Does it matter if you attach descriptive labels to others?
In an experiment it was shown (Bandura A, 1975) that individuals behaved differently towards others if different labels were attached. The operators were asked to help students from another college improve their performance by delivering punishment shocks for incorrect answers. The participants “overheard” the students described as “seem like animals”, “nice guys” or not labelled at all.
Initially the subjects delivered shocks at level 2/10. However as the experiment progressed the students were seen to grade the shocks according to what they had “overheard” about the other students. If they had heard nothing about the other students they administered shocks at an average of 5/10. Those that they had heard labelled as “nice guys” were shocked at an average of level 2/10. Whereas the “animals” were shocked at 8/10.
Hence the label caused the subjects to treat them differently.
‘Our ability to selectively engage and disengage our moral standards . . .
helps explain how people can be barbarically cruel in one moment
and compassionate in the next’
(Bandura A, 2006)
We as therapists, as well as we as human beings need to be cautious when it comes to how we use labels when it comes to dealing with one another. Words have power and this is certainly the case when a therapist speaks to a client, please keep this in mind when discussing things with your clients.