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Social Influence Essay Monkey see monkey do, a fair statement regarding Social influence. From the humble ant, through to modern man, social influence has been the driving force for both good and evil, progress and regression. Whether we look at Chen’s experiment with ants or Triplet’s study of cyclists, one thing shines clear, the audience effect is a social stimulus which cannot be denied. Remember the scene in “Pretty Woman” where Julia Roberts’ character, Vivian Ward, is overwhelmed at the prospect of a formal dining and table setting etiquette. Through social influence she survived the meal, got her prince and lived happily ever after. Many of the medal winning British athletes of this summer’s Olympics expressed how the dynamic effect of a patriotic audience pushed them further physically and mentally than they have ever managed to achieve before. British athletes, who were on the periphery of their sport, found themselves in medal contention due to the stimulation of the audience. The influence of a large crowd can spur a person onto achieve a personnel best and glory. Norman Triplett’s noticed that when competitive cyclist had a pacemaker, they covered each mile about five seconds quicker than those without. He suspected that this was not just the effect of slipstreaming, but a psychological effect. He tested his suspicions by using a group of children to see how fast they could wind thread onto a reel. What he found confirmed his theory: the children went faster when in competition. Triplett also noticed that the children went faster even when they were not in direct competition; the mere presence of their peers watching them, spurred them on to go faster. Robert Zajonc investigated the effect of an audience on task performance, but using cockroaches instead of children. In his first experiment, cockroaches were timed to see how long it would take them to escape from a bright light by running down a straight path. They were either alone or accompanied by four other cockroaches that they could see and smell, held in clear plastic boxes. In a second experiment, the task was made more difficult by arranging the apparatus so that the cockroaches needed to make a right turn in order to escape from the light. Zajonc found that with an audience the roaches were faster when they only had to run in a straight line. However, when they had to turn a corner they were slower with an audience (PR1TTYRICKY, 2008) The audience effect can be seen easily these days through the eyes of the media. The audience at a sporting event can influence an athlete or competitor to perform at a higher level. As we witness on too many occasions, footballers can become aggressive to another competitor due to the influence of a partisan crowd or group of supporters. An audience or group of people can also bring the worst out in people. The riots which ravaged London and spread to other parts of the UK in the summer of 2011, brought out in certain people, actions, which they would never do on their own. This was not just a bunch of drunken, unemployed yobs from a council estate that had nothing better to on a summer’s night. Many were privately educated and from a very affluent backgrounds. As people tried to make sense in the aftermath of the riots, the emerging theme from the riots was the culpability of social media sites like Facebook and twitter. Focusing the blame on social media was akin to killing the messenger and was both naïve and dangerous. (Brown Rutledge, 2011) Chen’s study using ant’s allowed him to theorise about the co-action effect. Chen started by monitoring the progress of one ant as it toiled away. The ant moved as though tired of life, bored with the whole business of excavating earth, perhaps dreaming of a better life elsewhere; but when Chen added a co-worker ant to the study, the first ant’s productivity level increased noticeably. A second ant was added; this further spurred the original ant on to higher goals. Chen noted that after adding a fourth ant, the level of productivity did not rise significantly but maintained a good productive rate of work. The effect on the on the first ant, now being part of a group rather than being alone, proved that the co-action effect does exist. Stanley Milgram’s most famous experiment was designed to test how far a human being would go, when commanded by an authority figure to hurt another human being. Milgram’s experiment was to see how far he could get a person to go, when they were told to give an electrical shock to another person. Would they ignore their apprehensions and doubts about what they have been asked to do, or would they go all the way and shock a person. Participants in the experiment were told they would be involved in a learning experiment in which they must administer an electrical shock to another person, and continue till the end of the experiment. They were also told that they would be the teacher in this experiment and the other person would the learner. The learner in this experiment would be an actor, of which the teacher had no idea. Before the experiment commenced, to add to the illusion the teacher was given a forty five volt shock via a generator. This shock left the teacher with no doubts as to what level of pain he would be administering, via the shock machine. The teacher was then sat down in front of a machine with various dials on it, increasing in voltages from left to right. The machine for the experiment would be Milgram’s famous Shock Machine. In the experiment the teacher had to administer a shock every time the learner got a question wrong. After each incorrect answer the teacher had to give a higher voltage shock. The learner kept making mistakes, and the shock level went higher and higher with each mistake. Even though the teacher could hear the student squirming, screaming, and asking them to stop; 25 out of the forty teachers in the experiment delivered the maximum voltage, despite the warning label on highest level setting of the shock machine saying “XXX warning, extremely dangerous!” When the teachers started to squirm whilst giving out the electric shocks, an authority figure dressed in a white lab coat would firmly order them to continue. Even after repeated begs for mercy and the learners going quiet, some of the teachers administered three maximum shocks to each learner. The teachers could have been in no doubt what they have, and were doing to the learners. Milgram 's study discovered people are much more obedient than you might imagine; or were they?
Assuming people were not utterly convinced on an unconscious level that the experiment was for real; an alternative explanation is in order. Perhaps Milgram 's work really demonstrates the power of Conformity. The pull we all feel to please the experimenter, to fit in with the situation, to do what is expected of us. While this is still a powerful interpretation from a brilliant experiment, it isn 't what Milgram was really looking for (PsyBlog, 2007). Milgram’s experiment is the most famous psychology experiment to date. It was conducted in 1963 shortly after the trial of Nazi Adolf Eichmann. The world needed answers to how an average every day German person managed to inflict such cruelty on fellow human beings. (Kendra Cherry, 2012). The Nazi party in the 1930’s and 40’s took social power to a new level. They managed to coerce normal German citizens through propaganda, threats and fear into acts off atrocity which will live on for centuries in infamy. Germany in the 30’s was still in recovering from the First World War and the restriction placed upon it under the treaty of Versailles. Hitler’s Nazi party threw out the treaty and began to industrialise Germany once more. On the back of re-industrialisation came jobs, money and pride. The Nazi party worked their evil theories and the push towards an Aryan race had begun. Now, Hollywood portrays the German people as an evil race of North Europeans; I was only following orders is the usual reply from a person accused of war crimes Having spent many hours talking to my German wife’s grandfather; I have learned that the Social Power of the Nazi’s was so strong, that even when hardly anyone agreed with their genocide theories, people fell into line to save their own family’s and for a sake of self-preservation. This level of obedience and conformity was unparalleled. Coercive Power, Reward Power, Legitimate Power, Referent Power and Expert Power the tools of the so called Master Race. A rather more complex experimental paradigm looks at the Co-action effect. This observational experiment consists of different individuals simultaneously engaged in a similar activity and within full view of each other. The Asch conformity experiment’s refers to an individual 's tendency to follow the unspoken rules or behaviors of the social group to which he or she belongs to. Asch conducted a series of experiments designed to demonstrate the power of conformity in groups. Students in one of Asch’s experiments were told that they were participating in a vision test. The tactics used by Asch were similar to that of Milgram. Asch also used actors as well as volunteers for his experiments. The actors, at the beginning of the experiment gave the correct answers, so to hide their part in the experiment. A line segment was shown to the participants as part of the experiment; and then the participants were asked to choose the matching line from a group three segments of different lengths. On some occasions everyone in the group chooses the correct line, but occasionally, the actors unanimously declare that a different line is actually the correct match. It is surprising how many of the participants conformed in their answer, thus agreeing with the wider group of actors. Asch’s experiments looked at the effect that the number of people present in the group had on conformity. When just one actor was present, there was virtually no impact on participant’s answers. The addition of a second actor also had very little effect. The level of conformity seen with three or more actors was much more significant. Asch also noted, that when one of his actors gave a correct answer, and the rest of the actors gave an incorrect answer; this tended to dramatically lower conformity (Kendra Cherry, 2012).
When the experiment was over; the participants were questioned as to why they had gone along with the rest of the group. In most cases, the students stated that while they knew the rest of the group was wrong, they did not want to risk facing ridicule. A few of the participants suggested that they actually believed the other members of the group were correct in their answers. The results of Asch’s experiment shows that conformity is influenced by people’s needs to fit in to a group setting and the fact that it is possible that some people feel that other people in the group maybe smarter and better informed than they are. Results show that people will conform so to not look stupid, even though they know they are right. It is possible that some of the participants in both Asch and Milgram’s experiments also only conformed to avoid conflict. Milgram’s experiment caused some ethical issues for concern. In the initial consent given by the participants (those who did not know that it was a mock experiment), they were told that they could stop, and walk away from the experiment whenever they wanted to. In reality, this was actually a part of the experiment; the authority figures commanded and coerced the participants into carrying on shocking people, even when it was clearly against their will to do so. Milgram is only one, of many psychologists who have pushed the ethical boundaries in the name of scientific research. Dr. Philip Zimbardo was part of a team doing a study on how prison incarceration. In the Stanford Prison Simulation, the participants signed a consent form which stated:
I understand that participation in the research project will involve a loss of privacy, that I will be expected to participate for the full duration of the study, that I will only be released from participation for reasons of health deemed adequate by the medical advisers to the research project or for other reasons deemed appropriate by Dr. Philip Zimbardo, Principal Investigator of the project, and that I will be expected to follow directions from staff members of the project or from other participants in the research project.

However, Zimbardo and his team neglected to inform the participants that they would be forcefully arrested by the the Palo Alto Police Department, then driven to the Stanford Prison in a police car with lights flashing and sirens wailing.
According to the BPS Ethical Guidelines, The withholding of information or the misleading of participants is unacceptable if the participants are typically likely to object or show unease once debriefed. What must have been going through the minds of some of the participants as they raced through the streets at high speed can only be imagined, but what a way to start an experiment. Again at the start of Zimbardo’s experiment, the participants were given the right to withdraw from the study at any time. However, the right to withdraw was denied to one participant for a short period of time; this was done less than thirty six hours into the experiment. It did not take long for the prisoner to start to show signs of acute emotional distress (Keiron Walsh, 2008) Now, most people understand the needs for research, but, the levels that both Milgram and Zimbardo went to, may, have left long term emotional effects on their unsuspecting participants. The main ethical issue with both of these experiments is: participants were not being given full disclosure of the ensuing events in their consent statement. Although, on the other hand, how would you get such results, if everyone involved new everything about the study before it commenced; then what would be the point. Psychologists have completed many studies and experiments to try to explain human and animal behaviour. The studies of Triplet, Chen and Zajonc have provided some interesting facts and have gone a long way to understanding how society works together for the greater good. Milgram and Asch pushed the ethical boundaries, but, without people like these how can mankind progress and go forward. Social boundaries, social ethics, conformity, obedience, the audience effect and the co- action effect; all part of the social make up of life which has allowed societies to live and evolve together. But not always for the good of everyone.

Kendra Cherry, (2012). The Asch Conformity Experiments [online] Available from: [Accessed 19/09/2012].
Kendra Cherry, (2012). The perils of obedience [online] Available from: [Accessed 19/09/2012].

Keiron Walsh, (2008). Ethical Issues in social Influence Research [online] Available from: [Accessed 19/09/2012].
PR1TTYRICKY, (2008). Robert Zajonc (1923-2008) [online] Available from: [Accessed 19/09/2012].
PSYBLOG (2009). Social Facilitation: How and When Audiences improve performance [online] Available from:[Accessed 19/09/2012].
Pamela Brown Rutledge, (2011). London Riots: Blaming social media [online] Available from:

DECEMBER 5, 2008
Robert Zajonc (1923 - 2008)
This is unfortunate news for social psychologists. I just found out that Robert Zajonc, an early contributor to social psychology and simply a superstar of the field, died Wednesday (Dec. 3rd).

