Introducing Social Psychology

Introducing Social


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There once was a man whose second wife was a vain and self­ish woman. This woman’s two daughters were similarly vain and selfish. The man’s own daughter, however, was meek and unselfish. This

sweet, kind daughter, whom we all know as Cinderella, learned early on

that she should do as she was told, accept ill treatment and insults, and

avoid doing anything to upstage her stepsisters and their mother.

But then, thanks to her fairy godmother, Cinderella was able to

escape her situation for an evening and attend a grand ball, where she

attracted the attention of a handsome prince. When the love-struck

prince later encountered Cinderella back in her degrading home, he

failed to recognize her.

Implausible? The folktale demands that we accept the power of

the situation. In the presence of her oppressive stepmother, Cinder­

ella was humble and unattractive. At the ball, Cinderella felt more

beautiful—and walked and talked and smiled as if she were. In one

situation, she cowered. In the other, she charmed.

The French philosopher-novelist Jean-Paul Sartre (1946) would

have had no problem accepting the Cinderella premise. We humans

are “first of all beings in a situation,” he wrote. “We cannot be distin­

guished from our situations, for they form us and decide our possibili­

ties” (pp. 59-60, paraphrased).

What is social psychology?

What are social psychology’s big ideas?

How do human values influence social psychology?

I knew it all along: Is social psychology simply common sense?

Research methods: How do we do social psychology?

Postscript: Why I wrote this book

4 Chapter 1

social psychology The scientific study of how people think about, influence, and relate to one another.

Throughout this book, sources for information are cited parenthetically. The complete source is provided in the reference section that begins on page R-1.

FIGURE :: 1.1 Social Psychology Is .. .

WHAT IS SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY? I Define social psychology and explain what it does.

Social psychology is a science that studies the influences of our situations, with spe­ cial 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 (Figure 1.1).

Social psychology lies at psychology’s boundary with sociology. Compared with sociology (the study of people in groups and societies), social psychology focuses more on individuals and does more experimentation. Compared with personality psychology, social psychology focuses less on individuals’ differences and more on hovf individuals, in general, view and affect one another.

Social psychology is still a young science. The first social psychology experi­ ments were reported barely more than a century ago, and the first social psychol­ ogy texts did not appear until approximately 1900 (Smith, 2005). Not until the 1930s did social psychology assume its current form. Not until World War II did it begin to emerge as the vibrant field it is today. And not until the 1970s and beyond did social psychology enjoy accelerating growth in Asia—first in India, then in Hong Kong and Japan, and, recently, in China and Taiwan (Haslam & Kashima, 2010).

Social psychology studies our thinking, influences, and relationships by asking questions that have intrigued us all. Here are some examples:

• Does our social behavior depend more on the objective situations we face or how we construe them? Social beliefs can be self-fulfilling. For example, happily married people will attribute their spouse’s acid remark (“Can’t you ever put that where it belongs?”) to something external (“He must have had a frustrating day”). Unhappily married people will attribute the same remark to a mean disposition (“Is he ever hostile!”) and may respond with a coun­ terattack. Moreover, expecting hostility from their spouse, they may behave resentfully, thereby eliciting the hostility they expect.

• Would people be cruel if ordered? How did Nazi Germany conceive and implement the unconscionable slaughter of 6 million Jews? Those evil acts occurred partly because thousands of people followed orders. They put the prisoners on trains, herded them into crowded “showers,” and poisoned

Introducing Social Psychology

Social psychology is the scientific study of …

Social thinking

• How we perceive ourselves and others

• What we believe • Judgments we make • Our attitudes

Social influence

• Culture • Pressures to conform • Persuasion • Groups of people I

Social relations Prejudice

Aggression Attraction and intimacy Helping

Introducing Social Psychology Chapter 1 5

them with gas. How could people engage in such horrific actions? Were those individuals normal human beings? Stanley Milgram (1974) wondered. So he set up a situation in which people were ordered to administer increasing lev­ els of electric shock to someone who was having difficulty learning a series of words. As discussed in Chapter 6, nearly two-thirds of the participants fully complied.

• To help? Or to help oneself? As bags of cash tumbled from an armored truck one fall day, $2 million was scattered along a Columbus, Ohio, street. Some motorists stopped to help, returning $100,000. Judging from the $1,900,000 that dis­ appeared, many more stopped to help themselves. (What would you have done?) When similar incidents occurred several months later in San Francisco and Toronto, the results were the same: Passersby grabbed most of the money (Bowen, 1988). What situations trigger people to be helpful or greedy? Do some cultural contexts—perhaps villages and small towns—^breed greater helpfulness?

These questions all deal with how people view and affect one another. And that is what social psychology is all about. Social psy­ chologists study attitudes and beliefs, conformity and independence, love and hate.



Tired of looking at the stars. Professor Mueller takes up social psychology. Reprinted with permission of Jason Love at

Identify and describe the central concepts behind social psychology.

In many academic fields, the results of tens of thousands of studies, the conclu­ sions of thousands of investigators, and the insights of hundreds of theorists can be boiled down to a few central ideas. Biology offers us natural selection and adapta­ tion. Sociology builds on concepts such as social structure and organization. Music harnesses our ideas of rhythm, melody, and harmony.

Similarly, social psychology builds on a short list of fundamental principles that will be worth remembering long after you have forgotten most of the details. My short list of “great ideas we ought never to forget” includes these (Figure 1.2), each of which we will explore further in chapters to come.

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 a situation 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.

A 1951 Princeton-Dartmouth football game provided a classic demonstration of how we construct reality (Hastorf & Cantril, 1954; see also Toy & Andrews, 1981). The game lived up to its billing as a grudge match; it was rough and dirty. A Prince­ ton All-American was gang-tackled, piled on, and finally forced out of the game with a broken nose. Fistfights erupted, and there were further injuries on both sides. The whole performance hardly fit the Ivy League image of gentility.

Not long afterward, two psychologists, one from each school, showed films of the game to students on each campus. The students played the role of scientist- observer, noting each infraction as they watched and who was responsible for it.

6 Chapter 1 Introducing Social Psychology

Sott’® Big Ideas in Social Psychol^

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1. We construct our social ‘ reality

2. Our social intuitions are powerful, sometimes perilous

3. Attitudes shape, and are shaped by, behavior

FIGURE:: 1.2 Some Big Ideas in Soda! Psychology

But they could not set aside their loyalties. The Princeton students, for example, saw twice as many Dartmouth violations as the Dartmouth students saw. The con­ clusion: There is an objective reality out there, but we always view it through the lens of our beliefs and values.

We are all intuitive scientists. We explain people’s behavior, usually with enough speed and accuracy to suit our daily needs. When someone’s behavior is consistent and distinctive, we attribute that behavior to his or her personality. For example, if you observe someone who makes repeated snide comments, you may infer that this person has a nasty disposition, and then you might try to avoid the person.

Our beliefs about ourselves also matter. Do we have an optimistic outlook? Do we see ourselves as in control of things? Do we view ourselves as relatively supe­ rior or inferior? Our answers influence our emotions and actions. How we construe the world, and ourselves, matters.

Our Social Intuitions Are Often Powerful but Sometimes Perilous Our instant intuitions shape our fears (Is flying dangerous?), impressions (Can I trust him?), and relationships (Does she like me?). Intuitions influence presidents in times of crisis, gamblers at the table, jurors assessing guilt, and personnel directors screening applicants. Such intuitions are commonplace.

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 of what later chapters will explain: “automatic processing,” “implicit memory,” “heuristics,” “spontaneous trait inference,” instant emotions, and nonver­ bal communication. Thinl^g, memory, and attitudes all operate on two levels—one

Introducing Social Psychology Chapter 1 7

conscious and deliberate, the other unconscious and automatic. Today’s researchers call it “dual processing.” We know more than we know we know. We think on two levels—”intuitive” and “deliberate” (Kruglanski & Gigerenzer, 2011). A book title by Nobel laureate psychologist Daniel Kahneman (2011) captures the idea: We do Think­ ing, Fast and Slow.

Intuition is huge, but intuition is also perilous. For example, as we cruise through life, mostly on automatic pilot, we intuitively judge the like­ lihood of things by how easily various instances come to mind. We carry readily available mental images of plane crashes. Thus, most people fear flying more than driving, and many will drive great distances to avoid risking the skies. Actu­ ally, we are many times safer (per mile traveled) in a commercial plane than in a motor vehicle (in the United States, air travel was 170 times safer between 2005 and 2007, reports the National Safety Council [2010]).

Even our intuitions about ourselves often err. We intuitively trust our memories more than we should. We misread our own minds; in experiments, we deny being affected by things that do influence us. We mispredict our own feelings—how bad we’ll feel a year from now if we lose our job or our romance breaks up, and how good we’ll feel a year from now, or even a week from now, if we win our state’s lottery. And we often mispredict our own future. When selecting clothes, people approaching middle age will still buy snug (“1 anticipate shedding a few pounds”); rarely does anyone say, more realistically, “I’d better buy a relatively loose fit; people my age tend to put on pounds.”

Our social intuitions, then, are noteworthy for both their powers and their per­ ils. By reminding us of intuition’s gifts and alerting us to its pitfalls, social psy­ chologists aim to fortify our thinking. In most situations, “fast and frugal” snap judgments serve us well. But in others, in which accuracy matters—such as when needing to fear the right things and spend our resources accordingly—we had best restrain our impulsive intuitions with critical thinking. Our intuitions and uncon­ scious information processing are routinely powerful and sometimes perilous.

Social Influences Shape Our Behavior We are, as Aristotle long ago observed, social animals. We speak and think in words we learned from others. We long to connect, to belong, and to be well thought of. Matthias Mehl and James Pennebaker (2003) quantified their University of Texas students’ social behavior by inviting them to wear microcassette record­ ers and microphones. Once every 12 minutes during their waking hours, the computer-operated recorder would imperceptibly record for 30 seconds. Although the observation period covered only weekdays (including class time), almost 30 percent of the students’ time was spent in conversation. Relationships are a big part of being human.

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, pow­ erfully evil situations sometimes overwhelm good intentions, inducing people to agree with falsehoods or comply with cruelty. Under Nazi influence, many decent people became instruments of the Holocaust. Other situations may elicit great gen­ erosity and compassion. After a major earthquake and tsunami in 2011, Japan was overwhelmed with offers of assistance.

“He didn’t actually threaten me, but Iperceived him as a threat. *

Social cognition matters. Our behavior is influenced not just by the objec­ tive situation but also by how we construe it. © Lee Lorenz/The New Yorker Collection/

8 Chapter 1 Introducing Social Psychology

The power of the situation is also dramatically evident in varying attitudes regarding same-sex relationships. Tell me whether you live in Africa or the Middle East (where most oppose such relationships) or in western Europe, Canada, or Australia/New Zealand, and I will make a reasonable guess as to what your atti­ tude is about these relationships. I will become even more confident in my guess if I know your educational level, the age of your peer group, and the media you watch. Our situations matter.

Our cultures help define our situations. For example, our standards regarding promptness, frankness, and clothing vary with our culture.

• Whether you prefer a slim or a voluptuous body depends on when and where in the world you live.

• Whether you define social justice as equality (all receive the same) or as equity (those who earn more receive more) depends on whether your ideol­ ogy has been shaped more by socialism or by capitalism.

• Whether you tend to be expressive or reserved, casual or formal, hinges partly on your culture and your ethnicity.

• Whether you focus primarily on yourself—your personal needs, desires, and morality—or on your family, clan, and communal groups depends on how much you are a product of modern Western individualism.

Social psychologist Hazel Markus (2005) sums it up: “People are, above all, mal­ leable.” Said differently, we adapt to our social context. Our attitudes and behavior are shaped by external social forces.

Personal Attitudes and Dispositions Also Shape Behavior Internal forces also matter. We are not passive tumbleweeds, merely blown this way and that by the social winds. Our inner attitudes affect our behavior. Our political attitudes influence our voting behavior. Our smoking attitudes influence our sus­ ceptibility to peer pressure to smoke. Our attitudes toward the poor influence our willingness to help them. (As we will see, our attitudes 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, differ­ ent people may react differently. Emerging from years of political imprisonment, one person exudes bitterness and seeks revenge. Another, such as South Africa s Nelson Mandela, seeks reconciliation and unity with his former enemies. Attitudes and personality influence behavior.

Social Behavior Is Biologically Rooted Twenty-first-century social psychology is providing us with ever-growing insights into our behavior’s biological foundations. Many of our social behaviors reflect a deep biological wisdom.

Everyone who has taken introductory psychology has learned that nature and nurture together form who we are. As the area of a rectangle is determined by both its length and its width, so do biology and experience together create us. As evolu- tionary psychologists remind us (see Chapter 5), our inherited human nature predis­ poses 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. Our behavior, too, aims to send our DNA into the future. Thus, evo­ lutionary psychologists ask how natural selection might predispose our actions and reactions when dating and mating, hating and hurting, caring and sharing. Nature also endows us with an enormous capacity to learn and to adapt to varied environ­ ments. We are sensitive and responsive to our social context.

9Introducing Social Psychology Chapter 1

If every psychological event (every thought, every emotion, every behavior) is simultaneously a biological event, then we can also examine the neurobiology that underlies social behavior. What brain areas enable our experiences of love and contempt, helping and aggression, perception and belief? Do extraverts, as some research suggests, require more stimulation to keep their brain aroused? When shown a friendly face, do socially secure people, more than shy people, respond in a brain area concerned with reward? How do brain, mind, and behavior function together as one coordinated system? What does the timing of brain events reveal about how we process information? Such questions are asked by those in social neuroscience (Cacioppo & others, 2010; Klein & others, 2010).

Social neuroscientists do not reduce complex social behaviors, such as help­ ing and hurting, to simple neural or molecular mechanisms. Their point is this: To understand social behavior, we must consider both under-the-skin (biological) and between-skins (social) influences. Mind and body are one grand system. Stress hormones affect how we feel and act: A testosterone dose decreases trust, oxytocin increases it (Bos & others, 2010). Social ostracism elevates blood pressure. Social support strengthens the disease-fighting immune system. Wc are bio-psycho-social organisms. We reflect the interplay of our biological, psychological, and social influ­ ences. And that is why today’s psychologists study behavior from these different levels of analysis.

Social Psychology’s Principles Are Applicable in Everyday Life Social psychology has the potential to illuminate your life, to make visible the sub­ tle influences that guide your thinking and acting. And, as we will see, it offers many ideas about how to know ourselves better, how to win friends and influence people, how to transform closed fists into open arms.

^holars are also applying social psychological insights. Principles of social think­ ing, social influence, and social relations have implications for human health and well-being, for judicial procedures and juror decisions in courtrooms, and for influ­ encing behaviors that will enable an environmentally sustainable human future.

As but one perspective on human existence, psychological science does not answer life’s ultimate questions: What is the meaning of human life? What should be our purpose? What is our ultimate destiny? But social psychology does give us a method for asking and answering some exceedingly interesting and important questions. Social psychology is all about life—your life: your beliefs, your attitudes, your relationships.

The rest of this chapter takes us inside social psychology. Let’s first consider how social psychologists’ own values influence their work in obvious and subtle ways. And then let’s focus on this chapter’s biggest task: glimpsing how we do social psy­ chology. How do social psychologists search for explanations of social thinking, social influence, and social relations? And how might you and I use these analytical tools to think smarter?

social neuroscience An interdisciplinary field that explores the neural bases of social and emotional processes and behaviors, and how these processes and behaviors affect our brain and biology.

Throughout this book, a brief summary will conclude each major section. I hope these summaries will help you assess how well you have learned the material in each section.

SUMMING UP: What Are Social Psychology’s Big Ideas? Social psychology is the scientific study of how people think about, influence, and relate to one another. Its central themes include the following:

• How we construe our social worlds • How our social intuitions guide and sometimes

deceive us

• How our social behavior is shaped by other peo­ ple, by our attitudes and personalities, and by our biology

• How social psychology’s principles apply to our everyday lives and to various other fields of study

10 Chapter 1 Introducing Social Psychology


Identify the ways that values penetrate the work of social psychologists.

Social psychology is less a collection of findings than a set of strategies for answer­ ing questions. In science, as in courts of law, personal opinions are inadmissible. When ideas are put on trial, evidence determines the verdict.

But are social psychologists really that objective? Because they are human beings, don’t their values—their personal convictions about what is desirable and how people ought to behave—seep into their work? If so, can social psychology really be scientific?

There are two general ways that values enter psychology: the obvious and the subtle.

Different sciences offer different perspectives.

Obvious Ways Values Enter Psychology Values enter the picture when social psychologists choose research topics. These choices typically reflect social history (Kagan, 2009). It was no accident that the study of prejudice flourished during the 1940s as fascism raged in Europe; that the 1950s, a time of look-alike fashions and intolerance of differing views, gave us stud­ ies of conformity; that the 1960s saw interest in aggression increase with riots and rising crime rates; that the feminist movement of the 1970s helped stimulate a wave of research on gender and sexism; that the 1980s offered a resurgence of attention to psychological aspects of the arms race; and that the 1990s and the early twenty-first century were marked by heightened interest in how people respond to diversity in culture, race, and sexual orientation. Susan Fiske {2011a) suggests that we can expect future research to reflect today’s and tomorrow’s issues, including immigra­

tion, income inequality, and aging. Values differ not only across time but also across cul­

tures. In Europe, people take pride in their nationalities. The Scots are more self-consciously distinct from the En­ glish, and the Austrians from the Germans, than are simi­ larly adjacent Michiganders from Ohioans. Consequently, Europe has given us a major theory of “social identity,” whereas American social psychologists have focused more on individuals—how one person thinks about others, is influenced by them, and relates to them (Fiske, 2004; Tajfel, 1981; Turner, 1984). Australian social psychologists have drawn theories and methods from both Europe and North America (Feather, 2005).

Values also influence the types of people who are attracted to various disciplines (Campbell, 1975a; Moynihan, 1979). At your school, do the students majoring in the humanities, the arts, the natural sciences, and the social sciences differ noticeably from one another? Do social psychology and sociology attract people who are—for example—relatively eager to challenge tradition, people more inclined to shape the future than preserve the past? And does social science study enhance such inclinations (Dambrun & others, 2009)? Such factors explain why, when psychologist Jonathan Haidt (2011) asked approximately 1000 social psycholo­

gists at a national convention about their politics, 80 to 90 percent raised their hands to indicate they were “liberal.” When he asked for those who were “conservative,”

Introducing Social Psychology

three hands raised. (Be assured that most topics covered in this text—from “How do our attitudes influence our behavior?” to “Does TV violence influence aggres­ sive behavior?”—are not partisan.)

Finally, values obviously 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. None of that, however, tells us which values are “right.”

Not-So-Obvious Ways Values Enter Psychology We less often recognize the subtle ways in which value commitments masquerade as objective truth. What are three not-so-obvious ways values enter psychology?

THE SUBJECTIVE ASPECTS OF SCIENCE Scientists and philosophers agree: Science is not purely objective. Scientists do not simply read the book of nature. Rather, they interpret nature, using their own mental categories. In our daily lives, too, we view the world through the lens of our precon­ ceptions. Whether we see a moving light in the sky as a flying saucer or see a face in a pie crust depends on our perceptual set. While reading these words, you have been unaware that you are also looking at your nose. Your mind blocks from awareness something that is there, if only you were predisposed to perceive it. This 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. What we take for granted—the shared beliefs that some European social psychologists call our social representations (Augoustinos & Innes, 1990; Moscovici, 1988,2001)—are often our most important yet most unexamined convictions. Sometimes, however, some­ one from outside the camp will call attention to those assumptions. During the 1980s, feminists and Marxists exposed some of social psychology’s unexamined assump­ tions. Feminist critics called attention to subtle biases—for example, the political conservatism of some scientists who favored a biological interpretation of gender dif­ ferences in social behavior (Unger, 1985). Marxist critics called attention to competi­ tive, individualist biases—for example, the assumption that conformity is bad and that individual rewards are good. Marxists and feminists, of course, make their own assumptions, as critics of academic “political correctness” are fond of noting. Social psychologist Lee Jussim (2005), for example, argues that progressive social psycholo­ gists sometimes feel compelled to deny group differences and to assume that stereo­ types of group difference are never rooted in reality but always in racism.

In Chapter 3, we will discuss more ways in which our preconceptions guide our interpretations. As those Princeton and Dartmouth football fans remind us, what guides our behavior is less the situation-as-it-is than the situation-as-we-construe-it.

PSYCHOLOGICAL CONCEPTS CONTAIN HIDDEN VALUES Implicit in our understanding that psychology is not objective is the realization that psychologists’ own values may play an important part in the theories and judg­ ments they support. Psychologists may refer to people as mature or immature, as well adjusted or poorly adjusted, as mentally healthy or mentally ill. They may talk as if they were stating facts, when they are really making value judgments. The fol­ lowing are examples: DEFINING THE GOOD LIFE Values influence our idea of how best to live. The personality psychologist Abraham Maslow, for example, was known for his sensitive descriptions of “self-actualized” people—people who, with their needs for survival, safety, belonging, and self-esteem satisfied, go on to fulfill their human potential. He described, among other individuals, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Eleanor Roosevelt. Few readers noticed that Maslow, guided by his own values, selected his sample of self-actualized people himself. The resulting description of self-actualized

Chapter 1 11










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 A society’s widely held ideas and values, including assumptions and cultural ideologies. Our social representations help us make sense of our world.

12 Chapter 1 Introducing Social Psychology

Hidden (and not-so-hidden) values seep into psycho­ logical advice. They permeate popular psychology books that offer guidance on living and loving.

personalities—as spontaneous, autonomous, mystical, and so forth—reflected Maslow’s personal values. Had he begun with some­ one else’s heroes—say, Napoleon, Alexander the Great, and John D. Rockefeller—his resulting description of self-actualization would have differed (Smith, 1978).

PROFESSIONAL ADVICE Psychological advice also reflects the advice giver’s personal values. When mental health profession­ als advise us how to get along with our spouse or our co-workers, when child-rearing experts tell us how to handle our children, and when some psychologists advocate living free of concern for others’ expectations, they are expressing their personal values. (In Western cultures, those values usually will be individualistic—encouraging what feels best for “me.” Non-Western cultures more often encour­ age what is best for “we.”) Unaware of those hidden values, many people defer to the “professional.” But professional psychologists cannot answer questions of ultimate moral obligation, of purpose and direction, and of life’s meaning.

FORMING CONCEPTS Hidden values even seep into psychol­ ogy’s research-based concepts. Pretend you have taken a personality test and the psychologist, after scoring your answers, announces: “You scored high in self-esteem. You are low in anxiety. And you have exceptional ego-strength.” “Ah,” you think, “1 suspected as much, but it feels good to know that.” Now another psychologist gives you

a similar test, which asks some of the same questions. Afterward, the psychologist informs you that you seem defensive, for you scored high in “repressiveness.” “How could this be?” you wonder. “The other psychologist said such nice things about me.” It could be because all these labels describe the same set of responses (a tendency to say nice things about oneself and not to acknowledge problems). ShaU we call it high self-esteem or defensiveness? The label reflects the judgment.

LABELING Value judgments, then, are often hidden within our social psycho­ logical language—but that is also true of everyday language:

• Whether we label a quiet child as “bashful” on “cautious,” as “holding back or as “an observer,” conveys a judgment.

• Whether we label someone engaged in guerrilla warfare a “terrorist” or a “freedom fighter” depends on our view of the cause.

• Whether we view wartime civilian deaths as “the loss of innocent lives” or as “collateral damage” affects our acceptance of such.

• Whether we call public assistance “welfare” or “aid to the needy” reflects our political views.

• When “they” exalt their country and people, it is nationalism; when “we” do it, it is patriotism.

• Whether someone involved in an extramarital affair is practicing “open mar­ riage” or “adultery” depends on one’s personal values.

• “Brainwashing” is social influence we do not approve of. • “Perversions” are sex acts we do not practice.

As these examples indicate, values lie hidden within our cultural definitions of mental health, our psychological advice for living, our concepts, and our psycho­ logical labels. Throughout this book, 1 will call your attention to additional exam­ ples of hidden values. The point is never that the implicit values are necessarily bad. The point is that scientific interpretation, even at the level of labeling phenom­ ena, is a human activity. It is therefore inevitable that prior beliefs and values will influence what social psychologists think and write.

Introducing Social Psychology Chapter 1 13

Should we dismiss science because it has its subjective side? Quite the contrary: The realization that human thinking always involves interpretation is precisely why we need researchers with varying biases to undertake scientific analysis. By constantly checking our beliefs against the facts, we restrain our biases. System­ atic observation and experimentation help us clean the lens through which we see reality.

SUMMING UP: How Do Human Values Influence Social Psychology?

• Social psychologists’ values penetrate their work in obvious ways, such as their choice of research topics and the types of people who are attracted to various fields of study.

• They also do this in subtler ways, such as their hid­ den assumptions when forming concepts, choosing labels, and giving advice.

• This penetration of values into science is not a rea­ son to fault social psychology or any other science. That human thinking is seldom dispassionate is precisely why we need systematic observation and experimentation if we are to check our cherished ideas against reality.


Explore how social psychology’s theories provide new insight into the human condition.

Many of the conclusions presented in this book may already have occurred to you, for social psychological phenomena are all around you. We constantly observe people thinking about, influencing, and relating to one another. It pays to discern what a facial expression predicts, how to get someone to do something, or whether to regard another as friend or foe. For centuries, philosophers, novelists, and poets have observed and commented on social behavior.

Does this mean that social psychology is just common sense in fancy words? Social psychology faces two contradictory criticisms: first, that it is trivial because it documents the obvious; second, that it is dangerous because its findings could be used to manipulate people.

Chapter 7 explores the second criticism. Here, let’s examine the first objection. Do social psychology and the other social sciences simply formalize what any

amateur already knows intuitively? Writer Cullen Murphy (1990) took that view: “Day after day social scientists go out into the world. Day after day they discover that people’s behavior is pretty much what you’d expect.” Nearly a half-century earlier, historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. (1949), reacted with similar scorn to social scientists’ studies of American World War II soldiers. Sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld (1949) reviewed those studies and offered a sample with interpretive comments, a few of which I paraphrase:

1. Better-educated soldiers suffered more adjustment problems than did less- educated soldiers. (Intellectuals were less prepared for battle stresses than were street-smart people.)

2. Southern soldiers coped better with the hot South Sea Island climate than did Northern soldiers. (Southerners are more accustomed to hot weather.)

14 Chapter 1 Introducing Social Psychology

hindsight bias The tendency to exaggerate, after learning an outcome, one’s ability to have foreseen how something turned out. Also known as the l-knew-it- all-along phenomenon.

3. White privates were more eager for promotion than were Black privates. (Years of oppression take a toll on achievement motivation.)

4. Southern Blacks preferred Southern to Northern White officers. (Southern officers were more experienced and skilled in interacting with Blacks.)

As you read those findings, did you agree that they were basically common sense? If so, you may be surprised to learn that Lazarsfeld went on to say, “Every one of these statements is the direct opposite of what was actually found.” In reality, the studies found that less-educated soldiers adapted more poorly. Southerners were not more likely than northerners to adjust to a tropical climate. Blacks were more eager than Whites for promotion, and so forth. “If we had mentioned the actual results of the investigation first [as Schlesinger experienced], the reader would have labeled these ‘obvious’ also.

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. Exper­ iments reveal that when people learn the outcome of an experiment, that outcome sudderUy seems unsurprising—much less surprising than it is to people who are simply told about the experimental procedure and the possible outcomes (Slovic & Fischhoff, 1977).

Likewise, in everyday life we often do not expect something to happen until it does. Then we suddenly see clearly the forces that brought the event about and feel unsurprised. Moreover, we may also misremember our earlier view (Blank & others, 2008; Nestler & others, 2010). Errors in judging the future’s foreseeability and in remembering our past combine to create hindsight bias (also called the I-knew-it-all-along phenomenon).

Thus, after elections or stock market shifts, most commentators find the turn of events unsurprising: “The market was due for a correction.” After the 2010 Gulf oil disaster, it seemed obvious—in hindsight—that BP employees had taken some shortcuts and ignored warnings, and that government oversight was lax. As the Danish philosopher-theologian Soren Kierkegaard put it, “Life is lived forwards, but understood backwards.”

If hindsight bias is pervasive, you may now be feeling that you already knew about this phenomenon. Indeed, almost any conceivable result of a psychological experiment can seem like common sense—after you know the result.

You can demonstrate the phenomenon yourself. Take a group of people and tell half of them one psychological finding and the other half the opposite result. For example, tell half as follows:

Social psychologists have found that, whether choosing friends or falling in love, we are most attracted to people whose traits are different from our own. There seems to be wisdom in the old saying “Opposites attract.”

In hindsight, events seem obvious and predictable.

Tell the other half: Social psychologists have found that, whether choosing friends or falling in love, we are most attracted to people whose traits are similar to our own. There seems to be wisdom in the old saying “Birds of a feather flock together.”

Ask the people first to explain the result. Then ask them to say whether it is “surprising” or “not surprising.” Virtually all will find a good explanation for whichever result they were given and will say it is “not surprising.”

Indeed, we can draw on our stockpile of proverbs to make almost any result seem to make sense. If a social psycholo­ gist reports that separation intensifies romantic attraction, John Q. Public responds, “You get paid for this? Everybody knows that ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder.’” Should

it turn out that separation weakens attraction, John will say, “My grandmother could have told you, ‘Out of sight, out of mind.’”

Introducing Social Psychology Chapter 1 15

focus ON I Knew It All Along

Cullen Murphy (1990), managing editor of the At/ant/c, faulted “sociology, psychology, and other social sciences for too often merely discerning the obvious or confirming the commonplace.” His own casual survey of social science findings “turned up no ideas or conclusions that can’t be found in Bart/ett’s or any other encyclopedia of quo­ tations.” Nevertheless, to sift through competing sayings, we need research. Consider some dueling proverbs:

1$ It more true that… We should keep our eye on the

prize. Too many cooks spoil the broth. The pen is mightier than the sword. You can’t teach an old dog new

tricks. Blood is thicker than water. He who hesitates is lost. Forewarned is forearmed.

Karl Teigen (1986) must have had a few chuckles when he asked University of Leicester (England) students to evaluate actual proverbs and their opposites. When given the proverb “Fear is stronger than love,” most rated it as true. But so did students who were given its reversed form, “Love is stronger than fear.” Like­ wise, the genuine proverb “He that is fallen cannot help him who is down” was rated highly; but so too was “He that is fallen can help him who is down.” My favorites, however, were two highly rated proverbs: “Wise men make proverbs and fools repeat them” (authentic) and its made-up counterpart, “Fools make .. proverbs and wise men repeat them.” For more dueling proverbs, see “Focus On: I Knew It All Along.”

The hindsight bias creates a problem for many psychology students. Some­ times results are genuinely surprising (for example, that Olympic bronze med­ alists take more joy in their achievement than do silver medalists). More often, when you read the results of experiments in your textbooks, the material seems easy, even obvious. When you later take a multiple-choice test on which you must choose among several plausible conclusions, the task may become surprisingly difficult. “I don’t know what happened,” the befuddled student later moans. “I thought I knew the material.”

The 1-knew-it-all-along phenomenon can have unfortunate consequences. It is conducive to arrogance—an overestimation of our own intellectual powers. More­ over, 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.”

Starting after the morning of 9/11 and working backward, signals pointing to the impending disaster seemed obvious. A U.S. Senate investigative report listed the missed or misinterpreted clues (Gladwell, 2003): The CIA knew that al Qaeda operatives had entered the country. An FBI agent sent a memo to head­ quarters that began by warning “the Bureau and New York of the possibility of a coordinated effort by Osama bin Laden to send students to the United States to attend civilian aviation universities and colleges.” The FBI ignored that accu­ rate warning and failed to relate it to other reports that terrorists were planning to use planes as weapons. The president received a daily briefing titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike Inside the United States” and stayed on holiday. “The dumb fools!” it seemed to hindsight critics. “Why couldn’t they connect the dots?”

But what seems clear in hindsight is seldom clear on the front side of his­ tory. The intelligence community is overwhelmed with “noise”—piles of useless information surrounding the rare shreds of useful information. Analysts must therefore be selective in deciding which to pursue, and only when a lead is pur­ sued does it stand a chance of being connected to another lead. In the 6 years

Or that… We should keep our nose to the

grindstone. Two heads are better than one, Actions speak louder than words. You’re never too old to learn.

Many kinfolk, few friends. Look before you leap. Don’t cross the bridge until you

come to it.

16 Chapter 1 Introducing Social Psychology











before 9/11, the FBI’s counterterrorism unit could never have pursued all 68,000 uninvestigated leads. In hindsight, the few useful ones are now obvious.

In the aftermath of the 2008 world financial crisis, it seemed obvious that govern­ ment regulators should have placed safeguards against the ill-fated bank lending practices. But what was obvious in hindsight was unforeseen by the chief American regulator, Alan Greenspan, who found himself “in a state of shocked disbelief” at the economic collapse.

We sometimes blame ourselves for “stupid mistakes”—perhaps for not having handled a person or a situation better. Looking back, we see how we should have handled it. “I should have known how busy I would be at the semester’s end and started that paper earlier.” But sometimes we are too hard on ourselves. We forget that what is obvious to us now was not nearly so obvious at the time.

Physicians who are told both a patient’s symptoms and the cause of death {as determined by autopsy) sometimes wonder how an incorrect diagnosis could have been made. Other physicians, given only the symptoms, do not find the diagnosis nearly so obvious (Dawson & others, 1988). Would juries be slower to assume mal­ practice if they were forced to take a foresight rather than a hindsight perspective?

What do we conclude—that common sense is usually wrong? Sometimes it is. At other times, conventional wisdom is right—or it falls on both sides of an issue. Does happiness come from knowing the truth, or from preserving illusions? From being with others, or from living in peaceful solitude? Opinions are a dime a dozen. No matter what we find, there will be someone who foresaw it. (Mark Twain jested that Adam was the only person who, when saying a good thing, knew that nobody had said it before.) But which of the many competing ideas best fit reality? Research can specify the circumstances under which a commonsense truism is valid.

The point is not that common sense is predictably wrong. Rather, common sense usually is right—after the fact. We therefore easily deceive ourselves into think­ ing that we know and knew more than we do and did. And that is precisely why we need science to help us sift reality from illusion and genuine predictions from easy hindsight.

SUMMING UP: l Knew It All Along: Is Social Psychology Simply Common Sense?

• Social psychology is criticized for being trivial • This hindsight bias (the l-knew-it-all-along phenom- because it documents things that seem obvious. enon) often makes people overconfident about the

. Experiments, however, reveal that outcomes are validity of their judgments and predictions, more “obvious” after the facts are known.


I Examine the methods that make social psychology a science. We have considered some of the intriguing questions social psychology seeks to answer. We have also seen how subjective, often unconscious, processes influence social psychologists’ work. Now let’s consider how social psychologists go about doing research.

Introducing Social Psychology Chapter 1 17

In their quest for insight, social psychologists propose theories that organize their observations and imply testable hypotheses and practical predictions. To test a hypothesis, social psychologists may do research that predicts behavior using cor­ relational studies, often conducted in natural settings. Or they may seek to explain behavior by conducting experiments that manipulate one or more factors under con­ trolled conditions. Then they may explore ways to apply their findings to improve people’s everyday lives.

We are all amateur social psychologists. People-watching is a universal hobby. As we observe people, we form ideas about how human beings think about, influ­ ence, and relate to one another. Professional social psychologists do the same, only more systematically (by forming theories) and painstakingly (often with experi­ ments that create miniature social dramas that pin down cause and effect).

Forming and Testing Hypotheses We social psychologists have a difficult time thinking of anything more fascinating than human existence. As we wrestle with human nature to pin down its secrets, we organize our ideas and findings into theories. A theory is an integrated set of prin­ ciples that explain and predict observed events. Theories are a scientific shorthand.

In everyday conversation, “theory” often means “less than fact”—a middle rung on a confidence ladder from guess to theory to fact. Thus, people may dismiss Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution as “just a theory.” Indeed, notes Alan Leshner (2005), chief officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, “Evolution is only a theory, but so is gravity.” People often respond that gravity is a fact—^but the fact is that your keys fall to the ground when dropped. Gravity is the theoretical explanation that accounts for such observed facts.

To a scientist, facts and theories are apples and oranges. Facts are agreed-upon statements about what we observe. Theories are ideas that summarize and explain facts. “Science is built up with facts, as a house is with stones,” wrote the French scientist Jules Henri Poincare, “but a collection of facts is no more a science than a heap of stones is a house.”

Theories not only summarize but also imply testable predictions, called hypotheses. Hypotheses serve several purposes. First, they allow us to test a theory by suggesting how we might try to falsify it. Second, predictions give direction to research and sometimes send investigators looking for things they might never have thought of. Third, the predictive feature of good theories can also make them practical. A complete theory of aggression, for example, would predict when to expect aggres­ sion and how to control it. As the pio­ neering social psychologist Kurt Lewin declared, “There is nothing so practical as a good theory.”

Consider how this works. Say we observe that people who loot, taunt, or attack often do so in groups or crowds. We might therefore theorize that being part of a crowd, or group, makes individuals feel anonymous and lowers their inhibitions. How could we test this theory? Perhaps (I’m playing with this theory) we could devise a laboratory experiment that simulates aspects of execution by electric chair. What if we asked individuals in groups to administer punishing shocks to a hapless victim









theory An integrated set of principles that explain and predict observed events.

hypothesis A testable proposition that describes a relationship that may exist between events.

For humans, the most fascinating subject is people. ® V/arren Mil[ef/The New Yorker Collection/www.cartoonbankxom


18 Chapter 1 Introducing Social Psychology

field research Research done in natural, real-life settings outside the laboratory.

correlational research The study of the naturally occurring relationships arr^ong variables.

experimental research Studies that seek clues to cause-effect relationships by manipulating one or more factors (independent variables) while controlling others (holding them constant).

without knowing which member of the group was actually shocking the victim? Would these individuals administer stronger shocks than individuals acting alone, as our theory predicts?

We might also manipulate anonymity: Would people deliver stronger shocks if they were wearing masks? If the results confirm our hypothesis, they might suggest some practical applications. Perhaps police brutality could be reduced by having officers wear large name tags and drive cars identified with large numbers, or by videotaping their arrests—all of which have, in fact, become common practice in many cities.

But how do we conclude that one theory is better than another? A good theory

• effectively summarizes many observations, and • makes clear predictions that we can use to

• confirm or modify the theory, • generate new exploration, and • suggest practical applications.

When we discard theories, usually it is not because they have been proved false. Rather, like old cars, they are replaced by newer, better models.

Correlational Research: Detecting Natural Associations Let’s now go backstage and see how social psychology is done. This glimpse behind the scenes should be just enough for you to appreciate findings discussed later. Understanding the logic of research can also help us think critically about everyday social events.

Social psychological research varies by location. It can take place as laboratory research {a controlled situation) or as field research (everyday situations). And it varies by method—whether correlaUonal (asking whether two or more factors are naturally associated) or experimental (manipulating some factor to see its effect on another). If you want to be a critical reader of psychological research reported in the media, it will pay you to understand the difference between correlational and experimental research.

Let’s first consider the advantages of correlational research (often involving important variables in natural settings) and its major disadvantage (ambiguous interpretation of cause and effect). As we will discuss in Chapter 14, today’s psy­ chologists relate personal and social factors to human health. In search of possible links between socioeconomic status and health, Douglas Carroll, George Davey Smith, and Paul Bennett (1994) ventured into Glasgow, Scotland’s old graveyards. As a measure of health, they noted from grave markers the life spans of 843 indi­ viduals. As an indication of status, they measured the height of the grave pillars, reasoning that height reflected cost and therefore affluence. As Figure 1.3 shows, taller grave markers were related to longer lives, for both men and women.

Carroll and colleagues report that other researchers, using contemporary data, have confirmed the status-longevity correlation. Scottish postal-code regions hav­ ing the least overcrowding and unemployment also have the greatest longevity. In the United States, income correlates with longevity (poor and lower-status peo­ ple are more at risk for premature death). In today’s Britain, occupational status correlates with longevity. One study followed 17,350 British civil service workers over 10 years. Compared with top-grade administrators, those at the professional- executive grade were 1.6 times more likely to have died. Clerical workers were 2.2 times and laborers 2.7 times more likely to have died (Adler & others, 1993,1994). Across times and places, the status-health correlation seems reliable.

