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Chapter 1: An Invitation to Social Psychology

• In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was overwhelmingly passed by Congress and signed by Lyndon Johnson,
a president from Texas
• This happened after newspapers and television began showing civil rights demonstrators being set
upon by dogs and fire hoses
• When a black church in Birmingham was firebombed and four little girls were killed, public opinion
in much of the country turned in favour of the demonstrators almost overnight
• In this book, you will read about persuasion and attitude change, about people’s capacity for self-
deception, about the economic roots of social behaviour, about the influence of culture, about the
origins of and antidotes to racial prejudice, and about the sources of violence and the forces that can
counter violence
• This chapter explains what social psychology is and what social psychologists study
• It also presents some of the basic concepts of social psychology: the surprising degree to which social
situations can influence behaviour, the interpretive processes people use to understand situations, and
the overlapping contributions of conscious and unconscious thinking to our understanding of the social

Characterizing Social Psychology

• People have long sought explanations for human behaviour
• Stories, parables, and folk wisdom have been passed from generation to generation, attempting to
explain why people do that they do and prescribing behaviours to avoid or follow
• Social psychologists go beyond folk wisdom and try to establish a scientific basis for understanding
human behaviour
• Social psychology: the scientific study of the feelings, thoughts, and behaviours of individuals in social
• Some questions that lie at the heart of social psychology:
• Why are people inclined to stereotype members of different groups?
• Why do people risk their lives to help others?
• Why do some marriages flourish and others fail?
• How do orderly crowds turn into violent mobs?
• Careful research has provided at least partial answers to all of these questions
• Some findings are not surprising at all to most of us
• We tend to like people who like us, and the people we like generally have attitudes and interests
that are similar to ours
• When experimental findings reflect what our intuitions and folk wisdom say will happen, social
psychologists elaborate that folk wisdom—they seek to discover when it applies and what lies behind
the phenomenon in question
• Other findings are quite surprising

Explaining Behaviour
• In April 2004, more than a year after the start of the war in Iraq, CBS broadcast a story showing Iraqi
prisoners naked, stacked in pyramids with bags over their heads, and possibly required to simulate
sexual acts, surrounded by laughing American men and women
• Abu Ghraib: military guards at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq used torture, humiliation, and intimidation
to try to obtain information from the prisoners. This included stripping them and making them lie naked
in the prison corridors
• Such degradation echoes what happened in the Zimbardo prison study
• The reaction on the part of many Iraqis and others in the Arab world was to regard the acts as evidence
that the United States had malevolent intentions toward Arabs
• Most Americans too, were appalled at the abuse and ashamed of the behaviour of the U.S. soldiers
• Many of those who saw the photos on television or in the newspapers assumed that the soldiers
who had perpetrated these acts were rotten apples—exceptions to a rule of common decency
prevailing in the military and the general population
• But social psychologists were not so quick to make such an assumption
• Indeed, thirty years before the atrocities at Abu Ghraib, Philip Zimbardo and his colleagues paid 24
Stanford University undergraduate men, chosen for their good character and mental health, to be
participants in a study of a simulated prison
• The researchers flipped a coin to determine who would be a guard and who would be a prisoner
• The researchers anticipated the study would last for two weeks, but the guards quickly turned to
verbal abuse and physical humiliation, requiring the prisoners to wear bags over their heads,
stripping them naked, and requiring them to engage in simulated sex acts. The study has to be
terminated after six days because the behaviour of the guards produced extreme stress reactions in
several of the prisoners
• Zimbardo today maintains that the balance of power in prisons is so unequal that they tend to be brutal
places unless heavy constrains are applied to curb the guards’ worst impulses
• Thus, “It’s not that we but bad apples in a good barrel. We put good apples in a bad barrel. The
barrel corrupts anything it touches” at Abu Ghraib and Stanford
• Some might contend that the soldiers in Iraq were only following orders
• But, why did they follow such orders?
• Social psychology now forms a significant part of the curriculum in many schools of business, public
health, social work, education, law, and medicine
• Social psychological research on such topics as judgment and decision making, social influence, and
how people function in groups is relevant to all those fields
• How to make eyewitness testimony more reliable; how physicians can best use diverse sources of
information to make a correct diagnosis; what foes wrong in airplane cockpits when there is an accident
or near accident
• Research by social psychologists regularly influences government policy
• The landmark Brown v. Board of Education (1954) ruling that struck down school segregation in the
United States drew heavily on social psychological research, which indicated that segregated
schools were inherently unequal in their effects (and thus unconstitutional)

