Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Green Lake Park

Photo by Marc Henauer

Green Lake (GrĂ¼ner See), located in Styria, Austria, where every spring the snowmelt from the nearby Hochschwab mountains causes the lake to nearly double in size, submerging a portion of the surrounding park.

Photo by Westend61 GmbH/Alamy

Photo by Marc Henauer

Photo by Andreas Neuburger

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Social Conformity

I. Conformity 
A. Conformity Research
Sherif's Autokinetic Effect Experiments
Psychologist Muzafer Sherif, one of the founders of social psychology,  conducted a classic study on conformity in 1936. His research was partly spurred by his disagreement with the prevailing individualist view that a group was merely a collection of individuals and that no new group qualities arise when individuals form into a collective.(3)

Sherif put subjects individually in a dark room and told them to watch a pinpoint of light and report how far it moved. Psychologists had previously discovered that a small, unmoving light in a dark room often appeared. This is known as the autokinetic effect. After a few trials, the individuals began to establish their own consistent norms. The range among the individual subjects varied from 2 to 12 inches. 

A few days later, Sherif conducted the experiment again but this time he put subjects with different norms together into groups of three and asked them to give their estimates out loud after each trial. Over time, with repeated trials, the individual estimates began to converge, eventually reaching a point of near consensus. Sherif's conclusion was that a group norm had superseded individual norms.

Later when tested alone, Sherif found that participants replicated their original groups' estimates. This suggests that the influence of the group was informational rather than coercive; because they continued to perceive individually what they had as members of a group, Sherif concluded that they had internalized their original group's way of seeing the world.(5)

Conclusion: Sherif's major conclusion was that in ambiguous situations a person is more likely to be influenced by others as they are looking for guidance out of a desire to be correct (informational conformity).

Asch's Line Judgement Experiments
In the early 1950's, psychologist Solomon Asch conducted a series of important studies that demonstrated the power of group conformity.

The basic experiment involved seven participants of which six were confederates (actors given instructions on how to behave) and one was the actual subject. The confederates knew the true aim of the experiment, but were introduced to the subject as other participants.

Asch presented the participants with a card with a line on it, and next to it another card with three lines of varying length labeled "A", "B",  and "C".  Asch explained that the participants task was to call out the letter of the line that matched the length of the line on the first card.

The participants completed 18 trials. On the first two trials, both the subject and confederates gave the obvious, correct answer, but thereafter (as previously scripted) the confederates chose a clearly incorrect line in twelve of the remaining sixteen trials. The wrong answer responses were referred to as the critical trials. 

The aim of the experiment was to see if the subject would conform to the group by choosing the wrong answer or stick to what his eyes were telling him was correct.

Results: Overall, Asch found that subjects conformed to the group by choosing the same wrong answer as the confederates in 37% of the critical trials. Further, 76% conformed to the incorrect judgment on as least one of the critical trials. In contrast, when participants in a control group without the pressure of confederates made judgments, the error rate was less than 1%.(3)

B. Normative and Informational Influence
The experiments of Sherif and Asch provided powerful demonstrations of social conformity but the two experimental models put participants in different situations which seemed to indicate that different psychological processes might be at work. In Sherif's experiments subjects found themselves in an ambiguous reality where they were undoubtedly unsure of the their own abilities to judge the movement of the light. In contrast, the Asch experiments placed subjects in situations where their perception of the lengths of the lines would have been quite certain without the influence of the group.

To explain the different social pressures in these two studies, Morton Deutsch and Henry Gerard (1955) suggested that group pressure derives from two sources: normative and informational influence.(3)

Normative social influence (desire to fit in) occurs when a person conforms, complies or obeys to gain rewards or avoid punishments from another person or group.(3) It is essentially the the desire to fit in by gaining social acceptance or avoid social rejection.(6) Because the answer to the line questions were fairly obvious, the Asch line experiments are generally believed to be to an example of normative social influence. 