CORRELATION AND CAUSATION The status-longevity question illustrates the most irresistible thinking error made by both amateur and professional social psychologists: When two factors such as

Introducing Social Psychology Chapter 1 19

Low Medium High Height of grave pillars

FIGURE :: 1.3 Correlating Status and Longevity Tall grave pillars commemorated people who also tended to live longer.

status and health go together, it is tempting to conclude that one is causing the other. Status, we might presume, somehow protects a person from health risks. But might it be the other way around? Could it be that health promotes vigor and suc­ cess? Perhaps people who live longer simply have more time to accumulate wealth (enabling them to have more expensive grave markers). Or might a third variable, such as diet, be involved (did wealthy and working-class people tend to eat differ­ ently)? Correlations indicate a relationship, but that relationship is not necessarily one of cause and effect. Correlational research allows us to predict, but it cannot tell us whether changing one variable (such as social status) will cause changes in another (such as health).

The correlation-causation confusion is behind much muddled thinking in popu­ lar psychology. Consider another very real correlation—between self-esteem and academic achievement. Children with high self-esteem tend also to have high aca­ demic achievement. (As with any correlation, we can also state this the other way around: High achievers tend to have high self-esteem.) Why do you suppose that is true (Figure 1.4)?

Some people believe a “healthy self- concept” contributes to achievement. Thus, boosting a child’s self-image may also boost school achievement. Believing so, 30 U.S. states have enacted more than 170 self-esteem-promoting statutes.

But other people, including psycholo­ gists William Damon (1995), Robyn Dawes (1994), Mark Leary (1999), Martin Seligman (1994, 2002), and Roy Baumeister with John Tierney (2011), doubt that self-esteem is really “the armor that protects kids” from under­ achievement (or drug abuse and delin­ quency). Perhaps it is the other way around: Perhaps problems and failures cause low self-esteem. Perhaps self­ esteem often reflects the reality of how

Commemorative markers in Glasgow Cathedral graveyard.

20 Chapter 1 Introducing Social Psychology

FIGURE:: 1.4 Correlation and Causations When two variables correlate, any combination of three expla­ nations is possible. Either one may cause the other, or both may be affected by an underlying “third factor.”

X Correlation


Social status Health

things are going for us. Perhaps self-esteem grows from hard-won achievements. Do well and you will feel good about yourself; goof off and fail and you will feel like a dolt. A study of 635 Norwegian schoolchildren showed that a (legitimately earned) string of gold stars by one’s name on the spelling chart and accompany­ ing praise from the admiring teacher can boost a child’s self-esteem (Skaalvik & Hagtvet, 1990). Or perhaps, as in a study of nearly 6,000 German seventh-graders, the traffic between self-esteem and academic achievements runs both ways (Traut- wein & Liidtke, 2006).

It is also possible that self-esteem and achievement correlate because both are linked to underlying intelligence and family social status. That possibility was raised in two studies—one a nationwide sample of 1,600 young American men and the other of 715 Minnesota youngsters (Bachman & O’Malley, 1977; Maruyama & others, 1981). When the researchers mathematically removed the predictive power of intelligence and family status, the relationship between self-esteem and achieve­ ment evaporated.

Correlations quantify, with a coefficient known as r, the degree of relationship between two factors—from -1.0 (as one factor score goes up, the other goes down) through 0 to -t-1.0 (the two factors’ scores rise and fall together). Scores on self­ esteem and depression tests correlate negatively (about -.6). Identical twins’ intel­ ligence scores correlate positively (above +.8). The great strength of correlational research is that it tends to occur in real-world settings where we can examine fac­ tors such as race, gender, and social status (factors that we cannot manipulate in the laboratory). Its great disadvantage lies in the ambiguity of the results. This point is so important that even if it fails to impress people the first 25 times they hear it, it is worth repeating a twenty-sixth time: Knowing that two variables change together (correlate) enables us to predict one when we know the other, but correlation does not specify cause and effect.

Advanced correlational techniques can, however, suggest cause-effect rela­ tionships. Time-lagged correlations reveal the sequence of events (for example, by indicating whether changed achievement more often precedes or follows changed self-esteem). Researchers can also use statistical techniques that extract the influ­ ence of “confounded” variables, as when the correlation between self-esteem and achievement evaporated after extracting intelligence and family status. Recall our earlier mention of a third variable, such as diet. Thus, the Scottish research team wondered whether the status-longevity relationship would survive their remov­ ing the effect of cigarette smoking, which is now much less common among those of higher status. It did, which suggested that some other factors, such as

increased stress and decreased feelings of control, may also account for poorer people’s earlier mortality.

SURVEY RESEARCH How do we measure variables such as status and health? One way is by surveying representative samples of people. If survey researchers want to describe a whole population (which for many psychology surveys is not the aim), then they will obtain a representative group by taking a random sample—one in which every person in the population being studied has an equal chance of inclusion. With this procedure any subgroup of people—^blondes, joggers, liberals—will tend to be represented in the survey to the extent that they are represented in the total population.

Whether we survey people in a city or in a whole country, 1,200 randomly selected participants will enable us to be 95 percent confident of describing the entire popu­ lation with an error margin of 3 percentage points or less. Imagine a huge jar filled with beans, 50 percent red and 50 percent white. Randomly sample 1,200 of these, and you will be 95 percent certain to draw out between 47 percent and 53 percent red beans—regardless of whether the jar contains 10,000 beans or 100 million beans. If we think of the red beans as supporters of one presidential candidate and the white beans as supporters of the other candidate, we can understand why, since 1950, the Gallup polls taken just before U.S. national elections have diverged from election results by an average of less than 2 percent. As a few drops of blood can speak for the whole body, so can a random sample speak for a population.

Bear in mind that polls do not literally predict voting; they only describe public opinion at the moment they are taken. Public opinion can shift. To evaluate sur­ veys, we must also bear in mind four potentially biasing influences: unrepresenta­ tive samples, question order, response options, and question wording.

UNREPRESENTATIVE SAMPLES How closely the sample represents the popu­ lation under study matters greatly. In 1984, columnist Ann Landers accepted a let­ ter writer’s challenge to poll her readers on the question of whether women find affection more important than sex. Her question: “Would you be content to be held close and treated tenderly and forget about ‘the act’?” Of the more than 100,000 women who replied, 72 percent said yes. An avalanche of worldwide publicity followed. In response to critics, Landers (1985, p. 45) granted that “the sampling may not be representative of all American women. But it does provide honest— valuable—insights from a cross section of the public. This is because my column is

Chapter 1 21

Even exit polls require a random (and therefore representative) sample of voters.

random sampling Survey procedure in which every person in the population being studied has an equal chance of inclusion.

22 Chapter 1 Introducing Social Psychology

SRC’s Survey Services Laboratory at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research has inter­ viewing carrels with moni­ toring stations. Staff and visitors must sign a pledge to honor the strict confidentiality of all interviews.

read by people from every walk of life, approximately 70 million of them.” Still, one wonders, are the 70 million readers representative of the entire population? And are the 1 in 700 readers who took the trouble to reply to the survey representative of the 699 in 700 who did not?

The importance of representativeness was effectively demonstrated in 1936 when a weekly newsmagazine. Literary Digest, mailed a postcard presidential election poll to 10 million Americans. Among the more than 2 million returns, Alf Landon won by a landslide over Franklin D. Roosevelt. When the actual votes were counted a few days later, Landon carried only two states. The magazine had sent the poll only to people whose names it had obtained from telephone books and automobile registrations—thus ignoring the millions of voters who could afford neither a tele­ phone nor a car (Cleghom, 1980). ORDER OF QUESTIONS Given a representative sample, we must also contend with other sources of bias, such as the order of questions in a survey. Americans’ support for civil unions of gays and lesbians rises if they are first asked their opin­ ion of gay marriage, compared with which civil unions seem a more acceptable alternative (Moore, 2004a, 2004b). RESPONSE OPTIONS Consider, too, the dramatic effects of the response options. When Joop van der Plight and co-workers (1987) asked English voters what percent­ age of Britain’s energy they wished came from nuclear power, the average preference was 41 percent. They asked other voters what percentage they wished came from (1) nuclear, (2) coal, and (3) other sources. The average preference for nuclear power among these respondents was 21 percent. WORDING OF QUESTIONS The precise wording of questions may also influ­ ence answers. One poll found that only 23 percent of Americans thought their gov­ ernment was spending too much “on assistance to the poor.” Yet 53 percent thought the government was spending too much “on welfare” {Time, 1994). Likewise, most people favor cutting “foreign aid” and increasing spending “to help hungry people in other nations” (Simon, 1996).

Survey questioning is a very delicate matter. Even subtle changes in the tone of a question can have marked effects (Krosnick & Schuman, 1988; Schuman & Kalton, 1985). “Forbidding” something may be the same as “not allowing” it. But in 1940, 54 percent of Americans said the United States should “forbid” speeches against democracy, and 75 percent said the United States should “not allow” them. Even when people say they feel strongly about an issue, a question’s form and wording may affect their answer.

Introducing Social Psychology Chapter 1 23






by Garry Trudeau

Survey researchers must be sensitive to subtle and not-so-subtle biases. DOONESBURY © G. B. Trudeau. Reprinted with permission of Universal Press Syndicate. All rights reserved.

Order, response, and wording effects enable political manipulators to use sur­ veys to show public support for their views. Consultants, advertisers, and physi­ cians can have similar disconcerting influences upon our decisions by how they frame our choices. No wonder the meat lobby in 1994 objected to a new U.S. food labeling law that required declaring ground beef, for example, as “30 percent fat,” rather than “70 percent lean, 30 percent fat.” To 9 in 10 college students, a condom seems effective if its protection against the AIDS virus has a “95 percent success rate.” Told that it has a “5 percent failure rate,” only 4 in 10 students say they find it effective (Linville & others, 1992).

Framing research also has applications in the definition of everyday default options:

• Opting in or out of organ donation. In many countries, people decide, when renewing their drivers’ license, whether they want to make their body available for organ donation. In countries where the default option is yes but one can “opt out,” nearly 100 percent of people choose to be donors. In the United States, Britain, and Germany, where the default option is no but one can “opt in,” approximately 1 in 4 choose to be donors (Johnson & Goldstein, 2003).

• Opting in or out of retirement savings. For many years, American employees who wanted to defer part of their compensation to a 401(k) retirement plan had to elect to lower their take-home pay. Most chose not to do so. A 2006 pension law, influenced by framing research, reframed the choice. Now com­ panies are given an incentive to enroll their employees automatically in the plan and to allow them to opt out (and to raise their take-home pay). The choice was preserved. But one study found that with the “opt out” framing, enrollments soared from 49 to 86 percent (Madrian & Shea, 2001).

‘The lesson of framing research is told in the story of a sultan who dreamed he had lost all his teeth. Summoned to interpret the dream, the first interpreter said, “Alas! The lost teeth mean you will see your family members die.” Enraged, the sul­ tan ordered 50 lashes for this bearer of bad news. When a second dream interpreter heard the dream, he explained the sultan’s good fortune: “You will outlive your whole clan!” Reassured, the sultan ordered his treasurer to go and fetch 50 pieces of gold for this bearer of good news. On the way, the bewildered treasurer observed to the second interpreter, “Your interpretation was no different from that of the first interpreter.” “Ah yes,” the wise interpreter replied, “but remember: What matters is not only what you say, but how you say it.”

framing The way a question or an issue is posed; framing can influence people’s decisions and expressed opinions.

A young monk was once rebuffed when asking if he could smoke while he prayed. Ask a different question, advised a friend: Ask if you can pray while you smoke (Crossen, 1993).

24 Chapter 1

independent variable The experimental factor that a researcher manipulates.

Note: Obesity correlated with marital status and income.

Whom the men were shown—a normal or an overweight woman—was the independent variable.

Introducing Social Psychology

Experimental Research: Searching for Cause and Effect The difficulty of discerning cause and effect among naturally correlated events prompts most social psychologists to create laboratory simulations of everyday pro­ cesses whenever this is feasible and ethical. These simulations are akin to aeronau­ tical wind tunnels. Aeronautical engineers do not begin by observing how flying objects perform in various natural environments. The variations in both atmo­ spheric conditions and flying objects are too complex. Instead, they construct a sim­ ulated reality in which they can manipulate wind conditions and wing structures.

CONTROL: MANIPULATING VARIABLES Like aeronautical engineers, social psychologists experiment by constructing social situations that simulate important features of our daily lives. By varying just one or two factors at a time—called independent variables—the experimenter pinpoints their influence. As the wind tunnel helps the aeronautical engineer discover princi­ ples of aerodynamics, so the experiment enables the social psychologist to discover principles of social thinking, social influence, and social relations.

To illustrate the laboratory experiment, consider two experiments that typify research from upcoming chapters on prejudice and aggression. Each experiment suggests possible cause-effect explanations of correlational findings.

CORRELATIONAL AND EXPERIMENTAL STUDIES OF PREJUDICE AGAINST THE OBESE People often perceive the obese as slow, lazy, and sloppy (Roehling & others, 2007; Ryckman & others, 1989). Do such attitudes spawn dis­ crimination? In hopes of finding out, Steven Gortmaker and colleagues (1993) studied 370 obese 16- to 24-year-old women. When they restudied them 7 years later, two-thirds of the women were still obese and were less likely to be married and earning high salaries than a comparison group of approximately 5,000 other women. Even after correcting for any differences in aptitude test scores, race, and parental income, the obese women’s incomes were $7,000 a year below average.

Correcting for certain other factors makes it look as though discrimination might explain the correlation between obesity and lower status. But we cannot be sure. (Can you think of other possibilities?) Enter social psychologists Mark Snyder and Julie Haugen (1994,1995). They asked 76 University of Minnesota male students to have a get-acquainted phone conversation with 1 of 76 female students. Unknown to the women, each man was shown a photo said to picture his conversational part­ ner. Half were shown an obese woman (not the actual partner); the other half were shown a normal-weight woman. Later analysis of just the women’s side of the con­ versation revealed that they spoke less warmly and happily if they were presumed obese. Clearly, something in the men’s tone of voice and conversational content induced the supposedly obese women to speak in a way that confirmed the idea that obese women are undesirable. The men’s prejudice and discrimination were having an effect. Recalling the effect of the stepmother’s behavior, perhaps we should call this the “Cinderella effect.”

CORRELATIONAL AND EXPERIMENTAL STUDIES OF TV VIOLENCE VIEWING As a second example of how experiments clarify causation, consider the correlation between television viewing and children’s behavior. The more vio­ lent television children watch, the more aggressive they tend to be. Are children learning and reenacting what they see on the screen? As 1 hope you now recognize, this is a correlational finding. Figure 1.4 reminds us that there are two other cause-effect interpretations. (What are they?)

Social psychologists have therefore brought television viewing into the labo­ ratory, where they control the amount of violence the children see. By exposing children to violent and nonviolent programs, researchers can observe how the

Introducing Social Psychology Chapter 1 25

amount of violence affects behavior. Chris Boyatzis and colleagues (1995) showed some elementary schoolchil­ dren, but not others, an episode of the most popular—and violent—children’s television program of the 1990s, Power Rangers. Immediately after viewing the episode, the viewers committed seven times as many aggressive acts per 2-minute interval as the nonview­ ers. The observed aggressive acts we call the dependent variable. Such experiments indicate that television can be one cause of children’s aggres­ sive behavior.

So far we have seen that the logic of experimentation is simple: By creating and controlling a miniature reality, we can vary one factor and then another and discover how those factors, sepa­ rately or in combination, affect people. Now let’s go a little deeper and see how an experiment is done.

Every social psychological experiment has two essential ingredients. We have just considered one—control. We manipulate one or more independent variables while trying to hold everything else constant. The other ingredient is random assignment.

RANDOM ASSIGNMENT: THE GREAT EQUALIZER Recall that we were reluctant, on the basis of a correlation, to assume that obesity caused lower status (via discrimination) or that violence viewing caused aggressive­ ness (see Table 1.1 for more examples). A survey researcher might measure and statistically extract other possibly pertinent factors and see if the correlations sur­ vive. But one can never control for all the factors that might distinguish obese from non-obese, and viewers of violence from nonviewers. Maybe viewers of violence differ in education, culture, intelligence—or in dozens of ways the researcher has not considered.

Does viewing violence on TV or in other media lead to imitation, especially among children? Experiments sug­ gest that it does.

dependent variable The variable being measured, so called because it may depend on manipulations of the independent variable.

TABLE i* 1.1 Recognizing Correlational and Experimental Research

Can Participants Be Randomly Assigned to Condition? Independent Variable Dependent Variable

Are early-maturing children more confident? No -* Correlational Do students learn more in online or classroom YesExperimental Take class online or in Learning courses? classroom Do school grades predict vocational success? No —» Correlational Does playing violent video games increase Yes -» Experimental Play violent or Aggressiveness aggressiveness? Do people find comedy funnier when alone or (you answer) with others?

(you answer)

nonviolent game

Do higher-income people have higher self-esteem?

26 Chapter 1 Introducing Social Psychology

FIGURE:: 1.5 Random Assignment Experiments randomly assign people either to a condition that receivesthe experimental treatment or to a control condi­ tion that does not. This gives the researcher confidence that any later difference is somehow caused by the treatment.




Violent TV

Control Nonvioletit TV




random assignment The process of assigning participants to the conditions of an experiment such that all persons have the same chance of being in a given condition. (Note the distinction between random assignment in experiments and random sampling m surveys. Random assignment helps us infer cause and effect. Random sampling helps us generalize to a population.)

mundane realism Degree to which an experiment is superficially similarto everyday situations,

experimental realism Degree to which an experiment absorbs and involves its participants.

deception In research, an effect by which participants are misinformed or misled about the study’s methods and purposes.

In one fell swoop, random assignment eliminates all such extraneous factors. With random assignment, each person has an equal chance of viewing the violence or the nonviolence. Thus, the people in both groups would, in every conceivable way— family status, intelligence, education, initial aggressiveness, hair color—average about the same. Highly intelligent people, for example, are equally likely to appear in both groups. Because random assignment creates equivalent groups, any later aggression difference between the two groups will almost surely have something to do with the only way they differ—whether or not they viewed violence (Figure 1.5).

THE ETHICS OF EXPERIMENTATION Our television example illustrates why some conceivable experiments raise ethi­ cal issues. Social psychologists would not, over long periods, expose one group of children to brutal violence. Rather, they briefly alter people’s social experience and note the effects. Sometimes the experimental treatment is a harmless, perhaps even enjoyable, experience to which people give their knowing consent. Occasionally, however, researchers find themselves operating in a gray area between the harm­ less and the risky.

Social psychologists often venture into that ethical gray area when they design experiments that engage intense thoughts and emotions. Experiments need not have what Elliot Aronson, Marilynn Brewer, and Merrill Carlsmith (1985) called mundane realism. That is, laboratory behavior need not be like everyday behav­ ior, which is typically mundane, or unimportant. But the experiment should have experimental realism—it should engage the participants. Experimenters do not want their people consciously play-acting or ho-humming it; they want to engage real psychological processes. An example of such engagement would be delivering electric shocks as part of an experiment on aggression. Forcing people to choose whether to give intense or mild electric shock to someone else can be a realistic measure of aggression. It functionally simulates real aggression.

Achieving experimental realism sometimes requires deceiving people with a plausible cover story. If the person in the next room actually is not receiving the shocks, the experimenter does not want the participants to know that. That would destroy the experimental realism. Thus, approximately one-third of social psycho­ logical studies (though a decreasing number) have used deception (Korn & Nicks, 1993; Vitelli, 1988).

Experimenters also seek to hide their predictions lest the participants, in their eagerness to be “good subjects,” merely do what is expected or, in an ornery mood, do the opposite. Small wonder, says Ukrainian professor Anatoly Koladny, that only 15 percent of Ukrainian survey respondents declared themselves “religious” while under Soviet communism in 1990 when religion was oppressed by the

27Introducing Social Psychology

government—and that 70 percent declared themselves “reUgious” in post-communist 1997 (Nielsen, 1998). In subtle ways, too, the experimenter’s words, tone of voice, and gestures may call forth desired responses. Even search dogs trained to detect explo­ sives and drugs are more likely to bark false alerts in places where their handlers have been misled into thinking such illegal items are located (Lit & others, 2011). To minimize such demand characteristics—cues that seem to “demand” certain behavior—experimenters typically standardize their instructions or even use a computer to present them.

Researchers often walk a tightrope in designing experiments that will be involv­ ing yet ethical. To believe that you are hurting someone, or to be subjected to strong social pressure, may be temporarily uncomfortable. Such experiments raise the age- old question of whether ends justify means. The social psychologists’ deceptions are usually brief and mild compared with many misrepresentations in real life and in some of television’s reality shows. (One network reality TV series deceived women into competing for the hand of a handsome supposed millionaire, who turned out to be an ordinary laborer.)

University ethics committees review social psychological research to ensure that it will treat people humanely and that the scientific merit justifies any temporary deception or distress. Ethical principles developed by the American Psychological Association (2010), the Canadian Psychological Association (2000), and the British Psychological Society (2009) mandate investigators to do the following:

• Tell potential participants enough about the experiment to enable their informed consent.

• Be truthful. Use deception only if essential and justified by a significant purpose and not “about aspects that would affect their willingness to participate.”

• Protect participants (and bystanders, if any) from harm and significant discomfort.

• Treat information about the individual participants confidentially. • Debrief participants. Fully explain the experiment afterward, including any

deception. The only exception to this rule is when the feedback would be dis­ tressing, such as by making participants realize they have been stupid or cruel.

The experimenter should be sufficiently informative and considerate that people leave feeling at least as good about themselves as when they came in. Better yet, the participants should be compensated by having learned something (Sharpe & Faye, 2009). When treated respectfully, few participants mind being deceived (Epley & Huff, 1998; Kimmel, 1998). Indeed, say social psychology’s advocates, professors provoke far greater anxiety and distress by giving and returning course exams than researchers provoke in their experiments.

Generalizing from Laboratory to Life As the research on children, television, and violence illustrates, social psychology mixes everyday experience and laboratory analysis. Throughout this book, we do the same by drawing our data mostly from the laboratory and our illustrations mostly from life. Social psychology displays a healthy interplay between labora­ tory research and everyday life. Hunches gained from everyday experience often inspire laboratory research, which deepens our understanding of our experience.

This interplay appears in the children’s television experiment. What people saw in everyday life suggested correlational research, which led to experimental research. Network and government policymakers, those with the power to make changes, are now aware of the results. The consistency of findings on television’s effects—in the lab and in the field—is true of research in many other areas, includ­ ing studies of helping, leadership style, depression, and self-efficacy. The effects

Chapter 1

demand characteristics Cues in an experiment that tell the participant what behavior is expected.

informed consent An ethical principle requiring that research participants be told enough to enable them to choose whether they wish to participate.

debriefing In social psychology, the postexperimental explanation of a study to its participants. Debriefing usually discloses any deception and often queries participants regarding their understandings and feelings.

28 Chapter 1 Introducing Social Psychology

one finds in the lab have been mirrored by effects in the field. “The psychology lab­ oratory has generally produced psychological truths rather than trivialities,” note Craig Anderson and colleagues (1999).

We need to be cautious, however, in generalizing from laboratory to life. Although the laboratory uncovers basic dynamics of human existence, it is still a simplified, controlled reality. It tells us what effect to expect of variable X, all other things being equal—which in real life they never are. Moreover, as you will see, the participants in many experiments are college students. Although that may help you identify with them, college students are hardly a random sample of all humanity (Henry, 2008a, 2008b). And most participants are from WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) cultures that represent but 12 percent of humanity (Henrich & others, 2010). Would we get similar results with people of different ages, educational levels, and cultures? That is always an open question.

Nevertheless, we can distinguish between the content of people’s thinking and acting (for example, their attitudes) and the process by which they think and act (for example, how attitudes affect actions and vice versa). The content varies more from culture to culture than does the process. People from various cultures may hold dif­ ferent opinions yet form them in similar ways. Consider the following;

• College students in Puerto Rico have reported greater loneliness than do col­ legians on the U.S. mainland. Yet in the two cultures the ingredients of lone­ liness have been much the same—shyness, uncertain purpose in life, and low self-esteem (Jones & others, 1985).

* Ethnic groups differ in school achievement and delinquency, but the dif­ ferences are “no more than skin deep,” report David Rowe and colleagues (1994). To the extent that family structure, peer influences, and parental edu­ cation predict achievement or delinquency for one ethnic group, they do so for other groups.

Although our behaviors may differ, we are influenced by the same social forces. Beneath our surface diversity, we are more alike than different.

SUMMING UP: Research Methods: How Do We Do Social Psychology?

Social psychologists organize their ideas and find­ ings into theories. A good theory will distill an array of facts into a much shorter list of predictive prin­ ciples. We can use those predictions to confirm or modify the theory, to generate new research, and to suggest practical application. Most social-psychological research is either cor­ relational or experimental. Correlational studies, sometimes conducted with systematic survey meth­ ods, discern the relationship between variables, such as between amount of education and amount of income. Knowing two things are naturally related is valuable information, but it is not a reliable indi­ cator of what is causing what—or whether a third variable is involved. When possible, social psychologists prefer to con­ duct experiments that explore cause and effect. By constructing a miniature reality that is under their

control, experimenters can vary one thing and then another and discover how those things, separately or in combination, affect behavior. We randomly assign participants to an experimental condition, which receives the experimental treatment, or to a control condition, which does not. We can then attribute any resulting difference between the two conditions to the independent variable (Figure 1.6). In creating experiments, social psychologists some­ times stage situations that engage people’s emo­ tions. In doing so, they are obliged to follow professional ethical guidelines, such as obtaining people’s informed consent, protecting them from harm, and fully disclosing afterward any tempo­ rary deceptions. Laboratory experiments enable social psychologists to test ideas gleaned from life experience and then to apply the principles and findings to the real world.

Introducing Social Psychology Chapter 1 29

Research methods

Correlational Experimental

Advantage Often uses real- world settings

Causation often ambiguous

Advantage Can explore cause and effect by controlling variables and by random assignment

Disadvantage Some important variables cannot be studied with experiments

FIGURE:: 1.6 Two Methods of Doing Research: Correlational and Experimental

POSTSCRIPT: Why I Wrote This Book I write this text to offer social psychology’s powerful, hard-wrought principles. They have, I believe, the power to expand your mind and enrich your life. If you finish this book with sharpened critical thinking skills and with a deeper under­ standing of how we view and affect one another—and why we sometimes like, love, and help one another and sometimes dislike, hate, and harm one another— then I will be a satisfied author and you, I trust, will be a rewarded reader.

I write knowing that many readers are in the process of defining their life goals, identities, values, and attitudes. The novelist Chaim Potok recalls being urged by his mother to forgo writing: “Be a brain surgeon. You’ll keep a lot of people from dying; you’ll make a lot more money.” Potok’s response: “Mama, I don’t want to keep people from dying; I want to show them how to live” (quoted by Peterson, 1992, p. 47).

Many of us who teach and write psychology are driven not only by a love for giving psychology away but also by wanting to help students live better lives— wiser, more fulfilling, more compassionate lives. In this we are like teachers and writers in other fields. “Why do we write?” asks theologian Robert McAfee Brown. “I submit that beyond all rewards .. .we write because we want to change things. We write because we have this [conviction that we] can make a difference. The ‘differ­ ence’ may be a new perception of beauty, a new insight into self-understanding, a new experience of joy, or a decision to join the revolution” (quoted by Marty, 1988). Indeed, I write hoping to do my part to restrain intuition with critical thinking, refine judgmentalism with compassion, and replace illusion with understanding.

/ conclude each chapter with a brief reflection on social psychology’s human significance.

This book unfolds around its definition of social psychology: the scientific study of how we th/nk about (Part One), influ­ ence (Part Two), and relate to (Part Three) one another. Part Four offers additional, focused examples of how the research and the theories of social psychology are applied to real life.

Part One examines the scientific study of how we think about one another (also called social cognition). Each chapter con­ fronts some overriding questions; How reasonable are our social attitudes, expla­ nations, and beliefs? Are our impressions of ourselves and others generally accu­ rate? How does our social thinking form? How is it prone to bias and error, and how might we bring it closer to reality?

Chapter 2 explores the interplay between our sense of self and our social worlds. How do our social surroundings shape our self-identities? How does self- interest color our social judgments and motivate our social behavior?

Chapter 3 looks at the amazing and sometimes rather amusing ways we form beliefs about our social worlds. It also alerts us to some pitfalls of social think­ ing and suggests how to avoid them and think smarter.

Chapter 4 explores the links between our thinking and our actions, between our attitudes and our behaviors: Do our attitudes determine our behaviors, or vice versa? Or does it work both ways?


2 The Self ‘There are three things extremely hard, Steel, a Diamond, and to know one’s self.” ……………………………………………………….. … —,

At the center of our worlds, more pivotal for us than anything else, is ourselves. As we navigate our daily lives, our sense of self con­ tinually engages the world.

Consider this example: One morning, you wake up to find your

hair sticking up at weird angles on your head. It’s too late to jump in

the shower and you can’t find a hat, so you smooth down the random

spikes of your hair and dash out the door to class. All morning, you are

acutely self-conscious about your very bad hair day. To your surprise,

your friends in class don’t say anything. Are they secretly laughing to

themselves about how ridiculous you look, or are they too preoccu­

pied with themselves to notice your spiky hair?

* This 11th edition chapter is co-authored by Jean Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University. Professor Twenge’s research on social rejection and on generational changes in personality and the self has been published in many articles and books, including Ceneralion Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled—and More Miserable Than Ever Before (2006) and The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement (with W. Keith Campbell, 2009).

34 Part One Social Thinking

The spotlight effect: Overes­ timating others’ noticing our behavior and appearance. FOR BEnER OR FOR V/ORSE © 2005 Lynn Johnston Prodjctions. Dist. by Universal Press Syndicate. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.

Spotlight effect The belief that others are paying more attention to our appearance and behavior than they really are.

illusion of transparency The illusion that our concealed emotions leak out and can be easily read by others.


Describe the spotlight effect and its relation to the illusion of transparency.

Why do we often feel that others are paying more attention to us than they really are? The spotlight effect means seeing ourselves at center stage, thus intuitively overestimating the extent to which others attention is aimed at us.

Timothy Lawson (2010) explored the spotlight effect by having college students change into a sweatshirt with “American Eagle” on the front before meeting a group of peers. Nearly 40 percent were sure the other students would remember what the shirt said, but only 10 percent actually did. Most observers did not even notice that the students changed sweatshirts after leaving the room for a few min­ utes. In another experiment, even noticeably embarrassing clothes, such as a T-shirt with singer Barry Manilow on it, provoked only 23 percent of observers to notice- many fewer than the 50 percent estimated by the unfortunate students sporting the 1970s soft rock warbler on their chests (Gilovich & others, 2000).

What’s true of our dorky clothes and bad hair is also true of our emotions: our anxiety, irritation, disgust, deceit, or attraction (Gilovich & others, 1998). Fewer peo­ ple notice than we presume. 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

research CLOSE-UP On Being Nervous About Looking Nervous

Have you ever felt self-conscious when approaching someone you felt attracted to, concerned that your ner­ vousness was obvious? Or have you felt yourself trem­ bling while speaking before an audience and presumed that everyone was noticing?

Kenneth Savitsky and Thomas Gilovich (2003) knew j from their own and others’ studies that people over- j estimate the extent to which their internal states “leak | out.” People asked to tell lies presume that others will | detect their deceit, which feels so obvious. People |

The Self in a Social World Chapter 2 35

asked to sample horrid-tasting drinks presume that others notice their disgust, which they can barely suppress.

Many people who give a presentation report not just feeling anxious, but anxious that others will notice their anxiety. And if they feel their knees shaking and hands trembling, their worry that others are noticing may com­ pound and perpetuate their anxiety. This is similar to fretting about not falling asleep, which further impedes falling asleep, or feeling anxious about stuttering, which worsens the stuttering. (As a former stutterer and speech therapy patient, I know this is true.)

Savitsky and Gilovich wondered whether an “illu­ sion of transparency” might surface among inexperi­ enced public speakers—and whether it might disrupt their performance. To find out, they invited 40 Cornell University students to their laboratory in pairs. One person stood at the podium and spoke for 3 minutes (on a topic such as “The Best and Worst Things About Life Today”) as the other sat and listened. Then the two switched positions and the other person gave a differ­ ent 3-minute impromptu talk. Afterward, each rated how nervous they thought they appeared while speak­ ing (from 0, not at all, to 10, very) and how nervous the other person seemed.

The results? People rated themselves as appearing relatively nervous (6.65, on average). But to their part­ ner they appeared not so nervous (5.25), a difference great enough to be statistically significant (meaning that a difference this great, for this sample of people, is very unlikely to have been due to chance varia­ tion). Twenty-seven of the 40 participants (68 percent) believed that they appeared more nervous than did their partner.

To check on the reliability of their finding, Savitsky and Gilovich replicated (repeated) and extended the experiment by having people speak before an audience of people who weren’t going to be giving

speeches themselves, to rule out the possibility that this might explain the previous results. Once again, speakers overestimated the transparency of their nervousness.

Savitsky and Gilovich next wondered whether inform­ ing speakers that their nervousness isn’t so obvious might help them relax and perform better. They invited 77 more Cornell students to come to the lab and, after 5 minutes’ preparation, give a 3-minute videotaped speech on race relations at their university. Those in one group—the control condition—were given no further instructions. Those in the reassured condition were told that it was naturaj to feel anxious but that “You shouldn’t worry much about what other people think…. With this in mind you should just relax and try to do your best. Know that if you become nervous, you probably shouldn’t worry about it.” To those in the informed condition he explained the illusion of transparency. After telling them it was natural to feel anxious, the experimenter added that “Research has found that audiences can’t pick up on your anxiety as well as you might expect,.., Those speaking feel that their nervousness is transparent, but in reality their feelings are not so apparent…. With this in mind, you should just relax and try to do your best. Know that if you become nervous, you’ll probably be the only one to know.”

After the speeches, the speakers rated their speech quality and their perceived nervousness (this time using a 7-point scale) and were also rated by the observers. As Table 2,1 shows, those informed about the illuslon-of- transparency phenomenon felt better about their speech and their appearance than did those in the control and reassurance conditions. What’s more, the observers con­ firmed the speakers’ self-assessments.

So, the next time you feel nervous about looking nervous, pause to remember the lesson of these experi­ ments; Other people are noticing less than you might suppose.

TABLE •• 2.1 Average Ratings of Speeches by Speakers and Observers on a 1 to 7 Scale

j . Speakers’ self-ratings Speech quality

■ ;.,;;,Relaxed



2.83 3.50*


Observers’ ratings

Composed appearance

*Each of these results differs by a statistically significant margin from those of the control and reassured condition.

36 Part One Social Thinking










show it. And others, we presume, will notice. Actually, we can be more opaque than we realize. (See “Research Close-Up: On Being Nervous About Looking Nervous” on pages 34-35.)

We also overestimate the visibility of our social blunders and public mental slips. When we trigger the library alarm or accidentally insult someone, we may be mor­ tified (“Everyone thinks Fm a jerk”). But research shows that what we agonize over, others may hardly notice and soon forget (Savitsky & others, 2001).

The spotlight effect and the related illusion of transparency are but two of many examples of the interplay between our sense of self and our social worlds. Here are more examples:

• 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. A White American friend once told me how self-consciously White he felt while living in a rural village in Nepal; an hour later, an African-American friend told me how self-consciously Ameri­ can she felt while in Africa.

• Self-interest colors our social judgment. When problems arise in a close relation­ ship such as marriage, we usually attribute more responsibility to our part­ ners 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 accordingly.

• Social relationships help define our sense of self In our varied relationships, we have varying selves, note Susan Andersen and Serena Chen (2002). We may be one self with Mom, another with friends, another with teachers. How we think of ourselves is linked to the person we’re with at the moment. And when relationships change, our self-concepts can change as well. College students who recently broke up with a romantic partner shifted their self­ perceptions and felt less certain about who they were—one reason breakups can be so emotionally distressing (Slotter & others, 2010).

As these examples suggest, the traffic between ourselves and others runs both ways. Our ideas and feelings about ourselves affect how we respond to others. And others help shape our sense of self.

No topic in psychology today is more heavily researched than the self. In 2011, the word “self” appeared in 21,693 book and article summaries in PsycINFO (the online archive of psychological research)—more than 20 times the number that appeared in 1970. Our sense of self organizes our thoughts, feelings, and actions. Our sense of self enables us to remember our past, assess our present, and project our future—and thus to behave adaptively.

In later chapters, we will see that much of our behavior is not consciously con­ trolled but, rather, automatic and unself-conscious. However, the self does enable long-term planning, goal-setting, and restraint. It imagines alternatives, compares itself with others, and manages its reputation and relationships. Moreover, as Mark Leary (2004a) has noted, the self can sometimes be an impediment to a satisfying life. Its egocentric preoccupations are what religious meditation practices seek to prune, by quieting the self, reducing its attachments to material pleasures, and redi­ recting it. “Mysticism,” adds psychologist Jonathan Haidt (2006), “everywhere and always, is about losing the self, transcending the self, and merging with something larger than the self.”

In the remainder of this chapter, we examine our self-concept (how we come to know ourselves) and the self in action (how our sense of self drives our attitudes and actions).


The Self in a Social World Chapter 2 37

SUMMING UP: Spotlights and Illusions: What Do They Teach Us About Ourselves?

« Concerned with the impression we make on oth- ® We also tend to believe that our emotions are more ers, we tend to believe that others are paying more obvious than they are (the illusion of transparency). attention to us than they are (the spotlight effect).

SELF-CONCEPT: WHO AM I? Understand how, and how accurately, we know ourselves and what determines our self-concept.

You have many ways to complete the sentence “I am____ .” (What five answers might you give?) Your answers provide a glimpse of your self-concept.

At the Center of Our Worlds: Our Serv;e of Self The most important aspect of yourself is your self. To discover where this sense of self arises, neuroscientists are exploring the brain activity that underlies our con­ stant sense of being oneself. Some studies suggest an important role for the right hemisphere. Put yours to sleep (with an anesthetic to your right carotid artery) and you likely will have trouble recognizing your own face. One patient with right hemisphere damage failed to recognize that he owned and was controlling his left hand (Decety & Sommerville, 2003). The “medial prefrontal cortex,” a neuron path located in the cleft between your brain hemispheres just behind your eyes, seem­ ingly helps stitch together your sense of self. It becomes more active when you think about yourself (Farb & others, 2007; Zimmer, 2005).

The elements of your self-concept, the specific beliefs by which you define your­ self, are your self-schemas (Markus & Wurf, 1987). 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. If athletics is central to your self- concept (if being an athlete is one of your self-schemas), then you will tend to notice others’ bodies and skills. You will quickly recall sports-related experiences. And you will welcome information that is consis­ tent with your self-schema (Kihlstrom & Cantor, 1984). If your friend’s birth­ day is close to yours, you’ll be more likely to remember it (Kesebir & Oishi, 2010). The self-schemas that make up our self-concepts help us organize and retrieve our experiences.

POSSIBLE SELVES Our self-concepts include not only our self-schemas about who we currently are but also who we might become— our possible selves. Hazel Markus and colleagues (Inglehart Sz others, 1989; Markus & Nurius, 1986) note that our possible selves include our visions of the self we dream of becoming—the rich self, the thin self, the passionately

self-concept What we know and believe about ourselves.

self-schema Beliefs about self that organize and guide the processing of self-relevant information.

possible selves Images of what we dream of or dread becoming in the future.

Oprah Winfrey’s imagined possible selves, including the dreaded overweight self, the rich self, and the helpful self, motivated her to work to achieve the life she wanted.

38 Part One Social Thinking

social comparison Evaluating one’s abilities and opinions by comparing oneself with others.

FIGURE:: 2.1 The Self

loved and loving self. They also include the self we fear becoming—the imderem- ployed self, the unloved self, the academically failed self. Such possible selves moti­ vate us with a vision of the life we long for—or to avoid the one we dread.