Amazingly, I still haven 't found an obituary for him. Actually, I was searching for a paper of his and went to the Social Psychology Network profile previously linked, and that 's how I found out. Not something that I was expecting.

Robert Zajonc was (and still is) an important figure in the field of social psychology. He held positions at the University of Michigan as the director to both, the Institute for Social Research and the Research Center for Group Dynamics. He later joined Stanford University, eventually becoming Professor Emeritus of Psychology.

He is known for his research in a myriad of areas, but what I perhaps know best is his work on the mere exposure effect (the tendency to like something more after being repeatedly exposed to it). In 1968, Zajonc conducted 3 studies showing that the more people were exposed to stimuli, such as Turkish words, Chinese characters and yearbook photographs, the more they liked them. This effect even occurs in animals, like chickens (Zajonc et al., 1973).

Another area that Zajonc was an early contributor to was social facilitation theory. At the time (1960 's), research was showing that people performed better on certain tasks if they were in the presence of others. Yet, at the same time, research also showed that people performed worse on tasks if in the presence of others (known associal loafing). Zajonc offered an explanation for these seemingly contradictory findings, proposing a "dominant response" theory of social facilitation. He explained that being in the presence of others causes physiological arousal. For instance, imagine giving a lecture in front of 100 people. You 'll probably breathe faster, have a faster heart beat, sweat, etc. Zajonc believed that this arousal causes people to react in situations with their most dominant response. In other words, when we are in the presence of others, we 'll feel heightened arousal, and this arousal will provoke behaviors that we most commonly elicit or display in the given situation. Take the following example, say you usually choose to drink coke over sweet tea, even though sometimes you do in fact enjoy a glass of tea. Then choosing coke is your dominant response. So when others are present, you will be even more likely to choose coke over sweet tea.

Zajonc 's theory helps explain why the presence of others can help or hinder your performance on certain tasks. With tasks that seem simple or familiar, your dominant response is to perform well. On the other hand, with unfamiliar or difficult tasks your dominant response is to perform more poorly. So when you are around people while carrying out familiar tasks, you 'll perform even better. And when you are performing on more complex tasks, you 'll make more mistakes when others are watching you. The dominant response effect is so robust that it even occurs in cockroaches! Zajonc and his colleagues (1969) found that cockroaches completed simple mazes quicker when they performed with four other cockroaches present than when alone. Yet they were slower on difficult mazes when other cockroaches were present, rather than alone. Pretty cool eh?

Well, to sum up, this is just a sampling of the great ideas that Robert Zajonc contributed to the field. Social psychology definitely suffered a loss this week.
The Asch Conformity Experiments
By Kendra Cherry (Kendra Cherry,2012).
What Were the Asch Conformity Experiments?:
In psychological terms, conformity refers to an individual 's tendency to follow the unspoken rules or behaviors of the social group to which he or she belongs. Researchers have long been interested in the degree to which people follow or rebel against social norms. During the 1950s, psychologist Solomon Asch conducted a series of experiments designed to demonstrate the power of conformity in groups.
In Asch 's experiments, students were told that they were participating in a 'vision test. ' Unbeknownst to the subject, the other participants in the experiment were all confederates, or assistants of the experimenter. At first, the confederates answered the questions correctly, but eventually began providing incorrect answers.
Results of the Asch Conformity Experiments:
Nearly 75 percent of the participants in the conformity experiments went along with the rest of the group at least one time. After combining the trials, the results indicated that participants conformed to the incorrect group answer approximately one-third of the time. In order to ensure that participants were able to accurately gauge the length of the lines, participants were asked to individually write down the correct match. According to these results, participants were very accurate in their line judgments, choosing the correct answer 98 percent of the time.
The experiments also looked at the effect that the number of people present in the group had on conformity. When just one other confederate was present, there was virtually no impact on participants ' answers. The presence of two confederates had only a tiny effect. The level of conformity seen with three or more confederates was far more significant.
Asch also found that having one of the confederates give the correct answer while the rest of the confederates gave the incorrect answer dramatically lowered conformity. In this situation, just five to ten percent of the participants conformed to the rest of the group. Later studies have also supported this finding (Morris & Miller, 1975), suggesting that having social support is an important tool in combating conformity.
What Do the Results of the Asch Conformity Experiments Indicate?:
At the conclusion of the experiments, participants were asked why they had gone along with the rest of the group. In most cases, the students stated that while they knew the rest of the group was wrong, they did not want to risk facing ridicule. A few of the participants suggested that they actually believed the other members of the group were correct in their answers.
These results suggest that conformity can be influenced both by a need to fit in and a belief that other people are smarter or better informed. Given the level of conformity seen in Asch 's experiments, conformity can be even stronger in real-life situations where stimuli are more ambiguous or more difficult to judge.
Criticisms of the Asch Conformity Experiments
One of the major criticisms of Asch 's conformity experiments centers on the reasons why participants choose to conform. According to some critics, individuals may have actually been motivated to avoid conflict, rather than an actual desire to conform to the rest of the group.
Another criticism is that the results of the experiment in the lab may not generalize to real-world situations. However, many social psychology experts believe that while real-world situations may not be as clear cut as they are in the lab, the actual social pressure to conform is probably much greater, which can dramatically increase conformist behaviors.
Contribution to Psychology
The Asch conformity experiments are among the most famous in psychology 's history and have inspired a wealth of additional research on conformity and group behavior. This research has provided important insight into how, why and when people conform and the effects of social pressure on behavior.
Asch, S. E. (1956). Studies of independence and conformity: A minority of one against a unanimous majority. Psychological Monographs, 70.
Morris, W., & Miller, R. (1975). The effects of consensus-breaking and consensus-pre-empting partners of reduction in conformity. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 11, 215-223.
Stanley Milgram: Obedience to Authority Or Just Conformity?

What psychological experiment could be so powerful that simply taking part might change your view of yourself and human nature?
What experimental procedure could provoke some people to profuse sweating and trembling, leaving 10% extremely upset, while others broke into unexplained hysterical laughter? What finding could be so powerful that it sent many psychologists into frenzied rebuttals?
Welcome to the sixth nomination for the top ten psychology studies and as you 'll have guessed it 's a big one. Hold on for controversy though, as this study has come in for considerable criticism with some saying its claims are wildly overblown.
Explaining human cruelty
"Many wondered after the horrors of WWII, and not for the first time, how people could be motivated to commit acts of such brutality towards each other."Stanley Milgram 's now famous experiments were designed to test obedience to authority (Milgram, 1963). What Milgram wanted to know was how far humans will go when an authority figure orders them to hurt another human being. Many wondered after the horrors of WWII, and not for the first time, how people could be motivated to commit acts of such brutality towards each other. Not just those in the armed forces, but ordinary people were coerced into carrying out the most cruel and gruesome acts.
But Milgram didn 't investigate the extreme situation of war, he wanted to see how people would react under relatively 'ordinary ' conditions in the lab. How would people behave when told to give an electrical shock to another person? To what extent would people obey the dictates of the situation and ignore their own misgivings about what they were doing?
The experimental situation into which people were put was initially straightforward. Participants were told they were involved in a learning experiment, that they were to administer electrical shocks and that they should continue to the end of the experiment. Told they would be the 'teacher and another person the 'learner ', they sat in front of a machine with a number of dials labelled with steadily increasing voltages. This was the 'shock machine '. The third switch from the top was labelled: "Danger: Severe Shock", the last two simply: "XXX".
During the course of the experiment, each time the 'learner ' made a mistake the participant was ordered to administer ever-increasing electrical shocks. Of course the learner kept making mistakes so the teacher (the poor participant) had to keep giving higher and higher electrical shocks, and hearing the resultant screams of pain until finally the learner went quiet.
"When the participant baulked at giving the electrical shocks, the experimenter - an authority figure dressed in a white lab coat - ordered them to continue."Participants were not in fact delivering electrical shocks, the learner in the experiment was actually an actor following a rehearsed script. The learner was kept out of sight of the participants so they came to their own assumptions about the pain they were causing. They were, however, left in little doubt that towards the end of the experiment the shocks were extremely painful and the learner might well have been rendered unconscious. When the participant baulked at giving the electrical shocks, the experimenter - an authority figure dressed in a white lab coat - ordered them to continue.
Before I explain the results, try to imagine yourself as the participant in this experiment. How far would you go giving what you thought were electrical shocks to another human being simply for a study about memory? What would you think when the learner went quiet after you apparently administered a shock labelled on the board "Danger: Severe Shock"? Honestly. How far would you go?
How ever far you think, you 're probably underestimating as that 's what most people do. Like the experiment, the results shocked. Milgram 's study discovered people are much more obedient than you might imagine. 63% of the participants continued right until the end - they administered all the shocks even with the learner screaming in agony, begging to stop and eventually falling silent. These weren 't specially selected sadists, these were ordinary people like you and me who had volunteered for a psychology study.
How can these results be explained?
At the time Milgram 's study was big news. Milgram explained his results by the power of the situation. This was a social psychology experiment which appeared to show, beautifully in fact, how much social situations can influence people 's behaviour.
The experiment set off a small industry of follow-up studies carried out in labs all around the world. Were the findings still true in different cultures, in slightly varying situations and in different genders (only men were in the original study)? By and large the answers were that even when manipulating many different experimental variables, people were still remarkably obedient. One exception was that one study found Australian women were much less obedient. Make of that what you will.
Fundamentally flawed?
Now think again. Sure, the experiment relies on the situation to influence people 's behaviour, but how real is the situation? If it was you, surely you would understand on some level that this wasn 't real, that you weren 't really electrocuting someone, that knocking someone unconscious would not be allowed in a university study?
"How good would the actors have to be in order to avoid giving away the fact they were actors?"Also, people pick up considerable nonverbal cues from each other. How good would the actors have to be in order to avoid giving away the fact they were actors? People are adept at playing along even with those situations they know in their heart-of-hearts to be fake. The more we find out about human psychology, the more we discover about the power of unconscious processes, both emotional and cognitive. These can have massive influences on our behaviour without our awareness.
Assuming people were not utterly convinced on an unconscious level that the experiment was for real, an alternative explanation is in order. Perhaps Milgram 's work really demonstrates the power of conformity. The pull we all feel to please the experimenter, to fit in with the situation, to do what is expected of us. While this is still a powerful interpretation from a brilliant experiment, it isn 't what Milgram was really looking for.
Whether you believe the experiment shows what it purports to or not, there is no doubting that Milgram 's work was some of the most influential and impressive carried out in psychology. It is also an experiment very unlikely to be repeated nowadays (outside of virtual reality) because of modern ethical standards. Certainly when I first came across it, my view of human nature was changed irrevocably. Now, thinking critically, I 'm not so sure.

Social Facilitation: How and When Audiences Improve Performance (PSYBLOG, 2009)

Performance can improve on easy tasks when other people are present, but the effect isn 't permanent.
When an ant builds a nest on her own she does so with little enthusiasm. She moves as though tired of life, bored with the whole business of excavating earth, perhaps dreaming of a better life elsewhere. But give our ant a co-worker and she is transformed into a dynamo, a workaholic, an Olympian amongst insects. Soon she is digging at five times the rate or more...
Ants aren 't the only ones.
Four decades before S. C. Chen reported his ant findings in 1937, the psychologist Norman Triplett had already noticed much the same behaviour in cyclists. Triplett scoured the records of the 'League of American Wheelmen ' and found that racing cyclists rode faster when paced or in competition. Analysing the results of many races he found that, on average, cyclists with a pacemaker covered each mile about 5 seconds quicker than those without. He suspected it was more than just the purely physical effect of slipstreaming behind another cyclist, that the effect was also psychological -- something to do with the mere presence of other people.

