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WEEK 1 Introduction[edit]

What makes us human?[edit]


This week I would like to present a few dot points on what I learnt about this week, followed by a more in depth discussion on why humans are cultural animals and nonhuman animals are not.

Over the last week I have learnt the following reasons for why humans are so different to nonhuman animals:

- Humans are social and cultural animals. - Humans have large brains in proportion to their total body weight, which is believed to have evolved to allow complex social interaction. - Culture evolved from functions of the human brain and psyche, including language and memory. - Language, however, also needed a group too in order to develop. - Language enabled the ability to use complex cognitive processes. - Culture and language enabled humans to accumulate knowledge and pass it on to the next generation which facilitated progress. - Culture provided the benefit of division of labour in which every task can be performed by an expert. - Culture provided the benefit of being able to exchange goods and services. - Unlike non human animals, cultural systems have influenced eating and sexual practices in humans. - Bad events have stronger psychological impact on humans than good events. - Humans are good at making decisions between tradeoffs, while nonhuman animals are not concerned with the distant future.

- The human mind has two main systems:

  • The automatic system – outside of consciousness. Performs simple operations: interprets, organises, and categorises information.
  • Conscious system- performs complex operations

- Humans have more inner psychological traits that help them get along than nonhuman animals (e.g. theory of mind). - In humans culture can, and often does, override natural desires. - Humans rely on getting information from each other more than getting information from the environment.

Why are humans able to get along and live together in a way that nonhuman animals cannot?[edit]

Although the above information has built a nice foundation of knowledge about some of the differences between humans and animals, I wanted to investigate further into why humans are able to get along and live together in a way that other animals cannot…

As described in the first two chapters of our text (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008) human’s are social animals: we live together and seek connections with one another. The label “social animal is by no means exclusive to humans as many animals live together and learn from each other. In researching the topic I encountered an article entitled ‘From nonhuman to human mind: What changed and why?’ by Hare, 2006. The article discusses some insightful differences between how humans, apes, and canids deal with social problem solving tasks. Cognitive psychologists have hypothesised that humans are uniquely skilled at inferring the mental states of other humans, including perceptions, intentions, and beliefs. This uniqueness, however, is unlikely. Apes (Chimpanzees) have been shown to share some of these abilities including the ability to assess perceptions and recognise intentions. For examples of these behaviours please consult the actual article as I have limited space to share them with you. What must be noted however is that the chimpanzees have been found to be relatively inflexible in using these abilities, in other words, they may use them to observe other member’s behaviours or to help them during times of competition but they do not use these skills during cooperative interactions.

When discussing evolution in chapter two of Baumeister and Bushman (2008) a striking point was made, survival of an individual animal is more a matter of competition between members of the same species as apposed to outwitting all the dangers of the world. Experience leads me to believe that this is true- I often see two animals of the same species (dogs, cats, birds, kangaroos) competing/fighting with each other, rather than fighting with an animal from a different species. If survival is more a matter of competition between members of the same species than anything else then it is understandable why these chimpanzees would be more responsive to social cues during competitive tasks over cooperative tasks.

If humans did evolve from apes it would mean that initially we behaved in this same way and we must have acquired the flexibility to use these skills to cooperate during evolution. I would be interested to know whether or not a human’s response to social cues is stronger during times of competition or during times of cooperation. From this information I would hypothesise that it would be stronger during times of competition simply because it would appear that this was the original and primary function of such abilities. Also I consider our modern society to be more competitive than it is cooperative. Thus although humans have the ability to understand social cues when cooperating- there must be another reason for why we would choose to do so. Hare (2006) provides one hypothesis as to why humans and chimpanzees do not use the same abilities to the same extent. The emotional reactivity hypothesis suggests that apes are highly constrained by the social emotions that are elicited in them when in the presence of another animal, such as fear and aggression. Humans’ emotional response to others apparently changed during evolution which lifted social constraints and enabled the use of cognitive traits in new social contexts. In other words, it may be that in comparison to other animals we are not as afraid of each other and are more trusting of each other. It makes sense that changes in emotional response to others could have enabled cooperation as no one (I’m assuming) would cooperate with someone that they feared.

There are other hypotheses as to why humans are able to share information and cooperate with each other in a way that other animals cannot. The ability to produce language has been considered to be an important aspect of culture and the sharing and storing of information for future generations. Dubar (1993, 1996, as cited in Mesoudi, Whiten, & Dunbar, 2006) proposed that the reason language evolved was to allow humans to exchange social information, where the exchange of social information would allow humans to keep track of the social relationships found among the large social groups that humans have. I think this would certainly account for some of the trust and cooperation humans display. Social information allows us to learn about the type of people we are surrounded by and whether or not they can be trusted to cooperate. Who knew gossip could be so useful? :P

There are obviously many reasons that may account for why humans are so unique as compared to nonhuman animals and not all of them can be discussed here. As I have already written too much, I will leave the discussion here. If anyone would like to contribute information or an opinion, I invite your comments.


  • Baumeister, R. F., & Bushman, B. J. (2008). Social psychology and human nature (1st ed.) Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.
  • Hare, B. (2007). From nonhuman to human mind: What changed and why? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 16, 60-64.
  • Mesoudi, A., Whiten, A., & Dunbar, R (2006). A bias for social information in human cultural transmission. British Journal of Psychology, 97, 405 - 423.

WEEK 2 The Social Self[edit]

The Self[edit]

Hello! Please feel free to read the 5 most interesting things I learnt this week, followed by a short discussion on one topic that particularly grabbed my attention.

5 interesting things I have learnt this week from the text (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008) and the lecture:

The self has three main parts:

  • Self-knowledge- beliefs about the self
  • The interpersonal self (public self)- the image people try to convey to others
  • The agent self (executive function)- makes choices and exerts control- e.g. self control and control over other people

Cultural differences on the view of the self

  • Independence versus interdependence
  • Independent self-construal = emphasis on the self as different from others
  • Interdependent self-construal = emphasis on the self as connect to other people and groups

Self-awareness consists of two main and distinguished types of self-awareness

  • Private self-awareness : attending to inner states such as emotions and thoughts
  • Public self-awareness : attending to what others might think of you
  • Self- awareness involves usually evaluating yourself and comparing yourself against what you consider good standards.

(I wonder where these standards come from. I know that culture and the media partly determine what we measure ourselves against, but I always felt that I kind of compared myself more with myself, than with other people. To further explain, I often look in the mirror and think back to times when I thought I looked my best, and this is what I compare myself against… Or I think about the grades I got last semester to determine whether I have done well this semester (‘well’ would mean that my grades were better). Does anyone else do that?! I don’t think I have ever read of that being a common thing to do, and the text book heavily emphasises social comparison as a way of acquiring self-knowledge - unless this might be part of the self-perception theory, but that theory doesn’t quite seem to fit).

Self-perception theory[edit]

- People observe their behaviour to make inferences about how they think and feel.

There are three reasons for wanting self-knowledge:

  • appraisal motive: desire to learn the truth about yourself
  • self enhancement motive: desire to learn about the favourable qualities you possess
  • consistency motive: a desire to get feedback that confirms what you believe about yourself

Discussion on Positive Illusions[edit]

The most interesting and intriguing information that I read in the text this week was under the heading “Reality and illusion.” This section discussed whether self-concepts are accurate or whether they are filled with illusion. I was very, very surprised to read that studies had found that ‘normal’ (non-depressed) people tended to distort their thinking in a positive way, while depressed people did not distort their perception! – How could this be, I always thought that depressed people distorted their perceptions and that non-depressed people saw things clearly. I thought depressed people had have highly negative perceptions on their lives thinking perhaps that no one likes them, that they are not good at anything, that they are not attractive. Similarly I always assumed that people who distorted their perception in an overly positive way did so because they did not want to deal with reality.

I wanted to see the research on the positive illusions that was discussed in the text, so I looked up Taylor and Brown’s (1988) journal article. The article reviewed research on the positive illusions and their associations to mental health. Taylor and Brown discussed three positive illusions: unrealistically positive views of the self, exaggerated perceptions of personal control and unrealistic optimism. Of these three positive illusions, I most wanted to see whether it was true that an unrealistically positive view of the self was really the norm.

Unrealistic positive views of the self[edit]

Taylor and Brown (1988) cited numerous studies that seem to show that individuals view themselves very positively. These studies showed the following results: individuals are more likely to indicate that positive characteristics describe themselves compared to negative characteristics; positive characteristics are more easily remembered than negative characteristics; and poor abilities tend to be dismissed while good abilities are enhanced and considered distinctive. Thus, a conclusion was made that most individuals hold perceptions of themselves that is heavily weighted toward the positive end of the scale. They claimed that the only group of individuals that had a more balanced self-perception was those with either low self-esteem, moderate depression, or both.

