SOCIAL PSYCH CHAPTER 1 SUMMARY
CHARACTERIZING SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY
Social psychology: scientific study of feelings, thoughts, and behaviors of
individuals in social situations.
April 2004 CBS revealed pictures of American guards acting violent and
inhuman towards war prisoners in Iraq. People assumed these guards were
the American and army’s rotten apples. Is it true?
30 years earlier Philip Zimbardo conducted the Stanford experiment. The
study involved 24 undergraduate men to simulate a prison in the basement
of the psychology department. The chose them based on good mental health
and character. A coin was flipped to determine who was a guard and who
was a prisoner. The study was supposed to last 2 weeks but it was
terminated after 6 days due to the guards verbal abuse and physical
humiliation (making prisoners wear bag on their heads, stripping them
naked, making them engage in simulated sex acts) - same as what was
revealed by CBS in Iraq. Some prisoners were in extreme stress conditions.
Zimbardo: balance of power in prisons is so unequal that they tend to be
brutal places unless heavy constraints are applied to curb the guard’s worst
It is not that we put bad apples in a good barrel. We put good apples in a bad
barrel that corrupts them.
Some say they follow orders. Why would people follow such orders?
Social psych try to study situations where people exert influence over
another & how ppl react to influence attempts of various kinds.
Soc.psych. research can influence gvmt policies (i.e. diff. kinds of welfare
research is used to shape gvt assistance policies)
Personality psych. is a cousin to soc.psych. but focuses on ind. diff. in
behavior rather than social situations.
Also related to cognitive psych. the study of how ppl perceive, think about,
and remember aspects of the world.
Similar to sociology, but it takes into account all social aspects (i.e. economy,
politics, etc.) compared to social psychologists who focus on people in social
THE POWER OF THE SITUATION
Hannah Arendt - philosopher - suggested that we were all capable of acts of
brutality. “The banality of evil”. People denunciated her as trying to create
monsters but research has been supporting her unorthodox views. How does
the situation that ppl find themselves in affect their behaviour? SOCIAL PSYCH CHAPTER 1 SUMMARY
Kurt Lewin: founder of modern social psychology. Believed that the behavior
of ppl - like the behavior of objects - is always a function of the field of forces
in which they find themselves. The forces in the case of ppl are psychological
and physical. He acknowledged ppl’s own attributes as imp. determinants of
behaviour, but these attributes always interact w/ the sit. to produce the
The social equivalent for the field of forces according to Lewin is the role of
the sit. - esp. the social sit. - in guiding behavior. The main sit. influences on
our behavior are the actions and/or presence of other ppl. It can produce
drastic changes in our beliefs/behavior not only by what they tell us but also
by their actions (i.e. what we think we should do/say/think, being accepted
by our views/behavior) and it can cause us to behave in a way opposite to
ours bc we are feeling pressed. We rely on other ppl for clues /b w/ emotions
to feel in various sit. & even to define us as ind. This is the power of the
Milgram experiments (Stanley Milgram)
Classic experiment on social influence - predominantly authority.
The volunteers were a mix of laborers, middle-class, & professionals from
their 20s to their 50s. They were told it was an experiment on the effects of
The experiment consisted of a learner & a teacher. The learner has to
memorize word pairs. Each time he gets it wrong, the teacher has to give an
electric shock ranging from 15 to 450 volts - each time the shock is higher.
The labels of the shocks went from “slight shock” to “XXX”. The teacher was
given a 45 volts shock to have an idea of how it feels. However, the learner
was an accomplice of the experiment and no real shocks were given - it was
all an act.
Whenever the teacher was hesitant in order to continue, the experimenter
increased authority responses (in this order): “please continue”, “the
experiment requires you to continue”, “it’s absolutely essential for you to
continue”, “you have no other choice. You must go on”. If the teacher asked
about permanent injuries of the learner, they answered: “although the
shocks may be painful, there is no permanent tissue damage, so please go
The learner made his pain clear and asked to stopped various times. Despite
it, 80% of ind. went past the 150 volts. 62.5% went to 450 volts. The average
amount given was 360 volts after learner screamed & b/c hysterical.
They did not expect these numbers. A panel of 39 psychiatrists expected
20% to go over 150 volts and only 1% to go over 330. Some doubted that
the teachers did not know that the shocks were fake so Milgram invited
social scientists to observe the experiment behind a mirror glass.
Why would ppl agree to inject electric shocks to innocents? It was presented
as a scientific investigation an unfamiliar sit. to most participants. The
experimenter implicitly took responsibility for what happened. The
participant’s were not prepared to resist demands. The step-by-step nature SOCIAL PSYCH CHAPTER 1 SUMMARY
of the experiment: if the participant didn’t quit at 225 volts, why would he
quit at 255? etc.