To test his hunch Triplett (1898) set children winding a thread on a reel, sometimes on their own and sometimes against others. What he found confirmed his theory: the children went faster when in competition. While interesting, though, the finding that people work faster in competition is hardly ground-breaking, but what if the competitive element could be removed and effect of mere presence could be measured?
Two decades later Gordon Allport -- one of the founders of personality psychology -- did just that. He had participants write down as many words as they could that were related to a given target word. They were given three one-minute periods and told they were not in competition with each other. Again, participants reliably produced more words when others were present than when alone.
While Allport 's experimental procedure might not have completely eliminated the effects of competition, subsequent studies, and there were many, certainly did. This boost to people 's performance when watched by others became known as social facilitation and for a few decades it was all the rage in psychology. Unfortunately experimenters soon discovered that human psychology is a fraction more complicated than ant psychology.
Most worryingly experimenters failed to find the expected social facilitation in a whole range of other tasks, for example when people were asked to learn lists of nonsense syllables or navigate a complicated maze. It emerged that when the tasks were harder their performance wasn 't improved, quite the contrary, it got worse. People seemed to be experiencing not social facilitation but social inhibition. They were choking and so were the psychologists who all but abandoned social facilitation research as a bad lot.
A drive to perform
It wasn 't until the 1960s that research in this area was revived by the noted psychologist Professor Robert Zajonc. He thought that the contradictory results could be explained by a new approach called 'drive theory '. Zajonc said that when other people are watching us we get more alert and excited and this excitement fires up what he called our 'dominant response '. Dominant responses are things like well-practised skills or particular habits. If this dominant response fits with the situation then our performance is enhanced, but if the dominant response is inappropriate then we tend to perform poorly.
This theory explained the evidence quite well but critics thought it too simplistic, arguing that it 's not just whether an audience is present or not, it is also how we react to that presence. To help account for this cognitive process, a new theory was put forward by Robert S Baron in the 1980s.
Distracted and conflicted
Distraction-conflict theory argues that when other people are watching us it creates an attentional conflict between the task we are performing and the watching others. When the task is easy we can successfully narrow our focus to the task at hand and so our performance improves, probably because of the drive effect to which Zajonc refers. When the task is tricky, though, we suffer from attentional overload and our performance gets worse. Pessin (1933) had already noted just this effect when people performed tasks with flashing lights and loud noises distracting them instead of an audience.
Here at last, 100 years after Triplett had children winding fishing reels, came a theory that in concert with Zajonc 's drive theory, has the potential to explain just when and how an audience either improves our performance or worsens it. Distraction-conflict theory in particular makes the complex effects of an audience much easier to understand because it focuses on how we manage our attention.
The psychology of attention, though, is a strange beast affected by all kinds of factors that consequently also tweak the social facilitation effect: 1. Audience evaluation. How we evaluate the audience determines our reaction, i.e. is the audience watching closely or are they just passing through? Huguet et al., (1999) unsuprisingly found that attentive audiences are more distracting than inattentive audiences. 2. Opposite sex audience. People usually find opposite sex audiences more distracting and so men are more inhibited on difficult tasks (but better on well-practised tasks) when watched by women and vice versa. 3. Mood. Good moods may in certain circumstances facilitate performance and bad moods inhibit them (Mash & Hedley, 1975).
And the list goes on. If it affects attention it 's likely to affect the social facilitation/inhibition effect.
Groups: good or bad for performance?
Whether other people improve or worsen performance naturally depends on the exact circumstances of the group. Research in social loafing finds that when people are involved in an additive task like pulling on a rope, they slack off, often by more than 50%. In this situation groups are bad for performance partly because individuals can hide. In contrast social facilitation/inhibition effects come to the fore when individuals can be picked out of the bunch, when they are being judged on their performance alone.
Like ants the presence of others can push us on to greater achievements, but, because we are human, it can also push us towards disaster. Psychological research suggests it all depends on managing attention, channelling the body 's physiological response and how good we are at the task itself.

Do individuals behave differently in groups than they would on their own? How do group dynamics affect our decision-making skills? You 'll learn about the benefits and potential pitfalls than can come from belonging to a group.
Social psychology is the science of group behavior, which considers the way other people influence our conduct. How do groups affect behavior, and what are our roles in these groups?
Roles and groups (Education Portal Academy, 2012)

First, let 's examine how group dynamics affect productivity. Have you ever noticed that an audience can increase your performance? Fear of evaluation and comparison with others in the group can be motivating.
Imagine running a marathon away from home where the level of competition is higher than you 're used to. You 'd probably step up your performance and finish in less time than you expected. This tendency is known as social facilitation, where even the mere presence of other competitors spurs you to perform better than you would if you were running the same course on your own.
On the flip side, social loafing can occur when responsibility for failure and success is distributed to the group. This relief of individual accountability leads some members to decrease productivity and not work as hard on group projects as they would on their own.
Say you and your co-workers are trying to reach an office-wide sales record. As you work towards this common goal, the daily tallies show that halfway through the month, the target number has almost been reached thanks to your excellent sales team. You 're all going to win a trip to Hawaii for the office party. Do you slack off, confident in your team 's sure win? Do you think you 'd perform at a higher level if individual sales numbers were being assessed and only the top ten salespeople were going to Hawaii?
Social psychologist Robert Zajonc explained social facilitation and social loafing as two different reactions to group influence as variations in an individual 's responses to physiological arousal. Zajonc 's drive theory states that if a task is easy and you already perform it well, the presence of others will tend to boost your performance. However, if a task is difficult and challenges your abilities, it 's more likely that the presence of group competition will lead to social loafing.
Group Decisions
When it comes time for the group to determine a plan of action, how do group dynamics affect the decision-making process?
Group polarization happens when a dominant view crystallizes as a result of a group discussion. Your attitudes are not only made stronger by group consensus but also by the legitimacy that group support brings. If the group agrees to a risky proposition, the backing of the group may lead to an even riskier decision.
Groupthink is the tendency for a cohesive group to move toward consensus and conformity, rather than what may be the best plan of action.
Yale psychologist Irving Janis recognized that when close-knit groups try to overcome perceived threats to solidarity, they suffer from certain symptoms, such as a superior sense of morality, the tendency to stereotype outsiders, pressure to toe the line and discourage creative thinking. These symptoms may arise in corporations and government institutions where a false sense of group invulnerability causes a group 's leader to ignore outside opinions and make poor decisions.
It might seem strange that suppression of creativity might be considered a group value. At the same time, changes in the values of a group can threaten the stability of the structure and threaten the status quo. Groups can have both positive and negative effects on individual performance and decision-making abilities.

Social psychology From New World Encyclopedia
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Previous (Social movement) Social psychology is a branch of psychology that studies cognitive, affective, and behavioral processes of individuals as influenced by their group membership and interactions, and other factors that affect social life, such as social status, role, and social class. Social psychology examines the effects of social contacts on the development of attitudes, stereotypes, and so forth.
A relatively recent field, social psychology has nonetheless had a significant impact not only on the academic worlds of psychology, sociology, and the social sciences in general, but has also affect public understanding and expectation of human social behavior. By studying how people behave under extreme social influences, or lack thereof, great advances have been made in understanding human nature. Human beings are essentially social beings, and thus, social interaction is vital to the health of each person. Through investigating the factors that affect social life and how social interactions affect individual psychological development and mental health, a greater understanding of how humankind as a whole can live together in harmony is emerging. * |

Kurt Lewin, the "father of social psychology."
The discipline of social psychology began in the United States at the dawn of the twentieth century. The first published study in this area was an experiment by Norman Triplett (1898) on the phenomenon of social facilitation. During the 1930s, many Gestalt psychologists, particularly Kurt Lewin, fled to the United States from Nazi Germany. They were instrumental in developing the field as something separate from the behavioral and psychoanalytic schools that were dominant during that time, and social psychology has always maintained the legacy of their interests in perception and cognition. Attitudes and a variety of small group phenomena were the most commonly studied topics in this era.
Did you know?
Social psychology developed as a field separate from the behavioral and psychoanalytic schools that were dominant at the time
During World War II, social psychologists studied persuasion and propaganda for the U.S. military. After the war, researchers became interested in a variety of social problems, including gender issues and racial prejudice. In the sixties, there was growing interest in a variety of new topics, such as cognitive dissonance, bystander intervention, and aggression. By the 1970s, however, social psychology in America had reached a crisis. There was heated debate over the ethics of laboratory experimentation, whether or not attitudes really predicted behavior, and how much science could be done in a cultural context (Kenneth Gergen, 1973). This was also the time when a radical situationist approach challenged the relevance of self and personality in psychology.
During the years immediately following World War II, there was frequent collaboration between psychologists and sociologists (Sewell, 1989). However, the two disciplines have become increasingly specialized and isolated from each other in recent years, with sociologists focusing on macro variables (such as social structure) to a much greater extent. Nevertheless, sociological approaches to social psychology remain an important counterpart to psychological research in this area.
Michael Argyle pioneered social psychology as an academic field in Britain. In 1952, when he was appointed the first lecturer in social psychology at the University of Oxford, the field was no more than embryonic (Robinson 2002). In fact, only Oxford and the London School of Economics had departments of social psychology at the time. In his research, which attracted visits from many American social psychologists, Argyle maintained a different approach, one that emphasized more real world problems and solutions over laboratory-style investigations, but always without sacrificing the integrity of the experimental method. In addition to his research and many publications, of which Psychology of Interpersonal Behaviour published in 1967 became a best-seller, he gave lectures and seminars to academics, professionals, and the wider public so that social psychology became known both as a scientific enterprise and as a necessary perspective for solving social problems.
Social psychology reached maturity in both theory and method during the 1980s and 1990s. Careful ethical standards regulated research, and greater pluralism and multicultural perspectives emerged. Modern researchers are interested in a variety of phenomena, but attribution, social cognition, and self-concept are perhaps the greatest areas of growth. Social psychologists have also maintained their applied interests, with contributions in health and environmental psychology, as well as the psychology of the legal system.
Social psychology is the study of how social conditions affect human beings. Scholars in this field today are generally either psychologists or sociologists, though all social psychologists employ both the individual and the group as their units of analysis. Despite their similarity, the disciplines tend to differ in their respective goals, approaches, methods, and terminology. They also favor separate academic journals and professional societies.
Fields of social psychology

