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Chapter 3

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PSYC 333
Jennifer Bartz

PSYC333 Chapter 3 Notes Constructing the Social World: • Behaviorists led by John Watson heralded the situationist tradition in psychology John Watson described the role that situational factors play in shaping human behaviour. He boasted through appropriate • manipulation of environment and reinforcement history that he could dictate a child’s future career “Person” variables didn’t matter in the determination of behaviour; rather, it was that the “person” is simply the sum of the • situational contingencies experienced in the past - contingencies that could be described objectively, and that provide a basis for precise behavioural prediction and control • Situationism of the behaviourists were insistent that the inner workings of the human mind could not be the proper subject matter of a scientific psychology. Insisted on abandoning the nineteenth century research strategy of having people introspect about subjective mental experiences • New science of psychology concerned itself exclusively with quantifiable events (overt responses, observable environmental stimuli that provoked such responses, and objectively specifiable outcomes) • All behaviour, however subtle or complicated, was to be understood in terms of associations among stimuli, responses, and hedonic consequences, and in terms of generalizations made from one stimulus or context to another on the basis of similarity • Psychology today has made it clear that if not most of everyday human behaviour, especially social behaviour, becomes explainable and predictable only when we know, or can accurately guess, the subjective interpretations and beliefs of the people involved Subjectivist Considerations in Objective Behaviourism: • To understand how two people perceive a relevant stimuli, we need to know how each of them perceived the overall situation and how they interpreted each other’s responses • No amount of specification of the objective details of the behaviour in question will allow us to predict the participants’ future behaviour. Only by knowing or correctly guessing the subjective meaning of the events could we determine why the individuals behaved as they did. Lacking such knowledge of the meaning of the stimuli and responses to the participants, we cannot tell which specific responses had or had not been reinforced • To understand fully the nature and implications of social dramas, we need to beat in mind that people are not only trying to interpret each other’s words and deed, they are also trying to predict, monitor, and gently guide each other’s interpretations • Whether we are disinterested scientific observers of such episodes (sorority mixer vignette) or participants in them, we must attend closely to questions of subjective meaning • How does the Ps categorize the situation based on their past and current beliefs • We must know what the Ps believe about the contingencies between their actions and subsequent outcomes; likelihoods they attach to particular consequences and what they assume about the cause-effect relationships governing these likelihoods In short, we must be aware that objective accounts of stimuli, responses, and reinforcements, and objective specification of • the linkages among them, will rarely be sufficient for our purposes. We need to know how the Ps themselves perceive these “objective” events, and what they believe about the relevant linkages among them • People like Clark Hull, B.F. Skinner (behaviourists) typically applied their methods on animals, which future discouraged questions about subjective meaning. They worked almost exclusively with reinforcers that were clear and relatively invariant in their meaning to their subjects (food, water, shock were applied to animals who were hungry, thirsty, and afraid of pain) When methods were applied on humans, the same result of avoiding problems of interpretation or meaning was observed • (pairing a meaningless tone with the presentation of a puff of air to the eyes) • Despite the learning theorists’ successes in the laboratory, the limitations of such objectivist approaches became increasingly evident - especially to those learning theorists, and social psychologists, who concerned themselves with behaviour outside the confines of the laboratory • In less sterile circumstances, where the stimuli was more complex, behavioural options are less obviously tied to the satisfaction of innate drives, and where organisms are likely to hold theories based on their experiences with real world contingencies, accurate behavioural prediction and control proved a more elusive goal • When psychologists attempted to condition stimuli or responses that had substantial prior meaning for the organism, they found that the “laws of learning” they had established with meaningless stimuli and primary reinforcers did not hold. There was no learning at all • For example, cats can be taught to pull a lever for food but not to lick their coats to get food, despite the fact that the latter response has a far higher “operant” or basal level of occurrence Relativity in Judgment and Motivation Phenomena: Adaption Level: • • There has been unease from psychologists about the radical behaviourists’ insistence on defining input and output in purely objective