Not everyone agrees with Taylor and Brown’s (1988) conclusion that a highly positive self-perception is necessary for good mental health. Colvin, Block, & Funder (1995) view overly positive self-evaluations as unhealthy. They criticised the studies reviewed by Taylor and Brown stating that those studies reveal little about self-enhancement because of a lack of a reasonable operational definition. For example, studies that asked participants to rate themselves compared to a hypothetical person, do not actually help to indicate whether these individuals are inaccurate and self enhancing. To exemplify this further, college students are often the main participants in these studies, and because they are in college they may view themselves as relatively smart- especially when they are asked to rate their intelligence compared to an unknown “average” person. Several more criticisms are provided on these studies, but I will not dwell too much on these.

Colvin, Block, & Funder (1995) conducted three studies in which they contrasted self-descriptions of personality with observer ratings (as an index of self-enhancement). All three studies indicated that both males and females who routinely self-enhanced were viewed unfavourably by others. For example, men who had excessive self-enhancing tendencies displayed a range of negatively evaluated behaviours including speaking quickly, interrupting, bragging, and expressing hostility. They were described as being deceitful, distrustful, and as having brittle ego-defence mechanisms. While men who did not have these tendencies were evaluated as having good social skills and were described as being straightforeward and possessing intellect. Women who self-enhanced were likewise seen as seeking reassurance, being irritable, and being awkward in interpersonal style, while women who did not display self-enhancement were enjoyable in interaction, relaxed and comfortable, and were described as being introspective, interesting, and intelligent people. Together the three studies showed that excessive self-enhancement led to interpersonal or psychological maladjustment and thus the behaviour was viewed as generally unhealthy.

After reading these works, I tended to agree more with Colvin, Block, and Funder (1995). I always thought that people who have self-enhancing tendencies do so because in reality they actually have low self-esteem and are just trying to convince themselves and others that they really are good. However, while this behaviour may not be advisable in interpersonal settings, there may be situations where this illusion may help people. Taylor and Armor’s (1996) literature review takes a different approach to the usefulness of the positive illusions. Their article discusses how the illusions may benefit people during stressful periods and during conditions of extreme adversity. Having distorted perceptions of the self, of control, and having unrealistic optimism can help individuals cope in extremely stressful events such as cancer, heart disease, and HIV.

The evidence supports many different dimensions of the positive illusions, and the evidence can somewhat contradict itself. I believe it is a matter of using these positive illusions at the right times, and being more realistic at others. Although Taylor and Brown may have concluded that in general ‘normal’ healthy people have an overly positive view of themselves, I still think that this is not true. Perhaps people’s self-concepts are slightly more positive than negative but surely everyone does not think they are better than each other! Furthermore, although I agree that this positivity can help in extremely stressful situations- I don’t think it is a characteristic that the majority of people display, in fact I don’t think ‘normal’ people display nearly as much optimism and positivity as Taylor and Brown (1988) suggest.


  • Baumeister, R. F., & Bushman, B. J. (2008). Social psychology and human nature (1st ed.) Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.
  • Colvin, C. R., Block, J., Funder, D. C. (1995). Overly positive self-evaluations and personality: Negative implications for Mental Health. Journal of personality and social psychology, 6, 1152-1162.
  • Taylor, S. E. & Armor, D. A. (1996). Positive illusions and coping with adversity. Journal of Personality, 64, 873-898.
  • Taylor, S. E. & Brown, J. D. (1988). Illusion and well-being: A social psychological perspective on mental health. Psychological Bulletin, 103, 193-210.

WEEK 3 Social Thinking[edit]


Heuristics are shortcuts that our automatic system uses to quickly make a decision. Four types of heuristics include the representativeness heuristic, the availability heuristic, the simulation heuristic, and the anchoring and adjustment heuristic.

STOP: if you are not familiar with these heuristics check out this website before reading further! (try all the heuristics experiments they’re great for improving understanding)

Representativeness heuristic:

Judging some event as being likely only because it resembles what we think a typical case or scenario should look like.

On the website that I provided, you are first told that 90% of people in a fictitious population are truckers and that 10% of people are professors. Then a series of descriptions are provided and you are asked to select whether you believe the description is more likely to be that of a trucker or a professor. Supposedly people tend to dismiss the statistics and select their response depending on whether or not the descriptions match their idea of a trucker or professor.

Availability Heuristic

Judging an event as being likely depending on how easily relevant information comes to mind (is available).

On the website you either read a story about a woman being attacked by a shark, or a woman winning a lottery ticket. Individuals who read one of the articles tend to identify the event as being more likely than those who do not read that article. The website explains how this relates to advertising- advertisers want you to think that there is a strong likelihood of particular events or situations for which you would need their products!

Simulation Heuristic

Judging an even as being likely depends on how easily the event can be imagined. In this heuristic people demonstrate counterfactual thinking, which involves imagining alternatives to events. Events, for which it is easier to imagine alternative endings, produce greater emotional responses. Again, try the experiment on the website, people are more likely to feel sorry for a basketball team that played great and just lost by 1 point in the last second, than for a basketball team that played terribly and lost by a large number of points. This is because people can more easily imagine the first team as winning compared to the second team.

Anchoring and adjustment heuristic

When estimating the likelihood of an event of an event people use a figure as a starting point and make a guess around it. Different high or low figures produce different estimates of likelihood among people.

Hope this improved your understanding of heuristics. It did for me .

Before I go though, I have one more topic I wanted to discuss here because I thought it was interesting and it generated some reflection…

Thought suppression and Ironic processes[edit]

Apparently when people want to suppress a thought, two processes creep into action: the automatic and controlled processes. The automatic process looks out for any related information and the controlled process then tries to direct attention away from that information or stimulus. Unfortunately, if the controlled process relaxes all the information collected by the automatic system may invade our minds so that we can think of nothing else but the unpleasant thoughts we were trying to avoid!

I learn a lot about myself in this and the other two psychology classes I am taking this semester, like the reason I seem to eat more when I am on diet might simply be because I am telling myself not to think of food, and it is almost impossible for my controlled system to redirect my attention when food cues are everywhere!

Perhaps a better way is to focus on exercise… I tried this a few weeks ago, I got up every morning to exercise and I started to love it so much that I am always thinking about exercising! I try to suppress these thoughts while I am studying because obviously I don’t have the time to exercise constantly but eventually its like my mind wins and I take a short half hour break to exercise again… its been three weeks and I have kept to it.. for me that is really impressive because I am so lazy !

So perhaps you are not able to completely suppress the unwanted thoughts you have, but my question is can you manipulate this system so that the intrusive thoughts you get are actually positive??? Hmmmm…

Or do you think this is “wishful thinking?” Feel free to comment :)

WEEK 4 Aggression[edit]


Chemical Influences[edit]

High levels of testosterone, a male sex hormone, have been linked to aggression in both humans and animals. Among birds and mammals correlations between aggression and testosterone have been found during reproductive opportunities, as well as during competition for territory or dominance. One theory for this is called the “challenge” hypothesis which holds that specific contexts in which one animal is challenged by another stimulates the production of testerone levels, which directly increases the probability that the animal will aggress (Wingfield, Hegner, Duffy, & Ball, 1990). I feel this is a good theory for animals. For humans competitive situations could increase testosterone… perhaps the topics further discussed in chapter 9 such as ‘self control’, ‘wounded pride’, and ‘culture of honour’ could all be situations which evoke an increased production of testosterone that increases the chances a human will become aggressive??

Low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin have also been linked to aggression. Low serotonin activity in the nervous system might lead to both a heightened tendency to react actively to aversive stimuli and a decreased ability to control actions under such conditions (Eichelman, 1995). As serotonin is the “feel good” neurotransmitter, I assume that having low levels of it makes us feel bad. In chapter 9 of the text book under the heading ‘being in a bad mood’ the authors discuss how feeling bad can make people more prone to aggression. Perhaps the serotonin theory explains why? I wonder then if behaving aggressively increases our serotonin levels.

Learning Theories[edit]

Social learning theory of aggression emerged largely from the work of Albert Bandura and his associates. The theory postulates that aggression is acquired through observational learning and maintained through reinforcement. Observing the behaviour and observing the consequences of the aggression, enables a person to learn the behaviour without direct experience. Theoretically, this is a useful tactic as it prevents the tedious and possibly fatal consequences of learning aggression exclusively through trial and error (Bandura, 1973).