The scope of social psychological research. Adapted from Cote and Levine (2002).
Social psychology is the scientific study of how people 's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others (Allport, 1985). By this definition, scientific refers to the empirical method of investigation. The terms thoughts, feelings, and behaviors include all of the psychological variables that are measurable in a human being. The statement that others may be imagined or implied suggests that we are prone to social influence even when no other people are present, such as when watching television, or following internalized cultural norms.
Social psychology bridges the interest of psychology (with its emphasis on the individual) with sociology (with its emphasis on social structures). Psychologically oriented researchers place a great deal of emphasis on the immediate social situation, and the interaction between person and situation variables. Their research tends to be highly empirical and is often centered around laboratory experiments. Psychologists who study social psychology are interested in such topics as attitudes, social cognition, cognitive dissonance, social influence, and interpersonal behavior. Two influential journals for the publication of research in this area are The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, and The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
The study of attitudes is a core topic in social psychology. Attitudes are involved in virtually every other area of social psychology, including conformity, interpersonal attraction, social perception, and prejudice. In social psychology, attitudes are defined as learned evaluations of a person, object, place, or issue that influence thought and action (Perloff, 2003). Put more simply, attitudes are basic expressions of approval or disapproval, favorability or unfavorability, or as Bem (1970) put it, likes and dislikes. Examples would include liking chocolate ice cream, being anti-abortion, or endorsing the values of a particular political party.
Social psychologists have studied attitude formation, the structure of attitudes, attitude change, the function of attitudes, and the relationship between attitudes and behavior. Because people are influenced by the situation, general attitudes are not always good predictors of specific behavior. For a variety of reasons, a person may value the environment and not recycle a can on a particular day. Attitudes that are well remembered and central to a self-concept, however, are more likely to lead to behavior, and measures of general attitudes do predict patterns of behavior over time.
The topic of persuasion has received a great deal of attention. Persuasion is an active method of influence that attempts to guide people toward the adoption of an attitude, idea, or behavior by rational or emotive means. Persuasion relies on appeals rather than strong pressure or coercion. Numerous variables have been found to influence the persuasion process, and these are normally presented in four major categories: Who said what to whom and how. 1. The Communicator, including credibility, expertise, trustworthiness, and attractiveness 2. The Message, including varying degrees of reason, emotion (such as fear), one-sided or two sided arguments, and other types of informational content 3. The Audience, including a variety of demographics, personality traits, and preferences 4. The Channel, including the printed word, radio, television, the internet, or face-to-face interactions
Dual process theories of persuasion (such as the Elaboration Likelihood Model) maintain that the persuasive process is mediated by two separate routes. Persuasion can be accomplished by either superficial aspects of the communication or the internal logic of the message. Whether someone is persuaded by a popular celebrity or factual arguments are largely determined by the ability and motivation of the audience. However, decades of research have demonstrated that deeply held attitudes are remarkably resistant to persuasion under normal circumstances.
Social cognition
Social cognition is a growing area of social psychology that studies how people perceive, think about, and remember information about others. One assumption in social cognition is that reality is too complex to easily discern, and so people see the world according to simplified schemas, or images of reality. Schemas are generalized mental representations that organize knowledge and guide information processing. For example, one 's schema for mice might include the expectation that they are small, and furry, and eat cheese.
Schemas often operate automatically and unintentionally, and can lead to biases in perception and memory. Schematic expectations may lead people to see something that is not there. One experiment found that white American policemen are more likely to misperceive a weapon in the hands of a black man than a white man (Correll, et al., 2002). This type of schema is actually a stereotype, a generalized set of beliefs about a particular group of people. Stereotypes are often related to negative or preferential attitudes (prejudice) and behavior (discrimination). Schemas for types of events (such as doing laundry) are known as "scripts."
Another major concept in social cognition is attribution. Attributions are the explanations humans make for people 's behavior, either one 's own behavior or the behavior of others. An attribution can be either internal or external. Internal or dispositional attributions assign causality to factors within the person, such as ability or personality. External or situational attributions assign causality to an outside factor, such as the weather. Numerous biases in the attribution process have been discovered: * Fundamental attribution error—the tendency to make dispositional attributions for behavior. The actor-observer effect is a refinement of this bias, the tendency to make dispositional attributions for other people 's behavior and situational attributions for our own. * Just world effect—the tendency to blame victims (a dispositional attribution) for their suffering. This is believed to be motivated by people 's anxiety that good people, including themselves, could be victimized in an unjust world. * Self-serving bias—the tendency to take credit for successes, and blame others for failure. Researchers have found that depressed individuals often lack this bias and actually have more realistic perceptions of reality.
Heuristics are cognitive short cuts. Instead of weighing all the evidence when making a decision, people rely on heuristics to save time and energy. The availability heuristic is used when people estimate the probability of an outcome based on how easy that outcome is to imagine. As such, vivid or highly memorable possibilities will be perceived as more likely than those that are harder to picture or are difficult to understand, resulting in a corresponding cognitive bias.
There are a number of other biases that have been found by social cognition researchers. The hindsight bias is a false memory of having predicted events, or an exaggeration of actual predictions, after becoming aware of the outcome. The confirmation bias is a type of bias leading to the tendency to search for, or interpret information in a way that confirms one 's preconceptions.
The fields of social psychology and personality have merged over the years, and social psychologists have developed an interest in a variety of self-related phenomena. In contrast with traditional personality theory, however, social psychologists place a greater emphasis on cognitions than on traits. Much research focuses on the self-concept, which is a person 's understanding of his or her self. The self-concept can be divided into a cognitive component, known as the self-schema, and an evaluative component, the self-esteem. The need to maintain a healthy self-esteem is recognized as a central human motivation in the field of social psychology. Self-efficacy beliefs are an aspect of the self-schema. Self-efficacy refers to an individual 's expectation that performance on some task will be effective and successful.
People develop their self-concepts by a variety of means, including introspection, feedback from others, self-perception, and social comparison. By comparison to relevant others, people gain information about themselves, and they make inferences that are relevant to self-esteem. Social comparisons can be either upward or downward, that is, comparisons to people who are either higher in status or ability, or lower in status or ability. Downward comparisons are often made in order to elevate self-esteem.
Self-perception is a specialized form of attribution that involves making inferences about oneself after observing one 's own behavior. Psychologists have found that too many extrinsic rewards (such as money) tend to reduce intrinsic motivation through the self-perception process. People 's attention is directed to the reward and they lose interest in the task when the reward is no longer offered. This is an important exception to reinforcement theory.
Cognitive dissonance
Cognitive dissonance is a feeling of unpleasant arousal caused by noticing an inconsistency among one 's cognitions (Festinger, 1957). Cognitive dissonance was originally developed as a theory of attitude change, but it is now considered to be a self theory by most social psychologists. Dissonance is strongest when a discrepancy has been noticed between one 's self-concept and one 's behavior; for example, doing something that makes one ashamed. This can result in self-justification as the individual attempts to deal with the threat. Cognitive dissonance typically leads to a change in attitude, a change in behavior, a self-affirmation, or a rationalization of the behavior.
An example of cognitive dissonance is smoking. Smoking cigarettes increases the risk of cancer, which is threatening to the self-concept of the individual who smokes. Most people believe themselves to be intelligent and rational, and the idea of doing something foolish and self-destructive causes dissonance. To reduce this uncomfortable tension, smokers tend to make excuses for themselves, such as "I 'm going to die anyway, so it doesn 't matter."
Social influence
Social influence refers to the way people affect the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of others. Like the study of attitudes, it is a traditional, core topic in social psychology. In fact, research on social influence overlaps considerably with research on attitudes and persuasion. Social influence is also closely related to the study of group dynamics, as most of the principles of influence are strongest when they take place in social groups.
Conformity is the most common and pervasive form of social influence. It is generally defined as the tendency to act or think like other members of a group. Solomon Asch developed the paradigm for measuring conformity in the 1950s. In his groundbreaking studies Asch (1955) found that a surprisingly large number of people would conform to the majority opinion and give an obviously incorrect response to a simple visual task.
Group size, unanimity, cohesion, status, and prior commitment all help to determine the level of conformity in an individual. Conformity is usually viewed as a negative tendency in American culture, but a certain amount of conformity is not only necessary and normal, but probably essential for a community to function.

Which line matches the first line, A, B, or C? In the Asch conformity experiments, people frequently followed the majority judgment, even when the majority was wrong.
The two major motives in conformity are: 1) Normative influence, the tendency to conform in order to gain social acceptance, and avoid social rejection or conflict, as in peer pressure; and 2) informational influence, which is based on the desire to obtain useful information through conformity, and thereby achieve a correct or appropriate result. Minority influence is the degree to which a smaller faction within the group influences the group during decision making. Note that this refers to a minority position on some issue, not an ethnic minority. Their influence is primarily informational and depends on consistent adherence to a position, degree of defection from the majority, and the status and self-confidence of the minority members. Reactance is a tendency to assert oneself by doing the opposite of what is expected. This phenomenon is also known as anticonformity and it appears to be more common in men than in women.
There are two other major areas of social influence research. Compliance refers to any change in behavior that is due to a request or suggestion from another person. "The Foot-in-the-door technique" is a compliance method in which the persuader requests a small favor and then follows up with a larger favor; for example, asking for the time, and then asking for ten dollars. A related trick is the "bait and switch" (Cialdini, 2000). The third major form of social influence is obedience. This is a change in behavior that is the result of a direct order or command from another person.
A different kind of social influence is the "self-fulfilling prophecy." This is a prediction that, in being made, actually causes itself to become true. For example, in the stock market, if it is widely believed that a "stock market crash" is imminent, investors may lose confidence, sell most of their stock, and actually cause the crash. Likewise, people may expect hostility in others and actually induce this hostility by their own behavior.
Group dynamics
A social group consists of two or more people that interact, influence each other, and share a common identity. Groups have a number of emergent qualities: * Norms are implicit rules and expectations for group members to follow, e.g. saying thank you and shaking hands. * Roles are implicit rules and expectations for specific members within the group, such as the oldest sibling, who may have additional responsibilities in the family. * Interpersonal relationships are patterns of liking within the group, and also differences in prestige or status, such as leaders or popular people.
Temporary groups and aggregates share few or none of these features, and do not qualify as true social groups. People waiting in line to get on a bus, for example, do not constitute a social group.