Comparing Social Psychology with Related Disciplines

• Each type of professional takes a different approach to what happened and offers different kinds of
explanations for occurrences such as Abu Ghraib
• Personality psychology is a close cousin of social psychology, but it stresses individual differences in
behaviour rather than the social situation
• Social psychology is also related to cognitive psychology, the study of how people perceive, think
about, and remember aspects of the world
• In fact, many call themselves cognitive social psychologists
• Social psychology differs from cognitive psychology primarily in that the topics they study are
usually social, for example, social behaviour and perceptions of other people
• Cognitive psychologists would be more likely to study categorization processes or memory for
words or objects
• Sociology is the study of behaviour of people in the aggregate
• Sociologists study institutions, subgroups, bureaucracies, mass movements, and changes in the
demographic characteristics of populations
• Social psychologists sometimes do sociological work themselves, although they are likely to bring
an interest in individual behaviour to the study of aggregates
• A sociologist might study how economic or government policy influences marriage and divorce
rates in a population, whereas a social psychologist would be more likely to study why individuals
fall in love, get married, and sometimes get divorced

The Power of the Situation

• Hannah Arendt argued in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem that Eichmann was not the demented,
sadistic personality everyone expected, but instead a boring, unimaginative cog in a machine that he
served with a resigned sense of duty
• Do you think that any situation could be so powerful that an ordinary people could act as Adolf
Eichmann did in Nazi Germany or as the prison guards behaved at Abu Ghraib?
• Research has supported Arendt’s unorthodox views about what she called “the banality of evil”
• This research raises a question that is central to the study of social psychology: How does the
situation that people find themselves in affect their behaviour?
• Kurt Lewin—founder of modern social psychology
• Jewish Berliner who fled Nazi Germany in the 1930s and became a professor at the University of
• Applied a powerful idea from physics to an understanding of psychological existence
• He believed that the behaviour of people, like the behaviour of objects, is always a function of the
field of forces in which they find themselves
• The social equivalent of Lewin’s concept of the field of forces is the role of the situation, especially the
social situation, in guiding behaviour
• The main situational influences on our behaviour, influences that we often misjudge or fail to see
altogether, are the actions—and sometimes the mere presence—of other people
• Friends, romantic partners, even total strangers can cause us to be kinder or meaner, smarter or
dumber, lazier or more hardworking, bolder or more cautious
• We rely on other people for clues about what emotions to feel in various situations and even to define
who we are as individuals

The Milgram Experiment

• In the same year as Arendt’s book, Stanley Milgram published the results of a now-classic experiment
on social influence
• Advertised in newspaper for men to participant in a study on learning and memory at Yale
University in exchange for money
• Volunteers: a mix of labourers, middle-class individuals, and professionals ranging in age from their
20s to their 50s
• A man in a white lab coat told them they would participate in a study of the effects of punishment on
• “Teacher” and “learner”—learner would try to memorize word pairs
• Volunteer and pleasant-looking man drew slips of paper to determine who would be teacher/learner
• Pleasant-looking man was an accomplice, always the learner
• The participant “teacher” had to administer shocks—from 15 to 450 volts—to the learner each time
he made an error
• “Slight shock” to “danger: severe shock” to “XXX”
• Learner was not actually being shocked, but participant did not know this
• Most participants became concerned as the shock levels increased and turned to experimenter to
ask what should be done, but experimenter insisted they go on
• “Please continue”
• “The experiment requires that you continue”
• “You have no other choice. You must go on”
• “Although the shocks may be painful, there is no permanent tissue damage, so please go on”
• In the end, despite the learner’s groans, screams, and eventual silence as the intensity of the
shocks increased, 80 percent of the participants continued past the 150-volt level—at which point
the learner mentioned that he had a heart condition and screamed, “Let me out of here!”
• 62.5% of the participants went all the way to the 450-volt level
• The average amount of shock given was 360 volts, after the learner let out an agonized scream and
became hysterical
• Milgram and other experts did not expect so many participants to continue as long as they did
• A panel of 39 psychiatrists predicted that only 20% would continue past 150-volt level and 1% after
330-volt level
• At first, there was a suspicion as to whether participants really believed they were shocking learner
• This was settled
• Milgram’s participants were not heartless fiends
• Instead, the situation was extraordinarily effective in getting them to do something that would
normally fill them with horror
• For example, it was in a scientific investigation—an unfamiliar situation
• The experimenter took responsibility for what happened
• Participants could not have guessed at the outset what the experiment involved, so they were
not prepared to resist anyone’s demands
• The step-by-step nature of the procedure was crucial
• If participant did not quit at 225 volts, then why quit at 255?

