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Good versus Evil in Strength?

By John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Good versus Evil in Strength?You have to hand it to Kurt Gray, a doctoral student at Harvard. He knows how to spin a set of three small experiments he conducted to make headlines. Here’s what Gray had to say about his findings:

“By perceiving themselves as good or evil, people embody these perceptions, actually becoming more capable of physical endurance.”

and

“But in fact, this research suggests that physical strength may be an effect, not a cause, of moral acts.”

Did Gray actually measure a person’s inherent “goodness” or capacity for evil (or did he measure artificial situations created in a lab that may or may not actually mimic these qualities)? And if so, did he also measure physical strength (or simply one small aspect of strength, physical endurance)?

5 Comments to
Good versus Evil in Strength?

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  1. I think you are missing the point. I don’t know the details of the experiment but he clearly uses the word perceive. Which is to say it is not an empirical good or evil(if one does exist) but rather a self perception of good or evil.

    It is the same phenomena that explains how prayer and meditation helps sick patients to do better. Most people feel that by giving to charity they are doing something to help other people which gives them a reason and purpose, whereas a person who perceives themselves as evil will see themselves as nothing more than a parasite that could only benefit others by ceasing to exist.

    In my former practice of esoteric ritual magick we used to use what was referred to as “god-forms”. Which is to say you take on the persona of the “god” you were trying to summon and through the ritual you convince yourself that you are that “god” and in doing so you take on the strengths and abilities of said “god”. Obviously, it does not mean you can shoot lightning bolts out of your fingers but what does changes is your approach and perception of yourself and the world around you.

  2. The problem is, he didn’t actually measure participants’ perceptions of themselves as being “good” or “evil.” These are perceptions he simply assumed by the design of the experiment. He assumed that anyone who just received a dollar and then gives it to charity is “good.” That’s the most amazing leap of logic I’ve ever heard.

    The fact that nobody turned down the charity offer also suggests there was a flaw in the experiment (we’d expect in normal human society that not everyone would donate to charity if given the opportunity).

    So all of this is interesting theory and these studies would’ve been nice foundational (or pilot) studies to explore these concepts further. But he spoke about them to the press as though they were flawlessly designed and came to unquestionable conclusions without limitation.

  3. I agree that he should not present it as the LAW but the hypothesis could grant many benefits.

    This is a constant issue when it comes to trying to objectively measure subjective data. We can only talk in generalities and allowed people to measure and choose what applies and what doesn’t apply. But people don’t want general information the want answers and solutions. They want to feel somebody is in control and taking care of those things.

  4. What “attention” was paid to the control group?
    What “neutral” thing were they asked to do?
    Not knowing that, maybe the difference was simply having the “researcher” interact more with the 2 groups.
    There’s not enough information here to evaluate.

  5. I agree that there is stenght in evil but if you have even a little bit of good in you. Your good will come out soon enough and lead you down the right path!

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