This is Mitch Dowling's E-Journal for Social Psychology
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Who Am I?
- 3 Points of Interest
- 4 Review
Social Psychology studies the psychological and behavioural effects of groups upon the individual and the individuals effect upon groups.
What I know:
- Society is maintained by the majority of people following the same cultural norms.
- People are social creatures and want to group together.
- People are like snowflakes, each one is unique, yet all have distinct similarities.
What I don't know:
- A lot...
- Why are people so different, yet behave in very similar manners?
- How leaders have such an impact upon groups.
- Do people work better as individuals or as part of a group?
- Why do people need leaders?
- What is the psychological impact of terrorism upon individuals/society and why is it so great?
Who Am I?
- Male, blond(ish) hair, blue(ish) eyes, 23 years old.
- A PreProf Psych student at UC
- An avid skier and traveler, have skied in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, America and Canada. I have also traveled through Europe and Kenya.
- A first Dan black belt in Tae Kwon Do.
- Kind, friendly, conscientious and open minded.
The Dynamic Self
- So, is the description above actually me? Probably not. Whilst I consider myself to be kind, I have done and said mean things. I am friendly, but not towards everyone. I am conscientious, but sometimes its easier not to be. I am open minded in most cases, but I can be very opinionated when I know I'm right and sometimes when I'm wrong. So, whilst I am me and feel that I have a solid self, I also know that I react differently in different situations and can act unpredictably.
- So if I am not a stable concept that behaves in a predictable fashion, but am in fact a multidimensional, multifaceted dynamic structure, how can I understand my 'self'?
- Social Psychologists use three definitions to operationalise the self and make it concrete enough to study
- Self-Concept: The knowledge I have of myself or beliefs about myself. Which is heavily based on self report and doesn't appear to different from what I have written about myself above.
- Self-Esteem: So, how good do I feel about myself? Pretty damn good really. I feel confident in my abilities, I tend not to worry overly much about what others think of me, and i feel good about my body (although i think it's time for a haircut...)
- Self-Presentation: My public self, how do I differ when under the scrutiny of others? This is difficult to say when one is trying to be concise, so some examples will hopefully suffice. The most immediate difference is my differences in self presentation when I'm around guys rather than girls. With guys I'm a lot 'blokier', I swear, tell bad jokes, drink more and generally act like I have no feelings. With women I swear less, drink less and am generally more kind and caring. I could quite possibly spend hours thinking of how I act differently around different people and in different situations, but that said, I'm still me so i must still have a self. How very confusing...
Points of Interest
Language as Power
Language is not a neutral medium of expression, language is the product of our thoughts and feelings, yet language in turn has the power to influence those same thoughts and feelings. The word ‘love’ is an example of how one word can carry so many meanings and influence peoples minds into a certain direction. Once the word ‘love’ is used the mind generates several different connotations, such as desire and happiness. Language has been used by the elites within societies to influence the masses below them. In this situation the elites would grasp an already well entrenched concept within the masses, such as the family unit, and would use this to manipulate their thoughts towards the elite’s position. It may not even truly matter that the concept of the family unit only pertains to an increasingly small portion of society; the words carry such imagery that the reality of an increasing number of single parent families is often ignored. Language is also able to shape a persons view of events, as exemplified by the trial of Chapel Corby. Even though there was no real chance of the media knowing whether she was innocent or guilty, they used the fact she was a pretty, young female to provide reports reinforcing the idea of her innocence. Language can be used to induce emotions in people, whether it be sadness, happiness, pride, or fear.
It has also been suggested that language can not only influence, but that it can also be a form of power. Discourses, such as medicine, law and physics, can control what is considered by society to be the “truth”. Thus the “truth” does not posses a solid state, what the discourses state is true today may change tomorrow. The ability of these institutions to create and sustain the “truth” means that they can control reality and thus hold significant power within society. The creation of language is a way to control the truth and reality of the world we live in.
