Brittany Frasca 11.10.

2011 English 309

Imp of the Perverse: Lost to Time or Running Amok Today?

Abstract The Imp of the Perverse is a term created by Edgar Allan Poe in 1845 to refer to the compulsion individuals have that forces them to commit acts that aren't beneficial to the individual. While this term is one used in Poe's fiction, the psychological aspect he based it off of, perversity, is very real. When surveying people today it showed that for the majority of people there is a definite possibility they have an imp running amok in their lives and consciousness. Though the imp is not something that should be used as a scapegoat for misbehaviors, it is merely meant to give individuals an idea why they have compulsions in which they cannot identify the origin. 92% of those surveyed agree that they should be responsible for their actions, however the idea of the imp being in the past is a mistake. He very well could be concerting your urges from behind the veil of your mind.

Imp of the Perverse: Lost to Time or Running Amok Today?

Does the Imp of the Perverse still run amok today thriving in human consciousness, or is the Imp a problem of the past? It's important to explore the idea of the Imp of the Perverse because the concept is relatable in everyday life. The imp is a concept that is beneficial as it can explain why individuals commit acts that don't seem logically sound. The imp allows you to delve into the human consciousness and gives possible explanations into why people are willing to commit actions that aren't beneficial to their progress in life. It would first be helpful to be acquainted with the Imp of the Perverse. "The Imp of the Perverse" is a term coined by Edgar Allan Poe in 1845 to explain a phenomenon, "the desire to be well is not only not aroused, but a strongly antagonistic sentiment exists"(Poe, 284). What that implies is an inherent disenchantment with committing acts meant to help your welfare, good fortunate, or ability to succeed in life. This phenomenon was confirmed by Carrier in 1976 with a new name, "perversity", and a new definition, "the performance of a voluntary action which the agent believes to be wrong"(229). The new implication is that individuals are blindly following the acts that the imp compels them to do so without regard for motivations or common sense. However, it is obvious the world isn't filled with individuals that are wreaking all sorts of havoc, instead it should be used as a possible explanation of why one performs an action without knowing the motivations other than something compelled them to do so. Poe's "Imp of the Perverse" is one that thrives on convincing the individual to act for the sole reason that the individual shouldn't act, "In theory, no reason can be more unreasonable; but, in fact, there is none more strong. With certain minds, under certain conditions, it becomes absolutely irresistible...the assurance of the wrong or error of any action is often the one unconquerable force which impels us, and alone impels us to its prosecution" (Poe, 284). The Imp of the Perverse, then, is a driving force within all of us that convinces us to do the action that we know we should be avoiding at all costs. The imp of the perverse has been explained as a real entity, a devil-like creature that is an outside force in nature, but also as a psychological condition that exists within the consciousness of all humanity. Either way, the imp is the condition of humanity to commit wrong or dangerous actions. The home in which the imp is resides is referred to as "the death wish"; the desire when starring into an abyss to leap into it without consciously making that decision. It is this compulsion that is the key; it is the compulsion that is the imp. To be struck with perversity is to be overwhelmed by the compulsions to commit an act that you know to be wrong or harmful to yourself or others. One of the best examples that clearly demonstrates this could be that of the "Son of Sam". The Son of Sam was a serial killer in New York who began terrorizing in 1976. He claimed that it was the demons telling him to do it; more specifically a demon in the form of his neighbor's dog, Sam. The demons (and Sam) were putting the compulsions in his head until he could do nothing else but obey (Philbin, 53). Despite the negative reputation the imp of the perverse has, the imp

is not always a bad thing to have in your life. The imp also gives us the courage to commit actions that our consciousness deems as dangerous, but that helps us as people grow that we manage to live through. The compulsion to do what is right is sometimes given as a gift from the imp. In the essay by Poe, the narrator was struck with the perverse desire of admitting to his crime so much so that he began to proclaim to the rooftops his guilt. The imp of the perverse is a complex concept that walks in the grey area of the world, neither good nor bad. Methods

I set up a survey on in order to gather information on the perceptions of what might motivate people to do an action, if they believed that they were fully responsible for their actions, and if they ever felt the compulsion to do something without knowing why. I used this to figure out whether or not people might be open to the idea of an imp of the perverse puppeting their lives and if they would still be responsible for their actions if an unknown force was compelling them to do the act.

