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TEN T H E D I T I ON
Chapter 1: Introducing Social Psychology
What Is Social Psychology?
Social psychology: It is a science that studies the influences of our situations, with special attention to how we view and affect one another. More precisely, it is the scientific study of how people think about, influence, and relate to one another.
Social psychology lies at psychology’s boundary with sociolog y. Compared with sociology (the study of people in groups and societies), social psychology focuses more on individuals and uses more experimentation. Compared with personality psychology, social psychology focuses less on individuals’ differences and more on how individuals, in general, view and affect one another.
Social Psychology’s Big Ideas
1-We Construct Our Social Reality
We humans have an irresistible urge to explain behavior, to attribute it to some cause, and therefore to make it seem orderly, predictable, and controllable. You and I may react differently to similar situations because we think differently. How we react to a friend’s
insult depends on whether we attribute it to hostility or to a bad day. Conclusion: We always view and construct reality through the lens of our beliefs and values.
2-Our Social Intuitions Are Often Powerful but Sometimes Dangerous
Indeed, psychological science reveals a fascinating unconscious mind —an intuitive backstage mind—that Freud never told us about. More than psychologists realized until recently, thinking occurs offstage, out of sight. Our intuitive capacities are revealed by studies o f what later chapters will explain: “automatic processing,” “implicit memory,” “heuristics,” “spontaneous trait inference,” instant emotions, and nonverbal communication. Thinking, memory, and attitudes all operate on two levels —one conscious and deliberate, the other unconscious and automatic. “Dual processing,” today’s researchers call it. Our intuitions and unconscious information processing are routinely powerful and sometimes perilous.
3-Social Influences Shape Our Behavior
As social creatures, we respond to our immediate contexts. Sometimes the power of a social situation leads us to act contrary to our expressed attitudes. Indeed, powerfully evil situations sometimes overwhelm good intentions, inducing people to agree with falsehoods or comply with cruelty. We adapt to our social context. Our attitudes and behavior are shaped by external social forces.
4-Personal Attitudes and Dispositions Also Shape Behavior
Our inner attitudes affect our behavior and also follow our behavior, which leads us to believe strongly in those things we have committed ourselves to or suffered for. Personality dispositions also affect behavior. Facing the same situation, different people may react differently. Attitudes and personality influence behavior.
5-Social Behavior Is Biologically Rooted
Our inherited human nature predisposes us to behave in ways that helped our ancestors survive and reproduce. We carry the genes of those whose traits enabled them and their children to survive and reproduce. Thus, evolutionary psychologists ask how natural selection might predispose our actions and reactions when dating and mating, hating and hurting, caring and sharing. If every psychological event (every thought, every emotion, and every behavior) is simultaneously a biological event, then we can also examine the neurobiology that underlies social behavior. We are bio-psycho-social organisms. We reflect the interplay of our biological, psychological, and social influences.
Social neuroscience: IT is an integration of biological and social perspectives that explores the neural and psychological bases of social and emotional behaviors.
6-Social Psychology’s Principles Are Applicable in Everyday Life
Scholars are also applying social psychological insights. Principles of social thinking, social influence, and social relations have implications for human health and well-being, for judicial procedures and juror decisions in courtrooms, and for influencing behaviors that will enable an environmentally sustainable human future.
Social Psychology and Human Values
1-Obvious Ways Values Enter Psychology
1. 1) Values enter the picture when social psychologists choose research topics. Social psychology reflects social history. 1. 2) Values differ not only across time but also across cultures. Europe has given us a major theory of “social identity,” whereas American social psychologists have focuse d more on individuals. 1. 3) Values also influence the types of people who are attracted to various disciplines.
1. 4) values enter the picture as the object of social-psychological analysis. Social psychologists investigate how values form, why they change, and how they influence attitudes and actions.
2-Not-So-Obvious Ways Values Enter Psychology
2. 1) The subjective aspects of science.
Scientists and philosophers now agree that science is not purely objective. Scientists do not simply read the book of nature. Rather, they interpret nature, using their own mental categories. The tendency to prejudge reality based on our expectations is a basic fact about the human mind. Because scholars at work in any given area often share a common viewpoint or come from the same culture, their assumptions may go unchallenged. Feminists and Marxists exposed some of social psychology’s unexamined assumptions and called attention to gender and individualist biases.
