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Chapter 8

PS102 Chapter Notes - Chapter 8: Dispositional Attribution, Fundamental Attribution Error, Philip Zimbardo

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Eileen Wood

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Chapter 8: Behaviour in Social and Cultural Context
Roles and Rules
Norms: rules that regulate social life, including explicit laws and implicit cultural conventions
E.g. process of getting married, norms about how to behave in public
Role: a given social position that is governed by a set of norms for proper behaviour (e.g. gender
roles) if you violate it, you [or people will make you] will feel uncomfortable
Culture: a program of shared rules that govern the behaviour of people in a community or society,
and a set of values, beliefs and customs shared by most members of that community culture
shapes roles
The Obedience Study AKA the Milgram Experiment
The participant was asked to administer dangerous levels of electric shock to another
person and two-thirds obeyed to the full extent
People were most likely to disobey when:
o The experimenter left the room
o The victim was right there in the room
o Two experimenters issued conflicting demands
o The person ordering them to continue was an ordinary man
o The participant worked with peers who refused to go further
Obedience was more a function of the situation than the personalities of the participants
“they have given themselves to the authority; they see themselves as instruments for the
execution of his wishes; once so defined, they are unable to break free”
comparison to the Nazi regime countered with the fact that they acted without direct
supervision, external pressure or feeling of anguish
The Prison Study: by Philip Zimbardo & Craig Haney
Demonstrated the power of roles
Those assigned the role of prisoner acted like them; helpless, broke down, developed
The guards became either helpful guards, tough but fair guards or punitive and harsh the
guard’s aggression was entirely a result of wearing a guard’s uniform and having the power
conferred by a guard’s authority
Some have argued that the prison study is really just an example of an obedience study
because the instructions gave them the encouragement “we’ll have all the power”
Why People Obey
Fear of consequences of disobedience
Hope to gain advantages or promotions from the authority
They expect to learn from the authority’s greater knowledge or experience
The respect the authority’s legitimacy
They do not want to rock the boat, appear to doubt the experts, or be rude for fear of
rejection or be disliked in doing so
Entrapment: a gradual process in which individuals escalate their commitment to a course of
action to justify their investment of time, money or effort first steps are easy and each increment
is small
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Whatever decision a person makes, to obey or protest, they will feel and urgency to justify
the choice they made “I’m just following orders” or “passing that to the experimenter is
Social Influences on Beliefs and Behaviour
Social cognition: an area in social psychology concerned with social influences on thought,
memory, perception and beliefs and how it affects relationships
Attribution theory: the theory that people are motivated to explain their own and other people’s
behaviour by attributing causes of that behaviour to a situation or disposition
Dispositional attribution: identifying the cause of an action as something in the person
Situational attribution: identifying the cause of an action as something in the
Fundamental attribution error: the tendency, in explaining other people’s behaviour, to
overestimate personality factors and underestimate the influence of the situation
People part of group-oriented societies are more often going to make situational
Cognitive Biases relevant to Attributions:
1. The bias to choose the most flattering and forgiving attributions or our own lapses
situational attribution when we fail, but dispositional when we succeed
Group-serving bias: tendency to view the groups to which we belong favourably results
from the degree to which one’s culture is collectivist or individualist
2. The bias to believe that the world is fair
Just-world hypothesis: the notion that the world is fair and that justice is served; bad people
are punished and goods ones are rewarded
Dispositional attribution of blaming the victim: “that person must have done something to
deserve what happened to them or to provoke it”
Attitude: a belief about people, groups, ideas or activities can be explicit or implicit
Familiarity effect: the tendency of people to feel more positive towards a person, item, product or
other stimulus the more familiar they are with it repeat something enough & people will believe it
Validity effect: the tendency of people to believe that a statement is true or valid simply because it
has been repeated many times
Genetics influence openness to experience and conscientiousness
Persuasion or “Brainwashing”
Brainwashing implies a person has had a sudden change of mind without being aware of what is
Coercive persuasion designed to suppress an individual’s ability to reason, think critically and
make choices in his or her best interest. Key processes:
Person is subjected to entrapment: begins by agreeing to do small things, then slowly
becomes extreme measures
Person’s problems are explained by one simple attribution which is repeatedly emphasized
Person is offered new identity and is promised salvation: simplistic explanations often
involved blaming one single enemy
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