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Cyranoids and deceptive communication: a revisiting of Stanley Milgram’s experiments

The study “Revisiting Milgram’s Cyranoid Method: Experimenting With Hybrid Human Agents”, published in the Journal of Social Psychology, built off initial work done by Stanley Milgram in regards to Cyranoids (a reference to Cyrano, a fictional character from a French play), via a vocal technique known as “speech shadowing.”

Would you be able to sense if someone’s words were actually originating from an entirely different person? Wouldn’t you assume you’d recognize if a child was speaking the words of an adult? According to a new study by Kevin Corti and Alex Gillespie, humans are not as likely to pick up on this discrepancy between speaker and the origin of the words they speak as we might think. The study “Revisiting Milgram’s Cyranoid Method: Experimenting With Hybrid Human Agents”, published in the Journal of Social Psychology, built off initial work done by Stanley Milgram in regards to Cyranoids (a reference to Cyrano, a fictional character from a French play), via a vocal technique known as “speech shadowing.” More specifically, a cyranoid is defined as a “synchronized performance between two or more people and depends upon the shadower reliably and rapidly repeating the words of their source without revealing the true nature of the communication to interactants”, a task that is surprisingly easy with a little practice.

The study is split into two parts. The first study used forty adults to validate the cyranic illusion through a face-to-face, close proximity conversation in which the shadower relayed the words of a source via earpiece. The second study tested the boundaries of the illusion by using a child and adult shadowers paired with child and adult sources. The goal was to examine how age group stereotypes may guide the perception of behaviour and how stereotype-discrepant behaviour is interpreted. In order to gauge the extent to which their deception was accomplished, Corti and Gillespie analysed post-interaction interviews, survey-responses, and video/transcripts.

The findings suggest that interactants typically fail to detect that their interlocutor is a cyranoid. This remained true even when a panel of teachers was interviewing a child who was speaking the words of a college professor. When asked about the intelligence of the child, one teacher found the student to be “exceptionally bright”, but did not indicate that there was anything out of the ordinary. Corti and Gillespie hope this study opens the door to more investigation regarding deceptive communication, and the use of cyranoids. In particular, they suggest investigating whether or not the cyranoid method is constrained by functional factors, specifically that “source-shadower pairings may require that a source openly alter certain aspects of their verbal behaviour in order for the cyranoid to function in a manner that preserves the illusion of autonomy”; that is, some of the source’s words may too clearly violate the bounds of plausibility when heard coming from a particular shadower’s mouth. Executive Editor Art Stukas who oversaw the review process for the Journal suggests that “the authors succeeded in taking Milgram’s speculative ideas and turning them into a new research paradigm that can be used to investigate an array of important social psychological questions about stereotypes, social perception, and confirmatory biases.”

Source

Revisiting Milgram’s Cyranoid Method: Experimenting With Hybrid Human Agents, Kevin Cortia & Alex Gillespie, The Journal of Social Psychology, DOI: 10.1080/00224545.2014.959885, published online 4 November 2014.

Source: Taylor and Francis