Development of the Social Seif The self has become a major social psychological focus because it helps organize our thinking and guide our social behavior (Figure 2.1). But what determines our self- concepts? Studies of twins point to genetic influences on personality and self-concept, but social experience also plays a part. Among these influences are the following:

• The roles we play • The social identities we form • The comparisons we make with others • How other people judge us • The surrounding culture

THE ROLES WE PLAY As we enact a new role—college student, parent, salesperson—we initially feel self- conscious. Gradually, however, what begins as playacting in the theater of life is absorbed into our sense of self. For example, while playing our roles we may give lip service to something we haven’t really thought much about. After defending our group, we then justify our words by believing more strongly in it. Role playing becomes reality (see Chapter 4).

SOCIAL COMPARISONS How do we decide if we are rich, smart, or short? One way is through social comparisons (Festinger, 1954). Others around us help to define the standard by which we define ourselves as rich or poor, smart or dumb, tall or short: We compare ourselves with them and consider how we differ. Social comparison explains why students tend to have a higher academic self-concept if they attend a high school with mostly aver­ age students (Marsh & others, 2000), and how that self-concept can be threatened after graduation when a student who excelled in an average high school goes on to an aca­ demically selective university. The “big fish” is no longer in a small pond.

Much of life revolves around social comparisons. We feel handsome when others seem homely, smart when others seem dull, caring when others seem callous. When we witness a peer’s performance, we cannot resist implicitly comparing ourselves (Gilbert & others, 1995). We may, therefore, privately take some pleasure in a peer’s

Social self

My roles as a student, ‘J family member, and ’

friend; my group | identity y

‘ ‘V’ ‘■*

39The Self in a Social World

failure, especially when it happens to someone we envy and when we don’t feel vulnerable to such misfortune ourselves (Lockwood, 2002; Smith & others, 1996).

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 climbing the ladder of success, we tend to look up, not down; we compare ourselves with others doing even better (Gmder, 1977; Suls & Tesch, 1978; Wheeler & others, 1982). When facing competition, we often protect our shaky self-concept by perceiving the competitor as advantaged. For example, college swimmers believed that their competitors had better coaching and more practice time (Shepperd & Taylor, 1999).

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 self-concepts and behavior (see Chapter 3). If minority students feel threat­ ened by negative stereotypes of their academic ability, or if women feel threatened by low expectations for their math and science performance, they may “disiden- tify” with those realms. Rather than fight such prejudgments, they may identify their interests elsewhere (Steele, 2010; see Chapter 9).

The looking-glass self was how sociologist Charles H. Cooley (1902) described our use of how we think others perceive us as a mirror for perceiving ourselves. Fel­ low sociologist George Herbert Mead (1934) refined this concept, noting that what matters for our self-concepts is not how others actually see us but the way we imag­ ine 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 (Shrauger & Schoeneman, 1979).

Self-inflation, as we will see, is found most strikingly in Western countries. Shi- nobu Kitayama (1996) reports that Japanese visitors to North America are routinely struck by the many words of praise that friends offer one another. When he and his colleagues asked people how many days ago they last complimented someone, the most common American response was 1 day. In Japan, where people are socialized less to feel pride in personal achievement and more to feel shame in failing others, the most common response was 4 days.

Our prehistoric ancestors’ fate depended on what others thought of them. Their survival was enhanced when protected by their group—in a time before grocery

Chapter 2

Private Pleasure in a Peer’s Pratfall In 2011, when powerful media magnates Rupert Murdoch and his son, James Murdoch, were embarrassed by illegal practices at one of their newspapers, some people felt schadenfreude (a German word for the pleasure felt over someone else’s misfortune).



-KING CHARLES 1,1600-1649

40 Part One

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.

independent self Construing one’s identity as an autonomous self.

collectivism Giving priority to the goals of one’s group (often one’s extended family or work group) and defining one’s identity accordingly.

interdependent self Construing one’s identity in relation to others.

Social Thinking

stores, it was difficult for one person alone to hunt and gather enough food or to pro­ tect him- or herself from predators. When perceiving their group’s disapproval, there was biological wisdom to their feeling shame and low self-esteem. As their heirs, hav­ ing a similar deep-seated need to belong, we feel the pain of low self-esteem when we face social exclusion, notes Mark Leary {1998, 2004b). Self-esteem, he argues, is a psychological gauge by which we monitor and react to how others appraise us.

Self and Culture How did you complete the “I am____ ” statement on page 37? Did you give infor­ mation about your personal traits, such as “I am honest,” “I am tall,” or “I am outgo­ ing”? Or did you also describe your social identity, such as “I am a Pisces,” “I am a MacDonald,” or “I am a Muslim”?

For some people, especially those in industrialized Western cultures, individualism 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.

The psychology of Western cultures assumes that your life will be enriched by believing in your power of personal control. Western literature, from The Iliad to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, celebrates the self-reliant individual. Movie plots fea­ ture rugged heroes who buck the establishment. Songs proclaim “I Gotta Be Me,” declare that “The Greatest Love of All” is loving oneself (Schoeneman, 1994), and state without irony that “1 Believe the World Should Revolve Around Me.” Individualism flourishes when people experience affluence, mobility, urbanism, and mass media (Freeman, 1997; Marshall, 1997; Triandis, 1994).

Most cultures native to Asia, Africa, and Central and South America place a greater value on collectivism, by respecting one’s groups and identifying oneself accordingly. They nurture what Shinobu Kitayama and Hazel Markus (1995) call the interdependent self. In these cultures, people are more self-critical and have less need for positive self-regard (Heine & others, 1999). Malaysians, Indians, Koreans, Japanese, and traditional Kenyans such as the Maasai, for example, are much more likely than Australians, Americans, and the British to complete the “I am” statement with their group identities (Kanagawa & others, 2001; Ma & Schoeneman, 1997). When speaking, people using the languages of collectivist countries say “I” less often (Kashima & Kashima, 1998, 2003). A person might say “Went to the movie” rather than “I went to the movie.” Compared with U.S. church websites, Korean church websites place more emphasis on social connections and participation and less on personal spiritual growth and self-betterment (Sasaki & Kim, 2011).

Pigeonholing cultures as solely individualist or collectivist oversimplifies, because within any culture individualism varies from person to person (Oyserman & others, 2002a, 2002b). There are individualist Chinese and collectivist Americans, and most of us sometimes behave communally, sometimes individualistically (Bandura, 2004). Individualism-collectivism also varies across a country’s regions and political views. In the United States, Native Hawaiians and people living in the deep South exhibit greater collectivism than do those in Mountain West states such as Oregon and Mon­ tana (Plaut & others, 2002; Vandello & Cohen, 1999). Conservatives tend to be eco­ nomic individualists (“don’t tax or regulate me”) and moral collectivists (“legislate against immorality”). Liberals tend to be economic collectivists (supporting national health care) and moral individualists (“keep your laws off my body”). Despite indi­ vidual and subcultural variations, researchers continue to regard individualism and collectivism as genuine cultural variables (Schimmack & others, 2005).

GROWING INDIVIDUALISM WITHIN CULTURES Cultures can also change over time, and many seem to be growing more individu­ alistic. New economic opportunities have challenged traditional collectivistic ways

The Self in a Social World Chapter 2 41

in India. Chinese citizens younger than 25 are more likely than those older than 25 to agree with individualistic statements such as “make a name for yourself” and “live a life that suits your tastes” (Arora, 2005). Chinese citizens who are younger, more urban, more affluent, and only children—all mod­ em attributes—are also more likely to endorse self-centered statements (Cai & others, 2011). In the United States, younger generations report signifi­ cantly more positive self-feelings than young people did in the 1960s and 1970s (Gentile & others, 2010; Twenge & Campbell, 2008; Twenge & others, 2011; but for an opposing view, see Trzesniewski & Donnellan, 2010). One study found that popular song lyr­ ics became more likely to use “I” and “me” and less likely to use “we” and “us” between 1980 and 2007 (DeWall & others, 2011), with the norm shifting from the sappy love song of the 1980s (“Endless Love,” 1981) to the self-celebration of the 2000s (Justin Timberlake singlehandedly bringing “Sexy Back,” 2006).

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. While nearly 20 percent of boys born in 1990 received one of the 10 most common names, only 8 percent received such a common name by 2010, with the numbers similar for girls (Twenge & others, 2010). Today, you don’t have to be the child of a celebrity to get a name as unique as Shiloh, Suri, Knox, or Apple.

Americans and Australians, most of whom are descended from those who struck out on their own to emigrate, are more likely than Europeans to give their children imcommon names. Parents in the western United States and Canada, descended from independent pioneers, are also more likely than those in the more established East to give their children uncommon names (Vamum & Kitayama, 2011). The more individualistic the time or the place, the more children receive unique names.

These changes demonstrate something that goes deeper than a name: the interac­ tion between individuals and society. Did the culture focus on uniqueness first and cause the parents’ name choices, or did individual parents decide they wanted their children to be unique, thus creating the culture? A similar chicken-and-egg ques­ tion applies to the song lyrics: Did a more self-focused population listen to more self-focused songs, or did listening to more self-focused songs make people more self- focused? The answer, though not yet fuUy understood, is probably both (Markus & Kitayama, 2010).

® Jack Ziegler/The New Yorker Collection/www.cattoonbankxom

CULTURE AND COGNITION In his book The Geography of Thought (2003), social psychologist Richard Nisbett con­ tends that collectivism also results in different ways of thinking. Consider: Which two—of a panda, a monkey, and a banana—go together? Perhaps a monkey and a panda because they both fit the category “animal”? Asians more often than Americans see relationships: Monkey eats banana. When shown an animated underwater scene (Figure 2.2), Japanese spontaneously recalled 60 percent more background features than did Americans, and they spoke of more relationships (the frog beside the plant). Americans look more at the focal object, such as a single big fish, and less at the sur- roimdings (Chua & others, 2005; Nisbett, 2003), a result duplicated in studies exam­ ining activation in different areas of the brain (Goh & others, 2007; Lewis & others.


Social Thinking42 Part One

FIGURE :: 2.2 Asian and Western Thinking When shown an underwater scene, Americans focus on the biggest fish. Asians are more likely to reference the back­ ground, such as the plants, bub­ bles, and rocks (Nisbett, 2003).

FIGURE :: 2.3 Which Pen Would You Choose? When Heejung Kim and Hazel Markus <1999) invited people to choose one of these pens, 77 percent of Americans but only 31 percent of Asians chose the uncommon color (regardless of whether it was orange, as here, or green). This result illustrates differing cultural preferences for uniqueness and conformity, note Kim and Markus.

2008). When shown drawings of groups of children, Japa­ nese students took the facial expressions of all of the chil­ dren into account when rat­ ing the happiness or anger of an individual child, whereas Americans focused only on the child they were asked to rate (Masuda & others, 2008). Nisbett and Takahiko Masuda (2003) conclude from such studies that East Asians think more holistically—perceiving and thinking about objects and

people in relationship to one another and to their environment. If you grew up in a Western culture, you were probably told to “express yourself”—

through writing, the choices you make, the products you buy, and perhaps through your tattoos or piercings. 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. American stu­ dents were also more likely to see their choices as expressions of themselves and to evaluate their personal choices more favorably (Kim & Sherman, 2007). The individu­ alized latte—”decaf, single shot, skinny, extra hot”—that seems just right at a North American coffee shop would seem strange in Seoul, note Kim and Hazel Markus (1999). In Korea, people place less value on expressing their uiriqueness and more on tradition and shared practices (Choi & Choi, 2002; Figure 2.3). Korean advertisements tend to feature people together, whereas American advertisements highlight personal choice or freedom (Markus, 2001; Morling «Sc Lamoreaux, 2008).

With an interdependent self, one has a greater sense of belonging. If they were uprooted and cut off from family, colleagues, and loyal friends, interdependent peo­ ple would lose the social connections that define who they are. When Chinese par­ ticipants were asked to think about their mothers, a brain region associated with the self became activated—an area that lit up for Western participants only when they thought about themselves (Zhu & others, 2007). Interdependent selves have not one self but many selves: self-with-parents, self-at-work, self-with-friends (Cross & others, 1992). As Figure 2.4 and Table 2.2 suggest, the interdependent self is embedded in social memberships. Conversation is less direct and more polite (Holtgraves, 1997), and people focus more on gaining social approval (Lalwani & others, 2006). In one study, 60 percent of American students said they had seriously dated someone even though their friends disliked him or her, compared to only 27 percent of Chinese stu­ dents. Half of the Chinese students said they would stop dating someone if their par­ ents disapproved, compared with less than one-third of American students (Zhang & Kline, 2009). In an interdependent culture, the goal of social life is to harmonize

with and support one’s communities, not—as it is in more individualistic societies—to enhance one’s individual self and make choices independently.

Even within one culture, personal history can influence self-views. People who have moved from place to place are happier when others understand their constant, personal selves; people who have always lived in the same town are more pleased when someone recognizes

43The Self in a Social World

Interdependent view of self

their collective identity (Oishi & others, 2007a, 2007b). 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 (“Wherever you go, there you are”).

CULTURE AND SELF-ESTEEM Self-esteem in collectivist cultures correlates closely with “what others think of me and my group.” Self-concept in these cultures is malleable (context-specific) rather than stable (enduring across situations). In one study, four in five Canadian stu­ dents but only one in three Chinese and Japanese students agreed that “the beliefs that you hold about who you are (your inner self) remain the same across different activity domains” (Tafarodi &: others, 2004).

For those in individualistic cultures, self-esteem is more personal and less rela­ tional. Threaten our personal identity and we’ll feel angrier and gloomier than when someone threatens our collective identity (Gaertner & others, 1999). Unlike Japanese, who persist more on tasks when they are failing (wanting not to fall short of others’ expectations), people in individualistic countries persist more when suc­ ceeding, because success elevates self-esteem (Heine & others, 2001). Western indi­ vidualists like to make comparisons with others that boost their self-esteem. Asian collectivists make comparisons (often upward, with those doing better) in ways that facilitate self-improvement (White & Lehman, 2005).

So when, do you suppose, are university students in collectivist Japan and indi­ vidualist United States most likely to report positive emotions such as happiness

TABLE :: 2.2 Seif-Concept: Independent or interdependetv.

Independent Interdependent … I ^’r..

Identity is

What matters

Personal, defined by individual traits and goals Me—personal achievement and fulfillment; my rights and liberties

Social, defined by connections with others We—group goals and solidar­ ity; our social responsibilities and relationships

Egotiatn “No one is an island’

Disapproves of Corxformity

Illustrative motto “To thine own self be true p’^-^ultures that Indi^udi^ C6&ci@visde^;^ih

FIGURE:: 2.4 Self-Construal as Independent or interdependent The independent self acknowl­ edges relationships with others. But the interdependent self is more deeply embedded in others (Markus & Kitayama, 1991).

Chapter 2






44 Part One Social Thinking

and elation? 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 (Kitayama & Markus, 2000). Conflict in collectivist cultures often takes place between groups; individualist cultures breed more conflict (and crime and divorce) between individuals (Triandis, 2000).

When Kitayama (1999), after 10 years of teaching and researching in America, visited his Japanese alma mater, Kyoto University, graduate students were “astounded” when he explained the Western idea of the independent self. “I per­ sisted in explaining this Western notion of self-concept—one that my American students understood intuitively—and finally began to persuade them that, indeed, many Americans do have such a disconnected notion of self. Still, one of them, sighing deeply, said at the end, ‘Could this really be true?”‘

When East meets West—as happens, for example, thanks to Western influences in urban Japan and to Japanese exchange students visiting Western countries—does the self-concept become more individualized? Are the Japanese influenced when exposed to Western promotions based on individual achievement, with admoni­ tions to “believe in one’s own possibilities,” and with movies in which the heroic individual police officer catches the crook despite others’ interference? They seem to be, report Steven Heine and co-researchers (1999). Personal self-esteem increased among Japanese exchange students after spending 7 months at the University of British Columbia. In Canada, individual self-esteem is also higher among long­ term Asian immigrants than among more recent immigrants (and than it is among those living in Asia).

Self-Knowledge “Know thyself,” admonished an ancient Greek oracle. We certainly try. We readily form beliefs about ourselves, and we in Western cultures don’t hesitate to explain why we feel and act as we do. But how well do we actually know ourselves?

“There is one thing, and only one in the whole universe which we know more about than we could learn from external observation,” noted C. S. Lewis (1952, pp. 18-19). “That one thing is [ourselves]. We have, so to speak, inside information;

Collectivism in action: Follow­ ing the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, people acted together to help one another.

The Self in a Social World Chapter 2 45

THE inside STORY Hazel Markus and Shinobu Kitayama on Cultural Psychology

I We began our collaboration by wondering out loud, i Japanese researcher Shinobu wondered why American i life was so weird. American researcher Hazel countered

with anecdotes about the strangeness of Japan. Cultural psychology is about making the strange familiar and the familiar strange. Our shared cultural encounters aston­ ished us and convinced us that when it comes to psycho­ logical functioning, culture matters.

After weeks of lecturing in Japan to students with a good command of English, Hazel wondered why the stu­ dents did not say anything—no questions, no comments. She assured students she was interested in ideas that were different from hers, so why was there no response? Where were the arguments, debates, and signs of critical thinking? Even if she asked a straightforward question,

i “Where is the best noodle shop?” the answer was invari- i ably an audible intake of air followed by, “It depends.”

Didn’t Japanese students have preferences, ideas, opin­ ions, and attitudes? What is inside a head if it isn’t these

I things? How could you know someone if she didn’t tell 1 you what she was thinking? I Shinobu was curious about why American students I shouldn’t just listen to a lecture and why they felt the i need to be constantly interrupting each other and talk- j ing over each other and the professor. Why did the com­

ments and questions reveal strong emotions and have a i competitive edge? What was the point of this arguing?

Why did intelligence seem to be associated with getting the best of another person, even within a class where people knew each other well?

Shinobu expressed his amazement at American hosts who bombard their guests with choices. Do you want wine or beer, or soft drinks or juice, or coffee or tea? Why burden the guest with trivial decisions? Surely the host knew what would be good refreshment on this occasion and could simply provide something appropriate.

Choice as a burden? Hazel wondered if this could i be the key to one particularly humiliating experience in I Japan. A group of eight—all native Japanese except for I Hazel—was in a French restaurant, and everyone was fol- j lowing the universal restaurant script and studying the I menu. The waiter approached and stood nearby. Hazel

announced her choice of appetizer and entree. Next was a tense conversation among the Japanese host and the Japanese guests. When the meal was served, it was not what she had ordered. Everyone at the table was served the same meal. This was deeply disturbing. If you can’t choose your own dinner, how could it be enjoyable? What was the point of the menu if everybody is served the same meal?

Could a sense of sameness be a good or a desir­ able feeling in Japan? When Hazel walked around the grounds of a temple in Kyoto, there was a fork in the path and a sign that read: “ordinary path.” Who would want to take the ordinary path? Where was the special, less traveled path? Choosing the non-ordinary path may be an obvious course for Americans, but in this case it led to the temple dump outside the temple grounds. The ordinary path did not denote the dull and unchallenging way, but meant the appropriate and the good way.

These exchanges inspired our experimental stud­ ies and remind us that there are ways of life beyond the ones that each of us knows best. So far, most of psychol­ ogy has been produced by psychologists in middle-class White American settings studying middle-class White American respondents. In other sociocultural contexts, there can be different ideas and practices about how to be a person and how to live a meaningful life, and these differences have an influence on psychological function­ ing. It is this realization that fuels our continuing interest in collaboration and in cultural psychology.

Hazel Rose Markus Stanford University


Shinobu Kitayama University of Michigan


46 Part One




planning fallacy The tendency to under­ estimate how long it will take to complete a task.

Social Thinking

we are in the know.” Indeed. Yet sometimes we think we know, but our inside information is wrong. That is the unavoidable conclusion of some fascinating research.

EXPLAINING OUR BEHAVIOR Why did you choose where to go to college? Why did you lash out at your room­ mate? Why did you fall in love with that special person? Sometimes we know. Some­ times we don’t. 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 misattrib- ute their rainy-day gloom to life’s emptiness (Schwarz & Clore, 1983). And people routinely deny being influenced by the media, which, they readily acknowledge, affects others.

Also thought provoking are studies in which people have recorded their moods every day for 2 or 3 months (Stone & others, 1985; Weiss & Brown, 1976; Wilson & others, 1982). They also recorded factors that might affect their moods: the day of the week, the weather, the amount they slept, and so forth. At the end of each study, the people judged how much each factor had affected their moods. Even with their attention on their daily moods, there was little relationship between their perceptions of how well a factor predicted their mood and how well it really did. For example, people thought they would experience more negative moods on Mondays, but in fact their moods were no more negative on Mondays than on other weekdays. This raises a disconcerting question: How much insight do we really have into what makes us happy or unhappy? As Daniel Gilbert (2007, 2011) notes, not much: We are remarkably bad predictors of what will make us happy. “We seem to know less about the worlds inside our heads than about the world our heads are inside.”

PREDICTING OUR BEHAVIOR People also err 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, report Tara MacDonald and Michael Ross (1997). Among University of Waterloo students, their roommates were better predictors of whether their romances would survive than they were. Medical residents weren’t very good at predicting whether they would do well on a surgical skills exam, but their peers in the program predicted each other’s performance with startling accuracy (Lutsky & others, 1993). So if you’re in love and want to know whether it will last, don’t listen to your heart—ask your roommate. And if you want to predict your routine daily behaviors—how much time you will spend laughing, on the phone, or watch­ ing TV, for example—your close friends’ estimates will likely prove at least as accu­ rate as your own (Vazire & Mehl, 2008).

One of the most common errors in behavior prediction is underestimating how long it will take to complete a task (called the planning fallacy). The Big Dig free­ way construction project in Boston was supposed to take 10 years and actually took 20 years. The Sydney Opera House was supposed to be completed in 6 years; it took 16. In one study, college students writing a senior thesis paper were asked to pre­ dict when they would complete the project. On average, students finished 3 weeks later than their “most realistic” estimate—and a week later than their “worst-case scenario” estimate (Buehler Sz others, 2002). However, friends and teachers were able to predict just how late these papers would be. Just as you should ask your friends how long your relationship is likely to survive, if you want to know when you will finish your term paper, ask your roommate or your mom. You could also do what Microsoft does: Managers automatically add 30 percent onto a software developer’s estimate of completion—and 50 percent if the project involves a new operating system (Dunning, 2006).

The Self in a Social World Chapter 2 47

So, how can you improve your self-predictions? 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 tak­ ing less time than they in fact did (Roy & others, 2005).

Are people equally bad at predicting how much money they will spend? Johanna Peetz and Roger Buehler (2009) found that the answer was yes. Canadian undergraduates predicted that they would spend $94 over the next week but actually spent $122. Considering they had spent $126 in the week before the study, their guess should have been more accurate. When they came back a week later, they still predicted they would spend only $85 in the coming week. Students who said they wanted to save money were more likely to predict they would spend less—^but ended up spending the same amount as everyone else. So just as we think we will complete tasks quickly, we think we will save our money. The difficulty lies in actually doing so. If Lao-tzu was right—”He who knows others is learned. He who knows himself is enlightened”—then most people, it would seem, are more learned than enlightened.

Predicting behavior, even one’s own, is no easy matter, which may be why some people go to tarot card readers in hope of help.

PREDICTING OUR FEELINGS Many of life’s big decisions involve predicting our future feelings. Would mar­ rying this person lead to lifelong contentment? Would entering this profes­ sion 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?

Sometimes we know how we will feel—if we fail that exam, win that big game, or soothe our tensions with a half-hour jog. We know what exhilarates us and what makes us anxious or bored. Other times we may mispredict our responses. Asked how they would feel if asked sexually harassing questions on a job interview, most women studied by Julie Woodzicka and Marianne LaFrance (2001) said they would feel angry. When actually asked such questions, however, women more often expe­ rienced fear.

Studies of “affective forecasting” reveal that people have greatest difficulty pre­ dicting the intensity and the duration of their future emotions (Wilson & Gilbert, 2003). People have mispredicted how they would feel some time after a romantic breakup, receiving a gift, losing an election, winning a game, and being insulted (Gilbert & Ebert, 2002; Loewenstein & Schkade, 1999). Some examples:

When young men are sexually aroused by erotic photographs, then exposed to a passionate date scenario in which their date asks them to “stop,” they admit that they might not stop. If not shown sexually arousing pictures first, they more often deny the possibility of being sexually aggressive. 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.” Hungry shoppers do more impulse buying (“Those doughnuts would be delicious!”) than do shoppers who have just enjoyed a quarter-pound blue­ berry muffin (Gilbert & Wilson, 2000). When we are hungry, we mispredict how gross those deep-fried doughnuts will seem when we are sated. When stuffed, we may underestimate how yummy a doughnut might be with a late-night glass of milk—a purchase whose appeal quickly fades when we have eaten one or two.










48 Part One Social Thinking

impact bias Overestimating the enduring impact of emotion-causing events.




• How much will you like the guy you’re about to speed date? Ask the woman who went before you. Female college students predicted their enjoyment of a date better when another woman who had speed-dated him clued them in than when relying on facts such as a picture and a profile. Yet at the end of the experiment, most women still said that relying on the profile would be a better predictor of their feelings than the subjective opinion of another speed-dater (Gilbert & others, 2009).

• When natural disasters like hurricanes occur, people predict that their sad­ ness will be greater if more people are killed. But after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, students’ sadness was similar when it was believed that 50 people had been killed or 1,000 had been killed (Dunn & Ashton-James, 2008). What did influence how sad people felt? Seeing pictures of victims. No wonder poignant images on TV have so much influence on us after disasters.

• People overestimate how much their well-being would be affected by both bad events (a romantic breakup, failing to reach an athletic goal [Eastwick &: others, 2007a; van Dijk & others, 2008]) and good events (warmer winters, weight loss, more television channels, 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.

Our intuitive theory seems to be: We want. We get. We are happy. If that were true, this chapter would have fewer words. In reality, note Daniel Gilbert and Timothy Wilson (2000), we often “miswant.” People who imagine an idyllic des­ ert island holiday with sun, surf, and sand may be disappointed when they dis­ cover “how much they require daily structure, intellectual stimulation, or regular infusions of Pop Tarts.” We think that if our candidate or team wins we will be delighted for a long while. But study after study reveals our vulnerability to impact bias—overestimating the enduring impact of emotion-causing events. Faster than we expect, the emotional traces of such good tidings evaporate.

Moreover, we are especially prone to impact bias after negative events. When Gilbert and colleagues (1998) asked assistant professors to predict their happiness a few years after achieving tenure or not, most believed a favorable outcome was important for their future happiness: “Losing my job would crush my life’s ambi­ tions. It would be terrible.” Yet when surveyed several years after the event, those denied tenure were about as happy as those who received it. Impact bias is impor­ tant, say Wilson and Gilbert (2005), because people’s “affective forecasts”—their predictions of their future emotions—influence their decisions. If people overesti­ mate the intensity and the duration of the pleasure they will gain from purchasing a new car or undergoing cosmetic surgery, then they may make ill-advised invest­ ments in that new Mercedes or extreme makeover.

Let s make this personal. Gilbert and Wilson invite us to imagine how we might feel a year after losing our nondominant hands. Compared with today, how happy would you be?

Thinking about that, you perhaps focused on what the calamity would mean: no clapping, no shoe tying, no competitive basketball, no speedy keyboarding. Although you likely would forever regret the loss, your general happiness some time after the event would be influenced by “two things: (a) the event, and (b) every­ thing else” (Gilbert & Wilson, 2000). In focusing on the negative event, we discount the importance of everything else that contributes to happiness and so overpredict our enduring misery. “Nothing that you focus on will make as much difference as you think,” write researchers David Schkade and Daniel Kahneman (1998).

Moreover, say Wilson and Gilbert (2003), people neglect the speed and the power of their psychological immune system, which includes their strategies for rationaliz­ ing, discounting, forgiving, and limiting emotional trauma. Being largely ignorant-PSALM 30:5

The Self in a Social World Chapter 2 49

of the speed and strength of our psychological immune system (a phenomenon Gilbert and Wilson call immune neglect), we adapt to disabilities, romantic break­ ups, exam failures, tenure denials, and personal and team defeats more readily than we would expect. Ironically, as Gilbert and colleagues report (2004), major negative events (which activate our psychological defenses) can be less enduringly distress­ ing than minor irritations (which don’t activate our defenses). We are, under most circumstances, amazingly resilient.

THE WISDOM AND ILLUSIONS OF SELF-ANALYSIS To a striking extent, then, our intuitions are often dead wrong about what has influenced us and what we will feel and do. But let’s not overstate the case. When the causes of our behavior are conspicuous and the correct explanation fits our intuition, our self-perceptions will be accurate (Gavanski & Hoffman, 1987). When the causes of behavior are obvious to an observer, they are usually obvious to us as well.

As Chapter 3 will explore further, we are unaware of much that goes on in our minds. Perception and memory studies show that we are more aware of the results of our thinking than of its process. For example, we experience the results of our mind’s unconscious workings when we set a mental clock to record the passage of time or to awaken us at an appointed hour, or when we somehow achieve a spontaneous creative insight after a problem has unconsciously “incu­ bated.” Similarly, creative scientists and artists often cannot report the thought processes that produced their insights, although they have superb knowledge of the results.

Timothy Wilson (1985,2002) offers a bold idea: 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 atti­ tudes that actually guide our behavior. In nine experiments, Wilson and colleagues (1989,2008) found that the attitudes people consciously expressed toward things or people usually predicted their subsequent behavior reasonably well. Their attitude reports became useless, however, if the participants were first asked to analyze their feelings. For example, dating couples’ level of happiness with their relationship accurately predicted whether they would still be dating several months later. But participants who first listed all the reasons they could think of why their relation­ ship was good or bad before rating their happiness were misled—their happiness ratings were useless in predicting the future of the relationship! Apparently, the process of dissecting the relationship drew attention to easily verbalized factors that were actually not as important as harder-to-verbalize happiness. We are often “strangers to ourselves,” Wilson concluded (2002).

Such findings illustrate that we have a dual attitude system, say Wilson and colleagues (2000). Our automatic implicit attitudes regarding someone or some­ thing often differ from our consciously controlled, explicit attitudes (Gawronski & Bodenhausen, 2006; Nosek, 2007). From childhood, for example, we may retain a habitual, automatic fear or dislike of people for whom we now consciously verbal­ ize respect and appreciation. Although explicit attitudes may change with relative ease, notes Wilson, “implicit attitudes, like old habits, change more slowly.” With repeated practice, however, new habitual attitudes can replace old ones.

This 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. Personal testimonies are powerfully persuasive (as we will see in Chapter 15, Social Psychology in Court). But they may also be wrong. Keeping this potential for error in mind can help us feel less intimidated by others and be less gullible.

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.






dual attitude system 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 habit

50 Part One Social Thinking

SUMMING UP: Self-Concept: Who Am I? • Our sense of self helps organize our thoughts and

actions. When we process information with refer­ ence to ourselves, we remember it well (the self­ reference effect). Self-concqjt consists of two ele­ ments: the self-schemas that guide our processing of self-relevant information, and the possible selves that we dream of or dread.

• Cultures shape the self, too. Many people in indi­ vidualistic Western cultures assume an independent self. Others, often in collectivistic cultures, assume a more interdependent self As Chapter 5 will further explain, these contrasting ideas contribute to cul­ tural differences in social behavior.

• Our self-knowledge is curiously flawed. We often do not know why we behave the way we do. When influences upon our behavior are not conspicuous enough for any observer to see, we, too, can miss them. The unconscious, implicit processes that con­ trol our behavior may differ from our conscious, explicit explanations of it. We also tend to mispre­ dict our emotions. We underestimate the power of our psychological immune systems and thus tend to overestimate the durability of our emotional reactions to significant events.

self-esteem A person’s overall self- evaluation or sense of self-worth.


Understand self-esteem and its implications for behavior and cognition.

Everyone desires self-esteem, which we are motivated to enhance. But how can self-esteem sometimes be problematic?

Is self-esteem—our overall self-evaluation—the sum of all our self-schemas and possible selves? If we see ourselves as attractive, athletic, smart, and destined to be rich and loved, will we have high self-esteem? Yes, say Jennifer Crocker and Connie Wolfe (2001)—when we feel good about the domains (looks, smarts, or whatever) important to our self-esteem. “One person may have self-esteem that is highly con­ tingent on doing well in school and being physically attractive, whereas another may have self-esteem that is contingent on being loved by God and adhering to moral standards.” Thus, the first person will feel high self-esteem when made to feel smart and good-looking, the second person when made to feel moral.

But Jonathon Brown and Keith Dutton (1994) argue that this “bottom-up” view of self-esteem is not the whole story. The causal arrow, they believe, 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. They are like new parents who, loving their infant, delight in the baby’s fingers, toes, and hair: The parents do not first evaluate their infant’s fingers or toes and then decide how much to value the whole baby.

Specific self-perceptions do have some influence, however. If you think you’re good at math, you will be more likely to do well at math. Although general self­ esteem does not predict academic performance very well, academic self-concept— whether you think you are good in school—does predict performance (Marsh & O’Mara, 2008). Of course, each causes the other: Doing well at math makes you think you are good at math, which then motivates you to do even better. 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 (Swann & others, 2007).

The Self in a Social World Chapter 2 51

Imagine you’re getting your grade back for the first test in a psychology class. When you see your grade, you groan—you’re hovering somewhere between a D and an F. But then you get an encouraging e-mail with some review questions for the class and this message: “Students who have high self-esteem not only get bet­ ter grades, but they remain self-confident and assured…. Bottom line: Hold your head—and your self-esteem—high.” Another group of students instead get a mes­ sage about taking personal control of their performance, or receive review ques­ tions only. So how would each group do on the final exam? To the surprise of the researchers, the students whose self-esteem was boosted did by far the worst on the final—in fact, they flunked it (Forsyth & others, 2007). Struggling students told to feel good about themselves, the researchers muse, may have thought, “I’m already great—why study?”

Self-Esteem Motivation Most people are extremely motivated to maintain their self-esteem. In fact, a study found that college students preferred a boost to their self-esteem to eating their favorite food, engaging in their favorite sexual activity, seeing a best friend, drink­ ing alcohol, or receiving a paycheck (Bushman & others, 2011). So, somewhat incredibly, self-esteem was more important than sex, pizza, and beer!

What happens when your self-esteem is threatened—for example, by a failure or an unflattering comparison with someone else? When brothers have markedly dif­ ferent ability levels—for example, one is a great athlete and the other is not—they report not getting along well (Tesser, 1988).

Self-esteem threats also occur among friends, whose success can be more threat­ ening than that of strangers (Zuckerman & Jost, 2001). Your level of self-esteem also makes a difference: High self-esteem people usually react to a self-esteem threat by compensating for it (blaming someone else or trying harder next time). These reac­ tions help them preserve their positive feelings about themselves. Low self-esteem people, however, are more likely to “break” by blaming themselves or giving up (VanDellen & others, 2011).

What underlies the motive to maintain or enhance self-esteem? Mark Leary (1998, 2004b, 2007) believes that our self-esteem feelings are like a fuel gauge. Rela­ tionships 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

Among sibling relationships, the threat to self-esteem is greatest for an older child with a highly capable younger brother or sister.

52 Part One Social Thinking

terror management theory Proposes that people exhibit self-protective emotional and cognitive responses (including adhering more strongly to their cultural worldviews and prejudices) when confronted with reminders of their mortality.

us more eager for approval. Spurned or jilted, we feel unattractive or inadequate. Like a blinking dashboard light, this pain can motivate action—self-improvement and a search for acceptance and inclusion elsewhere.

Jeff Greenberg (2008) offers another perspective, called “terror management theory/’ which argues that humans must find ways to manage their overwhelm­ ing fear of death. If self-esteem were only about acceptance, he counters, why do “people strive to be great rather than to just be accepted”? The reality of our own death, he argues, motivates us to gain recognition from our work and values. There’s a worm in the apple, however: Not everyone can achieve such recogni­ tion, which is exactly why it is valuable, and why 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, Greenberg main­ tains, 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 (Salmela-Aro & Nurmi, 2007; Trzesniewski &: others, 2006). As you learned in Chapter 1, 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 par­ ents 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 nega­ tive outcomes disappeared (Boden & others, 2008). In other words, low self-esteem was not the cause of these young adults’ 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 (Baumeister & others, 2003). Yet teen males who engage in sex­ ual activity at an “inappropriately young age” tend to have higher than average self-esteem. So do teen gang leaders, extreme ethnocentrists, terrorists, and men in prison for committing violent crimes (Bushman & Baumeister, 2002; Dawes, 1994, 1998). “Hitler had very high self-esteem,” note Baumeister and co-authors (2003).

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 (Campbell & others, 2002). Although narcissists are often outgoing and charming early on, their self-centeredness often leads to relationship problems in the long run (Campbell, 2005). The link between narcissism and problematic social relations led Delroy Paulhus and Kevin Williams (2002) to include narcissism in “The Dark Triad” of negative traits, along with Machiavellianism (manipulativeness) and antisocial psychopathy.

In a series of experiments conducted by Brad Bushman and Roy Baumeister (1998), undergraduate volunteers wrote essays and received rigged feedback that said, “This is one of the worst essays I’ve read!” Those who scored high on narcis­ sism were much more likely to retaliate, blasting painful noise into the headphones of the student they believed had criticized them. Narcissists weren’t aggressive toward someone who praised them (“great essay!”). It was the insult that set them off. But what about self-esteem? Maybe only the “insecure” narcissists—those low in self-esteem—would lash out. But that’s not how it turned out—instead, the stu­ dents high in both self-esteem and narcissism were the most aggressive. The same was true in a classroom setting—those who were high in both self-esteem and nar­ cissism were the most likely to retaliate against a classmate’s criticism by giving him

53The Self in a Social World

C •a y.

or her a bad grade (Bushman & others, 2009; Figure 2.5). Narcissists can be charming and entertaining. But as one wit has said, “God help you if you cross them.”

It’s also possible to have too much narcissistic pride in your group, not just yourself. Polish undergraduates who displayed a “collective narcissism,” believ­ ing their country was superior to others, were more prejudiced against Jewish people. Mexican undergraduates high in collective narcissism were more likely to view the construction of a U.S.-Mexico border wall as an insult and to endorse a boycott of U.S. products in retaliation (Golec deZavala & others, 2009). So whether someone has excessive pride in themselves or their group, others may end up suffering.

Some studies have found small correlations between low self-esteem and antiso­ cial behavior, even when IQ and family income were taken into account (Donnellan & others, 2005; Trzesniewski & others, 2006). However, another study found that the link between low self-esteem and antisocial behavior disappeared when sexual abuse and earlier behavioral problems were considered (Boden & others, 2007). Kids aren’t acting aggressively because they have low self-esteem, it seems, but because they were hurt in the past. “The enthusiastic claims of the self-esteem movement mostly range from fantasy to hogwash,” says Baumeister (1996), who suspects he has “probably published more studies on self-esteem than anybody else…. The effects of self-esteem are small, limited, and not all good.” Folks with high self-esteem, he reports, are more likely to be obnoxious, to interrupt, and to talk at people rather than with them (in contrast to the more shy, modest, self-folks with low self-esteem). “My conclusion is that self-control is worth 10 times as much as self-esteem.”

What about the idea that an overinflated ego is just a cover for deep-seated inse­ curity? Do narcissistic people actually hate themselves “deep down inside”? Recent studies show that the answer is no. People who score high on measures of narcissis­ tic personality traits also score high on measures of self-esteem. In case narcissists were claiming high self-esteem just for show, researchers also asked undergradu­ ates to play a computer game where they had to press a key as quickly as possible to match the word “me” with words such as “good,” “wonderful,” “great,” and “right,” and words such as “bad,” “awful,” “terrible,” and “wrong.” High scorers on the narcissism scale were faster than others to associate themselves with good words, and slower than others to pair themselves with bad words (Campbell & others, 2007). And narcissists were even faster to identify with words such as “out­ spoken,” “dominant,” and “assertive.” Although it might be comforting to think

FIGURE :: 2.5 Narcissism, Self-Esteem, and Aggression Narcissism and self-esteem interact to influence aggression. In an experiment by Brad Bushman and colleagues (2009), the recipe for retaliation against a critical classmate required both narcissism and high self-esteem.

