Perhaps empathy is only really possible through aliens.

August 18, 2009 at 10:13 am (science) (, , , , , , )

I saw District 9 over the weekend, and it is an amazing movie.  Not to give anything away, but using survelliance footage, documentary style interviews, and just straight up movie time, they create a world where aliens have landed in South Africa and are treated like second class citizens.  It’s a great demonstration of how, if you treat people like animals, they will start to behave like animals, plus it has lots of fun explosions and fighting and stuff.  I left the movie thinking that every racist should see it.

Well, apparently psychology researchers have had the same notion.


Fun psychology study ahead!!

Gordon Hodson at Brock University realized that the problem with helping people understand their own bigotry is that they have no real motivation for taking the perspective of other people.

So what he did was test the homophobic tendencies of 101 heterosexual students and then had 79 of them complete the so-called “Alien-Nation” simulation.  The rest attended a lecture on homophobia.

The Alien-Nation simulation broke the 79 students into small groups and had them imagine landing on an alien planet populated by aliens who look exactly like humans, but who don’t allow any public displays of affection, and live in same-sex housing and reproduce by artificial insemination.

They were then asked questions about how they would go about their daily lives living under these conditions, how they would still date, how they would identify other aliens, etc.

After this was done, the students were then asked whether the situation applied to any real-life groups, and they did not see the parallels with homosexuality.  (Now, that seems odd to me given the description we’re reading here, but we have to trust that they buried this info in a lot of other info about the “aliens”, so let’s go with it.)  The researcher then pointed out the comparison and drew attention to ways that people who are gay deal with the constraints of an intolerant society.

The students’ attitudes towards homosexuality were tested again, and their level of empathy had increased significantly compared to the people who sat through the lecture on homophobia.  Also, their attitudes remained more tolerant when the researchers retested them a week later as well.

Maybe the best things aliens can do for us as a nation, rather than trying to blow up our White House and showing us all that we have to band together as a planet against aliens, is help us learn the value of empathy.  We ain’t teaching aliens, aliens teaching us.

(More details here, and thanks, as always, to ace reporter Neary.)

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1 Comment

  1. monkeearmada said,

    I wanna see District 9 the more I see the preview. Did you know they’re remaking Alien Nation for Scyfy network (formally Sci-Fi)?

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