Saturday, March 31, 2007

Experimental Study: Public Displays of Affection

As a finale to my Social Psychology project, I have decided to do a quasi-experimental study. I’m not sure if quasi-experimental is the right term; the method of data gathering would be naturalistic observation. Either way, the topic of research is ‘Levels of Public Displays of Affection’. I had been debating what the research topic would be for quite some time now, and I had a couple of variations regarding PDA in mind. But each variation I was thinking of (such as gender difference, interaction, type of relationship, etc) all seem to be either to complex or impossible to research one way or another. I discussed my research ideas with my sister who is an excellent source of creativity and information. Together we decided on what would be researched and how. In fact, we became so giddy with excitement about it all that we decided to work together in making the study. We bounced ideas off of each other and we worked together so well that by the end of our crazed idea-making session, we became partners in research; “Sister duo, genius alone but deadlier than any other Social Scientist when together!”, or that’s how I saw it.

So we have already begun to write a proposal for the study, and we have already designed the format we plan to use and how we plan to perform this experiment. So far the plan is to observe the number of PDA behaviors (as we define and categorize them), in 5 minute continual increments in two different settings and two different age groups. One setting is a mall, the other being a bar, and the 2 age groups are those who are appear to be 29 and younger, and those who appear to be 30 and older. We will begin naturalistic observation this week and as soon as we compile all the data, I will give further information.

I felt it would be a good idea to write a post about it because then I could get feedback on what others think of the research, and possibly pointers or ideas. I am open to suggestions, and would love to hear what others think about the experiment.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Altruism: pure or just social exchange and inclusive fitness?

I have been researching a lot on what altruism is, and from what I have read it is quite confusing. The definition of altruism is a helping act that benefits another despite the costs to ourselves. But from the different examples of altruism that we find every day, like opening a door for someone else, or helping a friend or relative out with some money is not truly altruistic. These acts of kindness are of reciprocity (scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours), the kin selection (helping those who have similar genes, such as relatives, same ethnic background, etc), and the social responsibility norm (It’s the right thing to do). The closest thing that comes to it is the social responsibility norm, but that still is not constituted as pure altruism because it is based off of the social learning theory that we learn behaviors (in this case altruistic) from behavioral modeling, that is watching someone else benefit or lose from the act. The more often we watch others perform altruistic behaviors in society, we feel that we have a social responsibility to help people in need because it gains us social approval. We use reciprocal altruism, kin selection, and altruistic norms to identify our helping acts in every day situations as altruistic, even though they are still motivated to benefit ourselves.
There are other models that also explain altruistic behaviors, including the empathy-altruism hypothesis, the empathy joy hypothesis, and the negative-state relief model. The empathy-altruism hypothesis states that when we see someone in need, we put ourselves in their shoes (hence feeling empathy), and then we relieve our feelings of empathy by helping that person out. Though we are not necessarily expecting to be rewarded, we are still relieving that empathic feeling thus gaining from the experience. The empathy joy hypothesis states that we feel joy when we relieve our empathy by helping others, and the gain would therefore be the pleasant feeling of the act. Then there is the negative-state relief model which is much like the empathy-altruism hypothesis, in which we are feeling a negative arousal and therefore feel a need to help those we see in need. It hurts us to see others who are in a worse position when we can help them, and so the gain is the relief we feel.
But what negates the purity of these altruistic models is that in each situation, we still way the costs and benefits of giving. If we are feeling empathic towards someone but the cost to ourselves is more devastating, than we do not see it as worth the risk. The empathy joy hypothesis says that we will feel good after the act, but if the act doesn’t make us feel happy afterwards, it is out of the question. The negative-relief model is a bit trickier, but if the cost of helping will make us equally if not more negative than before the altruistic act, then there is no reason for us to do so.
My personal opinion is that pure altruism is non existent because in one way or another we are being benefited by a good act. People like Ghandi and Mother Teresa to name a few are considered to show pure altruism, but if you think about it, they are performing altruism to gain benefits to their people and religion, therefore gaining benefits to themselves as well. What do you guys think? Are there people out there that help for no reason what so ever?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