Seminarians as Samaritans
• Classic experiment by John Darley and Daniel Batson (1973) shows power of situation even more
• Asked students at Princeton Theological Seminary about basis of their religious orientation to
determine whether particular students were primarily concerned with religion as a means toward
personal salvation, or were more concerned with religion for its other moral and spiritual values
• After determining basis of their religious concerns, the psychologists asked each young seminarian to
go to another building to deliver a short sermon
• Were told what route to follow to get there most easily
• Some were told they have plenty of time to get there, others told to hurry as they are late
• On the way to deliver their sermon (on the topic of the Good Samaritan), each person passed a man
sitting in a doorway with his head down, coughing and groaning, in need of help
• Nature of religious orientation was of no use in predicting whether the person would offer help
• Whether in a hurry or not was a powerful predictor
• The seminarians were pretty good Samaritans as a group—but only when they weren’t in a rush

The Fundamental Attribution Error

• People are governed by situational factors—such as whether they are being pressured by someone or
whether they are late—more than they tend to assume
• Internal factors—the kind of person someone is—have much less influence than most people assume
they do
• Most people underestimate the power of external forces that operate on an individual and tend to
assume that the causes of behaviour can be found mostly within the person
• Psychologists call internal factors “dispositions”
• Dispositions: internal factors such as beliefs, values, personality traits, or abilities that guide a
person’s behaviour
• People tend to think of dispositions as the underlying causes of behaviour
• Upon seeing a prison guard humiliating a prisoner, we may assume that the guard is cruel
• Such judgments are valid far less often that we think
• Fundamental attribution error: the failure to recognize the importance of situational influences on
behaviour, and the corresponding tendency to overemphasize the importance of dispositions or traits
on behaviour
• Term coined by Lee Ross (1977)
• Social psychology encourages us to look at another person’s situation—to try to understand the
complex field of forces acting on the individual—to fully understand the person’s behaviour

Channel Factors
• Channel factors: certain situational circumstances that appear unimportant on the surface but that can
have great consequences for behaviour, either facilitating or blocking it or guiding behaviour in a
particular direction
• Introduced by Kurt Lewin (1952)
• Consider a study by Howard Leventhal and others
• On how to motivate people to take advantage of health facilities’ offerings of preventive care
• Attempted to persuade Yale students to get tetanus inoculations
• Had them read scary materials about the number of ways a person could get tetanus
• Showed them photos of people in the last stages of lockjaw
• Told them there are free inoculations
• Most participants formed the intention to get an inoculation, but only 3% did so
• Other participants were given a map of the Yale campus emphasizing the health centre, and asked to
review their schedule to decide on a good time to visit the centre and the route they would take to get
• These were senior students who already knew how to get to the centre
• This increased the percentage of students getting an inoculation ninefold, to 28%
• The channel factor in this case was the requirement to shape a vague intention into a concrete plan
• The most powerful determinant of usage of public health services more generally yet discovered is the
distance to the closest facility
• Not attitudes about health, personality tests, or demographic variables

The Role of Construal

• Construal: people’s interpretation and inference about the stimuli or situation they confront
• Often unconscious inferences
• Whether we regard people as free agents or victims, as freedom fighters or terrorists, as migrant
workers or illegal aliens, will affect our perceptions of their actions; and our perceptions drive our
behaviour toward them

