Have you ever thought about how many groups you belong to? There are all the groups that gave you cards that are probably clogging up your wallet as we speak. Then there are the ones that actually mean something (besides a 10% discount). I could start to list all of the groups I belong to, but that is just a little too personal.
More questions and thoughts to come.
As humans have developed, so have our social and cultural behaviours. These behaviours differ depending whether on other people are present, who it is that is present and the presence of the group. What influence the group has on and individual, and indeed how the individual influences the group, has been a topic of study in sociology and psychology since the late 1800’s. We are social creatures biologically. But unlike animals, we also have a culture, or a way of communicating ideas that are necessary for the survival of our ‘civilised’ world, such as laws and religion. Many of our behaviours are learned through such cultural experiences. We have a need to communicate to others what we are thinking and what we have learned, and we also have a need to form groups with norms of behaviour, thoughts and ideals. This need makes life easier for us in that, if we belong to a group, we can divide the tasks necessary for survival, and support each other. In today’s society, few people will live completely independent of the rest of the world, hunting, collecting, cooking and making shelter for themselves. Throughout the years, there have been a few cases of abandoned children left outside to fend for themselves. In many of these cases, the child has formed part of the social group of animals, such as dogs (see link below). This raw, biological need compels rejected humans to find a social culture wherever possible, even in the dog’s hovel.
The Social Self
Imagine you were trying to describe and define yourself. Most likely, you would use words like outgoing or shy, intelligent or creative and so on. However, you would probably also include groups in your description. These groups can include religious, ethnic and even gender groups. Many of these groups can define you from birth until death, for example, I will always define myself as a woman, with a lifelong membership to the group of females.
The concept of the self is a representation of who you are, or how you want to be perceived. It is a tool we use within society. The social self however, is our behaviour and attitudes which are influenced by the society. The social self attempts to balance socially accepted behaviours with the ideal self which is closest to the true self (if indeed a true self exists). While the social self may appear to cause incongruence with the self, it does indeed serve a purpose of preserving you in the social environment. For example, you need to promote yourself at a job interview in order to get the job and earn money for food; you also need to abide by society rules so as not to be put in prison; and you need to be able to socially compare yourself with others to determine how successful you will be.
The social self is complex thing. However, we tend to view others with fewer complexes due to the relatively small amount of information we know about them, and we view ourselves as more complex. I was able to test out this concept in our first tutorial which, looked at the groups we define ourselves as being a part of. We grouped ourselves into eye colour, number of siblings, whether or not we were born in Australia, relationship status, political views and religious beliefs. (Anyone who was in the week 2, Tuesday 2.30pm tutorial, please add any extra groups I missed.) Now, when I see someone from that tutorial, I think they were the person who was born in England, or who has 8 siblings, or who had a complicated relationship status. I don’t think about all the groups each person defined them selves as. I just think of the most memorable group they defined themselves as being in, and tend to define them by that one group membership.
Social Cognition and the Age of Global Communication
As part of our social self and social thinking, we make judgements! You may initially think this is a bad thing, and it can be if the judgements are taken to the level of discrimination. Many qualities people have a tendency of using for discriminating are in fact these that the victim has no control over. Think whether you would deny a person their rights simply because they have blue eyes! However, judgements can help us to conserve mental energy and use prior knowledge and experience to predict a situation and know how to behave. These sorts of acts are called scripts or schemas. We, as humans, like to be able to control and predict our environment.
We also like to know the causes of things, making us a curious bunch. This means, that we also tend to think that behaviour is caused by something; either our personality (internal) or environmental factors (external). An example of this would be a student who failed an exam; an internal attribution would be the student didn’t study enough, but an external attribution would be the exam was incredibly hard. Generally speaking, we tend to attribute our behaviour, and the behaviour of others to internal factors. This can cause problems and biases such as the Self-Serving Bias. There is a tendency to attribute our own success as internal, our own failure as external, other people’s success as external and other’s failure as internal.
As bad as this sounds, even this bias helps us in our social endeavours. In fact, this bias can help raise our self esteem and make us feel more in control. Our mind really can play tricks on us!