I worked on getting a sample group to take the survey so I could gather data. I put a link on my facebook wall, tumblr, twitter, texted some family members, and posted it on my blogger site. I put them on my social media websites because that is the fastest way to get the link out there and easiest way to appeal to the most people in the fastest timeframe. There was a possible sample group of 190, out of those people, 13 responded by answering the survey.

The participants weren't as many, diverse, or in depth with their explanations as I was hoping they would be. Of the 13 people who responded there was a large number that were of the same culture, background, age range, and religious beliefs. This probably led to a lot of the responses being biased towards a specific culture, age, and religious background.

The Questions
The questions I asked were used as a way to see what people think in relation to why they are likely to commit one act over the other. I asked some basic demographic questions in order to see what diversity responded in my sample group. A list of the questions are in Appendix A at the end of this paper. I asked their gender, age group, cultural background, and their religion in order to determine a demographic of those who responded to my questions. I asked the participants for examples of misbehaviors when they were a child, teen, and adult because I was trying to lead them to be thinking about the times when they yielded to committing acts that did not benefit them in the long run of life. The goal here was to get them to admit that they have made decisions that didn't help them succeed in life and then try to coax them into giving me reasons why they believed they made those choices. I also asked participants if they believed that a person is fully responsible for their actions and if there are circumstances which remove blame from the individual. This was

to get participants to think about whether or not they believed that people are responsible for their actions no matter what. I followed that question up asking participants if there has been a time in their lives when they made a choice to commit an action in which they don't know their reasoning for deciding that choice. This was to see if they could even begin to think about the possibility of an imp of the perverse using them for its own purposes, or rather if they could believe humanity has within them an inherent compulsion working to either hinder or further them. From there I asked the participants if they're likely to give in to their desires or if they can control themselves. This is to figure out whether the participants believed in an imp of the perverse, but were able to win the battle against it. I then asked if there has been a time when the participants have had their decision making ability compromised. I was trying to see if they thought drugs or alcohol displaces blame in order to see if they would discount theories of the imp of the perverse based on alcohol or drug use. My last question I wanted to know was whether they have had the desire to jump or do something inappropriate. This question relates to the imp of the perverse because it is also referred to as the compulsion to jump when looking down over something. This would let me know whether or not they've had experiences with the imp of the perverse in their lives and how it affected them. Results The full and unaltered questions and responses can be found in Appendix Responsible for A: Raw Data. My Religion, Beliefs, results showed that Actions? Code of Conduct of the 13 participants only 4 Yes were male, as can be Catholic Other * seen in table 1 in Christian Appendix B. Of the Other* 13 responses the Appendix B: Table 5 majority of them Appendix B: Table 4 were female and as such the results are more than likely gender biased. Of the participants it was more likely that they were in their 20s, 30s, or 40s as demonstrated in Made Choice, but Table 2 in Appendix B. Of all the participants what varied the most tended to be the cultural backgrounds, the full Not Sure Why table can be seen in Appendix B, table 3. I also found that Yes of the 13 participants they were mostly Catholic, however there was a few other No codes of conduct that Appendix B: Table 6 Desire to Jump people used. The others in the graph refer to someone who was more spiritual than religious, someone who believed in
Yes No

Chakra, an individual who was lightly agnostic, and there was an individual that was Atheist. Almost everyone agreed that people are, in fact, responsible for their actions, however a number of people said that there were circumstances which could remove some of the responsibility such as mental disorders, minors, the teenager's parents if the teenager did something horrific, and being under the influence of narcotics. Another person mentioned that people are always responsible with the addendum that if they do something wrong they will at least learn from it. Of the 13 participants 10 agreed that they have made a choice to commit some kind of act without fully knowing their motivations and 10 people also agreed that there have been times where they've experienced the compulsion to jump or say/do something wildly inappropriate. Analysis What the results demonstrate is that the majority of the participants in this study agree that people are responsible for their actions which means regardless of the compulsion to commit acts that aren't benefiting them they are responsible for their actions. They also agree that sometimes they don't know what their motivations for committing a certain act is, such as the compulsion to jump and feel the sensation of falling. This shows that people have the presence of mind to know that they're responsible for their actions even if they don't know why they are doing them. This leaves with the question of whether or not anything has been proven without a doubt. Probably not, however, by getting people to admit they aren't sure about the origins of their desires there leaves room for the possibility and future study into the possibility of proving the existence of the imp of the perverse. Discussion

There are several major limitations of this particular study. The survey that was given was not as widely distributed as would have been needed to draw concrete conclusions regarding a psychological theory. As only thirteen people actually took it with this data alone too much is still unknown. Also because only thirteen people were involved in taking the survey there was not as diverse as a population for any possible conclusions to be relevant across the cultures. This means that even though it was discovered that the majority of the people who took the survey agree that sometimes they don't know why they choose to commit an act, they sometimes feel the desires that is common in relation to the imp of the perverse, and that they are responsible for their actions imp or no imp, it's still a very limited number of responses so the purpose of this study can't fully be proved or disproved at this particular point.