Crime Prevention and Legalised Abortion
In 2001 Donohue and Levitt published a paper offering evidence that legalised abortion had significantly contributed to the crime reductions of the 1990’s. During 1973 the American Supreme Court legalized abortion across America and seven years later over 1.6 million abortions were being performed annually. They argue that legalised abortion may lead to reduced crime by:
- reductions in cohort sizes or,
- lower per capita offending rates for affected cohorts
The first argument is fairly straightforward, fewer children means less youth crime. The more important point is that these new cohorts of youth have lower offending rates than before the legalisation of abortion. It is thought that this is due to the fact that the women most likely to have an abortion are either teenagers, unmarried women, and/or the economically disadvantaged, who incidentally produce the highest proportion of delinquent youths. It may also be related to mothers using abortion as a method of optimizing the time of childbearing. A woman’s ability to care for a child fluctuates of time due to the woman’s age, education, income, the presence of a father, whether the pregnancy is wanted, and any drug or alcohol abuse. These are all factors that can increase the likelihood of a child turning delinquent; abortion may prevent these from occurring by removing the children most at risk of becoming a delinquent.
The same general can trend can be seen to occur in Australia when abortion was legalized in most states during the early 70’s. What makes this particularly relevant today is the anecdotal evidence that a large number of teenage women are becoming pregnant to take advantage of the ‘baby bonus’. An eye will need to be kept out to see if this cohort of children exhibit higher levels of delinquency when they reach adolescence.
Donohue, J. & Levitt, S. (2000). The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime. Quarterly Journal of Economics. Retrieved 15 October, 2008 from, http://ssrn.com/abstract=174508
Aggression: Biological or Learned?
Biological theories of aggression have hypothesis that aggression is an innate response, having evolved to perform specific functions. Based on animal models, impulsive aggression is suggested to be primarily defensive in nature, driven by fear, anger and environmental factors. Neurobiological studies of aggression suggest that numerous neurotransmitters are involved. Impulsively violent patients have reported lower levels of CSF serotonin metabolite than those found in individuals who planned aggressive acts. Evidence also suggests that the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala are associated with impulsive aggression, as does elevated levels of testosterone in adults and postpubescent adolescents.
Social learning theorists argue that aggression is not due to an innate drive, but rather is the result of learned observation, modelling and direct experience. Aggressive behaviours can be learned through observation and in turn modelled, the more this aggressive behaviour in reinforced the more likely it is to occur. This sort of direct experience can act as an informative and motivational mechanism. Social learning theorists also hypothesis that there is a construct identified as the “macho personality”, this refers to the acceptance of the exaggerated male stereotype acquired in early and middle childhood. The macho personality type is suggested to consist of three components, a callous sexual attitude towards women, the perception of violence as manly, and the view of danger as exciting.
When aggression is causing significant problems in daily functioning, it is clinically referred to as Intermittent explosive disorder (IED). It is characterised by discrete episodes of aggressive impulses, which are grossly out of proportion to the precipitating psychosocial stressor, that result in serious assaultive acts towards people or destruction of property which evidence suggests has a current prevalence of between 3% and 4%. Most likely, both biological and social factors have an influence upon peoples levels of aggression. Whilst even watching violent media can increase feelings of aggression, a persons biological predisposition towards aggression would have a significant impact on what behaviour results from this increase.
Olvera, R. (2002). Intermittent explosive Disorder: Epidemiology, diagnosis and management. CNS Drugs, 16, 517-626.
Mass violence and massacres have become common in the 20th century. Since 1945 there have been more than 250 violent conflicts worldwide, taking place almost exclusively in the third world. The victims of these conflicts were primarily amongst minority groups, ethnic violence became the single most dangerous source for violence. The primary social Psychological elements and principles that cause genocide are intergroup conflict, group conformity, obedience to authority, prejudice and scapegoating. During difficult life conditions individuals attempt to find new identities to explain their current circumstance and to meet their needs. People’s natural habit to conform to group pressure and obey authority figures can then be manipulated by society’s elites to gain or retain power. The leadership can use society’s prejudices to create a scapegoat to explain the social disorder and give the population a focus. Once the genocide begins the target group becomes dehumanised, allowing the prosecutors to morally rationalise their behaviour. Yet the persecutors do not remain unaffected by their actions, many suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Survivors of genocide also suffer from PTSD and their attributional styles change to focus a lot more upon chance, luck and fate, yet they also develop a greater resilience due to their experiences. Genocide does not need the active support of the entire population to be successful; it does however need no one to raise a voice in opposition.