Culture: The enduring behaviors, ideas, attitudes, and traditions shared by a large group of people and transmitted from one generation to the next.
Social representations: Socially shared beliefs—widely held ideas and values, including our assumptions and cultural ideologies. Our social representations help us make sense of our world.
2. 2) Psychological concepts contain hidden values.
A) Defining the Good Life: Values influence our idea of the best way to live our lives (e.g. Maslow). B) Professional Advice: Psychological advice also reflects the advice giver’s personal values (e.g. advices on child rearing in collectivist vs individualistic cultures) C) Forming Concepts: Hidden values even seep into psychology’s research -based concepts. The label reflects the judgment. Labeling: Value judgments, then, are often hidden within our social-psychological Language (e.g. self-esteem vs defensiveness).
Values lie hidden within our cultural definitions of mental health, our psychological advice for living, our concepts, and our psychological labels. The point is never that the implicit values are necessarily bad. The point is that scientific interpretation, even at the level of labeling phenomena, is a human activity. It is therefore natural and inevitable that prior beliefs and values will influence what social psychologists think and write.
I Knew It All Along
Hindsight bias: IT is the tendency to exaggerate, after learning an outcome, one’s ability to have foreseen how something turned out and is also known as the I-knew-it-all-along phenomenon.
One problem with common sense is that we invoke it after we know the facts. Events are far more “obvious” and predictable in hindsight than beforehand. Moreover, we may also misremember our earlier view. Errors in judging the future’s foreseeability and in remembering our past combine to create hindsight bias. After the widespread flooding in New Orleans as a result of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it seemed obvious that public officials should have anticipated the situation. Indeed, almost any conceivable result of a psychological experiment can seem like common sense — after you know the result. The Iknew-it-all-along phenomenon can have unfortunate consequences. It is conducive to arrogance—an overestimation of our own intellectual powers. Moreover, because outcomes seem as if they should have been foreseeable, we are more likely to blame decision makers for what are in retrospect “obvious” bad choices than to praise them for good choices, which also seem “obvious.”
Chapter 2: The self in the social world
Spotlights and Illusions
The spotlight effect means that we tend to see ourselves at center stage, so we intuitively overestimate the extent to which others’ attention is aimed at us. It is the belief that others are paying more attention to one’s appearance and be havior than they really are. Keenly aware of our own emotions, we often suffer an illusion of transparency. If we’re happy and we know it, then our face will surely show it. And others, we presume, will notice. We also overestimate the visibility of our social blunders and public mental slips. It is the illusion that our concealed emotions leak out and can be easily read by others.
Social surroundings affect our self-awareness. When we are the only member of our race, gender, or nationality in a group, we notice how we differ and how others are reacting to our difference. Self-interest colors our social judgment. When problems arise in a close relationship such as marriage, we usually attribute more responsibility to our partners than to ourselves. When things go well at home or work or play, we see ourselves as more responsible. Self-concern motivates our social behavior. In hopes of making a positive impression, we agonize about our appearance. Like savvy politicians, we also monitor others’ behavior and expectations and adjust our behavior. Social relationships help define our self. In our varied relationships, we have varying selves. We may be one self with Mom, another with friends, another with teachers. How we think of ourselves is linked to the perso n we’re with at the moment.
Self-concept: A person’s answers to the question, “Who am I?”
Self-schema: Self-schemas are beliefs about self that organize and guide the processing of self-relevant information.
To discover where this sense of self arises, neuroscientists are exploring the brain activity that underlies our constant sense of being oneself. Some studies suggest an important role for the right hemisphere. The “medial prefrontal cortex ,” a neuron path located in the cleft between your brain hemispheres just behind your eyes, seemingly helps stitch together your sense of self. It becomes more active when you think about yourself. The elements of your self-concept, the specific beliefs by which you define yourself, are your self-schemas. Schemas are mental templates by which we organize our worlds. Our self -schemas—our perceiving ourselves as athletic, overweight, smart, or whatever — powerfully affect how we perceive, remember, and evaluate other people and ourselves. The self-schemas that make up our self-concepts help us organize and retrieve our experiences.
Possible selves: Images of what we dream of or fear becoming in the future.