Informational social influence (desire to be correct) occurs when the individual conforms, complies, or obeys to gain accurate information.(3) The effect is prominent when a person lacks knowledge or is in an ambiguous situations and looks to the group for guidance.(4) The Sherif experiments are generally thought to be examples of informational social influence as the movement of the light, which was in fact an illusion, was ambiguously perceived by the subjects leading them to seek guidance from others. Additionally, to rule out the possibility that the subjects were simply giving the group answer to avoid looking foolish while still believing their original estimate was correct, a few days later Sherif had the subjects judge the lights again by themselves. Even after eliminating the possibility of group pressure they maintained the group's judgment.(7)

Although in some cases these two influences may operate separately, in reality they often are likely to function simultaneously and are difficult to disentangle.(3)(2)

C. Factors that Affect Conformity
Social/Situational Factors
1. Group Size - Asch found that when he varied the number of unanimous confederates in his line judgement experiments, conformity increased, but only to a certain point. Conformity reached its maximum level when the number of confederates was between three and four but remained fairly stable thereafter.(3)

2. Group Cohesiveness - Group cohesiveness refers to the degree to which a group has a sense of interconnectedness. It arises when bonds link members of a social group to one another and to the group as a whole.(8) In general, people in cohesive groups have greater pressure to conform than people in non-cohesive groups. Friend groups are a good example of this as we are more likely to be influenced by them than by non-friends because we respect their opinions, and desire to please them to remains socially accepted and avoid rejection.(3)

3. Social Support - The presence of at least one other group member going against the majority can decrease the level of conformity. For instance, Asch ran variations of his line judgement study where he included a single confederate picking the correct line. This led to conformity dropping to one-forth the original levels.(3)

If this support is later removed, normative influence again is exerted. In one of Asch’s studies, when the confederate who had previously agreed with the participant switched and began to conform to the majority opinion, the participants’ own level of conformity returned to near the levels observed in the original experiments.(3)

Receiving social support early is more effective than receiving such support after normative pressures have already built up (Morris et al., 1977).(3)

Personal/Individual Factors
1. Self-Awareness - whether behavior is more influenced by personal or social standards is at least partially determined by what aspect of the self is salient (private or public). When people are privately self-aware, they tend to act in line with their own personal standards, but social standards are more influential when people are publicly self-aware (Froming et al., 1982; Kallgren et al., 2000). Thus, being privately self-aware reduces conformity, while being publicly self-aware increases conformity.(3)

2. Self-Presentation - Research found that often underlying the conformity and independence responses of people are calculated assessments of the impressions they are making on those present. Conformity is most likely to occur when self-presenters are alone with those trying to influence them and when the conformity will be viewed as indicating intelligence or open-mindedness. On the other hand, open defiance of influence attempts is most likely under two conditions: (1) when others not involved in the influence attempt are present, and (2) when the attitude of those exerting the influence makes any subsequent yielding seem like weak-kneed surrender rather than intelligent decision making. Under such conditions, it would be difficult to conform and still maintain a public image of independence and autonomy.(3)

3. Desire for Personal Control - Although self-presentation concerns may sometimes explain conformity and nonconformity, on other occasions we may resist social influence simply to feel that we personally control our own actions. Jack Brehm (Brehm, 1966; Brehm & Brehm, 1981) has proposed a theory of psychological reactance, which states that people believe they possess specific behavioral freedoms and that they will react against and resist attempts to limit this sense of freedom. For example, if parents demand that their daughter not date a certain boy, she might defy the parents as a way to restore a feeling of personal control over her own behavior. When reactance is aroused, the forbidden behavior (dating the disapproved boy) becomes more desirable. Similarly, if the daughter believes her parents are trying to coerce her into dating some other boy, reactance results in this boy becoming a much less desirable date than the forbidden male.(3)

Individuals may not conform to social pressures due to their desire for personal control, but this does not mean that they are necessarily acting independently. There are two different types of  nconformity responses. One is independence, which was previously defined as not being subject to others’ control. The person who dates someone not because her parents approve or disapprove but because she genuinely likes her dating partner is demonstrating independence; psychological reactance does not play a factor in her behavioral choices. Anticonformity, on the other hand, is characterized by opposition to social influence on all occasions, and psychological reactance often explains these behavioral choices (Nail et al., 1996). The anticonformist would date people whom her parents disapproved and would not date those whom they approved. Thus, the actions of two people may be identical but may be motivated by very different desires. A person who has a strong desire for personal control could express this either through independence or anticonformity.(3)

D. Minority Influence 
Under certain conditions, the minority can influence the majority. The process by which dissenters produce change within a group is called minority influence.(3)

Serge Moscovici, a forerunner in minority influence, argued that majority influence tends to be based on public compliance (normative influence). Since majorities are often unconcerned about what minorities think about them, minority influence is rarely based on normative social influence. Instead, it is usually based on informational social influence - providing the majority with new ideas, new information which leads them to re-examine their views.(9)

Moscovici believed that the success of minority influence dependent on behavior style which consists of consistency, confidence, appearing to be unbiased and resisting social pressure and abuse. Of these Moscovici believed consistency was most important.(9) 

