Widgets Magazine

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.”

  • Pjones229

    this is garbage.  zimbardo grew up in a different time, and doesn’t understand gender dynamics today.  boys “underachieve” today because there is no incentive to achieve when it comes to attracting women.  better to be the dropout who smokes pot, plays video games, and gets tons of young ladies, than to work hard in school and be celibate.  because of women’s rights, girls today select for sexual fitness, not financial fitness.  boys are responding as can be rationally expected.

  • Stanford Supporter

    This is very heartening and useful information. I also grew up in a different time and I am keenly aware of the dramatic trend that Zimbardo  is describing. Kudos to him, once again, for great work and to the Stanford Daily for highlighting it.

  • And yet, take a look at Congress, corporate boardrooms, or the tech industry and it would seem that boys are doing alright for themselves.

  • Sweener

    porn and father figure more or less apply to me, and I’m a struggling 23 year old who went to Stanford.

  • Martha

    I doubt you get tons of ladies… but I think you misread this article.  In no way is Zimbardo advocating celibacy.  Also, while I agree that most women today are not selecting their mates based on financial fitness I don’t think sexual fitness is correct either.  

  • Bry

     I think they are talking about a different generation here, not the old geezers in the US congress.  Where I am from the city council is predominately women.  Just give it some time and see what happens. 

  • ACPsychDoc

    PJones, it looks like you have a kneejerk reaction here. Don’t be defensive. I’m a college professor and have had an interest in boys for 30 years. I have watched boys decline over the last three decades in their attention, ability to think and reason, capacity for concentration and for maintaining knowledge while reading new information… I have seen a general decline and higher failure rates.

    While boys used to be interested in athletics, video games have taken over. All children are obese at alarming rates; obesity and a sedentary lifestyle both lead to cognitive deficits, but boys are experiencing more of a decline than girls.

    What you criticize Zimbardo for is precisely what deserves note and praise; he has been studying this phenomenon for decades and has watched a measurable decline. Rather than defensively be upset at the produce of his research, you should be grateful that there are scientists who are interested in helping boys and young men as much as possible. His work is praiseworthy – please step back, read it again (carefully), and understand what he is saying. This is critically important and we’ve been watching it coming for years while it has been difficult to get people to listen.

  • ACPsychDoc

     Hi, Peter – this actually has been developing for the past three decades. Those of us in psychology are very concerned – and have been sounding the alarm for years to largely deaf ears. Yes, men have enjoyed success, but the young men today will experience that same success at lower rates than their fathers and grandfathers. Let’s see what Congress and those boardrooms look like in another 2 or 3 decades. When I was young, a woman who was a doctor was commonly called a “lady doctor.” That was because it was so unusual for women to educate themselves to that level. Now women are the majority of graduates in every field. This is NOT good! I don’t want males to become a huge second class group of people! I’m very concerned.

  • ice796

    Balance in life is important? IT’S A REVELATION!

  • Aperson43215

    This must be the funniest
    thing I have read today. Love it when old zombies ramble on about
    young people. I really like how no evidence is quoted and that no
    alternative theory is discussed. One sentence about how people need
    to study more today than before, and how welfare systems are now
    better would really add to the quality of this article. But alas this
    is probably one of those old people news sites.

  • What Pjones is kneejerking to is the way this is being presented as “Video Games and Porn are the root of all evil and it’s causing Boys to be failures”  (I’m not saying that’s what Zimbardo’s work is, just that this is what this article summarizing it makes it sound like.)

    Unfortunately non sensationalist summaries don’t sell books… I’m just saying…
    I’m not disagreeing that there is a definite social change happening and yes it’s not for the better. 

    However, blaming, rock and roll, comic books rap, tv, the internet, porn, video games is  practically a tradition at this point, and doesn’t ever really seem to stop or fix anything.

    Boys are being cast out of traditional roles and there’s a lack of motivation to do anything, because there’s nothing demanded of them for the foreseeable future.  That’s what we need to fix.

    However,  why is no one blaming the crap we’re calling food these days?   We’ve been increasing empty carbs and sugars in everything , and systematically removing nutrients,and pretty much all the stuff that gives you the energy to go outside and play.  But hey, it’s cheap so you can eat more!

    Oh wait, kid’s aren’t allowed to go outside anymore because of all the rapists the media has made everyone see everywhere. Go to a park and sit on a bench by yourself if you’re a man and watch people pull their children far far far away from you.

    And why would they want to?  All the heroes and good role models are constantly under attack or being scrutinized or being lambasted in the ‘news’.   No wonder the ‘Slacker Hero’ is the modern idol.