Interpreting Reality
• Looking at Figure 1.2 (below; Kanizsa triangle), most people see a white triangle. But there is no white
• We construct a triangle in our mind out of the gaps in the picture
• Our perceptions normally bear a resemblance to what the world is
really like, but perception requires substantial interpretation on our
part and is subject to significant error under certain conditions
• Gestalt is German for “form” or “figure”
• Gestalt psychology: approach that stressed the fact that people
perceive objects not by means of some passive and automatic
registration device but by active, usually unconscious interpretation of
what the object represents as a whole
• What’s true for visual perception is even truer for judgments about the social world
• Our judgments and beliefs are constructed from perceptions and thoughts, but they are not simple
readouts of reality
• Prisoner’s dilemma: a situation involving payoffs to two people, who must decide whether to
“cooperate” or “defect.” In the end, trust and cooperation leads to higher joint payoffs than mistrust and
• Confront two criminals who had committed a crime together, were arrested, and were being
questioned separately
• Each prisoner could behave in one of two ways: confess the crime, hoping to get lenient treatment
by the prosecutor; or deny the crime, hoping that the prosecutor would not bring charges or would
fail to persuade a jury of his guilt
• But of course, the outcome that would result from the prisoner’s choice would depend on the other
prisoner’s behaviour
• If both denied crime (a “cooperative” strategy), both would probably avoid harsh punishment
• If one denied crime and other admitted it (a “defecting” strategy), the one who admitted it would
be treated leniently and the one who denied it would be punished severely
• If both admitted crime, both would go to prison
• In psychology experiments, this game is usually played with monetary payoffs rather than prison time
• If both cooperate (deny crime), they both make some money
• If both defect (admit the crime), neither gets anything
• If one defects and the other doesn’t, the defector wins big and the cooperator loses a small amount
• Each player does better by defecting, no matter what the other player does
• And yet if each player follows the logic of defecting and acts accordingly, both players are worse off
than if they had both cooperated

• Liberman, Samuels, and Ross (2002) asked Stanford University dormitory resident assistants to identify
students in their dorms who they thought were particularly cooperative or competitive, and both types of
students were then recruited to participate in a psychology experiment using prisoner’s dilemma game
• Played in one of two experimental conditions: “the Wall Street game” or “the community game”
• The majority of students who were told they were playing the Wall Street game played in a competitive
fashion, the majority of students who were told they were playing the community game played in a
cooperative fashion
• The terminology that was used prompted different construals
• The situation exerted its influence through its effect on the way participants interpreted the meaning
of the activity they were performing
• Participants’ presumed dispositions—whether they had been identified as highly competitive or highly
cooperative—were of no use in predicting behaviour

• Although it usually seems as if we understand social situations immediately and directly, we actually
depend on elaborate stores of systematized knowledge to understand even the simplest and most
“obvious” situation—these knowledge stores are called schemas
• Schema: a knowledge structure consisting of any organized body of stored information
• Generalized knowledge about the physical and social world
• Such as what kind of behaviour to expect when dealing with a professor and how to behave at
a four-star restaurant
• There is even a schema—alleged to be universal—for falling in love
• Schemas capture the regularities of life and lead us to have certain expectations we can rely on so that
we don’t have to invent the world anew all the time
• An early experiment by Solomon Asch (1940) shows that schemas can sometimes operate very subtly
to influence judgments
• Asked two groups of undergraduates to rank various professions in terms of prestige
• Before they gave their own ratings, participants from one group were told that a sample of fellow
students had previously ranked politicians near the top in prestige, and other group was told that
politicians were ranked near bottom
• The participants in the first group took the term politician to refer to statesmen of the caliber of
Thomas Jefferson and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Participants in the second group were rating
something closer to corrupt political hacks
• The different schemas activated by their peers’ ratings served to define just what it was that the
participants were supposed to judge
• Stereotypes: schemas that we have for people of various kinds
• We tend to judge individuals based on particular person schemas we have—stereotypes about a
person’s nationality, gender, religion, occupation, neighbourhood, or sorority
• Such summaries may be necessary to function efficiently and effectively; but they can be wrong,
they can be applied in the wrong way and to the wrong people, and they can be given too much
weight in relation to more specific information we have about a particular person