Classic experiment by John Darley & Daniel Batson (1973)
In order to show the imp. of the sit.
Students at the Princeton Theological Seminary were asked about the basis
of their religious orientation: as a means of personal salvation or bc of
religious morals and values. Then, they were asked to go deliver a short
sermon about the Good Samaritan to another building. Some were told they
had plenty of time to get there, some were told that they were in a hurry and
already late. Each one of them passed a man who was clearly in need of
The religious orientation was no predictor to see if the seminarians would
offer assistance. However, the time before getting to the sermon was a
powerful predictor of the help. The participants who were not in a hurry
helped way more than the ones who were (around 10% vs. 60%).
The Fundamental Attribution Error
Def.: the failure to recognize the imp. of sit. influences on behavior, and the
corresponding tendency to overemphasize the imp. of dispositions or traits
on behavior (Lee Ross, 1977).
Ppl are governed by sit. factors more than they tend to assume.
Internal factors - kind of person - have much less influence than we assume
POWER OF EXTERNAL FORCES.
Internal factors = dispositions (beliefs, values, personality traits, abilities).
Social psych. encourages us to look at another person’s sit., try to
understand the complex field of forces acting on the ind. in order to fully
understand the person’s behavior.
Def.: certain sit. circumstances that appear unimportant on the surface but
that can have great consequences for behavior - facilitating/blocking/guiding
it - in a particular direction (Kurt Lewin, 1952).
Study by Howard Leventhal: how to motivate ppl to take advantage of health
facilities’ offerings of preventing care. Attempted to persuade Yale students
to take tetanus inoculations. Made them read scary materials on the illness &
showed them pictures. In interviews, most participants showed intentions to
go get the free inoculation. Only 3% actually went. When the students give a
map of campus with the health center circled, asked to review weekly
schedule and find a moment to go to the center and review the route 28% of
the students got the inoculation.
The channel factor in this sit. was the requirement to shape a vague
intention into a concrete plan. SOCIAL PSYCH CHAPTER 1 SUMMARY
THE ROLE OF CONSTRUAL
Ppl’s interpretations and inference /b the stimuli or sit. they confront.
Our construal of sit. and behavior refers to our interpretation of them and to
the inferences - often conscious - that we make about them. Our perceptions
drive our behaviors.
Our perception usu sees resemblance to what the world is rly like but it usu
requires substancial interpretation on our part & is subject to significant error
under certain conditions.
What we see is not necessarely what is actually there but what is plausible,
what makes sense.
German psychologists in the early 20th c. argued for this view in visual
perception. Concept of “gestalt” which means form/figure in German.
Gestalt psychology is based on the meaning of “gestalt” which stresses that
ppl perceive objects not by means of some automatic registering device but
by active usu unconscious interpretation of what the object represents as a
This concept is even truer for our judgements /b the social world. Our
judgements and beliefs are constructed from perceptions & thoughts but are
not simple readouts of reality.
Prisoner’s dilemma: a sit. involving payoffs to 2 ppl who must decide wheter
to “cooperate” or “defect”. In the end, trust and cooperation lead to higher
joint payoffs than mistrust and defection.
EXAMPLE: if 2 criminals for the same crime arrested and interviewed
separately. If both denied the crime = cooperative strategy. Both stand a
good chance of avoiding harsh penalty. If one denies and the other admitts =
defective strategy. The admitting prisonner will be treated better than the
denying one. If both admitt, both go to prison.
Liberman, Samuels, & Ross (2002): took the concept but instead of prison
penalty, it was monetary payoffs. If both admit crime -defect - don’t get
money, if both deny crime - cooperate - both make money. If one defects and
the other cooperates, the defector wins and cooperator looses.
They asked Standford University dormitory assistants to help identify the
most cooperative & most competitive students to recruit them in the study.
Participants were put in one of 2 experimental conditions: “Wall Street game”
& “The community game”. The study shows how construal affected the
results: majority of students in Wall Street game played in a competitive
fashion vs. majority in community game played cooperatively. The
terminology of the game played prompted different construals: competition
or cooperation, regardless of the presumed dispositions of the students. SOCIAL PSYCH CHAPTER 1 SUMMARY
Seems as we usu understand social sit. immediatly & directly but we depend
on elaborate stores of systematic knowledge to understand the even
simplest and most obvious sit.