    And it’s not just the boys who can’t have a relationship,  girls have turned sexually assertive at a frighting age. (Never thought I’d have to pass along safe sex info with my 11y old  but 20 min on his facebook convinced me)  

    the TL;DR – there’s a problem, and we can’t JUST say X or Y is at fault, there’s a whole alphabet of problems and causes out there.  And it’s disingenuous to say ‘well porn and video games are the problem’.  I can promise you that if we magically got rid of them the problems would still be there.

  • amy

    Who really cares? I doubt anyone cared 100 years ago about a women’s education. If every individual is happy with their own life choices, then the gender makeup of a university shouldn’t matter.

  • Blakeadk

    The third point deserves more emphasis than the first two 

  • ACPsychDoc

     You make some absolutely brilliant points. I thank you for your time and thoughtful reply here.

  • 20YearOldMale

    I wish everyone would recognize the validity of these points like you. It’s always frustrating (not to mention demotivating) to see psychologists point and say “I know why you’re screwed up” without considering that society and culture are already and ever-increasing complexities with reasons for reasons for reasons.

  • Patter122

    As long as men are still paying all the bills and dying on the front lines, no one cares.  Men are disposable.  And boys are defective girls in today’s America, to be corrected or destroyed.

    More Ritalin, please.

  • Patter122

    Just try fighting the feminist “look at Congress” meme.  You will lose.  Contrary to liberal dogma, feminists don’t want equality, they want dominance, and if you think the status quo is a problem, you are a sexist male, a product of “rape culture”.  Enjoy.

  • Patter122

    Psychologists hate men, boys and anything traditionally masculine.  Read Warren Farrell to see what happened to his career when he raised the same issues.  If you’ve been observing this for 30 years, why are you only speaking up now?

  • ACPsychDoc

     Well, if they are saying that, they’re idiots!  We all are living and developing within a culture. Thank you for your kind words!

  • ACPsychDoc

     Gosh, Patter… why would you say that? You sound pretty angry. As for why I’m “only speaking up now” – are you serious? You don’t even know me. Gosh, I’ve been jumping up and down screaming about this for years. I give talks about it regularly and write about the issue. Don’t make assumptions like that… particularly mean-spirited ones. They won’t win you an audience.

    There is no need to address individuals here in that manner simply because you are angry about an issue and making assumptions. I’ve always been a strong supporter of men and I don’t know one psychologist who “hates men.”  That’s just ridiculous.

    I can’t think what you are saying about Farrell.  He’s highly successful and has won many awards. Sure, some people disagree with him, but that doesn’t bother him. He’s doing great.

    I’m really baffled by what you say here.

  • ACPsychDoc

     Patter, I think you didn’t actually READ what I wrote. You aren’t making any sense at all. Read the post I responded to – and then read my post. I’m thunderstruck that you are so angry with me while I’m stomping around supporting MEN. What the heck is wrong with you? Why would you attack a person who is on YOUR SIDE of these matters? Sheesh!

  • Guest

    Farrell has been very clear about how his career as a speaker and faculty member dried up when he started advocating on men’s behalf.  That’s what i was alluding to.

    The psychology profession has traditionally been very hostile to anyone who does the same and does not fund research on male issues to anywhere near the same amount of that given to women’s issues.

  • Matthewbrearley16

    Im a struggling teen thank you for this ill show my Father.

  • StrugglingTeen

    Ur a smart person coming from a teen boy 16 years old you are right. This is why i dont try hard enough.

    Boys are being cast out of traditional roles and there’s a lack of motivation to do anything, because there’s nothing demanded of them for the foreseeable future. That’s what we need to fix.

  • Until we begin looking at differential treatment from an early age and show just how our individual environments create different mental/emotional/social conditioning; how average stress is made up of layers of mental frictions that take up real mental energy, and how differential treatment creates real advantages for girls today, we will continue to be at a loss to explain the growing Male Crisis. Please do not buy into the genetic models, for they will only make it much worse for Male students.

    This differential treatment continues on through adulthood, almost fixing many Males onto roads of failure and more escape into more short-term areas of enjoyment. Also the giving of love based on achievement that many Males thus falling behind academics then turns their attention toward video games and sports, risk taking to receive small measures of love/honor not
    received in the classroom.

    The problem is more complex than school curriculum or boy chemistry. The problem involves two
    entirely different treatments of Males and Females beginning as early as one year of age and increases in differential treatment through adulthood. This is creating the growing Male Crisis in the information age. The belief Males should be strong allows more aggressive treatment of Males beginning as early as one year. This is coupled with much “less” kind, stable, verbal interaction and less mental/emotional/social support, knowledge, and skills for fear of coddling. This increases over time and continued by society from peers and teachers to others in society. This creates more social/emotional distance from parents and other authority figures who have knowledge; higher average stress that hurts learning and motivation to learn; more activity due to need for stress relief; more defensiveness and wariness of others further hindering emotional and social growth; and higher muscle tension (creating more pressure on pencil and tighter grip) that hurts writing and motivation to write. It creates much lag in development creating a learned sense of helplessness in school.