In 1971, a study was conducted by Philip Zimbardo in order to learn more about prison life. The study took 24 ordinary male college students and put them in a prison simulation where half were prison guards and the other half were prisoners. The results of the study were incredible; because of the study we have learned a great deal about people and how social situations affect our behavior. The study was suppose to last 2 weeks, but because of humanitarian reasons, it only lasted 6 days.
The prisoners were picked up by real police men in their homes and arrested on the streets. Neighbors could see as they were frisked, cuffed, and placed in the back of a police car. The police brought them down to the station, fingerprinted and interrogated them; blind folded them, and brought them to Stanford University where the mock prison was located. They were deloused, given smocks to wear which had their prison number on it, and placed in their cells. The guards were given uniforms, a night stick, and reflective glasses. They could not beat the prisoners but could verbally and psychological abuse them and punish them in other ways.
The guards faced some difficulty at first because some of the prisoners were uncooperative. They swiftly learned how to quiet the prisoners with different punishments. Some of the punishments administered by the guards were push ups and singling out the prisoner, where as some punishments were more sadistic in nature. Taking away the privilege of a blanket at night, the inability to empty their waste buckets at night, forcing them to scrub toilets with their bare hands, and being thrown into the ‘hole’ (a broom closet with nothing in it and no light) to name a few. Some of the prisoners complied where as some of them attempted to rebel, which resulted sometimes in punishment of themselves or punishment of the other prisoners.
This had a huge affect on the prisoners; systematically 5 of the prisoners had to be released. One prisoner was released for uncontrollable screaming, crying, and rage, while another was released after a psychosomatic rash covered his body. Each prisoner was affected psychologically, each procuring actions that were often exhibited in real prisoners. According to prisoner #416 upon evaluation after the experiment ended, “I began to feel that I was losing my identity”, and many others also explained the feelings of helplessness and loss of control they felt.
When the study was terminated, intense evaluations followed the study to better understand what each participant went through, and to find whether or not there was any psychological damage done to the boys. Fortunately there were no long-term affects.
So what did we learn from this study? I think the most important thing that was discovered was that people’s actions do not define their characteristics. Every one of the students was given a psychological evaluation prior to study, and they were chosen because they were psychologically healthy, normal boys. Why then were the guards so sadistic, and why did the prisoners begin to exhibit behaviors of real prisoners?
The answer is deeply rooted in social influence and situational factors. Social behavior depends heavily on social roles and social norms. Social roles are the expected behavioral patterns exhibited by someone in a given group or setting. Social Norms refer to the attitudes and behaviors that are considered appropriate and acceptable for a person depending on their group or setting. So imagine that you are one of the boys who were to be a guard in this study. From your prior knowledge of how prison guards act, you take you cues from this. Without even knowing it, you become hardnosed and abundantly powerful. Because you hold the power, all of a sudden your prior inhibitions and personal values are changed and so it becomes easier to manipulate and dominate others with less power. Now imagine that you are one of the prisoners in this experiment. You know that it is just an experiment, and yet you do not expect the overwhelming helplessness you feel after all the power is taken away from you. You learn to obey any rule no matter how unrealistic it is because if struggle to fight it, their grip of power tightens around you. It is easy now to see how the influence of power can change even the normal person.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Bystander Effect