This research applies today because it shows that people don't always know why it is they commit an act. The research suggested that sometimes there is a compulsion to do something that might not be beneficial to them and while a few mentioned that can usually suppress the compulsion others don't always have that luxury. This means that if people are conscious of this about themselves perhaps they can slow down, think things through logically, and become more socially aware of their choices. This will allow for people to

take more responsibility for their actions and make choices that benefit them instead of continuing to commit certain acts without understanding why they are doing it.

Future Research Suggestions
I would suggest that if this study were to be done again to allow more time to be given in order for people to take the survey. There was a time crunch with this project and as a result there was not a big enough population to make any concrete conclusions based on the data gathered. The more time allotted for people to take the survey the higher the chance that more data can be obtained and more concrete information revealed about the common perceptions of the imp of the perverse. I would also suggest that there be a better kind of distribution to get the survey out to people. While facebook, twitter, tumblr, text messages, and classes could be a decent distribution method there is no guarantee that people will take it. I found that out the hard way because despite having given the link out to over one hundred people only thirteen completed the survey. Perhaps finding some sort of compensation for the people who take the survey would help as well; one student in class mentioned that she went around in the dorms and gave people candy for taking her survey. I think some of the questions also could have done with some minor fixing to make my intentions and questions more clear for the participants.

Works Cited
Carrier, L.S. (1976). PERVERSITY. Philosophical Quarterly, 26(104), 229-242. Philbin, T., & Philbin, M. (2007). The Killer Book of True Crime. (pp. 1-327). Naperville, Illinois: Sourcebooks, Inc. Poe, E. A. (1845). The imp of the perverse. In D. Van Leer (Ed.), O x f o r d Wo r l d ' s C l a s s i c s S e l e c t e d T a l e s ( p p . 2 8 3 - 2 8 8 ) . O x f o r d University Press.

Appendix A: Raw Survey Data
1. What Gender are you? Male 4 -30.8% Female 9 - 69.2% 2. What is your age group? 13-19 20-29 30-39 40-49 50-59 60 + 1 4 2 4 1 1 7.7 % 30.8% 15.4% 30.8% 7.7% 7.7%

3. 3. What is your Cultural Background (please choose a culture that you consider yourself to be a part of - not simply what you look like)?

American - Italian/Irish culture caucasion American Hungarian & Slovak White German/Polish American Croatian mexican American and Japanese culture. Irish/Italian Catholic American, Italian, Irish. American Northwestern Cultural emphasis.
4. What is your Religion/System of Beliefs/Code of Conduct?

Roman Catholic 11/8/2011 6:48 AM Catholic 11/3/2011 6:17 AM Christian 11/3/2011 4:57 AM I dont believe in religion My beliefs are in GOD. To follow the ten commandment's.

11/3/2011 4:50 AM Catholic 11/3/2011 4:39 AM Catholic 11/3/2011 4:35 AM Spiritual 11/2/2011 8:49 PM Roman Catholic 11/2/2011 3:38 PM chakra 10/31/2011 10:38 PM Lightly agnostic. I believe that there may be something of a "higher power," but it does not effect how I conduct myself. I base my beliefs/code of conduct on personal ethics and morals that I developed through life experience. 10/31/2011 9:04 PM Catholicism 10/31/2011 6:07 PM Catholic. 10/31/2011 5:01 PM Atheist/Polytheistic depending on the day.
10/31/2011 4:58 PM

5. Please explain a time as a child, a teenager, and an adult where you did something bad or acted in a way that was not beneficial to you. Why do you think you made the choices to follow those actions in each scenario?
Not giving my best effort in college. Not sure why, just caught up in it. 11/8/2011 6:48 AM Child: played to close to the pool. Fell in and almost didnt come up. Teenager: drank way to much. Attitude didnt help anything in life. Adult: Never can save enough money for future 11/3/2011 6:17 AM Because of the way it made me feel at the time. 11/3/2011 4:57 AM