Chapter 2














54 Part One Social Thinking

that an arrogant classmate is just covering for his insecurity, chances are that deep down inside he thinks he’s awesome.

NARCISSISM ON THE RISE After tracking self-importance across the past several decades, psychologist Jean Twenge {2006; Twenge &: others, 2008) reports that today’s young generation— Generation Me, she calls it—express more narcissism (by agreeing with statements such as “If I ruled the world, it would be a better place” or “I think I am a special person”). Narcissism scores rose over time on college campuses from Alabama to Maryland to California {Stewart & Bernhardt, 2010; Twenge & Foster, 2008, 2010). Narcissism correlates with materialism, the desire to be famous, inflated expecta­ tions, fewer committed relationships and more “hooking up,” more gambling, and more cheating, all of which have also risen as narcissism has increased. Narcissism is also linked to a lack of empathy—the ability to take someone else’s perspective and be concerned about their problems—and empathy has dropped precipitously among college students {Konrath & others, 2011). The researchers speculate that today’s generation may be so wrapped up in online interaction that their in-person interaction skills have atrophied. Or, they say, empathy might have declined because young people today are “feeling too busy on their paths to success,” single-mindedly concentrating on their own achievement because the world is now so competitive. Yet, ironically, those high in narcissism and low in empathy are less—not more— successful in the long run, making lower grades in college and performing poorly at work {Judge & others, 2006; Robins & Beer, 2001).

LOW VERSUS SECURE SELF-ESTEEM The findings linking a highly positive self-concept with negative behavior exist in tension with the findings that people expressing low self-esteem are more vulnera­ ble to assorted clinical problems, including anxiety, loneliness, and eating disorders. When feeling bad or threatened, low-self-esteem people often take a negative view of everything. They notice and remember others’ worst behaviors and think their partners don’t love them {Murray & others, 1998, 2002; Ybarra, 1999). 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. Per­ haps as a result, low-self-esteem people are less satisfied with their relationships {Fincham & Bradbury, 1993). They may also be more likely to leave those relation­ ships. Low-self-esteem undergraduates decided not to stay with roommates who saw them in a positive light {Swann & Pelham, 2002).

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 {Kemis, 2003; Schimel & others, 2001). Jennifer Crocker and colleagues {Crocker, 2002; Crocker and Luhtanen, 2003; Crocker and Park, 2004; Crocker and Knight, 2005) confirmed this in studies with University of Michigan students. Those whose self-worth was most fragile—most contingent on external sources—experienced more stress, anger, relationship problems, drug and alcohol use, and eating disor­ ders than did those whose sense of self-worth was rooted more in internal sources, such as personal virtues.

Ironically, note Crocker and Lora Park (2004), those who pursue self-esteem, perhaps by seeking to become beautiful, rich, or popular, may lose sight of what really makes for quality of life. Moreover, if feeling good about ourselves is our goal, then we may become less open to criticism, more likely to blame than empa­ thize with others, and more pressured to succeed at activities rather than enjoy them. Over time, such pursuit of self-esteem can fail to satisfy our deep needs for competence, relationship, and autonomy, note Crocker and Park. To focus less on one’s self-image, and more on developing one’s talents and relationships, eventu­ ally leads to greater well-being. Kristin Neff (2011) suggests we label this approach

The Self in a Social World Chapter 2 55

self-compassion—leaving behind comparisons with others and instead treating ourselves with kindness. As an Indian proverb puts it, “There is nothing noble in being superior to some other person. The true nobility is in being superior to your previous self.”

SUMMING UP: What Is the Nature and Motivating Power of Self-Esteem?

• Self-esteem is the overall sense of self-worth we use to appraise our traits and abilities. Our self- concepts are determined by multiple influences, including the roles we play, the comparisons we make, our social identities, how we perceive others appraising us, and our experiences of success and failure.

• Self-esteem motivation influences our cognitive processes: Facing failure, high-self-esteem people

sustain their self-worth by perceiving other people as failing, too, and by exaggerating their superior­ ity over others.

• Although high self-esteem is generally more ben­ eficial than low, researchers have found that peo­ ple high in both self-esteem and narcissism are the most aggressive. Someone with a big ego who is threatened or deflated by social rejection is poten­ tially aggressive.


Understand se/f-concepf through examination of the self in action.

We have considered what a self-concept is, how it develops, and how well {or poorly) we know ourselves. Now let’s see why our self-concepts matter, by viewing the self in action.

The Self’s Energy The self’s capacity for action has limits, note Roy Baumeister and colleagues {1998, 2000; Muraven & others, 1998). Consider:

• People who exert self-control—by forcing themselves to eat radishes rather than chocolates, or by suppressing forbidden thoughts—subsequently quit faster when given unsolvable puzzles.

• People who have tried to control their emotional responses to an upsetting movie exhibit decreased physical stamina.

• People who have spent their willpower on tasks such as controlling their emotions during an upsetting film later become more aggressive and more likely to fight with their partners {DeWall & others, 2007; Finkel & Campbell, 2001). They also become less restrained in their sexual thoughts and behav­ iors. When asked to express intimacy with their partner, those with depleted willpower were more likely to passionately kiss their partner and even remove some clothing right in the lab {Gailliot & Baumeister, 2007).

Effortful self-control depletes our limited willpower reserves. Our brain’s “cen­ tral executive” consumes available blood sugar when engaged in self-control (Gailliot, 2008). Self-control therefore operates similarly to muscular strength, conclude Baumeister and Julie Exline (2000): Both are weaker after exertion, replen­ ished with rest, and strengthened by exercise.

56 Part One

self-efficacy A sense that one is competent and effective, distinguished from self-esteem, which is one’s sense of self-worth. A sharpshooter in the military might feel high self-efficacy and low self-esteem.

Social Thinking

Although the self’s energy can be temporarily depleted, our self-concepts do influence our behavior (Graziano & others, 1997). Given challenging tasks, people who imagine themselves as hardworking and successful outperform those who imagine themselves as failures (Ruvolo & Markus, 1992). Envision your positive possibilities and you become more likely to plan and enact a successful strategy.

Self-Efficacy Stanford psychologist Albert Bandura (1997, 2000, 2008) captured the power of positive thinking in his research and theorizing about self-efficacy (how compe­ tent we feel on a task). Believing in our own competence and effectiveness pays dividends (Bandura & others, 1999; Maddux and Gosselin, 2003). Children and adults with strong feelings of self-efficacy are more persistent, less anxious, and less depressed. They also live healthier lives and are more academically successful.

In everyday life, self-efficacy leads us to set challenging goals and to per­ sist. More than 100 studies show that self-efficacy predicts worker productivity (Stajkovic & Luthans, 1998). When problems arise, a strong sense of self-efficacy leads workers to stay calm and seek solutions rather than ruminate on their inade­ quacy. Competence plus persistence equals accomplishment. And with accomplish­ ment, self-confidence grows. Self-efficacy, like self-esteem, grows with hard-won achievements.

Even subtle manipulations of self-efficacy can affect behavior. Becca Levy (1996) discovered this when she subliminally exposed 90 older adults to words that evoked (primed) either a negative or a positive stereotype of aging. Some subjects viewed .066-second presentations of negative words such as “decline,” “forgets,” and “senile,” or of positive words such as “sage,” “wise,” and “learned.” At the conscious level, the participants perceived only a flash of light. Yet being given the positive words led to heightened “memory self-efficacy” (confidence in one’s mem­ ory) and better memory performance. Viewing the negative words had the opposite effect. We can observe a similar phenomenon outside the laboratory: Older adults in China, where positive images of aging prevail and memory self-efficacy may be greater, seem to suffer less memory decline than is commonly observed in Western countries (Schacter & others, 1991).

If you believe you can do something, will that belief necessarily make a differ­ ence? That depends on a second factor: Do you have control over your outcomes? You may, for example, feel like an effective driver (high self-efficacy) yet feel endan­ gered by drunken drivers (low control). You may feel like a competent student or worker but, fearing discrimination based on your age, gender, or appearance, you may think your prospects for success are dim.

Many people confuse self-efficacy with self-esteem. 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 such as “You’re special!” (intended to build self-esteem) or “I know you can do it!” (intended to build self-efficacy). One study showed that self-efficacy feedback (“You tried really hard”) led 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 (Mueller & Dweck, 1998). If you want to encour­ age someone, focus on their self-efficacy, not their self-esteem.

Locus of Control “I have no social life,” complained a 40-something single man to student thera­ pist Jerry Phares. At Phares’s urging, the patient went to a dance, where several women danced with him. “I was just lucky,” he later reported. “It would never happen again.” When Phares reported this to his mentor, Julian Rotter, it crys­ tallized an idea he had been forming. In Rotter’s experiments and in his clinical

The Self in a Social World

practice, some people seemed to persistently “feel that what happens to them is governed by external forces of one kind or another, while others feel that what happens to them is governed largely by their own efforts and skills” (quoted by Hunt, 1993, p. 334).

What do you think about your own life? Are you more often in charge of your destiny or a victim of circumstance? Rotter called this dimension locus of control. With Phares, he developed 29 paired statements to measure a person’s locus of control. Imagine taking this test. Which statements do you more strongly believe?

a. In the long run, people get the respect they deserve in this world.

a. What happens to me is my own doing.

a. The average person can have an influence in government decisions.

or b. Unfortunately, people’s worth passes unrecognized no matter how hard they try.

or b. Sometimes I feel that I don’t have enough control over the direction my life is taking.

or b. This world is run by the few people in power, and there is not much the little guy can do about it,

If your answers to these questions (from Rotter, 1973) were mostly “a,” you prob­ ably believe you control your own destiny {internal locus of control). If your answers were mostly “b,” you probably feel chance or outside forces determine your fate {external locus of control, as in Figure 2.6). Those who see themselves as internally controlled are more likely to do well in school, be more productive at work, make more money, successfully stop smoking, maintain a healthy weight, deal with marital problems directly, be more satisfied with life, and achieve long-term goals (Findley & Cooper, 1983; Gale & others, 2008; Miller & others, 1986; Wang & others, 2010).

How much control we feel is related to how we explain setbacks. Perhaps you have known students who view themselves as victims—who blame poor grades on things beyond their control, such as their “bad” teachers, texts, or tests. If such stu­ dents are coached to adopt a more hopeful sense of personal control—to believe that

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I do, things don’t go my way. She%

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control my my. With enougfi ft, I could win ■.

Chapter 2 57

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.

FIGURE :: 2.6 Locus of Control

58 Part One Social Thinking






learned helplessness The sense of hopelessness and resignation learned when a human or animal perceives no control over repeated bad events.

FIGURE:: 2.7 Learned Helplessness When animals and people experi­ ence uncontrollable bad events, they learn to feel helpless and resigned.

effort, good study habits, and self-discipline can make a difference—their academic performance tends to go up (Noel & others, 1987; Peterson & Barrett, 1987). They are also less likely to cheat: Students who were told that free will is an illusion—that what happened to them is outside their control—peeked at answers and paid them­ selves more money for mediocre work (Vohs & Schooler, 2008).

When rating employees’ job performance, bosses gave significantly higher rat­ ings to those with stronger free will beliefs, probably because these employees believed they could control their actions (Stillman & others, 2010). New life insur­ ance sales representatives who view failures as controllable (“It’s difficult, but with persistence I’ll get better”) sell more policies. They are only half as likely as their more pessimistic colleagues to quit during their first year (Seligman & Schulman, 1986). Among college swim team members, those with an optimistic “explanatory style” are more likely than pessimists to perform beyond expectations (Seligman & others, 1990). As the Roman poet Virgil said in the Aeneid, “They can because they think they can.”

Some people, however, have taken these ideas a little too far. The popular book The Secret, for example, claims that thinking positive thoughts causes positive things to happen to you (“The only reason any person does not have enough money is because they are blocking money from coming to them with their thoughts”). So should we conclude that we need not help those poor Somalis in Africa—all they need to do is think happy thoughts? And if you are sick, they say, your thoughts just aren’t positive enough—despite the thousands of cancer patients who desper­ ately want to get well. Obviously, there are limits to the power of positive thinking. Being optimistic and feeling in control can reap great benefits, but poverty and sick­ ness can happen to anyone.

Learned Helplessness Versus Self-Determination The benefits of feelings of control also appear in animal research. In research dorte before today’s greater concern for animal welfare, dogs confined in a cage and taught that they could not escape shocks learned a sense of helplessness. Later, these dogs cowered passively in other situations when they could escape pun­ ishment. Dogs that learned personal control (by successfully escaping their first shocks) adapted easily to a new situation. Researcher Martin Seligman (1975,1991) noted similarities to this learned helplessness in human situations. Depressed or oppressed people, for example, 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 apathy (Figure 2.7).

On the other hand, people benefit by training their self-control “muscles.” Col­ lege students who practiced self-control by sticking with an exercise program or reducing their impulse-buying also ate less jimk food, cut down on alcohol, and studied more (Oaten & Cheng, 2006a, 2006b). So if you learn how to exert willpower in one area of your life, resisting temptation in other areas becomes easier too.

Ellen Langer and Judith Rodin (1976) tested the importance of personal con­ trol by treating elderly patients in a highly rated Connecticut nursing home in one of two ways. With one group, the benevolent caregivers emphasized “our responsibility to make this a home you can be proud of and happy in.” They gave the patients their normal well-intentioned, sympathetic care and allowed them to assume a passive care-receiving role. Three weeks later, most of these patients were rated by themselves, by interviewers, and by nurses as further debilitated.

Uncontrollable i bad events

Perce!ve3^ lack of T • control m (



The Self in a Social World Chapter 2 59

Langer and Rodin’s other treatment promoted personal control. It emphasized opportunities for choice, the possibilities for influencing nursing-home policy, and the person’s responsibility “to make of your life whatever you want.” These patients were given small decisions to make and responsibilities to fulfill. During the ensuing 3 weeks, 93 percent of this group showed improved alertness, activity, and happiness.

Studies confirm that systems of governing or managing people that promote personal control will indeed promote health and happiness (Deci & Ryan, 1987). Here are some additional examples:

• Prisoners given some control over their environments—by being able to move chairs, control TV sets, and operate the lights—experience less stress, exhibit fewer health problems, and commit less vandalism (Ruback & others, 1986; Wener & others, 1987).

• Workers given leeway in carrying out tasks and making decisions experience improved morale (Miller & Monge, 1986). So do telecommuting workers who have more flexibility in balancing their work and personal life (Valcour, 2007).

• In aU countries studied, people who perceive themselves as having free choice experience greater satisfaction with their lives. And countries where people experience more freedom have more satisfied citizens (Inglehart & others, 2008).

THE COSTS OF EXCESS CHOICE Can there ever be too much of a good thing such as freedom and self-determination? Barry Schwartz (2000, 2004) contends that 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 Schwartz calls “the tyranny of freedom.” After choosing from among 30 kinds of jams or chocolates, people express less satisfaction with their choices than those choosing from among 6 options (Iyengar & Lepper, 2000). Making choices is also tiring. Stu­ dents who read the catalog and chose which classes they would take during the upcoming semester—versus those who simply read it but made no choices—were later less likely to study for an important test and more likely to procrastinate by playing video games and reading magazines. In another study, students who chose among an array of consumer products were later less able to consume an unsa­ vory but healthy drink (Vohs «Sc others, 2008). So after choosing among the 19,000 possible beverage combina­ tions at Starbucks or the 40,000 items at the average super­ market, you might be less satisfied with your choices and more likely to go home and eat the ice cream straight from the container.

Christopher Hsee and Reid Hastie (2006) illustrate how choice may enhance regret. 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. People who choose Paris may regret that it lacks the warmth and the ocean. Those who choose Hawaii may regret the lack of great museums.

In other experiments, people have expressed greater sat­ isfaction with irrevocable choices (such as those made in an “all purchases final” sale) than with reversible choices (as when allowing refunds or exchanges). Ironically, people like and will pay for the freedom to reverse their choices. Vet, note Daniel Gilbert and Jane Ebert (2002), that same freedom “can inhibit the psychological processes that man­ ufacture satisfaction.”

Personal control: Inmates of Spain’s modern Valencia prison have, with work and appropriate behavior, gained access to classes, sports facilities, cultural opportunities, and money in an account that can be charged for snacks.

60 Part One Social Thinking

Confidence and feelings of self-efficacy grow from successes. © Edward Koren/The New Yorker Collection/www.cartoonbank.corr

That principle may help explain a curious social phenomenon (Myers, 2000a): National surveys show that people expressed more satisfaction with their marriages several decades ago when marriage was more irrevocable (“all purchases final”). Today despite greater freedom to escape bad marriages and try new ones, people tend to express somewhat less satisfaction with the marriage that they have.

Research on self-control gives us greater confidence in traditional vir­ tues such as perseverance and hope. Bandura (2004) 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.” If your initial efforts to lose weight, stop

smoking, or improve your grades succeed, your self-efficacy increases. A team of researchers led by Roy Baumeister (Baumeister & others, 2003) concurs

with Bandura’s conclusion about mastery experiences. “Praising all the children just for being themselves,” they contend, “simply devalues praise.” Better to praise and bolster self-esteem “in recognition of good performance…. As the person per­ forms or behaves better, self-esteem is encouraged to rise, and the net effect will be to reinforce both good behavior and improvement. Those outcomes are conducive to both the happiness of the individual and the betterment of society.”

*‘This give! my confidence a real boost.’’

THE inside STORY Daniel Gilbert on the Benefits of Irrevocable Commitments

In 2002 I changed my mind about the benefit of being able to change my mind.

Jane Ebert and I discovered that people are gen­ erally happier with decisions when they can’t undo them. When participants in our experiments were abl« to undo their decisions they tended to consider both the positive and negative features of the decisions they had made. When they couldn’t undo their decisions they tended to concentrate on the good features and ignore the bad. As such, they were more satisfied when they made irrevocable than revocable decisions. Ironi­ cally, subjects did not realize this would happen and strongly preferred to have the opportunity to change their minds.

Now, up until this point I had always believed that love causes marriage. But these experiments suggested to me that marriage would also cause love. If you take data seri­ ously you act on it, so when these results came in I went home and proposed to the woman I was living with. She said yes, and it turned out that the data were right: I love my wife more than I loved my girl­ friend, (Excerpted with per­ mission from

Daniel Gilbert Harvard University

The Self in a Social World Chapter 2 61

SUMMING UP: What Does It Mean to Have “Perceived Self-Control”?

• Several lines of research show the benefits of a sense of self-efficacy and feelings of control. People who believe in their own competence and effec­ tiveness, and who have an internal locus of control, cope better and achieve more than others.

• Learned helplessness often occurs when attempts to improve a situation have proven fruitless;

self-determination, in contrast, is bolstered by experiences of successfully exercising control and improving one’s situation.

• When people are given too many choices, they may be less satisfied with what they have than when offered a smaller range of choices.

WHAT IS SELF-SERVING BIAS? Explain self-serving bias and its adaptive and maladaptive aspects.

Most of us have a good reputation with ourselves. In studies of self-esteem, even low-scoring people respond in the midrange of possible scores. (A low-self-esteem person responds to statements such as “1 have good ideas” with a qualifying adjective, such as “somewhat” or “sometimes.”) In a study of self-esteem across 53 nations, the average self-esteem score was above the midpoint in every country (Schmitt & Allik, 2005). In recent samples of U.S. college students, the most common score on a self-esteem measure was the maximum—in effect, “perfect” self-esteem (Gentile & others, 2010). One of social psychology’s most provocative yet firmly established conclusions concerns the potency of self-serving bias—a tendency to perceive oneself favorably.

Explaining Positive and Negative Events Many dozens of experiments have found that people accept credit when told they have succeeded. They attribute the success to their ability and effort, but they attri­ bute failure to external factors such as bad luck or the problem’s inherent “impos­ sibility” (Campbell & Sedikides, 1999). Similarly, in explaining their victories, athletes commonly credit themselves, but they attribute losses to something else: bad breaks, bad referee calls, or the other team’s super effort or dirty play (Grove & others, 1991; Lalonde, 1992; Mullen & Riordan, 1988). And how much responsibility do you suppose car drivers tend to accept for their accidents? On insurance forms, drivers have described their accidents in words such as these: “An invisible car came out of nowhere, struck my car, and vanished”; “As I reached an intersection, a hedge sprang up, obscuring my vision, and I did not see the other car”; and “A pedestrian hit me and went under my car” {Toronto Neivs, 1977).

Situations that combine skill and chance (games, exams, and 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?” Politicians similarly tend to attribute their wins to themselves (hard work, constituent service, reputation, and strategy) and their losses to factors beyond their control (their district’s party makeup, their opponent’s name, and political trends) (Kingdon, 1967). When corporate profits are up, the CEOs welcome big bonuses for their managerial skill. When profits turn to losses, well, what could you expect in a down economy? This phenomenon of self-serving attributions (attrib­ uting positive outcomes to oneself and negative outcomes to something else) is one of the most potent of human biases (Mezulis & others, 2004). That might be for a

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.


62 Part One Social Thinking

DILBERT © Scott Adams. Distributed by United Feature Syndicate. Inc.


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H o o.D V

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good reason: Making self-serving attributions activates brain areas associated with reward and pleasure (Seidel & others, 2010).

Self-serving attributions contribute to marital discord, worker dissatisfaction, and bargaining impasses (Kruger & Gilovich, 1999). Small wonder that divorced people usually blame their partner for the breakup (Gray & Silver, 1990), or that managers often blame poor performance on workers’ lack of ability or effort (Imai, 1994; Rice, 1985). (Workers are more likely to blame something external—supplies, excessive workload, difficult co-workers, or ambiguous assignments.) Small won­ der, too, that people evaluate pay raises as fairer when they receive a bigger raise than most of their co-workers (Diekmann & others, 1997).

We help maintain our positive self-images by associating ourselves with success and distancing ourselves from failure. For example, “1 got an A on my econ test” versus “The prof gave me a C on my history exam.” Blaming failure or rejection on something external, even another’s prejudice, is less depressing than seeing oneself as undeserving (Major & others, 2003). We will, however, acknowledge our dis­ tant past failings—those by our “former” self, note Anne Wilson and Michael Ross (2001). Describing their old precollege selves, their University of Waterloo students offered nearly as many negative as positive statements. When describing their pres­ ent selves, they offered three times more positive statements. “I’ve learned and grown, and I’m a better person today,” most people surmise. Chumps yesterday, champs today.

Ironically, 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 (Pronin & others, 2002). This “bias blind spot” can have serious consequences during conflicts. If you’re negotiating with your roommate over who does house­ hold chores and you believe your roommate has a biased view of the situation, you’re much more likely to become angry (Pronin & Ross, 2006). Apparently we see ourselves as objective and everyone else as biased. No wonder we fight, because we’re each convinced we’re “right” and free from bias. As the T-shirt slogan says, “Everyone is entitled to my opinion.”

Is the self-serving bias universal, or are people in collectivistic cultures immune? People in collectivistic cultures associate themselves with positive words and valued traits (Gaertner & others, 2008; Yamaguchi & others, 2007). However, in some stud­ ies, collectivists are less likely to self-enhance by believing they are better than oth­ ers (Falk & others, 2009; Heine & Hamamura, 2007), particularly in individualistic domains (Sedikides & others, 2003, 2005).

Can We All Be Better Than Average? Self-serving bias also appears when people compare themselves with others. If the sixth-century b.c. Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu was right that “at no time in the world will a man who is sane over-reach himself, over-spend himself, over­ rate himself,” then most of us are a little insane. For on subjective, socially desirable, and common dimensions, most people see themselves as better than the average

The Self in a Social World Chapter 2 63

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 self- assessments. (See “Focus On: Self-Serving Bias—How Do I Love Me? Let Me Count the Ways.”)

Every community, it seems, is like Garrison Keillor’s fictional Lake Wobegon, where “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.” Many people believe that they will become even more above average in the future—if I’m good now, I will be even better soon, they seem to think (Kanten & Teigen, 2008). One of Freud’s favorite jokes was the husband who told his wife, “If one of us should die, I think I would go live in Paris.”

The self-serving bias is also common in marriages. In a 2008 surv^ey, 49 percent of married men said they did half to most of the child care. But only 31 percent of wives said their husbands did this much. In the same survey, 70 percent of women said they do most of the cooking, but 56 percent of the men said they do most of the cooking (Galinsky & others, 2009). The general rule: Group members’ estimates of how much they contribute to a joint task typically sum to more than 100 percent (Savitsky & others, 2005).

focus Self-Serving Bias—How Do I Love Me? Let Me Count the Ways

“The one thing that unites all human beings, regard­ less of age, gender, religion, economic status, or ethnic background,” notes columnist Dave Barry (1998), “is that deep down inside, we all believe that we are above aver­ age drivers.” We also believe we are above average on most any other subjective and desirable trait Among the many faces of seif-serving bias are these:

• Ethics. Most businesspeople see themselves as more ethical than the average businessperson (Baumhart, 1968; Brenner & Molander, 1977). One national survey asked, “How would you rate your own mor­ als and values on a scale from 1 to 1(X) (100 being perfect)?” Fifty percent of people rated them­ selves 90 or above; only 11 percent said 74 or less (Lovett, 1997).

• Professional competence. In one survey, 90 percent of business managers rated their performance as supe­ rior to their average peer (French, 1968). In Australia, 86 percent of people rated their job performance as above average, and only 1 percent as below average (Headey & Wearing, 1987). Most surgeons believe their patients’ mortality rate to be lower than average (Gawande, 2002).

• Virtues. In The Netherlands, most high school stu­ dents rate themselves as more honest, persistent, original, friendly, and reliable than the average high

i school student (Hoorens, 1993, 1995).

Intelligence. Most people perceive themselves as more intelligent, better looking, and much less preju­ diced than their average peer (Public Opinion, 1984; Watt & Larkin, 2010; Wylie, 1979). When someone outperforms them, people tend to think of the other as a genius (Lassiter & Munhall, 2001). Parental support. Most adults believe they support their aging parents more than do their siblings (Lerner & others, 1991). Health. Los Angeles residents view themselves as healthier than most of their neighbors, and most col­ lege students believe they will outlive their actuarially predicted age of death by approximately 10 years (Larwood, 1978; Snyder, 1978). Attractiveness. Is it your experience, as it is mine, that most photos of you seem not to do you justice? One experiment showed people a lineup of faces— one their own, the others being their face morphed into those of less and more attractive faces (Epiey & Whitchurch, 2008). When asked which was their actual face, people tended to identify an attractively enhanced version of their face. Driving. Most drivers—even most drivers who have been hospitalized for accidents—believe themselves to be safer and more skilled than the average driver (Guerin, 1994; McKenna & Myers, 1997; Svenson, 1981). Dave Barry was right.

m •r»

64 Part One Social Thinking

® Jean Sorensen.

My wife and I used to pitch our laun­ dry on the floor next to our bedroom clothes hamper. In the morning, one of us would put it in. When she sug­ gested that 1 take more responsibility for this, I thought, “Huh? I already do it 75 percent of the time.” So I asked her how often she thought she picked up the clothes. “Oh,” she replied, “about 75 percent of the time.”

Within commonly considered domains, subjective behavioral dimen­ sions (such as “disciplined”) trigger even greater self-serving bias than observable behavioral dimensions (such as “punctual”). Subjective quali­ ties give us leeway in constructing our own definition of success (Dunning & others, 1989,1991). Rating my “athletic ability,” I ponder my basketball play, not the agonizing weeks 1 spent as a Little League baseball player hiding in right field. Assessing my “leader­

ship ability,” 1 conjure up an image of a great leader whose style is similar to mine. By defining ambiguous criteria in our own terms, each of us can see our­ selves as relatively successful. In one College Entrance Examination Board survey of 829,000 high school seniors, none rated themselves below average in “ability to get along with others” (a subjective, desirable trait), 60 percent rated themselves in the top 10 percent, and 25 percent saw themselves among the top 1 percent! In 2011, 77 percent of incoming college students described themselves as above average in their “drive to achieve,” another subjective and desirable trait (Pryor & others, 2012).

Researchers have wondered: Do people really believe their above-average self-estimates? Is their self-serving bias partly a function of how the ques­ tions are phrased (Krizan & Suls, 2008)? When Elanor Williams and Thomas Gilovich (2008) had people bet real money when estimating their relative perfor­ mance on tests, they found that, yes, “people truly believe their self-enhancing self-assessments.”





Unrealistic Optimism Optimism predisposes a positive approach to life. “The optimist,” notes H. Jackson Brown (1990, p. 79), “goes to the window every morning and says, ‘Good morning, God.’ The pessimist goes to the window and says, ‘Good God, morning.’”

Studies of more than 90,000 people across 22 cultures reveal that most humans are more disposed to optimism than pessimism (Fischer & Chalmers, 2008). Indeed, many of us have what researcher Neil Weinstein (1980,1982) terms “an unrealistic optimism about future life events.” In a 2006-2008 worldwide poll, most people expected their lives to improve more in the next 5 years than they did in the past 5 years (Deaton, 2009)—an especially striking expectation considering the world­ wide recession that followed. Partly because of their relative pessimism about oth­ ers’ fates (Hoorens & others, 2008; Shepperd, 2003), students perceive themselves as far more likely than their classmates to get a good job, draw a good salary, and own a home. They also see themselves as far less likely to experience nega­ tive events, such as developing a drinking problem, having a heart attack before age 40 years, or being fired. Adult women are much more likely to be unduly

65The Self in a Social World

optimistic than pessimistic about their relative risk of breast cancer (Waters & others, 2011). Football fans believe their favorite team has a 77 percent chance of winning their first game. Even after 4 months when (on average) their team won only half the time, they still hold out hope and predict a 70 percent chance of their team winning (Massey & others, 2011).

Parents extend their unrealistic optimism to their children, assuming their child is less likely to drop out of college, become depressed, or get lung can­ cer than the average child. According to a study (Lench & others, 2006), par­ ents assumed their children would be more likely to complete college, remain healthy, and stay happy.

Illusory optimism increases our vulnerability. Believing ourselves immune to misfortune, we do not take sensible precautions. Sexually active undergraduate women who don’t consistently use contraceptives perceived themselves, com­ pared with other women at their university, as much less vulnerable to unwanted pregnancy (Burger & Burns, 1988). People trying to quit smoking who believe they are above average in willpower are more likely to keep cigarettes around and stand near others who are smoking—^behaviors likely to lead to a relapse into smoking (Nordgren & others, 2009). Elderly drivers who rated themselves as “above aver­ age” were four times more likely than more modest drivers to flunk a driving test and be rated “unsafe” (Freund & others, 2005). Students who enter university with inflated assessments of their academic ability often suffer deflating self-esteem and well-being and are more likely to drop out (Robins & Beer, 2001). In perhaps the most wide-ranging example, many home buyers, mortgage lenders, and inves­ tors in the mid-2000s displayed unrealistic optimism in their belief that “housing never goes down,” accumulating large amounts of debt. The eventual result was a wave of home foreclosures that spawned the 2007-2009 recession, the most severe economic downturn since the Great Depression. For illusory optimism, we often pay a price.

Those who cheerfully deny the effects of smoking or stumble into ill-fated rela­ tionships remind us that blind optimism, like pride, may go before a fall. When gambling, optimists persist longer than pessimists, even when piling up losses (Gibson & Sanbonmatsu, 2004). If those who deal in the stock market or in real estate perceive their business intuition as superior to that of their competitors, they, too, may be in for disappointment. Even the seventeenth-century economist Adam Smith, a defender of human economic rationality, foresaw that people would over­ estimate their chances of gain. This “absurd presumption in their own good for­ tune,” he said, arises from “the overweening conceit which the greater part of men have of their own abilities” (Spiegel, 1971, p. 243).

Unrealistic optimism appears to be on the rise. In the 1970s, half of American high school seniors predicted that they would be “very good” workers as adults—the highest rating available, and thus the equivalent of giving themselves five stars out of five. By 2006, two-thirds of teens believed they would achieve this stellar out­ come (Twenge & Campbell, 2008). Even more striking, half of high school seniors in 2000 believed that they would earn a graduate degree—even though only 9 percent

Chapter 2

NON SEQUITUR © 1999 Wiley Miller. Distributed by Universal Press Syndicate. Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved.










66 Part One Social Thinking

Illusory optimism: Most couples marry feeling confident of long-term love. Actually, in individualistic cultures, half of marriages fail.

were likely to actually do so (Reynolds & others, 2006). 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 (Wrosch & Miller, 2009).

Optimism definitely beats pessimism in promoting self-efficacy, health, and well-being (Armor & Taylor, 1996; Segerstrom, 2001). As natural optimists, most people believe they will be hap­ pier with their lives in the future—a belief that surely helps create happiness in the present (Robinson & Ryff, 1999). If our optimistic prehistoric ancestors were more likely than their pessimistic neighbors to surmount challenges and survive, then small wonder that we are disposed to optimism (Haselton &

defensive pessimism The adaptive value of anticipating problems and harnessing one’s anxiety to motivate effective action.

Nettle, 2006). Yet a dash of realism—or what Julie Norem (2000) calls defensive pessimism—

can sometimes save us from the perils of unrealistic optimism. Defensive pessi­ mism anticipates problems and motivates effective coping. As a Chinese proverb says, “Be prepared for danger while staying in peace.” Students who exhibit excess optimism (as many students destined for low grades do) benefit from some self-doubt, which motivates study (Prohaska, 1994; Sparrell & Shrauger, 1984). Students who are overconfident tend to underprepare, whereas their equally able but less confident peers study harder and get higher grades (Good- hart, 1986; Norem & Cantor, 1986; Showers & Ruben, 1987). Viewing things in a more immediate, realistic way often helps. Students in one experiment were wildly optimistic in predicting their test performance when the test was hypo­ thetical, but they were surprisingly accurate when the test was imminent (Armor & Sackett, 2006). Believing you’re great when nothing can prove you wrong is one thing, but with an evaluation fast approaching, best not to look like a bragging fool.

It’s also important to listen to criticism. “One gentle rule I often tell my students,” writes David Dunning (2006), “is that if two people independently give them the same piece of negative feedback, they should at least consider the possibility that it might be true.” So, there is a power to negative as well as positive thinking. The moral: Success in school and beyond requires enough optimism to sustain hope and enough pessimism to motivate concern.

false consensus effect The tendency to overestimate the commonality of one’s opinions and one’s undesirable or unsuccessful behaviors.

False Consensus and Uniqueness 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 mat­ ters of opinion, we find support for our positions by overestimating the extent to which others agree—a phenomenon called the false consensus effect (Krueger & Clement, 1994b; Marks & Miller, 1987; Mullen & Goethals, 1990). Sharad Goel, Win­ ter Mason, and Duncan Watts (2010) found that Facebook users were 90 percent accurate in guessing when they agreed with their friends on political and other issues, but they were only 41 percent accurate in guessing disagreement. In other words, most of the time they thought their friends agreed with them when they didn’t. Business students asked to make decisions about ethical dilemmas overesti­ mated how many other students made the same choice (Flynn & Wiltermuth, 2010).

The Self in a Social World

Self-serving bias Example

Attributing one’s success to ability and effort, failure to luck and things external

Comparing oneself favorably to others

got the A in history because I studied hard. I got the D in sociology becau^j exams were unfair.

I do more for my parents than my sister does.

Unrealistic optimism Even though 50% of marriages fail, I know mine will be enduring joy.

I i

Ealse consensus and uniquene know most people agree with me that global warming threatens our futur^K^ White Australians prejudiced against Aborigines were more likely to believe that other Whites were also prejudiced (Watt & Larkin, 2010). 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 (Sagarin & others, 1998). If we feel sexual desire toward another, we may overestimate the other’s reciprocal desire. We guess that others think and act as we do: “I lie, but doesn’t everyone?” If we cheat on our income taxes, smoke, or enhance our appearance, we are likely to overestimate the number of other people who do likewise. As former Baywatch actor David Hassel- hoff said, “I have had Botox. Everyone has!” “We don’t see things as they are,” says a proverb. “We see things as we are.”

Dawes (1990) proposes that this false consensus may occur because we general­ ize from a limited sample, which prominently includes ourselves. Lacking other information, why not “project” ourselves; why not impute our own knowledge to others and use our responses as a clue to their likely responses? Most people are in the majority; so when people assume they are in the majority they are usually right. Also, we’re more likely to spend time with people who share our attitudes and behaviors and, consequently, to judge the world from the people we know. Small wonder that Germans tend to think that the typical European looks rather German, whereas the Portuguese see Europeans as looking more Portuguese (Imhoff & others, 2011).

On matters of ability or when we behave well or successfully, however, a false uniqueness effect more often occurs (Goethals & others, 1991). We serve our self- image by seeing our talents and moral behaviors as relatively unusual. Dutch col­ lege students preferred being part of a larger group in matters of opinion such as politics (false consensus) but wanted to be part of a smaller group in matters of taste such as musical preferences (false uniqueness; Spears & others, 2009). After all, a band isn’t cool anymore if too many people like it. Female college students who protect themselves while drinking by, for example, designating a driver or drinking only with a meal underestimate how many other women do the same (Benton Sz others, 2008). Thus, we may see our failings as relatively normal and our virtues as relatively exceptional.

To sum up, self-serving bias appears as self-serving attributions, self-congratulatory comparisons, illusory optimism, and false consensus for one’s failings (Figure 2.8).

FIGURE:: 2.8 How Seif-Serving Bias Works

Chapter 2 67








TALBERT, 1997)

false uniqueness effect The tendency to underestimate the commonality of one’s abilities and one’s desirable or successful behaviors.

68 Part One Social Thinking

Explaining Self-Serving Bias Why do people perceive themselves in self-enhancing ways? 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 (Chambers & Windschitl, 2004). In one study, married people gave themselves credit for doing more housework than their spouses did. Might that not be due, as Michael Ross and Fiore Sicoly (1979) believed, to our greater recall for what weVe actively done and our lesser recall for what we’ve not done or merely observed our partner doing? I could easily picture myself picking up the laundry off the bedroom floor, but I was less aware of

the times when I absentmindedly overlooked it. Are the biased perceptions, then, simply a perceptual error, an emotion-free

glitch in how we process information? Or are self-serving motives also involved? It’s now clear from research that we have multiple motives. Questing for self- knowledge, we’re motivated to assess our competence (Dunning, 1995). Questing for self-confirmation, we’re motivated to verify our self-conceptions (Sanitioso & others, 1990; Swann, 1996,1997). Questing for self-affirmation, we’re especially motivated to enhance our self-image (Sedikides, 1993). Self-esteem motivation, then, helps power our self-serving bias. As social psychologist Daniel Batson (2006) surmises, “The head is an extension of the heart.”

Can we all be better than average? © William Haeleli/The New Yorker Collection/www

Reflections on Self-Esteem and Self-Serving Bias If you are like some readers, by now you are finding self-serving bias either depress­ ing or contrary to your own occasional feelings of inadequacy. Even people who exhibit the self-serving bias may feel inferior—to those who are a step or two higher on the ladder of success, attractiveness, or skill. Moreover, not everyone operates with a self-serving bias. Some people do suffer from low self-esteem. Positive self­ esteem does have some benefits.

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 feel­

ings (Wood & others, 2003). “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,” noted Shelley Taylor and co­ researchers (2003b).

Self-serving bias and its accompanying excuses also help protect people from depres­ sion (Snyder & Higgins, 1988; Taylor & others, 2003a). Nonde- pressed people usually exhibit self-serving bias. They excuse

© Mike Twohy/The New Yorker Collection/

69The Self in a Social World

their failures on laboratory tasks or perceive themselves as being more in control than they are. Depressed people’s self-appraisals and their appraisals of how others really view them are not inflated (more on this in Chapter 14).

Self-serving bias additionally helps buffer stress. George Bonanno and colleagues (2005) assessed the emotional resiliency of workers who escaped from the World Trade Center or its environs on September 11,2001. They foimd that those who dis­ played self-enhancing tendencies were the most resilient.

