Week One - Introduction to Social Psychology
I listened to the first lecture, not really knowing what social psychology would be. I anticipated it would be interesting, as any title with the word social in it has my attention! I didn’t expect it would have me thinking about so many things after only one week though. I particularly liked Allport’s description of social psychology – That the thoughts, feelings and behaviours of individual’s are influenced by the actual, imagined or implied presence of others. I find myself thinking about this theory and questioning my behaviour depending on the situation I am in. It is so hard to know whether I would behave the way I do no matter what, or if I really do modify my actions depending on who is watching or who I think might be watching.
The one question from our exercise in the first tutorial that made me stop and think was whether we believe people do change the way they act due to the influence of others, or if we are born a certain way and it is our genetics alone that shape the person we become. I think I am still sitting on the fence, although, the more information that is revealed from this unit may influence me to make a firm decision.
During the lecture, different social situations were discussed – Person to person, group to person and person to group, and group to group.
One question that came to my mind when discussing person to person situations is what makes us like certain people and dislike others? And when we like someone, what leads us to fall in love with them. Conversely, when we don’t like them, what makes us behave aggressively or treat someone with prejudice?
Another question that was posed during the origin of social psychology discussion and also in the text book is ‘What made so many ‘normal’ Germans support the Nazi regime during WW2?’ Was it simply because everyone else was? Are we really that fickle? Could a similar situation happen again in today’s society?
Last year, in an Education unit, Milgram’s obedience experiment was briefly discussed. I had never heard of it and was outraged and yet so intrigued. It is amazing to think an experiment, where people were firmly ordered to deliver a set of electric shocks (eventually getting to 450 volts) to innocent people was allowed to take place. Although the shocks were only pretend, it must have been quite a disturbing experience for the participants. However, 84 percent of former participants surveyed later said they were "glad" or "very glad" to have participated (Wikipedia, 2008). And the fact they did participate certainly has its benefits, providing us with a fascinating social experiment with which we can study. Contrary to that, I do understand how we can now have such strict ethical guidelines, and these are something society should be grateful for.
My final thought from the first week of social psychology is one that occurs almost every afternoon on my way home. People on the radio conduct a random call to an unsuspecting person, and pretend to be an old school friend. They usually say something along the lines of ‘Hi, it’s Johnno from school – Do you remember me? I used to get into trouble for skipping class all the time.’ The intriguing part of this segment to me is that the person that has been called admits they do remember the caller every single time. The descriptions are always so vague and the caller relies on cues from the 'callee', and yet the 'callee' always goes along with it. Every day, it has me thinking – Do they honestly believe they remember the person? Or are they just going along with it in order to be polite? Are we able to make up scenarios in our memory that easily due to the influence of others? Once again, I wonder what I would do if it was ever me that received the call.
The Social Self
Week Two - Culture and Nature and The Self
The chapter begins with a summary of the tragic story of David Reimer, taken from the book by John Colapinto titled 'As Nature Made Him - The boy who was raised as a girl'. I happened to read this book a few years ago and found it really interesting. After a botched circumcision in 1967, David's parents take him to a doctor who they believed would be able to fix everything. The doctor appeared on television and was extremely convincing as an expert in gender identity and sexual reassignment. The doctor - Dr Money strongly believed that human newborns were born as psychosexual blank slates. He believed it was nature that made children adopt the psyche of either a male or female. Therefore, if a child was dressed in pink and given dolls to play with, that child would behave as a female. Or if it was dressed in blue and given trucks to play with, it would behave as a boy. However, as the story reveals, life and the human character is not as simple as that. After realignment surgery, David, or Brenda as he was now known was treated exactly like a stereotypical little girl would be treated, and expected to behave accordingly. However, up until the truth was revealed, he always felt like he didn't belong and as though he was different somehow. He just wasn't interested in girly stuff and longed to be able to do the things his twin brother was enjoying. Although the story is heartbreaking, particularly when you consider his loss of childhood, once David knew the truth and decided to act on it, he was able to find happiness and peace within himself.
This story made me realise that perhaps nature is more powerful than culture. Our interests may be shaped by our surroundings and our upbringing, but fundamentally what makes us behave as either a male or a female is basically inherent. Therefore, life must be so difficult for transgender people - With society expecting certain behaviours, but feeling trapped in the wrong body, never being able to live up to those expectations.