The text book discusses the famous Bobo doll experiment as an example of how the learning theory applies to aggression. If you have not seen or heard of this experiment before have a look at this:

Other studies have shown that viewing aggressive models can increase aggressive behaviour. Huesnann, Moise-Titus, Podolski, and Eron (2003) conducted a longitudinal study to examine the long term relations between viewing media violence and childhood and young-adult aggressive behaviour. The results of this study showed that childhood exposure to media violence predicts adult aggressive behaviour, and that identification with aggressive television characters and perceived realism of television violence also predicts later aggression.

Aggressive models can be much closer to home than the characters on the TV or a confederate in an experiment… remember this ad…

Nature or Nurture[edit]

As always I have to say that I think aggression is likely to be a combination of both nature and nurture. However, the authors of the text book and most other people seem to lean more towards the nature side of the debate, emphasising that aggression is innate and found everywhere. While I tend to agree, I just wanted to post a different view. I wrote this posting for another class last year but I think it is relevant here too and I would like to share it.

The question posed to the class was “Is it the case that human beings are always destined to be in conflict?” First I wrote some notes to help me summarise the main theories:

Hobbsian perspective-

-Humans have an inherent drive to fight (tillett, 1998).

-The state of human nature is a state of “war, as is of every man, against every man” (Leviathan, 1651, as cited in Piirimae, 2006).

-Humans need to acquire power and aggressive conduct advances ones aims far better than peaceful behaviour (Piirimae).

-Pursuit of personal interest will eventually lead all humans to engage in social conflict (Levine, 2004).

Freudian perspective

-Thanatos- death instinct- humans have an unconscious desire to die, however, this instinct is turned outward and expressed as aggression against others (Burger, 2007).

Lorenz -Emphasises the place of human beings within the context of all animals (Geen, 2001)

-Explained aggression as “behaviour triggered by specific stimuli following a progressive accumulation of aggression specific energy within the person” (Geen, 2001, p. 10).

-Aggression serves the purpose of assisting the organism in its survival (Lorenz, 1963, as cited in Tillett, 1998).

(Then I went into the discussion):


While I was getting these theories together I decided that I quite like the Hobbsian perspective. I agreed with Hobbes that people need conflict to advance in society and that all people will engage in conflict at some point to pursue their own personal interest.

While I was reading an article by Levine (2004), I came across a cultural anthropologist named Margret Mead. The article discussed how she examined several cultures and found that primitive societies ranged from highly competitive to highly cooperative ones. She claimed that whether people behaved competitively or cooperatively depended on cultural conditioning (Mead, 1937, as cited in Levine).

The same article then went on to discuss social psychologist, psychoanalyst, and humanistic philosopher, Erich Fromm. Fromm pursued Meads findings further and more intensively, by examining thirty primitive societies on their aggressive and peaceful behaviour. He found several primitive societies that engaged in a great deal of interpersonal violence and aggression and several primitive societies that hardly ever did. The primitive societies that engaged heavily in violence and aggression included the Aztecs, the Dobu and the Ganda. Some of the primitive societies that hardly engaged in this behaviour included the Zuni Pueblo Indians, the Mountain Arapesh, and the Mbutu. Now we all know that conflict does not have to be aggressive or violent so the interesting finding here is that among these primitive societies Fromm not only found little aggression or violence, he found little hostility, virtually no warfare, hardly any crime, little envy and exploitation, and a generally cooperative and friendly attitude (Fromm, 1973).

I found these findings very interesting and I had no idea that there could be such a difference in conflict behaviour among different cultures.

From the bit of research that I did, I would argue that in our society humans are destined to be in conflict. Supporting Hobbes claim, I believe people do need conflict to both acquire power and to advance in this society. However, taking on board Mead’s and Fromm’s work I do agree that conflict may be very much a result of cultural conditioning, and learning through observation and reinforcement. Thus if a person is born into a culture that does not encourage conflict then perhaps that person will not be destined to a large degree of conflict, and whether he/she will engage in any I am not sure of. I am, however, a bit skeptical that conflict would be completely non-existent.

If you would like to read more about Mead’s work then you can look up the following reference: Mead, M. (1973). Cooperation and conflict among primitive peoples. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

If you would like to read more about Fromm’s work look up Fromm, E. (1973). The anatomy of human destructiveness. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Otherwise look up the article that I got the information from which provides a good read and discusses many social conflict theories: Levine, D. N. (2004). Social conflict, aggression, and the body in Euro-American and Asian social thought. International Journal of Group Tensions, 24, 205-217.


Bandura (1973). Aggression: A social learning analysis. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Burger, J. M. (2007). Personality (7th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth.

Eichelman, B. (1995). Animal and evolutionary model of impulsive aggression. In E. Hollander, & D. J. Stein (Eds.), Impulsivity and aggression (pp. 59-90). Chichester, UK: Wiley.

Geen, R. G. (2001). Human aggression. Buckingham: Open University Press.

Huseman, L. R., Moise-Titus, J., Podolski, C. L., & Eron, L. D. (2003). Longitudinal relations between children’s exposure to TV violence and their aggressive and violent behavior in young adulthood: 1977-1992. Developmental Psychology, 39, 201-221.

Levine, D. N. (2004). Social conflict, aggression, and the body in Euro-American and Asian social thought. International Journal of Group Tensions, 24, 205-217.

Piirimae, P. (2006). The explanation of conflict in Hobbes’s Leviathan. Trames, 10, 3-21.

Tidwell, A. C. (1998). Conflict resolved? A critical assessment of conflict resolution. London: Pinter.

Wingfield, Hegner, Duffy, & Ball (1990). The “challenge hypothesis”: Theoretical implications for patterns of testosterone secretion, mating systems and breeding strategies of birds. The American Naturalist, 136, 829-846.

WEEK 5 and 6 Prejudice[edit]


Hi, the next couple of weeks are on the topic of prejudice. As we have an American text book with plenty of American examples of prejudice, I thought I would use a modern Australian example. There are obviously many examples of prejudice in this country and each topic presents difficulties for discussion in that it is often difficult to discuss prejudice without offending someone. Bellow is discussion on the Cronulla riots. The purpose of this discussion is not to assign blame or to make anyone look bad, but simply to help me explore some of the social psychological theories of prejudice. I am not an expert on the events that occurred in the Cronulla riots so if I got something wrong feel free to comment. Thank you.

The Cronulla Riots[edit]

On Sunday 4 December 2005, lifesavers were allegedly assaulted by a group identified as Middle Eastern youths on Cronulla beach. After being told by lifesavers to stop kicking a ball on the beach, the reported response from the youths was: “Get off our beach. This is our beach. We own it.” Later a group of these youths confronted the lifeguards and attacked them. This incident became the cause of an outbreak of violence between “Australians” and “people of middle eastern appearance.” During the week following this assault, ongoing reports of harassment and other incidents caused by Lebanese Muslims were publicised by the media. An SMS text message was circulated urging “Aussies” to meet on Sunday, 11 December to take their revenge against “Lebs”. This SMS was made public mainly through talkback radio as well as other media. On Sunday, 11 December, 2005 a crowd of at least 5000 people gathered at Cronulla beach. Throughout the day several individuals of Middle Eastern appearance were assaulted and property was damaged. After the 11 December riot, youths from the Middle Eastern and Lebanese communities began retaliatory attacks.

Why did this happen?[edit]

In our society, humans naturally form groups to which they belong to and to which others do not. Out-group members are people who belong to a different group to us, while in-group members are people who belong to the same group. It is not difficult to see how the segregation of individuals into groups could create competition. In deed, according to the text book and the ‘discontinuity effect,’ groups are more prone to hostile competition than individuals. This effect can easily be noticed among children. Some children can be very hostile when they are with a group, and yet when you take their friends away and their power base is gone you find out that they are really just little angels at heart (not always though!). Such in-group/out-group competition was clearly evident in the Cronulla riots, with “Aussies” gathering in one group, against the “lebs” in the other group.

The gathering of such large groups was interesting considering that the initial event (the attack on the lifesavers) was performed by only a small group. Furthermore, the event was relatively minor on the scale of severe attacks in this country and yet the response to it was enormous. What made this incident more significant than it essentially was, was that the assault was committed by young men of Middle Eastern appearance on an iconic Australian symbol- the lifeguard. The outcome of this was an “us against them” movement. We can certainly question whether the same act committed by “Australians” would instigate even half the response that was seen in the Cronulla riots.