They say we communicate by using both verbal and non-verbal language. Statistics are thrown out as to how much is communicated by each of these factors. Most of these stats agree that the non-verbal communication consists of the greater part. But then there are some fuzzy areas such as; is tone of voice verbal or non-verbal? There are cultural and individual differences, Italians seem unable to speak without moving there hands and yet the majority of Westerners seem perfectly able to accomplish this task. Environmental distracters can also affect the quality and mode of communication. And finally, disabilities can play a role in changing the mode of communication; a blind person will probably not move there hands much when talking because it does not enhance the story for them.
But with all this talk a large proportion of communication being non-verbal, we have to wonder… do phones, sms and email enhance communication? Or are we simply replacing quality for quantity?
Prejudice and Aggression
During the week four lecture we watched the documentary ‘The Ghosts of Rwanda’. This was to be used as a discussion topic for the tutorials which were based on prejudice and aggression. The film affected me in such a way that I would prefer not to discuss it here.
Prejudice and Stereotypes
This week in lectures we discussed prejudice and stereotypes. Before we continue much further, it is important to have some definitions to use as a base for the purpose of this portfolio. These definitions I took straight from the lecture;
‘Prejudice - a negative feeling toward an individual based solely on his or her membership in a particular group.’
‘Stereotype - beliefs that associate groups with traits.’
It is interesting to note that while we often claim not to hold prejudice towards other groups, it is almost impossible to do so. The human brain categorises everything within its world as a way of being cognitively effective. We start this as children, and it is encouraged! Parents point to different animals and say, ‘this is a dog’ or ‘he is a boy’. These are examples of classification which we teach our children. We teach them, because they are natural! Our brain simply cannot deal with the amount of stimulus it receives without organising it somehow. Such classification is not a bad thing. It benefits us to understand the world.
We prefer people from within our own ‘group’. Perhaps this is a biological factor telling us to protect those with the closest DNA to us, to ensure the survival of ‘our group’. This is called ingroup favouritism. We also follow the rule of outgroup homogeneity bias which states that members of other groups are deemed to be more similar to each other than members of own group are. A common example of this is when you travel to another country and think that everyone looks the same, you probably never think that about people in your own country.
Stereotypes come into the picture once we have defined certain groups. Again, a stereotype itself is not a bad thing. For example, a stereotype of a bird is that it has two legs, two wings, feathers and it flies. This is not true of all birds but it helps us to understand and more importantly, to predict what a bird will look like and how it will behave. The problem with stereotypes arises when we overgeneralise traits. This often happens to rationalise something such as treatment towards that group, it can be used to boost own self esteem or to oppress the members of another group. It is this overgeneralisation that can lead to prejudice. A problem with stereotypes and something that enhances prejudice is; the fact that negative stereotypes are more durable and take more exceptions to disprove than a positive stereotype would.
There is hope though…if we remember that stereotypes are only a tool and while based on fact, are rarely accurate. We just have to remember to use them but not think of them as an absolute truth.
We had an interesting discussion in tutorials about cultures including what can happen when someone enters a new culture. Typically, the person will follow a pattern of behaviours that together, we call culture shock. There is usually a ‘honeymoon’ stage where the person finds the culture fascinating, then homesickness will start and other symptoms of culture shock begin to present themselves such as; feelings of isolation, being critical of the new culture, and eventually, feelings of incompetence and worthlessness may arise. Such symptoms would be felt most if the new culture inhibits most or all of your time, for example, if you were travel to a country you had never been to, where you don’t speak the language and you travelling by yourself. Imagine also placing prejudice on top of these symptoms. The symptoms of culture shock would likely be less intense if the new culture you were entering was a new job, school or neighbourhood when much of your old life and customs are maintained.
A way of helping people deal with culture shock, particularly when travelling overseas for work or university, is to create culture maps; step by step guides in how to deal with situations that would be intuitive to people who are competent in the specific culture. This can include how to ask for help for a superior or lecturer, an act that would not be as accepted in some other cultures. It can be easy to think that such things are common sense but they are not if culture has taught a different set of practices.