terms. Gestalt psychologists had long been fond of showing that absolute judgments of stimuli were not possible and that stimuli were always judged relative to other stimuli Example: rat has to press level under less bright light. Test trial presents reinforced “less” bright light with a new light • that’s even less bright Objectivist account would be that the rat choosing the original “less” bright light • • The rat chooses the new less brighter light instead, a judgment that requires an active interpreter of information, not an automaton that simply registers objective physical properties of the stimuli to which it is exposed • Harry Helson showed that judgments of stimulus magnitudes were always relative to currently or just previously encountered stimuli of a similar kind • Weight is judged as heavier when it is examined just after exposure to several lighter weights than just after exposure to several heavier ones • Water of a given temperature is judged cold after subject’s hand has been resting in hot water for a time and is judged warm after subject’s hand has been resting in cold water • The judgment of a contemporary stimulus is always a function of at least two important factors - the value of the stimulus measured objectively and the subject’s “adaptation level” to stimuli of a similar sort • Framing Effects: Recognition of the relativity of judgment has become a dominant threat in modern cognitive psychology • • Modern decision theorists have noted that people seem far more responsive to the prospect of changes in their state than to the absolute level they might reach as a result of a given decision. • People are highly subject to “framing” effects. They judge costs and benefits of various actions, and experience various degrees of regret about choices, not with respect to final outcomes but with respect to comparisons that are implicit or explicit in the presentation of the problem People tend to choose one action if they judge it in relation to a given arbitrary starting point of wealth and to choose • another action if they are maneuvered into thinking about a different starting point of wealth Kahneman and Miller argues that every stimulus recruits comparison stimuli from memory against which it is judged • • For example, vegetable soup you taste now is compared to vegetable soup you had last week, the minestrone you had last month, and the canned vegetable soup you had as a child, and so on… • All these constitute as the ‘norm’ in terms of which the present stimulus is judged To a behaviourist, such a view stops little short of nihilism. Since each individual has a different history, different • memories will be constructed for the reference frame. Nothing could be further from the behaviourists’ dream of identifying stimulus properties objectively, without reference to the black box inside the subject’s head • Relativist view in psychology has been shown to have objective behavioural and motivational consequences of just the sort the behaviourist is honour--bound to respect • Kahneman and Tversky have shown through their prospect theory treatment of choice that there is an asymmetry between loss and gain situations such that people are more motivated to avoid a loss of a given size than to gain an equivalent amount. This explains why people are often goaded into action less by the prospect of gain than by the prospect of loss • Comparison With The Past: Another example of the motivational importance of comparative assessment involves the past • • Memories of past events exert an influence on the present One of the most interesting motivational implications of the relativity of judgment is that both happiness and • unhappiness should be self-limiting to a degree. Brickman et al studied people whose life circumstances were drastically changed by good fortune or tragedy. He • discovered that lottery winners were at first overjoyed at their new estate; but after a year or two they proved to be no more satisfied with their lot than the rest of us • It appears that emotional and motivational states fluctuate in response to very immediate or “local” changes in people’s circumstances, not to the absolute level of satisfaction of needs • Social Comparison and Relative Deprivation: • A second type of comparison that weighs heavily in people’s subjective assessment of their state, and in their subsequent motivation and behaviour involves other people they deem to be socially relevant to themselves • Social comparison processes in self-appraisal and their motivational consequences were a central theme in social psychology from the 1930s through the 1950s • Black soldiers during WW2 stationed either in the South or North compared their status to the surrounding civilian blacks. Southern blacks still had segregation; thus black soldiers saw themselves as better off; northern blacks earned higher wages and enjoyed more freedom than black soldiers, hence they saw themselves as being worse The notion that people’s assessment of themselves is inherently a comparative one is part of the grain of social • psychology by now. People believe themselves to be talented or untalented, rich or poor, healthy or unhealthy by comparison with others • Strategic choice of reference groups allow people to enhance their feelings of self-worth and cope better with adversity Some Non-obvious Motivational Consequences of