Course: PSYC*1000 (DE)
Professor: Harvey Marmurek
Schedule: Summer, 2012
Textbook: Psychology – Tenth Edition in Modules authored by David G. Myers
Textbook ISBN: 9781464102615
Module 43: Social Thinking
What do social psychologists study? How do we tend to explain others’ behaviour and our own?
Personality psychologists focus on the person. They study the personal traits and dynamics that explain why
different people may act differently in a given situation. Social psychologists focus on the situation. They study the
social influences that explain why the same person will act differently in different situations.
The Fundamental Attribution Error
Our social behaviour arises from our social cognition. Attribution Theory – wee can attribute the behaviour
to the person’s stable, enduring traits (a dispositional attribution). Or we can attribute it to the situation (a situational
attribution). Talking little or talking a lot… such attributions – to their dispositions – can be valid because people do
have enduring personality traits. But sometimes we prey to the fundamental attribution error: we overestimate the
influence of personality and underestimate the influence of situations.
Napolitan and Goethals studied college students with a young woman who acted either cold and critical or
warm and friendly… attributed her behaviour to her personal disposition even when told that her behaviour was
situational. FAE appears more often in some cultures than others. People in East Asian cultures are somewhat
more sensitive to the power of the situation.
When we explain our own behaviour, we are sensitive to how behaviour changes with the situation. We are
most likely to commit the FAE when a stranger acts badly. Taking the observer’s point of view, the actors become
more aware of their own personal style. Attributing actions to the person and the situation – friendliness to romantic,
jury decides malicious shooting or self-defence; voter decides candidate will keep or omit promises.
Our attributions – to a person’s disposition or to the situation – have real consequences.
Attitudes and Actions
Does what we think affect what we do, or does what we do affect what we think?
Attitudes are feelings, often influenced by our beliefs that predispose our reactions to objects, people, and events. If
we believe someone is threatening us, we may feel fear and anger toward the person and act defensively. The
traffic between our attitudes and our actions is two-way. Our attitudes affect our actions. And our actions affect our
Attitudes Affect Actions: Knowing that public attitudes affect public policies, activists on both sides are aiming to
persuade (climate change). Persuasion efforts generally take two forms:
Peripheral route persuasion: doesn’t engage systematic thinking, but does produce fast results as people
respond to incidental cues, and make snap judgments.
Central route persuasion: offers evidence and arguments that aim to trigger favourable thoughts. It occurs
mostly when people are naturally analytical or involved in the issue.
Those who attempt to persuade us are trying to influence our behaviour by changing our attitudes. But other
factors, including the situation, also influence our behaviour. Strong social pressures, for example, can weaken the
attitude-behaviour connection. (If told that you can get cancer from using a tanning bed, do you stop using the
Actions Affect Attitudes: Not only will people stand up for what they believe, they also will believe more strongly in
what they have stood up for. Many streams of evidence confirm that attitudes follow behaviour.
The Foot-In-The-Door Phenomenon: the tendency for people who have first agreed to a small request to
comply later with a larger request. To get people to agree to something big, start small and build. A trivial act,
such as photocopying, makes the next act easier. Succumb to a temptation and you will find the next temptation
harder to resist. Coaxing people into acting against their attitudes or violating their moral standards has the same
result. Doing becomes believing. Fortunately the attitudes-follow-behaviour principle works with good deeds as well
as bad. The foot-in-the-door tactic has help boost charitable contributions, blood donations, and product saes. Moral
action strengthens moral convictions. Role Playing Affects Attitudes: Soldiers may at first feel they are playing war games…. It eventually
becomes you. Zimbardo and the prison guards experiment. Role playing can train torturers. What we do, we
gradually become. Person and situation interact.
Cognitive Dissonance: Relief From Tension : When we become aware that our attitudes and actions don’t
coincide, we experienc