As an example of this, I would like to share with you my thoughts on a time when I was culturally incompetent. I stayed with a family in Japan for a week a few years ago. The first problem I encountered (which continued to be a problem for the duration of my stay) was language. Despite learning the Japanese language in school, I discovered that only a small amount of my vocabulary was useful in real situations. To compensate for this, I ignored all the Japanese revision work I had set for myself and began reading a small phrase book at every opportunity. The second problem I encountered was the fact that I had not been told that shoes were taken off inside to be replaced by inside shoes (which were replaced again when entering specific rooms such as the bedroom or bathroom). My host family was very nice and simply took my shoes to where they should have been left and continued to (very patiently) teach me about the different kinds of shoes. The third problem I encountered (which was not by far the last, but will be the last mentioned here) was that I was not used to using chopsticks. I had taken with me ‘cheats’ chopsticks which were actually attached at the top so acted as a hinge, however, whenever I tried to use these, they were met with laughter by the people my age and usually looks of disapproval from the older generation. It is for this reason that I gave them up and out of pure hunger, learned to use chopsticks.
An interesting point I would like to make here is that there was a girl in this family about my age who had stayed with my family about 6 months earlier. I remember being a little intrigued but mostly confused as to why she didn’t simply adapt to my family and our customs. It can be very easy to expect adaptation. For some people, this is an easy task but for the general population, adapting to a new culture, especially when it is in a new country, is an extremely daunting task that can cause severe distress to the person.
We have learned through history that groups provide certain benefits to us; protection, greater power and shared resources just to name a few. And while we no longer need protection from wild animals or need to hunt for our food, our preference to be in a group has persisted. One reason for this is that the group has not lost all of its previous advantages. Shared resources and division of labour have allowed humans to specialise, ensuring that everything is achieved in the most efficient way by a person who knows the field. An example of this is; I do not know how to build a house, so rather than spending a great deal of time learning what to do then making mistakes, I ask a professional to build a house for me. This professional has already learned how to build a house and (I hope) has had lots of practice at the job. In exchange for him building my house, I pay him (sharing resources) so he can buy food.
But there are also much more subtle advantages to being in a group. Research has shown that at simple tasks which are well practiced, such as cycling, tend to be performed better when in the presence of others. I would agree with this research as I have found that when cycling with a friend, I will happily cycle greater distances with increased speeds. It is important to note that this ‘social facilitation’ will not work when performing a more complex task such as writing an essay.
The opposite of social facilitation is the uniquely human trait, social loafing. This is the tendency to ‘slack off’ because others in the group can do the work for you. This concept seems counterintuitive as it has long been thought that working in groups allows the pooling of information and ideas. But groups tend to produce a lower quality of work than an individual would, and there is always a constant pressure to conform and become the same as other members of the group (which could halt the introduction of new ideas because no individual would want to stand out). This tendency to want to blend not only decreases the quality of the work produced, but can also inhibit people from speaking up in class, at a work meeting or when someone is in trouble (Bystander effect).
The Bystander effect is the phenomenon where people are less likely to provide help to another in need when the bystander is in a group than if they were by themselves. This has been studied and results show that the larger the group, the less likely it is that someone will help a person in need or report a problem. It may be that the responsibility to help is diffused throughout the crowd, so that instead of one person holding all the responsibility, each group member holds a reduced amount of responsibility. This could be linked to social loafing in that group members conform and do not want to stand out. In fact, five steps to helping have been identified and researchers believe that the crowd can interfere at any one of these steps. The steps are; notice something is happening, interpret the event, take responsibility (do not allow responsibility to be diffused), know how to help, and provide help.It is also worth mentioning that even the knowledge of the Bystander effect, can drastically reduce its effect.
In tutorials this week we discussed a lecture delivered by Hugh Mackay in 2005. In the lecture, Mackay talked about the current trend of disengaging from the social scene; houses are getter larger with fewer people living in them, a phenomenal increase in the amount of divorces and single-parent families and more people engaging in typically social activities by themselves or with just one other person etc. This current trend of disengagement is what is defining the current Australian cultural scene, it is the flavour of the times; it is the Australian zeitgeist.