Automatic versus Controlled Processing

• The mind processes information in two ways when you encounter a social situation: one is automatic
and unconscious (often based on emotional factors), and the other is conscious and systematic and
more likely to be controlled by careful thought
• Often, emotional reactions occur before conscious thought takes over
• Research by Patricia Devine and colleagues has shown how automatic and controlled processing can
result in incompatible attitudes in the same person toward members of outgroups
• People with low expressed prejudice toward an outgroup may nevertheless reveal feelings toward
people in the outgroup that are almost as prejudiced as those of people who confess to explicit
disliking of the group
• Anthony Greenwald and colleagues showed that the great majority of white people take longer to
classify black faces with pleasant stimuli than to classify white facts with pleasant stimuli
• This was even true for participants who showed no overt prejudice when asked about their attitudes
• In general, automatic processes give rise to implicit attitudes and beliefs that cannot be readily
controlled by the conscious mind
• Conscious processing results in explicit attitudes and beliefs of which we are aware—though these may
become implicit or unconscious over time

Types of Unconscious Processing

• Two major types of unconscious processing have been identified
• William James’ “skill acquisition.” As we learn and then overlearn certain skills such as driving, we
can exercise them without being aware we are doing so. We can also carry them without being
distracted from other, conscious thoughts and processing
• The other type of automatic mental processing (associated with Freud) occurs when beliefs and
behaviours are generated without our awareness of the cognitive processes behind them
• We often cannot correctly explain the reasons for our judgments about other people, our
understanding of the causes of physical and social events, or what led us to choose one job
applicant over another

Functions of Unconscious Processing

• Why does so much mental processing take place outside of our awareness?
• Partly, it is a matter of efficiency
• The efficiency of unconscious processes is not only convenient but also might have benefits for our
• “Information” about whether an object is desirable or undesirable
• For our human ancestors, making instantaneous decisions about aversive stimuli, based on rapid,
unconscious integration of many sources of information, may often have been a matter of life or

Evolution and Human Behaviour: How We Are the Same

• Natural selection: an evolutionary processes that moulds animals and plants so that traits that
enhance the probability of survival and reproduction are passed on to subsequent generations
• Recent developments in evolutionary theory and comparative biology, together with anthropological
findings and studies by psychologists, have produced strong evidence that the theory of evolution can
be quite helpful in explaining why people behave as they do

Human Universals
• One theme that is consistent with evolutionary theory is that many human behaviours and institutions
are universal, or very nearly so
• We have acquired basic behavioural propensities that help us adapt to the physical and social
• Humans share some of these characteristics with other animals, especially the higher primates
• These include facial expressions, dominance and submission, food sharing, group living, greater
aggressiveness on the part of males, preference for own kin, and wariness around snakes
• The number of universals we share with other animals is quite small (so far as we know)
• The bulk of Table 1.1 represents a large number of behaviours that appear to be effective adaptations
for highly intelligent, group-living, upright-walking, language-using animals that are capable of living in
almost any kind of ecology
• Some theorists believe that the commonalities can be accounted for as simply the result of our species’
superior intelligence
Group Living, Language, and Theory of Mind
• Theory of mind: the understanding that other people have beliefs and desires
• Children recognize before the age of 2 that other people have beliefs and desires
• By the age of 3 or 4, theory of mind is sophisticated enough that children can recognize when other
people’s beliefs are false
• Individuals with autism have deeply disordered abilities for interacting and communicating with others,
and do not seem to be able to comprehend the beliefs or desires of others
• Autistic children can have normal or even superior intellectual functioning but have less comprehension
of people’s beliefs and desires that children with Down syndrome, whose general intellectual
functioning is far below normal
• Given the importance of accurately understanding other people’s beliefs and intentions, it would not be
surprising that a theory of mind comes prewired
Evolution and Gender Roles
• Parental investment: the evolutionary principle that costs and benefits are associated with
reproduction and the nurturing of offspring. Because these costs and benefits are different for males
and females, one sex will normally value and invest more in each child than will the other sex

Avoiding the Naturalistic Fallacy

• Naturalistic fallacy: the claim that the way things are is the the way they should be

