Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Less speculation, more testing...

In keeping with the discussion about whether or not ridicule or insults hinder the process of educating people:

(This is presented as a rebuttal to accusations, not as an argument to engage in more ridicule or insult. Yes, it's one study, but it's better than the anecdotal opinions we've seen bandied about...)

Abstract of (doi:10.1037/0022-0663.73.5.722):

"Tested the proposition that ridicule is an effective educational corrective by including 1 of 3 motivators (ridicule, insult, gentle reminder) or 1 of 3 controls in a handout of course reading assignments. Sex of Ss was included as an independent factor; 180 undergraduates participated. Scores on an unannounced test on the assigned readings, administered during the next class, provided a measure of information acquisition. Although the gentle reminder and insult increased test scores somewhat, relative to the controls, only ridicule produced a significant increase on information acquisition. Sex differences were found for the insult vs ridicule conditions: Males scored higher than females when insulted; females scored higher than males when ridiculed."


  1. Got it. Insult men, make fun of women.
    I bet conducing this study was tremendous fun.

  2. Wow, that is interesting. Although that Bill Maher documentary "Religulous" isn't something I'd recommend to Christians; when I picked it up in a video store without knowing anything about it, it actually helped me. It was the first time I saw blatant mockery and ridicule to what I believed, and it stuck with me even after I became an atheist. Still don't think I'll be using anything more then the FSM argument for mockery/ridicule. :D

  3. interesting abstract. My only concern would be whether or not the analogy applies. For example, my guess is that the journal article was done in the setting of a classroom, where there was a recognized authority, impressionable youth, and a collection of peers that the youth is trying to impress. I can see some form of ridicule being effective, because the student does not want to look dump in front of their peers, and the student recognizes the teacher as an authority at best, or at worst, as imparting important information for future well being (such as good grades). However, in reaching out to the adult population, where the adult is more set in their ways and less likely to see an authority as an authority, and more likely to have developed a personal support structure and internal defense mechanism to ridicule, I am less sure of its effectiviness. I have a feeling, for example, that Robert Eldredge, no name leader of a small atheist group still in school will have little effect at ridiculing a middle aged theist. There might be some small effect ridiculing someone my own age, and probably the greatest effect ridiculing someone younger than me. But I also think that the effect ridiculing has brings with it the risk of completing alienating some portion of the theist population (probably a large number of those we could not reach to begin with).

    Now that the criticism is out of the way, I can say this. I think ridicule has its place, and it is a useful part of a broader stragedy. But we need to make sure that the movement as a whole has the appropriate balance of ridicule/calm/forgiving/gentle response and discourse with theists. We would not want the dominate and most pronounced voices to be only those that ridicule, for example. As with most things, there is no simple answer, no single tactic or solution.

  4. What's the difference between ridicule and insult? And why wasn't education an option?

  5. "In keeping with the discussion about whether or not ridicule or insults hinder the process of educating people:"

    I'm not sure it's a discussion about educating people (at least not in the sense used here i.e. something akin to information retention) but rather it's more to do with persuading people to change / form an opinion about something. I think that could be an important distinction.

    (You complete tit!!)

    Arghhh, *runs*. Save me Martin, save me.

  6. I can believe that this would apply to someone learning something new. Maybe insulting/ridiculing someone just plain pisses them off or puts them on their toes...you know, like they feel like they have to prove you wrong now, make you eat your words. As for challenging people's beliefs...I dunno if the same would apply. The fact is though, some beliefs are worthy of ridicule and short of personally insulting someone, a little ridicule can work in dealing with ridiculous beliefs held by others.

  7. "My disciples, I say unto thee that energy is mass times the speed of light multiplied unto itself"

    "What's the difference between ridicule and insult?"
    The paper quotes Freud in saying that ridicule is an insult "dressed up" in "joke-work". In other words, ridicule consists of insults levelled in a socially-acceptable fashion.

    In the study, ridicule was established with a three-panel cartoon with the text "Let me put it this way, I'm not going to get on anybody's case too much to do the readings for this course. BUT, I would like to comment on the level of stimulating responses I've heard in this room. I'd say that you and my T.V. are running on the same amount of intelligence." Insult had photographs instead of a cartoon, and a caption saying "Let me remind you that the readings for this course are very important. From your idiotic class responses I would have to judge that you are all really stupid." And the gentle reminder had the same photographs, but with "Let me remind you that the readings for this course are very important. The level of class responses can be greatly improved by careful reading of the assignments."

    This is where I see a potential problem. I'm not convinced it was the ridicule rather than the use of a cartoon that was doing the work here. They tried to control for this, but they used a rather unmemorable cartoon to do so...

    "And why wasn't education an option?"
    Education is the whole point of the paper. Education is not just telling somebody something, it's telling somebody something and having it stick!

  8. I got in a discussion on a blog about this a while back. Someone claimed to me that I should not make fun of someone for their choices. I posited that sometimes ridicule can teach where other methods fail. To this he said "that is the dumbest thing I've ever heard". Actually that may have been here? Either way, thanks for the info.

  9. Ridicule and insults help people learn? So, is that what they were trying to do when they told me I was a worthless sinner?

    Man those guys are way ahead of us in the area of manipulation.

    Yet, its still not the same, is it?

  10. "Someone claimed to me that I should not make fun of someone for their choices."

    I would say what better thing is there to make fun of than someone's choices? It sure beats making fun of people for their looks, race/ethnicity, sex, etc. And beliefs, well, they're not choices per se, but they're still subject to change more than the above things, so I'd say they're still fair game (along with the justifications for those beliefs).

    BTW, in case anyone was wondering, the E=mc^2 thing in my post above is copypasta fail (and pronoun fail on the part of Jesus!) that I didn't mean to paste in the comment field here. :P

  11. I think this speaks to the need to fit in that is so ubiquituous within our species. We're a social animal, and if you're being ridiculed, you'll want to find out why so you can correct it.

  12. Does anyone actually have the study? The abstract looks interesting but I don't have access to the journal.

  13. Speaking from pure anecdote, I can see how ridicule helps people to learn. Personally I feel more motivated to inform myself, do research, check facts etc when somebody confronts / debates / ridicules my position. However if I find that I am more informed than the person making fun of me, then the tables turn, and I begin to ask questions.

  14. Ha! I just posted a comment on the previous article about wanting some actual data. This isn't exactly what I wanted, but it's a good start. Mocking people's beliefs works. I am an example, as are many others. Hell, look at my username, I mock myself to keep me on my toes.


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