Here I go watching another Discovery Channel program last night on sexual mores in the US today, from the Kinsey Institute no less. I think they saved the best for last, because at the end they decided to do a rerun of social psychologist Ken Gergen's famous (or maybe infamous) experiment with students in 1973, that saw them put in a dark room with no instructions, along with others of both sexes, who were not known to them. Strangers in the dark. I remember as a psychology undergrad, you have to get a certain number of hours up, being guinea pigs in various studies. Now completing boring old surveys doesn't really compare. This was the 70's folks.....the permissive era, communes, Hustler magazine, sensitivity groups, Fellini Satyricon, Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice. What do you think happened to these completely anonymous strangers? A love in? An orgy? Well not quite, but things did get personal.
At first they talked, but then the conversation soon slacked off. Then the touching began. Almost 90% of subjects touched someone else on purpose. More than half hugged someone. A third ended up kissing. Almost 80% of the men and women reported feeling sexually excited. They also reported it was a bonding experience in terms of in-group feeling and several of the participants offered to come back as unpaid extras in the future (apparently there must have been a small financial incentive). The one thing that didn't happen was any animosity between them. No argy-bargy. It promoted good feelings. Altogether it would probably qualify as a type of love-in without actual sex.
Now the same experiment was performed by Ken and psychologist wife Mary for the cameras of Discovery Channel. This time participants locations could be detected by thermal imaging equipment. They entered one by one and the same slightly apprehensive conversations began:- " Hey I don't want to trip people over here." "Wow I thought this was a porno" etc. Then......nothing. After lying in more or less separate spaces for around 30 minutes, so everyone had enough room, there was one reported incident of touching, but only to say:- "Hey, feel the hole in my wrist. This was the result of an accident that happened when I got this tattoo." Pretty much zilch in terms of intimacy after and it came to an end some 60 mins later. This didn't turn into another 'Big Brother' episode. There were no exhibitionist 'wanna be' stars here.
Now what does it say about us now? A lot? A little, but the situation was too artificial? Or something else? Now you need to know what Ken Gergen was famous for besides this. He put forward his famous 1973 paper on :- 'Social psychology as history'. He argued behaviuor patterns could be altered by their historical context and simply by studying them. eg. if you study obedience to authority, it would reduce the likelihood of obedience. Descartes might have said :- "I think therefore I am" but Gergen said :- "I am linked therefore I am." So when the Discovery interviewer said to Ken :- "Can you explain this behaviour we just saw?" He said :- "Well, you know, that first time was back in the 70's, and they didn't have sexual harrassment laws and such, so people felt freer. "
But is this all? I think not, but I want to hear what you think. This is a sort of experiment itself. So, don't be just another page view, speak you mind. Remember we didn't have the big, bad, impersonal web then. What has really become of us?