The social disengagement can also be witnessed with the increase in media usage to convey a message or thought, instead of the traditional method of personal teaching. This user page is a prime example what I am trying to convey; instead of discussing these matters with others who are studying or interested in social psychology, I am putting my thoughts on the internet for all to read. While this process is beneficial to my learning, one has to ask, is this process benefiting anyone else, and could this be achieved in a more social environment?
The mobile, and in particular SMS, is another example of social disengagement. Before you get too worried, I am not going to suggest to the world that people everywhere should give up their mobiles! What I am going to say is that they are a tool. They can be used quiet efficiently to organise social meetings and to inform others of your whereabouts for example if you are late. The problem arises when they are used to replace personal social contact. Smiley faces can only add so much expression to your message. For some things, the mobile and especially, SMS, will simply not work and we a re forced to socially re-engage to receive the necessary social contact.
The Australian zeitgeist may be one of social disengagement, and no we are not the worst society in the world for this, but there are still things we can do to re-engage with society. Have a regular social meeting with a friend or out with someone rather than on your own, it may take time to organise and even to do these things, but the benefits of socially re-engaging are phenomenal!
Pro-social behaviour is literally, the opposite of antisocial behaviour. They act to benefit another individual. What is considered to be pro-social behaviour however can change depending on the cultural context in which it takes place. What is accepted and encouraged in one culture may be unwanted in another. It is important to note though, that pro-social behaviour only includes the behaviour, the intent behind the behaviour is not regarded when deciding whether or not an action is desirable. Despite this, the reason behind pro-social behaviour have been studied and some reasons which I found particularly interesting or shocking were; guilt, self-interest and even conformity.
Conformity appears to be a major factor in both increasing and decreasing pro-social behaviour. The desire to get along with others and to be a part of a group can encourage pro-social behaviour such as cooperation and following society’s rules. Conformity is particularly apparent in larger groups of people as can be seen in Asch’s famous study of conformity. In the study, participants were simply asked to state which, out of three lines was the same length as a separate line. When larger groups of people were involved in the study, participants often conformed to what the group was saying and provide an incorrect answer, even when the correct answer was obvious.
Pro-social behaviour is also dependent on mood. People in a good mood are more likely to help someone in need, even if it is simply to pick up an object that was dropped. I’m sure everyone will admit (although somewhat regrettably) that when you are in a bad mood, it doesn’t matter how little effort is needed on your part, or how much of a difference it will make to the other person, you simply do not want to help.
Environmental psychology is not asking plants how they feel about different issues such as the drought, but rather it is the study of the interactions between people and their environment. The environment, for the purpose of this portfolio, is simply the place in which a human lives. Typically, this will involve your house, your neighbourhood, and any place where you spend time or that may influence your behaviour. The environment often includes stressors and risks and is subject to human special behaviour.
How humans spread themselves throughout the environment can lead to crowding and the subjective feeling of crowding. This is particularly evident if an Australian, who lives in a fairly regional area, travels to a country with high population density. The density of the crowd may be stretching resources, but the people who live there are generally not stressed by it. The crowd however, would likely be a major stressor for an Australian traveller who is not used to crowds.
But the natural environment can also have positive effects on us, and environmental psychologists believe that bringing the natural environment into our own environments can have an impact on our general health and well-being. Evolution has had little time to adapt to our primarily indoor lifestyle and as such, we sometimes feel the need to get outdoors. This is often in the form of a holiday to the beach or camping, we rarely want to spend our time off in a windowless basement without even a picture of the natural environment. In fact, doctors and psychologists have realised this need for the natural environment and begun to give the ‘Green prescription’, encouraging clients to get in touch with nature as part of an overall health program. This can be as simple as going for a walk outside rather than on the treadmill, or perform an activity outside; e.g. gardening.
These findings have also lead to a change in planning houses and communities. Greater access to natural places are now being included in suburb planning and greater natural features are being added to houses often in the form of larger windows to the outside or the inclusion on small garden areas. Even hospitals are realising the positive effects of the natural environment and including pictures of the natural environment as patients with a view or picture, have been found to recover faster. The moral of this story; get outside, it’s good for you!