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Feb 27 2013

The experimenter said “you should make some effort”

Jadehawk has a useful post about what psychology considers harassment. Just imagine: there is research. It’s possible to find out what harassment does to people.

Because certain entities on the web feel like redefining all forms of internet harassment and threat as “trolling” just because it happens online or via unusual media, I decided to look at what actually qualifies as harassment in psychology (rather than in law, since we’re talking about whether it affects people, not whether it’s illegal).

Wait, let me guess first – it doesn’t affect people at all unless they’re Professional Victims or Drama Queens or Special Snowflakes. Right?

No.

For subjects in the Harassment condition, the procedure for the first four TAT cards was identical to that just described for subjects in the Nonharassment condition. Before the fifth card, however, the experimenter said that the last four stories had been “somewhat boring,” and that the subject should try harder to make the next few stories interesting. After the fifth card, the experimenter said “you still do not have it right.” After the sixth and seventh cards, the experimenter again indicated that the stories were inadequate, and said “I cannot see what the problem is,” and that “you should make some effort” to improve them. During the eighth story, the experimenter interrupted the subject with a critical comment.

Result? Physical effects. Read Jadehawk’s post to see what effects.

Conclusion: Even mild interruption, ridicule, and criticism elicits stress responses, and all these mild stress-response-elicitors count as harassment in psychology. That doesn’t mean we should stop criticizing people, and it doesn’t mean that people who want to be skeptics, scientists and/or activists don’t need to learn to deal with a certain degree of both criticism and “trolling”. However, as with microaggressions, a constant barrage of aggression (some low-grade some decidedly less so) is typically more wearying/damaging than the occasional blatant, massive outburst. Consequently, telling a person who’s subjected for months to non-stop criticism, “satire”, parody, “trolling”, and plain old “as defined by every college campus everywhere” harassment* on multiple fronts that they aren’t being harassed is pure, unadulterated bullshit. Even the thickest skin will eventually be worn down** my months, or even years, of this sort of thing.
What this means in effect is that even harassment that doesn’t quite live up to persecutable legal standards*** still causes harm to people. Real, measurable harm.

Is interesting. Thanks to TL for the link.

11 comments

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  1. 1
    Jackie

    Thanks for linking. I will definitely check that out.

  2. 2
    hm

    Thank you for posting. Definitely explains my last two weeks at work as well as one of my previous jobs.

  3. 3
    Claire Ramsey

    Very informative. And not a surprise. But good to see some evidence.

  4. 4
    Jadehawk

    Professional Victims or Drama Queens or Special Snowflakes. Right?

    you know what’s funny? The opposite seems to be true for low levels of bullying. Turns out that when you’re dealing with low-level harassment, self-labeling as a victim actually helps mitigate some of the negative health effects of bullying:

    Results: The findings showed that self labeling both moderated and partially mediated the relationship between exposure to bullying and the targets’ health. However, the moderator analyses indicate that self-labeling only acts as moderator in cases of low exposure. Intense exposure to bullying behaviors is related to increased levels of health complaints regardless of the target’s subjective appraisal of being a victim or not.

    IOW, being a “professional victim” is good for your health ;-)

  5. 5
    Ophelia Benson

    Well I’m ordering my Victim T shirt right now!

  6. 6
    iknklast

    Maybe this explains why my headaches went away when I resigned from a volunteer position where I was getting all sorts of negative interactions, with one of the other people I was in regular contact with bossing me and constantly scolding about something.

  7. 7
    Bjarte Foshaug

    Even the thickest skin will eventually be worn down** by months, or even years, of this sort of thing.

    It does what it’s meant to do In other words…

  8. 8
    catwhisperer

    I think the reason “self-labelling as a victim” helps is because it’s that moment where you look around and think “You know what? This is not my fault, I’m doing nothing wrong here”

    On that note, it also helps when other people say it. I’m on my thirteenth year of low-level, underhand, behind-my-back harassment in work, and for years, I wasn’t even sure it was happening. I always have a surge of being-able-to-shrug-it-off whenever someone else just says “bloody hell, you’re in her bad books today aren’t you?”

  9. 9
    leebrimmicombe-wood

    I find the whole ‘you gotta buck up’ attitude in the face of harassment to be intensely irritating. Not least because the ones who offer the advice so often turn out to be eggshells armed with hammers.

    Scratch them back and they’ll go ballistic, which pretty much explains much of the Slymepit oeuvre. They love to dish it out but ain’t too good at taking it.

  10. 10
    sheila

    What Bjarte said. That’s the whole bleeding point – to wear you down until you shut up. Because they can’t win an honest argument.

  11. 11
    mildlymagnificent

    leebrimmicombe-wood

    They love to dish it out but ain’t too good at taking it.

    I call that the one-way thin skin.
    Like an impervious concrete bunker when lobbing mighty insults and brickbats outwards.
    Like a delicate crystal vase when a tiny whispered remark comes back.

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