In their “terror management theory,” Jeff Greenberg, Sheldon Solomon, and Tom Pyszczynski (1997; Greenberg, 2008) propose another reason why positive self-esteem 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 don’t, love and protection may be withdrawn. We therefore come to associate viewing ourselves as good with feeling secure. Greenberg and colleagues argue that positive self-esteem—viewing oneself as good and secure—even protects us from feeling terror over our eventual death. Their research shows that reminding people of their mortality (for example, by writing a short essay on dying) motivates them to affirm their self-worth. When fac­ ing such threats, self-esteem buffers anxiety. In 2004, a year after the U.S. invasion, Iraqi teens who felt their country was under threat reported the highest self-esteem (Carlton-Ford & others, 2008).

As research on depression and anxiety suggests, there is practical wisdom in self-serving perceptions. It may be strategic to believe we are smarter, stronger, and more socially successful than we are. Cheaters may give a more convincing display of honesty if they believe themselves honorable. Belief in our superiority can also motivate us to achieve—creating a self-fulfilling prophecy—and can sustain our hope through difficult times (Willard & Gramzow, 2009).

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 unhap- pier than people who can acknowledge their mistakes (Anderson & others, 1983; Newman & Langer, 1981; Peterson & others, 1981).

Research by Barry Schlenker (1976; Schlenker & Miller, 1977a, 1977b) has also shown how self-serving perceptions can poison a group. As a rock band guitar­ ist during his college days, Schlenker noted that “rock band members typically overestimated their contributions to a group’s success and underestimated their contributions to failure. I saw many good bands disintegrate from the problems caused by these self-glorifying tendencies.” In his later life as a University of Flor­ ida social psychologist, Schlenker explored group members’ self-serving percep­ tions. In nine experiments, he had people work together on some task. He then falsely informed them that their group had done either well or poorly. In every one of those studies, the members of successful groups claimed more responsibil­ ity for their group’s performance than did members of groups that supposedly failed at the task.

If most group members believe they are underpaid and underappreciated rela­ tive to their better-than-average contributions, disharmony and envy are likely. College presidents and academic deans will readily recognize the phenomenon. Ninety percent or more of college faculty members have rated themselves as superior to their average colleague (Blackburn & others, 1980; Cross, 1977). It is therefore inevitable that when merit salary raises are announced and half receive an average raise or less, many will feel themselves victims of injustice.

Self-serving biases also inflate people’s judgments of their groups, a phenom­ enon called group-serving bias. When groups are comparable, most people con­ sider their own group superior (Codol, 1976; Jourden & Heath, 1996; Taylor & Doria, 1981).

Chapter 2








—SENECA, DE IRA. a.d. 43

group-serving bias Explaining away outgroup members’ positive behaviors; also attributing negative behaviors to their dispositions (while excusing such behavior by one’s own group).

70 Part One Social Thinking

Seif-sen/ing pride in group settings can become especially dangerous. © Dana Fradon/The New Yorker Colleclion/wvw








• Most university sorority members perceive those in their sorority as far less likely to be conceited and snobbish than those in other sororities (Biemat & others, 1996).

• Stanford University intramural volleyball players who won their game attributed the success to their team; those who lost blamed other factors (Sherman & Kim, 2005).

• Fifty-three percent of Dutch adults rate their marriage or partnership as better than that of most others; only 1 percent rate it as worse than most (Buunk & van der Eijnden, 1997).

• Sixty-six percent of Americans give their oldest child’s public school a grade of A or B. But nearly as many—64 percent—give the nation’s public schools a grade of C or D (Whitman, 1996).

That people see themselves and their groups with a favorable bias is hardly new. The tragic flaw portrayed in ancient Greek drama was hubris, or pride. Like the sub­ jects of our experiments, the Greek tragic figures were not self-consciously evil; they merely thought too highly of themselves. In literature, the pitfalls of pride are por­ trayed again and again. In theology, pride has long been first among the “seven deadly sins.”

If pride is akin to the self-serving bias, then what is humility? Is it self-contempt? Humility is not handsome people believing they are ugly and smart people trying to believe they are slow-witted. False modesty can actually be a cover for pride in one’s better-than-average humility. (James Friedrich [1996] reports that most stu­ dents congratulate themselves on being better than average at not thinking them­ selves better than average!) True humility is more like self-forgetfulness than false modesty. It leaves us free to recognize accurately and rejoice in our special talents and, with the same honesty, to recognize the talents of others.

SUMMING UP: What Is Self-Serving Bias? • Contrary to the presumption that most people

suffer from low self-esteem or feelings of inferior­ ity, researchers consistently find that most people exhibit a self-serving bias. In experiments and every­ day life, we often take credit for our successes while blaming failures on the situation.

• Most people rate themselves as better than average on subjective, desirable traits and abilities.

• We exhibit unrealistic optimism about our futures.

• We overestimate the commonality of our opinions and foibles {false consensus) while underestimating

the commonality of our abilities and virtues {false uniqueness).

• Such perceptions arise partly from a motive to maintain and enhance self-esteem—a motive that protects people from depression but contributes to misjudgment and group conflict.

• Self-serving bias can be adaptive in that it allows us to savor the good things that happen in our lives. When bad things happen, however, self-serving bias can have the maladaptive effect of causing us to blame others or feel cheated out of something we “deserved.”

71The Self in a Social World


Identify self-presentation and understand how impression management can expiain behavior.

So far, we have seen that the self is at the center of our social worlds, that self­ esteem and self-efficacy pay some dividends, and that self-serving bias influences self-evaluations. Perhaps you have wondered: Are self-enhancing expressions always sincere? Do people have the same feelings privately as they express pub­ licly? Or are they just putting on a positive face even while living with self-doubt?

Self-Handicapping Sometimes people sabotage their chances for success by creating impediments that make success less likely. Far from being deliberately self-destructive, such behav­ iors typically have a self-protective aim (Arkin & others, 1986; Baumeister & Scher, 1988; ^odewalt, 1987): “Tm really not a failure—I would have done well except for this problem.”

Why would people handicap themselves with self-defeating behavior? Recall that we eagerly protect our self-images by attributing failures to external factors. Can you see why, fearing failure, people might handicap themselves by 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.

Steven Berglas and Edward Jones (1978) confirmed this analysis of self­ handicapping. One experiment was announced as concerning “drugs and intel­ lectual performance.” Imagine yourself in the position of their Duke University participants. You guess answers to some difficult aptitude questions and then are told, “Yours was one of the best scores seen to date!” Feeling incredibly lucky, you are then offered a choice between two drugs before answering more of these items. One drug will aid intellectual performance and the other will inhibit it. Which drug do you want? Most students wanted the drug that would suppos­ edly disrupt their thinking, thus providing a handy excuse for anticipated poorer performance.

Researchers have documented other ways people self-handicap. Fearing failure, people will

• reduce their preparation for important individual athletic events (Rhodewalt & others, 1984).

• give their opponent an advantage (Shepperd & Arkin, 1991). • perform poorly at the beginning of a task in order not to create unreachable

expectations (Baumgardner & Brownlee, 1987). • not try as hard as they could during a tough, ego-involving task (Hormuth,

1986; Pyszczynski & Greenberg, 1987; Riggs, 1992; Turner & Pratkanis, 1993).

Impression Management Self-serving bias, false modesty, and self-handicapping reveal the depth of our con­ cern for self-image. To varying degrees, we are continually managing the impressions

Chapter 2

self-handicapping Protecting one’s self-image with behaviors that create a handy excuse for later failure.




After losing to some younger rivals, tennis great Martina Navratilova confessed that she was “afraid to play my best…. I was scared to find out if they could beat me when I’m playing my best because if they can, then 1 am finished” (Frankel & Snyder 1987).

72 Part One

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.

©2008 by P. S. Mueller.

Social Thinking

we create. Whether we wish to impress, intimidate, or seem helpless, we are social animals, playing to an audience. So great is the human desire for social acceptance that it can lead people to risk harming themselves through smoking, binge eating, pre­ mature sex, or drug and alcohol abuse {Rawn & Vohs, 2011).

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, jus­ tify, or apologize as necessary to shore up our self-esteem and verify our self- images (Schlenker & Weigold, 1992). Just as we preserve our self-esteem, we also must make sure not to brag too much and risk the disapproval of oth­ ers (Anderson & others, 2006). Social interaction is a careful balance of look­ ing good while not looking too good.

In familiar situations, self-presentation happens without conscious effort. In unfamiliar situations, perhaps at a party with people we would like to impress or in conversation with someone we have romantic interest in, we are acutely self- conscious of the impressions we are creating and we are therefore less modest than when among friends who know us well (Leary & others, 1994; Tice & others, 1995). Preparing to have our photographs taken, we may even try out different faces in a mirror. We do this even though active self-presentation depletes energy, which often leads to diminished effectiveness—for example, to less persistence on a tedious experimental task or more difficulty stifling emotional expressions (Vohs & others, 2005). The upside is that self-presentation can unexpectedly improve mood. People felt significantly better than they thought they would after doing their best to “put their best face forward” and concentrate on making a positive impression on their boyfriend or girlfriend. Elizabeth Dunn and colleagues (2008) conclude that “date nights” for long-term couples work because they encourage active self-presentation, which improves mood.

Social networking sites such as Facebook provide a new and sometimes intense venue for self-presentation. They are, says communications professor Joseph Wal- ther, “like impression management on steroids” (Rosenbloom, 2008). Users make careful decisions about which pictures, activities, and interests to highlight in their profiles. Some even think about how their friends will affect the impression they make on others; one study found that those with more attractive friends were per­ ceived as more attractive themselves (Walther & others, 2008). Given the concern with status and attractiveness on social networking sites, it is not surprising that people high in narcissistic traits thrive on Facebook, tallying up more friends and choosing more attractive pictures of themselves (Buffardi & Campbell, 2008).

Given our concern for self-presentation, it’s no wonder that people will self­ handicap when failure might make them look bad. It’s no wonder that people take health risks—tanning their skin with wrinkle- and cancer-causing radiation; having piercings or tattoos done without proper hygiene; becoming anorexic; or yielding to peer pressures to smoke, get drunk, and do drugs (Leary & others, 1994). It’s no wonder that people express more modesty when their self-flattery is vulnerable to being debunked, perhaps by experts who will be scrutinizing

73The Self in a Social World

their self-evaluations (Arkin & others, 1980; Riess & others, 1981; Weary & others, 1982). Professor Smith will likely express more modesty about the significance of her work when presenting it to professional colleagues than when presenting it to students.

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 per­ formance to gain a desired effect. Those who score high on a scale of self-monitoring (who, for example, agree that “1 tend to be what people expect me to be”) act like social chameleons—they adjust their behavior in response to external situations (Gangestad & Snyder, 2000; Snyder, 1987). Having attuned their behavior to the situation, they are more likely to espouse attitudes they don’t really hold (Zanna & Olson, 1982). Being conscious of others, they are less likely to act on their own attitudes. As Mark Leary (2004b) observed, 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 (Leone & Hawkins, 2006).

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 (McCann & Hancock, 1983). For example, if asked to list their thoughts about gay couples, they simply express what they think, regardless of the attitudes of their anticipated audience (Klein & others, 2004). As you might imagine, someone who is extremely low in self-monitoring could come across as an insensitive boor, whereas extremely high self-monitoring could result ^ dishonest behavior worthy of a con art­ ist. Most of us fall somewhere between those hvo extremes.

Presenting oneself in ways that create a desired impression is a delicate balancing set. People want to be seen as able but also

Chapter 2

Group identity. In Asian countries, self-presentation is restrained. Children learn to identify themselves with their groups.

self-monitoring Being attuned to the way one presents oneself in social situations and adjusting one’s performance to create the desired impression.










(Si Mike Marland.

74 Part One Soda! Thinking

as modest and honest (Carlston & Shovar, 1983). In most social situations, modesty creates a good impression, unsolicited boasting a bad one. Hence the false modesty phenomenon: We often display lower self-esteem than we privately feel (Miller & Schlenker, 1985). But when we have obviously done extremely well, the insincerity of a disclaimer (‘T did well, but it’s no big deal”) may be evident. To make good impressions—to appear modest yet competent—requires social skill.

SUMMING UP: How Do People Manage Their Self-Presentation?

• As social animals, we adjust our words and actions to suit our audiences. To varying degrees, we note our performance and adjust it to create the impres­ sions we desire.

• Such tactics explain examples of false modesty, in which people put themselves down, extol future competitors, or publicly credit others while pri­ vately crediting themselves.

• Sometimes people will even self-handicap with self- defeating behaviors that protect self-esteem by providing excuses for failure.

Self-presentation refers to our wanting to present a favorable image both to an external audience (other people) and to an internal audience (our­ selves). With regard to an external audience, those who score high on a scale of self-monitoring adjust their behavior to each situation, whereas those low in self-monitoring may do so little social adjusting that they seem insensitive.

POSTSCRIPT: Twin Truths—The Perils of Pride, the Powers of Positive Thinking This chapter offered two memorable truths—the truth of self-efficacy and the truth of self-serving bias. The truth concerning self-efficacy encourages us not to resign ourselves to bad situations. We need to persist despite initial failures and to exert effort without being overly distracted by self-doubts. Secure self-esteem is likewise adaptive. When we believe in our positive possibilities, we are less vulnerable to depression and we feel less insecure.

Thus, it’s important to think positively and try hard but not to be so self- confident that our goals are illusory or we alienate others with our narcissism. Taking self-efficacy too far leads to blaming the victim: If positive thinking can accomplish anything, then we have only ourselves to blame if we are unhappily married, poor, or depressed. For shame! If only we had tried harder, been more disciplined, less stupid. This viewpoint fails to acknowledge that bad things can happen to good people. Life’s greatest achievements, but also its greatest disap­ pointments, are bom of the highest expectations.

These twin truths—self-efficacy and self-serving bias—remind me of what Pascal taught 300 years ago: No single truth is ever sufficient, because the world is complex. Any truth, separated from its complementary truth, is a half-truth.

Social Beliefs and

Judgments How do we perceive our sodj^ worlds?

How do we judge our social worlds?

How do we explain our social worlds?

How do our expectations of our social worlds matter?

What can we conclude about social beliefs and judgments?

There is curious power to partisanship. Consider American politics:

• In the late 1980s, most Democrats believed inflation had risen

under Republican president Ronald Reagan (it had dropped).

• In 2010, most Republicans believed that taxes had increased

under Barack Obama (for most Americans, taxes had decreased)

(Cooper, 2010; Douthat, 2010).

• Obama is Muslim, agreed 31 percent of Republicans and

10 percent of Democrats surveyed by Pew (2010a). He is not.

• And he was born outside the United States, said 43 percent of

Republicans and 9 percent of Democrats surveyed by Gallup

shortly before the release of his long-form Hawaiian birth

certificate (Morales, 2011a).

Such “motivated reasoning” transcends political parties. Feelings—

such as a gut-level liking or disliking of certain politicians—powerfully

influence how we interpret evidence and view reality. Partisanship pre­

disposes perceptions. As an old Chinese proverb says, “Two-thirds of

v^hat we see is behind our eves.”

Postscript: Reflecting on Illusory thinking

78 Part One Social Thinking

priming Activating particular associations in memory.

Such differing responses to public evidence, which have been replicated in politi­

cal perceptions throughout the world, illustrate the extent to which we construct

social perceptions and beliefs as we

• perceive and recall events through the filters of our own assumptions;

• judge events, informed by our intuition, by implicit rules that guide our snap

judgments, and by our moods;

• explain events by sometimes attributing them to the situation, sometimes to

the person; and

• expect certain events, thereby sometimes helping bring them about.

This chapter explores how we perceive, judge, and explain our social worlds and

how—and to what extent—our expectations matter.


Understand the extent to which our assumptions and prejudgments guide our perceptions, interpretations, and recall.

Chapter 1 noted a significant fact about the human mind: Our preconceptions guide how we perceive and interpret information. We construe the world through belief-tinted glasses. “Sure, preconceptions matter,” people will agree; yet they fail to realize how great the effect is on themselves.

Let’s consider some provocative experiments. The first group of experiments examines how predispositions and prejudgments affect how we perceive and interpret information. The second group plants a judgment in people’s minds after they have been given information to see how after-the-fact ideas bias recall. The overarching point: We respond not to reality as it is but to reality as we construe it.

Priming Unattended stimuli can subtly influence how we interpret and recall events. Imagine yourself, during an experiment, wearing earphones and concentrating on ambiguous spoken sentences such as “We stood by the bank.” When a perti­ nent word (river or money) is simultaneously sent to your other ear, you don’t con­ sciously hear it. Yet the word “primes” your interpretation of the sentence {Baars & McGovern, 1994).

Our memory system is a web of associations, and priming is the awakening or activating of certain associations. Experiments show that priming one thought, even without awareness, can influence another thought, or even an action. John Bargh and colleagues (1996) asked people to complete a written sentence contain­ ing words such as “old,” “wise,” and “retired.” Shortly afterward, they observed these people walking more slowly to the elevator than did those not primed with aging-related words. Moreover, the slow walkers had no awareness of their walk­ ing speed or of having just viewed words that primed aging.

Social Beliefs and Judgments

Often our thinking and acting are sub­ tly primed by unnoticed events. Rob Hol­ land and colleagues (2005) observed that Dutch students exposed to the scent of an all-purpose cleaner were quicker to iden­ tify cleaning-related words. In follow-up experiments, other students exposed to a cleaning scent recalled more cleaning- related activities when describing their day’s activities and even kept their desk cleaner while eating a crumbly cookie. Moreover, all these effects occurred with­ out the participants’ conscious aware­ ness of the scent and its influence.

Priming experiments (Bargh, 2006) have their counterparts in everyday life:

• Watching a scary movie alone at home can activate emotions that, without our realizing it, cause us to interpret furnace noises as a possible intruder.

• Depressed moods, as this chapter explains later, prime negative associations. Put people in a good mood and suddenly their past seems more wonderful, their future brighter.

• Watching violence will prime people to interpret ambiguous actions (a shove) and words (“punch”) as aggressive.

• For many psychology students, reading about psychological disorders primes how they interpret their own anxieties and gloomy moods. Reading about disease symptoms similarly primes medical students to worry about their congestion, fever, or headache.

In a host of studies, priming effects surface even when the stimuli are presented subliminally—too briefly to be perceived consciously. What’s out of sight may not be completely out of mind. An electric shock that is too slight to be felt may increase the perceived intensity of a later shock. An imperceptibly flashed word, “bread,” may prime people to detect a related word, such as “butter,” more quickly than they detect an unrelated word, such as “bottle” or “bubble.” A subliminal color name facilitates speedier identification when the color appears on the computer screen, whereas an unseen wrong name delays color identification (Epley & others, 1999; Merikle & others, 2001). In each case, an invisible image or word primes a response to a later task.

Studies of how implanted ideas and images can prime our interpretations and recall illustrate one of this book’s take-home lessons: Much of our social information processing is automatic. It is unintentional, out of sight, and happens without our conscious awareness.

Even physical sensations, thanks to our embodied cognition, prime our social judgments and vice versa. After holding a warm drink, people become more likely to rate someone more warmly and behave more generously (Ijzerman & Semin, 2009; Williams & Bargh, 2008). After receiving a cold shoulder treatment, people judge the experimental room as colder than do those treated warmly (Zhong & Leonardelli, 2008). Physical warmth accentuates social warmth, and social exclu­ sion literally feels cold.

Perceiving and Interpreting Events I^spite some startling and oft-confirmed biases and logical flaws in how we per­ ceive and understand one another, we’re mostly accurate (Jussim, 2005). Our first

Chapter 3 79

Posting the second sign may prime customers to be dissatisfied with the handling of their complaints at the first window.

embodied cognition The mutual influence of bodily sensations on cognitive preferences and social judgments.

80 Part One Social Thinking

FIGURE:: 3.1 Pro-Israeli and pro-Arab students who viewed network news descriptions of the “Beirut massacre” believed the coverage was biased against their point of view.

Source: Data from Vallone & others (1985).

Perception of media bias

Pro-Israel 9 i———- — Members of each side perceived bias against their view



Anti-Israel Pro-Israeli Pro-Arab students students









impressions of one another are more often right than wrong. Moreover, the better we know people, the more accurately we can read their minds and feelings.

But on occasion, our prejudgments err. The effects of prejudgments and expecta­ tions are standard fare for psychology’s introductory course. Consider this phrase:



Did you notice anything wrong with it? There is more to perception than meets the eye.

POLITICAL PERCEPTIONS The same is true of social perception. Because social perceptions are very much in the eye of the beholder, even a simple stimulus may strike two people quite differently. Saying Britain’s David Cameron is “an okay prime minister” may sound like a put-down to one of his ardent admirers and like praise to someone who regards him with contempt. When social information is sub­ ject to multiple interpretations, preconceptions matter (Hilton & von Hippel, 1990).

An experiment by Robert Vallone, Lee Ross, and Mark Lepper (1985) reveals just how powerful preconceptions can be. They showed pro-Israeli and pro-Arab students six network news segments describing the 1982 killing of civilian refugees at two camps in Beirut, Lebanon. As Figure 3.1 illustrates, each group perceived the networks as hostile to its side.

The phenomenon is commonplace: Sports fans perceive referees as partial to the other side. Political candidates and their supporters nearly always view the news media as unsympathetic to their cause (Richardson & others, 2008).

It’s not just fans and politicians. People everywhere perceive mediators and media as biased against their position. “There is no subject about which people are less objective than objectivity,” noted one media commentator (Poniewozik, 2003). Indeed, people’s perceptions of bias can be used to assess their attitudes (Saucier & Miller, 2003). Tell me where you see bias, and you will signal your attitudes.

Our assumptions about the world can even make contradictory evidence seem supportive. For example, Ross and Lepper assisted Charles Lord (1979) in asking two groups of students to evaluate the results of two supposedly new research studies. Half the students favored capital punishment and half opposed it. Of the studies they

Social Beliefs and Judgments Chapter 3 81

evaluated, one confirmed and the other disconfirmed the students’ beliefs about the deterrent effect of the death penalty. The results: Both proponents and oppo­ nents of capital punishment readily accepted evidence that confirmed their belief but were sharply critical of dis- confirming evidence. Showing the two sides an identical body of mixed evi­ dence had not lessened their disagree­ ment but increased it. Likewise, when Anthony Bastardi and co-researchers (2011) showed people mixed evidence about the effects of day care on chil­ dren, those planning to use day care found the evidence more supportive of their plans.

Is that why, in politics, religion, and science, ambiguous information often fuels conflict? Presidential debates in the United States have mostly rein­ forced predebate opinions. By nearly a 10-to-l margin, those who already favored one candidate or the other perceived their candidate as having won (Kinder & Sears, 1985). Thus, report Geoffrey Munro and colleagues (1997), people on both sides may become even more supportive of their respective candidates after viewing a presidential debate.

Td like your honest, unbiased and possibly career-ending opinion on something. ”

Some circumstances make It difficult to be unbiased. © Alex Gfegory/The New Yorker Collection/www.cartoonbankxom

OUR PERCEPTIONS OF OTHERS In addition to these studies of people’s pre­ existing social and political attitudes, researchers have manipulated people’s preconceptions—with astonishing effects upon their interpretations and recollections.

Myron Rothbart and Pamela Birrell (1977) had University of Oregon students assess the facial expression of a man (Figure 3.2). Those told he was a Gestapo leader responsible for barbaric medical experiments on concentration camp inmates intui­ tively judged his expression as cruel. (Can you see that barely suppressed sneer?) Those told he was a leader in the anti-Nazi underground movement whose courage saved thousands of Jewish lives judged his facial expression as warm and kind. (Just look at those caring eyes and that almost smiling mouth.)

Filmmakers control people’s perceptions of emotion by manipulating the set­ ting in which they see a face. They call this the “Kulechov effect” after a Rus­ sian film director who would skillfully guide viewers’ inferences by manipulat­ ing their assumptions. Kulechov dem­ onstrated the phenomenon by creating three short films that presented identi­ cal footage of the face of an actor with a neutral expression after viewers had first been shown one of three different scenes: a dead woman, a bowl of soup, or a girl playing. As a result, in the first film the actor seemed sad, in the second thought­ ful, and in the third happy.

OTHERS’ PERCEPTIONS OF US Construal processes also color others’ per­ ceptions of us. When we say something good or bad about another, people spon­ taneously tend to associate that trait with





CRESSIDA, 1601-1602

FIGURE :: 3.2 Judge for yourself: Is this person’s expression cruel or kind? If told he was a Nazi, would your reading of his face differ?


82 Part One Social Thinking

us, report Lynda Mae, Donal Carlston, and John Skowronski (1999; Carlston & Skowronski, 2005)—a phenomenon they call spontaneous trait transference. If we go around talking about others being gos- sipy, people may then unconsciously associate “gossip” with us. Call some­ one a jerk and folks may later construe you as one. Describe someone as sensi­ tive, loving, and compassionate, and you may seem more so. There is, it appears, intuitive wisdom in the childhood taunt, “I’m rubber, you’re glue; what you say bounces off me and sticks to you.”

The bottom line: We view our social worlds through the spectacles of our beliefs, attitudes, and values. That is one reason our beliefs are so important; they shape our interpretation of every­ thing else.

Belief Perseverance Partisan perceptions. Supporters media as favoring the other side.

belief perseverance Persistence of one’s initial conceptions, such as when the basis for one’s belief is discredited but an explanation of why the belief might be true survives.

Imagine a grandparent who decides, dur- of a particular candidate or cause tend to see the evening with a crying infant, that

bottle feeding produces colicky babies: “Come to think of it, cow’s milk obviously suits calves better than babies.” If the infant turns out to be suffering a high fever, will the sitter nevertheless persist in believing that bottle feeding causes colic (Ross & Anderson, 1982)? To find out, Lee Ross, Craig Anderson, and colleagues planted a falsehood in people’s minds and then tried to discredit it.

Their research reveals that it is surprisingly difficult to demolish a falsehood, once the person conjures up a rationale for it. Each experiment first implanted a belief, either by proclaiming it to be true or by showing the participants some anec­ dotal evidence. Then the participants were asked to explain why it is true. Finally, the researchers totally discredited the initial information by telling the participants the truth: The information was manufactured for the experiment, and half the par­ ticipants in the experiment had received opposite information. Nevertheless, the new belief survived approximately 75 percent intact, presumably because the par­ ticipants still retained their invented explanations for the belief. This phenomenon, called belief perseverance, shows that beliefs can grow their own legs and survive the discrediting of the evidence that inspired them.

An example: Anderson, Lepper, and Ross (1980) asked participants to decide whether individuals who take risks make good or bad firefighters. One group con­ sidered a risk-prone person who was a successful firefighter and a cautious person who was unsuccessful. The other group considered cases suggesting the opposite conclusion. After forming their theory that risk-prone people make better or worse firefighters, the participants wrote explanations for it—for example, that risk-prone people are brave or that cautious people have fewer accidents. Once each explana­ tion was formed, it could exist independently of the information that initially cre­ ated the belief. When that information was discredited, the participants still held their self-generated explanations and therefore continued to believe that risk-prone people really do make better or worse firefighters.

These experiments suggest that the more we examine our theories and explain how they might be true, the more closed we become to information that challenges our beliefs. Once we consider why an accused person might be guilty, why an

83Social Beliefs and Judgments

offending stranger acts that way, or why a favored stock might rise in value, our explanations may survive challenges (Davies, 1997; Jelalian & Miller, 1984).

The evidence is compelling: Our beliefs and expectations powerfully affect how we mentally construct events. Usually, we benefit from our preconceptions, just as scientists benefit from creating theories that guide them in noticing and interpret­ ing events. But the benefits sometimes entail a cost: We become prisoners of our own thought patterns. Thus, the supposed Martian “canals” that twentieth-century astronomers delighted in spotting (in fact, just dust or craters) turned out to be the product of intelligent life—an intelligence on Earth’s side of the telescope.

Is there a remedy for belief perseverance? There is: Explain the opposite. Charles Lord, Mark Lepper, and Elizabeth Preston (1984) repeated the capital punishment study described previously and added two variations. First, they asked some of their participants, when evaluating the evidence, to be “as objective and unbiased as possible.” T^at instruction accomplished nothing; whether for or against capital punishment, those who had received the plea made evaluations as biased as those who had not.

The researchers asked a third group to consider the opposite—to ask themselves “whether you would have made the same high or low evaluations had exactly the same study produced results on the other side of the issue.” After imagining an opposite finding, these people were much less biased in their evaluations of the evidence for and against their views. In his experiments, Craig Anderson (1982; Anderson & Sechler, 1986) consistently found that explaining why an opposite theory might be true—why a cautious rather than a risk-taking person might be a better firefighter—reduces or eliminates belief perseverance. Indeed, explaining any alternative outcome, not just the opposite, drives people to ponder various pos­ sibilities (Hirt & Markman, 1995).

Constructing Memories of Ourselves and Our Worlds Do you agree or disagree with this statement?

Memory can be likened to a storage chest in the brain into which we deposit material and from which we can withdraw it later if needed. Occasionally, something is lost from the “chest,” and then we say we have forgotten.

Approximately 85 percent of college students said they agreed (Lamal, 1979). As one magazine ad put it, “Science has proven the accumulated experience of a life­ time is preserved perfectly in your mind.”

Actually, psychological research has proved the opposite. Our memories are not exact copies of experiences that remain on deposit in a memory bank. Rather, we construct memories at the time of withdrawal. Like a paleontologist inferring the appearance of a dinosaur from bone fragments, we reconstruct our distant past by using our current feelings and expectations to combine information fragments. Thus, we can easily (although unconsciously) revise our memories to suit our cur­ rent knowledge. When one of my sons complained, “The June issue of Cricket never came,” and was then shown where it was, he delightedly responded, “Oh good, I knew Td gotten it.”

When an experimenter or a therapist manipulates people’s presumptions about their past, a sizable percentage of people will construct false memories. Asked to imagine a made-up childhood experience in which they ran, tripped, fell, and stuck their hand through a window, or knocked over a punch bowl at a wedding, approx­ imately one-fourth will later recall the fictitious event as something that actually happened (Loftus & Bernstein, 2005). In its search for truth, the mind sometimes constructs a falsehood.

In experiments involving more than 20,000 people, Elizabeth Loftus (2003, 2007, 2011a) and collaborators have explored our mind’s tendency to construct memories.

Chapter 3










84 Part One Social Thinking

misinformation effect Incorporating “misinformation” into one’s memory of the event after witnessing an event and receiving misleading information about it.










In the typical experiment, people witness an event, receive misleading information about it (or not), and then take a memory test. The repeated finding is the misinformation effect. People incorporate the misinformation into their memo­ ries: They recall a yield sign as a stop sign, hammers as screwdrivers. Vogue maga­ zine as Mademoiselle, Dr. Henderson as “Dr. Davidson,” breakfast cereal as eggs, and a clean-shaven man as a fellow with a mustache. Suggested misinformation may even produce false memories of supposed child sexual abuse, argues Loftus.

This process affects our recall of social as well as physical events. Jack Croxton and colleagues (1984) had students spend 15 minutes talking with someone. Those who were later informed that this person liked them recalled the person’s behavior as relaxed, comfortable, and happy. Those informed that the person disliked them recalled the person as nervous, uncomfortable, and not so happy.

RECONSTRUCTING OUR PAST ATTITUDES Five years ago, how did you feel about nuclear power? About your country’s presi­ dent or prime minister? About your parents? If your attitudes have changed, what do you think is the extent of the change?

Experimenters have explored such questions, and the results have been unnerving. People whose attitudes have changed often insist that they have always felt much as they now feel. Daryl Bern and Keith McConnell (1970) conducted a survey among Carnegie Mellon University students. Buried in it was a ques­ tion concerning student control over the university curriculum. A week later, the students agreed to write an essay opposing student control. After doing so, their attitudes shifted toward greater opposition to student control. When asked to recall how they had answered the question before writing the essay, the students “remembered” holding the opinion that they now held and denied that the experi­ ment had affected them.

After observing Clark University students similarly denying their former atti­ tudes, researchers D. R. Wixon and James Laird (1976) commented, “The speed, magnitude, and certainty” with which the students revised their own histories “was striking.” As George Vaillant (1977) noted after following adults through time, “It is all too common for caterpillars to become butterflies and then to maintain that in their youth they had been little butterflies. Maturation makes liars of us all.”

The construction of positive memories brightens our recollections. Terence Mitchell, Leigh Thompson, and colleagues (1994, 1997) report that people often exhibit rosy retrospection—they recall mildly pleasant events more favorably than they experienced them. College students on a 3-week bike trip, older adults on a guided tour of Austria, and undergraduates on vacation all reported enjoying their experiences as they were having them. But they later recalled such experiences even more fondly, minimizing the unpleasant or boring aspects and remembering the high points. Thus, the pleasant times during which I have sojourned in Scotland I now (back in my office facing deadlines and interruptions) romanticize as pure bliss. The drizzle and the pesky midges are but dim memories. The spectacular scenery and the fresh sea air and the favorite tea rooms are still with me. With any positive experience, some of our pleasure resides in the anticipation, some in the actual experience, and some in the rosy retrospection.

Cathy McFarland and Michael Ross (1985) found that as our relationships change, we also revise our recollections of other people. They had university stu­ dents rate their steady dating partners. Two months later, they rated them again. Students who were more in love than ever had a tendency to overestimate their first impressions—it was “love at first sight.” Those who had broken up were more likely to underestimate their earlier liking—recalling the partner as somewhat selfish and bad-tempered.

Diane Holmberg and John Holmes (1994) discovered the phenomenon also oper­ ating among 373 newlywed couples, most of whom reported being very happy. When resurveyed 2 years later, those whose marriages had soured recalled that

Social Beliefs and Judgments Chapters 85

things had always been bad. The results are “frightening,” say Holmberg and Holmes: “Such biases can lead to a dangerous downward spiral. The worse your current view of your partner is, the worse your memories are, which only further confirms your negative attitudes.”

It’s not that we are totally unaware of how we used to feel, just that when memo­ ries are hazy, current feelings guide our recall. When widows and widowers try to recall the grief they felt on their spouse’s death 5 years earlier, their current emo­ tional state colors their memories (Safer & others, 2001). When patients recall their previous day’s headache pain, their current feelings sway their recollections (Eich & others, 1985). Parents of every generation bemoan the values of the next genera­ tion, partly because they misrecall their youthful values as being closer to their cur­ rent values. And teens of every generation recall their parents as—depending on their current mood—wonderful or woeful (Bomstein & others, 1991).

RECONSTRUCTING OUR PAST BEHAVIOR Memory construction enables us to revise our own histories. Michael Ross, Cathy McFarland, and Garth Fletcher (1981) exposed some University of Waterloo stu­ dents to a message convincing them of the desirability of toothbrushing. Later, in a supposedly different experiment, these students recalled brushing their teeth more often during the preceding 2 weeks than did students who had not heard the message. Likewise, judging from surveys, people report smoking many fewer ciga­ rettes than are actually sold (Hall, 1985). And they recall casting more votes than were actually recorded (Bureau of the Census, 1993).

Social psychologist Anthony Greenwald (1980) noted the similarity of such find­ ings to happenings in George Orwell’s novel 1984—in which it was “necessary to remember that events happened in the desired manner.” Indeed, argued Green­ wald, we all have “totalitarian egos” that revise the past to suit our present views. Thus, we underreport bad behavior and overreport good behavior.

Sometimes our present view is that we’ve improved—in which case we may misrecall our past as more unlike the present than it actually was. This tendency resolves a puzzling pair of consistent findings: Those who participate in psycho­ therapy and self-improvement programs for weight control, antismoking, and exer­ cise show only modest improvement on average. Yet they often claim considerable benefit. Michael Conway and Michael Ross (1986) explain why: Having expended so much time, effort, and money on self-improvement, people may think, “I may not be perfect now, but I was worse before; this did me a lot of good.”

In Chapter 14, we will see that psychiatrists and clinical psychologists are not immune to these human tendencies. We all selectively notice, interpret, and recall events in ways that sustain our ideas. Our social judgments are a mix of observa­ tion and expectation, reason and passion.





SUMMING UP: How Do We Perceive Our Social Worlds? • Our preconceptions strongly influence how we inter­

pret and remember events. In a phenomenon called priming, people’s prejudgments have striking effects on how they perceive and interpret information.

• Other experiments have planted judgments or false ideas in people’s minds after they have been given information. These experiments reveal that as before- the-fact judgments bias our perceptions and interpre­ tations, so after-the-fact judgments bias our recall.

• Belief perseverance is the phenomenon in which peo­ ple cling to their initial beliefs and the reasons why a belief might be true, even when the basis for the belief is discredited.

• Far from being a repository for facts about the past, our memories are actually formed when we retrieve them, and they are subject to strong influ­ ence by the attitudes and feelings we hold at the time of retrieval.

86 Part One Social Thinking


rUnderstand how we form social judgments.

As we have already noted, our cognitive mechanisms are efficient and adaptive, yet occasionally error-prone. Usually they serve us well. But sometimes clinicians mis­ judge patients, employers misjudge employees, people of one race misjudge people of another, and spouses misjudge their mates. The results can be misdiagnoses, labor strife, racial prejudices, and divorces. So, how—and how well—do we make intuitive social judgments?

When historians describe social psychology’s first century, they will surely record 1980 to the present as the era of social cognition. By drawing on advances in cogni­ tive psychology—in how people perceive, represent, and remember events—social psychologists have shed welcome light on how we form judgments. Let’s look at what that research reveals of the marvels and mistakes of our social intuition.

Intuitive Judgments What are our powers of intuition—of immediately knowing something without reasoning or analysis? Advocates of “intuitive management” believe we should tune into our hunches. When judging others, they say, we should plug into the non- logical smarts of our “right brain.” When hiring, firing, and investing, we should listen to our premonitions. In making judgments, we should trust the force within.

Are the intuitionists right that important information is immediately available apart from our conscious analysis? Or are the skeptics correct in saying that intu­ ition is “our knowing we are right, whether we are or not”?

Priming research hints that the unconscious indeed controls much of our behav­ ior. As John Bargh and Tanya Chartrand (1999) explain, “Most of a person’s every­ day life is determined not by their conscious intentions and deliberate choices but by mental processes that are put into motion by features of the environment and that operate outside of conscious awareness and guidance.” When the light turns red, we react and hit the brake before consciously deciding to do so. Indeed, reflect Neil Macrae and Lucy Johnston (1998), “to be able to do just about anything at all (e.g., driving, dating, dancing), action initiation needs to be decoupled from the inefficient (i.e., slow, serial, resource-consuming) workings of the conscious mind, otherwise inaction inevitably would prevail.”

controlled processing “Explicit” thinking that is deliberate, reflective, and conscious.

automatic processing “Implicit” thinking that is effortless, habitual, and without awareness; roughly corresponds to “intuition.”

THE POWERS OF INTUITION “The heart has its reasons which reason does not know,” observed seventeenth- century philosopher-mathematician Blaise Pascal. Three centuries later, scientists have proved Pascal correct. We know more than we know we know. Studies of our unconscious information processing confirm our limited access to what’s going on in our minds (Bargh & Ferguson, 2000; Greenwald & Banaji, 1995; Strack & Deutsch, 2004). Our thinking is partly controlled (reflective, deliberate, and con­ scious) and—more than psychologists once supposed—partly automatic (impul­ sive, effortless, and without our awareness). Automatic, intuitive thinking occurs not “on-screen” but off-screen, out of sight, where reason does not go. Consider these examples of automatic thinking:

• Schemas are mental concepts or templates that intuitively guide our percep­ tions and interpretations. Whether we hear someone speaking of religious sects or sex depends not only on the word spoken but also on how we auto­ matically interpret the sound.

Social Beliefs and Judgments Chapter 3 87

• Emotional reactions are often nearly instantaneous, happening before there is time for deliberate thinking. One neural shortcut takes information from the eye or the ear to the brain’s sensory switchboard (the thalamus) and out to its emotional control center (the amygdala) before the thinking cortex has had any chance to intervene (LeDoux, 2002). Our ancestors who intuitively feared a sound in the bushes were usually fearing nothing. But when the sound was made by a dangerous predator, they became more likely to survive to pass their genes down to us than their more deliberative cousins.

