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Chapter 9

Psychology 2990A/B Chapter Notes - Chapter 9: Social Dilemma, Kurt Lewin, Social Psychology

Course Code
Doug Hazlewood

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Chapter 9: Psychology and Environment
Alberta’s tar sands is considered one of the worlds top environmental hot zones by UN
oLargest energy project in the world
oMining bitumen requires natural gas (which accounts for 60% of the projects
operating expenses
oEach barrel of bitumen produced requires 3 barrels of fresh water
o90% of the water ends up at tailing ponds (worlds largest collections of toxic waste)
Government says no need to be alarmed about health effects of tar sands project
Kevin Timoney says there are contaminants in our food supply as a result of tar sands
Monitoring isn’t the issue, must impose legally binding regulation on the oil producers
Study: University College of Cape Breton interviewed students at high school near tar ponds
oThe students worried about health of themselves and their families than students
40km away did (students who worried the most showed highest level of depression)
oEven students 40km away may have felt effected
People who live on contaminated land report high rates of death from cancer and high levels
of illness of children
Even 12-14 year olds feel stressed by this
Study: 2 communities in Ontario found even nonhazardous landfill sites create stress and
reduce well-being
Decision making processes often create as much stress as the final outcome
Richard Gifford – identified some psychological barriers (“the dragons of inaction”) that
impede pro=environmental behaviours pertaining to climate change (list is long and ranges
from denial, to system justification, to concerns about freeloaders)
Social psychologists studied techniques involving social influence and social interaction that
encourage people to behave in more environmentally friendly ways
Applied Research in Social Psychology
Social psychology applies what it knows to solve practical problems
Kurt Lewin (1946) – founder of empirical social psychology 3 key points:
1. Social psych questions best tested with experimental method
2. These studies can be used to understand basic psychological processes and to
develop theories about social influence
3. Social psychological theories and methods can be used to address pressing social
Beauty of social psych is that by nature it addresses both basic and applied questions about
human behaviour
oE.g. research on stereotyping/prejudice investigat basic theoretical questions about
the ways people form impressions of each other, as well as applied questions about
how it can be reduced
Basic Reasearch – concerned primarily with theoretical issues
Applied Research – concerned primarily with addressing specific real-world problems
Kurt said ‘there is nothing so practical as a good theory” (to solve difficult social problem
we must first understand underlying psychological dynamics of human nature and social
Social psychologists best equipped to study applied problems, WHY?

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oSocial psych field is rich source of theories about human behaviour that people can
draw on to devise solutions to social problems
oThey know how to perform rigorous experimental tests of these solutions to see if
they work
Conducting experiments is only way to discover which solutions to applied questions will
work best
Should be extensive clinical trials in humans (people randomly assigned to receive new drug
or placebo) to see whether is really does reduce pain and if it has serious side effects
Laxer standards when it comes to testing psychological/social treatments
Company might try new program before such techniques have been tested experimentally
oDoesn't cause harm and subjecting people to cumbersome guidelines is worth the
innovation, but its difficult to test effectiveness of an intervention in the absence of a
randomly assigned control group, failing to conduct such tests can have
oE.g. trying to persuade people to use less energy by giving them info on average
persons energy consumption, while study showed those above average lowered
consumption, those who were much below average saw how much everyone else
was using and upped their energy consumption
Social psychologists found solution: give positive feedback to those that are
below average by drawing smiley face next to energy consumption
information and a sad face next to the info if above (smiley reminded below
average consumers that they were doing the right thing and kept on doing it)
The sad face wasn't effective in getting people above average to lower use
oSmiley/sad faces combined with social norm info about average energy use is now
being used by utility companies in 10 major cities (Chicago, Seattle, Sacramento ect)
Using Social Psychology to Achieve a Sustainable Future
Social psychologists have adopted a variety of approaches to get people to behave in more
environmentally responsible ways
Approaches have in common that they’re inspired by social psychological theories, and use
experimental method to evaluate whether approach is effective
Resolving Social Dilemmas
We should conserve energy and reduce CO2 emissions
People think why should I be the one to cut down
Social Dilemma – conflict in which the most beneficial action for an individual will, if
chosen by most people, have a harmful effect on everyone
Commons Dilemma – (type of social dilemma relevant to energy conservation) a situation in
which everyone takes from a common pool of goods that will replenish itself if used in
moderation but will disappear if overused (e.g. water or energy)
oIndividuals benefit by using as much as they need, but if everyone does so, shortages
To resolve social dilemmas and persuade people to act for the greater good, rather than out
of self-interest, social psychologists have devised so lab games
oE.g. you show up and see 6 people you haven’t met, your each given $6, you can
keep it or donate to others, if you donate to others the amount you donate to each
would be doubled so by giving them $1 they will receive $2
oIf everyone donates you will all have 12 if everyone but 1 person donates, that one
person will have 18 (see table 9.1)
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