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Welcome to the Dark Side


Happy Hallowe'en...


All Hallows’ Eve, when the ghosts of the departed revisit the earth…and witches wield their greatest power. It is the eve of All Saints and Samhain, and the Faery Court rides out at midnight. Also called Winter’s Eve. The last night of the Celtic year and the uncanniest season of the whole calendar.

It is only 27th October and already there are a slew of Hallowe’en related blogs listed on the various research blogging sites.

Here at Life Research – purveyors of the very best in education, health and community research – we are not averse to a little ghouling and ghosting, either.

So, in keeping with tradition,  we will be keeping bonfires lit on the hilltops and on no account will we let the household fires go out, lest evil creatures gain entry…

Not everyone is happy about Hallowe’en. Although there is an ancient tradition for guising in this country, the modern notion of trick or treating is a recent American import that many Britons dislike and think is blackmail by another name.

Spookily enough, they may have a point. We are all aware that we behave differently under the cover of darkness. Whether we are talking about a romantic candlelit dinner or jogging at night, darkness is different from daylight and we act accordingly. But, do we act less ethically in the dark?

To get in the spirit of things, I thought I’d go back to a research paper that was published earlier this year in the journal Psychological Sciences by Zhong, Bohns and Gino from Toronto University.

Their study suggested that darkness encourages cheating, even when it makes no difference to anonymity.

Darkness can conceal identity and encourage moral transgressions. It may also induce a psychological feeling of illusory anonymity that disinhibits dishonest and self-interested behaviour.

Across three experiments, darkness had no bearing on actual anonymity, yet it still increased morally questionable behaviours. The researchers suggest that the experience of darkness, even when subtle, may induce a sense of anonymity that is not proportionate to actual anonymity in a given situation.

Just as children think they are invisible when they cover their eyes, Chen-Bo Zhong’s team think the effect they observed occurs as an automatic response to the cover of darkness, even when the lack of light makes no difference to anonymity.

So, beware of the dark this Hallowe’en. You never know what mischief people will be getting up to.

Or, as my old neighbour used to say about living next door to a graveyard: “It’s them as is up and walking around you have to watch out for, not them as is lying down!”

Zhong, C., Bohns, V., & Gino, F. (2010). Good Lamps Are the Best Police: Darkness Increases Dishonesty and Self-Interested Behavior. Psychological Science DOI: 10.1177/0956797609360754

From → Crime, Research

One Comment
  1. Thinking about Death once a year is probably not asked too much – we should actually do it on a daily basis. But yes, Halloween trick n’ treat is blackmail. It is also bad for children’s health.

    I have already stacked up on dark, organic chocolate for the children that will ring our bell.

    An even better idea is to have little tokens – like a Halloween-themed pencil – instead of sweets at hand. Not to mention that parents should, under cover of night, empty out a good deal of the bounty – or discuss rules openly.

    Alexa Fleckenstein M.D., physician, author. Mother, too …

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