N/a 11/3/2011 4:50 AM Child-locked brother and girlfriends sister together in the closet. It seemed fun at the time. Teenager-put girlfriends finger in a bowl of water while sleeping. Wanted to see what would happen. Adult-ran someone off the road. Was very angry 11/3/2011 4:39 AM Drank and drove 11/3/2011 4:35 AM I think any time I made a decision that ended up not being beneficial to me, I ended up learning a valuable life lesson. As long as I learned a lesson from something I did that was not beneficial to me at the time, I feel I benefited from the action through the learning experience. 11/2/2011 8:49 PM Child- The only time I was spanked as a kid was when my mom specifically asked my bro and sis to clean the living room, my brother and sister were watching tv and mom was almost home. So I went ahead and cleaned the living room for them, my mom spanked me in front of Corey as a guilt method. It was effective, he cried and was sorry, and I learned? that's a bad example but the first thing I thought of..... Teenager: as a teen, I was often late for curfew, one time in particular I was out drinking with some friends, I lied to my parents said I was watching a movie and it ran late. I was not allowed to go out the next time I asked. It was not beneficial to me because I was temporarily grounded, felt guilty and was engaging in undesirable behavior. I did it because I wanted to be out with my friends. Adult: Missed class because I was hungover, only once my freshmen year, haha. It was not beneficial cuz I missed class and had a bad headache all day! I was just being stupid, alcohol has that affect. 11/2/2011 3:38 PM When I was younger I was a real brat, I think I acted that way to rebel against my younger sister from getting all the attention. 10/31/2011 10:38 PM Harassing/trolling someone online by posting personal information, constantly berating them, and harassing them with their past deeds. I did that, because I personally felt that this person needed to be humbled and needed to understand that their actions were just as harmful on the other end. 10/31/2011 9:04 PM Child: Fighting in the street. Throwing Eggs at Halloween. Peer Group Pressure. Wanting to be one of the gang. Teenager: Stealing Teachers Car and hiding it. Meant as a Practical Joke but almost put us in jail. Wanting to be the Class Clown! Adult: Always saying exactly what was on my mind whether good for me or bad. A New York Attitude. Speak your piece no matter what the consequences.

10/31/2011 6:07 PM I was mean to my brother - because he was mean to me. I would sometimes sneak out of my parent's house to hang out with friends because I didn't think they'd let me. I had a relationship with someone who was already in a relationship because I thought I could change his mind. 10/31/2011 5:01 PM I've done things, horrible things, but they were done of my own volition for my own reasons. My choice. 10/31/2011 4:58 PM

6. Do you think that a person is fully responsible for their actions? Or are there circumstances that sometimes remove the responsibility from the individual if so, give an example?
They are responsible all the time. However, if a choice is wrong, they get the opportunity to learn. 11/8/2011 6:48 AM Yes. 11/3/2011 6:17 AM I believe it depends on the circumstance but I think it can definitely play a role in people's actions. If put in a situation where someone is fearful you may act or react in a way you would not normally act. But, I also think this can be used an excuse for certain peoples behaviors and people are ultimately responsible for their own actions. 11/3/2011 4:57 AM I feel when a family member is harmed by another for example a drunk driver the parent of the child is not responsible for their actions. 11/3/2011 4:50 AM Yes 11/3/2011 4:39 AM YES 11/3/2011 4:35 AM Yes. Excluding minors or handicapped individuals. i.e., A child is not responsible if they are seduced by an adult. Every choice made leads to another choice and if individuals don't think their actions through, they may make bad choices. 11/2/2011 8:49 PM

context is definitely a factor in all decisions. My mom always said it doesn't matter if you drink or not, being at the party is enough to be accountable and punished. 11/2/2011 3:38 PM I think that sometimes we are given a "get out of jail free card" and that can definitely be of benefit. When I had my permit, I took my jeep out with a friend and hit a Cadillac. However they thought it was their fault and it all worked out easily for me. 10/31/2011 10:38 PM I believe that things aren't quite as black and white. There are times when people are responsible for their actions and other times where circumstances may remove responsibility from a person. An example would be a frustrated young child hurting another child. This child learned their violent behavior from their parents. In this case, responsibility would be removed from the violent child, because they were not taught anything else or any better. 10/31/2011 9:04 PM I think that all people must answer for their actions and there are no exceptions! 10/31/2011 6:07 PM I think that everyone has a choice, but there are circumstances when maybe the choice is taken away. Mental disorders for one thing. 10/31/2011 5:01 PM No. A person is always fully in charge of their actions. No one can mind control you. 10/31/2011 4:58 PM

