Zimbardo: Boys are struggling

May 8, 2012, 2:01 a.m.
Zimbardo: Boys are struggling
Professor Emeritus of Psychology Philip Zimbardo, known for his role in the Stanford Prison Experiment, is releasing a new book on why young men are struggling socially and academically (Courtesy of Philip Zimbardo)

Philip Zimbardo, professor emeritus of psychology and the leader of the famous 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment, will release a new eBook this summer with his personal assistant and co-author Nikita Duncan. The book, “The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It,” argues that young men are experiencing a decline in academics, social interactions and concentration because of changes in the modern world.

Zimbardo said the book specifically cites “the time they invest in playing video games and watching freely accessible Internet porn, in the context of changing family dynamics where there are too few male figures to nurture them” as distractions.

Zimbardo and Duncan’s eBook is a precursor to a print book, tentatively titled “Men 2.0: Rebooting Masculinity After the Demise of Guys,” to be released next year.

In an interview with The Daily, Zimbardo explained his thesis, the origins of his theories and the remedies he perceives as necessary to solve this “systemic problem.”

“I became interested in the issue 25 years ago because of this phenomenon I was observing on campus where young men were playing video games to the extent that they were giving up the real, face-to-face world for the virtual world,” Zimbardo said.

He cited his own son’s “video game addiction” during his time at Stanford, which led him to delve into the matter more deeply.

“The Demise of Guys” tackles the problem Zimbardo explains as “boys, worldwide, who are failing in large numbers.” Zimbardo shows this failure in statistics: Males are 30 percent more likely to drop out or flunk out of school, girls outperform boys at all levels starting in elementary school and boys are much more likely to be taking a prescription drug for concentration issues.

The causes for such dramatic trends are threefold, Zimbardo argues. The first is increasing video game playing by young men.

“The illusion of connectedness when a person is playing a video game is no substitute for real interaction,” he said. “Those boys that invest hours upon hours in these pursuits are less able to socialize themselves when it comes to real life.”

The second, he said, is the accessibility of pornography.

“The incredible array of pornography that is available to young men … [is] creating an addiction to arousal and habituating young men to similarity,” Zimbardo said. “They are thus unable to perceive reality as it is and are much less prepared for significant and meaningful sexual relationships.”

Zimbardo believes these two factors in combination lead to the problem many young men face in deteriorating abilities to engage in social relationships. The third factor, he argued, is “changing family dynamics, where half of all young men now are growing up without a father.”

“Guys are failing, the data shows this, and because of these factors they are unfit to learn, misfit for sexual relationships, and they are left feeling awkward and stupid socially, which leads to a big negative feedback loop, where these matters simply become worse,” Zimbardo said.

He warned that the problem is only going to get worse, and that it is not restricted to young American men. The solutions to the issue are difficult but involve both attacking those root causes and accommodating for the change in behavior. Zimbardo proposed that families monitor “time online and time with other individuals, which will at least allow you to acknowledge the problem.”

Zimbardo considered suggesting mentors for young men to “set boundaries and give motivation” and argued for shifting away from a passive lecture model in schools, which he sees as detrimental for young men given their relative lack of concentration abilities.

He paired this with an acknowledgement that “girls are on the rise.”

“Last year, women got more of every single advanced degree than men around the world, which is unheard of,” Zimbardo said. Duncan chimed in, saying women are not facing similar issues because of their traditional social functions and the fact that they socialize in starkly different ways.

Zimbardo concluded with the claim that “boys’ brains are being digitally rewired for change, novelty, excitement and constant arousal — leaving them out of sync in romantic relationships and traditional classes.”

“I’m sounding the alarm, and it’s only going to get worse,” he said. “But if we start talking about it, we acknowledge the problem, and that we have to do something about it.”

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