On the morning of March the 13th, 1964, a gross lack of concern led to the death of a woman named Katherine Genovese. On the street outside of her apartment building, she was stabbed multiple times by a man with a knife, in broad daylight. Despite her cries for help, no one came to her rescue. The most disgusting aspect of this was the fact that 38 onlookers were there who could have possibly saved her.
Despite the availability of help, her cries for help, and severity of her need for help, not one person so much as called the police. What would make people so indifferent to plight of this innocent woman? Why was no action made to help her?
This event shocked many people after and made many question the nature of the 38 onlookers’ actions. There were a variety of factors that led to this sad event, and one of them was later identified as the ‘Bystander Effect’.
The Bystander Effect, which was first researched by John Darley and Bibb Latane, suggests that a person is less likely to give help in an emergency situation as a result of the presence of other bystanders. There is an explanation for the Bystander effect, that is the ‘Diffusion of Responsibility’ The ‘Diffusion of Responsibility’ says that a person thinks one of the other bystanders will assume responsibility for taking action, thus negating their own obligation to do so. In the case of Katherine Genovese, the tendency towards Diffusion of Responsibly allowed for no action to be taken.
What ever way you slice it, Katherine Genovese is still dead, and the Bystander effect still occurs.
My question is this; because the Bystander effect is psychological, could we teach ourselves to be more conscientious of it, and if a similar situation occurs could we ignore this effect and act appropriately?
Surely not all of us will find ourselves in the same situation as that of the 38 observers of Ms. Genovese’ death. But there might be situations in which we might find ourselves where some other victim would benefit from our not being duped into the Bystander Effect. If you find yourself in a position like this, perhaps we will all be just a little bit wiser to the situation.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Proximity - Friends with same letter of last name?

I was reading in my Soc. Psych book about attractions, and how proximity is one of the five reasonings of our choices of friends (the other four are association, similarity, reciprocal thinking, and physical attraction). The really cool thing was the study that Segal did in 1974 proving why proximity is a strong predictor of our companionships.
They did a study some police cadets and found that they had friends with the same first letter of their last name! Now how could this be?
I seems that while in training to become a cadet, their dorm rooms were alphabetized by the beginning letter of the last name. This explains why proximity was a factor in their relationships.

But why exactly does proximity work?
Mere exposure to a factor (such as dorm mates with the same beginning letter of last name) creates proximity, as well as more interaction. It is obvious that these men who lived in close proximity of each other got to know one other and their personalities better.

Proximity is also a reasoning for why neighbors are generally friends, at least during your child hood (you may grow up and have friends, but you or your friends might move, situations change).

I thought this was a really interesting study, especially because it explains alot for me. I lived in a small community, and despite the fact that I was a loner child because of my weird behavior, I still had one really good friend. However she is nothing like me in almost anyway. We do not hang out any more (she has moved away, and I lived on the road for a year and went to different schools than she), but this article made me realize why we ever became friends in the first place.
Pretty interesting....

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Milgram's Study of Obedience

I read about a man named Stanley Milgram who performed a series of studies in which participants would deliver shock to others. The participants were told that it was a memory experiment, and that they would be the ‘teacher’ to a person in another room. The other person was actually a confederate, or an actor who was involved with the study although the participant did not know about it.
If the confederate would incorrectly answer the teacher’s questions, then he would receive a shock. The shocks ranged from ‘slight shock’ to ‘XXX’ (death), and as the test would progress the shocks would become more intense the more the confederate would get the questions wrong. Part way through the test, the other confederate would first start making small noises of pain, but as the shocks became more severe, the other participant would begin to cry out for help. As the test would continue, the confederate would issue painful screams and cry out to be let go, and eventually they would not respond at all. During this whole time there would be a man in charge of the experiment who stayed with the participant to intimidate him to continue, saying things such as “the experiment requires that you continue”, and “you have no choice but to go on”.
The studies purpose was to see if the participants would obey an authority figure who asked them to deliver painful, potentially deadly electric shocks to another person.

How many people do you think would follow orders to give shocks after hearing the atrocious screams coming from the other room just to fall silent, and continue? You were probably like me in thinking that no person in their right mind and good judgment would do it. Wrong.

An astounding 65% of the participants in the study continued to deliver shock up to the very end, despite the agonizing pleas for release and help in the other room and the eventual deadly silence. This study was repeated multiple times, some with variations and some for validation. Even in different settings and time, the statistics still showed that 61-66% of the participants went all the way.
The powerful influence of authority over our decisions is more extreme than you would normally think. We obey authority for two main reasons; because sometimes the authority is in the position to force us into obedience, and also because we see them as experts and believe in their competence as a professional in their field.
There are many important lessons we can learn from Milgram’s study of Obedience. Among them is that authority has a large social influence on us and although they may be helpful in giving us advice on making correct decisions, they can also lead us to making decisions that are unwise or unethical if we follow their directives blindly.

Are there any situations in your life that you can relate to this study on?