Our self-concepts include not only our self-schemas about who we currently are but also who we might become—our possible selves. Possible selves include our visions of the self we dream of becoming—the rich self, the thin self, the passionately loved and loving self. They also include the self we fear becoming —the underemployed self, the unloved self, the academically failed self. Such possible selves motivate us with a vision of the life we long for.
Development of the Social Self
1-The Roles We Play
As we enact a new role —college student, parent, salesperson —we initially feel selfconscious. Gradually, however, what begins as playacting in the theater of life is absorbed into our sense of self. Role playing becomes reality.
2- Social Comparisons
Evaluating one’s abilities and opinions by comparing oneself with others.
Others around us help to define the standard by which we define ourselves as rich or poor, smart or dumb, tall or short. Much of life revolves around social compariso ns. We feel handsome when others seem homely, smart when others seem dull, caring when others seem callous. Social comparisons can also diminish our satisfaction. When we experience an increase in affluence, status, or achievement, we “compare upward”—we raise the standards by which we evaluate our attainments. When facing competition, we often protect our shaky self-concept by perceiving the competitor as advantaged. For
3-Success and Failure
Self-concept is fed not only by our roles, our social identity, and our comparisons but also by our daily experiences. After experiencing academic success, students believe they are better at school, which often stimulates them to work harder and achieve more .
4-Other People’s Judgments
When people think well of us, it helps us think well of ourselves. Children whom others label as gifted, hardworking, or helpful tend to incorporate such ideas into their selfconcepts and behavior. If minority students feel threatened by negative stereotypes of their academic ability, or if women feel threatened by low expectations for their math and science performance, they may “disidentify” with those realms. Rather than fight such prejudgments, they may identify their interests elsewhere.
The looking-glass self is our use of how we think others perceive us as a mirror for perceiving ourselves. What matters for our self-concepts is not how others actually see us but the way we imagine they see us. People generally feel freer to praise than to criticize; they voice their compliments and restrain their gibes. We may, therefore, overestimate others’ appraisal, inflating our self-images. Our ancestors’ fate depended on what others thought of them. Their survival was enhanced when protected by their group. When
perceiving their group’s disapproval, there was biological wisdom to their feeling shame and low self-esteem.
Self and Culture
Individualism: The concept of giving priority to one’s own goals over group goals and defining one’s identity in terms of personal attributes rather than group identifications . For some people, especially those in industrialized Western cultures, individ ualism prevails. Identity is self-contained. Adolescence is a time of separating from parents, becoming self-reliant and defining one’s personal, independent self. One’s identity—as a unique individual with particular abilities, traits, values, and dreams —remains fairly constant. Individualism flourishes when people experience affluence, mobility, urbanism, and mass media.
Collectivism: Giving priority to the goals of one’s groups (often one’s extended family or work group) and defining one’s identity accordingly.
Most cultures native to Asia, Africa, and Central and South America place a greater value on collectivism. They nurture what is called the interdependent self. In these cultures, people are more self-critical and have less need for positive self-regard. Pigeonholing cultures as solely individualist or collectivist oversimplifies, because within any culture individualism varies from person to person, across a country’s regions and political views . Growing Individualism: Cultures can also change over time, and many seem to be growing more individualistic. Even your name might show the shift toward individualism: American parents are now less likely to give their children common names and more likely to help them stand out with an unusual name. Interdependent self: Construing one’s identity in relation to others.
Culture and Cognition:
Asians more often than Americans see relationships; Americans look more at the focal object and less at the surroundings. Asians think more holistically —perceiving and thinking about objects and people in relationship to one another and to their environment. When asked about the purpose of language, American students were more likely to explain that it allows self-expression, whereas Korean students focused on how language allows communication with others. In Korea, people place less value on expressing their uniqueness and more on tradition and shared practices. With an interdependent self, one has a greater sense of belonging, Conversation is less direct and more polite and people focus more on gaining social approval. Our self-concepts seem to adjust to our situation: If you interact with the same people all your life, they are more important to your identity than if you are uprooted every few years and must make new friends. Your self becomes your constant companion.
Culture and Self-Esteem: Self-esteem in collectivist cultures correlates closely with “what others think of me and my group.” Self-concept is flexible (context-specific) rather than stable (enduring across situations). For those in individualistic cultures, self-esteem is more personal and less relational. Threaten our personal identity and we’ll feel angrier and gloomier than when someone threatens our collective identity. For Japanese students, happiness comes with positive social engagement—with feeling close, friendly, and respectful. For American students, it more often comes with disengaged emotions —with feeling effective, superior, and proud. Conflict in collectivist cultures often takes place between groups; individualist cultures breed more conflict (and crime and divorce) between individuals.