Social Neuroscience
• While a person is experiencing different emotions or solving various problems, blood flows to the areas
of the brain that are active
• Using a technology known as fMRI, scientists can take a picture of the brain that detects this blood flow
and shows which brain regions mediate various feelings and behaviours
• A region of the brain that alerts people to danger is poorly developed until early adulthood
• This may explain why adolescents take greater risks
• Neuroscience has also revealed that later in life, the brain regions that mediate learning, notably the
prefrontal cortex, decay particularly rapidly with increasing age
• Neuroscience informs us about how the brain, the mind, and behaviour function as a unit and how
social factors influence each of these components at the same time

Culture and Human Behaviour: How We Are Different

Cultural Differences in Social Relations and Self-Understanding
• Recent work shows that cultural differences go far deeper than beliefs and values
• They extend all the way to the level of fundamental forms of self-conceptions and social existence and
even to the perceptual and cognitive processes people use to develop new thoughts and beliefs
• Independent (individualistic) cultures: cultures in which people tend to think of themselves as
distinct social entities, tired to each other by voluntary bonds of affection and organizational
memberships but essentially separate from other people and having attributes that exist in the absence
of any connection to others
• Westerners
• Interdependent (collectivistic) cultures: cultures in which people tend to define themselves as part of
a collective, inextricably tied to others in their group and placing less importance on individual freedom
or personal control over their lives
• The differences in self-definition between people in independent and interdependent societies have
important implications for the nature of their personal goals and strivings, values, and beliefs
• Success is important to East Asians, but in good part because it brings credit to the family
• Personal uniqueness is not very important to interdependent people and may even be undesirable
• Americans tended to choose the unique colour pen and Koreans usually chose the common colour
• Interdependent people tend not to expect or even value mutuality and equality in relationships; on the
contrary, they are likely to expect hierarchical relations to be the rule
Who Are You?
• Kuhn and McPartland’s “Who Am I” test asks people to list 20 statements describing who they are
• American self-descriptions tend to be context-free, referring to personality traits (“I’m friendly”)
• Interdependent answers tend to refer to relationships with other people or groups and are often
qualified by context (“I am Jan’s friend”, “I am serious at work”)
• Tribespeople are constantly made aware of their roles and status in relation to family and other groups

Individualism versus Collectivism in the Workplace

• The countries of British heritage are the most individualistic, followed by the countries of continental
• East Asia, South Asia, Asia Minor, and Latin America are all relatively collectivistic
Culture and Gender Roles
• Gender roles vary greatly around the world and even within subcultures in the same country
• Male dominance is one of the most variable aspects of gender roles
• Despite the sharp demarcation of gender roles, such societies as preliterate peoples that are hunter-
gatherers, are relatively gender egalitarian
• Modern Western cultures are also relatively gender egalitarian, especially Scandinavian countries
• Polygyny, in which one man has several wives, and serial monogamy are the most common
expectations among the world’s subcultures
• Farmers in Nepal and Tibet practice a form of polyandry—one wife with many husband who are
• Men and women differ in the way they understand themselves and in their emotions and motivations
• But these differences are far from being constant across cultures
Some Qualifications
• There are regional and subcultural differences within any large society
• The socialization within a given society of particular individuals or particular types of individuals may be
oriented more toward independence or more toward interdependence
• In many cultures, there are also social class differences in the independence versus interdependence
• Working-class people in modern societies are more interdependent than middle-class individuals
• Study by Stephens and colleagues
• Asked people how they would feel if a friend bought a car just like the one they themselves had
• Middle-class people more likely to be disappointed because they like to be unique; working-class
people more likely to say they are happy to share the similarity
• The same person can have a relatively independent orientation in some situations (e.g., competing in a
debate tournament) and relatively interdependent orientation in others (e.g., singing in a choir)

Culture and Evolution as Tools for Understanding Situations

• Both evolution and culture affect how people see the world and behave within it
• The two together are complementary ways of understanding social relations
• Whether a society develops a particular prewired option or not may depend on how adaptive the
behaviour is for the circumstances that confront the people in it
• Nature proposes, but culture disposes
• Evolution has equipped us with a large repertoire of tools for dealing with the wide range of
circumstances that humans confront
• Cultural circumstances and our high intelligence determine which tools we develop and which
tendencies we try to override