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Facebook asked Philip Zimbardo absolutely anything — and he answered

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Today, eminent psychologist and TEDTalks star Philip Zimbardo (see his talks on evil and the paradox of time) agreed to answer TED’s Facebook fans’ questions on Absolutely Anything — and he did! Read on:

Does time orientation influence which children become bullies? — Kathy Hermanv

Interesting question, but there’s no research on this relationship. Bullies are often people who are shy and can’t make friends easily, so, as the theme of the movie A Bronx Tale tells us, it is better to be feared if you can’t be loved. They substitute dominance for social support, and may have been abused earlier so carry on the use of power in dealing with others. They graduate onto becoming workplace bullies and making many other worker’s lives miserable. However, bullies may be the perpetrators of evil but it is the evil of passivity of all those who know what is happening and never intervene that perpetuates such abuse.

[Ed: Check out Dr. Zimbardo's book, The Time Paradox for a detailed look at his new thinking on the hidden psychological power of time.]

What causes feelings of embarrassment in shy people? — Malin Frankenhaeuser

Lots of stuff: feeling as the object of the other’s attention, feeling being evaluated or judged, singled out even for commendation, alone with a member of opposite sex, feeling inadequate around superiors, even imagining future scenarios of social failures. Check out my books: Shyness: What It Is, What to Do About It, and The Shy Child.

How do you keep love alive? — Chris West

Remembering and enacting the song: “I love you more today than yesterday, but not as much as tomorrow.” Say each day, “l love you.” Do something that makes the object of love feel special, wanted, and desired. Put Post-its around with hearts and your initials and that of your loved one. If it is romantic love, work at making love as often as possible and with as much sensuous pleasure as possible. Don’t have sex when you are tired, overfed or drunk or bored; just go to sleep and do it the next day.

Is suffering a part of what it means to be a hero? — Pedro Fontes

Not at all. My definition of heroism is “taking action on behalf of others (or a moral cause) in need, with awareness of potential personal cost and no expectation of tangible rewards.” Others may be suffering of being unfairly wronged, and the hero recognizes that injustice or pain and acts socio-centrically to prevent or mitigate the wrong or the pain. See my website, TheLuciferEffect.com (celebrating heroism), EverydayHeroism.org.

What is the greatest mistake the field of psychology has made? — Justin Paine

Focusing for so long on the negatives in human nature, like mental illness, aggression, prejudice and antisocial behavior. Psychologists are optimists who believe that understanding the causal mechanisms in such phenomena they can begin to prevent, modify or change such negative states and behaviors. However, this focus on the Yin prevented most psychologists from recognizing the Yang — the positives about people and human nature. That focus on the negative is being corrected by the Positive Psychology movement, started by U. Penn. Professor Martin Seligman in 1998. Just this weekend that group held the first annual International Positive Psychology Association World Congress in Philadelphia, attended by more than 1,700 people from more than 30 nations. Their focus is recognizing and building human strengths and virtues, and doing so across the school curriculum, in business and the military and more. It is an exciting new field of scientific research, education and application.

Which political system is the most humane? — Xenia Benivolski

People want fairness, justice and to have the opportunity to make a difference in the world they inhabit. They want to succeed by merit and effort. In general, participatory democracy can help best to achieve such goals and needs, where it is truly created and maintained by the will of the people and is not merely illusionary democracies, where votes are rigged or fraud and corruption dominates. We are in the midst of a unique world experience in Iran, created by the electronic revolution that is making the entire world instantly aware of that likely fraudulent vote and the need for an honest, supervised re-casting of votes. In the past, the United States government has supported a bunch of pseudo-democracies around the world as long as their leaders were anti-Communism or even fascist juntas.

Is there such a thing as a good cult? — Christopher Glass

Great question. It is one I used to pose in my Mind Control course at Stanford University, going one step further and inviting students to design such a cult. Many cults start off with high ideals that get corrupted by leaders or their board of advisors who become power-hungry and dominate and control members’ lives. No group with high ideals starts off as a “cult”; they become one when their errant ways are exposed. A good cult delivers on its promises. A good cult nourishes the needs of its members, has transparency and integrity, and creates provisions for challenging its leadership openly. A good cult expands the freedoms and well-being of its members rather than limits them.