• Given sufficient expertise, people may intuitively know the answer to a problem. Many skills, from piano playing to swinging a golf club, begin as a controlled, deliberate process of following rules and gradually become automatic and intuitive (Kruglanski & Gigerenzer, 2011). Master chess play­ ers intuitively recognize meaningful patterns that novices miss and often make their next move with only a glance at the board, as the situation cues information stored in their memory. Similarly, without knowing quite how, we recognize a friend’s voice after the first spoken word of a phone conversation.

• Faced with a decision but lacking the expertise to make an informed snap judgment, our unconscious thinking may guide us toward a satisfying choice. That’s what Dutch psychologist Ap Dijksterhuis and co-workers (Dijkster- huis & Nordgren, 2006; Dijksterhuis & others, 2006; Strick & others, 2010) discovered after showing people, for example, a dozen pieces of information about each of four potential apartments. Compared with people who made instant decisions or were given time to analyze the information, the most satisfying decisions were made by those who were distracted and unable to focus consciously on the problem. Although these findings are controversial (Gonzalez-Vallejo & others, 2008; Lassiter & others, 2009; Newell & others, 2008), this much seems true: When facing a tough decision, it often pays to take our time—even to sleep on it—and to await the intuitive result of our out-of-sight information processing (Sio & Ormerod, 2009).

Some things—facts, names, and past experiences—we remember explicitly (con­ sciously). But other things—skills and conditioned dispositions—we remember implicitly, without consciously knowing or declaring that we know. It’s true of us all but most strikingly evident in people with brain damage who cannot form new explicit memories. One such person never could learn to recognize her physician, who would need to reintroduce himself with a handshake each day. One day, the physician affixed a tack to his hand, causing the patient to jump with pain. When the physician next returned, he was still unrecognized (explicitly). But the patient, retaining an implicit memory, would not shake his hand.

Equally dramatic are the cases of blindsight. Having lost a portion of the visual cortex to surgery or stroke, people may be functionally blind in part of their field of vision. Shown a series of sticks in the blind field, they report seeing nothing. After correctly guessing whether the sticks are vertical or horizontal, the patients are astounded when told, “You got them all right.” Like the patient who “remem­ bered” the painful handshake, these people know more than they know they know.

Consider your own taken-for-granted capacity to recognize a face. As you look at it, your brain breaks the visual information into subdimensions such as color, depth, movement, and form and works on each aspect simultaneously before reas­ sembling the components. Finally, using automatic processing, your brain com­ pares the perceived image with previously stored images. Voila! Instantly and effortlessly, you recognize your grandmother. If intuition is immediately knowing something without reasoned analysis, then perceiving is intuition par excellence.

So, many routine cognitive functions occur automatically, unintentionally, with­ out awareness. We might remember how automatic processing helps us get through

88 Part One Social Thinking

life by picturing our minds as functioning like large corporations. Our CEO—our controlled consciousness—attends to many of the most important, complex, and novel issues, while subordinates deal with routine affairs and matters requiring instant action. Like a CEO, consciousness sets goals and priorities, often with little knowledge of operational activities in the underlying departments. This delegation of resources enables us to react to many situations quickly and efficiently. The bot­ tom line; Our brain knows much more than it tells us.

THE LIMITS OF INTUITION We have seen how automatic, intuitive thinking can “make us smart” (Gigerenzer, 2007, 2010). Elizabeth Loftus and Mark Klinger (1992) nevertheless spoke for other cognitive scientists in having doubts about the brilliance of intuition. They reported “a general consensus that the unconscious may not be as smart as pre­ viously believed.” For example, although subliminal stimuli can trigger a weak, fleeting response—enough to evoke a feeling if not conscious awareness—thexe is no evidence that commercial subliminal tapes can “reprogram your unconscious mind” for success. In fact, a significant body of evidence indicates that they can t (Greenwald, 1992).

Social psychologists have explored not only our error-prone hindsight judgments but also our capacity for illusion—for perceptual misinterpretations, fantasies, and constructed beliefs. Michael Gazzaniga (1992, 1998, 2008) reports that patients whose brain hemispheres have been surgically separated will instantly fabricate and believe—explanations of their own puzzling behaviors. If the patient gets up and takes a few steps after the experimenter flashes the instruction “walk” to the patient’s nonverbal right hemisphere, the verbal left hemisphere will instantly pro­ vide the patient with a plausible explanation (“I felt like getting a drink”).

Illusory intuition also appears in the vast new literature on how we take in, store, and retrieve social information. As perception researchers study visual illusions for what they reveal about our normal perceptual mechanisms, social psychologists study illusory thinking for what it reveals about normal information processing. These researchers want to give us a map of everyday social thinking, with the haz­ ards clearly marked.

As we examine some of these efficient thinking patterns, remember this: Dem­ onstrations of how people create counterfeit beliefs do not prove that all beliefs are counterfeit (although to recognize counterfeiting, it helps to know how it’s done).

overconfidence phenomenon The tendency to be more confident than correct—to overestimate the accuracy of one’s beliefs.

The air distance between New Delhi and Beijing is 2,500 miles.

So far we have seen that our cognitive systems process a vast amount of informa­ tion efficiently and automatically. But our efficiency has a trade-off; as we interpret our experiences and construct memories, our automatic intuitions sometimes err. Usually, we are unaware of our flaws.

To explore this overconfidence phenomenon, Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky (1979) gave people factual statements and asked them to fill in the blanks, as in the following sentence: “1 feel 98 percent certain that the air distance between New Delhi and Beijing is more than____ miles but less than_____ miles.” Most individuals were overconfident: Approximately 30 percent of the time, the correct answers lay outside the range they felt 98 percent confident about.

To find out whether overconfidence extends to social judgments, David Dunning and associates (1990) created a game show. They asked Stanford University stu­ dents to guess a stranger’s answers to a series of questions, such as “Would you prepare for a difficult exam alone or with others?” and “Would you rate your lecture notes as neat or messy?” Knowing the type of question but not the actual questions, the participants first interviewed their target person about background, hobbies, academic interests, aspirations, astrological sign—anything they thought might be helpful. Then, while the targets privately answered 20 of the two-choice

Social Beliefs and Judgments Chapter 3 89

DOONESBURY by Garry Trudeau

DOONESBURY © 2000 G. B. Trudeau.

questions, the interviewers predicted their target’s answers and rated their own Reprmted with permission of Universal confidence in the predictions.

The interviewers guessed right 63 percent of the time, beating chance by 13 percent. But, on average, they felt 75 percent sure of their predictions. When guess­ ing their own roommates’ responses, they were 68 percent correct and 78 percent confident. Moreover, the most confident people were most likely to be overconfi­ dent. People also are markedly overconfident when judging whether someone is telling the truth or when estimating things such as the sexual history of their dat­ ing partner or the activity preferences of their roommates (DePaulo & others, 1997; Swann & Gill, 1997).

Ironically, incompetence feeds overconfidence. It takes competence to recognize what competence is, note Justin Kruger and David Dunning (1999). Students who score at the bottom on tests of grammar, humor, and logic are most prone to over­ estimating their gifts at such. Those who don’t know what good logic or grammar is are often unaware that they lack it. If you make a list of all the words you can form out of the letters in “psychology,” you may feel brilliant—but then stupid when a friend starts naming the ones you missed. Deanna Caputo and Dunning (2005) re-created this phenomenon in experiments, confirming that our ignorance of our ignorance sustains our self-confidence. Follow-up studies indicate that this “ignorance of one’s incompetence” occurs mostly on relatively easy-seeming tasks. On very difficult tasks, poor performers more often appreciate their lack of skill (Burson & others, 2006).

Ignorance of one’s incompetence helps explain David Dunning’s (2005) startling conclusion from employee assessment studies that “what others see in us … tends to be more highly correlated with objective outcomes than what we see in ourselves.” In one study, participants watched someone walk into a room, sit, read a weather report, and walk out (Borkenau & Liebler, 1993). Based on nothing more than that, their esti­ mate of the person’s intelligence correlated with the person’s intelligence score about as well as did the person’s own self-estimate (.30 vs. .32)! If ignorance can beget false confidence, then—yikes!—where, we may ask, are you and I unknowingly deficient?

In Chapter 2, we noted that people overestimate their long-term emotional responses to good and bad happenings. Are people better at predicting their own behavior? To find out, Robert Vallone and colleagues (1990) had college students predict in September whether they would drop a course, declare a major, elect to

90 Part One Social Thinking












live off campus next year, and so forth. Although the students felt, on average, ^ percent sure of those self-predictions, they were wrong nearly twice as often as they expected to be. Even when feeling 100 percent sure of their predictions they erred 15 percent of the time. ^

In estimating their chances for success on a task, such as a major exam, people’s confidence runs highest when the moment of truth is off in the future. By exam day, the possibility of failure looms larger and confidence typically drops (Gilovich & others, 1993; Shepperd & others, 2005). Roger Buehler and colleagues (1994, 2010) report that most students also confidently underestimate how long it will take them to complete papers and other major assignments. They are not alone:

• The “planning fallacy.” How much free time do you have today? How much free time do you expect you will have a month from today? Most of us over­ estimate how much we’ll be getting done, and therefore how much free time we will have (Zauberman & Lynch, 2005). Professional planners, too, rou­ tinely underestimate the time and expense of projects. In 1969, Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau proudly announced that a $120 million stadium with a retractable roof would be built for the 1976 Olympics. The roof was com­ pleted in 1989 and cost $120 million by itself. In 1985, officials estimated that Boston’s “Big Dig” highway project would cost $2.6 billion and take until 1998. The cost ballooned to $14.6 billion and the project took until 2006. Stockbroker overconfidence. Investment experts market their services with the confident presumption that they can beat the stock market average, forget- Hng that for every stockbroker or buyer saying “Sell!” at a given price, there IS another saying “Buy!” A stock’s price is the balance point between those mutually confident judgments. Thus, incredible as it may seem, economist Burton Malkiel (2011) reports that mutual fund portfolios selected by invest­ ment analysts have not outperformed randomly selected stocks.

• Political overconfidence. Overconfident decision makers can wreak havoc. It was a confident Adolf Hitler who from 1939 to 1945 waged war against the rest of Europe. It was a confident Lyndon Johnson who in the 1960s invested U.S. weapons and soldiers in the effort to salvage democracy in South Vietnam.

The perils of overconfidence. Before its exploded drilling platform spewed oil into the Gulf of Mexico, BP downplayed safety concerns, and then was overconfident that the spill would be modest (Mohr & others, 2010; Urbina, 2010).

What produces overconfidence? Why doesn’t experience lead us to a more real­ istic self-appraisal? For one thing, people tend to recall their mistaken judgments as times when they were almost right. Philip Tetlock (1998a, 1998b, 1999,2005) observed this after inviting various academic and government experts to project—from their viewpoint in the late 1980s—the future governance of the Soviet Union, South Africa, and Canada. Five years later, com­ munism had collapsed. South Africa had become a multiracial democracy, and Canada’s French-speaking minority had not seceded. Experts who had felt more than 80 percent confident were right in predicting these turns of events less than 40 percent of the time. Yet, reflecting on their judgments, those who erred believed they were still basically right. I was almost right,” said many. “The hardliners

almost succeeded in their coup attempt against Gorbachev.” “The Quebecois

91Social Beliefs and Judgments

separatists almost won the secessionist referendum.” “But for the coincidence of de Klerk and Mandela, there would have been a much bloodier transition to black major­ ity rule in South Africa.” The Iraq War was a good idea, just badly executed, excused many of those who had supported it. Among political experts—and also stock market forecasters, mental health workers, and sports prognosticators—overconfidence is hard to dislodge.

CONFIRMATION BIAS People also tend not to seek information that might disprove what they believe. P. C. Wason (1960) demonstrated this, as you can, by giving participants a sequence of three numbers—2, 4, 6—that conformed to a rule he had in mind. (The rule was simply any three ascending numbers.) To enable the participants to discover the rule, Wason invited each person to generate additional sets of three numbers. Each time, Wason told the person whether or not the set conformed to his rule. As soon as participants were sure they had discovered the rule, they were to stop and announce it.

The result? Seldom right but never in doubt: 23 of the 29 participants convinced themselves of a wrong rule. They typically formed some erroneous belief about the rule (for example, counting by two’s) and then searched for confirming evidence (for example, by testing 8,10,12) rather than attempting to disconfirm their hunches. We are eager to verify our beliefs but less inclined to seek evidence that might disprove them, a phenomenon called the confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias helps explain why our self-images are so remarkably stable. In experiments at the University of Texas at Austin, William Swann and Stephen Read (1981; Swann & others, 1992a, 1992b, 2007) discovered that students seek, elicit, and recall feedback that confirms their beliefs about themselves. People seek as friends and spouses those who bolster their own self views—even if they think poorly of themselves (Swann & others, 1991,2003).

Swann and Read (1981) liken this self-verification to how someone with a domi­ neering self-image might behave at a party. Upon arriving, the person seeks those guests whom she knows will acknowledge her dominance. In conversation, she then presents her views in ways that elicit the respect she expects. After the party, she has trouble recalling conversations in which her influence was minimal and more easily recalls her persuasiveness in the conversations that she dominated. Thus, her experience at the party confirms her self-image.

REMEDIES FOR OVERCONFIDENCE What lessons can we draw from research on overconfidence? One lesson is to be wary of other people’s dogmatic statements. Even when people are sure they are right, they may be wrong. Confidence and competence need not coincide.

Three techniques have successfully reduced the overconfidence bias. One is prompt feedback (Lichtenstein &: Fischhoff, 1980). In everyday life, weather forecast­ ers and those who set the odds in horse racing both receive clear, daily feedback. And experts in both groups do quite well at estimating their probable accuracy (Fischhoff, 1982).

To reduce “planning fallacy” overconfidence, people can be asked to unpack a task—to break it down into its subcomponents—and estimate the time required for each. Justin Kruger and Matt Evans (2004) report that doing so leads to more realis­ tic estimates of completion time.

When people think about why an idea might be true, it begins to seem true (Koehler, 1991). Thus, a third way to reduce overconfidence is to get people to think of one good reason zvhy their judgments might be wrong; that is, force them to consider disconfirming information (Koriat & others, 1980). Managers might fos­ ter more realistic judgments by insisting that all proposals and recommendations include reasons why they might not work.

Chapter 3








confirmation bias A tendency to search for information that confirms one’s preconceptions.

92 Part One

heuristic A thinking strategy that enables quick, efficient judgments.

representativeness heuristic The tendency to presume, sometimes despite contrary odds, that someone or something belongs to a particular group if resembling (representing! a typical member.

Social Thinking

Still, we should be careful not to undermine people’s reasonable self-confidence or to destroy their decisiveness. In times when their wisdom is needed, those lack­ ing self-confidence may shrink from speaking up or making tough decisions. Over- confidence can cost us, but realistic self-confidence is adaptive.

Heuristics: Mental Shortcuts With precious little time to process so much information, our cognitive system is fast and frugal. It specializes in mental shortcuts. With remarkable ease, we form impressions, make judgments, and invent explanations. We do so by using heuristics—simple, efficient thinking strategies. Heuristics enable us to live and make routine decisions with minimal effort {Shah & Oppenheimer, 2008). In most situations, our snap generalizations—”That’s dangerous!”—are adaptive. The speed of these intuitive guides promotes our survival. The biological purpose of thinking is less to make us right than to keep us alive. In some situations, however, haste makes error.

THE REPRESENTATIVENESS HEURISTIC University of Oregon students were told that a panel of psychologists interviewed a sample of 30 engineers and 70 lawyers and summarized their impressions in thumbnail descriptions. The following description, they were told, was drawn at random from the sample of 30 engineers and 70 lawyers:

Twice divorced, Frank spends most of his free time hanging around the country club. His clubhouse bar conversations often center on his regrets at having tried to follow his esteemed father’s footsteps. The long hours he had spent at academic drudgery would have been better invested in learning how to be less quarrelsome in his relations with other people. Question: What is the probability that Frank is a lawyer rather than an engineer?

Asked to guess Frank’s occupation, more than 80 percent of the students surmised he was one of the lawyers (Fischhoff & Bar-Hillel, 1984). Fair enough. But how do you suppose those estimates changed when the sample description was given to another group of students, modified to say that 70 percent were engineers? Not in the slightest. The students took no account of the base rate of engineers and law­ yers; in their minds, Frank was more representative of lawyers, and that was all that seemed to matter.

To judge something by intuitively comparing it to our mental representation of a category is to use the representativeness heuristic. Representativeness (typical­ ness) usually is a reasonable guide to reality. But, as we saw with “Frank” above, it doesn’t always work. Consider Linda, who is 31, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy in college. As a student, she was deeply con­ cerned with discrimination and other social issues, and she participated in anti­ nuclear demonstrations. Based on that description, would you say it is more likely that

a. Linda is a bank teller. b. Linda is a bank teller and active in the feminist movement.

Most people think h is more likely, partly because Linda better represents their image of feminists (Mellers & others, 2001). But ask yourself: Is there a better chance that Linda is both a bank teller and a feminist than that she’s a bank teller (whether feminist or not)? As Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman (1983) reminded us, the conjunction of two events cannot be more likely than either one of the events alone.

THE AVAILABILITY HEURISTIC Consider the following: Do more people live in Iraq or in Tanzania? (See page 94 for the answer.)

93Social Beliefs and Judgments

table •• 3.1 Fast and Frugal Heuristics

Heuristic ‘ Definition ‘ Example But May Lead to

V Representativeness Snap judgments of whether someone or something fits a category

Deciding that Carlos is a librarian rather than a trucker because he better represents one’s image of librarians

Discounting other important information

Availability Quick judg­ ments of likeli­ hood of events (how available in memory)

Estimating teen violence after school shootings

Overweighting vivid instances and thus, for example, fearing the wrong things

You probably answered according to how readily Iraqis and Tanzanians come to mind. If examples are readily available in our memory—as Iraqis tend to be— then we presume that other such examples are commonplace. Usually this is true, so we are often well served by this cognitive rule, called the availability heuristic (Table 3.1). Said simply, the more easily we recall something, the more likely it seems.

But sometimes the rule deludes us. If people hear a list of famous people of one sex (Oprah Winfrey, Lady Gaga, and Hillary Clinton) intermixed with an equal- size list of unfamous people of the other sex (Donald Scarr, William Wood, and Mel Jasper), the famous names will later be more cognitively available. Most peo­ ple will subsequently recall having heard more (in this instance) women’s names (McKelvie, 1995, 1997; Tversky & Kahneman, 1973). Likewise, media attention to gay-lesbian issues makes gays and lesbians cognitively available. Thus, the average U.S. adult in a 2011 Gallup poll estimated that 25 percent of Americans are gay or lesbian (Morales, 2011b)—some seven times the number who, in surveys, actually self-identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual (Gates, 2011).

Even fictional happenings in novels, television, and movies leave images that later penetrate our judgments (Gerrig & Prentice, 1991; Green & others, 2002; Mar & Oatley, 2008). The more absorbed and “transported” the reader (“I could easily picture the events”), the more the story affects the reader’s later beliefs (Diekman & others, 2000). Readers who are captivated by romance novels, for example, may gain readily available sexual scripts that influence their own sexual attitudes and behaviors.

Or consider this: Order these four cities according to their crime rates: Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York, St. Louis. If, with available images from TV crime dra­ mas in mind, you thought New York and Los Angeles are the most crime-ridden, guess again; they’re the least crime-ridden of the four (Federal Bureau of Investi­ gation, 2011).

Our use of the availability heuristic highlights a basic principle of social thinking: People are slow to deduce particular instances from a general truth, but they are remarkably quick to infer general truth from a vivid instance. No wonder that after hearing and reading stories of rapes, robberies, and beatings, 9 out of 10 Canadians overestimated—usually by a considerable margin—the percentage of crimes that involved violence (Doob & Roberts, 1988). And no wonder that South Africans, after a series of headline-grabbing gangland robberies and slayings, estimated that violent crime had almost doubled between 1998 and 2004, when actually it had decreased substantially (Wines, 2005).

The availability heuristic explains why vivid, easy-to-imagine events, such as shark attacks or diseases with easy-to-picture symptoms, may seem more likely to occur than harder-to-picture events (MacLeod & Campbell, 1992; Sherman & others, 1985).


availability heuristic A cognitive rule that judges the likelihood of things in terms of their availability in memory. If instances of something come readily to mind, we presume it to be commonplace.



HOLMES, JR„ 1841-1935

94 Part One Social Thinking

Answer to Question on page 92: Tanzania’s 43 million people greatly outnumber Iraq’s 31 million. Most people, having more vivid images of Iraqis, guess wrong.

Likewise, powerful anecdotes can be more compelling than statistical information. We fret over extremely rare child abduction, even if we don’t buckle our children in the backseat. We dread terrorism but are indifferent to global climate change— “Armageddon in slow moHon.” Especially after the 2011 Japanese tsunami and nuclear power catastrophe, we fear nuclear power, with little concern for the many more deaths related to coal mining and burning (von Hippel, 2011). In short, we worry about remote possibilities while ignoring higher probabilities, a phenomenon that Cass Sunstein (2007b) calls our “probability neglect.”

Because news footage of airplane crashes is a readily available memory for most of us especially since September 11, 2001—we often suppose we are more at risk traveling in commercial airplanes than in cars. Actually, from 2003 to 2005, U.S. travelers were 230 times more likely to die in a car crash than on a commercial flight covering the same distance (National Safety Council, 2008). In 2006, reports the Flight Safety Foundation, there was one airliner accident for every 4.2 million flights by Western-built commercial jets (Wald, 2008). For most air travelers, the most dangerous part of the journey is the drive to the airport.

Soon after 9/11, as many people abandoned air travel and took to the roads, I estimated that if Americans flew 20 percent less and instead drove those unflown miles, we could expect an additional 800 traffic deaths in the ensuing year (Myers, 2001). It took a curious German researcher (why didn’t I think of this?) to check that prediction against accident data, which confirmed an excess of some 350 deaths in the last 3 months of 2001 compared with the 3-month average in the preceding 5 years (Gigerenzer, 2004). The 9/11 terrorists appear to have killed more people unnoticed—on America’s roads—than they did with the 266 fatalities on those four planes.

By now it is clear that our naive statistical intuitions, and our resulting fears, are driven not by calculation and reason but by emotions attuned to the availability heuristic. After this book is published, there likely will be another dramatic natural or terrorist event, which will again propel our fears, vigilance, and resources in a new direction. Terrorists, aided by the media, may again achieve their objective of

Vivid, memorable—and therefore cognitively available—events influence our perception of the social world. The resulting “probability neglect often leads people to fear the wrong things, such as fearing flying or terrorism more than smoking, driving, or climate change If four jumbo jets filled with children crashed every day—approximating the number of childhood diarrhea deaths resulting from the rotavirus—something would have been done about it. Reprinted courtesy of Dave 8ohn.

Social Beliefs and Judgments Chapter 3 95

capturing our attention, draining our resources, and distracting us from the mundane, undramatic, insidious risks that, over time, devastate lives, such as the rotavirus that each day claims the equivalent of four 747s filled with children (Parashar & others, 2006). But then again, dramatic events can also serve to awaken us to real risks. That, say some scientists, is what happened when the extreme floods, droughts, snows, and tornadoes of 2011 raised concern that global climate change, by raising sea levels and spawning extreme weather, is destined to become nature’s own weapon of mass destruction. For Australians and Americans, a temporary hot day can prime people to believe more in global warming (Li & others, 2011). Even feeling hot in an indoor room increases people’s belief in global warming (Risen & Critcher, 2011).

Counterfactual Thinking Easily imagined (cognitively available) events also influence our experiences of guilt, regret, frustration, and relief. If our team loses (or wins) a big game by one point, we can easily imagine the other outcome, and thus we feel regret (or relief). Imagining worse alternatives helps us feel better. Imagining better alternatives, and pondering what we might do differently next time, helps us prepare to do better in the future (Epstude & Roese, 2008).

In Olympic competition, athletes’ emotions after an event reflect mostly how they did relative to expectations, but also their counterfactual thinking—their mentally simulating what might have been (McGraw & others, 2005; Medvec & others, 1995). Bronze medalists (for whom an easily imagined alternative was finishing without a medal) exhibit more joy than silver medalists (who could more easily imagine having won the gold). On the medal stand, it has been said, happiness is as simple as 1-3-2. Similarly, the higher a student’s score within a grade category (such as B-l-), the worse they feel (Medvec & Savitsky, 1997). The B+ stu­ dent who misses an A- by a point feels worse than the B-K student who actually did worse and just made a B-l- by a point.

Such counterfactual thinking occurs when we can easily picture an alternative outcome (Kahneman & Miller, 1986; Markman & McMullen, 2003; Petrocelli & others, 2011):

• If we barely miss a plane or a bus, we imagine making it if only we had left at our usual time, taken our usual route, not paused to talk. If we miss our connection by a half hour or after taking our usual route, it’s harder to simulate a different outcome, so we feel less frustration.

• If we change an exam answer, then get it wrong, we will inevitably think “If only . .and will vow next time to trust our immediate intuition—although, contrary to student lore, answer changes are more often from incorrect to correct (Kruger & others, 2005).

• The team or the political candidate who barely loses will simulate over and over how they could have won (Sanna & others, 2003).

Counterfactual thinking imderlies our feelings of luck. When we have barely escaped a bad event—avoiding defeat with a last-minute goal or standing near a falling icicle—we easily imagine a negative counterfactual (losing, being hit) and therefore feel “good luck” (Teigen & others, 1999). “Bad luck” refers to bad events that did hap­ pen but easily might not have.

The more significant and unlikely the event, the more intense the counterfactual thinking (Roese & Hur, 1997). Bereaved people who have lost a spouse or a child in a vehicle accident, or a child to sudden infant death syndrome, commonly report replaying and










counterfactual thinking Imagining alternative scenarios and outcomes that might have happened, but didn’t.

Counterfactual thinking. When Deal or No Deal game show contestants dealt too late (walking away with a lower amount than they were previ­ ously offered) or too early (foregoing their next choice, which would have led to more money), they likely experienced counterfactual thinking— imagining what might have been.

96 Part One

People are more often apologetic about actions than inactions (Zeelenberg & others, 1998).

illusory correlation Perception of a relationship where none exists, or perception of a stronger relationship than actually exists.

illusion of control Perception of uncontrollable events as subject to one’s control or as more controllable than they are.

FAMILY CIRCUS © 1998 Bil Keane. Inc. King Features Syndicate.

Social Thinking

undoing the event (Davis & others, 1995, 1996). One friend of mine survived a head-on collision with a drunk driver that killed his wife, daughter, and mother. He recalled, “For months I turned the events of that day over and over in my mind. I kept reliving the day, changing the order of events so that the accident wouldn’t occur” (Sittser, 1994).

Across Asian and Western cultures, most people, however, live with less regret over things done than over things they failed to do, such as, “I wish I had been more serious in college” or “I should have told my father I loved him before he died” (Gilovich & Medvec, 1994; Rajagopal & others, 2006). In one survey of adults, the most common regret was not taking their education more seriously (Kinnier & Metha, 1989). Would we live with less regret if we dared more often to reach beyond our comfort zone—to venture out, risking failure, but at least hav­ ing tried?

Illusory Thinking Another influence on everyday thinking is our search for order in random events, a tendency that can lead us down all sorts of wrong paths.

ILLUSORY CORRELATION It is easy to see a correlation where none exists. When we expect to find significant relationships, we easily associate random events, perceiving an illusory correlation. William Ward and Herbert Jenkins (1965) showed people the results of a hypotheti­ cal 50-day cloud-seeding experiment. They told participants which of the 50 days the clouds had been seeded and which days it rained. The information was nothing more than a random mix of results: Sometimes it rained after seeding; sometimes it didn’t. Participants nevertheless became convinced—in conformity with their ideas about the effects of cloud seeding—that they really had observed a relationship between cloud seeding and rain.

Other experiments confirm the principle: People easily misperceive random events as confirming their beliefs (Crocker, 1981; Jennings & others, 1982; Trolier & Hamilton, 1986). If we believe a correlation exists, we are more likely to notice and recall con­ firming instances. If we believe that premonitions correlate with events, we notice

and remember any joint occur­ rence of the premonition and the event’s later occurrence. If we believe that overweight women are unhappier, we perceive that we have witnessed such a cor­ relation even when we have not (Viken & others, 2005). We ignore or forget all the times unusual events do not coincide. If, after we think about a friend, the friend calls us, we notice and remember that coincidence. We don’t notice all the times we think of a friend without any ensuing call, or receive a call from a friend about whom we’ve not been thinking.

ILLUSION OF CONTROL Our tendency to perceive ran­ dom events as related feeds an illusion of control—the idea that


sign so much! Every time they do, it gets bumpy.”

97Social Beliefs and Judgments Chapter 3

chance events are subject to our influence. This keeps gamblers going and makes the rest of us do all sorts of unlikely things.

gambling Ellen Langer (1977) demonstrated the illusion of control in betting experiments. Compared with those given an assigned lottery number, people who chose their own number demanded four times as much money when asked if they would sell their ticket. When playing a game of chance against an awkward and nervous person, they bet significantly more than when playing against a dapper, confident opponent. Being the person who throws the dice or spins the wheel increases people’s confidence (Wohl & Enzle, 2002). In these and other ways, more than 50 experiments have consistently found people acting as if they can predict or control chance events (Presson & Benassi, 1996; Thompson & others, 1998).

Observations of real-life gamblers confirm these experimental findings. Dice play­ ers may throw softly for low numbers and hard for high numbers (Henslin, 1967). The gambling industry thrives on gamblers’ illusions. Gamblers attribute wins to their skill and foresight. Losses become “near misses” or “flukes,” or for the sports gambler, a bad call by the referee or a freakish bounce of the ball (Gilovich & Douglas, 1986).

Stock traders also like the “feeling of empowerment” that comes from being able to choose and control their own stock trades, as if their being in control can enable them to outperform the market average. One ad declared that online investing “is about control.” Alas, the illusion of control breeds overconfidence and frequent losses after stock market trading costs are subtracted (Barber & Odean, 2001a, 2001b).

People like feeling in control, and so when experiencing a lack of control, will act to create a sense of predictability. In experiments, loss of control has led people to form illusory correlations in stock market information, to perceive nonexistent conspiracies, and to develop superstitions (Whitson & Galinsky, 2008).

REGRESSION TOWARD THE AVERAGE Tversky and Kahneman (1974) noted another way by which an illusion of control may arise: We fail to recognize the statis­ tical phenomenon of regression toward the average. Because exam scores fluctuate partly by chance, most students who get extremely high scores on an exam will get lower scores on the next exam. If their first score is at the ceiling, their second score is more likely to fall back (“regress”) toward their own average than to push the ceiling even higher. That is why a student who does consistently good work, even if never the best, will sometimes end a course at the top of the class. Conversely, the lowest scoring students on the first exam are likely to improve. If those who scored lowest go for tutoring after the first exam, the tutors are likely to feel effective when the student improves, even if the tutoring had no effect.

Indeed, when things reach a low point, we will try anything, and whatever we try—going to a psychotherapist, starting a new diet-exercise plan, reading a self- help book—is more likely to be followed by improvement than by further dete­ rioration. Sometimes we recognize that events are not likely to continue at an unusually good or bad extreme. Experi­ ence has taught us that when everything is going great, something will go wrong, and that when life is dealing us terrible blows, we can usually look forward to things getting better. Often, though, we fail to recognize this regression effect.

regression toward the average The statistical tendency for extreme scores or extreme behavior to return toward one’s average.

Regression to the average. When we are at an extremely low point, anything we try will often seem effective. “Maybe a yoga class will improve my life,” Events seldom continue at an abnormal low.

98 Part One Social Thinking

We puzzle at why baseball’s rookie of the year often has a more ordinary second year—did he become overconfident? Self-conscious? We forget that exceptional performance tends to regress toward normality.

By simulating the consequences of using praise and punishment, Paul Schaffner (1985) showed how the illusion of control might infiltrate human rela­ tions. He invited Bowdoin College students to train an imaginary fourth-grade boy, “Harold,” to come to school by 8:30 each morning. For each school day during a 3-week period, a computer displayed Harold’s arrival time, which was always between 8:20 and 8:40. The students would then select a response to Harold, ranging from strong praise to strong reprimand. As you might expect, they usu­ ally praised Harold when he arrived before 8:30 and reprimanded him when he arrived after 8:30. Because Schaffner had programmed the computer to display a random sequence of arrival times, Harold’s arrival time tended to improve (to regress toward 8:30) after he was reprimanded. For example, if Harold arrived at 8:39, he was almost sure to be reprimanded, and his randomly selected next-day arrival time was likely to be earlier than 8:39. Thus, even though their reprimands were having no effect, most students ended the experiment believing that their reprimands had been effective.

This experiment demonstrates Tversky and Kahneman’s provocative conclu­ sion: Nature operates in such a way that we often feel punished for rewarding oth­ ers and rewarded for punishing them. In actuality, as every student of psychology knows, positive reinforcement for doing things right is usually more effective and has fewer negative side effects.

Moods and Judgments Social judgment involves efficient information processing. It also involves our feelings: Our moods infuse our judgments. Some studies compare happy and sad individuals (Myers, 1993, 2000b). Unhappy people—especially those bereaved or depressed—tend to be more self-focused and brooding. A depressed mood moti­ vates intense thinking—a search for information that makes one’s environment more understandable and controllable (Weary & Edwards, 1994).

Happy people, by contrast, are more trusting, more loving, more responsive. If people are made temporarily happy by receiving a small gift while mall-shopping, they will report, a few moments later on an unrelated survey, that their cars and TV sets are working beautifully—better, if you took their word for it, than those belonging to folks who replied after not receiving gifts.

Moods pervade our thinking. To West Germans enjoying their team’s World Cup soccer victory (Schwarz & others, 1987) and to Australians emerging from a heart­ warming movie (Forgas & Moylan, 1987), people seem good-hearted, life seems wonderful. After (but not before) a 1990 football game between rivals Alabama and Auburn, victorious Alabama fans deemed war less likely and potentially devastat­ ing than did the gloomier Auburn fans (Schweitzer & others, 1992). When we are in a happy mood, the world seems friendlier, decisions are easier, and good news more readily comes to mind (DeSteno & others, 2000; Isen & Means, 1983; Stone & Glass, 1986).

Let a mood turn gloomy, however, and thoughts switch onto a different track. Off come the rose-colored glasses; on come the dark glasses. Now the bad mood primes our recollections of negative events (Bower, 1987; Johnson & Magaro, 1987). Our relationships seem to sour. Our self-images take a dive. Our hopes for the future dim. And other people’s behavior seems more sinister (Brown & Taylor, 1986; Mayer & Salovey, 1987).

University of New South Wales social psychologist Joseph Forgas (1999, 2008, 2010, 2011) had often been struck by how moody people’s “memories and judg­ ments change with the color of their mood.” To understand this “mood infusion,” he began to experiment. Imagine yourself in one such study. Using hypnosis.

99Social Beliefs and Judgments Chapter 3

Percent perceived behaviors

detected detected

FIGURE :: 3.3 A temporary good or bad mood strongly influenced people’s rat­ ings of their videotaped behavior. Those in a bad mood detected far fewer positive behaviors.

Source: Forgas & others (1984).

Forgas and colleagues (1984) put you in a good or a bad mood and then have you watch a videotape (made the day before) of yourself talking with someone. If made to feel happy, you feel pleased with what you see, and you are able to detect many instances of your poise, interest, and social skill. If you’ve been put in a bad mood, viewing the same tape seems to reveal a quite different you—one who is stiff, ner­ vous, and inarticulate (Figure 3.3). Given how your mood colors your judgments, you feel relieved at how things brighten when the experimenter switches you to a happy mood before leaving the experiment. Curiously, note Michael Ross and Garth Fletcher (1985), we don’t attribute our changing perceptions to our mood shifts. Rather, the world really seems different.

Our moods color how we judge our worlds partly by bringing to mind past experiences associated with the mood. When we are in a bad mood, we have more depressing thoughts. Mood-related thoughts may distract us from complex think­ ing about something else. Thus, when emotionally aroused—when angry or even in a very good mood—we become more likely to make snap judgments and evaluate others based on stereotypes (Bodenhausen & others, 1994; Paulhus & Lim, 1994).

SUMMING UP: How Do We Judge Our Social Worlds? • We have an enormous capacity for automatic, effi­

cient, intuitive thinking. Our cognitive efficiency, although generally adaptive, comes at the price of occasional error. Because we are generally unaware of those errors entering our thinking, it is useful to iden­ tify ways in which we form and sustain false beliefe.

• First, we often overestimate our judgments. This overconfidence phenomenon stems partly from the much greater ease with which we can imagine why we might be right than why we might be wrong. Moreover, people are much more likely to search for information that can confirm their beliefs than for information that can disconfirm them.

• Second, when given compelling anecdotes or even useless information, we often ignore useful

base-rate information. This is partly due to the later ease of recall of vivid information (the availability heuristic).

• Third, we are often swayed by illusions of correla­ tion and personal control. It is tempting to perceive correlations where none exist {illusory correlation) and to think we can predict or control chance events (the illusion of control).

• Finally, moods infuse judgments. Good and bad moods trigger memories of experiences associated with those moods. Moods color our interpreta­ tions of current experiences. And by distracting us, moods can also influence how deeply or superfi­ cially we think when making judgments.

100 Part One Social Thinking


Recognize how—and how accurately—we explain others’ behavior.

People make it their business to explain other people, and social psychologists make it their business to explain people’s explanations.

Our judgments of people depend on how we explain their behavior. Depending on our explanation, we may judge killing as murder, manslaughter, self-defense, or heroism. Depending on our explanation, we may view a homeless person as lack­ ing initiative or as victimized by job and welfare cutbacks. Depending on our expla­ nation, we may interpret someone’s friendly behavior as genuine warmth or as ingratiation. Attribution theory helps us make sense of how this explanation works.

misattribution Mistakenly attributing a behavior to the wrong source.

Attributing Causality: To the Person or the Situation We endlessly analyze and discuss why things happen as they do, especially when we experience something negative or unexpected (Weiner, 1985, 2008, 2010). If worker productivity declines, do we assume the workers are getting lazier? Or has their workplace become less efficient? Does a young boy who hits his classmates have a hostile personality? Or is he responding to relentless teasing? Researchers found that married people often analyze their partners’ behaviors, especially their negative behaviors. Cold hostility, more than a warm hug, is likely to leave the partner won­ dering zvhi/? (Holtzworth-Munroe & Jacobson, 1985; Holtzworth & Jacobson, 1988).

Spouses’ answers correlate with marriage satisfaction. Unhappy couples usu­ ally offer distress-maintaining explanations for negative acts (“She was late because she doesn’t care about me”). Happy couples more often externalize (“She was late because of heavy traffic”). Explanations for positive acts similarly work either to maintain distress (“He brought me flowers because he wants sex”) or to enhance the relationship (“He brought me flowers to show he loves me”) (Hewstone & Fincham, 1996; McNulty & others, 2008; Weiner, 1995).

Antonia Abbey (1987, 1991, 2011; Abbey & others, 1998) and colleagues have repeatedly found that men are more likely than women to attribute a woman’s friendliness to mild sexual interest. (Men’s romantic interest is easier to read [Place & others, 2009]). Men’s misreading of women’s warmth as a sexual come-on— an example of misattribution—can con­ tribute to behavior that women regard as sexual harassment or even rape (Farris & others, 2008; Kolivas & Gross, 2007; Pryor & others, 1997). Many men believe women are flattered by repeated requests for dates, which women more often view as harassment (Rotundo & others, 2001).

Misattribution is particularly likely when men are in positions of power. A manager may misinterpret a subordinate woman’s submissive or friendly behav­ ior and, full of himself, see her in sexual terms (Bargh & Raymond, 1995). Men

A misattribution? Date rape sometimes begins with a man’s misreading a woman’s warmth as a sexual come-on.

101Social Beliefs and Judgments

more often than women think about sex (see Chapter 5). Men also are more likely than women to assume that others share their feelings (recall from Chapter 2 the “false consensus effect”). Thus, a man may greatly overestimate the sexual significance of a woman’s courtesy smile (Levesque & others, 2006; Nelson & LeBoeuf, 2002).