Social psychologists study interactions within groups, and between both groups and individuals.
Groups are important not only because they offer social support, resources, and a feeling of belonging, but because they supplement an individual 's self-concept. To a large extent, people define themselves by their group memberships. This natural tendency for people to identify themselves with a particular group and contrast themselves with other groups is known as social identity (Tajfel & Turner, 1986). Unfortunately, social identity can lead to feelings of "us and them." It is frequently associated with preferential treatment toward the ingroup and prejudice and discrimination against outgroups.
Groups often moderate and improve decision making, and are frequently relied upon for these benefits, such as committees and juries. A number of group biases, however, can interfere with effective decision making. For example, "group polarization," formerly known as the "risky shift," occurs when people polarize their views in a more extreme direction after group discussion. Even worse is the phenomenon of "groupthink." This is a collective thinking defect that is characterized by a premature consensus. Groupthink is caused by a variety of factors, including isolation and a highly directive leader. Janis (1972) offered the 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion as a historical case of groupthink.
Groups also affect performance and productivity. Social facilitation, for example, is a tendency to work harder and faster in the presence of others. Social facilitation increases the likelihood of the dominant response, which tends to improve performance on simple tasks and reduce it on complex tasks. In contrast, "social loafing" is the tendency of individuals to slack when working in a group. Social loafing is common when the task is considered unimportant and individual contributions are not easy to see.
Social psychologists study a variety of group related, or collective phenomena such as the behavior of crowds. An important concept in this area is deindividuation, a reduced state of self-awareness that can be caused by feelings of anonymity. Deindividuation is associated with uninhibited and sometimes dangerous behavior. It is common in crowds and mobs, but it can also be caused by a disguise, a uniform, alcohol, dark environments, or online anonymity.
Relations with others
Social psychologists are interested in the question of why people sometimes act in a prosocial way (helping, liking, or loving others), but at other times act in an antisocial way (hostility, aggression, or prejudice against others).
Aggression can be defined as any behavior that is intended to harm another human being. "Hostile" aggression is accompanied by strong emotions, particularly anger. Harming the other person is the goal. "Instrumental" aggression is only a means to an end. Harming the person is used to obtain some other goal, such as money. Research indicates that there are many causes of aggression, including biological factors like testosterone and environmental factors, such as social learning. Immediate situational factors, such as frustration, are also important in triggering an aggressive response.
Although violence is a fact of life, people are also capable of helping each other, even complete strangers, in emergencies. Research indicates that altruism occurs when a person feels empathy for another individual, even in the absence of other motives (Batson, 1998). However, according to the bystander effect, the probability of receiving help in an emergency situation drops as the number of bystanders increases. This is due to conformity effects and a diffusion of responsibility (Latane, 1981).
Interpersonal attraction
Another major area in the study of people 's relations to each other is interpersonal attraction. This refers to all of the forces that lead people to like each other, establish relationships, and in some cases, fall in love. Several general principles have been discovered by researchers in this area: * Proximity and, mainly, physical proximity increases attraction, as opposed to long distance relationships which are more at risk * Familiarity is the mere exposure to others. It increases attraction, even when the exposure is not consciously realized * Similarity means that two or more persons are similar in their attitudes, background, and other traits. The greater the similarity the more probable it id that they will like each other. Contrary to popular opinion, opposites do not usually attract.
Physical attractiveness is an important element of romantic relationships, particularly in the early stages which are characterized by high levels of passion. Later on, similarity becomes more important and the type of love people experience shifts from passionate to companionate. Robert Sternberg (1986) has suggested that there are three components to love: Intimacy, passion, and commitment.
According to social exchange theory, relationships are based on rational choice and cost-benefit analysis. If one partner 's costs begin to outweigh his or her benefits, that person may leave the relationship, especially if there are good alternatives available. With time, long term relationships tend to become communal rather than simply based on exchange.
Interpersonal perception
Interpersonal perception examines the beliefs that interacting people have about each other. This area differs from social cognition and person perception by being interpersonal rather than intrapersonal. By requiring at least two real people to interact, research in this area examines phenomena such as: * Accuracy—the correctness of A 's beliefs about B * Self-other agreement—whether A 's beliefs about B matches B 's beliefs about himself * Similarity—whether A 's and B 's beliefs match * Projection—whether A 's beliefs about B match A 's beliefs about herself * Reciprocity—the similarity of A 's and B 's beliefs about each other * Meta-accuracy—whether A knows how others see her * Assumed projection—whether A thinks others see her as she sees them
These variables cannot be assessed in studies that ask people to form beliefs about fictitious targets.
Although interest in this area has grown rapidly with the publication of Malcolm Gladwell 's 2005 book, Blink, and Nalini Ambady 's "thin-slices" research (Ambady & Rosenthal, 1992), the discipline is still very young, having only been formally defined by David Kenny in 1994. The sparsity of research, in particular on the accuracy of first-impressions, means that social psychologists know a lot about what people think about others, but far less about whether they are right.
Many attribute this to a criticism that Cronbach wrote in 1955, about how impression accuracy was calculated, which resulted in a 30-year hiatus in research. During that time, psychologists focused on consensus (whether A and B agree in their beliefs about C) rather than accuracy, although Kenny (1994) has argued that consensus is neither necessary nor sufficient for accuracy.
Today, the use of correlations instead of discrepancy scores to measure accuracy (Funder, 1995) and the development of the Big Five model of personality have overcome Cronbach 's criticisms and led to a wave of fascinating new research. For example, studies have found that people more accurately perceive Extraversion and Conscientiousness in strangers than they do the other personality domains (Watson, 1989); a five-second interaction tells as much as 15 minutes on these domains (Ambady & Rosenthal, 1992), and video tells more than audio alone (Borkenau & Liebler, 1992).
Links between social psychology and sociology
A significant number of social psychologists are sociologists. Their work has a greater focus on the behavior of the group, and thus examines such phenomena as interactions and social exchanges at the micro-level, and group dynamics and crowd psychology at the macro-level. Sociologists are interested in the individual, but primarily within the context of social structures and processes, such as social roles, race and class, and socialization. They tend to use both qualitative and quantitative research designs.
Sociologists in this area are interested in a variety of demographic, social, and cultural phenomena. Some of their major research areas are social inequality, group dynamics, social change, socialization, social identity, and symbolic interactionism.
Research methods in social psychology
Social psychologists typically explain human behavior as a result of the interaction of mental states and immediate, social situations. In Kurt Lewin 's (1951) famous Heuristic, behavior can be viewed as a function of the person and the environment, B=f(P,E). In general, social psychologists have a preference for laboratory-based, empirical findings.
Social psychology is an empirical science that attempts to answer a variety of questions about human behavior by testing hypotheses, both in the laboratory and in the field. This approach to the field focuses on the individual, and attempts to explain how the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of individuals are influenced by other people. Careful attention to sampling, research design, and statistical analysis is important, and results are published in peer reviewed journals such as The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, and The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. * Experimental methods involve the researcher altering a variable in the environment and measuring the effect on another variable. An example would be allowing two groups of children to play violent or nonviolent videogames, and then observing their subsequent level of aggression during free-play period. A valid experiment is controlled and uses random assignment. * Correlational methods examine the statistical association between two naturally occurring variables. For example, one could correlate the amount of violent television children watch at home with the number of violent incidents the children participate in at school. Note that finding a correlation in such a study would not prove a causal relationship between violence on television and aggression in children. It is equally possible that aggressive children choose to watch more violent programs. * Observational methods are purely descriptive and include naturalistic observation, contrived observation, participant observation, and archival analysis. These are less common in social psychology but are sometimes used when first investigating a phenomenon. An example would be to unobtrusively observe children on a playground (such as with a hidden video camera) and record the number and types of particular actions displayed.
Whenever possible, social psychologists rely on controlled experimentation. Controlled experiments require the manipulation of one or more independent variables in order to examine the effect on a dependent variable. Experiments are useful in social psychology because they are high in internal validity, meaning that they are free from the influence of confounding or extraneous variables, and so are more likely to accurately indicate a causal relationship. However, the small samples used in controlled experiments are typically low in external validity, or the degree to which the results can be generalized the larger population. There is usually a trade-off between experimental control (internal validity) and being able to generalize to the population (external validity).
Because it is usually impossible to test everyone, research tends to be conducted on a sample of persons from the wider population. Social psychologists frequently use survey research when they are interested in results that are high in external validity. Surveys use various forms of random sampling to obtain a sample of respondents that are representative of a population. This type of research is usually descriptive or correlational because there is no experimental control over variables. However, new statistical methods, like structural equation modeling, are being used to test for potential causal relationships in this type of data.
Regardless of which method is used, it is important to evaluate the research hypothesis in light of the results, either confirming or rejecting the original prediction. Social psychologists use statistics and probability testing to judge their results, which define a significant finding as less than 5 percent likely to be due to chance. Replications are important, to ensure that the result is valid and not due to chance, or some feature of a particular sample.
Ethics of sociopsychological research
The goal of social psychology is to understand cognition and behavior as they naturally occur in a social context, but the very act of observing people can influence and alter their behavior. For this reason, many social psychology experiments utilize deception to conceal or distort certain aspects of the study. Deception may include false cover stories, false participants (known as confederates or stooges), false feedback given to the participants, and so on.
The practice of deception has been challenged by some psychologists who maintain that deception under any circumstances is unethical, and that other research strategies (such as role-playing) should be used instead. Unfortunately, research has shown that role-playing studies do not produce the same results as deception studies and this has cast doubt on their validity. In addition to deception, experimenters have at times put people into potentially uncomfortable or embarrassing situations (for example the Milgram Experiment, Stanford prison experiment), and this has also been criticized for ethical reasons.
To protect the rights and well-being of research participants, and at the same time discover meaningful results and insights into human behavior, virtually all social psychology research must pass an ethical review process. At most colleges and universities, this is conducted by an ethics committee or institutional review board. This group examines the proposed research to make sure that no harm is done to the participants, and that the benefits of the study outweigh any possible risks or discomforts to people taking part in the study.
Furthermore, a process of informed consent is often used to make sure that volunteers know what will happen in the experiment and understand that they are allowed to quit the experiment at any time. A debriefing is typically done at the conclusion of the experiment in order to reveal any deceptions used and generally make sure that the participants are unharmed by the procedures. Today, most research in social psychology involves no more risk of harm than can be expected from routine psychological testing or normal daily activities.
Famous experiments in social psychology
Well known experiments and studies that have influenced social psychology include: * The Asch conformity experiments in the 1950s, a series of studies by Solomon Asch (1955) that starkly demonstrated the power of conformity on people 's estimation of the length of lines. On over a third of the trials, participants conformed to the majority, even though the majority judgment was clearly wrong. Seventy-five percent of the participants conformed at least once during the experiment. * Muzafer Sherif 's (1954) Robbers ' Cave Experiment, which divided boys into two competing groups to explore how much hostility and aggression would emerge. This led to the development of realistic group conflict theory, based on the finding that intergroup conflict that emerged through competition over resources was reduced through focus on superordinate goals (goals so large that it required more than one group to achieve the goal). * Leon Festinger 's cognitive dissonance experiment, in which subjects were asked to perform a boring task. They were divided into two groups and given two different pay scales. At the end of the study, participants who were paid $1 to say that they enjoyed the task and another group of participants were paid $20 to give the same lie. The first group ($1) later believed that they liked the task better than the second group ($20). People justified the lie by changing their previously unfavorable attitudes about the task (Festinger & Carlsmith, 1959). * The Milgram experiment, which studied how far people would go to obey an authority figure. Following the events of the Holocaust in World War II, Stanley Milgram 's (1975) experiment showed that normal American citizens were capable of following orders to the point of causing extreme suffering in an innocent human being. * Albert Bandura 's Bobo doll experiment, which demonstrated how aggression is learned by imitation (Bandura, et al., 1961). This was one of the first studies in a long line of research showing how exposure to media violence leads to aggressive behavior in the observers. * The Stanford prison experiment by Philip Zimbardo, where a simulated exercise between student prisoners and guards showed how far people would follow an adopted role. This was an important demonstration of the power of the immediate social situation, and its capacity to overwhelm normal personality traits (Haney, Banks, & Zimbardo, 1973).
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Ethical Issues in Social Influence Research This article examines the ethical issues that arise when conducting social influence research, as specified by the AQA-A specification. The ethical guidelines do, however, apply to any psychology research conducted by members of the British Psychological Society.

Ethical issues (Keiron Walsh,2008) Informed Consent
According to the British Psychological Society 's ethical guidelines, before taking part in a psychological investigation, participants should be informed of the aims of the research and any aspects of it that might reasonably influence their decision to participate. Additionally, they should explain any other aspects that the participant enquires about (BPS 2005). They also state:
If harm, unusual discomfort, or other negative consequences for the individual’s future life might occur, the investigator must obtain the disinterested approval of independent advisors, inform the participants, and obtain informed, real consent from each of them.

In Zimbardo, Haney and Bank 's (1971) Stanford Prison Simulation, the participants signed a consent form which stated:
I understand that participation in the research project will involve a loss of privacy, that I will be expected to participate for the full duration of the study, that I will only be released from participation for reasons of health deemed adequate by the medical advisers to the research project or for other reasons deemed appropriate by Dr. Philip Zimbardo, Principal Investigator of the project, and that I will be expected to follow directions from staff members of the project or from other participants in the research project.