In a demonstration of the importance of consistency in minority group influence, Moscovici and his colleagues (1969) asked groups of individuals to judge whether the color of projected blue slides was blue or green. Each group consisted of four participants and two confederates. In the inconsistent minority condition the confederates randomly varied calling the blue slide green and blue, while in the consistent minority condition they always claimed that it was green. The results were that when the confederates were inconsistent, their ability to influence the majority was negligible (1.25 percent). However, when the confederates were consistent, more than 8 percent of the time participants conformed to this minority point of view.(3)

E. Power of Conformity
The following are some interesting and amusing videos on the power of conformity.

(2)Social Influence: Compliance and Conformity

(1)Principles of Social Psychology

(3)Social Psychology (Franzoi)

(4)SimplyPsychology: Conformity

(5)Wikipedia: Muzafer Sherif

(6)Boundless: Conformity

Wikipedia: Asch Conformity Experiments

The Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology

(7)Wikipedia: Social Proof

(8)Wikipedia: Group cohesiveness

(9) SimplePsychology: Moscovici and Minority Influence

Monday, May 15, 2017

Social Influence

Social influence involves the exercise of social power by a person or group to change the
attitudes or behavior of others in a particular direction. Social power refers to the force available to the influencer in motivating this change. This power can originate from having access to certain resources (for example, rewards, punishments, information) due to one’s social position in society, or from being liked and admired by others.(1)

The findings from a number of empirical studies support the commonly held belief that possessing social power increases people’s tendencies to take action, whereas powerlessness activates a general tendency to inhibit action.(1)
Theorists have typically distinguished between three types of social influence: Conformity, Compliance and Obedience. 

Conformity is the yielding to perceived group pressure by copying the behavior and beliefs of others.(1)  

Compliance is publicly acting in accord with a direct request. In compliance, people responding to a direct request may privately agree or disagree with the action they are engaging in, or they may have no opinion about their behavior(1) 

Obedience is the performance of an action in response to a direct command from an authority figure. The major difference between compliance and obedience seems to be that the person making the request is an authority figure while with compliance the person is not.

(1)Social Psychology, Stephen Franzoi

Social Influence and Power

Friday, May 12, 2017

Beriozka Dance Ensemble

The Beriozka (Little Birch Tree) Dance Ensemble, founded in 1948, performing what I think is a version of a khorovod (circle dance).

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Thaddeus Russell's Postmodern Denial of Reality

Thaddeus seems to be making two, not very connected arguments.

1) The first is that the categories of man and woman are so flawed that they are essentially meaningless.

"I think the category of man becomes meaningless...Neither Andy Dick or Yoel Romero are trans people right? They are so different though, physically in every way but we put them both in this silly category called man, what does that mean anymore?"

Thaddeus seems to be playing a little philosophic game where he describes some general characteristic of the category of man, then points to exceptions or variances to conclude that the category is useless.

Of course in reality, the majority of things which humans categorize do not fit into neat little definitional boxes. Thaddeus points to the physical difference between Andy Dick and Yoel Romero as proof that the category of man is problematic. But if that sort of variance is enough of a standard to do away with a category then we would have to do away with a great number of other categories such as dogs (Pug vs great Dane), cats (House Cat vs Lion), birds (Penguin vs Eagle), and so on.

I'm guessing this little bit of sophistry is enough to confuse most people into compliance but Rogan does a good job of pushing back. This forces Thaddeus into his next argument:

2) We shouldn't apply categories to humans if they could be somehow harmful.

"I'm not saying we shouldn't categorize anything ever because we must do that to live in this world. What I am saying is we should probably stop applying certain categories to human beings in the ways we have done, because there are certain inventions, certain social constructs that do nothing but bad things, that do no good and they're only social constructs, like race and gender."

Similar to his first point, I think the application of this standard would lead to some really silly places. For instance, what about the category of obese people. Numerous studies have found that overweight people have a harder time getting a job, are less likely to get salary increases, have less friends and are more susceptible to mental health issue due to social rejection. As unfortunate as this is does this mean we should banish the recognition of weight when applied to humans?

The same thing could be said for the category of unattractive people. They face many of the same problems that obese people face. Does this mean we should no longer distinguishes between beautiful and unattractive people?

All of this seems completely unnecessary as Thaddeus' primary concerns seem to be that prescribed gender roles may restrict an individual from living the way they want to live. He seems to believe the best way to deal with this is to simply deny objective truths. But as history has shown, gender roles are fluid and changing. Society's views on gender (at least in the West) are far more open than they have been at any other time and are likely to continue moving in this direction. No need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.