Philip Zimbardo has a theory

“Boys risk becoming addicted to porn, video games and Ritalin” says psychologist Philip Zimbardo, which simply isn’t true, because some weekends I read.

Yes, Zimbardo has a theory which says that masculinity is being damaged by computer games, the internet, and pornography without an adequate plot line. A key solution: dancing. He’s done a cracking interview in The Guardian which I thoroughly recommend if you are still waiting for your Ritalin to kick in.

“Boys have never been self-reflective. Boys are focused on doing and acting, girls are more focused on being and feeling. The new video-game world encourages doing and acting and not really thinking. Video games are not so attractive to girls.”

Not really thinking? There’s a man who’s never played Bubble Bobble. And finally some sense in the video game debate. Hang up your coat Anita Sarkeesian.

And pornography? “The relative proportions are hard to come by. But for girls, it’s just boring. In general, sex has always been linked with romance for girls – much more than for boys. For boys it’s always been much more visual and physical…”

“With the old pornography there were typically stories. There was a movie, like Deep Throat, and in the course of some interesting theme people were having sex. Now it’s only about physical sexual contact.”

Oh my God! The washing machine has broken in the cheerleaders’ apartment. Now they’ll never get to the game. [Ding Dong] Wait, who could this be?

“It’s always been difficult for boys to talk to girls because you are never sure what they want or what their agenda is. And now without trying or practice it becomes more and more difficult. So it’s a reason to retreat into this virtual world.”

Phil, I know their agenda. They want quality plumbing without having to pay in cash.

“In online porn, the men are incredibly well-endowed – they are paid precisely because they have those attributes. In addition, some of the men take penile injections so they can perform for half an hour non-stop. When you’re a 10 or 15-year-old kid, you say to yourself, ‘I will never, ever look like that or perform like that’.”

I never thought that when I was 15. It’s been adult life that has made the 30 minute mark seem like an impossible dream.

Indeed, he argues that schools are increasingly ill-suited to boys’ needs – another reason for their retreat into cyberspace. In the US, he says, 90% of elementary school teachers are women, while in the UK one in five teachers is a man. “Female teachers can be wonderful but they model skills that girls are good at – fine motor tuning rather than big physical activity. They don’t like boys running around. And, with funding shortages, they’re eliminating gym classes so boys don’t have the time to do physical activity.” He cites schoolchildren being assigned to write diaries as a compositional task. “Boys don’t write diaries! The worst thing I can imagine giving a boy as a present is a diary.”

Fair point, just look at what happened to Adrian Mole.

What can be done to reconnect boys with the real world? Zimbardo has lots of suggestions: more male teachers, more incentives for men to establish boys’ and men’s groups so that the former can get the masculine mentoring they otherwise lack, welfare reform to encourage fathers to remain in the family loop, crowdsourcing initiatives to fund video games that are less violent and require more co-operation, parents to talk to their sons about sex and relationships so they don’t take porn to represent real life.

All genuinely helpful suggestions and then..

My favourite suggestion is that boys learn to dance. “It’s the easiest thing in the world,”

We’re British Phil. WE ARE BRITISH MALES. We look like two legged donkeys drunk on alcopops when we dance. And that’s *after* the dance lessons.

If you actually want to see someone take on Zimbardo’s claims with evidence, I could do no better than Andrew Przybylski from the The Oxford Internet Institute debating him on the BBC.

And amazingly, the full Guardian interview is full of even more clangers. Can’t wait for the book.

Link to Guardian interview with Philip Zimbardo.

9 thoughts on “Philip Zimbardo has a theory”

  1. Very funny piece. Thanks for brightening up my Sunday. And for giving me a laugh in the midst of my psychiatric survivor activism and campaigning (seriously).

    As a mother of 3 sons, now 2 grandsons and a granddaughter, it has always been a bit of a mystery what goes on in men’s minds. I am still none the wiser. And vice versa. It was easier when they were boys.

    C’est la vie!

  2. Of course, another thing you could do with young males is to put them in a mock prison and encourage them to be cruel to one another – just like a real-life video game!

    1. Or into a locked psychiatric ward without any meaningful activities where they are being forcibly drugged or medicated, against their will. No doubt it will be happening somewhere as we speak.

    2. “Of course, another thing you could do with young males is to put them in a mock prison and encourage them to be cruel to one another”

      That’s what school is for, as expressed in Tom Brown’s schooldays, Lord of the Flies, etc.

      It’s called ‘socialization’ to make it sound useful. What better way to prepare a child for adulthood than by…. uh, separating them from most adults, and, uh, putting them with a whole lot of other humans who know nothing of adulthood. brilliant!

      Meanwhile, I have a 7 year old who turns every stick-like object into some kind of weapon, imagined or real. … sword, mace, bow and arrow, spear, halberd, you name it. Should I blame it on the video games or his gender?

  3. It’s as if this guy had been locked in a bunker for the past 35-40 years and was just recently released. Now he’s trumpeting his out-of-date ideas. Even back 35-40 years ago his ideas about gender would have been challenged by the research.

    As already noted, this is the guy whose prison research helped to push researchers and the US into creating ethics boards regarding research with human subjects.

  4. Score one for the “Men as victims of enjoyable activities” camp! Yet somehow I find myself feeling sorry for him. I have absolutely no idea why.

  5. I caught a keynote by Zimbardo at the European Congress of Psychology in 2011. He’s a highly entertaining speaker, although he’s certainly not afraid to hold forth on differences in nationalities as well as gender differences.

  6. Wouldn’t a crisis of masculinity as it is usually understood be a good thing for society? Any change could only be for the better, surely?

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