Nevertheless, they were not informed that they would be arrested by a member of the Palo Alto Police Department and driven to the 'prison ' in a police car with sirens wailing

A copy of the consent form used in the Stanford Prison Experiment can be found here (new window)
Acording to the BPS Ethical Guidelines, "The withholding of information or the misleading of participants is unacceptable if the participants are typically likely to object or show unease once debriefed." Nevertheless, it would be impossible to investigate many psychological processes without deception, so psychologists have a responsibility to:
(a) determine that alternative procedures avoiding concealment or deception are not available;
(b) ensure that the participants are provided with sufficient information at the earliest stage; and
(c) consult appropriately upon the way that the withholding of information or deliberate deception will be received.
BPS (2005)

Milgram’s (1963, 1965) obedience studies were a controversial use of deception. Baumrind (1964), for example, accused Milgram of not protecting his participants from the stress and emotional conflict they experienced. Milgram (1974), however, claims that all participants were fully debriefed. This included giving them a report which detailed the procedure and results of experiments and a questionnaire concerning their feelings about the experiment: * 84% of the participants claimed they were glad to have taken part * Less than 2% were sorry to have taken part. * 80% felt that more experiments of that kind should be conducted. * 74% learned something of personal importance.
Milgram claims that the research is morally justified by the fact that it was endorsed by those who took part. One criticism of this, however, is that the participants are effectively giving their consent after the experiment has taken place. Moreover, the 2% who were very sorry they had taken part did not consent (even afterwards) to what may have been a psychologically damaging experience. Aronson (1988), nevertheless, claims that deception was the only way that this piece of research could be conducted. Otherwise, the behaviour being studied would not be consistent with how people behave in real situations. Aronson claims that deception is often the best and only way to obtain useful information about important situations.
If participants are aware that they have taken part in an experiment they should be debriefed. This is informing the participants of the nature of the research and the expected results. According to Aronson (1988), the experimenter should ensure that participants leave the experiment in a frame of mind that is as sound as it was when they entered. Sometimes effects may be produced by the experiment that a verbal description can not negate, active intervention may be needed. Debriefing in Zimbardo et al.’s Prison Experiment.
In this study the participants had group and individual debriefing sessions. The participants were also given questionnaires: * Several weeks after the experiment * Several months later * At yearly intervals Most also met with the experimenters to discuss their reactions. Zimbardo concluded that the suffering was confined to the experiment and did not extend beyond it (Zimbardo, 1973). |
The Right to Withdraw
It should be made clear to participants at the start of the investigation that they have the right to withdraw at any time. Informing participants of their right to withdraw usually forms part of the standardised instructions given to participants. The right to withdraw exists regardless of any payments made or offered; so participants should still be paid even if they withdraw if they have been offered payment as an incentive to take part. In children avoidance of the testing situation should be taken as evidence of failure to consent. The participant also has the right to withdraw retrospectively. This may happen as a result of the debriefing; in this case their data, including recordings should be destroyed. The right to withdraw in Zimbardo et al.’s Prison Experiment. The right to withdraw was denied to one participant for a short time: “Less than 36 hours into the experiment, Prisoner #8612 began suffering from acute emotional disturbance, disorganized thinking, uncontrollable crying, and rage. In spite of all of this, we had already come to think so much like prison authorities that we thought he was trying to "con" us -- to fool us into releasing him.” “When our primary prison consultant interviewed Prisoner #8612, the consultant chided him for being so weak, and told him what kind of abuse he could expect from the guards and the prisoners if he were in San Quentin Prison. #8612 was then given the offer of becoming an informant in exchange for no further guard harassment. He was told to think it over.“. “During the next count, Prisoner #8612 told other prisoners, "You can 't leave. You can 't quit." That sent a chilling message and heightened their sense of really being imprisoned. #8612 then began to act "crazy," to scream, to curse, to go into a rage that seemed out of control. It took quite a while before we became convinced that he was really suffering and that we had to release him.” From Zimbardo (1999) |
Protection of Participants
According to the BPS guidelines, investigators have a primary responsibility to protect participants from physical and mental harm. Any risk should be no greater than those encountered in their normal lifestyles. If risks are greater than this then the investigator should seek the disinterested approval of independent advisors, inform the participants AND obtain fully informed consent. 'Disinterested approval ' means that the person giving approval does not have anything to gain from the research; for example, they will not benefit financially or professionally from it.
Participants should also be asked about any factors in the procedure which may create a risk, such as a pre-existing medical condition. They should also be informed of any special action that should be taken to avoid risk. Participants should also be informed of procedures for contacting the investigator should stress, potential harm, or related questions or concern arise despite any precautions taken. It is the investigators responsibility to detect and remove or correct these consequences. There should be no deception when the researcher is seeking information that could be regarded as private: “Where research involves behaviour or experiences that the participant may regard as… private… they should be protected from stress by all appropriate measures, including the assurance that answers to personal questions need not be given.” It should be noted when discussing protection of participants that all of the other guidelines are aimed at protecting the participants. The principles in this section, then, are in addition to the other guidelines.
Useful teaching resource: Quiet Rage: Stanford Prison Study - Archive footage from the original 1973 study reveals the effect of prison life on a group of normal healthy young male volunteers

London Riots: Blaming Social Media (Brown Rutledge, 2011)
Emotion is contagious; social media is not
Published on August 14, 2011 by Pamela Brown Rutledge, Ph.D., M.B.A. in Positively Media

After four days of looting and rioting across the UK, people are looking for answers. The violence that started in London, spread rapidly across not only Greater London, but most of the country, not as single oozing mass, but more like an outbreak of the measles. Its speed and range is attributed to the rioters ' use of social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Blackberry Messenger. Information and disinformation alike travel fast in social networks. As people try to make sense in the aftermath, an emerging theme is the culpability of social media. Focusing blame on social media is akin to killing the messenger and is both naïve and dangerous.
Social media is just a tool. It 's a powerful one, but a tool nonetheless. It can be used in good ways and bad ways, just like a hammer or a baseball bat.
While the riots raised legitimate questions about social and government systems, it has also put social media squarely in the sights of the politicians. Social media is an easy target. When you 're a politician, it 's great to have something to blame that can 't vote. Prime Minister Cameron almost immediately offloaded the blame onto social networking sites for fueling the riots and hinted at intervention. "When people are using social media for violence, we need to stop them."
UK Home Secretary, Theresa May, is scheduling meetings with Facebook, Twitter and Research In Motion (RIM) to "discuss their responsibilities in this area." Suggestions have ranged from banning suspected rioters from social media networks to the wholesale shutdown of social media in times of unrest without regard to individual freedoms in order to "catch the bad guys." The key unanswered question is who gets to decide who 's a 'troublemaker ' or what 's 'unrest. '
And don 't feel smug if you 're sitting in the US. This approach isn 't just in the UK (or the Middle East). The San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) shut down cell service at four San Francisco stations a few nights ago night in an attempt to thwart a protest demonstration. If reading the Bill of Rights doesn 't help, we should learn from history, as well as from current societies that we do not want to emulate. Can anyone say "China" or "McCarthyism"?
Beyond rights violations, any government that thinks they can totally suppress information flows is kidding themselves. Even if it were possible, shutting down social media will not stop anything. In countries where people do not have easy Internet access or rights like freedom of speech, resourceful, persistent, and effective citizens continue to find ways around Great Fire Walls and information blackouts. Suppressing information these days is like holding a balloon under water. It will absolutely pop up somewhere else.
The use of social media in the London riots has inexorably linked social networks with crowd psychology. Just because social networks are social, doesn 't mean they are creating a crowd mentality.
Yes, we know that people can behave differently in crowds. We are social animals and will always be influenced by the dynamics of a social environment. Famous experiments demonstrated how people override their own judgment in the face of group pressure (Asch, 1955), will administer pain to another if an authority figure tells them it 's okay, even in our 'socially-enlightened ' times (Burger, 2009), and will integrate social roles into their identity and in some cases behave out of - or should I say, without - character (Zimbardo, 2007). People have variously theorized crowd behavior as contagious (Le Bon), converging, or unpredictable due to emerging norms (Turner & Killian, 1993). Even Freud logged in on crowd behavior.
Crowd psychology or group mentality doesn 't mean that we should overlook culpability for either the destructive behavior of the individuals or the inherent issues and systems in society that underlie social unrest-both in the ability to provide opportunities and deliver structure. Social media may have accelerated the pace of information travel, bringing groups together faster, but it did not put bricks and fire bombs into the hands of the looters. Social media did not create the anger or sense of powerlessness against authorities. It did not create the heightened emotions of the group, crowd leaders, the adrenalin that comes from a sense of danger and risk, the lack of empathy for others, or the sense of no consequences. Emotion may be contagious, but social media is not.
What social media does do is change the sense of agency - how people view their ability to interact with the world. It changes how we expect to give and get information. Most importantly, it makes us aware when others take action. The comparisons to the Egyptian revolution are inevitable, but let 's not get stuck looking only at the violence. Social media also facilitates the rapid response of society and based on global discourse, it 's pretty clear that overthrowing oppression is good and senseless destruction with no clear goal other than expressing rage is not.
When we focus the blame on social media and think about "shutting it down," we are not only willing to sacrifice individual rights, but we are shutting the door to the powerful positive resources that social media tools can deliver. Real time information in times of crisis or emergencies is valuable to all of us, not just looters and rioters. The Red Cross, for example, used social media to more efficiently provide support during the Haitian earthquake and to reconnect family members as well as to quickly raise donations to fund further relief efforts. mapped violence post the 2007 election in Kenya-not to mention the snow cleanup in New York City. Social media is helping Londoners organize community cleanups. The @RiotCleanup Twitter page has more than 50,000 followers and continually broadcasts cleanup locations and times. (See Mashable 's London Riots: Social Media Mobilizes Riot Cleanup). Social media is also contributing to the arrests of looters who are foolish enough to brag about it on their Facebook page.
The rhetoric about controlling social media networks is dangerous in a broader political sense. Everyone is scared right now and not just in the UK. We were scared even before the riots. These are hard economic times, there are a lot of people on this planet, and meaningful solutions don 't seem to be readily forthcoming. Political agendas add fuel to the fire because they are divisive, fear-laden, and make good headlines.
The real danger from these events is not economic bankruptcy; it 's the wholesale liquidation of personal freedoms as a solution to deal with fear. When people are scared, they are willing to surrender individual rights to whomever tells them they can "fix" the problem. Whenever we give away our power so that we no longer have access or due process, we are on a slippery slope indeed.
From earliest recorded history, humans have had social rules about what is and isn 't okay. The trick is to create rules that give the most people the most freedom. Society is complicated and we have to take a stand against a lot of injustices, but we have to fight hardest against the vacuum created by fear that invites "solutions" that redefine our fundamental rights. It 's tough because it means looking for complex rather than simpler solutions. But at the end of the day, our values are defined by how we behave in the hard times, not in the easy ones.
Asch, S. (1955). Opinions and Social Pressure. Scientific American, 193(5), 31-35.
Burger, J.M. (2009). Replicating Milgram: Would people still obey today? American Psychologist, 64 (1), 1-11
LeBon, G. (1896/2001). The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind. Batoche Books.
Turner, R. and Killian, L. M. (1993) Collective Behavior, Englewood Cliffs, N. J., Prentice-Hall.
Zimbardo, P. (2007). The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. New York: Random House.
The Milgram Obedience Experiment

The Perils of Obedience
By (Kendry Cherry , 2012) The first televised courtroom trial in the history of television happened in 1961, when a Jerusalem court tried Nazi SS Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann for crimes against the Jewish people. Eichmann was the head of Gestapo Department IV B4, and the mastermind behind deporting Jews into ghettoes and then into concentration camps. The direction of this self-proclaimed "Jewish Specialist" was largely responsible for the death of six million Jews. The world attentively watched their tubes, trying to anticipate what Eichmann would be like. We expected a monster, an infinitude of hatred, perhaps the devil incarnate. |
After observing the trial, philosopher Hannah Arendt argued in her controversial essay "The Banality of Evil" that Adolf Eichmann was just an ordinary guy. Eichmann is you and me. There was nothing strikingly evil about him. Eichmann 's defense, like that of other Nazis, was that he was "just following orders." Furthermore, Eichmann said that he actually had no real ill will toward Jews. In any case, Arendt was ostracized by the Jewish community for the rest of her life, and Eichmann was hanged and cremated. His ashes were then peppered across the Mediterranean Sea.
The Milgram experiment may be the most famous experiment in psychology to date. It was conducted in 1963, shortly after Eichmann 's trial. The world still needed an explanation for Nazi behavior. How could this have happened? Were these Nazis a different kind of human, with no thresholds of violence? Milgram showed that this was not so. Take the average American, put him in the right environment, and he will transform into a slaughterous Nazi.

