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Chapter 3

PSYC 333 Chapter Notes - Chapter 3: Solomon Asch, Construals, Leon Festinger

Course Code
PSYC 333
Jennifer Bartz

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Chapter 3: Construing the Social World
John B. Watson wrote about the role that situational factors play in shaping human
Everyday human social behaviour becomes explainable and predictable only when we
know or can accurately guess the subjective interpretations and beliefs of the people
Subjectivist Considerations in Objective Behaviourism
We need to know how each actor perceives the overall situation
First, what were their subjective impressions?
How did those impressions relate to their goals and expectations?
What meaning did they attach to each other’s words?
These are all the questions one would ask in order to predict actors’ behaviours
We must attend closely to questions of subjective meaning
o 1) Discern how the participants categorize the situation
o 2) Know what the participants believe about the contingencies between their
actions and subsequent outcomes
We must be aware that objective accounts of stimuli and objective specification of
linkages among participants themselves perceive these objective events
Clark Hull and B.F. Skinner studied response acquisition and change, relying
primarily on rats and pigeons
Limitations with this objective approach became evident however
Relativity in Judgment and Motivation Phenomena
Adaptation Level
Gestalt psychologists have always been showing that stimuli were always judged
relative to other stimuli
Demonstrated this by showing a rat 2 light stimuli, one brighter than the other, and
reinforce the behaviour to push the lever underneath the less bright light. Then on the
test trial, the rat would be presented with that same less bright light, and one that was
even less bright… An objectivist would say that the rat would choose the same light
its always been choosing. However in reality, the rat will choose the least bright,
because that’s what its been conditioned to pick.

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Harry Helson (1964) showed instead that judgments of stimulus magnitudes were
always relative to currently or just previously encountered stimuli of a similar kind
The judgment of a contemporary stimulus therefore is always a function of at least
two important factors, the value of the stimulus measured objectively and the
subject’s “adaptation level” to a stimuli of a similar sort
Framing Effects
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”
Judge the 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
Kahneman and Miller (1986) argue that every stimulus recruits comparison stimuli
from memory against which it is judged
Since each individual has a diff history, different memories will be constructed for the
reference frame
Kahneman and Tversky (1979) have shown 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
Comparison with the Past
People often speak nostalgically about the past, the “good old days”
Such memories of the past exert an influence on the present
Brickman et al. (1978) argued that happiness/unhappiness should be self-limiting to a
certain degree, studied people whose life circumstances were drastically changed by
good fortune or tragedy
o Lottery winners at first were overjoyed, but after a year or two were no more
satisfied than the rest of the people
o People who were paralyzed through injury/suffered from life diseases
similarly seemed to adapt to their circumstances
Social Comparison and Relative Deprivation
A second type of comparison involves other people they deem to be socially relevant
to themselves
Stouffer (1950) describing attitudes of American soldiers in WWII, noted a
discrepancy in the morale of black soldiers stationed in the South and black soldiers
stationed in the North…

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o The South had restrictive segregation laws and social practices, so the soldiers
stationed there were more satisfied than the soldiers in the North
o Black soldiers in the South felt better off because they compared themselves
primarily with the Southern blacks they observed outside the military, who
faced harsh social conditions compared to the soldiers
Indeed, by strategic choice of reference groups, people can enhance their feelings of
self-worth and cope better with adversity
Some Nonobvious Motivational Consequences of Reward
Subjective construals of the relationship between response and reinforcer are also
inherently a matter of interpretation
Dissonance theorists, led by Leon Festinger tweaked the noses of the behaviorists;
showing 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
Classic Dissonance Paradigm
o Paid subjects to tell a fellow student that a really boring task they had just
finished doing was actually quite interesting
o These paid subjects were more likely to internalize this message (that the task
WAS interesting) when the payment in question was 1$ than when it was 20$
o Subjects receiving 1$ felt dissonance about deceiving their peers and saying
something actually opposite to their views
o They decreased their dissonance by deciding that they really HAD found the
task at least somewhat interesting
o The 20$ subjects felt little dissonance because the amount of money justified
their lie. So there was no need to adjust their subjective evaluation of the task.
o Providing people with small incentives for acting as if they hold a given belief
will produce greater change
This is contrary to the spirit of conventional reinforcement theory, which leads us to
believe that the larger incentives would be more effective in changing beliefs
Rewarding a given behaviour can actually decrease its attractiveness and the
likelihood of its future occurrence
The Construal Question in Social Psychology
The likelihood that two identical situations will be judged the same on two diff
occasions therefore plummets rather rapidly as a function of complexity
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