INTRO TO PSYCHOLOGY
(Lectures 22 & 23)
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1 Lecture 22
November 24 2009
Power of situation to influence behavior:
Weve been talking about the power of situation to influence behavior. Weve talked about the
Milgram experiment, the experiments by Asch on social conformity where people reported that
they saw something different than what they saw because they wanted to conform with what the
crowd has said. And we talked about the experiments by Lee Ross where he had people asked one
another trivia questions and it seemed to affect their self perception in a kind of profound way.
The people who were unable to answer the questions tended to feel stupider than the average and
people who witnessed this whole debacle didnt feel particularly smart. It was a social perception
experiment on the power of the situation and situationism is the idea that when making judgments
about another persons traits or attributes, we often discount the power of the situation.
Although there are very different ways to characterize and to model personality, the field seems to
be converging on the 5 factor modal, or the Big Five. It doesnt mean that there are only 5 kinds of
people. It simply means that of all the different ways human beings differ from one another, we
can cluster those terms along 5 independent axes. How active you are? That could include whether
you are energetic or not, outgoing or not, confrontational or not. Hundreds of attitudes align on
this axis. Its a way of organizing a very large number of traits so that we can talk about them in a
systematic way. You as an individual can occupy some sort of space in a 5 dimensional map thats
unique to you and that doesnt have anything to do with where another person is. You can be near
somebody in that space but you can also occupy your own space.
Having talked about personality and social psychology and the influence of other people might have
on your behavior, or that situations might have on your behavior. You can see that there is a little
bit of both. You can see how people are going to act or behave. We got a certain balance of what
are stable traits and dispositions with situational factors.
Im going to talk about abnormal psychology this week. I want to talk about the terms normal,
abnormal and about mental illness in general and about behavior that might be considered deviant.
At what point does a behavior of a person goes beyond the boundaries of what you can consider to
be normal, whatever that means. Imagine you are driving in a holiday traffic to get to somebody
elses house for a party and there is a couple of lanes closed because they are doing construction
and everybodys frustrated. Youre stressed that youre going to be late. Different people react to
this situation differently. Some of us might start to curse. You might hunk your horn, you might
yell outside. How do you know whos going to do that and whos not? Part of it is the situation.
2 Here were looking at a situation that is extraordinary. Some people hunk their horns everyday, so
they might do that as usual.
You got the 2 components of personality. A lot of us are going to react in some way to this, but we
dont all go out of the car, grab a baseball bat and smash the window of the car in front of us as
one man did last summer in the US. That seems a little extreme. You can sort of understand that
this person is frustrated but we would call that behavior abnormal. Is it the situation or the trait
that causes this person to snap and grab the baseball bat? Is his behavior excusable?
The society has a desire and maybe even an obligation to ask the question: Do we do something
about mental disorders? in the same way that we ask: Do we do something with physical
disorders? There is a social policy consideration in this and there is a legal policy. This guy who
smashed the windshield of the car in front of him, his excuse was that he was under great stress,
but we have to ask ourselves as citizens what kind of legal system do we want. To what extent do
we hold someone responsible of their acts? How deviant or abnormal does the act have to be
before we punish it and what kinds of excuses will we allow?
In the case of somebody responding to stress in a violent way, it seems that we want to curtail that.
Safety seems to be an issue. Danger to oneself or to others is a marker of abnormality. First, its
worth asking whether anyone is normal. When you think about the notion of normal, just think
about what attributes or qualities a normal person has in terms of their temperament, in terms of
how well do they get along with others, in terms of their academic abilities. Think about whether
you yourself is normal or not. Most of us dont think that were normal. If you think of normal in a
statistical definition, most of the people should think of themselves as normal, but we dont. The
reason is that we have access to our internal thoughts and feelings and we realize things about
ourselves that we dont realize about others. Its quite a common experience to be apprehensive
about going to a party and you might get to a party and you dont know a lot of people. Everybody
seems more comfortable than you are and they seem to be talking so effortlessly with one another
and they are not worried about whether they speak with a slight lisp or maybe their hair is frizzy.
You dont have access to whats going on in their heads. Most people are uncomfortable in that
situation. Youre uncomfortable too and thats normal, but you dont consider it normal. Beyond
that, when you think about normal, we often think about an ideal that doesnt really exist. Each of
us is infinitely more interesting and infinitely more complex and complicated than a statistic
Definitions of abnormal behavior:
The definitions when it comes to abnormal behavior are not so black and white. There are a lot of
behaviors that would be difficult for us to classify. Even what we consider normal and not normal
3 depends on the situation, the place, and on culture. Suppose I tell you about somebody whos
spending days weighing papers and piling them up. You might think that this person has an
obsessive-compulsive disorder but if I tell you this person is working for Canada Post, and hes
doing it in the post office, thats normal, thats his job. Its context dependent. We have to look at
the circumstances. If I tell you I have a friend who drinks wine all day long and he begins at 8 in
the morning, you might think he has a problem unless I tell you that hes a professional wine
Consider this scenario, which Ive borrowed from a paper. Myriam cries herself to sleep every
night. Shes sure the future is holding nothing but misery. Indeed, this is the only thing she feels
certain about. Im going to die and my daughter is going to die, were doomed. The world is
ugly. Myriam has great trouble sleeping, shes afraid to close her eyes, afraid that shell never
wake up. When she does sleep, her dreams are nightmares. They are filled with blood, death and
destruction. One morning, she cant get out of the bed and so she misses work. She stays home
and keeps her daughters at home too. She makes sure that every lock and every entrance to the
home is locked and makes sure that its safe. She makes sure of this everyday for a week. Shes
afraid of the world and afraid of life.
The four Ds:
You would say this is not normal behavior. This is somebody whos got some psychological
problem. You might say shes depressed. Shes becoming disengaged to the world. You might
say that there is a chemical or neural component to all this. Most of us would say that this
behavior is unusual or abnormal. There are four Ds of how to think about disorders: Deviance,
Distressful, Dysfunctional and Dangerous. In the case of Myriam, it sounds like a deviant
behavior and its not customary for somebody to be that depressed. Clearly its distressful to her.
At the moment that she stopped working, we could say that its dysfunctional. It doesnt seem so
dangerous. I want to separate the first 3 from the last one.
Society condones some sorts of act to prevent from causing danger to another or to one self. In
some places, you can get arrested for committing suicide. Implicit in this idea is that you have to
be mentally ill to want to die and even that is a controversial notion.
I want to get back to the 4 Ds. If danger is in the picture, we want to talk about whether or not we
have an ethical obligation to intervene in the act. In the other cases, these 3 Ds are somewhat
ambiguous. They are not straightforward to define.
When you talk about deviant behavior, you can make a survey. Before the widespread studies of
Master and Johnson in 1950s, very little was known about the sex life of the average North