Tuesday March 6, 2007
The other day I stumbled across a nice little story in New Scientist about a piece of research undertaken by Sara Kiesler at Carnegie Mellon University. In this experiment, participants were asked to watch a film in a large triangle and a circle tussled with a smaller triangle. Half the participants were told that they ‘owned’ the smaller triangle, whilst half were not. Apparently a far higher proportion of those who had been told they were the owners of the small triangle were ready to criticise the large triangle for being aggressive. There’s a link to the research here, and a PDF of the findings (click here).
The project as a whole was about anthropomorphism, the projection of human-like agency and narrative to non-human entities; but whilst it says something about this, it also says something about the curious power of being told that something is “ours”. This is from the research report:
people who own possessions value them more highly than the possessions of others (Beggan 1992; Nesselroade, Beggan, and Allison 1999). Ownership also implies many other changes in a relationship—changes in knowledge, communication, attention, and feelings…
Whilst a sense ownership may lead to a greater commitment and care (see the PDF report), there is of course a down side: the projection of the narrative “that big mean triangle is bullying that little defenceless triangle” onto the shifting of shapes on a screen leads not just to a positive relationship with the little triangle, but to a negative response to the bigger triangle. As is often the case, the source of that which we think of as good – care, commitment, affection – may be the same as the source of that which we condemn – lack of care, fecklessness, hatred. Both evaluations are the result of the same story that we project onto the world. And this is why ethics, if it is to be handled at all, should always be handled with the utmost care…
Comments are turned off for this article.
Today's Most Popular
Stumped by Consciousness: Tuesday November 13, 2007
I admit it: I’m utterly flummoxed!
Not seeing the trees for the wood...: Thursday July 5, 2007
Attention, meditation and some tasty chocolate muffins.
Gautama Buddha: Interview with Vishvapani Blomfield: Wednesday December 7, 2011
Myth and history in the biography of the Buddha…
A World Made of Stories?: Wednesday February 16, 2011
“The universe is made of stories, not atoms”: discuss…
Pick and Mix: Friday August 26, 2011
Western Buddhists and the spiritually sweet-toothed.
Out of sight of land: Sunday August 8, 2010
Does travel broaden the mind?
On Moral Evolutionism: Wednesday July 26, 2006
Are we better than we used to be? Are we worse? Thoughts on morality and history.
The Path to Earthly Riches: Saturday March 3, 2007
Temple loyalty cards for kids.
Written on the Water: Friday March 6, 2009
Thoughts on the the clamorousness of the traditions of Buddhism.
Mental Discontents: Monday June 12, 2006
Can we eradicate mental discontent?
Zen, Brains and Making Friends With Your Own Head: 10 Nov, 2008
It’s a complicated business having a brain.
Lies in Which not Everything is False: 10 Sep, 2008
Stories – they are nothing but a pack of lies.
The Sutras of Abu Ghraib: 30 Oct, 2007
Aidan Delgado on Buddhism, ethics and the war in Iraq.
Baboon: 06 Jun, 2006
Feeling like a grumpy old baboon?
Meditation as Unphenomenology: 07 Feb, 2008
Meditation, cartography and the territory of the mind.