1-Explaining Our Behavior
Asked why we have felt or acted as we have, we produce plausible answers. Yet, when causes are subtle, our self-explanations are often wrong. We may dismiss factors that matter and inflate others that don’t. People may misattribute their rainy -day gloom to life’s emptiness. And people routinely deny being influenced by the media, which, they readily acknowledge, affects others.
2- Predicting Our Behavior
People normally make mistake when predicting their behavior. Dating couples tend to predict the longevity of their relationships through rose-colored glasses. Their friends and family often know better. So if you’re in love and want to know whether it will last, don’t listen to your heart—ask your roommate.
Planning fallacy: The tendency to underestimate how long it will take to complete a task. One of the most common errors in behavior prediction is underestimating how long it will take to complete a task (called the planning fallacy). So, how can you improve your selfpredictions? The best way is to be more realistic about how long tasks took in the past. Apparently people underestimate how long something will take because they misremember previous tasks as taking less time. Or you can try predicting yourself as you are predicting someone else’s actions.
3- Predicting Our Feelings
Many of life’s big decisions involve predicting our future feelings. Would marrying this person lead to lifelong contentment? Would entering this profession make for satisfying work? Would going on this vacation produce a happy experience? Or would the likelier results be divorce, job burnout, and holiday disappointment? Studies of “affective forecasting” reveal that people have greatest difficulty predicting the intensity and the duration of their future emotions. As an example, when not aroused, one easily mispredicts how one will feel and act when aroused —a phenomenon that leads to unexpected professions of love during lust, to unintended pregnancies, and to repeat offenses among sex abusers who have sincerely vowed “never again.” People overestimate how much their well-being would be affected by warmer winters, weight loss, more television channels, or more free time. Even extreme events, such as winning a state lottery or suffering a paralyzing accident, affect long-term happiness less than most people suppose.
Impact bias: Overestimating the enduring impact of emotion-causing events.
Immune neglect: The human tendency to underestimate the speed and the strength of the “psychological immune system,” which enables emotional recovery and resilience after bad things happen.
Faster than we expect, the emotional traces of good events disappear. Moreover, we are especially prone to impact bias after negative events. Impact bias is important because people’s “affective forecasts”—their predictions of their future emotions —influence their decisions. In focusing on the negative event, we discount the importance of everything else that contributes to happiness and so overpredict our enduring misery. People neglect the speed and the power of their psychological immune system , which includes their strategies for rationalizing, discounting, forgiving, and limiting emotional trauma. Being largely ignorant of our psychological immune system, we adapt to disabilities, romantic breakups, exam failures, tenure denials, and personal and team defeats more readily than we would expect.
4- The Wisdom and Illusions of Self-Analysis
Dual attitudes: Differing implicit (automatic) and explicit (consciously controlled) attitudes toward the same object. Verbalized explicit attitudes may change with education and persuasion; implicit attitudes change slowly, with practice that forms new habits. Perception and memory studies show that we are more aware of the results of our thinking than of its process. For example, creative scientists and artists often cannot report the thought processes that produced their insights, although they have superb knowledge of the results. The mental processes that control our social behavior are distinct from the mental processes through which we explain our behavior. Our rational explanations may therefore omit the unconscious attitudes that actually guide our behavior. In other words, we have a dual attitude system. Our automatic implicit attitudes regarding someone or something often differ from our consciously controlled, explicit attitudes. Research on the limits of our self-knowledge has two practical implications: The first is for psychological inquiry. Self-reports are often untrustworthy. Errors in self-understanding limit the scientific usefulness of subjective personal reports. The second implication is for our everyday lives. The sincerity with which people report and interpret their experiences is no guarantee of the validity of those reports.
Self-esteem: A person’s overall self -evaluation or sense of self-worth.