The Perils of Obedience
By Kendry Cherry

"The social psychology of this century reveals a major lesson: often it is not so much the kind of person a man is as the kind of situation in which he finds himself that determines how he will act." –Stanley Milgram, 1974

If a person in a position of authority ordered you to deliver a 400-volt electrical shock to another person, would you follow orders? Most people would answer this question with an adamant no, but Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram conducted a series of obedience experiments during the 1960s that demonstrated surprising results. These experiments offer a powerful and disturbing look into the power of authority and obedience.

Introduction to the Milgram Experiment

Milgram started his experiments in 1961, shortly after the trial of the World War II criminal Adolph Eichmann had begun. Eichmann’s defense that he was simply following instructions when he ordered the deaths of millions of Jews roused Milgram’s interest. In his 1974 book Obedience to Authority, Milgram posed the question, "Could it be that Eichmann and his million accomplices in the Holocaust were just following orders? Could we call them all accomplices?"
Method Used in the Milgram Experiment
The participants in the Milgram experiment were 40 men recruited using newspaper ads. In exchange for their participation, each person was paid $4.50.
Milgram developed an intimidating shock generator, with shock levels starting at 30 volts and increasing in 15-volt increments all the way up to 450 volts. The many switches were labeled with terms including "slight shock," "moderate shock" and "danger: severe shock." The final two switches were labeled simply with an ominous "XXX."
Each participant took the role of a "teacher" who would then deliver a shock to the "student" every time an incorrect answer was produced. While the participant believed that he was delivering real shocks to the student, the student was actually a confederate in the experiment who was simply pretending to be shocked.
As the experiment progressed, the participant would hear the learner plead to be released or even complain about a heart condition. Once the 300-volt level had been reached, the learner banged on the wall and demanded to be released. Beyond this point, the learner became completely silent and refused to answer any more questions. The experimenter then instructed the participant to treat this silence as an incorrect response and deliver a further shock.
Most participants asked the experimenter whether they should continue. The experimenter issued a series of commands to prod the participant along: 1. "Please continue." 2. "The experiment requires that you continue." 3. "It is absolutely essential that you continue." 4. "You have no other choice, you must go on."

Results of the Milgram Experiment
The level of shock that the participant was willing to deliver was used as the measure of obedience. How far do you think that most participants were willing to go? When Milgram posed this question to a group of Yale University students, it was predicted that no more than 3 out of 100 participants would deliver the maximum shock. In reality, 65% of the participants in Milgram’s study delivered the maximum shocks.
Of the 40 participants in the study, 26 delivered the maximum shocks while 14 stopped before reaching the highest levels. It is important to note that many of the subjects became extremely agitated, distraught and angry at the experimenter. Yet they continued to follow orders all the way to the end.
Because of concerns about the amount of anxiety experienced by many of the participants, all subjects were debriefed at the end of the experiment to explain the procedures and the use of deception. However, many critics of the study have argued that many of the participants were still confused about the exact nature of the experiment. Milgram later surveyed the participants and found that 84% were glad to have participated, while only 1% regretted their involvement.

Discussion of the Milgram Experiment
While Milgram’s research raised serious ethical questions about the use of human subjects in psychology experiments, his results have also been consistently replicated in further experiments. Thomas Blass (1999) reviewed further research on obedience and found that Milgram’s findings hold true in other experiments.
Why did so many of the participants in this experiment perform a seemingly sadistic act on the instruction of an authority figure? According to Milgram, there are a number of situational factors that can explain such high levels of obedience: * The physical presence of an authority figure dramatically increased compliance. * The fact that the study was sponsored by Yale (a trusted and authoritative academic institution led many participants to believe that the experiment must be safe. * The selection of teacher and learner status seemed random. * Participants assumed that the experimenter was a competent expert. * The shocks were said to be painful, not dangerous.
Later experiments conducted by Milgram indicated that the presence of rebellious peers dramatically reduced obedience levels. When other people refused to go along with the experimenters orders, 36 out of 40 participants refused to deliver the maximum shocks.
"Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority" (Milgram, 1974).
Milgram’s experiment has become a classic in psychology, demonstrating the dangers of obedience. While this experiment suggests that situational variables have a stronger sway than personality factors in determining obedience, other psychologists argue that obedience is heavily influenced by both external and internal factors, such as personal beliefs and overall temperament.

Questions for Further Thought 1. Describe the Milgram Experiment. 2. How many people in the experiment actually delivered the shocks? How does this differ from the predictions of the experiment? 3. What impact do you think the experimenter’s commands had on the participants’ decisions to shock or not shock anyone? 4. “Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process…” Can you think of examples in history where good people have done terrible things under the influence of an authority figure? 5. Why do you think it is so difficult to make the right decision when an authority figure is telling you to do otherwise? 6. What does this experiment reveal about human nature?

The UK riots: the psychology of looting (Williams, 2011)

* * The shocking acts of looting may not be political, but they nevertheless say something * * * Zoe Williams * The Guardian, Tuesday 9 August 2011

Looters ransack a corner shop in Hackney, London. Photograph: Olivia Harris/Reuters
The first day after London started burning, I spoke to Claire Fox, radical leftwinger and resident of Wood Green. On Sunday morning, apparently, people had been not just looting H&M, but trying things on first. By Monday night, Debenhams in Clapham Junction was empty, and in a cheeky touch, the streets were thronging with people carrying Debenhams bags. Four hours before, I had still thought this was just a north London thing. Fox said the riots seemed nihilistic, they didn 't seem to be politically motivated, nor did they have any sense of community or social solidarity. This was inarguable. As one brave woman in Hackney put it: "We 're not all gathering together for a cause, we 're running down Foot Locker." 'I remember the buzz of mob mayhem from 1981 '

1. The unifying factor that fuels and drives such unrest is excitement, fun, teenage kicks, writes Kevin Sampson

I think it 's just about possible that you could see your actions refashioned into a noble cause if you were stealing the staples: bread, milk. But it can 't be done while you 're nicking trainers, let alone laptops. In Clapham Junction, the only shop left untouched was Waterstone 's, and the looters of Boots had, unaccountably, stolen a load of Imodium. So this kept Twitter alive all night with tweets about how uneducated these people must be and the condition of their digestive systems. While that palled after a bit, it remains the case that these are shopping riots, characterised by their consumer choices: that 's the bit we 've never seen before. A violent act by the authorities, triggering a howl of protest – that bit is as old as time. But crowds moving from shopping centre to shopping centre? Actively trying to avoid a confrontation with police, trying to get in and out of JD Sports before the "feds" arrive? That bit is new.
By 5pm on Monday, as I was listening to the brave manager of the Lewisham McDonald 's describing, incredulously, how he had just seen the windows stoved in, and he didn 't think they 'd be able to open the next day, I wasn 't convinced by nihilism as a reading: how can you cease to believe in law and order, a moral universe, co-operation, the purpose of existence, and yet still believe in sportswear? How can you despise culture but still want the flatscreen TV from the bookies? Alex Hiller, a marketing and consumer expert at Nottingham Business School, points out that there is no conflict between anomie and consumption: "If you look at Baudrillard and other people writing in sociology about consumption, it 's a falsification of social life. Adverts promote a fantasy land. Consumerism relies upon people feeling disconnected from the world."
Leaving Baudrillard aside, just because there is no political agenda on the part of the rioters doesn 't mean the answer isn 't rooted in politics. Theresa May – indeed most politicians, not just Conservatives – are keen to stress that this is "pure criminality", untainted by higher purpose; the phrase is a gesture of reassurance rather than information, because we all know it 's illegal to smash shop windows and steal things. "We 're not going to be diverted by sophistry," is the tacit message. "As soon as things have calmed down, these criminals are going to prison, where criminals belong."
Those of us who don 't have responsibility for public order can be more interrogative about what 's going on: an authoritarian reading is that this is a generation with a false sense of entitlement, created by the victim culture fostered, and overall leniency displayed, by the criminal justice system. It 's just a glorified mugging, in other words, conducted by people who ask not what they can do for themselves, but what other people should have done for them, and who may have mugged before, on a smaller scale, and found it to be without consequence.
At the other end of the authoritarian-liberal spectrum, you have Camila Batmanghelidjh 's idea, movingly expressed in the Independent, that this is a natural human response to the brutality of poverty: "Walk on the estate stairwells with your baby in a buggy manoeuvring past the condoms, the needles, into the lift where the best outcome is that you will survive the urine stench and the worst is that you will be raped . . . It 's not one occasional attack on dignity, it 's a repeated humiliation, being continuously dispossessed in a society rich with possession. Young, intelligent citizens of the ghetto seek an explanation for why they are at the receiving end of bleak Britain, condemned to a darkness where their humanity is not even valued enough to be helped."
Between these poles is a more pragmatic reading: this is what happens when people don 't have anything, when they have their noses constantly rubbed in stuff they can 't afford, and they have no reason ever to believe that they will be able to afford it. Hiller takes up this idea: "Consumer society relies on your ability to participate in it. So what we recognise as a consumer now was born out of shorter hours, higher wages and the availability of credit. If you 're dealing with a lot of people who don 't have the last two, that contract doesn 't work. They seem to be targeting the stores selling goods they would normally consume. So perhaps they 're rebelling against the system that denies its bounty to them because they can 't afford it."
The type of goods being looted seems peculiarly relevant: if they were going for bare necessities, I think one might incline towards sympathy. I could be wrong, but I don 't get the impression that we 're looking at people who are hungry. If they were going for more outlandish luxury, hitting Tiffany 's and Gucci, they might seem more political, and thereby more respectable. Their achilles heel was in going for things they demonstrably want.
Forensic psychologist Kay Nooney deals impatiently with the idea of cuts, specifically tuition fees, as an engine of lawlessness. "These people aren 't interested in tuition fees. In constituency, it 's most similar to a prison riot: what will happen is that, usually in the segregation unit, nobody will ever know exactly, but a rumour will emanate that someone has been hurt in some way. There will be some form of moral outrage that takes its expression in self-interested revenge. There is no higher purpose, you just have a high volume of people with a history of impulsive behaviour, having a giant adventure."
Of course, the difference is that, in a prison, liberty has already been lost. So something pretty serious must have happened in order for young people on the streets to be behaving as though they have already been incarcerated. As another criminologist, Professor John Pitts, has said: "Many of the people involved are likely to have been from low-income, high-unemployment estates, and many, if not most, do not have much of a legitimate future. There is a social question to be asked about young people with nothing to lose."
There seems to be another aspect to the impunity – that the people rioting aren 't taking seriously the idea it could rebound on them. All the most dramatic shots are of young men in balaclavas or with scarves tied round their faces, because it is such a striking, threatening image. But actually, watching snatches of phone footage and even professional news footage, it was much more alarming how many people made no attempt at all to cover their faces. This could go back to the idea that, with the closure of a number of juvenile facilities and the rhetoric about bringing down prison populations, people just don 't believe they 'll go to prison any more, at least not for something as petty as a pair of trainers. I feel for them; that may be true on a small scale, but when judges feel public confidence seriously to be at issue, they have it in themselves to be very harsh indeed (I 'm thinking of Charlie Gilmour). But there is also a tang of surreality around it all, with the rioters calling the police "feds", as though they think they are in The Wire, and sending each other melodramatic texts saying: "So if you see a brother . . . SALUTE! If you see a fed . . . SHOOT!"
Late on Monday night, news went round Twitter that Turkish shopkeepers on Stoke Newington Road in Dalston were fighting off the marauders with baseball bats, and someone tweeted: "Bloody immigrants. Coming over here, defending our boroughs & communities." And it struck me that it hadn 't occurred to me to walk on to my high street and see what was going on, let alone defend anything. I was watching events on a live feed, switching between Sky and the BBC, thinking how interesting it was, even though it was audible from my front door and at one point, when I couldn 't tell whether the helicopter noise was coming from the telly or from real life, it was because it was both.
The Dalston clashes remind us, also, that it wasn 't just JD Sports, even though the reputation of that chain is, for some reason, the most bound up with everything that 's happened. Smaller, independent corner shops, the kind without a head office in Welwyn Garden City, that aren 't insured up to the teeth, were ransacked as well, for their big-ticket items of booze and fags. When a chain is attacked, the protection of its corporate aspect means that, while we can appreciate the breakdown of law and order, we do not respond emotionally. When a corner shop is destroyed, however, the lawlessness has a victim, and we feel disgusted. That 's what drags these events into focus: not the stuff that was stolen, but the people behind the stuff.
• This article will be opened to comments from 9am (UK time) on Wednesday

