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TED2011

Philip Zimbardo: The demise of guys?

March 1, 2011

Psychologist Philip Zimbardo asks, "Why are boys struggling?" He shares some stats (lower graduation rates, greater worries about intimacy and relationships) and suggests a few reasons -- and challenges the TED community to think about solutions.

Philip Zimbardo - Psychologist
Philip Zimbardo was the leader of the notorious 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment -- and an expert witness at Abu Ghraib. His book The Lucifer Effect explores the nature of evil; now, in his new work, he studies the nature of heroism. Full bio

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Double-click the English subtitles below to play the video.
So today, I want us to reflect
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on the demise of guys.
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Guys are flaming out academically;
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they're wiping out socially with girls
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and sexually with women.
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Other than that, there's not much of a problem.
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So what's the data?
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So the data on dropping out is amazing.
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Boys are 30 percent more likely than girls
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to drop out of school.
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In Canada, five boys drop out for every three girls.
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Girls outperform boys now at every level,
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from elementary school to graduate school.
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There's a 10 percent differential
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between getting BA's and all graduate programs,
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with guys falling behind girls.
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Two-thirds of all students in special ed. remedial programs are guys.
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And as you all know,
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boys are five times more likely than girls
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to be labeled as having attention deficit disorder --
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and therefore we drug them with Ritalin.
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What's the evidence of wiping out?
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First, it's a new fear of intimacy.
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Intimacy means physical, emotional connection
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with somebody else --
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and especially with somebody of the opposite sex
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who gives off ambiguous, contradictory,
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phosphorescent signals.
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(Laughter)
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And every year there's research done
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on self-reported shyness among college students.
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And we're seeing a steady increase among males.
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And this is two kinds.
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It's a social awkwardness.
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The old shyness was a fear of rejection.
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It's a social awkwardness like you're a stranger in a foreign land.
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They don't know what to say, they don't know what to do,
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especially one-on-one [with the] opposite sex.
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They don't know the language of face contact,
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the non-verbal and verbal set of rules
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that enable you to comfortably talk to somebody else,
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listen to somebody else.
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There's something I'm developing here called social intensity syndrome,
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which tries to account for why guys really prefer
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male bonding over female mating.
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It turns out, from earliest childhood,
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boys, and then men,
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prefer the company of guys --
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physical company.
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And there's actually a cortical arousal we're looking at,
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because guys have been with guys
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in teams, in clubs, in gangs, in fraternities,
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especially in the military, and then in pubs.
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And this peaks at Super Bowl Sunday
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when guys would rather be in a bar with strangers,
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watching a totally overdressed Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers,
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rather than Jennifer Lopez totally naked in the bedroom.
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The problem is they now prefer
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[the] asynchronistic Internet world
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to the spontaneous interaction
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in social relationships.
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What are the causes? Well, it's an unintended consequence.
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I think it's excessive Internet use in general, excessive video gaming,
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excessive new access to pornography.
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The problem is these are arousal addictions.
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Drug addiction, you simply want more.
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Arousal addiction, you want different.
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Drugs, you want more of the same -- different.
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So you need the novelty in order for the arousal to be sustained.
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And the problem is the industry is supplying it.
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Jane McGonigal told us last year
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that by the time a boy is 21,
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he's played 10,000 hours of video games,
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most of that in isolation.
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As you remember, Cindy Gallop said
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men don't know the difference
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between making love and doing porn.
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The average boy now watches 50 porn video clips a week.
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And there's some guy watching a hundred, obviously.
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(Laughter)
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And the porn industry is the fastest growing industry in America --
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15 billion annually.
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For every 400 movies made in Hollywood,
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there are 11,000 now made porn videos.
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So the effect, very quickly,
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is it's a new kind of arousal.
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Boys' brains are being digitally rewired in a totally new way
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for change, novelty, excitement and constant arousal.
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That means they're totally out of sync in traditional classes,
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which are analog, static, interactively passive.
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They're also totally out of sync
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in romantic relationships,
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which build gradually and subtly.
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So what's the solution? It's not my job.
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I'm here to alarm. It's your job to solve.
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(Laughter)
04:05
(Applause)
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But who should care? The only people who should care about this
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is parents of boys and girls,
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educators, gamers, filmmakers
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and women who would like a real man
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who they can talk to, who can dance,
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who can make love slowly
04:21
and contribute to the evolutionary pressures
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to keep our species above banana slugs.
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No offense to banana slug owners. Thank you.
04:28
(Applause)
04:30

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Philip Zimbardo - Psychologist
Philip Zimbardo was the leader of the notorious 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment -- and an expert witness at Abu Ghraib. His book The Lucifer Effect explores the nature of evil; now, in his new work, he studies the nature of heroism.

Why you should listen

Philip Zimbardo knows what evil looks like. After serving as an expert witness during the Abu Ghraib trials, he wrote The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. From Nazi comic books to the tactics of used-car salesmen, he explores a wealth of sources in trying to explain the psychology of evil.

A past president of the American Psychological Association and a professor emeritus at Stanford, Zimbardo retired in 2008 from lecturing, after 50 years of teaching his legendary introductory course in psychology. In addition to his work on evil and heroism, Zimbardo recently published The Time Paradox, exploring different cultural and personal perspectives on time.

Still well-known for his controversial Stanford Prison Experiment, Zimbardo in his new research looks at the psychology of heroism. He asks, "What pushes some people to become perpetrators of evil, while others act heroically on behalf of those in need?"

The original video is available on TED.com
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