Schema: a knowledge structure consisting of any organized body of stored
Schemas for everything. They capture the regularities of life & lead us to
have certain expectations we can rely on so that we don’t have to invent the
world anew all the time.
Solomon Asch: one of the German founders of social psych. Did an
experiment on schemas to show how they can operate very subtly to
influence judgememts. Asked 2 groups of undergraduates to rank various
professions in terms of prestige. One of the professions was politician. Before
giving their ratings, one group was presented as politician being rakend in
top prestige by other group and the other group was shown as politician
ranked politicians near the bottom. A schema was formed about the image of
the politician: high as Roosevelt for ex. or someone corrupted. The different
schemas were activated (not to mix it with conformity).
Many persuasion attempts we are exposed to in the media have the goal not
to change our judgement of the object but changing the object of judgement.
Schemas that we have for ppl of various kinds.
Research on sterotyping examines the content of these schemas, how they
are applied or misapplied so as to facilitate/derail the course of interaction.
They can be /b nationality, gender, religion, occupation, neighborhood or
sorority. They may be necessary to fct efficiently or effectively.
AUTOMATIC VS CONTROLLED PROCESSING
Mind processes info in 2 ways in soc. sit. : one is automatic & unconsicous
often based on emotional factors and the 2nd is conscious, systematic &
more likely to be controlled by careful thought. Often, emotional reactions
occur before conscious takes over.
Research by Patricia Devine: how automatic & controlled processing can be
incompatible w/ attitudes in the same person towards members of
outgroups. Ppl w/ low expressed prejudice towards an outgroup may reveal
feelings to ppl in these groups almost as much as the outspoken ppl /b the
prejudice. When white participants were asked to read words reminiscent of
African-Americans and then rate a particular ind., race unspecified, /b whom
they read they were more likely to report that the ind. was hostile than when
they didn’t read such words. It was true whether or not they were willing to
express anti-black attitudes in the questionnaires. The judgements of SOCIAL PSYCH CHAPTER 1 SUMMARY
“unprejudiced ppl” could be shown when studied by using a technique that
examined the unconscious processing of info.
Anthony Greenwald study: showed that great majority of white ppl take
longer to classify black faces w/ pleasant stimuli than to classify white faces.
True even for participants who showed no overt prejudice when asked /b
In general, automatic processes give rise to implicit attitudes & beliefs that
cannot be readily controlled by the conscious mind.
Controlled and conscious processing results in explicit attitudes & beliefs of
which we are aware - thought they may b/c implicit or unconscious over
Participants in these studies were usu ignorant /b the extent of the bias that
was revealed by the implicit measures of attitude.
Impact of social categories on judgements and behavior (unsconcious
cognitive process). Easily discriminable personal features (gender, race, age)
tend to trigger stereotypes that a person uses in forming judgements /b
others even when the person is unaware that it influences their judgements.
Even behavior can be unconsciously influenced by social categories.
Bargh, Chen & Burrows found that mentionning words that call to ming the
elderly causes students to walk down a hall more slowly.
Others have found that activating the concept of “professor” makes students
do better on a trivia test.
Types of Unconscious Processing
2 major types of unconscious processing.
William James identified one type: “Skill Acquisition”. As we learn & over
learn certain skills, we can exercise them without being aware we are doing
so (i.e. driving). We can carry them out w/o being distracted from other
conscious thoughts & processing.
2nd type (ass. w/ Freud) occurs when beliefs & behaviors are generated w/o
our awareness of the cognitive processes behind them. In solving problems,
we can be aware of relevant factors we are dealing w/ & procedures we are
using. I.e. when solving a math problem, we usu know the exact formula we
are using. These sorts of cognitive processes where we are conscious of most
of what is going on - are rare then we think.
Often, we cannot correctly explain the reasons for our judgements /b others,
understanding of the causes of physical and social events, or what led us to
take a job over another. SOCIAL PSYCH CHAPTER 1 SUMMARY
In an experiment /b awareness, customers at a mall were asked to evaluate
the quality of 4 nightgowns laid out. No matter how they were arranged,
participants most likely gave the highest ranking to the last nightgown they
examined. When asked if the positions of the nightgowns had influenced
their decision, they could not believe that the experimenter thought such a
irrelevant factor would play in their decision.
Often we can’t consciouly identify some crucial factors that affect our beliefs
Experimentas have shown that when visual stimuli are presented rapidly that
ppl can’t report seeing them, the stimuli can still affect those ppl’s beliefs &
Functions of Unconscious Processing
Why does so much mental processing take place unconsciouly?
Partly, matter of efficiency. Conscious processes generally slow and run only
serially (one step/problem at