In reference to Nature - Go, Culture - No, I wonder what society would be like if we did not have those social norms to comply with. In order to gain social acceptance, we must fulfill certain expectations. However, what does happen if we decide to deviate from those expectations. I often wonder what life would be like if I just spoke the truth for a day. If I just blurted out exactly what was in my head, without any censorship. For example, when someone asks me how I am, without wanting to know the answer, I would love to reply with "You don't really care, you are just asking me because you feel you need to fill in the silence, so just don't bother!" Or when someone gets a bad haircut, it would be so liberating to say how terrible I think it is, rather than the polite "I love it!" If we could all be so honest all the time, would society function as well? Or could it possibly function even better?
This honesty also made me consider the 'describe yourself' activity. Most answers centre around social roles, however, is that only the case when we believe someone may read our answers? What if the activity was given as a private and anonymous exercise – Would the answers be more revealing and honest. I wonder if they would include more statements about current feelings, such as ‘I am scared and unhappy’ or feelings of pride such as ‘I am beautiful and successful.’ Or perhaps when we think of whom we are, we do automatically think of where we fit in society.
Furthermore, we want others to think well of us, in order to improve our self esteem and take us to a higher social rank. However, isn’t the way we see ourselves more important? If we can be at peace with who we truly are, then won’t everything else follow? Surely, our contentment of who we are when in private leads to greater all round happiness. After all, we have to spend a lot of time with ourselves, and it would be a shame to not be satisfied and proud of who that person is.
Week Three - Social Thinking
This week had me thinking a lot about thinking. We take so much for granted and I find it amazing how much effort the brain is going to, just in order for us to understand simple concepts.
Knowledge structures such as schemas and scripts are crucial for navigating even the smallest daily task. It appears the role of context, meaning and past experience are important for successfully interpreting information and acting accordingly. However, what happens in cases of autism? Do people with autism not have access to this information? Or do they have access but do not know what to do with the information? Perhaps people with autism focus their attention on smaller details within the bigger picture, whereas non-autistic people focus on the whole picture in order to build a story. Therefore, a person with autism may have a problem with constantly modifying and updating schemas through experience and is unable to build a cognitive map of the world, its possibilities and experiences. This could even be part of the reason why many people with autism find it difficult to build what others perceive as close relationships. I think many people with autism do get close to people in their own way, however, as it is not the standard way, with lots of contact (eye contact, physical contact, emotional contact), it can be confronting and upsetting for those around them. More importantly though, I wonder do they find it upsetting or difficult, or are they happy in their own solitary world?
Building stereotypes is another concept I found interesting. We usually associate stereotypes with negativity, such as all accountants are boring, all blondes are dumb. However, I had never considered they could actually be useful and it makes sense that stereotypes can be a useful tool to aid in cognition.
The following is a satirical look at the stereotypes associated with white, middle-class Americans. Although American, many of the ideas can also be applied to Australian society. As well as being funny, it is also scarily accurate. I like the language the blog uses, writing of the stuff these people like in a similar format you would expect in a guide book for a new puppy, or other such animal. It is an interesting look at the social behaviour of a large part of our society. 
Week Four - Aggression
It is alarming to think that toddlers resort to aggression 25% of the time, but it makes sense that they have not yet learnt that it is not socially acceptable to solve disputes with aggression. However, to expand on this even further, perhaps they have to resort to aggression as they have not yet learnt how to control their emotions but also do not have the skills required to solve problems in a more advanced way. They would not have the vocabulary or the reasoning skills to come to a fair conclusion if something has upset them. Perhaps this can even explain why some adults have trouble with aggression – They may simply not have the skills to work through their issue in any other way.
It also makes sense that men commit most violent crimes in our society. They are naturally affected by higher levels of testosterone than women, and it is more socially acceptable for men to release their aggression in a direct way. Furthermore, when men drink, the alcohol releases their inhibitions and decreases self-awareness, and they become even more aggressive. I come from a small country town and a lot of rum was consumed by men at the pub on a Friday night. There were fights every week and I was always perplexed as to why they can be fine drinking beer every other night, but as soon as they started drinking rum they would turn into completely different people – Almost searching for reasons to get angry at someone and start a fight. Could it be something in dark spirits? Or the coke they are mixed with? Or a combination of the two?
Interestingly, women seem to be becoming far more aggressive, particularly when they drink. It seems it is no longer as taboo for a woman to publicly let out her anger or aggression, however it is still terribly unattractive! (as it is in men also). At 29, I am no longer going out ‘clubbing’, however even driving through the city on a Sat night, it is not unusual to see girls screaming abuse at one another, or even physically hurting each other. Or could it be that we are more quick to notice and judge a woman who is drunk and behaving aggressively, as it is not deemed as ladylike?