Self-esteem —our overall self-evaluation— is the sum of all our self-schemas and possible selves? When we feel good about the domains (looks, smarts, or whatever) important to us we feel higher self-esteem. But this “bottom-up” view of self-esteem is not the whole story. The causal arrow also goes the other way. People who value themselves in a general way — those with high self-esteem—are more likely to value their looks, abilities, and so forth. So if you want to encourage someone (or yourself!), it’s better if your praise is specific (“you’re good at math”) instead of general (“you’re great”) and if your kind words reflect true ability and performance (“you really improved on your last test”) rather than unrealistic optimism (“You can do anything”). Feedback is best when it is true and specific.
A “self-esteem maintenance” motive predicts a variety of interesting findings, even friction among brothers and sisters. People’s perceiving one of siblings as more capable than the other will motivate the less able one to act in ways that maintain self-esteem. The threat to self-esteem is greatest for an older child with a highly capable younger sibling. Self-esteem threats occur among friends or partners, whose success can be more threatening than that of strangers. When a partner outperforms us in a domain important to both our identities, we may reduce the threat by affirming our relationship, saying, “My capable partner, with whom I’m very close, is part of who I am”. Self -esteem feelings are like a fuel gauge. Relationships enable surviving and thriving. Thus, the self-esteem gauge alerts us to threatened social rejection, motivating us to act with greater sensitivity to others’ expectations. Studies confirm that social rejection lowers our self-esteem and makes us more eager for approval. Self-esteem can never be wholly unconditional (“You’re special just for being you” is an example of self -esteem being granted unconditionally). To feel our lives are not in vain, we must continually pursue self-esteem by meeting the standards of our societies.
The “Dark Side” of Self-Esteem
People with low self-esteem often have problems in life —they make less money, abuse drugs, and are more likely to be depressed. Though, a correlation between two variables is sometimes caused by a third factor. Maybe people low in self-esteem also faced poverty as children, experienced sexual abuse, or had parents who used drugs, all possible causes of later struggling. Sure enough, a study that controlled for these factors found that the link between self-esteem and negative outcomes disappeared. In other words, low self-esteem was not the cause of these problems —the seeming cause, instead, was that many could not escape their tough childhoods. High self-esteem does have some benefits —it fosters initiative, resilience, and pleasant feelings. Yet teen males who engage in sexual activity at an “inappropriately young age”, gang leaders, extreme ethnocentrists, terrorists, and men in prison for committing violent crimes tend to have high self-esteems.
Narcissism: Self-Esteem’s Conceited Sister
High self-esteem becomes especially problematic if it crosses over into narcissism, or having an inflated sense of self. Most people with high self-esteem value both individual achievement and relationships with others. Narcissists usually have high self-esteem, but they are missing the piece about caring for others. Although narcissists are often outgoing and charming early on, their self-centeredness often leads to relationship problems in the long run. Narcissism is included in “The Dark Triad” of negative traits. Research findings indicate that people high in both self-esteem and narcissism are the most aggressive. Mostly, people who score high on measures of narcissistic personality traits also score high on measures of self-esteem. Narcissists love being winners, but aren’t as concerned with being emotionally close to others. Today’s young generation— Generation Me—express more narcissism. Agreement with narcissistic items correlates with materialism, desire to be famous, inflated exp ectations, fewer committed relationships and more “hooking up,” more gambling, and more cheating, all of which have also risen as narcissism has increased.
Low Versus Secure Self-Esteem
People expressing low self-esteem are more vulnerable to assorted clinical problems, including anxiety, loneliness, and eating disorders. When feeling bad or threatened, lowself-esteem people often take a negative view of everything. They notice and remember others’ worst behaviors and think their partners don’t love them . Although there is no evidence that low-self-esteem people choose less desirable partners, they are quick to believe that their partners are criticizing or rejecting them. Perhaps as a result, low-selfesteem people are less satisfied with their relationships. Secure self-esteem—one rooted more in feeling good about who one is than in grades, looks, money, or others’ approval—is conducive to long-term well-being. Those whose self-worth is most unstable—most contingent on external sources —experience more stress, anger, relationship problems, drug and alcohol use, and eating disorders than do those whose sense of self -worth is rooted more in internal sources, such as personal virtues. To focus less on one’s self -image, and more on developing one’s talents and relationships, eventually leads to greater wellbeing.