7. Has there been a time when you made a choice but were not sure why you made that choice?
Yes No 10 3 76.9% 23.1%

8. Are you likely to give in to urges/desires that seize you? Or are you fully able to control your actions?
I like to think that I am in control...It does not work that way 100% of the time. 11/8/2011 6:48 AM Sometimes, but mostly I am in control. I just Love Chocolate!!! 11/3/2011 6:17 AM

I feel I can control my actions 95% of the time. 11/3/2011 4:57 AM Half & Half 11/3/2011 4:50 AM Yes 11/3/2011 4:39 AM sometimes 11/3/2011 4:35 AM I control my actions 11/2/2011 8:49 PM As I get older, I am better at controlling my actions, I am more secure and sure of my values/belief system. However I will not say I do not give into urges every once in awhile. 11/2/2011 3:38 PM I don't give into urges often. 10/31/2011 10:38 PM Although I have some sense of restraint, I am still able to give into urges, such as indulging into sweets after a stressful day. 10/31/2011 9:04 PM No. I am usually able to control my actions until I get very angry. 10/31/2011 6:07 PM I often think of things I want to do, but can usually control them and not be forced to do them. 10/31/2011 5:01 PM The latter 10/31/2011 4:58 PM

9. Has there been a time when your decision making skills might have been compromised? If so, please explain the circumstance.
Yes. Drinking. 11/8/2011 6:48 AM Sure, like getting into a car acciedent. I didnt want to and avoided everything but you just cant help it.

11/3/2011 6:17 AM Yes. It was a situation where I knew it was the wrong thing to do, however the other person involved was able to rationally talk to me about it and actually make me believe it was okay. 11/3/2011 4:57 AM Yes. When trying to make a medical decision 11/3/2011 4:50 AM No 11/3/2011 4:39 AM yes. regretted my choice 11/3/2011 4:35 AM Yes. I was in an unhealthy relationship. I didn't realize how manipulated I was until I almost lost everything. 11/2/2011 8:49 PM ? 11/2/2011 3:38 PM Not really 10/31/2011 10:38 PM Yes. The circumstances involved being physically threatened so, despite knowing best, I made the opposite choice. 10/31/2011 9:04 PM Yes, while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. 10/31/2011 6:07 PM No, but I can see why drinking might impair this in others. 10/31/2011 5:01 PM No. 10/31/2011 4:58 PM

10. Have you ever had a desire to jump when looking down a cliff or bridge? Have you ever had the urge to say or do something wildly inappropriate, whether you ignored it or not?

Yes...bridges over water. 11/8/2011 6:48 AM Nope. 11/3/2011 6:17 AM Yes 11/3/2011 4:57 AM Yes & Yes 11/3/2011 4:50 AM Yes 11/3/2011 4:39 AM yes 11/3/2011 4:35 AM No. Yes. 11/2/2011 8:49 PM like a deadly cliff? I sometimes think about how easy it would be to die, like when driving and a truck is coming, one little movement of the wheel and BAM! you're dead... Yeah I will sometimes have things I would like to say outloud that are inappropriate so i hold back. 11/2/2011 3:38 PM No for both. 10/31/2011 10:38 PM Yes to both, but I resist the urges. 10/31/2011 9:04 PM No Never wanted to jump but have had urges to do things wildly inappropiate at times. 10/31/2011 6:07 PM Yes. And I have not always ignored it. 10/31/2011 5:01 PM Yep. 10/31/2011 4:58 PM

Appendix B: Visual Representation of Data
Table 1: Genders

Male Female

Table 2: Age Groups

Age Groups
13-19 20-29 30-39 40-49 50-59

Table 3: Culture

Table 4: Religion

Religion, Beliefs, Code of Conduct
Catholic Christian Other*

Table 5: Responsible for Actions?

Responsible for Actions?
Yes Other *

Table 6: Made a Choice but not sure why?

Made Choice, but Not Sure Why
Yes No

Table 7:Desire to Jump or Be Inappropriate?

Desire to Jump
Yes No