Some have attributed at least part of the blame for the Cronulla riots to the radio, television and print media which, following the lifeguard attacks, displayed ongoing stories about people who had been harassed and assaulted by Lebanese groups on Cronulla beach. Such stories may have had some influence in terms of strengthening the stereotypes associated with people of Middle Eastern descent. According to the text book, people are much more likely to keep negative generalisations about groups, and quicker to dismiss good ones. This is because it takes more exceptions of the stereotype to disconfirm a negative stereotype than it does to disconfirm a positive stereotype. Conversely, it takes less confirmations of the stereotype to confirm a negative stereotype than to confirm a positive stereotype. Thus, ongoing stories about the assaults performed by this ethnic group may have served as ‘confirmation’ of the stereotype for people who held these beliefs.

Reports of the assaults and harassments performed by some people of Middle Eastern decent resulted in stereotypes that were attributed to the whole ethnic group and were even generalised further by some people to include “wogs.” This may be explained by the out-group homogeneity bias, where in-group members make the false assumption that out-group members are more similar to each other than in-group members are to each other. As such, innocent people who had a Middle Eastern appearance were attacked and harassed because they were judged to be like those Middle Eastern people who committed the assaults.

Lack of positive contact between the two groups may also be a factor that contributed to the prejudice between the two groups. The Lebanese culture, I believe, is a collectivist culture and thus the people may tend to keep together in groups. When these people arrive in Australia they keep their culture, and group together. This however, may not fit well with the individualistic culture in Australia, with Australians perhaps misinterpreting this cultural difference as a sign that Lebanese people only want to be together and do not want to associate with Australians. Such cultural differences may mean that there is little contact between the groups, and according to the text book, this may provide the need for both groups to fill their lack of information about each other by forming stereotypes. In line with this theme, the contact hypothesis states that contact between groups under favourable conditions reduces prejudice.


There is a lot of information on the Cronulla riots on the internet and I read many of the pages although not all were particularly informative. I recommend looking up the following links, although I cannot judge their credibility.

2005 Cronulla Riots (n.d.). Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved 25 August 2008, from

Murphy, D. (n.d.). Raising a Riot. Retrieved 25 August, 2008, from Walkley Magazine: Inside the Australian Media:

Socialist Equality Party. (2005). The class issues behind Australia’s race riots. Retrieved 25 August, 2008, from World Socialist Web Site:

Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes[edit]

In tutorials we watched a video of one of Jane Elliot’s experiments on brown eyes versus blue eyes. Jane Elliot basically set the blue eyes up for failure and praised the performance of the brown eyed people. The blue eyes seemed to quickly deteriorate in confidence even though they knew the whole thing was only an experiment and that it was not true. Likewise the brown eyed people seemed to quickly adopt their role as the superior people. This particular video was set in Australia and the participants included people of different races. Throughout the experiment the shift changed from discriminating against eye colour to a focus on skin colour.

The indigenous people in particular really started to lay into the white people, accusing them of causing them all their suffering. This was another example of the out-group homogeneity bias as they treated all the white people as though they were the same. In fact it was interesting that when the Greek man (I think he was Greek?) told the brown-eyed group of his experiences with prejudice in Australia they showed no sympathy whatsoever and even went as far as rejecting his experiences as being even nearly close to theirs. After all the Greek man was still a white man, and since his skin colour matched the colour of Anglo-Australians they reasoned that what he experienced would have been minimal in comparison to them. I thought the video was moving, and I really began to feel sorry for the blue eyed people in the experiment, in fact I felt so involved that when the video had finished and we were asked for our opinions, I, who have blue eyes, actually felt somewhat afraid to speak! Obviously prejudice, even when it is pretend, effects people very deeply.

I watched another video featuring another of Jane Elliot’s experiments. This one was of children in primary school who were all of the same skin colour. This video really showed the shaping of racist and prejudice behaviour among these children as the division between them was completely arbitrary and did not exist before. This video was thus a little more shocking than the one we watched in class because in that video the division between skin colours already existed prior to the experiment. The one with children favoured blue eyed children over the brown eyed children. It is really incredible to see the transformation of these children in just a day! I actually had tears in my eyes when one of the children at the end explained that he hit another boy because the other boy had called him “brown eyes!” I showed the video to my mum and the part where the children were excluded on the playground reminded her of how the Jewish children were treated in Europe. It is horrible but I guess it is a reality that people will discriminate against each other even if the reason for the discrimination has no real significance.

Watch this video. It is only short but it is enough to see some of the transformations that occurred among these children (Don’t worry about the reunion bit at the beginning, just keep watching)

WEEK 10 Relationships and Culture Shock[edit]


There is something about this topic that really appeals to me. I think this is because belonging to groups and maintaining relationships is such a huge part of life and no one can live life without experiencing the positives and negatives of relationships.

The need to belong The need to belong encompasses a person’s want for regular social contacts and a stable framework of an ongoing relationship in which mutual concern is shared for one another. This need is considered very strong and a lack of fulfilment can lead to significant health problems. I have often wondered why this need is so great. I think I would like to know because it would help explain so much of my behaviour in social contexts, like why I get so nervous when I have to give a speech. Most often I think about whether it is a good thing that we have this need or not. In the end it seems that good relationships can bring more pleasure into a person’s life than anything in the world, while bad relationships can hurt a person more than anything else. According to the text book aversive relationships do not satisfy the need to belong. However, I believe that this need is what makes us vulnerable to being hurt by social relationships, because if we did not care about belonging we would not find it so hard to just walk away. In deed, the authors of the text book maintain that it is this need to belong that makes it difficult to end a relationship even if it is unsatisfying.

If there is such a strong need to belong then why can we not all be friends? Well I used to wonder that sometimes but I guess I realise now the impracticalities of having too many friends. I remember when I was in college and had many friends I would imagine university being a place where I would meet many more knew people and make lots of friends. Of course, I was hugely disappointed. Despite there being so many people at university I have only a few friends. It does not bother me because I do not feel I have the time to have more friends and have trouble keeping up with the friendships that I do have. According to the text book people only seek about 4-6 close friends which is quite consistent with my experiences. When I was in year 7 my circle of friends consisted of about 15 people. When I was in year 8 or 9 the group split roughly in half. Our group had lots of problems, mainly with secrets, i.e. half the group would be keeping secrets from the other half. It was so hard to deal with that we even went to see the school counsellor! Unfortunately nothing could stop the group from separating, 15 close friends was just too many! When I went to college my group of friends again consisted of about 15 friends. Over the two years a few dropped off but in their place a few joined the group. I suspect that we were not there for long enough for the group to separate. Even so, three years after leaving the school I only really keep in touch with about 5 of them! I suppose if you consider the time and energy it takes to maintain a friendship it is no wonder that 15 is to many to handle.

Apparently we are most attracted to people who are similar to us. I would vouch for this any day in terms of romantic relationships. I think similarity fosters an understanding for between people that a romantic relationship relies on for survival. In terms of friends however, I sometimes wonder whether I am that similar to my friends at all. In fact I feel very strange saying this but I think I am sometimes put off by people who are too similar to me. When I was younger I had a friend who was very similar to me. She was of the same ethnic background as me and had a huge love for horse riding. We really liked each other and got on great to begin with but it ended quickly. For some reason we seemed to become a bit competitive against each other… I don’t know. It also seemed to be caused by the fact that we would spend too much time together. Either way I have to admit that I do share commonalities with my friends and am not friends with people whom I have nothing in common with, I just wonder whether there needs to be some kind of balance…?

Actually, after thinking about what I just said, I have realised that it may be due to the propinquity effect. Propinquity, or being near someone on a regular basis, may enhance the likelihood of attraction between two people, but it may also increase the likelihood that two people will become enemies. Hence, my experience was probably only indirectly related to similarity, in that being similar to a person increased the amount of time we spent together and this was what resulted in the eventual fall out.


I strongly empathised with Kip Williams story in the textbook in which he was excluded from a group of people throwing a Frisbee. Everyone has probably experienced some sort of rejection in their lives. I work with children and this happens on a daily basis. Not a day goes by when a child does not cry about being excluded. It is interesting though but I have noticed that it is usually the girls who appear to do more of the excluding. Of course I do not know if this is true but I guess it is just a personal hypothesis. It is sad that so many people experience rejection considering the devastating effects it can have on a person including rejection sensitivity (a tendency to expect rejection from others), interference with cognitive processing, undermining self-regulation and increasing impulsiveness, and increasing a person’s likelihood of favouring a selfish impulse over unselfish actions.