Effortful self-control reduces our limited willpower reserves. Our brain’s “central executive” consumes available blood sugar when engaged in self -control. Self-control therefore operates similarly to muscular strength. Both are weaker after exertion, refilled with rest, and strengthened by exercise. Although the self’s energy can be temporarily exhausted, our self-concepts do influence our behavior. Given challenging tasks, people who imagine themselves as hardworking and successful outperform those who imagine themselves as failures.
Self-efficacy: A sense that one is competent and effective, distinguished from self-esteem, which is one’s sense of self-worth. A bombardier might feel high self-efficacy and low self-esteem.
Albert Bandura captured the power of positive thinking in his research and theorizing about self-efficacy (how competent we feel on a task). Believing in our own competence and effectiveness pays dividends. People with strong feelings of self-efficacy are more persistent, less anxious, and less depressed. They also live healthier lives and are more academically successful. Self-efficacy predicts worker productivity. When problems arise, a
strong sense of self-efficacy leads workers to stay calm and seek solutions rather than ruminate on their inadequacy. Competence plus persistence equals accomplishment. And with accomplishment, self-confidence grows. Self-efficacy, like self-esteem, grows with hard-won achievements. If you believe you can do something, that’s self -efficacy. If you like yourself overall, that’s self -esteem. When you were a child, your parents may have encouraged you by saying things like, “You’re special!” (Intended to build self -esteem) instead of “I know you can do it!” (Intended to build self -efficacy). Self-efficacy feedback (“You tried really hard”) le ads to better performance than self-esteem feedback (“You’re really smart”). Children told they were smart were afraid to try again —maybe they wouldn’t look so smart next time. Those praised for working hard, however, knew they could exert more effort again. If you want to encourage someone, focus on their self efficacy, not their self-esteem.
Locus of Control
Locus of control: The extent to which people perceive outcomes as internally controllable by their own efforts or as externally controlled by chance or outside forces.
Some people seem to persistently feel that what happens to them is governed by external forces of one kind or another (external locus of control), while others feel that what happens to them is governed largely by their own efforts and skills (internal locus of control). Those who see themselves as internally controlled are more likely to do well in school, successfully stop smoking, wear seat belts, deal with marital problems directly, earn a substantial income, and delay instant gratification to achieve long-term goals. In general, people who feel in control—who, for example, agree that “I am good at resisting temptat ion”—get better grades and jobs, enjoy better relationships, and exhibit better mental health.
Learned Helplessness versus Self-Determination
Learned helplessness: The sense of hopelessness and resignation learned when a human or animal perceives no control over repeated bad events.
Depressed or oppressed people, become passive because they believe their efforts have no effect. Helpless dogs and depressed people both suffer paralysis of the will, passive resignation, and even motionless indifference. On the other hand, people benefit by training their self-control “muscles.” For example, students who were engaged in practicing selfcontrol by daily exercise, regular study, and time management became more capable of self-control in other settings, both in the laboratory and when taking exams. If you develop your self-discipline in one area of your life, it may spill over into other areas as well. Studies confirm that systems of governing or managing people that promote personal control will indeed promote health and happiness. Homeless shelter residents who perceive little choice in when to eat and sleep, and little control over their privacy, are more likely to have a passive, helpless attitude regarding finding housing and work.
THE COSTS OF EXCESS CHOICE
Individualistic modern cultures indeed have “an excess of freedom,” causing decreased life satisfaction and increased rates of clinical depression. Too many choices can lead to paralysis, or what is called the ‘Tyranny of freedom.” As an example, give employees a free trip to either Paris or Hawaii and they will be happy. But give them a choice between the two and they may be less happy. Also people express greater satisfaction with irrevocable choices (such as those made in an “all purchases final” sale ) than with reversible choices (as when allowing refunds or exchanges).
Bandura acknowledges that self-efficacy is fed by social persuasion (“you have what it takes to succeed”) and by self -persuasion (“I think I can, I think I can”). Modeling—seeing similar others succeed with effort—helps, too. But the biggest source of self-efficacy, he says, is mastery experiences. “Successes build a robust belief in one’s efficacy.”
Self-serving bias: The tendency to perceive oneself favorably.
Self-serving attributions: A form of self-serving bias; the tendency to attribute positive outcomes to oneself and negative outcomes to other factors.