    Since girls by differential treatment are given more positive, continual, and close mental/emotional/social/ support verbal interaction and care from an early age onward this creates quite the opposite outcome for girls compared with boys. The lower the socioeconomic bracket and time in that bracket the more amplified the differential treatment from a young age and increased in more differentiated over time.

  • JoyOfWar

    (responding to topic this old borders paleontology – I am aware of that)

    I agree with Pjones229 opinion. As for your response attempting to shame jung man into accepting your point of view is disttastful.

    However this discussion is not necessary and pointless.

    Mr. Zimbardo may be a briliant man – however based on this short article you can easily see that he made wrong assumptions (conditioning everyone undergo while we are growing up – and his is outdated) thus regardless how good were his observations and how thinking went into this book – conclusions in my opinion are incorrect…

    Error 1: “systemic problem” – what exactly is the problem?
    I only see something that can barely fit “phenomenon” definition.

    Pointing out who is this phenomenon problem for could share some light on the issue (and speakers motivations), of course it is as always easier simply to call your oponent stupid and unkept.

    Error 2: putting on scales abstract “virtual” and “real” interactions as there were in any way corresponding. To be corresponding virtual romance would mean lost opportunity for real romance – where if often mean lost opportunity to hear “get lost looser”. Not really encouraging perspective.

    You want truly scientifical explanation for that phenomenon?

    Boys/man want X. They used to do A as a mean to achieve X.

    Due to recent social changes A no longer result in X.

    As a consequence boys/man are no longed sufficiently driven to do (or at least complete) A. Computer games, parting, drugs, alcohol – are just the substitute for X, which is no longer available as it has been replaced by more politically correct Z. Computer games are obviously more popular as are most affordable and least damaging – just perfect to hold out until opportunity present itself. No matter how much shugar you coat the Z in, it will never be as attractive as X. Not for most.

    Of course they will be some that will not see the difference – select Z and survive. Evolution. The question is: was it ok to change X->Z?

    What do we loose together with this change and part of the population bound to it so strongly. Temperance? Prudence? Courage? Justice?

    And more importantly: what will go next?

  • JoyOfWar

    “Success”. This is the core of the problem.
    It is not amount of success which has depreciated.

    Success it is just abstract word that has lost connection to reality.

    Mental excercise:
    You give shallow man a 10’000’000.
    Is he milionaire?
    – Yes.
    Will he be happy because of it?
    – Yes.

    You give shallow man a 10’000’000 – but prevent him from using it in any way.
    Is he a millionaire?
    – Yes, he still is a milionaire.
    Will he be happy because of it?
    – Maybe, at first, if he is stupid enough. But what actually he gained is big bold nothing.

    This is the problem. Why young man should undertake difficult way to “success” if it is in reality inconsequential – as all benefits have been taken or forbidden? At best one can achieve level of gratification somehow higher than virtual experience. So what’s the point?

  • JoyOfWar

    I’m sorry but your words/comment carry no meaning.

    If you mean what I think you mean – no, you cannot fight fire with fire.

  • JoyOfWar

    “look at Congress”

    “Feminists” tell 50% of race runners:
    – “realize yourself, do not strain yourself, we love and care for you”

    and another 50%:
    – “if you are not first we will castrate you – and make fun of you”
    and then use the fact that nearly all winners are from group 2, to scream *inequality* and demand more power.

    It is just disgusting (as they use virtues of other people rather than their own) power game – I do not understand why it is not immidietly called for what it is…

  • In reply to joy of war: I am not sure what you are meaning here. My attempt was to show how differential treatment is creating differences in mental/emotional/social/academic growth by gender. I feel this is very important, for it shows a sociological connection between achievement, which then provides us with tools to help all students. I am not saying give more aggression to girls, but rather to see how more aggressive, more neglective, less kind, supporting treatment to make Male children tough, needs to be seen as a major drawback for Male children in achieving in the information age. So we need to begin providing boys with as much kind, caring, knowledge, support, verbal interaction, and other mental/emotional/social care and consideration as we are currently providing our girls. I feel this is the only way to help lessen the growing Male Crisis.

  • I was saying that differential treatment is creating very real differences in learning, motivation, and accumulation of skills over time. My response was to show how this is occurring. The idea of fighting fire with fire is bewildering. I thought I clearly pointed out the proper change would be to provided boys with as much of the same kind, stable, verbal interaction along with many other mental, emotional, social, supports given the girls from an early age, not the more historical aggressive, neglectful treatment they are receiving today.