Cultural shock[edit]

The topic for this week’s tutorial was centred on culture. We learnt about cultural interviewing and culture shock. I wanted to read the article that James was talking about in the tute on culture shock by Winkelman 1984 but I could not find the link. I did however come across another piece written by Winkelman on the same subject matter and given it was a good read I thought I would summarise the contents of it for you. The article can be obtained from this link [1]

The article presents the stages of culture shock, the causes of culture shock, and how to manage culture shock. Culture shock can occur in unfamiliar or subcultural settings and can depend on a variety of factors including: previous experiences with other cultures and cross cultural adaptation, the degree of difference between one’s culture and the host culture, degree of preparation, amount of social support, and individual psychological characteristics (frunham & Bochner, 1986, as cited in Winkelman).

The stages of culture shock include:

  1. The honeymoon or tourist phase - characterised by interest, excitement, and euphoria. If stress and anxiety are present, they tend to be interpreted positively.
  2. The crises phase – emerges with a few a weeks to a month and is characterised by experiences of increasing disappointments, frustrations, impatience, and tension. It can result in feelings of helplessness, depression, isolation, and hostility.
  3. The adjustment and reorientation phase – involves learning how to adjust to the new environment. Adjustment is slow and involves recurrent crises and readjustments. Many people do not adjust and either return to their home country or become isolated.
  4. The adaptation, resolution, or acculturation stage – the stage is achieved when one can successfully resolve problems and manage life in the new culture. Through adaptation one may undergo substantial personal change and develop a bicultural identity.

The causes of cultural shock include:

  • Stress reactions- physiological and psychological factors associated with adjusting to a new culture can cause stress. Stress may also increase psychosomatic illness by reducing immune system functioning.
  • Cognitive fatigue- is where constant efforts are required to understand language and cultural/social practices that can result in an “information overload.”
  • Role shock- includes changes in social roles and interpersonal relations will occur and may affect a person’s identity or self-concept (Byrnes, 1966, as cited in Winkelman).
  • Personal shock- stems from experiencing a loss of interpersonal contact with others and losing a support system (Furnham & Bochner, 1986, as cited in Winkelman).

Strategies to help manage cultural shock and adaptation:

  • Predeparture preparation- one should understand that culture shock may be an issue that may cause them to view situations negatively. Cross-cultural training may be effective in managing culture shock as it develops skills and cultural knowledge that reduce misunderstandings and provide knowledge on appropriate behaviour (Black & Mendenhall, 1990, as cited in Winkelman).
  • Transition adjustments- comfortable adaptation requires the fulfilment of physical and social needs such as food, security, and social relations.
  • Personal and social relations- managing culture shock requires establishing a new network of primary relations such as family and friends. This can help meet personal and emotional needs. It can also help to reduce stressors by helping to resolve problems, by providing assurances, and by providing opportunities for venting (Adelman, 1988, as cited in Winkelman).
  • Cultural and social interaction rules- language skill are needed to understand another culture as well as a wide range of nonverbal communication patterns.
  • Conflict resolution and intercultural effectiveness skills- can involve anticipating difficult social situations and conflicts, and developing a means of dealing with or solving these problems.

I found this article to be very useful because it provides a concise overview of the issues involved in culture shock. An understanding of cultural shock can help one to deal better with its occurrences and to adapt better to the new culture.

Examples of culture shock experienced in Australia[edit]

My parents are originally from a country in Europe. I myself have basically grown bicultural having travelled back and forth from an early age, having lived in both countries, and been taught what to expect in both cultures as I was growing up. Given this, I do not feel I have ever experienced culture shock but my parents certainly did when they came here.

For my parents the biggest problem was the language barrier as my dads English was very limited and my mums was non-existent. I won’t tell you their life stories here so as not to get side tracked, but thought I would share with you some of the shocks that my parents experienced.

My dad went to his first barbecue in Australia after being in the country for about three weeks. He only knew one person at the barbecue so he felt that he should mingle with others. As he was getting his food he thought that he would go and talk to the ladies because he had spent most of the time talking to men and he did not want to be rude. When he turned around however he was stunned to notice that there were two distinct groups at this barbecue. On one side about 15 meters away was a group of females and on the other side was a group of males. He couldn’t understand why they were talking separately after all this was not the way things happened back home. Back home males and females all interacted together at social events and not separately. He felt like it would be silly to go and be the only male in an all female group so he rejoined the male group and did not speak to a female the whole time. He was sad about this because he was hoping to meet someone that he could perhaps take for coffee or something.

Another factor that originally stunned my dad was the way Australians say hi to people when they pass them on foot even though they do not know them. Where my parents are from people only say hi to each other on the street if they know each other. Thus every time someone would say hi my dad would be stunned for a moment and would think “who are you, I don’t know you.” Of course once someone explained to him that these people don’t know him but are just being courteous he came to quite like this cultural practice.

My dad was also surprised by the sporting culture here. He was from Europe were everyone was into soccer and basket ball. He had never even heard of football or cricket. Once when my dad was with his friends they asked him if he played football and my dad said yes (in Europe everyone calls soccer football). They then asked him if he played soccer and he said no because he did not know what that was. So his friends decided to go play a game of football with him. Of course my dad was very shocked when they pulled out an egg shaped football.

WEEK 11 Australian Zeitgeist[edit]

Group Processes[edit]

This week’s readings were on group process, however since my major essay is on the topic of group productivity I have decided to avoid an overlap of content across assessment and not discuss this here. This allows me to focus on other aspects of the course. To benefit anyone out there who may like some information on group processes I will consider uploading some information for you once this semester is completed.

Australian Zeitgeist[edit]

This week’s tutorial topic was the Australian Zeitgeist. Zeitgeist (which sounds German?) means, at least to my understanding, the cultural trends of a given time period or generation. I was not able to attend the tutorial which is disappointing because I find these topics always make for good discussions and I missed the opportunity to hear other people’s opinions. I did catch up on the topic however, and read the transcript of Hugh Mackay’s lecture called Social disengagement: A breeding ground for fundamentalism []. I will present some of my thoughts on this lecture and present some solutions as was required in the tutorial activity. If I offend anyone or say something that is incorrect please let me know as these are only my opinions and I do not pretend to be an expert on social and cultural issues.

The basic plot of this lecture appears to be a criticism of simplistic world-views. As noted by Hugh Mackay simplistic world views are quite appealing during times of upheaval and transformation. This is not surprising given that people would surely prefer less complicated lives. In my opinion the world would be a much better place if it were simpler. For example, is it necessary to have such a complicated tax system? At the moment we have a tax system which requires people to pay a larger percentage of tax the more they earn. For people who are on the borderline of paying more tax, an incentive to work overtime is non-existent. As such a flat tax rate is far more appealing than the system we have now. If everyone just payed something like 20% of their earnings such described dilemmas would be erased.

Some simple laws may even be quite effective. In Singapore crimes that would be perceived as minor in Australia lead to quite sever punishments. In 1994 Michael P Fay was caned four times for vandalism in Singapore [2]. Many people out there will undoubtedly perceive this as a cruel punishment for a non-violent crime. I agree that it is cruel but how about looking at it from a different perspective. Recently I saw on 60 minutes a story about vandals who get a thrill of destroying property and vow they will never stop. More so they explicitly stated that they are not afraid of being caught. Why would this be? Perhaps the consequences of vandalism in this country are not perceived as threatening. Caning leaves long term physical and emotional scars that one is likely not to forget in a hurry. While I do not wish this occurrence on anybody one person’s experiences is likely to deter several from attempting the same crime. To see the effects of caning click here [3]. Now do not get me wrong I am not saying that corporal punishment does not have its bad effects and in deed Western psychology, I believe, is rather against it. The truth is however, Australia has admitted to a problem, and perhaps this a simple solution but if people commit crimes knowing that caning is a consequence then they have actively decided to take that risk and in my opinion they then deserve it.

Also it is quite likely that someone reading this would tell me that Singapore has the highest rate of death penalties. This is true, however, this is only for very severe crimes and from what I have read Singapore has one of the lowest crime rates in the world [4].

Back to the lecture, Hugh Mackay first addresses the topic of gender revolution. He believes that the beginning of the early 1970s has redefined the role and status of women in this society. Personally, I believe women have maintained a continuous effort to redefine the role of women for at least 150 years. One of the best outcomes of such movements was the right for women to vote. This meant that politicians now had to consider polices that would appeal to women. Mackay blames the last 30 or so years of gender revolution as the cause of many problems, but he does not acknowledge the reasons for this revolution, such as the need for women to have purpose in their lives, to actively contribute to the family, and also to be able to depend on themselves should they be mistreated by their partner.

