Lecture I January 9 2012h
Social Psychology is the study of how cognition, affect, and behaviour is influenced by
others and what counts as influencing one another (e.g., when we are influenced by people
who aren’t present).
There can be an implied or imagined presence of others. For example, social norms are
rules that guide social interaction that we learn from others, but persist when these people
disappear. Interpretations of events can also be based or influenced by the behaviour of
those around you. If someone acts as in an emergency has occurred when someone trips on
the sidewalk, chances are you will react similarly. How we feel about ourselves, how we
compare ourselves to others, and how we appraise ourselves in comparison to others can be
affected by individuals who are not actually present. In general, the implied or imagined
presence of others can affect our behaviour (invisibility example).
Earliest documented social psychology experiment was done by Triplett in 1898 who was
studying the social facilitation effect. He noticed that bicycle riders would go faster if
racing against others than against the clock (the presence of others can benefit us). In his
experiment, he used children and asked them to wind a fishing reel. When the children did
this task alone, they where slower than when they did it alongside others.
Floyd Allport (1920’s): wanted social psychology to be experimental and scientific
instead of Freudian (thinking about your thoughts).
World War II effect social psychology greatly (many psychologists were fleeing
Germany, it gave us a variety of topics to study, and everyone was interested in explaining
what had happened in Nazi Germany (e.g., the level of conformity, obedience, prejudice,
and aggression)). The mechanisms of propaganda, research on persuasion, how dictators
transformed masses of people into obedient populations were all questions of interest.
The Power of the Situation
The way in which groups are affected by leaders.
Ludwig (on moulding behaviour)
Split children into three groups and made one child in each group a leader (who made use
of one leadership style). There were three leadership styles employed; autocratic, total
freedom, and democratic. Those in the autocratic were hostile, aggressive, submissive, and
worked hard, but only when they were being watched by the leader. Those in the total
freedom group had no guidance, did bad work, and were lazy. Those in the democratic
group showed the best behaviours; they worked hard, were playful, etc.
Solomon Asch (Line test)
Asch conformity experiments were a series of studies published in the 1950s that
demonstrated the power of conformity in groups. These are also known as the Asch
Paradigm. Participants were told they would be participating in a vision experiment and
were put in a group of 5 to 7 ‘confederates’ (people know knew the true aims of the experiment, but were introduced as participants). They were shown a card with a line on it,
followed by another card with three other lines on it (labled a, b, and c. They were asked
which line (a, b, or c) matched the line on the card. The real participant would be one of the
last people to answer.
For the first two trials, the subject would feel at ease in the experiment, as he and the other
"participants" gave the obvious, correct answer. On the third trial, the confederates would
start all giving the same wrong answer. The aim was to see whether the real participant
would change his answer and respond in the same way as the confederates, despite it being
the wrong answer.
Solomon Asch thought that the majority of people would not conform to something
obviously wrong, but the results showed that 24% of the participants did not conform on
any trial. 75% conformed at least once, and 5% conformed every time (37% conformity
over subjects averaged across the critical trials).
Tested how far people would go in executing others on order. He told his participants that
he was performing a memory experiment. Found out that blind obedience was not a part of
the human condition, but the social situation.
Volunteer was given the role of the teacher, and the researcher the role of the
learner (this was a controlled assignment). They were separated into different
rooms and could communicate but not see each other (In one version of the
experiment, the confederate was sure to mention to the participant that he had
a heart condition)
The teacher was shown what kind of shock he would be giving the learner
throughout the experiment. Participants were given a list of word pairs to give to
the researcher. The teacher would then read the first word of each pair and read
four possible answers. The learner would press a button to indicate his response.
If the answer was incorrect, the teacher would administer a shock to the learner,
with the voltage increasing in 15-volt increments for each wrong answer. If
correct, the teacher would read the next word pair.
The subjects believed that for each wrong answer, the learner was receiving
actual shocks. In reality, there were no shocks. After the confederate was
separated from the subject, the confederate set up a tape recorder integrated with
the electro-shock generator, which played pre-recorded sounds for each shock
level. After a number of voltage level increases, the actor started to bang on the
wall that separated him from the subject. After several times banging on the wall
and complaining about his heart condition, all responses by the learner would
At this point, many people indicated their desire to stop the experiment and check
on the learner. Some test subjects paused at 135 volts and began to question the
purpose of the experiment. Most continued after being assured that they would not be held responsible. A few subjects began to laugh nervously or exhibit other
signs of extreme stress once they heard the screams of pain coming from the
If at any time the subject indicated his desire to halt the experiment, he was given
a succession of verbal prods by the experimenter, in this order:
1. Please continue.
2. The experiment requires that you continue.
3. It is absolutely essential that you continue.
4. You have no other choice, you must go on.
If the subject still wished to stop after all four successive verbal prods, the
experiment was halted. Otherwise, it was halted after the subject had given the
maximum 450-volt shock three times in succession.
The experimenter also gave special prods if the teacher made specific comments.
If the teacher asked whether the learner might suffer permanent physical harm,
the experimenter replied "Although the shocks may be painful, there is no
permanent tissue damage, so please go on". If the teacher said that the learner
clearly wants to stop, the experimenter replied, "Whether the learner likes it or
not, you must go on until he has learned all the word pairs correctly, so please go
Manipulation of Situation: Good people in a bad situation
Beach experiment: asked people to watch over the radio.
Would vision improve if the participant was treated as a pilot? Subjects believe pilots need
good vision, does this improve their actual vision? All the participants take a standard eye
test. They then enter a flight simulation (they dressed in uniforms as well). During the
flight, the p