Such misattributions help explain the greater sexual assertiveness exhibited by men throughout the world and the greater tendency of men in various cultures, from Boston to Bombay, to justify rape by arguing that the victim consented or implied consent (Kanekar & Nazareth, 1988; Muehlenhard, 1988; Shotland, 1989). Women more often judge forcible sex as meriting conviction and a stiff sentence (Schutte & Hosch, 1997). Misattributions also help explain why, in one national survey, the 23 percent of American women who said they had been forced into unwanted sex­ ual behavior was eight times greater than the 3 percent of American men who said they had ever forced a woman into a sexual act (Laumann & others, 1994).

Attribution theory analyzes how we explain people’s behavior and what we infer from it. The variations of attribution theory share some common assumptions. As Daniel Gilbert and Patrick Malone (1995) explain, each “construes the human skin as a special boundary that separates one set of ‘causal forces’ from another. On the sunny side of the epidermis are the external or situational forces that press inward upon the person, and on the meaty side are the internal or personal forces that exert pressure outward. Sometimes these forces press in conjunction, sometimes in opposition, and their dynamic interplay manifests itself as observable behavior.”

Attribution theory pioneer Fritz Heider (1958) and others after him analyzed the “commonsense psychology” by which people explain everyday events. They con­ cluded that when we observe someone acting intentionally, we sometimes attribute that person’s behavior to internal causes (for example, the person’s disposition or mental state) and sometimes to external causes (for example, something about the person’s situation). A teacher may wonder whether a child’s underachievement is due to lack of motivation and ability (a dispositional attribution) or to physical and social circumstances (a situational attribution). Also, some of us are more inclined to attribute behavior to stable personality; others tend more to attribute behavior to situations (Bastian & Haslam, 2006; Robins & others, 2004).

Chapter 3

attribution theory The theory of how people explain others’ behavior—for example, by attributing it eitherto internal dispositions (enduring traits, motives, and attitudes) or to external situations.

dispositional attribution Attributing behavior to the person’s disposition and traits.

INFERRING TRAITS Edward Jones and Keith Davis (1965) noted that we often infer that other people’s actions are indicative of their intentions and dispositions. If I observe Rick making a sarcastic comment to Linda, I infer that Rick is a hostile person. Jones and Davis’s “theory of correspondent inferences” specified the conditions under which people

situational attribution Attributing behavior to the environment.

To what should we attribute a student’s sleepiness? To lack of sleep? To boredom? Whether we make internal or external attributions depends on whether we notice her con­ sistently sleeping in this and other classes, and on whether other students react as she does to this particular class.

102 Part One Social Thinking

spontaneous trait inference An effortless, automatic inference of a trait after exposure to someone’s behavior.

An exception: Asians are less likely to attribute people’s behavior to their personality traits (Na & Kitayama, 2011).

FIGURE:: 3.4 Harold Kelley’s Theory of Attributions Three factors—consistency, distinctiveness, and consensus— influence whether we attribute someone’s behavior to internal or external causes. Try creating your own examples, such as the following; If Mary and many others criticize Steve (with con­ sensus), and if Mary isn’t critical of others (high distinctiveness), then we make an external attribu­ tion (it’s something about Steve). If Mary alone (low consensus) criticizes Steve, and if she criti­ cizes many other people, too (low distinctiveness), then we are drawn to an internal attribution (it’s something about Mary).

infer traits. For example, normal or expected behavior tells us less about the person than does unusual behavior. If Samantha is sarcastic in a job interview, where a person would normally be pleasant, that tells us more about Samantha than if she is sarcastic with her siblings.

The ease with which we infer traits—a phenomenon called spontaneous trait inference—is remarkable. In experiments at New York University, James Uleman (1989; Uleman & others, 2008) gave students statements to remember, such as “The librarian carries the old woman’s groceries across the street.” The students would instantly, unintentionally, and unconsciously infer a trait. When later they were helped to recall the sentence, the most valuable clue word was not “books” (to cue librarian) or “bags” (to cue groceries) but “helpful”—the inferred trait that I sus­ pect you, too, spontaneously attributed to the librarian. Given even just 1 /10th of a second exposure to someone’s face, people will spontaneously infer some personal­ ity traits (Willis & Todorov, 2006).

COMMONSENSE ATTRIBUTIONS As the theory of correspondent inferences suggests, attributions often are ratio­ nal. Pioneering attribution theorist Harold Kelley (1973) described how we explain behavior by using information about “consistency,” “distinctiveness,” and “consensus” (Figure 3.4).

Consistency: How consistent is the person’s behavior in this situation? Distinctiveness: How specific is the person’s behavior to this particular situation? Consensus: To what extent do others in this situation behave similarly?

When explaining why Edgar is having trouble with his computer, most people would use information concerning consistency (Is Edgar usually unable to get his com­ puter to work?), distinctiveness (Does Edgar have trouble with other computers, or only this one?), and consensus (Do other people have similar problems with this make of computer?). If we learn that Edgar alone consistently has trouble with tiiis and other computers, we likely will attribute the troubles to Edgar, not to defects in this computer.

So our commonsense psychology often explains behavior logically. But Kelley also found that people often discount a contributing cause of behavior if other plau­ sible causes are already known. If we can specify one or two sufficient reasons a student might have done poorly on an exam, we often ignore or discount alterna­ tive possibilities (McClure, 1998). When given information about people’s college grade average and asked to judge their suitability for graduate school, people dis­ count the school’s grading leniency (Moore & others, 2010).

Consistency: Does this person usually behave this way

in this situation? (If yes, we seek an explanation.)

External attribution

(to the person’s situation)

Distinctiveness: Does this person behave

differently in this situation than in others?

Consensus: Do others behave

similarly in this situation?


Internal attribution

(to the person’s


Social Beliefs and Judgments Chapter 3 103

The Fundamental Attribution Error Social psychology’s most important lesson concerns the influence of our social envi­ ronment. At any moment, our internal state, and therefore what we say and do, depends on the situation as well as on what we bring to the situation. In experi­ ments, a slight difference between two situations sometimes greatly affects how peo­ ple respond. As a professor, I have seen this when teaching the same subject at both 8:30 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. Silent stares would greet me at 8:30; at 7:00,1 had to break up a party. In each situation, some individuals were more talkative than others, but the difference between the two situations exceeded the individual differences.

Attribution researchers have found a common problem with our attributions. When explaining someone’s behavior, we often underestimate the impact of the situation and overestimate the extent to which it reflects the individual’s traits and attitudes. Thus, even knowing the effect of the time of day on classroom conversa­ tion, I found it terribly tempting to assume that the people in the 7:00 p.m. class were more extraverted than the “silent types” who came at 8:30 a.m. Likewise, we may infer that people fall because they’re clumsy rather than because they were tripped; that people smile because they’re happy rather than faking friendliness, and that people speed past us on the highway because they’re aggressive rather than late for an important meeting.

This discounting of the situation, dubbed by Lee Ross (1977) the fundamental attribution error, appears in many experiments. In the first such study, Edward Jones and Victor Harris (1967) had Duke University students read debaters’ speeches supporting or attacking Cuba’s leader, Fidel Castro. When told that the debater chose which position to take, the students logically enough assumed it reflected the person’s own attitude. But what happened when the students were told that the debate coach had assigned the position? People who are merely feigning a position write more forceful statements than you’d expect (Allison & others, 1993; Miller & others, 1990). Thus, even knowing that the debater had been told to take a pro- or anti-Castro position did not prevent students from inferring that the debater in fact had the assigned leanings (Figure 3.5). People seemed to think, “Yeah, I know he was assigned that position, but, you know, I think he really believes it.”

Even when people know they are causing someone else’s behavior, they still underestimate external influences. If individuals dictate an opinion that someone

Attitude attributed

Pro-Castro 80

fundamental attribution error The tendency for observers to underestimate situational influences and overestimate dispositional influences upon others’ behavior. (Also called correspondence bias because we so often see behavior as corresponding to a disposition.)

FIGURE :: 3.5 The Fundamental Attribution Error When people read a debate speech supporting or attack­ ing Fidel Castro, they attributed corresponding attitudes to the speechwriter, even when the debate coach assigned the writer’s position.

Source: Data from Jones & Harris (1967).

Chose to give a Castro speech

Assigned to give a Castro speech

104 Part One Social Thinking

When viewing a movie actor playing a “good-guy” or a “bad-guy” role, we find it difficult to escape the illusion thatthe scripted behavior reflects an inner disposition. Perhaps that is why Leonard Nimoy, who played Mr. Spock in the original “Star Trek” series, titled one of his books I Am Not Spock.

else must then express, they still tend to see the person as actually holding that opinion (Gilbert & Jones, 1986). If people are asked to be either self-enhancing or self-deprecating during an interview, they are very aware of why they are acting so. But they are wnaware of their effect on another person. If Juan acts modestly, his naive partner Bob is likely to exhibit modesty as well. Juan will easily understand his own behavior, but he will think that poor Bob suffers from low self-esteem (Baumeister & others, 1988). In short, we tend to presume that others are the way they act. Observing Cinderella cowering in her oppressive home, people (ignoring the situation) infer that she is meek; dancing with her at the ball, the prince sees a suave and glamorous person.

The discounting of social constraints was evident in a thought-provoking experiment by Lee Ross and collaborators (Ross & others, 1977). The experiment re-created Ross’s firsthand experience of moving from graduate student to profes­ sor. His doctoral oral exam had proved a humbling experience as his apparently brilliant professors quizzed him on topics they specialized in. Six months later. Dr. Ross was himself an examiner, now able to ask penetrating questions on his favorite topics. Ross’s hapless student later confessed to feeling exactly as Ross had a half-year before—dissatisfied with his ignorance and impressed with the appar­ ent brilliance of the examiners.

In the experiment, with Teresa Amabile and Julia Steinmetz, Ross set up a simu­ lated quiz game. He randomly assigned some Stanford University students to play the role of questioner, some to play the role of contestant, and others to observe. The researchers invited the questioners to make up difficult questions that would demonstrate their wealth of knowledge. Any one of us can imagine such questions using one’s own domain of competence: “Where is Bainbridge Island?” “How did Mary, Queen of Scots, die?” “Which has the longer coastline, Europe or Africa?” If even those few questions have you feeling a little uninformed, then you will appre­ ciate the results of this experiment.*

Everyone had to know that the questioners would have the advantage. Yet both contestants and observers (but not the questioners) came to the erroneous conclusion that the questioners really were more knowledgeable than the contestants (Figure 3.6).

* Bainbridge Island is across Puget Sound from Seattle. Mary was ordered beheaded by her cousin Queen Elizabeth I. Although the African continent is more than double the area of Europe, Europe’s coastline is longer. (It is more convo­ luted, with many harbors and inlets, a geographical fact that contributed to its role in the history of maritime trade.)

Social Beliefs and Judgments Chapter 3 105

Rating of general knowledge

100 r—————————-












Contestants’ ratings

Observers’ ratings

FIGURE:: 3.6 Both contestants and observers of a simulated quiz game assumed that a person who had been randomly assigned the role of questioner was far more knowledgeable than the contes­ tant. Actually, the assigned roles of questioner and contestant simply made the questioner seem more knowledgeable. The failure to appreciate this illustrates the fundamental attribution error. Source; Data from Ross & others (1977).

Follow-up research shows that these misimpressions are hardly a reflection of low social intelligence. If anything, college students and other intelligent and socially competent people are more likely to make the attribution error (Bauman & Skitka, 2010; Block & Funder, 1986).

In real life, those with social power usually initiate and control conversations, which often leads underlings to overestimate their knowledge and intelligence. Medical doctors, for example, are often presumed to be experts on all sorts of questions unrelated to medicine. Similarly, students often overestimate the brilliance of their teachers. (As in the experiment, teachers are questioners on subjects of their special expertise.) When some of these stu­ dents later become teachers, they are usually amazed to dis­ cover that teachers are not so brilliant after all.

To illustrate the fundamental attribution error, most of us need look no further than our own experiences. Deter- iTiined to make some new friends, Bev plasters a smile on her face and anxiously plunges into a party. Everyone else seems quite relaxed and happy as they laugh and talk with one another. Bev wonders to herself, “Why is everyone always so at ease in groups like this while I’m feeling shy and tense?” Actually, everyone else is feeling nervous, too, and making the same attribution error in assuming that Bev and the others are as they appear—confidently convivial.

Why do we make the attribution error? So far we have seen a bias in the way we explain other peo­ ple’s behavior: We often ignore powerful situational deter- ^^^ants. Why do we tend to underestimate the situational determinants of others’ behavior but not of our own?

People often attribute keen intelligence to those, such as teachers and quiz show hosts, who test others’ knowledge.

106 Part One Social Thinking

The fundamental attribution error: observers underesti­ mating the situation. Driving into a gas station, we may think the person parked at the second pump (blocking access to the first) is incon­ siderate. That person, having arrived when the first pump was in use, attributes her behavior to the situation.

PERSPECTIVE AND SITUATIONAL AWARENESS Attribution theorists have pointed out that we observe others from a different perspective than we observe ourselves (Jones, 1976; Jones & Nisbett, 1971). When we act, the environment com­ mands our attention. When we watch another person act, that person occupies the center of our attention and the environment becomes relatively invisible. If Tm mad, it’s the situation that’s making me angry. But someone I see getting mad may seem like an ill-tempered person.

From his analysis of 173 studies, Bertram Malle (2006) concluded that the actor- observer difference is actually minimal. When our action feels intentional and admirable, we attribute it to our own good reasons, not to the situation. It’s only when we behave badly that we’re more likely to attribute our behavior to the situa­ tion, while someone observing us may spontaneously infer a trait.

In some experiments, people have viewed a videotape of a suspect confessing during a police interview. If they viewed the confession through a camera focused on the suspect, they perceived the confession as genuine. If they viewed it through a camera focused on the detective, they perceived it as more coerced (Lassiter & Irvine, 1986; Lassiter & others, 2005, 2007). The camera perspective influenced people’s guilt judgments even when the judge instructed them not to allow this to happen (Lassiter & others, 2002).

In courtrooms, most confession videotapes focus on the confessor. As we might expect, noted Daniel Lassiter and Kimberly Dudley (1991), such tapes yield a nearly 100 percent conviction rate when played by prosecutors. Aware of this research, reports Lassiter, New Zealand has made it a national policy that police interroga­ tions be filmed with equal focus on the officer and the suspect, such as by filming them with side profiles of both.

As the once-visible person recedes in their memory, observers often give more and more credit to the situation. As we saw previously in the groundbreaking attri­ bution error experiment by Edward Jones and Victor Harris (1967), immediately after hearing someone argue an assigned position, people assume that’s how the person really felt. Jerry Burger and M. L. Palmer (1991) found that a week later they are much more ready to credit the situational constraints. The day after a pres­ idential election. Burger and Julie Pavelich (1994) asked voters why the election turned out as it did. Most attributed the outcome to the candidates’ personal traits and positions (the winner from the incumbent party was likable). When they asked

Social Beliefs and Judgments Chapter 3 107

other voters the same question a year later, only a third attributed the verdict to the candidates. More people now credited circumstances, such as the country’s good mood and the robust economy.

Let’s make this personal: Are you gen­ erally quiet, talkative, or does it depend on the situation? “Depends on the situ­ ation” is a common answer. Likewise, when asked to predict their feelings 2 weeks after receiving grades or learn­ ing the outcome of their country’s national election, people expect the situ­ ation to rule their emotions; they under­ estimate the importance of their own sunny or dour dispositions (Quoidbach & Dunn, 2010). But when asked to describe a friend—or to describe what they were like 5 years ago—people more often ascribe trait descriptions. When recalling our past, we become like observers of someone else, note researchers Emily Pronin and Lee Ross (2006). For most of us, the “old you” is someone other than today’s “real you.” We regard our distant past selves (and our distant future selves) almost as if they were other people occupying our body.

All these experiments point to a reason for the attribution error: Wc find causes where we look for them. To see this in your own experience, consider: Would you say your social psychology instructor is a quiet or a talkative person?

My guess is you inferred that he or she is fairly outgoing. But consider: Your attention focuses on your instructor while he or she behaves in a public context that demands speaking. The instructor also observes his or her own behavior in many different situations—in the classroom, in meetings, at home. “Me talkative?” your instructor might say. “Well, it all depends on the situation. When I’m in class or with good friends, Tm rather outgoing. But at conventions and in unfamiliar situ­ ations I feel and act rather shy.” Because we are acutely aware of how our behav­ ior varies with the situation, we see ourselves as more variable than other people (Baxter & Goldberg, 1987; Kammer, 1982; Sande & others, 1988). “Nigel is uptight, Fiona is relaxed. With me it varies.”

CULTURAL DIFFERENCES Cultures also influence attribution error (Ickes, 1980; Watson, 1982). A Western worldview predisposes people to assume that people, not situations, cause events. Internal explanations are more socially approved (Jellison & Green, 1981). “You can do it!” we are assured by the pop psychology of positive-thinking Western culture. You get what you deserve and deserve what you get.

As children grow up in Western culture, they learn to explain behavior in terms of the other’s personal characteristics (Rholes & others, 1990; Ross, 1981). As a first- grader, one of my sons unscrambled the words “gate the sleeve caught Tom on his” into “The gate caught Tom on his sleeve.” His teacher, applying the Western cultural assumptions of the curriculum materials, marked that wrong. The “right” ^swer located the cause within Tom: “Tom caught his sleeve on the gate.”

The fundamental attribution error occurs across varied cultures (Krull & others, 1999). Yet people in Eastern Asian cultures are somewhat more sensitive than West­ erners are to the importance of situations. Thus, when aware of the social context, they are less inclined to assume that others’ behavior corresponds to their traits (Choi & others, 1999; Farwell & Weiner, 2000; Masuda & Kitayama, 2004).

Focusing on the person. Would you infer that your professor for this course, or the professor shown here, is naturally outgoing?










Under alcohol’s influence, people’s attentional focus narrows and they become more likely to attribute someone’s action—perhaps a bump at a bar—to intentionality (Begue & others, 2010). Thinking that a jolt or seeming insult was intentional may then trigger an aggravated reaction.

108 Part One

Whether conservatives or liberals offer more situational attributions depends on the topic. When explaining poverty, liberals offer stronger situational attributions. When explaining U.S. Marines’ killing of Iraqi civilians, conservatives offer stronger situational attributions (Morgan & others, 2010).

FIGURE:: 3.7 Attributions and Reactions How we explain someone’s nega­ tive behavior determines how we feel about it.

Social Thinking

Some languages promote external attributions. Instead of “1 was late/’ Spanish idiom allows one to say, “The clock caused me to be late.” In collectivist cultures, people less often perceive others in terms of personal dispositions (Lee & others, 1996; Zebrowitz-McArthur, 1988). They are less likely to spontaneously interpret a behavior as reflecting an inner trait (Newman, 1993). When told of someone’s actions, Hindus in India are less likely than Americans to offer dispositional explanations (“She is kind”) and more likely to offer situational explanations (“Her friends were with her”) (Miller, 1984).

The fundamental attribution error is fundamental because it colors our explana­ tions in basic and important ways. Researchers in Britain, India, Australia, and the United States have found that people’s attributions predict their attitudes toward the poor and the unemployed (Furnham, 1982; Pandey & others, 1982; Skitka, 1999; Wagstaff, 1983; Weiner & others, 2011). Those who attribute poverty and unem­ ployment to personal dispositions (“They’re just lazy and undeserving”) tend to adopt political positions unsympathetic to such people (Figure 3.7). This disposi­ tional attribution ascribes behavior to the person’s disposition and traits. Those who make situational attributions (“If you or I were to live with the same overcrowding, poor education, and discrimination, would we be any better off?”) tend to adopt political positions that offer more direct support to the poor. Tell me your attribu­ tions for poverty and I will guess your politics.

Can we benefit from being aware of the attribution error? I once assisted with some interviews for a faculty position. One candidate was interviewed by six of us at once; each of us had the opportunity to ask two or three questions. I came away thinking, “What a stiff, awkward person he is.” The second candidate I met pri­ vately over coffee, and we immediately discovered we had a close, mutual friend. As we talked, I became increasingly impressed by what a “warm, engaging, stimu­ lating person she is.” Only later did I remember the fundamental attribution error and reassess my analysis. I had attributed his stiffness and her warmth to their dis­ positions; in fact, I later realized, such behavior resulted partly from the difference in their interview situations.

WHY WE STUDY ATTRIBUTION ERRORS This chapter, like the one before it, explains some foibles and fallacies in our social thinking. Reading about these may make it seem, as one of my students put it.

Dispositional attribution (The man is a

hostile person.)

Unfavorable reaction

(I don’t like this man.)

Negative behavior^ (A man is rude to his


Situational attribution (The man was unfair


Sympathetic reaction

(I can understand.)

109Social Beliefs and Judgments

dtat “social psychologists get their kicks out of playing tricks on people.” Actu­ ally/ the experiments are not designed to demonstrate “what fools these mortals be” (although some of the experiments are rather amusing). Rather, their purpose is to reveal how we think about ourselves and others.

If our capacity for illusion and self-deception is shocking, remember that our modes of thought are generally adaptive. Illusory thinking is often a by-product of our mind’s strategies for simplifying complex information. It parallels our perceptual mechanisms, which generally give us useful images of the world but sometimes lead us astray.

A second reason for focusing on thinking biases such as the fundamental attri­ bution error is humanitarian. C^e of social psychology’s “great humanizing mes­ sages,” note Thomas Gilovich and Richard Eibach (2001), is that people should not always be blamed for their problems. “More often than people are willing to acknowledge,” they conclude, “failure, disability, and misfortune are … the prod­ uct of real environmental causes.”

A third reason for focusing on biases is that we are mostly unaware of them and can benefit from greater awareness. As with other biases, such as the self- serving bias (see Chapter 2), people see themselves as less susceptible than oth­ ers to attribution errors (Pronin, 2008). My hunch is that you will find more surprises, more challenges, and more benefit in an analysis of errors and biases than you would in a string of testimonies to the human capacity for logic and intellectual achievement. That is also why world literature so often portrays pride and other human failings. Social psychology aims to expose us to fallacies in our thinking in the hope that we will become more rational, more in touch with reality.

Chapter 3










SUMMING UP: How Do We Explain Our Social Worlds? • Attribution theory involves how we explain people’s

behavior. Misattribution—attributing a behavior I to the wrong source—is a major factor in sexual ■ harassment, as a person in power (typically male) K interprets friendliness as a sexual come-on.

• Although we usually make reasonable attributions, we often commit the fundamental attribution error (also called correspondence bias) when explaining other people’s behavior. We attribute their behavior

so much to their inner traits and attitudes that we discount situational constraints, even when those are obvious. We make this attribution error partly because when we watch someone act, that person is the focus of our attention and the situation is rela­ tively invisible. When we act, our attention is usu­ ally on what we are reacting to—the situation is more visible.


l^ain insight into how our social beliefs matter.

Having considered how we explain and judge others—efficiently, adaptively, but sometimes erroneously—we conclude this chapter by pondering the effects of our social judgments. Do our social beliefs matter? Can they change reality?

Our social beliefs and judgments do matter. They influence how we feel and ^ct, and by so doing may help generate their own reality. When our ideas lead us *0 act in ways that produce their apparent confirmation, they have become what sociologist Robert Merton (1948) termed self-fulfilling prophecies—^beliefs that

self-fulfilling prophecy A belief that leads to its own fulfillment.

110 Part One Social Thinking

focus ON The Self-Fulfilling Psychology of the Stock Market

On the evening of January 6, 1981, Joseph Granville, a popular Florida investment adviser, wired his clients; “Stock prices will nosedive; sell tomorrow.” Word of Granville’s advice soon spread, and January 7 became the heaviest day of trading in the previous history of the New York Stock Exchange. All told, stock values lost $40 billion.

Nearly a half-century ago, John Maynard Keynes likened such stock market psychology to the popular beauty contests then conducted by London newspapers. To win, one had to pick the six faces out of a hundred that were, in turn, chosen most frequently by the other newspaper contestants. Thus, as Keynes wrote, “Each competitor has to pick not those faces which he himself finds prettiest, but those which he thinks likeliest to catch the fancy of the other competitors.”

Investors likewise try to pick not the stocks that touch their fancy but the stocks that other investors will favor. The name of the game is predicting others’ behavior. As one Wall Street fund manager explained, “You may or may not agree with Granville’s view—but that’s usually beside the point.” If you think his advice will cause others

to sell, then you want to sell quickly, before prices drop more. If you expect others to buy, you buy now to beat the rush.

The self-fulfilling psychology of the stock market worked to an extreme on Monday, October 19, 1987, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 20 percent. Part of what happens during such crashes is that the media and the rumor mill focus on whatever bad news is available to explain them. Once reported, the explana­ tory news stories further diminish people’s expectations, causing declining prices to fall still lower. The process also works in reverse by amplifying good news when stock prices are rising.

In April of 2000, the volatile technology market again demonstrated a self-fulfilling psychology, now called “momentum investing.” After 2 years of eagerly buying stocks (because prices were rising), people started fran­ tically selling them (because prices were falling). Such wild market swings—”irrational exuberance” followed by a crash—are mainly self-generated, noted economist Robert Shiller (2005). In 2008 and 2009, the market psy­ chology headed south again as another bubble burst.

…. . ……. . ” …………….. ………- • …………………………………………………………………….. •” •’ ……….

Rosenthal (2008) recalls submitting a paper describing his early experiments on experimenter bias to a leading journal and to an American Association for the Advancement of Science prize competition. On the same day, some weeks later, he received a letter from the journal rejecting his paper, and from the association naming it the year’s best social science research. In science, as in everyday life, some people appreciate what others do not, which is why it often pays to try and, when rebuffed, to try again.

lead to their own fulfillment. If, led to believe that their bank is about to crash, its customers race to withdraw their money, then their false perceptions may create reality, noted Merton. If people are led to believe that stocks are about to soar, they will indeed. (See “Focus On: The Self-Fulfilling Psychology of the Stock Market.”)

In his well-known studies of experimenter bias, Robert Rosenthal (1985, 2006) found that research participants sometimes live up to what they believe experi­ menters expect of them. In one study, experimenters asked individuals to judge the success of people in various photographs. The experimenters read the same instruc­ tions to all their participants and showed them the same photos. Nevertheless, experimenters who expected their participants to see the photographed people as successful obtained higher ratings than did those who expected their participants to see the people as failures. Even more startling—and controversial—are reports that teachers’ beliefs about their students similarly serve as self-fulfilling prophe­ cies. If a teacher believes a student is good at math, will the student do well in the class? Let’s examine this.

Teacher Expectations and Student Performance Teachers do have higher expectations for some students than for others. Perhaps you have detected this after having a brother or sister precede you in school, after receiving a label such as “gifted” or “learning disabled,” or after being tracked with “high-ability” or “average-ability” students. Perhaps conversation in the teachers’ lounge sent your reputation ahead of you. Or perhaps your new teacher scrutinized

Social Beliefs and Judgments Chapter 3 111


i your school file or discovered your family’s social status. It’s clear that teachers’ evaluations correlate with student achievement: Teachers think well of students who do well. That’s mostly because teachers accurately perceive their students’ abilities and achievements. “About 75 percent of the correlation between teacher expectations and student future achievement reflects accuracy,” report Lee Jussim, Stacy Robustelli, and Thomas Cain (2009).

But are teachers’ evaluations ever a cause as well as a consequence of student performance? One correlational study of 4300 British schoolchildren by William Crano and Phyllis Mellon (1978) suggested yes. Not only is high performance fol­ lowed by higher teacher evaluations but also the reverse is true as well.

Could we test this “teacher-expectations effect” experimentally? Pretend we gave a teacher the impression that Dana, Sally, Todd, and Manuel—four randomly selected students—are unusually capable. Will the teacher give special treatment to these four and elicit superior performance from them? In a now-famous experi­ ment, Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson (1968) reported precisely that. Randomly selected children in a San Francisco elementary school who were said (on the basis of a fictitious test) to be on the verge of a dramatic intellectual spurt did then spurt ahead in IQ score.

That dramatic result seemed to suggest that the school problems of “disadvan­ taged” children might reflect their teachers’ low expectations. The findings were soon publicized in the national media as well as in many college textbooks. How­ ever, further analysis—which was not as highly publicized—revealed the teacher- expectations effect to be not as powerful and reliable as this initial study had led many people to believe (Jussim & others, 2009; Spitz, 1999). By Rosenthal’s own count, in only approximately 4 in 10 of the nearly 500 published experiments did expectations significantly affect performance (Rosenthal, 1991, 2002). Low expecta­ tions do not doom a capable child, nor do high expectations magically transform a slow learner into a valedictorian. Human nature is not so pliable.

High expectations do, however, seem to boost low achievers, for whom a teach­ er’s positive attitude may be a hope-giving breath of fresh air (Madon & others, 1997). How are such expectations transmitted? Rosenthal and other investigators report that teachers look, smile, and nod more at “high-potential students.” Teach­ ers also may teach more to their “gifted” students, set higher goals for them, call on them more, and give them more time to answer (Cooper, 1983; Harris & Rosenthal, 1985,1986; Jussim, 1986).

In one study, Elisha Babad, Frank Bernieri, and Rosenthal (1991) videotaped teachers talking to, or about, unseen students for whom they held high or low expectations. A random 10-second clip of either the teacher’s voice or the teacher’s face was enough to tell viewers—^both children and adults—whether this was a good or a poor student and how much the teacher liked the student. (You read that right: 10 seconds.) Although teachers may think they can conceal their feelings and behave impartially toward the class, students are acutely sensitive to teachers’ facial expressions and body movements (Figure 3.8).

Self-presumed expectations associated with one’s gender (“women are bad at math”) or race (“Blacks don’t do so well on aptitude tests”) can create anxiety that suppresses test scores. Remove the “stereotype threat” (see Chapter 9) and performance may improve.

Teacher’s expectation Teacher’s behavior Student’s behavior I “Rena’s older brother was brilliant. I bet she is. too.”

Smiling more at Rena, teaching her more, calling on her more, giving more time to answer.

Rena responds enthusiastically.

FIGURE :: 3.8 Self-Fulfilling Prophecies Teacher expectations can become self-fulfilling prophecies. But for the most part, teachers’ expectations accurately reflect reality (Jussim & Harber, 2005).


112 Part One Social Thinking

Reading the experiments on teacher expectations makes me wonder about the effect of students’ expectations upon their teachers. You no doubt begin many of your courses having heard “Professor Smith is interesting” and “Professor Jones is a bore.” Robert Feldman and Thomas Prohaska (1979; Feldman & Theiss, 1982) found that such expectations can affect both student and teacher. Students in a learning experiment who expected to be taught by an excellent teacher perceived their teacher (who was unaware of their expectations) as more competent and inter­ esting than did students with low expectations. Furthermore, the students actually learned more. In a later experiment, women who were led to expect their male instructor to be sexist had a less positive experience with him, performed worse, and rated him as less competent than did women not given the sexist expectation (Adams & others, 2006).

Were these results due entirely to the students’ perceptions or also to a self- fulfilling prophecy that affected the teacher? In a follow-up experiment, Feldman and Prohaska videotaped teachers and had obser’ers rate their performances. Teachers were judged most capable when assigned a student who nonverbally con­ veyed positive expectations.

To see whether such effects might also occur in actual classrooms, a research team led by David Jamieson (Jamieson & others, 1987) experimented with four Ontario high school classes taught by a newly transferred teacher. During individ­ ual interviews, they told students in two of the classes that both other students and the research team rated the teacher very highly. Compared with the control classes, students who were given positive expectations paid better attention during class. At the end of the teaching unit, they also got better grades and rated the teacher as clearer in her teaching. The attitudes that a class has toward its teacher are as important, it seems, as the teacher’s attitude toward the students.

Getting from Others What We Expect So the expectations of experimenters and teachers, although usually reasonably accurate, occasionally act as self-fulfilling prophecies. How widespread are self- fulfilling prophecies? Do we get from others what we expect of them? Studies show that our perceptions of others are more accurate than biased (Jussim, 2012). Self- fulfilling prophecies have “less than extraordinary power.” Yet sometimes, self- fulfilling prophecies do operate in work settings (with managers who have high or low expectations), in courtrooms (as judges instruct juries), and in simulated police contexts (as interrogators with guilty or innocent expectations interrogate and pres­ sure suspects) (Kassin & others, 2003; Rosenthal, 2003,2006).

Do self-fulfilling prophecies color our personal relationships? There are times when negative expectations of someone lead us to be extra nice to that person, which induces him or her to be nice in return—thus rfisconfirming our expectations. But a more common finding in studies of social interaction is that, yes, we do to some extent get what we expect (Olson &c others, 1996).

In laboratory games, hostility nearly always begets hostility: People who per­ ceive their opponents as noncooperative will readily induce them to be noncooper­ ative (Kelley & Stahelski, 1970). Each party’s perception of the other as aggressive, resentful, and vindictive induces the other to display those behaviors in self- defense, thus creating a vicious self-perpetuating circle. In another experiment, people anticipated interacting with another person of a different race. When led to expect that the person disliked interacting with someone of their race, they felt more anger and displayed more hostility toward the person (Butz & Plant, 2006). Likewise, whether I expect my wife to be in a bad mood or in a loving mood may affect how I relate to her, thereby inducing her to confirm my belief.

So, do intimate relationships prosper when partners idealize each other? Are positive illusions of the other’s virtues self-fulfilling? Or are they more often self- defeating, by creating high expectations that can’t be met? Among University of

To judge a teacher or professor’s overall warmth and enthusiasm also takes but a thin slice of behavior— mere seconds (Ambady & Rosenthal, 1992, 1993).

Social Beliefs and Judgments Chapter 3 113

Waterloo dating couples followed by Sandra Murray and associates (1996a, 1996b, 2000), positive ideals of one’s partner were good omens. Idealization helped buffer conflict, bolster satisfaction, and turn self- perceived frogs into princes or princesses. When some­ one loves and admires us, it helps us become more the person he or she imagines us to be.

When dating couples deal with conflicts, hope­ ful optimists and their partners tend to perceive each other as engaging constructively. Compared to those with more pessimistic expectations, they then feel more supported and more satisfied with the outcome (Srivastava & others, 2006). Among married couples, too, those who worry that their partner doesn’t love and accept them interpret slight hurts as rejections, which motivates them to devalue the partner and dis­ tance themselves. Those who presume their partner’s love and acceptance respond less defensively, read less into stressful events, and treat the partner better (Murray & others, 2003). Love helps create its pre­ sumed reality.

Several experiments conducted by Mark Snyder (1984) at the University of Minnesota show how, once formed, erroneous beliefs about the social world can induce others to confirm those beliefs, a phenomenon called behavioral confirmation. In a classic study, Snyder, Elizabeth Tanke, and Ellen Berscheid (1977) had male students talk on the telephone with women they thought (from having been shown a picture) were either attractive or unattractive. Analysis of just the women’s comments during the conversations revealed that the supposedly attractive women spoke more warmly than the supposedly unattract­ ive women. The men’s erroneous beliefs had become a self-fulfilling prophecy by leading them to act in a way that influenced the women to fulfill the men’s stereo­ type that beautiful people are desirable people.

Behavioral confirmation also occurs as people interact with partners holding mistaken beliefs. People who are believed lonely behave less sociably (Rotenberg & others, 2002). People who believe they are accepted and liked (rather than disliked) then behave warmly—and do get accepted and liked (Stinson & others, 2009). Men who are believed sexist behave less favorably toward women (Pinel, 2002). Job interviewees who are believed to be warm behave more warmly.

Imagine yourself as one of the 60 young men or 60 young women in an experi­ ment by Robert Ridge and Jeffrey Reber (2002). Each man is to interview one of the Women to assess her suitability for a teaching assistant position. Before doing so, he IS told either that she feels attracted to him (based on his answers to a biographical questionnaire) or not attracted. (Imagine being told that someone you were about to meet reported considerable interest in getting to know you and in dating you, or none whatsoever.) The result was behavioral confirmation: Applicants believed to feel an attraction exhibited more flirtatiousness (without being aware of doing so). Ridge and Reber believe that this process, like the misattribution phenomenon dis­ cussed previously, may be one of the roots of sexual harassment. If a woman’s behavior seems to confirm a man’s beliefs, he may then escalate his overtures until they become sufficiently overt for the woman to recognize and interpret them as ^appropriate or harassing.

Expectations influence children’s behavior, too. After observing the amount of litter in three classrooms, Richard Miller and colleagues (1975) had the teacher and others repeatedly tell one class that they should be neat and tidy. This persuasion ^creased the amount of litter placed in wastebaskets from 15 to 45 percent, but ®rdy temporarily. Another class, which also had been placing only 15 percent of

Behavioral confirmation. If each of these people feels attracted to the other, but presumes that feeling isn’t reciprocated, they may each act cool to avoid feeling rejected—and decide that the other’s coolness confirms the presumption. Danu Stinson and colleagues (2009) note that such “self-protective inhibition of warmth” dooms some would-be relationships.

behavioral confirmation A type of self-fulfilling prophecy whereby people’s social expectations lead them to behave in ways that cause others to confirm their expectations.













114 Part One Social Thinking

its litter in wastebaskets, was repeatedly congratulated for being so neat and tidy. After 8 days of hearing this, and still 2 weeks later, these children were fulfilling the expectation by putting more than 80 percent of their litter in wastebaskets. Tell children they are hardworking and kind (rather than lazy and mean), and they may live up to their labels.

These experiments help us understand how social beliefs, such as stereotypes about people with disabilities or about people of a particular race or sex, may be self-confirming. How others treat us reflects how we and others have treated them.

SUMMING UP: How Do Our Expectations of Our Social Worlds Matter?

• Our beliefs sometimes take on lives of their own. Usually, our beliefs about others have a basis in reality. But studies of experimenter bias and teacher expectations show that an erroneous belief that cer­ tain people are unusually capable (or incapable) can lead teachers and researchers to give those people special treatment. This may elicit superior

(or inferior) performance and, therefore, seem to confirm an assumption that is actually false.

• Similarly, in everyday life we often get behavioral confirmation of what we expect. Told that someone we are about to meet is intelligent and attractive, we may come away impressed with just how intel­ ligent and attractive he or she is.


View human nature through cognitive social psychology.

Social cognition studies reveal that our information-processing powers are impres­ sive for their efficiency and adaptiveness (“in apprehension how like a god!” exclaimed Shakespeare’s Hamlet). Yet we are also vulnerable to predictable errors and misjudgments (“headpiece filled with straw,” said T. S. Eliot). What practical lessons, and what insights into human nature, can we take home from this research?

We have reviewed reasons why people sometimes form false beliefs. We cannot easily dismiss these experiments: Most of their participants were intelligent people, often students at leading universities. Moreover, people’s intelligence scores are uncorrelated with their vulnerability to many different thinking biases (Stanovich & West, 2008). One can be very smart and exhibit seriously bad judgment.

Trying hard also doesn’t eliminate thinking biases. These predictable distortions and biases occurred even when payment for right answers motivated people to think optimally. As one researcher concluded, the illusions “have a persistent qual­ ity not unlike that of perceptual illusions” (Slovic, 1972).

Research in cognitive social psychology thus mirrors the mixed review given humanity in literature, philosophy, and religion. Many research psychologists have spent lifetimes exploring the awesome capacities of the human mind. We are smart enough to have cracked our own genetic code, to have invented talking computers, and to have sent people to the moon. Three cheers for human reason.

Well, two cheers—because the mind’s premium on efficient judgment makes our intuition more vulnerable to misjudgment than we suspect. With remarkable ease, we form and sustain false beliefs. Led by our preconceptions, feeling over­ confident, persuaded by vivid anecdotes, perceiving correlations and control even

115Social Beliefs and Judgments

where none may exist, we construct our social beliefs and then influence others to confirm them. “The naked intellect,” observed novelist Madeleine L’Engle, “is an extraordinarily inaccurate instrument.”

But have these experiments just been intellectual tricks played on hapless par­ ticipants, thus making them look worse than they are? Richard Nisbett and Lee Ross (1980) contended that, if anything, laboratory procedures overestimate our intuitive powers. The experiments usually present people with clear evidence and warn them that their reasoning ability is being tested. Seldom does real life say to us: “Here is some evidence. Now put on your intellectual Sunday best and answer these questions.”