One of the problems resulting from gender revolution, according to Mackay is divorce. Firstly, it is not gender revolution that caused unhappy marriages, gender revolution simply allowed women to escape mistreatment. In the past women had to simply put up with mistreatment because they were not able to survive independently. The fact that many children now live with only one of their parents sounds like a horrible trend, however there is no mention as to how many of these children are worse off. Perhaps it is better for children to live in a peaceful loving environment with just one parent than a hostile and unloving environment with two parents. It is not a good idea to go back to the dark ages and force families to stay together. I believe it is far better to educate men and women on the complexities of marriages so that couples may make better decisions and communicate more effectively with each other.

The next issue attributed to the gender revolution is plummeting birth rates. Mackay claims that the biggest reason for the declining rate is the rising educational level of women. Contradicting his own stance against simplistic solutions Mackay proposes that a ban from women attending university would increase the birth rate. This solution is ridiculous as it would deny Australia of the contribution of women, which has been vast over the last 100 years or so. In Mackay’s opinion the falling birth rate is producing a generation of over-parented and over-indulged children. That is his opinion, mine differs from this greatly. A parent’s role is to care and provide for their children not just to breed. My parents are from a country where people rarely have more than one or two children and this has not fostered a highly rebellious generation of teenagers as predicted by Mackay. In this culture parents are expected to help their children in life as much as possible. Australia has a very different perspective in that it is largely believed that children should learn how to make it on their own. I am not here to criticise either practice, only to act as a witness (I myself am an only child) that having parents who provide their children with a head start in terms of financial status can largely benefit a young person in this society. If anything the help from my parents has had the biggest impact on my achievements at university as I have not had to spend long hours working and worrying about money.

Certainly banning women from university would not increase the population. Parents have the right to be concerned about their children’s welfare and if they are worried that they can not afford more children then not attending university would not help because it would decrease the family income substantially making it even harder to afford more children. The first and most important thing the government needs to introduce is maternity leave for at least a year. The maternity leave provided in Australia is shameful in comparison to some countries over seas.

Mackay further discusses the significant shift from full-time work to part-time work and from permanent to casual employment. It is our politicians who allowed job shifting to occur form Australia to China. If we want to change this, we should look to rebuild the infrastructure in order to enable us to produce the goods that are currently produced in Asia. There would of course be a period during which our industry would not be competitive but government subsidies could enable us to see through that period and eventually become self sufficient and highly competitive.

Given the uncertainty, anxiety, and insecurity that people live with in today’s society, Mackay reports that consumption of anti-depressants is extremely high. In fact he goes as far as to say that those who are not on anti-depressants have not yet understood the circumstances that surround them. Perhaps what needs to be addressed here is why people feel so uncertain and anxious these days. One reason may be a lack of education. At school students take many classes that are believed to be important. I for example had to study chemistry. Chemistry may be of some value no one is denying that, but is it right that people should have more knowledge on chemistry than knowledge on finance, business knowledge, or knowledge of the share market? These skills are necessary and knowledge of this is far more important than chemistry (unless you want to be a scientist), yet there were no compulsory classes on these subjects. In fact the few classes that were provided on business were extremely simplistic and taught by people who never had their own their business! The fact of the matter is that this lack of education at school is producing a population of young people who have no understanding of finance or politics for that matter.

Mackay’s criticism of simplistic solutions targets Hitler’s solutions to the economic instability of Germany. I do not want to praise Hitler in anyway and am of course greatly opposed to the atrocities he committed however there is no denying that he introduced economic stability back into Germany and provided huge job opportunities for his people. The fact that he started a war is another matter and it is unfair to judge simple solutions on this horrible example.

I do agree with Mackay that there is not one explanation or one cause for events in this society and that life is actually quite complex. I think though, that if we dwell on this fact too much we may become unmotivated to seek solutions and to understand the behaviours of humans. If humans are to make changes or progress in any way then we need to look for explanations and find an answer that perhaps may not improve all of the world’s problems but may make an improvement nevertheless. There is nothing wrong with people turning to religion to find meaning in their life if this helps them decide how they need to live their life. I think that the reason there has been such an increase in church attendance is because the complex solutions offered by society do not help.

In conclusion, I feel that Hugh Mackay may have addressed some important issues but his solutions appear to deal with the surface symptoms and not the underlying causes. The solutions I have provided are not perfect but present alternatives to Mackay’s thinking. If you disagree with me feel free to comment about anything, my intention was just to provide open opinions and not to offend others.

WEEK 12 Prosocial behaviour[edit]

Prosocial Behaviour[edit]

  • Prosocial behaviour means doing good to benefit others.

What makes people engage in prosocial behaviour?

In the text book prosocial behaviour is divided into two forms of helping: egoistic helping and altruistic helping. Egoistic helping is where the helper wants something in return for helping. Altuistic helping is done when the helper expects nothing in return for the help.

Although the text book stated that the motivation for altruistic helping was empathy, there was not a lot said about the motivations behind egoistic helping. I tried to fill this gap a little by doing some research…

Image motivation and monetary incentives A study by Ariely, Brancha, and Meier (2007) [5] investigated whether image motivation would drive people to behave prosocially. The author’s define image motivation as the “desire to be liked and well regarded by others.” Ariely et al. also investigated whether extrinsic monetary incentives would interact with the image motivation such that it would be less effective in public than in private situations.

In the study participants were to make a voluntary donation to one of two organisations. The first had a strong positive public image, while the other had a somewhat negative image depending on individual values. Donations required some effort on the participant’s part as they need to press the keys X and Z on a key board for 5 minutes. For every completed series money was paid under the participant’s name. Participants’ effort to help was randomly treated as a private decision or as a public decision. Some participants were also offered individual monetary incentive tied to their contribution efforts. At the end of the experiment those in the public condition were asked to tell the other participants what charity they chose, how much money was donated, and whether they earned money themselves.

The results showed that monetary incentives had no effect on the contribution when the decision was made public, while it did increase the contribution effort when the decision was private. The substantial difference found implies that people want to be seen by others as doing good for purely philanthropic reasons, or reasons absent of extrinsic incentives. When extrinsic incentives are present then others may view the action as being the result of self-interest rather than altruism. Thus, this may decrease the individual’s image motivation. If the prosocial decision is made in a private setting then using incentives to promote prosocial decisions may be more effective.

Personally I think this is very true. Before Christmas and before Easter my church always asks for donations. Once mass is over the priest reads out the list of names of people who donated and the exact amount of money they gave. The next week I would notice that considerably more people would donate and that they would either match or beat the average amount of money given by individuals or families. Those who gave considerably less than others in the first week would make up for it the next week. It was obvious that the effect of hearing exactly who gave what stimulated others to give because no one wanted to be seen as being selfish and everyone wanted to be seen as being an altruist.

In terms of monetary incentives, I cannot think of a good example for the effects demonstrated in the above study. However, when I was in high school I used to help people with their maths homework. It was not completely altruistic as I was doing it so that people would like me, think I was nice and helpful and would want to be friends with me (image motivation). I remember that someone once suggested that I should charge people for my help. After considering the suggestion I concluded that I did not want to do that because people would not like me as much for doing that.

Ariely, D., Bracha, A., & Meier, S. (2007). Doing good or doing well? Image motivation and monetary incentives in behaving prosocially. Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, 7-9, 1-32.

The prisoner’s dilemma[edit]

The traditional prisoner’s dilemma is a tradeoff story where two suspects are arrested by the police for suspiscion of having committed armed robbery. The police question them separately and invite them both to confess. There is not enough evidence to link the two to the robbery. The first possibility is that neither of the suspects would confess to the crime and cooperate together. This would be the prosocial option. If this happens they will only be convicted of minor crimes for carrying concealed weapons (which they were found with). Another possibility is that one man will confess and the other will not. If this happens the man that confessed will be free of all charges and the other will go to prison to serve a long sentence. The last possibility is that they both confess and then the police in prison both the men.

Today there are other versions of the prisoner’s dilemma such as being offered differing amounts of money for whether you cooperate or compete.

I found the prisoners dilemma very curious because it has been used in various psychological research on prosocial behaviour. In the text-book little was said about the dilemma except that it is a non-zero sum game which means basically means that both players can win or lose. I wanted to know how exactly this game would indicate prosocial behaviour so I did some research and encountered many complicated articles that I had trouble understanding. I did find one that made a lot of sense to me and actually clarified the dilemma for me. So I thought I would present it as simply as I could here without the jargon so that others could gain a little more understanding of the game and the motives behind it.