Reward: • Some work showed that subjective construals of the relationship between response and reinforcer are also inherently a matter of interpretation. Such interpretations have significant implications for subsequent motives and behaviour • Leon Festinger, who was the dissonance theorists, showed repeatedly that they could invert the effects of reward on behaviour by manipulating the meaning the subject placed on the relation between the reward and the behaviour that elicited it Example: paid subjects for telling a fellow student that a particularly tedious and mindless experimental task they just • completed was quite interesting. The subjects did so, at the request of the experimenter, in preparing the student to be the next participant to undertake the boring task. The finding was that subjects were more likely to “internalize” the message (really think that the task was interesting) when the payment in question was $1.00 than when it was $20.00 Subjects who receive $1.00 felt dissonance about agreeing to deceive their peers and about saying something publicly • that was discrepant from their actual views; they reduced their dissonance in the only way possible by deciding that the task was interesting • Subjects who received a $20.00 payment did not pose a discrepancy problem between their private beliefs and their public behaviour. The large payment provided a psychologically adequate justification for their lie. They felt little residual dissonance and had no need to adjust their subjective evaluation of the boring task Providing people with small incentives for acting as if they hold a given belief promotes greater change in the “rewarded” • direction than providing them with large incentives This contradicts to the spirit of conventional reinforcement theory, which leads us to expect that large rewards would be more • effective in leading actors to adopt privately the preferences of beliefs that they were expressing overtly An even more challenging result for mainstream reinforcement theorists was provided by demonstrations that rewarding a • given behaviour can actually decrease its attractiveness and the likelihood if its future occurrence Reasoned if people undertook a task that they normally would have found quite interesting and enjoyable, but did so • while expecting to be rewarded for their efforts, they might engage in a bit of private cognitive analysis; decide that they had engaged in relevant task in order to obtain reward and thus come to view behaviour as less attractive in its own right Anticipated rewards can change one’s perception of an activity from being something highly reinforcing in its own right to • something that one does in order to get reinforced. Play had been turned into work These social psychology experiments helped point out the limited scope of conventional, purely objective accounts of • motivation and learning. It challenged psychologists to take a new look at their discipline and the necessity of viewing people as active interpreters of their environment and of their own responses to the environment The Construal Question in Social Psychology: William James noted that ideas cannot be considered to be fixed and static, because they take on different coloration from • the ideas by which they are surrounded and with which they are compared; no two ideas are ever exactly the same… Lawrence Barsalou presented a more modern interpretation and argues that “Rather than being retrieved as static units from • memory to represent categories, concepts originate in a highly flexible process that retrieves generic and episodic information from long-term memory to construct temporary concepts in working memory” • The interpretation of any given complex situation requires the application of many categories, some of which are less clear- cut in their meaning than the simple ones examined. The likelihood that two literally identical situations will be judged the same on two different occasions therefore plummets rather rapidly as a function of complexity There is significant variability in a given person’s construal of events, enough to lead us, just on the grounds of interpretive • instability, to expect that there will be nontrivial variation in behaviour across two objectively almost identical situations, to say nothing of the variation from one situation to another that is merely similar • Secondly, there is very substantial variability from one person to another in the meaning even of rather fundamental concepts. Hence, any two people are likely to interpret the same situation in somewhat different ways • Many important phenomena derive from the variability of construal within a person and from the differences in construal between people on any given occasion. Further phenomena of importance derive from people’s relative ignorance of these two facts We do not recognize the inherent variability in our own construal of events; hence we predict our own behaviour with too • great confidences We similarly fail to recognize both the random differences between our own and others’ construals of events and the • systematic, stable differences. Consequently, we predict other people’s behaviour too confidently and when confronted with surprising behaviour on the part of another person, attribute it to extreme personality traits or to motivational differences between ourselves and the other