in this field; it is widespread, accessible to anyone. A researcher sifted through over 400 million Internet searches and found that 55 million were erotic content. Huge number! In most cases these web sites are free, or very cheap. No supervision, no restrictions, young boys can easily get access to these websites on their smart phones and laptops.

Why are young men more susceptible to video game and porn overuse than young women?

NIKITA: There are two parts. The first is the types of games that are currently available. When we surveyed 67 high school students, most of them girls, most independently responded with a variation of “Video game content and advertisements cater to male interests such as first person shooter games, violence, racing, super heroes, and sports.” The girls were telling us they didn’t find those kinds of competitions meaningful, they think girls feel discouraged from gaming because chat rooms are abusive or mocking and have low expectations of female gamers. Additionally, research has found men are more likely than women to become addicted to games, but again, that could have something to do with the type of games.

The other part is fatherlessness. By far, this stands out across all nations as a cause of why young men are failing academically, wiping out socially, and flaming out sexually with women.

How much porn are young guys using?

NIKITA: One in three boys is now considered a “heavy” porn user, watching more times than they can count. A recent survey found that the average boy watches nearly two hours of porn every week. Most young men we talked to said regular porn use is common by age 15, and the average age young people first have sex is 17. So if the average guy has watched 2 hours of porn every week since he was 15, and each porn session is 9 minutes long, he’s already had nearly 1,400 porn sessions before he’s ever had real life sex.

But how should they deal with the new technology?

PHIL: Technology is wonderful. It gives us so many opportunities. But we have to find the balance between how much time to spend in front of our computers, and cell phones and time out for People. I am always concerned about the things Internet Addicts don’t do: they don’t form real relationships, don’t communicate with each other directly, don’t go out, don’t travel, don’t do sports, don’t read, don’t create, and so on.

Can you recommend any solutions for these complex problems?

PHIL: I believe everybody has to help in some way, has to be engaged. The government can have more family-oriented initiatives. I would suggest more and better sexual education at schools. With higher salaries more male teachers should be attracted to schools. Female teachers are wonderful, but both boys and girls perform better with same-sex teachers. Right now boys are going from female dominated home environments to female dominated school environments, and they need a balance with male role models. I would urge cooperation not competition between boys and girls at school. We have to have more male mentoring programs. We need mentors who can be father figures for boys. The media has an important role, too. Do they want to promote anorexic models and deadbeat dads? Or do they want to give a more realistic representation of modern men and modern women?


Philip George Zimbardo is a psychologist and a professor emeritus at Stanford University. He became well-known for his 1971 Stanford prison experiment and has since authored various introductory psychology books, textbooks for college students, and other notable works, including The Lucifer Effect, The Time Paradox, and Shyness. He is also the founder and president of the Heroic Imagination Project.

Nikita D. Coulombe is a writer and artist who worked with Philip Zimbardo for several years. Together they co-authored the TED eBook Demise of Guys. Passionate about understanding human nature, she co-founded the sex education blog, BetterSexEd.org.

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