The article I read can be found here [6] There are two hypotheses for why people choose to cooperate in the prisoner’s dilemma. The first is the reputation hypothesis. Apparently when there is incomplete information about the other player then cooperation early in the game is the rational way to play. If players believe that their opponent may be altruistic or may have adopted a tit-for-tat strategy (choosing on the basis of what the opponent selected last time) then it would be wise to pretend to be an altruistic player at least for some time. This would help to build a reputation for cooperation. After this reputation is established a player may decide to compete against the opponent. The second hypothesis is that cooperation is the result of altruistic concerns where the person experiences pleasure from mutual cooperation. There is evidence that cooperation can result from both altruistic concerns and reputation building.

In Andreoni and Miller’s (1993) experiment participants played the prisoner’s dilemma game on a computer under four conditions:

  • Partners: 14 participants were randomly paired and played the prisoner’s dilemma with each other. After the 10-period game was over they were randomly matched with another partner. Since every game is played with a new partner, then partners could really gain from reputation building. It was also predicted that under a hypothesis of no altruism it would be harder and harder to sustain cooperation, especially near the end of the experiment. However, if altruism did exist then the cooperation could be sustained throughout the whole experiment.
  • Strangers: in the stranger condition participants had a new partner for every iteration of the game, for a total of 200 iterations. This situation was considered to carry no incentive for participants to build a reputation. Thus it was hypothesised under a rationality assumption that no cooperation would take place in this group, especially by the end of the experiment.
  • Computer50: same as the partners condition except that participants were given a 50% chance of getting a computer as a partner instead of another participant. They were told the computer would play the tit-for-tat strategy. Thus in this condition participants should have had greater confidence that the opponent may be altruistic and should have been more cooperative than the partners.
  • Computero: the last condition was equivalent to the computer50 condition except that participants were told that the chance of them actually playing the computer was near zero. In this case participants had knowledge of the tit-for-strategy but the probability of playing an altruist was not increased. Thus if the common knowledge for the tit-for-tat strategy would be sufficient to encourage altruism, then they would have been more cooperative than participants in the partner condition.


Reputation building

  • Partners were more cooperative than strangers.

Perhaps this was because participants with partners were able to build altruistic reputations and participants with strangers were not.

  • Computer50s and partners cooperation was highest at early rounds and declined near the end of the game.

Also supports the reputation building hypothesis which suggests that the cooperation would not last.

  • The average level of cooperation in the end-game was virually identical for all conditions (it was only slightly higher for the computer50s)


  • Partners and computer50s both waited longer until their first defection. This supports the theory of altruism that participants will adjust their responses on the degree of altruism in the population throughout the experiment.
  • Contrary to the predictions made on the basis of the reputation model, strangers actually developed a stable pattern of cooperation. As such this supports the theory that some subjects are actually altruistic.

I thought these findings were interesting. However, I kind of question whether this really is altruism or whether the concept of cooperation is so ingrained in our culture that we believe if we do the right thing then others will also do right by us. In this experiment both parties stood the chance to make money, thus would it not just be really greedy to want to get more money at the opponent’s loss?

Is this really measuring altruism or lack of greed? Or is altruism the same as not being greedy??

I really like the reputation building hypothesis if you play this game here [7] you will notice that you will get the most money if you cooperate at the beginning and then compete near the end. I hope only that people do not really behave like this in the real world because that would be very concerning!!

Reference Andreoni, J., & Miller, J. H. (1993). Rational cooperation in the finitely repeated prisoner’s dilemma: Experimental evidence. The Economic Journal, 103, 570-585.


Lastly I just wanted to comment on conformity

Conformity can be distinguished as normative or informational

  • Normative social influence- pressure to conform to the expectations of others in order to be liked and accepted
  • Informational social influence- pressure to accept the actions or statements of others or going along with the crowd because you believe the crowd knows more than you do.

In high-school I participated in a study like Asch’s study conducted by two students (to see an example of Asch’s study click here [8]) I was “lucky” enough to be one of those people whose behaviour was assessed. When I saw the lines I knew which of the three was the longest as the difference was very obvious. In this study the answer was B yet every person in the class said either A or C. Saying B would be going against the whole class which was quite a scary thought for me and so I went along with the class. In other words I experienced a normative social influence. In fact all the five people who were assessed in my class said either A or C. People always think that if it were them they would not conform to social pressures but this clearly demonstrated that many do, and for me it demonstrated that I do. At the time however I quite resented the study because it made me look stupid in front of my whole class. Participation was also not voluntary. As such I think these conformity experiments need to be used with care and only by professionals because it can completely humiliate someone and in high-school it can also lead to teasing.

Imagine how you would feel if you were part of this experiment…(although it is funny to watch)

Keep in mind that people normally face the front of an elevator when they walk in…now watch this.. Group behaviour in an elevator: [9]

WEEK 13 Environmental Psychology[edit]

Environmental psychology is the study of the relationships between people and their physical environments. The field examines how the physical environment affects human thoughts, feelings, and behaviours as well as how human behaviours affect the environment.

I had never heard of this area of psychology before although this week’s readings certainly informed me of the importance of this field. In this reflection I will mainly focus on the Oskamp & Schultz (1998) reading.


I guess I have always intuitively known that the environment can have adverse effects on people’s behaviour, however when analysing negative events I never really considered the physical environment as a major contributor. For example when I was reading about crowding- which refers to the negative subjective feeling that there are too many people in a given space- I was reminded of the conditions my father grew up in. Growing up my father lived with his parents and sister in a tiny apartment. There was only a kitchen, a bathroom, and a living room. There were no bedrooms and the whole family would sleep in the tiny living room. My father described the living environment as stressful with his parents always on his back watching what he was doing. However, he was to some degree lucky as being a male he was allowed to go out a lot and thus he was able to get some space. His sister, or my aunty, was not really allowed to go out. She was not allowed to date, and only had a couple of friends. My aunty and my dad both faced an immense pressure to perform well and to study medicine.

Although they both ended up studying medicine my father was very quick to move out of home. He ended up quitting medicine after four years in order to take a very rare opportunity to come to Australia. He liked the idea of Australia because it had the image of a free and peaceful country and he longed to get away from the crowding of his parents. For him everything seemed to have turned out fine. He started a new life, with a family and has a much more comfortable home and environment. For my aunty however things turned out really badly. She ended up staying with her parents and never moving out of the apartment. She finished medicine but soon suffered burnout and was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. She was diagnosed with something (my family was not told what the diagnosis was for privacy reasons) and given medication. Apparently she was fine when she was taking the medication although she soon stoped and refused to take it again. I believe she could be suffering from something like schizophrenia because she is extremely paranoid and delusional. Given though that she is not an immediate threat to herself or anyone else, and she does not believe she needs any help, we cannot get her any help. She now lives alone in the same apartment. My grandfather died from a heart attack in his early 50s and my grandmother died from one in her 70s. Both apparently suffered their own psychological problems.

I always thought that, that side of my family was just a bit odd. I thought that my auntie’s problems were all the fault of my grandparents who put so much pressure on her to be perfect. However although this was probably part of the reason, reading that high density and crowding was associated with stress, higher blood pressure, complaints of illness, and higher death rates. I realise that the small apartment they were living in with no privacy or personal space probably contributed immensely to the families problems. My dad probably was ok because he was very resilient and even though it was really hard for people to move out of home in his country he still found a way (he even managed to come to Australia, alone and with limited English, at a time where people rarely had the chance to leave the country!). My aunt and my grandparents however probably felt very little sense of control over their environment which may further explain their physical and mental problems.

Sustainable Society[edit]

Reading about the dilemma’s involved in working toward a sustainable future was rather concerning. Without even looking at the models of sustained development the formula used to investigate environmental impacts was enough to convince me it would be a difficult outcome to achieve.

The formula is I= P x A x T (where I, the impact on the environment is equal to P, the population times A, the amount of consumption per person, times T, the technologies that support the level of consumption)

  • Under the Bruntland Model the world population is estimated to be 8.2 billion by the year 2025 and 10 billion by 2050 (nearly twice its present size). The model predicts that technological advances may reduce some of the impact of pollution and consumption of energy however not enough to make the society sustainable
  • The slow growth model, which emphasises control of the human population, maintains that the key to a sustainable future is for the population to level off at around 8 billion people (1.5 times the present level). With a projection of more efficient technologies a sustainable society could be foreseeable with this model.
  • The technology transformation model maintains that a sustainable future is reliant on a radical transformation in technology. If energy production, transportation, construction, agriculture, and other technologies could become drastically more efficient then society would be sustainable.
  • The sustainable community model proposes that sustainability can be achieved through social transformations as opposed to technological ones. By living more simply and therefore consuming less energy society could be sustainable.