1- Self-Serving Attributions
People accept credit when told they have succeeded. They attribute the success to their ability and effort, but they attribute failure to external factors such as bad luck or the problem’s inherent “impossibility”. Situations that combine skill and chance (games, exams, job applications) are especially prone to the phenomenon. When I win at Scrabble, it’s because of my verbal dexterity; when I lose, it’s because “Who could get anywhere with a Q but no U? ” This phenomenon of self-serving attributions (attributing positive outcomes to oneself and negative outcomes to something else) is one of the most potent of human biases. There is small wonder that divorced people usually blame their partner for the breakup. We help maintain our positive self-images by associating ourselves with success and distancing ourselves from failure. For example, “I got an A on my econ test” versus “The prof gave me a C on my history exam.” We will, however, acknowledge our distant past failings—those by our “former” self. We are even biased against seeing our own bias. People claim they avoid self-serving bias themselves, but readily acknowledge that others commit this bias.
2- Self-Congratulatory Comparisons
On subjective, socially desirable, and common dimensions, most people see themselves as better than the average person. Compared with people in general, most people see themselves as more ethical, more competent at their job, friendlier, more intelligent, better looking, less prejudiced, healthier, and even more insightful and less biased in their selfassessments. This explains the general rule: Group members’ estimates of how much they contribute to a joint task typically sum to more than 100 percent. One reason for selfserving bias is that we have more knowledge about our behavior than about someone
else’s, and we assume that other people’s behavior will be less extreme than ours. Subjective behavioral dimensions (such as “disciplined”) trigger even greater self -serving bias than observable behavioral dimensions (such as “punctual”). Subjective qualities give us leeway in constructing our own definitions of success.
3- Illusory Optimism
Many people have what is called “an unrealistic optimism about future life events”, partly because of their relative pessimism about others’ fates. Students perceive themselves as far more likely than their classmates to get a good job. They also see themselves as far less likely to experience negative events, such as developing a drinking problem, having a heart attack or being fired. Illusory optimism increases our vulnerability. Believing ourselves immune to misfortune, we do not take sensible precautions. When gambling, optimists persist longer than pessimists, even when piling up losses. People overestimate their chances of gain. Although aiming high has benefits for success, those who aim too high may struggle with depression as they learn to adjust their goals to more realistic heights. But defensive pessimism—can save us from the dangers of unrealistic optimism. Defensive pessimism anticipates problems and motivates effective coping. If two people independently give them the same piece of negative feedback, they should at least consider the possibility that it might be true. In general we could say, Success requires enough optimism to sustain hope and enough pessimism to motivate concern.
Defensive pessimism: The adaptive value of anticipating problems and harnessing one’s anxiety to motivate effective action.
4- False Consensus And Uniqueness
False consensus effect: The tendency to overestimate the commonality of one’s opinions and one’s undesirable or unsuccessful behaviors.
We have a curious tendency to enhance our self-images by overestimating or underestimating the extent to which others think and act as we do. On matters of opinion, we find support for our positions by overestimating the extent to which others agree—a phenomenon called the false consensus effect. In other words, the sense we make of the world seems like common sense. When we behave badly or fail in a task, we reassure ourselves by thinking that such lapses also are common. After one person lies to another, the liar begins to perceive the other person as dishonest. We don’t see things as they are; we see things as we are. Also, we’re more likely to spend time with peo ple who share our attitudes and behaviors and, consequently, to judge the world from the people we know.
False uniqueness effect: The tendency to underestimate the commonality of one’s abilities and one’s desirable or successful behaviors.
On matters of ability or when we behave well or successfully, however, a false uniqueness effect more often occurs. We serve our self-image by seeing our talents and moral behaviors as relatively unusual. For example, those who use marijuana but use seat belts will overestimate (false consensus) the number of other marijuana users and underestimate (false uniqueness) the number of other seat belt users. Thus, we may see our failings as relatively normal and our virtues as relatively exceptional.
Explaining Self-Serving Bias
One explanation sees the self-serving bias as a by-product of how we process and remember information about ourselves. Comparing ourselves with others requires us to notice, assess, and recall their behavior and ours. Thus, there are multiple opportunities for flaws in our information processing. Questing for self-knowledge, we’re motivated to assess our competence. Questing for self-confirmation, we’re motivated to verify our self conceptions. Questing for self-affirmation, we’re especially motivated to enhance our self image. Self-esteem motivation, then, helps power our self-serving bias.