person, rather than recognizing that the other person may simply have been construing the situation differently • To recap: same stimulus often can be interpreted in different ways by different people or by the same person in different contexts, and the recognition that the social scientist must therefore attend to subjective interpretations as well as objective measurements Kurt Lewin emphasized that the individual’s “life space” must be characterized in a way that captures its subjective reality • and personal significance Most importantly though is the advice to focus on the patient’s own subjective representation of event • • Solomon Asch (famous conformity experiments) was a clear identifier of systematic factors contributing to variability and instability of meaning Solomon Asch and the “Object of Judgment”: Primary thesis was that people’s responses to an object are often less reflective of their long-held attitudes and values than • of the way they happen to construe the “object of judgment” on a given occasion Conformity and Construal: • • First phenomenon - social conformity Conventional views of conformity held that people are influenced by the views of their peers because they seek • acceptance and fear rejection by those peers Asch insisted that the responses of one’s peers serve to define the object being evaluated. Such responses convey • information about the way that object is understood by other actors, and offer at least a strong suggestion about the way it “ought” to be interpreted • Once one adopts the interpretation or definition offered by one’s peers, one is likely to adopt their evaluations and ways of behaving as well • His experiment: Two groups of undergraduates were asked to rank various professions in terms of their prestige or status • • Before ranking, one group of students were told that politician was ranked above all other professions by their peers while the other group of students were told that politician was ranked at the bottom of the list by their peers • Ps would not change because the peers who supported or went against politicians were anonymous Ps would however view politicians at the top of the professions to be celebrated national leaders like Jefferson or • Roosevelt while subjects conforming to a negative assessment saw politicians to connect with corrupt political hack • Subjects did not yield to the judgments of their peers as much as they allowed their peers to dictate what it was that they were judging • Construal of Personal Attributes: Ps were given lists of personality traits and then asked to make various judgments about the person who allegedly • possessed the traits Asch attempted to show the influence of construal processes on impression formation. He argued that the stimulus • traits on his list were susceptible to variable interpretations and that the specific meaning or construal attached to particular items of information depended upon the more global impressions adopted by the subjects • Example: “intelligent” seen differently depending in light of positive or negative impression of warmth or coldness Asch’s explanation for primacy effects in impression formation is that initial items on a trait list lead us to develop • tentative hypotheses that in turn, dictate the way we construe or interpret later evidence Initial items of information exert disproportionate influence on judgments; and the same set of items presented in • different orders gives rise to different overall assessments. In particular, positive pieces of evidence followed by negative ones produce more positive overall impressions than the same items in reverse order • Our construals of events are at the mercy of the often arbitrary sequence in which we encounter them Asch insisted that the earlier information literally changed the meaning of the later information • • Bob helps out at a local charity - then - Bob recently went through a messy divorce = positive image of a likable Bob • Bob recently went through a messy divorce - then - Bob helps out at a local charity = Bob trying too hard to redeem himself (negative image) • Construal and Communicator Credibility: Arguments produce more attitude change in the people who read them when they are attributed to well-regarded • communication sources than when they are attributed to poorly regarded sources Conventional learning theory interpretations of this effect hinged on the fact that messages associated with attractive • and highly credible sources would be attended to more closely, recalled more successfully, regarded as more accurate and reliable, and deemed more worthy of adoption by the recipient than the same messages associated with unattractive, non-credible sources As in the case of social conformity, Asch argues that the information about sources conveyed by the experimenter • induces a change not in the “judgment of the object” but rather in “the object of judgment” Asch insisted that the changes as a function of the source to which it is attributed • • An assertion to the effect that “a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing” is much more widely endorsed when attributed to Jefferson (honest farmers) than to Lenin (revolutionary reign of terror, because it has a different meaning in the former case than in the latter Partisanship and Perception: • A
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