As noted by the authors three of these models are estimated to reach sustainability. The worrying factor is that assumptions such as being able to maintain the population at 8 million, having drastic improvements in technology, or drastically reducing our consumption rates all seem very unrealistic. I do not think most people are even aware of the problem we are facing right now and into the future. I once spoke with a friend who believes that we will end up having to turn to cannibalism in the future when resources become scarce! That is quite a frightening thought.

Environmental paradigms and religion[edit]

The environmental paradigms were interesting to me as I have always been fascinated by religions and their influence on behaviour.

I was surprised to read that some religious philosophers attribute the materialism of Western societies to Christian beliefs. I am not very religious myself although I was born into a catholic family. Even so I believe there is another interpretation to the passage in Genesis 1:28. This is the passage that was used in one of the readings to exemplify how Christianity has contributed to environmental problems. The passage reads:

Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.

The authors argue that by suggesting that humans were created to rule over nature, the religion fosters a sort of selfish attitude towards nature. Everyone has the right to interpret the bible in their own way. I believe this passage is not passing on the message that these philosophers are suggesting. In my opinion “rulers” are carers. A ruler is needed to bring order and protection as well as to punish those who threaten the safety of others. We humans ourselves have rulers. If we did not have rulers there would be chaos. As an example of rulers taking care of those they rule, every time the Roman empire would concur a new territory they would ban human scarifying. Likewise we need to remember that all (or most) of the Western countries have laws against cruelty of animals. Thus ruling can also mean caring and taking responsibility. If this responsibility was not brought to our attention then there could have been an even bigger disaster- as people would not consider the environment at all.

Apparently Ecotheology is a new movement that reinterprets biblical passages as ones that support the stewardship of the earth. I do not have access to the papers written on this matter although I do believe that the bible was intended to be interpreted in such a manner.

I do not think religion is responsible in itself for pollution or for the ill treatment of the environment. First of all pollution is really due to the creation of a legal identity known as a “corporation”- which is faceless, and profit oriented. It can be taken to court, judged, and fined, but the people behind the corporation walk free. With no personal responsibility I do not think that personal religion really plays any part at all.

I am not saying however that it would not help to refocus our belief systems on the environment. Deep ecology which advocates developing a spiritual/religious bond with the earth and its creatures may be very valuable. The fact is that the major religions of the world may be slightly out of date when it comes to ecological problems. After all it was only in the last 50 to 100 years that people started to worry about ecological problems and in America it was not until the early 1970s that the federal government passed the first set of comprehensive standards to control the quality of the environment. Perhaps the Christian religion has not yet realised the contribution it can and should make to encourage changes in attitudes and behaviours towards the environment.

I do wonder if religion is really the answer to changing the beliefs and actions of people. I feel that many people act in a manner that is incongruent to their religion anyways. For example, religious people go to war and kill others despite the strongest rule in all religions being not to kill others. If people can still kill when there is such a prominent rule not to kill, I wonder if a religion that focuses on looking after the environment would actually change the way people look after it. Also as I said before, I do think that the Christian religion advocates care for the environment, and yet it seems to have little influence on the way people behave.

The natural environment[edit]

I will be very interested to see how psychologists manage to change people’s thoughts towards the natural environment over the next few years. I had no idea that they were even involved but I have definitely noticed an increase in concern for the natural environment over the last few years and believe that they are doing an excellent job. I think that interventions such as the information campaigns, the feedback systems (self-monitoring and mechanization), social incentives, removal of obstacles, and the fostering of greater communication all appear to be very good methods for increasing commitment to looking after the environment. Implementing these factors would mean that people would not only gain more understanding of environmental issues they would also have incentives and social pressures that would motivate them to look after the environment.

Of all the topics covered in this unit, I have enjoyed learning about environmental psychology the most. I think it is unique and very valuable and I felt very drawn to it. James, I was wondering whether there are good career prospects in this area and whether any of these are in Canberra or only in larger cities?? Thanks.

Reference Oskamp, S., & Schultz, P. W. (1998). Environmental issues: Energy and resource conservation. In S. Oskamp & P. W. Schultz (1998). Applied social psychology (2nd ed.) (Ch11, pp. 205 - 228). Prentice Hall: Upper Saddle River, NJ.


Social Psychology – Brief summary of unit content[edit]

Social psychology aims to understand how human beings think, act, and feel. It is concerned with other peoples influence on the ABC triad (affect, behaviour, and cognition). Nature and culture are both important in shaping human behaviour. Nature is theorised to produce its effects on human behaviour through the process of natural selection whereby genetically based traits become more or less common over generation. Culture on the other hand is an information-based system in which humans share beliefs, meanings, and values. Culture also provides the opportunity for human’s to meet their social needs. Culture is unique to humans because it is enabled by their lager brains compared to nonhuman animals and their sophisticated communication abilities (e.g. language).

Self awareness is also a more complex concept in humans than in other species. The purpose of the self is to enable regulation in order to gain acceptance and to play social roles in society. There are three components to self regulation-and change: standards, monitoring, and willpower/capacity for change. Apparently will-power is like a muscle that will get stronger with exercise and weaker if not used (very useful information, my will-power has improved over the semester!!)

Humans do not like to do much extra thinking. As such despite the abilities of the human mind, humans make many cognitive errors. The fundamental-attribution error is where people have a bias to attribute another person’s behaviour to internal or dispositional causes. Confirmation bias is the tendency to notice information that confirms to one’s beliefs and to ignore information that disconfirms it. Illusory correlations occur when people overestimate the link between variables that are only slightly related. The false consensus effect involves the tendency to overestimate the number of people who share ones opinions. The false uniqueness effect is where people underestimate the number of people who share their perceived “special” abilities.

Human behaviour is influenced by attitudes, even thought this was questioned at one point in time. Specific attitudes will predict specific behaviours as long as the person makes the cognitive link between the attitude and the behaviour. Attitudes can be formed through classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and social learning. People need to have consistency between their attitudes and behaviours. It is easier to change attitudes than behaviours and thus people are more likely to change their attitudes.

It is also in human nature to be aggressive. It is naïve to believe that world peace could be achieved. Aggression is universal although culture does try to restrict and govern aggression in different ways. Aggression may stem from frustration, from hotter temperatures, increased testosterone, exposure to weapons, and other reasons. Another negative interpersonal process is prejudice where people have a negative attitude towards other individuals because of their membership in a particular group. This negative attitude then results in unequal treatment of the individuals. Prejudice may be the result of competition for scarce resources or from the need to increase a person’s own feelings of self worth. Prejudice may be reduced by having regular contact with members of the out-group - as long as the members of the out group are of a similar status, the members are typical members of their group, and the contact is positive.

People are attracted to others that are similar to them and equally attractive. In addition favours, praise, and mimicry are ways to increase liking (good to know!!) Rejection is so hurtful because it means that the other person or people do not care about the relationship, and people were made to form relationships not break them. Good relationships promote health and longer lives. Despite the common belief that people must love themselves before they can love others, this is thought to be untrue. Self-love and narcissism may not be good for the relationship as the person may focus too much on him or her self. Rather, people must first accept themselves in order to have a secure relationship. A secure relationship is not only based on acceptance of the self as a worthy person it is also based on having no excessive fear of abandonment.

Groups which involve two or more people who have some common goals and some degree of interdependence have several benefits. Cultural groups preserve information and pass it on to future generations. They can learn from others experiences and can benefit from division of labour. However as seen in the bystander effect sometimes groups of people create a sense of reduced responsibility in individuals.

Environmental psychology involves the study of interactions between people and their environments. This includes natural and architectural environments. Psychologist assess the behaviours, values, knowledge levels, attitudes, motivations, and decision-making processes held by individuals and strategically apply (or advise) psychological theory to try to change harmful approaches toward the natural environment. They may work for or act as consultants to environmental agencies, planning authorities and government bodies. In terms of the human-made environment social psychologists have studied the environments in homes, offices, playgrounds, parks, hospitals, schools, etc. Psychologists can make recommendation on how to build an environment that will satisfy the human needs of safety, comfort, and happiness.


I have really enjoyed the unit. I felt I could relate to it, and it really helped me to understand myself. This piece of assessment contributed to that understanding immensely. It was nice to have an assessment piece where we could actually think for a change. I have enjoyed the chance to share my opinions, and to read the opinions of others. This is far better than in class participation which I tend to struggle with being a rather shy and inhibited person. Also it gave me time to think and consolidate my thoughts before sharing.

  • Also just as an attempt to get more marks :) I did not know about the cross-crediting for research participation so I actually did six hours instead of four.