The following is a recent article that examines both sides of the debate:
Prejudice and Stereotypes
Week Five - Prejudice and Stereotypes
I would hate to think I was prejudice in any way, be it towards different races, religions, ages or people with different sexual preferences. Or even for the way someone looks, if they are overweight or have some disfigurement. However, as articles such as this:  show, it is possible to unconsciously be racist or prejudice, even when you believe otherwise.
So I decided to take the Implicit Association test for skin tone. Thankfully, my results showed little to no automatic preference between Light Skinned People and Dark Skinned People. The test only takes 10 minutes and is located here:  - It may not be completely accurate, and should be seen more as fun than an exact reflection, however it still provides us with something worth thinking about. After taking the test, I also began to wonder, if you make a positive statement about a group or race, does that also mean you are prejudice? If someone was to make a comment that ‘black babies are so cute’, is that just as bad as saying ‘black babies are so evil’?... This is another example of people who probably believe they are well-meaning, subconsciously having prejudice beliefs about people who are different to themselves.
I am a big fan of Jane Elliott. I am particularly moved when I read of how she came up with the blue eyes brown eyes exercise after the assassination of Martin Luther King as a way to demonstrate to her young students the senselessness, irrationality and brutality of his death. When watching the original exercise, it is astounding to see how quickly the children adapt to their given roles. The ones without tags around their necks become bullies and mean without even having reason to. And the ones with tags perform substantially worse in the tasks they are given, almost as if they believe they are useless. Jane emphasizes it is not an exercise to be taken lightly and should not be performed unless absolutely crucial. However, I think if students were just shown footage of the exercise and then having subsequent discussions, this could be an equally powerful tool in the fight against prejudice. When watching the Australian version of the exercise, many were torn between thinking it was a powerful and useful exercise, to thinking it only encouraged more aggression. For the men that walked out after barely giving it a chance, it is easy to see it would take a lot of work to make them change their opinions. They were older, white and male – Life has been easy for them in comparison to people from minority groups and it is nearly impossible for them to see life from any other perspective. However, throughout the documentary, there were moments when you could see the realization in the ‘whites’ faces. And even for us watching, seeing that makes the whole thing seem worthwhile. I wish I had the opportunity to participate – Would I have been someone that Jane would have picked on? How would I have reacted to that? Above all, I was so moved by the sense of empowerment it gave the Indigenous participants and for the opportunity if gave them to tell their stories and provide understanding on what it is like to be judged every single day purely for the colour of your skin.
Week Ten - Relationships
I remember when I was a teenager and first discovering boys, how intense my emotions used to be. I would be on a constant rollercoaster of massive highs and lows depending on whether the boy in question was showing me attention or not. I particularly remember one afternoon when I was 16 and found out my ‘boyfriend’ was cheating on me. I locked myself in my bedroom with sad music, wrote poetry and saw myself as some kind of broken hearted, damsel in distress from a movie screen. My much older brother came into my room and told me to get over it and get used to it, as it was bound to happen many more times in the years to come. He was right. I did feel like my heart was breaking quite a few more times after that, however, when I look back, there was never the intensity of emotion that I had that first time at age 16. I don’t know if it was because I didn’t like those boys as much, or perhaps more likely, I became somewhat stronger and immune each time.
I have been with my partner for three years and sometimes I compare the way I feel with him, to those intense 16 year old emotions. The chapter in the text described perfectly the way he makes me feel – Companionate love. There is still passion and romance, however he is my best friend and I still yearn every day to get home and see him and talk about the days events together. It is nice to know that this love is considered a major formula for a successful marriage. However, I also took particular notice of the theory that you need to do five times as many nice things as negative things. It is a good tool to remember and I have been trying to do spontaneous thoughtful gestures every day since reading it.
Double standards for women’s behaviour always make me feel so angry. And it makes me even angrier when I read and agree that most of the double standards and negativity directed to women come from other women! I understand the idea from the text that women feel the need to put pressure on each other to restrain sexual behaviour in order to look out for their best interests. However, in today’s society, I think it is more important to promote equality. Men and women both need to treat prospective partners and ‘flings’ with respect. Even if you were only with a person for one night, if he or she was good enough to become intimate with, then they deserve the same level of dignity and compassion that you would want for yourself, even in the harsh light of the morning after. This is directed at both men and women and is a far more important notion for improved social behaviour than that of telling women to refrain from having too many sexual partners or backstabbing a fellow female when they do.