1-The Self-Serving Bias as Adaptive
Self-esteem has its dark side, but also its bright side. When good things happen, people with high self-esteem are more likely to savor and sustain the good feelings. Believing one has more talents and positive qualities than one’s peers allows one to feel good about oneself and to enter the stressful circumstances of daily life with the resources conferred by a positive sense of self. Self-serving bias and its accompanying excuses also help protect people from depression. Self-serving bias additionally helps buffer stress. Positive selfesteem is adaptive: It buffers anxiety, including anxiety related to our certain death. In childhood we learn that when we meet the standards taught us by our parents, we are loved and protected; when we do n’t, love and protection may be withdrawn. We therefore come to associate viewing ourselves as good with feeling secure. Belief in our superiority can also motivate us to achieve —creating a self-fulfilling prophecy—and can sustain our hope through difficult times.
2-The Self-Serving Bias as Maladaptive
Although self-serving pride may help protect us from depression, it can also be maladaptive. People who blame others for their social difficulties are often unhappier tha n people who can acknowledge their mistakes. For example, rock band members typically overestimated their contributions to a group’s success and underestimated their contributions to failure and when most group members believe they are underpaid and underappreciated relative to their better-than-average contributions, disharmony and envy are likely. Self-serving biases also inflate people’s judgments of their groups, a phenomenon called group-serving bias. When groups are comparable, most people consider their own group superior.
Group-serving bias: Explaining away out-group members’ positive behaviors; also attributing negative behaviors to their dispositions (while excusing such behavior by one’s own group).
Self-handicapping: Protecting one’s self -image with behaviors that create a handy excuse for later failure.
Sometimes people sabotage their chances for success by creating impediments that make success less likely. Far from being deliberately self-destructive, such behaviors typically have a self-protective aim. “I’m really not a failure—I would have done well except for this problem. We protect our self-images by attributing failures to external factors so fearing failure; people might handicap themselves by self-defeating behaviors like partying half the night before a job interview or playing video games instead of studying before a big exam. When self-image is tied up with performance, it can be more self-deflating to try hard and fail than to procrastinate and have a ready excuse. If we fail while handicapped in some way, we can cling to a sense of competence; if we succeed under such conditions, it can only boost our self-image. Handicaps protect both self-esteem and public image by allowing us to attribute failures to something temporary or external (“I was feeling sick”; “I was out too late the night before”) rather than to lack of talent or ability. Fearing failure people way: Reduce their preparation for important individual athletic events. Give their opponent an advantage. Perform poorly at the beginning of a task in order not to create unreachable expectations. Not try as hard as they could during a tough, ego-involving task.
2- Impression Management
Self-presentation: The act of expressing oneself and behaving in ways designed to create a favorable impression or an impression that corresponds to one’s ideals.
Self-serving bias, false modesty, and self-handicapping reveal the depth of our concern for self-image. To varying degrees, we are continually managing the impressions we create. Whether we wish to impress, intimidate, or seem helpless, we are social animals, playing to an audience. Self-presentation refers to our wanting to present a desired image both to an
external audience (other people) and to an internal audience (ourselves). We work at managing the impressions we create. We excuse, justify, or apologize as necessary to shore up our self-esteem and verify our self-images. In a way, social interaction is a careful balance of looking good while not looking too good. Self-presentation can occur either without conscious effort or be controlled deliberately. It can also improve mood as people try to have their best impression on others. Given our concern for self-presentation, it’s no wonder that people will self-handicap when failure might make them look bad. Self-monitoring: Being attuned to the way one presents oneself in social situations and adjusting one’s performance to create the desired impression. For some people, conscious self-presentation is a way of life. They continually monitor their own behavior and note how others react, then adjust their social performance to gain a desired effect. Those who score high on a scale of self- monitoring tendency (who, for example, agree that “I tend to be what people expect me to be”) act like social chameleons—they adjust their behavior in response to external situations. Having adjusted their behavior to the situation, they are more likely to adopt attitudes they don’ t really hold. Being conscious of others, they are less likely to act on their own attitudes. The self they know often differs from the self they show. As social chameleons, those who score high in self-monitoring are also less committed to their relationships and more likely to be dissatisfied in their marriages. Those who score low in self-monitoring care less about what others think. They are more internally guided and thus more likely to talk and act as they feel and believe
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