The Person and the Situation by Kendra Cherry

One way to gain insight into how and why you relate to others is to look at how the people around you and the society you live in influence your behavior. For example, when you 're having a terrible day and you 're in a nasty mood, how is it that you can find it in yourself to be extremely courteous, pleasant, and kind to your boss, the store clerk, or your coworker? For one, it depends on how much you want them to like you and how much you want to be accepted by them.
The boss provides an obvious reason to be wary — he 's not the guy you want giving you the evil eye all day because you were rude to him in the hallway! But, you might be aware that the store clerk and your coworker had nothing to do with your bad mood, so you treat them as you would want to be treated. Others in this situation don 't care if their bad mood is misplaced as they take it out on the wrong person; they 're not thinking about how much a person likes them at that particular moment. As you 'll see, it only takes one person to distract you from your task, interrupt your train of thought, and cause you to behave in ways that don 't represent your true form.
The Presence of Another
In 1897, to study how a person works in the presence of another person, psychologist Norman Triplett conducted an experiment to test coaction by monitoring how fast children turned a fishing wheel while they were alone in a room and when another person was present. (Coaction is the term used to describe how individuals interact together. In this experiment, it describes the act of two children performing the same task.)
In this study, Triplett placed two children in the same room and gave them both the task of turning a fishing wheel. He monitored how fast the children worked. He compared these results with how quickly the children worked when alone in the room and given the same task. Triplett 's findings showed that children worked faster in coaction than when working alone. Psychologists then followed in Triplett 's footsteps and conducted similar experiments that tested how well an individual performed in front of a group of people, or an audience. The same outcomes were witnessed, and together, the ramifications of coaction and audience influence were termed social facilitation.
Additional studies related to social facilitation have been generated in other animals. In the scientific journal Physiological Zoology (1937), S. C. Chen details how ants will dig at a faster rate when they 're working in groups than they will when they 're working alone.
While you 're affected by the pressure of being driven to work harder and strive for more when another person is performing the same task as you, you 're also pushed outward, prompted to help others in need when you see that the help is coming from someone else.
How you interpret situations is the key element in whether or not you 're going to contribute your services. For example, it 's become so common to see people sleeping on sidewalks and park benches that you just assume the person is homeless and catching a nap wherever and whenever he can. It 's a rare occasion when someone stops to see if the person is really sleeping, if he 's extremely ill and in need of care, or if he 's dead.
Bystander apathy is common within social situations. Remarkably, the size of the group can affect whether a person will take action, often moreso than the typical attitudes or behavior of the person herself. The larger the group, the less likely someone will contribute, because she assumes there are enough people around that surely someone else will act.
But is it “okay” simply to walk by and ignore someone who appears to be sleeping in a public area? The term pluralistic ignorance may help in answering the question. Pluralistic ignorance describes a state of thinking in which individuals in a group take their cues from other individuals in a group. For example, if everyone else is being calm about the person sleeping on the sidewalk, and no one is offering assistance, then the situation must not be an emergency and therefore doesn 't require my help.
Diffusion of Responsibility
Since most people tend to look to others as models for how they should behave, diffusion of responsibility may take place. Diffusion of responsibility takes place when a group of people witnesses the same emergency, yet certain people do not offer assistance because other people are present, therefore diffusing their need to act — “someone else will offer help, so I don 't need to.”
One of the most frequently cited examples of this diffusion of responsibility was the 1964 murder of a young woman named Kitty Genovese. As she returned home from work late one evening, she was brutally attacked and repeatedly stabbed outside of her apartment entrance. Genovese cried out that she had been stabbed and screamed for help. One neighbor yelled out his window to tell the attacker to leave the woman alone, none of the neighbors contacted policed until approximately 30 minutes after the attack began. While the initial report that appeared in the New York Times sensationalized the case, later investigations have revealed that there were other factors about the situation that contributed to the failure of the witnesses to call for help. A 2007 article by Manning, Levine, and Collins that appeared in American Psychologist suggests that many of the witnesses did not realize that Genovese had been stabbed and that the layout of the apartment complex made it difficult for the neighbors to clearly see what was actually happening.
While the Genovese case has often been misrepresented in popular psychology literature, the incident did inspire a wealth of social psychology research on group behavior in crisis situations. Unlike pluralistic ignorance where one observed behavior affects another 's behavior, diffusion of responsibility took place because the neighbors were unable to see the reactions of others; however, no one took action because they thought, “Someone else will take care of it.” The need to behave in a socially acceptable manner also plays a role in the failure of witnesses to take action in such situations. In the Genovese incident, many of the witnesses believed that they were simply hearing a domestic dispute and had no idea that the young woman was actually being murdered. When the situation is unclear and the behavior of those involved seems ambiguous, it becomes even less likely that witness will take action.
Compliance by Kendra Cherry
Yielding to another person 's wishes without changing your true beliefs puts you in a situation of compliance. You believe Granny Smith apples make a better apple pie, but your mother-in-law thinks Red Delicious makes the better pie. You agree to make the pie with Red Delicious apples, but you still believe Granny Smith apples are tastier. Though you 've submitted to your mother-in-law 's request, you haven 't given up your own opinion on the subject.
Rebellion often develops when none of the choices presented to an individual are favorable. For example, if the choice is either to conform to the decision at hand or obey the main influencer, a person might choose neither as a complete act of rebellion against the situation as a whole.
Johnny has the choice of either going to school and having to listen to the teacher and actually participate in class discussions, or stay at home with his alcoholic father who will continue to yell at him all day. Not liking either of the choices, Johnny decides to rebel against both of them by neither going to school nor staying at home. Instead, he spends his day hanging out by the river with some of his neighborhood friends.
There are two types of compliance — conformity and obedience — both of which will be discussed later in this chapter. Both instances involve a main influencer in which a positive (reward) or negative (denunciation) response is elicited from the influencer in reaction to the person 's compliant or noncompliant behavior.

Latane’s revised model, Dynamic Social Impact Theory

Identified four tendencies in group:

1. Consolidation: over time, the majority grows in size and the minority dwindles in size

2. Clustering: As the law of social impact suggests, people are more influenced by their closest neighbors, and so clusters of group members with similar opinions emerge in group.[dyads, triads …]

3. Correlation: Over time the group members’ opinions on other issues, even one that are not discussed in the group, converge, so that their opinions on a variety of matters are correlated .

4. Continuing diversity: Because of clustering, members of minorities are often shielded from the influence attempts of the majority, and their beliefs continue on within the group

References: * Adler, L.L., and U.P. Gielen (eds.). 2001. Cross-Cultural Topics in Psychology, 2nd edition. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers. ISBN 978-0275969738. * Allport, G.W * Ambady, N., and R. Rosenthal. 1992. Thin slices of expressive behavior as predictors of interpersonal consequences: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 111: 256-274. * Argyle, Michael [1967] 1999 * Bandura, A., D. Ross, and S. A. Ross. 1961. Transmission of aggression through imitation of aggressive models. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 63: 575-582. * Batson, C.D * Bem, D. 1970. Beliefs, Attitudes, and Human Affairs. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. ISBN 081858906X * Borkenau, P., and A * Cialdini, R.B. 2000. Influence: Science and Practice. Allyn and Bacon. ISBN 978-0321011473. * Correll, J., B * Cote, J.E. and C.G. Levine. 2002. Identity Formation, Agency, and Culture. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. ISBN 978-0805837964. * Cronbach, L * Festinger, L. 1957. A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. ISBN 978-0804701310. * Festinger, L., and J.M * Funder, D. C. 1995. On the accuracy of personality judgment: A realistic approach". Psychological Review, 102: 652-670. * Gielen U.P., and L.L * Gladwell M. 2005. Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking. Boston, MA: Little, Brown. ISBN 978-0739455296. * Gergen, K.J * Guzewicz, T.D., and H. Takooshian. 1992. Development of a short-form scale of public attitudes toward homelessness. Journal of Social Distress & the Homeless, 1(1): 67-79. * Haney, C., W.C * Janis, I.L. 1972. Victims of Groupthink. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 978-0395140444. * Kenny, D.A * Kelley, C.P., and S.D.S. Vichinstein. 2007. An Introduction to D.I.R.P. Theory: Disentangling Interspecies Reproduction Patterns. Presented at the Annual Conference of the ISAA. * Latane, B * Rieber, R.W., H. Takooshian, and H. Iglesias. 2002. The case of Sybil in the teaching of psychology. Journal of Social Distress & the Homeless, 11(4): 355-360. * Robinson, Peter * Schaller, M., J.A. Simpson, and D.T. Kenrick. 2006. Evolution and Social Psychology (Frontiers of Social Psychology). New York: Psychology Press. ISBN 1841694177. * Sewell, W.H * Sherif, M. 1954. Experiments in group conflict. Scientific American, 195: 54-58. * Smith, Peter B * Sternberg, R. J. 1986. A triangular theory of love. Psychological Review, 93: 119-135. * Tajfel, H., and J.C * Takooshian, H. 2005. Reviewing 100 years of cross-national work on intelligence. PsycCRITIQUES, 50(12). * Takooshian, H., N * Takooshian, H., and W. M. Verdi. 1995. Assessment of attitudes toward terrorism. In L. L. Adler, & F. L. Denmark (eds.), Violence and the Prevention of Violence. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers. ISBN 978-0275948733. * Triplett, N * Vazier, S. & S.D. Gosling. 2004. e-Perceptions: Personality impressions based on personal websites. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87: 123-132. * Watson, D (Keiron Walsh,2008) BPS (2005) Milgram’s (1963, 1965) obedience studies were a controversial use of deception (Brown Rutledge, 2011) Emotion is contagious; social media is not Published on August 14, 2011 by Pamela Brown Rutledge, Ph.D., M.B.A

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