Evolutionary Theory and Mate Selection
Around the world, men prefer younger and physically attractive women. Women, on the other hand, look for a man who can provide for them and the children they shall raise. Sounds simple enough and makes a lot of sense. Men need a healthy partner to bear their children and women need a man who can provide. However, if this was the case, dating would be a whole lot easier. I would be able to walk around with my bank statement in one hand, my university degrees in the other and then I could inspect every eligible woman’s latest health report. I could find a partner who was healthy enough for the amount I could provide and we would live happily ever after. Surprisingly however, dating does not seem to work this way. There are other factors out there that are just as important as ones ability to successfully reproduce. Particularly since a large proportion of couples are deciding not to have children at all. It can’t be that some people are genetically wired to breed themselves out of existence, so what are these other factors? One may hazard a guess as to say that personality is an important feature in selecting a partner.
Mutual love and affection are very important to couples; being with someone who is merely adequate to meeting your needs does not seem to be enough. Spending time with your partner may be just as important as being a success in your chosen profession. Sternberg's Triangle of passion, intimacy and commitment is perhaps a better way to look at relationships. It focuses upon feelings rather than a person's tangible assets. Sternberg's triangle also allows for differences between relationships. Some may be more passionate, while others may stem from commitment. So while there may be a deep seated urge to find someone who is healthy or a provider, I think there are quite a few other factors that need to be explained if one was going to determine how well a couple was suited to one another.
Does Power Corrupt?
Lord Acton is often quoted as saying "power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely". So, does the mere act of giving someone power change the way they behave? Research by Kipnis (1972) would tend to support Lord Acton’s assertion. Some managers were given considerable power, such as the ability to increase and deduct pay, to reassign workers, and even fire them. Other managers were given no such abilities, only the title of manager. The high-power managers ended up using their power more and more often, using threats and promises of rewards to make their workers to perform. However, this may not always be the case. It may also be the desire for power that corrupts; it may dictate the extent to which a person will abuse their power. Surely desire is the motivator behind corruption, rather than simply having power. That said, not every leader is corrupt. Leaders can use power to take care of their followers. In the realm of governance, the best method of ensuring that power is used for the good of the community appears to be democracy. When politicians are beholden to their public, they tend to be less corrupt than those with no obligations to their people. So if power corrupts, then the best way to counter this is to make leaders’ power dependent upon the goodwill of the people they have power over.
Reading: Kipnis, D. (1972). Does power corrupt? Journal of Personality and social psychology, 24, 33-41.
Prosocial behaviour is defined as doing something good for other people or for society as a whole. What I find interesting is that while people exhibit prosocial behaviour everyday, the majority of the research tends to focus upon the negatives. One of the underlying themes of the textbook is that bad is stronger than good. Conformity and obedience have been perceived as negative behaviours since they can be associated with prejudice, stereotyping, and even genocide. However, without obedience or conformity, society would collapse. Most of the time, it is in societies benefit for people to obey the laws and conform to the social norms. Even when people act in an altruistic fashion, they may still be accused of helping only for their own benefit. The idea of there even being genuine altruism has been questioned. The entire capitalist economy can be viewed as being based upon self interest (you work to be paid so you can live the way you want), yet this has resulted in better standards of living amongst all developed nations. It seems to work a lot better than communism ever did. That said, some accuse capitalism of leading to the exploitation of developing nations. So, is it prosocial behaviour to exploit another nation for the benefit of your own people? All this can become a bit depressing, when people are viewed as acting prosocially purely out of self interest. However, in my personal experience, this seems to work perfectly well in reality. The people I meet exhibit prosocial behaviours every day, so it probably doesn’t matter if this results from selfish reasons.
This semester I have learnt that social psychology is fascinating. People in groups throw up interesting questions practically all the time, leaving us asking, “why did they do that?” Almost every aspect of society is an intricate interplay of differing factors. Language, the way we communicate, is not just a collection of sounds and grammar, but is power and a way of influencing society. Aggression is not just the result of testosterone. Genocide is the result of a large number of near simultaneous events and does not just occur spontaneously. People behave in a prosocial fashion even though their motives may be entirely selfish. These are just a few of the topics that I found interesting during the semester. Social psychology seems to encompass every other field of psychology, but then changes it into the social setting. This makes sense when you consider the fact that no one operates in isolation, particularly today with wide access to television and the internet. There does however seem to be an overly large focus upon negative behaviours within society. I would like to see more studies that look at how well something has worked in society, rather than always focusing on what went wrong. My assignment on the “culture of fear” brought this strongly into focus. People seem to be fascinated by the concept that society may suddenly, at any moment, collapse for any number of reasons. Surely there would be just as much, if not more, benefit in studying the positive aspects of human behaviour rather than focusing on what can go wrong.