Day 1 at the Stanford Undergrad Psych Conference: Talking to Dr. Zimbardo and thinking of Dr. Knight – by Lan Tran


Guess who I am talking to!!!

Last weekened, I attended the Stanford Undergraduate Psychology Conference (SUPC) to give a talk about a research project I did last semester with my partner, Kristin Belessis: Wearing Pink Socks: The Effects of Feminine Objects on Physical Sports. This research was in fulfillment of the partial requirement of my class PSY 4022 Power, Status, and Dominance with Professor Jen Sellers at GMC! The class was such an exciting and enriching educational experience! We discussed 3-4 journal articles each week, wrote reflections, and most excitingly, conducted own our research. Kristin and I decided to examine, particularly, how the color pink, as it is heavily associated with females, moderated aggression among student athletes! I submitted the abstract of this study to SUPC and got accepted. So I came to Stanford!

As I arrived at the Psychology department today, I realized that it locates right next to the Math department, and strangely enough, I immediately thought of Professor Gordon Knight and the Criminology class I took with him. In Criminology, we learned about the case of Theodore Streleski, a graduate student in mathematics at Stanford, who murdered his advisor, Professor Karel deLeeuw in 1978 because Streleski believed that Professor deLeeuw was trying to prevent him from completing his PhD. Gordon talked about this case in order to demonstrate the three requirements of a parole-hearing: 1) You have to admit guilty, 2) You have to be sorry about what you did, and 3) You have to promise not to commit the same crime. The odds about the Streleski cas is that he partially refused to promise not to commit the same crime. He said: “I have no intention of killing again. On the other hand, I cannot predict the future”. This is such a strange case that it sticks with me till now, or should I say, it is all because of the awesomeness that Gordon put in his lectures? I guess both! Gordon is such an amazing professor, and as you can see, his lectures travel with me to everywhere. I have a short clip of Gordon talking about insanity in court here (click!!!)

With Dr. Zimbardo 

Back to my first day at Stanford: I had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Phillip Zimbardo. As you may know, Dr. Zimbardo was the principal investigator of the Stanford Prison Experiment. In this experiment, participants (most of them were Stanford students) role-played “inmates” and “guards”. The “guards” abused “inmates” physically and verbally. The experiment was planned to last in 2 weeks but it became so bad that the research team had to stop it early. This experiment demonstrated that, ordinary people, under the heavy influence of situations (for example, authoritarian leadership or war), may commit terrible crimes, and every one of us has the “potential” to be evils. Then, Dr. Zimbardo mentioned about the criminal justice system in the U.S. and seemed to be really upset. He said that there were more African Americans in jails and prisons than there were African Americans in high schools. Following the topic flow, I talked about Sheriff Joseph Arpaio, a case study I learned in Criminology. Sheriff Arpaio (from Arizona) demands that all prisoners have to wear pink boxers. One of the prisoners, Eric Vogel, who also had slight mental disorders, was shouting that he was being raped while he was forced to put on pink boxers. A few months later, Vogel passed away, and his mom takes this case to the court against Sheriff Arpaio. Then, luckily enough (because everyone was having dinner elsewhere), I was the only one there with Dr. Zimbardo so I could furthermore tell him about my research. I was very nervous and intimidated but I DID IT!!! I tried to imagine that Dr. Zimbardo was one of my professors at GMC and told myself to go with the flow. Dr. Zimbardo seemed to like my research, and even if he honestly did not like it, I was glad that I did try talking about my research to an influential psychologist! All of the experiences of forming relationships with professors at GMC definitely helped me a lot here!

Later, in his keynote speech, Dr. Zimbardo talked about his lines of research, with a focus on the Time Perspective. This describes how our perspectives of time (as being past-oriented, present-oriented, and future-oriented) can affect our life outcomes, happiness, and also shape and define a culture!!! Very cool, isn’t it? I will find his books and read them all. 

Talking to Dr. Zimbardo was definitely a cool experinece and an important mark in my professional career. The most inspiring lesson I learned was about his life story. A lot of people know that Dr. Zimbardo conducted the Stanford Prison Experiment but only a few know that he grew up in a ghetto area in Bronx, NYC. His life tells us that, no matter where we come from, and how the past might have shaped us, we are the ones to decide how to go on and build our future. 


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