Unit 14: Social PsychologyIntroduction We are social animals. We are moved to love and to hate, drastically. We almost always care what others think or what others do or say. Social psychology is the study of how we think about, influence, and relate to others. Attributing behavior to persons or to situations Fritz Heider came up with the attribution theory which says people measure others’ behavior by either their internal disposition or the external situation that they’re in. In other words, people behave due to their innate nature or because they’re caught up in the situation. For example, a person may be quiet by nature, but in the right situation, may be very outgoing. The fundamental attribution error is that we tend to overestimate a person’s natural personality and underestimate the position that they’re in. An experiment with a set-up “mean or friendly” girl showed that we see behavior as being determined by one’s personality, not by the situation. When we view others, it’s easy to fall into the fundamental attribution error trap. Studies show that when people have the situations reversed, they better see the situation from another’s point-of-view. How we interpret another’s behavior has consequences—both good and/or bad. We must be cautious in interpreting another person’s actions or inactions. Politics comes into play when interpreting actions or inactions. For instance, the author of the textbook's on which these notes are based seems to clearly hold the biased view of a political liberal. He suggests that a person’s place in life the result of things beyond his or her control. From the liberal angle, the author argues that the people who stayed in New Orleans while Hurricane Katrina bore down on New Orleans. He suggests leniency for their inaction because they were “not offered bus transportation.” The political liberal also suggests that society is the cause of crime and terrorism and that people must “consider the situations that breed terrorists.” America’s understanding of this situation, a political liberal believes, will somehow prevent terrorism. Political conservatives tend to attribute a person’s situation to his or her own action or inaction. Conservatives might suggest, “If you don’t like where you are in life, don’t complain by saying it’s someone else’s fault. Rather, if you wish to better your place in life, then work hard and do just that—improve your life. You have the power to change your life!” Conservatives would state that terrorism is due to the actions of the terrorists themselves. Terrorism is not a result of the understanding, or lack of understanding, by the victims whom terrorists attack. This “blame-the-victim-logic” is the same as saying, “A woman was raped because she didn’t consider the situation that bred the rapist.” Attitudes and actions Attitudes are feelings that drive us to respond to a situation, person, or event in a certain way. Our beliefs often influence feelings. How we feel about someone or something, right or wrong, impacts the way we react to it. The central route persuasion is a change-of-attitude where people evaluate arguments and respond with favorable thoughts. Simply, this occurs when you weigh the evidence of something and make a rational decision. For instance, both Republicans and Democrats analyzed and weighed the intelligence available at the time and overwhelmingly voted to support Pres. George W. Bush’s plan to use force to remove remove the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein (the vote was 297-133 in the House, 77-23 in the Senate). The peripheral route persuasion is a change-of-attitude where people are influenced by quick cues and make quick judgments. Simply, this occurs when you make a quick decision based on a snap judgment, emotion, what's cool, popular, sexy, etc. For instance, many people watched Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, became caught up in the flash and glamour of “going green, ” and accepted man-made global warming as scientific truth. People made their decision because they’d seen a movie, not due to the results of analysis of a scientific experiment. This causality error is common. Only experimentation shows causality (not a movie). What you hold as your attitude affects how you act. The foot-in-the-door phenomenon says that if a person goes along with a small requests, he or she will go along with bigger requests. For instance, American prisoners in the Korean War were increasingly given rewards for “going along” with communist ideas. What started as something tiny grew to full-fledged agreement with socialism/communism. To get people to agree to a big lie, start with a small lie. What’s more, once you go along, what you do starts to become what you believe. That’s why many Korean War prisoners returned to the U.S. “brainwashed” and believing that socialism/communism was actually good for America. Some good news, the belief-follows-action phenomenon works not only for the bad, but for the good as well. The role that a person fills also affects his or her actions. People tend to behave in a manner that they think is appropriate for whatever role they are in. The most famous role-playing situation was the famous “Zimbardo Prison Experiment” done by Philip Zimbardo at Stanford in 1972. Zimbardo set up a fake prison in the basement at Stanford, then randomly assigned prisoners and guards. They role-played. Guards were given clubs and uniforms and told to keep order. Prisoners were given humiliating robes. The effect—the “guards” assumed their roles and basically abused the “prisoners”. The experiment was called off after 6 days. The bottom line—we are what we do. When our attitudes and our actions don’t match up, we feel tense. This is called “cognitive dissonance”. To fight this tension, the cognitive dissonance theory tries to bring our attitudes and our actions together to relieve tension. In essence, we rationalize our actions and we make excuses for what we do. We either change our attitudes to match our actions, or vice versa. Usually, it’s the attitude that’s changed rather than the behavior. The good news, changing one’s behavior can be relieving. Conformity and obedience People mimic other people’s actions, as with looking up or yawning. The so-called “chameleon effect” says we reflect the characteristics of those whom we’re around.
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