Often our everyday failings are inconsequential, but not always so. False impres­ sions, interpretations, and beliefs can produce serious consequences. Even small biases can have profound social effects when we are making important social judg­ ments: Why are so many people homeless? Unhappy? Homicidal? Does my friend love me or my money? Cognitive biases even creep into sophisticated scientific thinking. Human nature has hardly changed in the 3000 years since the Old Testa­ ment psalmist noted that “no one can see his own errors.”

Is this too cynical? Leonard Martin and Ralph Erber (2005) invite us to imagine that an intelligent being swooped down and begged for information that would help it understand the human species. When you hand it this social psychology text, the alien says “thank you” and zooms back off into space. How would you feel about having offered social psychology’s analysis of human life? Joachim Krueger and David Funder (2003a, 2003b) wouldn’t feel too good. Social psychology’s pre­ occupation with human foibles needs balancing with “a more positive view of human nature,” they argue.

Fellow social psychologist Lee Jussim (2005, 2012) agrees, adding, “Despite the oft demonstrated existence of a slew of logical flaws and systematic biases in lay judgment and social perception, such as the fundamental attribution error, false consensus, over-reliance on imperfect heuristics, self-serving biases, etc., people’s perceptions of one another are surprisingly (though rarely perfectly) accurate.” The elegant analyses of the imperfections of our thinking are themselves a trib­ ute to human wisdom. Were one to argue that all human thought is illusory, the assertion would be self-refuting, for it, too, would be but an illusion. It would be logically equivalent to contending “All generalizations are false, including this one.”

As medical science assumes that any given body organ serves a function, so behavioral scientists find it useful to assume that our modes of thought and behav­ ior are adaptive. The rules of thought that produce false beliefs and deficient intu­ ition usually serve us well. Frequently, the errors are a by-product of our mental shortcuts that simplify the complex information we receive.

Nobel laureate psychologist Herbert Simon (1957) was among the modem researchers who first described the bounds of human reason. Simon contends that to cope with reality, we simplify it. Consider the complexity of a chess game: The number of possible games is greater than the number of particles in the universe. How do we cope? We adopt some simplifying rules—heuristics. These heuristics sometimes lead us to defeat. But they do enable us to make efficient snap judgments.

Illusory thinking can likewise spring from useful heuristics that aid our survival. In many ways, heuristics do make us smart (Gigerenzer & Gaissmaier, 2011). The belief in our power to control events helps maintain hope and effort. If things are sometimes subject to control and sometimes not, we maximize our outcomes by positive thinking. Optimism pays dividends. We might even say that our beliefs are like scientific theories—sometimes in error yet useful as generalizations. As social psychologist Susan Fiske (1992) says, “Thinking is for doing.”

Might we reduce errors in our social thinking? In school, math teachers teach, teach, teach until the mind is finally trained to process numerical information accu­ rately and automatically. We assume that such ability does not come naturally;

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116 Part One Social Thinking













otherwise, why bother with the years of training? Research psychologist Robyn Dawes (1980a, 1980b)—who was dismayed that “study after study has shown [that] people have very limited abilities to process information on a conscious level, par­ ticularly social information”—suggested that we should also teach, teach, teach how to process social information.

Richard Nisbett and Lee Ross (1980) have agreed that education could indeed reduce our vulnerability to certain types of error. They offer the following recommendations:

• Train people to recognize likely sources of error in their own social intuition. • Set up statistics courses geared to everyday problems of logic and social

judgment. Given such training, people do in fact reason better about every­ day events (Lehman & others, 1988; Nisbett & others, 1987).

• Make such teaching more effective by illustrating it richly with concrete, vivid anecdotes and examples from everyday life.

• Teach memorable and useful slogans, such as “It’s an empirical question,” “Which hat did you draw that sample out of?” or “You can lie with statistics, but a well-chosen example does the job better.”

SUMMING UP: What Can We Conclude About Social Beliefs and Judgments?

Research on social beliefs and judgments reveals how psychology will therefore appreciate both the powers we form and sustain beliefs that usually serve us and the perils of social thinking, well but sometimes lead us astray. A balanced social





DUCK, 1884

POSTSCRIPT: Reflecting on Illusory Thinking Is research on pride and error too humbling? Surely we can acknowledge the hard truth of our human limits and still sympathize with the deeper message that people are more than machines. Our subjective experiences are the stuff of our humanity— our art and our music, our enjoyment of friendship and love, our mystical and reli­ gious experiences.

The cognitive and social psychologists who explore illusory thinking are not out to remake us into unfeeling logical machines. They know that emotions enrich human experience and that intuitions are an important source of creative ideas. They add, however, the humbling reminder that our susceptibility to error also makes clear the need for disciplined training of the mind. The American writer Norman Cousins (1978) called this “the biggest truth of all about learning: that its purpose is to unlock the human mind and to develop it into an organ capable of thought—conceptual thought, analytical thought, sequential thought.”

Research on error and illusion in social judgment reminds us to “judge not”—to remember, with a dash of humility, our potential for misjudgment. It also encour­ ages us not to feel intimidated by the arrogance of those who cannot see their own potential for bias and error. We humans are wonderfully intelligent yet fallible creatures. We have dignity but not deity.

Social Beliefs and Judgments Chapter 3 117

Such humility and distrust of human authority is at the heart of both religion and science. No wonder many of the founders of modem science were religious people whose convictions predisposed them to be humble before nature and skeptical of human authority (Hooykaas, 1972; Merton, 1938). Science always involves an inter­ play between intuition and rigorous test, between creative hunch and skepticism. To sift reality from illusion requires both open-minded curiosity and hard-headed rigor. This perspective could prove to be a good attitude for approaching all of life: to be critical but not cynical, curious but not gullible, open but not exploitable.

“The ancestor of every action is a thought.” ………………………………… —Ralph .Waldo Emerson, .Essays, f/rs.t Series, .184.1.

How well do our attitudes predict our behavior?

When does our behavior affect our attitudes?

Why does our behavior affect our attitudes?

Postscript: Changing ourselves through action

What is the relationship between what we are (on the inside) and what we do (on the outside)? Philosophers, theologians, and educators speculate about the connections between attitude

and action, character and conduct, and private word and public deed.

Underlying most teaching, counseling, and child rearing is an assump­

tion: Our private beliefs and feelings determine our public behav­

ior; so if we want to change behavior, we must first change hearts

and minds.

In the beginning, social psychologists agreed; To know people’s

attitudes is to predict their actions. As demonstrated by genocidal kill­

ers and by suicide terrorists, extreme attitudes can produce extreme

behavior. Countries whose people detest another country’s lead­

ers are more likely to produce terrorist acts against them (Krueger &

Maleckova, 2(X)9). Hateful attitudes spawn violent behavior.

But in 1964, Leon Festinger concluded that the evidence showed

that changing people’s attitudes hardly affects their behavior.

Festinger believed the attitude-behavior relation works the other way

around. As Robert Abelson (1972) put it, we are “very well trained and

very good at finding reasons for what we do, but not very good at

doing what we find reasons for.” This chapter explores the interplay of

attitudes and behavior.

120 Part One Social Thinking

attitude A favorable or unfavorable evaluative reaction toward something or someone (often rooted in one’s beliefs, and exhibited in one’s feelings and intended behavior).



—BUDDHA, 563 B.C.-483 B.C,





GRAY, 1926

FIGURE:: 4.1 The ABCs of Attitudes

When social psychologists talk about someone’s attitude, they refer to beliefs and

feelings related to a person or an event and the resulting behavior tendency. Taken

together, favorable or unfavorable evaluative reactions toward something—often

rooted in beliefs and exhibited in feelings and inclinations to act—define a person’s

attitude {Eagly & Chaiken, 2(X)5). Thus, a person may have a negative attitude toward

coffee, a neutral attitude toward the French, and a positive attitude toward the next-

door neighbor.

Attitudes efficiently size up the world. When we have to respond quickly to some­

thing, the way we feel about it can guide how we react. For example, a person who

believes a particular ethnic group is lazy and aggressive may feel dislike for such peo­

ple and therefore intend to act in a discriminatory manner. You can remember these

three dimensions as the ABCs of attitudes; Affect (feelings), Behavior tendency, and

Cognition (thoughts) (Figure 4.1).

The study of attitudes is central to social psychology and was one of its first con­

cerns. For much of the last century, researchers wondered how much our attitudes

affect our actions.


State the extent to which, and under what conditions, our inner attitudes drive our outward actions.

A blow to the supposed power of attitudes came when social psychologist Allan Wicker (1969) reviewed several dozen research studies covering a variety of people, attitudes, and behaviors. Wicker offered a shocking conclusion: People’^s expressed attitudes hardly predicted their varying behaviors.

• Student attitudes toward cheating bore little relation to the likelihood of their actually cheating.

• Attitudes toward the church were only modestly linked with worship atten­ dance on any given Sunday.

• Self-described racial attitudes provided little clue to behaviors in actual situa­ tions. Many people say they express being upset with someone making racist


remarks; yet, when they hear racism (such as someone using the N-word) respond indifferently (Kawakami & others, 2009).

The disjuncture between attitudes and actions is what Daniel Batson and his colleagues (1997, 2001, 2002; Valdesolo & DeSteno, 2007, 2008) call “moral hypocrisy” (appearing moral while avoiding the costs of being so). Their studies presented people with

Behavior and Attitudes Chapter 4 121

an appealing task with a possible $30 prize and a dull task with no rewards. The participants had to assign themselves to one of the tasks and a supposed second participant to the other. Only 1 in 20 believed that assigning the positive task to themselves was the more moral thing to do, yet 80 percent did so. In follow-up experiments, participants were given coins they could flip pri­ vately if they wanted. Even if they chose to flip, 90 percent assigned themselves to the positive task! (Was that because they could specify the consequences of heads and tails after the coin toss?) In another experiment, Batson put a sticker on each side of the coin, indicating what the flip outcome would signify. Still, 24 of 28 people who made the toss assigned themselves to the posi­ tive task. When morality and greed were put on a collision course, greed usually won.

If people don’t walk the same line that they talk, it’s little wonder that attempts to change behavior by changing attitudes often fail. Warnings about the dangers of smoking affect only minimally those who already smoke. Increasing public aware­ ness of the desensitizing and brutalizing effects of television violence has stimu­ lated many people to voice a desire for less violent programming—yet they still watch media murder as much as ever. Sex education programs have often influ­ enced attitudes toward abstinence and condom use without affecting long-term abstinence and condom use behaviors. We are, it seems, a population of hypocrites.

All in all, the developing picture of what controls behavior emphasized external social influences, such as others’ behavior and expectations, and played down inter­ nal factors, such as attitudes and personality. Thus, the original thesis that attitudes determine actions was countered during the 1960s by the antithesis that atti­ tudes determine virtually nothing.

Thesis. Antithesis. Is there a synthesis? The surprising finding that what people say often differs from what they do sent social psychologists scurrying to find out why. Surely, we reasoned, convictions and feelings sometimes make a difference.

Indeed. In fact, what I am about to explain now seems so obvious that I wonder why most social psychologists (myself included) were not thinking this way before the early 1970s. I must remind myself, however, that truth seldom seems obvious until it is known.

Attitudes and behavior misaligned. After former U.S. congressman Mark Souder and staff member Tracey Jackson together recorded a pro-abstinence video, news broke that the two had been having an affair outside of their own marriages. “You’ll go crazy If you don’t have some sense of irony,” the family values advocate told a local newspaper (Elliott 2010).







When Attitudes Predict Behavior The reason—now obvious—why our behavior and our expressed attitudes differ is that both are subject to other influences. Many other influences. One social psy­ chologist counted 40 factors that complicate their relationship (Triandis, 1982; see also Kraus, 1995). Our attitudes do predict our behavior when these other influences on ivhat we say and do are minimal, when the attitude is specific to the behavior, and when the attitude is potent.

WHEN SOCIAL INFLUENCES ON WHAT WE SAY ARE MINIMAL Unlike a physician measuring heart rate, social psychologists never get a direct reading on attitudes. Rather, we measure expressed attitudes. Like other behaviors, expressions are subject to outside influences. Sometimes, for example, we say what we think oth­ ers want to hear. In late 2002, many U.S. legislators, sensing their country’s post-9/11 fear, anger, and patriotic fervor, publicly voted to support President Bush’s planned War against Iraq while privately having reservations (Nagourney, 2002). On the roll- call vote, strong social influence—fear of criticism—had distorted the true sentiments.

122 Part One Social Thinking

THE inside STORY Mahzarin R. Banaji on Discovering Experimental Social Psychology

Graduating from high school in India at age 15,1 had but a single goal—to leave my well-adjusted and secure fam­ ily to live the patently more daring and exciting life of a secretarial assistant. Proficient at typing scores of words a minute, I looked forward to a life of independence that involved living a block away from my parents. My mother, despite not having attended college, persuaded me to try college—but only for a semester, we agreed, after which I would be free to choose my path.

The end of my first semester at Nizam College came and went. Mother didn’t ask about my plans. I didn’t have to swallow and tell. Just before one holiday trip home, I bought the five volumes of the 1968 Handbook of Social Psycho/ogy for the equivalent of a dollar apiece (it seemed like a lot of book for the money). By the end of a 24-hour train ride home, I had polished off one vol­ ume and knew with blunt clarity that this science, which studied social processes experimentally, was something I had to do.

Doctoral and postdoctoral fellowships enabled me to work with three remarkable people early in my career: Tony Greenwald at Ohio State, and Claude Steele and Elizabeth Loftus at the University of Washington. At Yale, while still interested in human memory researchers, I dis­ covered that memories come in both explicit (conscious)

and implicit (unconscious) forms. Might this also be true of attitudes, beliefs, and values? Hesitantly, I wrote the words “Implicit Attitudes” as the title of a grant proposal, not knowing it would become such a central part of what my students and I would study for the next two decades.

With Tony Greenwald and Brian Nosek, I have enjoyed an extended collaboration on implicit social cognition that few scientists are blessed with. From the hundreds of studies that have used the Implicit Association Test ( and the millions of tests taken, we now know that people carry knowledge (stereotypes) and feelings (attitudes) of which they are unaware, and which often contrast with their conscious expressions. We know that subcortical brain activity can be an inde­ pendent marker of implicit atti­ tudes, that people differ in their implicit attitudes, and that such attitudes and stereotypes pre­ dict real-life behavior. Most opti­ mistically, we know that implicit attitudes, even old ones, can be modified by experience.

Mahzarin Banaji

Harvard University

implicit association test (lAT) A computer-driven assessment of implicit attitudes. The test uses reaction times to measure people’s automatic associations between attitude objects and evaluative words. Easier pairings (and faster responses)are taken to indicate stronger unconscious associations.

Today’s social psychologists have some clever means at their disposal for mini­ mizing social influences on people’s attitude reports. Some of these complement traditional self-report measures of explicit (conscious) attitudes with measures of implicit (unconscious) attitudes. One such test measures facial muscle responses to various statements (Cacioppo & Petty, 1981). Those measurements, the researchers hope, can reveal enough of a microsmile or a microfrown to indicate the partici­ pant’s attitude about a given statement.

A newer and widely used attitude measure, the implicit association lest (lAT), uses reaction times to measure how quickly people associate concepts (Greenwald & others, 2002, 2003). One can, for example, measure implicit racial attitudes by assessing whether White people take longer to associate positive words with Black faces than with White faces. Implicit attitude researchers have offered various lAT assessments online ( The some 5 million completed tests since 1998 have, they report, shown that

• Implicit biases are pervasive. For example, 80 percent of people show more implicit negativity toward the elderly compared with the young.

• People differ in implicit bias. Depending on their group memberships, their conscious attitudes, and the bias in their immediate environment, some people exhibit more implicit bias than others.

123Behavior and Attitudes

• People are often unaware of their implicit biases. Despite thinking themselves unprejudiced, even the researchers exhibit some implicit biases (negative associations with various social groups).

Do implicit biases predict behavior? A review of the available research (now over 200 investigations) reveals that both explicit (self-report) and implicit attitudes help predict people’s behaviors and judgments (Greenwald & others, 2008; Nosek & others, 2011). Thus, explicit and implicit attitudes may together predict behav­ ior better than either alone (Spence & Townsend, 2007). The behavior predictions range from dental flossing to the fate of romantic relationships to suicide attempts (Lee & others, 2010; Millar, 2011; Nock & others, 2010). In one study, hiring manag­ ers received job applications that were matched on credential strength, but with one, the applicants’ photos were digitally altered to make them appear obese. Sev­ eral months later, when 153 of the managers completed an lAAT, their automatic anti-obesity bias score predicted which applicants they had invited for interviews (Agerstrom & Rooth, 2011).

For attitudes formed early in life—such as racial and gender attitudes— implicit and explicit attitudes frequently diverge, with implicit attitudes often being the bet­ ter predictor of behavior. For example, implicit racial attitudes have successfully predicted interracial roommate relationships (Towles-Schwen & Fazio, 2006). For other attitudes, such as those related to consumer behavior and support for politi­ cal candidates, explicit self-reports are the better predictor. (See “The Inside Story: Mahzarin R. Banaji on Discovering Experimental Social Psychology.”)

Recent neuroscience studies have identified brain centers that produce our auto­ matic, implicit reactions (Stanley & others, 2008). One area deep in the brain (the amygdala, a center for threat perception) is active as we automatically evaluate social stimuli. For example. White people who show strong unconscious racial bias on the lAT also exhibit high amygdala activation when viewing unfamiliar Black faces rather than White faces. Other frontal lobe areas are involved in detecting and regulating implicit attitudes.

A word of caution: Despite much excitement over these recent studies of implicit attitudes hiding in the mind’s basement, the implicit associations test has detractors (Arkes & Tetlock, 2004; Blanton & others, 2006, 2007, 2009). They note that, unlike an aptitude test, the lAT is not reliable enough for use in assessing and comparing individuals. Moreover, a score that suggests some relative bias doesn’t distinguish a positive bias for one group (or greater familiarity with one group) from a negative bias against another. The critics also wonder whether compassion and guilt rather than latent hostility might slow one’s speed in associating Blacks with positive words. Regardless, the existence of distinct explicit and implicit attitudes confirms one of twenty-first-century psychology’s biggest lessons: our “dual processing” capacity for both controlled (deliberate, conscious, explicit) and automatic (effortless, habitual, implicit) thinking.

WHEN OTHER INFLUENCES ON BEHAVIOR ARE MINIMAL On any occasion, it’s not only our inner attitudes that guide us but also the situ­ ation we face. As Chapters 5 to 8 will illustrate again and again, social influences can be enormous—enormous enough to induce people to violate their deepest con­ victions. So, would averaging many occasions enable us to detect more clearly the impact of our attitudes? Predicting people’s behavior is like predicting a baseball or cricket player’s hitting. ‘The outcome of any particular turn at bat is nearly impos­ sible to predict. But when we aggregate many times at bat, we can compare their approximate batting averages.

To use a research example, people’s general attitude toward religion poorly pre­ dicts whether they will go to worship services during the coming week (because attendance is also influenced by the weather, the worship leader, how one is feel­ ing, and so forth). But religious attitudes predict quite well the total quantity of

Chapter 4







SPEECH, 2008







MYSELF^ 1855

124 Part One Social Thinking

religious behaviors over time (Fishbein & Ajzen, 1974; Kahle & Berman, 1979). The findings define a principle of aggregation: The effects of an attitude become more apparent when we look at a person’s aggregate or average behavior than when we consider isolated acts.

WHEN ATTITUDES SPECIFIC TO THE BEHAVIOR ARE EXAMINED Other conditions further improve the predictive accuracy of attitudes. As Icek Ajzen and Martin Fishbein (1977, 2005) point out, when the measured attitude is a general one—for instance, an attitude toward Asians—and the behavior is very specific—for instance, a decision whether to help a particular Asian in a particular situation—we should not expect a close correspondence between words and actions. Indeed, report Fishbein and Ajzen, in 26 out of 27 such research studies, attitudes did not predict behavior. But attitudes did predict behavior in all 26 studies they could find in which the measured attitude was directly pertinent to the situation. Thus, attitudes toward the general concept of “health fitness” poorly predict specific exercise and dietary practices, but an individual’s attitudes about the costs and benefits of jogging are a fairly strong predictor of whether he or she jogs regularly.

Better yet for predicting behavior, says Ajzen in his and Fishbein’s “theory of planned behavior,” is knowing people’s intended behaviors and their perceived self- efficacy and control (Figure 4.2). Moreover, four dozen experimental tests confirm that inducing new intentions induces new behavior (Webb & Sheeran, 2006). Even asking people about their intentions to engage in a behavior increases its likelihood (Levav & Fitzsimons, 2006). Ask people if they intend to floss their teeth in the next two weeks or to vote in an upcoming election; they will become more likely to do so.

Further studies—more than 700 studies with 276,000 participants—confirmed that specific, relevant attitudes do predict intended and actual behavior (Armitage & Conner, 2001; Six & Eckes, 1996; Wallace & others, 2005). For example, attitudes toward condoms strongly predict condom use (Albarracin & others, 2001). And attitudes toward recycling (but not general attitudes toward environmental issues) predict intention to recycle, which predicts actual recycling (Nigbur & others, 2010; Oskamp, 1991). To change habits through persuasion, we must alter people’s atti­ tudes toward specific practices.

Attitude toward the behavior

“I could easily do this.”

Behavior intention

“I’m going to start next week.”

FIGURE:: 4.2 The Theory of Planned Behavior Icek Ajzen, working with Martin Fishbein, has shown that one’s (a) attitudes, (b) perceived social norms, and |c) feelings of control together determine one’s intentions, which guide behavior. Compared with their general attitudes toward a healthy lifestyle, people’s specific attitudes regarding jogging predict their jogging behavior much better.

125Behavior and Attitudes

So far we have seen two conditions under which attitudes will predict behavior: (1) when we minimize other influences upon our attitude statements and on our behavior, and (2) when the attitude is specifically relevant to the observed behav­ ior. A third condition exists: An attitude predicts behavior better when the attitude is potent.

WHEN ATTITUDES ARE POTENT Much of our behavior is automatic. We act out familiar scripts without reflecting on what we’re doing. We respond to people we meet in the hall with an automatic “Hi.” We answer the restaurant cashier’s question “How was your meal?” by say­ ing, “Fine,” even if we found it tasteless.

Such mindlessness is adaptive. It frees our minds to work on other things. For habitual behaviors—seat belt use, coffee consumption, class attendance—conscious intentions hardly are activated (Ouellette & Wood, 1998). As the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead (1911, p. 61) argued, “Civilization advances by extending the number of operations which we can perform without thinking about them.”

BRINGING ATTITUDES TO MIND If we were prompted to think about our attitudes before acting, would we be truer to ourselves? Mark Snyder and William Swann (1976) wanted to find out. Two weeks after 120 of their University of Minne­ sota students indicated their attitudes toward affirmative-action employment poli­ cies, Snyder and Swann invited them to act as jurors in a sex-discrimination court case. The participants’ attitudes predicted verdicts only for those who were first induced to remember their attitudes—by giving them “a few minutes to organize your thoughts and views on the affirmative-action issue.” Our attitudes become potent if we think about them.

Self-conscious people usually are in touch with their attitudes (Miller & Crush, 1986). That suggests another way to induce people to focus on their inner convic­ tions: Make them self-aware, perhaps by having them act in front of a mirror (Carver 6 Scheier, 1981). Maybe you, too, can recall suddenly being acutely aware of your­ self upon entering a room with a large mirror. Making people self-aware in this way promotes consistency between words and deeds (Froming & others, 1982; Gibbons, 1978).

Edward Diener and Mark Wallbom (1976) noted that nearly all college students say that cheating is morally wrong. But will they follow the advice of Shakespeare’s Polonius, “To thine own self be true”? Diener and Wallbom set University of Wash­ ington students to work on an anagram-solving task (which, they were told, was to predict IQ) and told them to stop when a bell in the room sounded. Left alone, 71 percent cheated by working past the bell. Among students made self-aware—by working in front of a mirror while hearing their own tape-recorded voices—only 7 percent cheated. It makes one wonder: Would eye-level mirrors in stores make people more self-conscious of their attitudes about stealing?

Remember Batson’s studies of moral hypocrisy described on pages 120-121? In a later experiment, Batson and his colleagues (2002) found that mirrors did bring behavior into line with espoused moral attitudes. When people flipped a coin while facing a mirror, the coin flip became scrupulously fair. Exactly half of the self-conscious participants assigned the other person to the positive task.

forging STRONG ATTITUDES THROUGH EXPERIENCE The attitudes that best predict behavior are accessible (easily brought to mind) as well as stable (Glasman & Albarracin, 2006). And when attitudes are forged by experience, not just by hearsay, they are more accessible, more enduring, and more likely to guide actions. In one study, university students all expressed negative attitudes about their school’s response to a housing shortage. But given opportunities to act—to sign a petition, solicit signatures, join a committee, or write a letter—only those whose attitudes grew from direct experience acted (Regan & Fazio, 1977).

Chapter 4
















MAXIMS, 1665

126 Part One Social Thinking

SUMMING UP: How Well Do Our Attitudes Predict Our Behavior?

• How do our inner attitudes (evaluative reactions toward some object or person, often rooted in beliefs) relate to our external behavior? Although popular wisdom stresses the impact of attitudes on behavior, in fact, attitudes are often poor pre­ dictors of behaviors. Moreover, changing people’s attitudes typically fails to produce much change in their behavior. TTiese findings inspired social psy­ chologists to find out why we so often fail to play the game we talk.

• The answer: Our expressions of attitudes and our behaviors are each subject to many influences. Our attitudes will predict our behavior (1) if these “other influences” are minimized, (2) if the atti­ tude corresponds very closely to the predicted behavior (as in voting studies), and (3) if the atti­ tude is potent (because something reminds us of it, or because we acquired it by direct experience). Under these conditions, what we think and feel predicts what we do.


Summarize evidence that we can act ourselves into a way of thinking.

If social psychology has taught us anything during the past 25 years, it is that we can tok ourselves into a way of acting. Now we turn to a more startling idea* that behavior determines attitudes. It’s true that we sometimes stand up for wLt we e leve But it s also true that we come to believe in what we stand up for. Social-

psychological theories inspired much of the research that underlies that conclusion Instead of begmnmg with these theories, however, let’s first see what there is to explam. As we engage evidence that behavior affects attitudes, speculate why this is and then compare your ideas with social psychologists’ explanations.

Consider the following incidents:

• Sarah is hypnotized and told to take off her shoes when a book drops on me floor. Fifteen minutes later a book drops, and Sarah quietly slips out of her loafers. Sarah, asks the hypnotist, “why did you take off your shoes?”

WeU … my feet are hot and tired/’ Sarah replies. “It has been a long day ” 1 he act produces the idea.

• George has electrodes temporarily implanted in the brain region that controls his head movements. When neurosurgeon Jose Delgado (1973) stimulates the electrodes by remote control, George always turns his head Unaware of the remote stimulation, he offers a reasonable explanation for his head turning: “I’m looking for my slipper.” “I heard a noise.” “I’m rest- less. I was looking under the bed.”

• Orol’s severe seizures were relieved by surgically separating her two brain fioTci o T®’ psychologist Michael Gazzaniga (1985) flashes a picture of a nude woman to the left half of Carol’s field of vision, which projects to her nonverbal right brain hemisphere. A sheep­ ish smile spreads over her face, and she begins chuckling. Asked why, she invents—and apparently believes—a plausible explanation: “Oh—thal funny machine. Frank, another split-brain patient, has the word “smile” flashed to his nonverbal right hemisphere. He obliges and forces a smile. Asked why he explains, “This experiment is very funny.” ^’

Behavior and Attitudes Chapter 4 127

The mental aftereffects of our behavior also appear in many social-psychological examples of self-persuasion. As we will see over and over, attitudes follow behavior.

Role Playing The word role is borrowed from the theater and, as in the theater, refers to actions expected of those who occupy a particular social position. When enacting new social roles, we may at first feel phony. But our unease seldom lasts.

Think of a time when you stepped into some new role—perhaps your first days on a job or at college. That first week on campus, for example, you may have been supersensitive to your new social situation and tried valiantly to act mature and to suppress your high school behavior. At such times you may have felt self-conscious. You observed your new speech and actions because they weren’t natural to you. Then one day something amazing happened: Your pseudo­ intellectual talk no longer felt forced. The role began to fit as comfortably as your old jeans and T-shirt.

In one famous study, college men volunteered to spend time in a simulated prison constructed in Stanford’s psychology department by Philip Zimbardo (1971; Haney & Zimbardo, 1998, 2009). Zimbardo wanted to find out: Is prison brutal­ ity a product of evil prisoners and malicious guards? Or do the institutional roles of guard and prisoner embitter and harden even compassionate people? Do the people make the place violent? Or does the place make the people violent?

By a flip of a coin, Zimbardo designated some students as guards. He gave them uniforms, billy clubs, and whistles and instructed them to enforce the rules. The other half, the prisoners, were locked in cells and made to wear humiliat­ ing hospital-gown-like outfits. After a jovial first day of “playing” their roles, the guards and the prisoners, and even the experimenters, got caught up in the situ­ ation. The guards began to disparage the prisoners, and some devised cruel and degrading routines. The prisoners broke down, rebelled, or became apathetic. There developed, reported Zimbardo (1972), a “growing confusion between reality and illusion, between role-playing and self- identity. … This prison which we had created … was absorb­ ing us as creatures of its own reality.” Observing the emerging social pathology, Zimbardo was forced to call off the planned two-week simulation after only six days.

The point is not that we are powerless to resist imposed roles. In Zimbardo’s prison simulation, in Abu Ghraib Prison (where guards degraded Iraq war prisoners), and in other atrocity-producing situations, some people become sadistic and others do not (Haslam & Reicher, 2007; Mastroianni & Reed, 2006; Zimbardo, 2007). In water, salt dissolves and sand does not. So also, notes John Johnson (2007), when placed in a rotten barrel, some people become bad apples and others do not. Behavior is a product of both the individual person and the situation, and the prison study appears to have attracted volunteers who were prone to aggressiveness (McFarland & Carnahan, 2009).

The deeper lesson of the role-playing studies is not that we are powerless machines. Rather, it concerns how what is unreal (an artificial role) can subtly morph into what is real. In a new career—as teacher, soldier, or businessperson, for example— we enact a role that shapes our attitudes.

Imagine playing the role of slave—not just for six days but for decades. If a few days altered the behavior of those in Zimbardo’s “prison,” imagine the corrosive effects of decades of subservient behavior. The master may be even more

role A set of norms that defines how people in a given social position ought to behave.









Guards and prisoners in the Stanford prison simulation quickly absorbed the roles they played.

128 Part One Social Thinking

Afterthe Abu Ghraib deg­ radation of Iraqi prisoners, Philip Zimbardo (2004a, 2004b) noted “direct and sad parallels between similar behavior of the ‘guards’ in the Stanford Prison Experi­ ment.” Such behavior, he contends, is attributable to a toxic situation that can make good people into perpetrators of evil. “It’s not that we put bad apples in a good barrel. We put good apples in a bad barrel. The barrel corrupts anything that it touches.”

profoundly affected, because the master’s role is chosen. Frederick Douglass, a for­ mer slave, recalls his new owner’s transformation as she absorbed her role:

My new mistress proved to be all she appeared when I first met her at the door— a woman of the kindest heart and finest feelings…. I was utterly astonished at her goodness. I scarcely knew how to behave towards her. She was entirely unlike any other white woman I had ever seen…. The meanest slave was put fully at ease in her presence, and none left without feeling better for having seen her. Her face was made of heavenly smiles, and her voice of tranquil music. But, alas! this kind heart had but a short time to remain such. The fatal poison of irresponsible power was already in her hands, and soon commenced its infernal work. That cheerful eye, under the influence of slavery, soon became red with rage; that voice, made all of sweet accord, changed to one of harsh and horrid discord; and that angelic face gave place to that of a demon. (Douglass, 1845, pp. 57-58)

Saying Becomes Believing People often adapt what they say to please their listeners. They are quicker to tell people good news than bad, and they adjust their message toward their listener’s position (Manis & others, 1974; Tesser & others, 1972; Tetlock, 1983). When induced to give spoken or written support to something they doubt, people will often feel bad about their deceit. Nevertheless, they begin to believe what they are saying—provided they weren’t bribed or coerced into doing so. When there is no compelling external explanation for one’s words, saying becomes believing (Klaas, 1978).

Tory Higgins and his colleagues (Higgins & McCann, 1984; Higgins & Rholes, 1978) illustrated how saying becomes believing. They had university students read a person­ ality description of someone and then summarize it for someone else, who was believed either to like or to dislike that person. The students wrote a more positive description when the recipient liked the person. Having said positive things, they also then liked the person more themselves. Asked to recall what they had read, they remembered the description as more positive than it was. In short, people tend to adjust their messages to their listeners, and, having done so, to believe the altered message.

The Foot-in-the-Door Phenomenon Most of us can recall times when, after agreeing to help out with a project or an organization, we ended up more involved than we ever intended, vowing that in the future we would say no to such requests. How does this happen?

Behavior and Attitudes Chapter 4 129

focus Saying Becomes Believing

University of Oregon psychologist Ray Hyman (1981) described how acting the role of a palm reader con­ vinced him that palmistry worked.

I started reading palms when I was in my teens as a way to supplement my income from doing magic and mental shows. When I started I did not believe in palmistry. But I knew that to “sell” it I had to act as if I did. After a few years I became a firm believer in palmistry. One day the late Stanley Jaks, who

was a professional mentalist and a man I respected, tactfully suggested that it would make an inter­ esting experiment if I deliberately gave readings opposite to what the lines indicated. I tried this out with a few clients. To my surprise and horror my readings were just as successful as ever. Ever since then I have been interested in the powerful forces that convince us, Ipalm] reader and client alike, that something is so when it really isn’t, (p. 86)

In keeping with the “attitude follows behavior” prin­ ciple, experiments suggest that if you want people to do a big favor for you, an effective strategy is to get them to do a small favor first. In the best-known demonstration of this foot-in-the-door phenomenon, researchers posing as drive- safely volunteers asked Californians to permit the instal­ lation of huge, poorly lettered “Drive Carefully” signs in their front yards. Only 17 percent consented. Others were first approached with a small request: Would they display three-inch “Be a safe driver” window signs? Nearly all read­ ily agreed. When approached two weeks later to allow the large, ugly signs in their front yards, 76 percent consented (Freedman & Fraser, 1966). One project helper who went from house to house later recalled that, not knowing who had been previously visited, “I was simply stunned at how easy it was to convince some people and how impossible to convince others” (Omstein, 1991).

Other researchers have confirmed the foot-in-the-door phenomenon with altruistic behaviors.

“OooJ QoJ! He ‘s giving the white-collar voter’s speech to the Hue collars. ”

• Patricia Pliner and her collaborators (1974) found 46 percent of Toronto suburbanites were willing to give to the Canadian Cancer Society when approached directly. Others, asked a day ahead to wear a lapel pin publicizing the drive (which all agreed to do), were nearly twice as likely to donate.

• Angela Lipsitz and others (1989) report that ending blood-drive reminder calls with, “We’ll count on seeing you then, OK? [pause for response]” increased the show-up rate from 62 to 81 percent.

• In Internet chat rooms, Paul Markey and his colleagues (2002) requested help (“I can’t get my e-mail to work. Is there any way 1 can get you to send me an e-mail?”). Help increased—from 2 to 16 percent—by including a smaller prior request (“I am new to this whole computer thing. Is there any way you can tell me how to look at someone’s profile?”).

• Nicolas Gueguen and Celine Jacob (2001) tripled the rate of French Internet users contributing to child land-mine victims organizations (from 1.6 to 4.9 percent) by first inviting them to sign a petition against land mines.

Saying becomes believing: In expressing our thoughts to

others, we sometimes tailor our words to what we think

the others will want to hear, and then come to believe our

own words. © Joseph Farris/The New Yorker

Collection/www canoonbank com

foot-in-the-door phenomenon The tendency for people who have first agreed to a small request to comply later with a larger request.

130 Part One Social Thinking

The foot-in-the-door phenomenon. Blondie © 1994 King Features Syndicate.






lowball technique

A tactic for getting people to agree to something. People who agree to an initial request will often still comply when the requester ups the ante. People who receive only the costly request are less likely to comply with it.

Note that in these experiments, as in many of the 100+ other foot-in-the-door exper­ iments, the initial compliance—wearing a lapel pin, stating one’s intention, signing a petition was voluntary (Burger & Guadagno, 2003). We will see again and again that when people commit themselves to public behaviors and perceive those acts to be their own doing, they come to believe more strongly in what they have done.

Social psychologist Robert Cialdini is a self-described “patsy.” “For as long as I can recall, I’ve been an easy mark for the pitches of peddlers, fund-raisers, and operators of one sort or another.” To better understand why one person says yes to another, he spent three years as a trainee in various sales, fund-raising, and adver­ tising organizations, discovering how they exploit “the weapons of influence.” He also put those weapons to the test in simple experiments. In one, Cialdini and his collaborators (1978) explored a variation of the foot-in-the-door phenomenon by experimenting with the lowball technique. After the customer agrees to buy a new car because of its bargain price and begins completing the sales forms, the salesper­ son removes the price advantage by charging for options or by checking with a boss who disallows the deal because “we’d be losing money.” Folklore has it that more lowballed customers now stick with the higher-priced purchase than would have agreed to it at the outset. Airlines and hotels use the tactic by attracting inquiries with great deals available on only a few seats or rooms; then, when those aren’t available, they hope the customer will agree to a higher-priced option.

Cialdini and his collaborators found that this technique indeed works. When they invited introductory psychology students to participate in an experiment at 7:00 a.m., only 24 percent showed up. But if the students first agreed to participate without knowing the time and only then were asked to participate at 7:00 a.m., 53 percent came.

Marketing researchers and salespeople have found that the principle works even when we are aware of a profit motive (Cialdini, 1988). A harmless initial commitment—returning a postcard for more information and a “free gift,” agreeing to listen to an investment possibility—often moves us toward a larger commitment. Because salespeople sometimes exploited the power of those small commitments by trying to bind people to purchase agreements, many states now have laws that allow customers a few days to think over their purchases and cancel. To counter the effect of these laws, many companies use what the sales-training program of one company calls a very important psychological aid in preventing customers from backing out of their contracts” (Cialdini, 1988, p. 78). They simply have the cus­ tomer, rather than the salesperson, fill out the agreement. Having written it them­ selves, people usually live up to their commitment.

The foot-in-the-door phenomenon is a lesson worth remembering. Someone try­ ing to seduce us—financially, politically, or sexually—will often use this technique to create a momentum of compliance. The practical lesson; Before agreeing to a small request, think about what may follow.

Behavior and Attitudes Chapter 4 131

The lowball technique. The Born Loser © Newspaper Enterprise Association.



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Evil and Moral Acts The attitudes-follow-behavior principle works with immoral acts as well. Evil sometimes results from gradually escalating commitments. A trifling evil act can whittle down one’s moral sensitivity, making it easier to perform a worse act. To paraphrase La Rochefoucauld’s 1665 book of Maxims, it is not as difficult to find a person who has never succumbed to a given temptation as to find a person who has succumbed only once. After telling a “white lie” and thinking, “Well, that wasn’t so bad,” the person may go on to tell a bigger lie.

Another way in which evil acts influence attitudes is the paradoxical fact that we tend not only to hurt those we dislike but also to dislike those we hurt. Sev­ eral studies (Berscheid & others, 1968; Davis & Jones, 1960; Glass, 1964) found that harming an innocent victim—by uttering hurtful comments or delivering electric shocks—typically leads aggressors to disparage their victims, thus helping them justify their cruel behavior. This is especially so when we are coaxed into it, not coerced. When we agree to a deed voluntarily, we take more responsibility for it.

The phenomenon appears in wartime. Prisoner-of-war camp guards would some­ times display good manners to captives in their first days on the job, but not for long. Soldiers ordered to kill may initially react with revulsion to the point of sickness over their act. But not for long (Waller, 2002). Before long, they will denigrate their enemies with nicknames. People tend to dehumanize their enemies and humanize their pets.

Attitudes also follow behavior in peacetime. A group that holds another in slavery will likely come to perceive the slaves as having traits that justify their oppression. Prison staff who participate in executions experience “moral disen­ gagement” by coming to believe (more strongly than do other prison staff) that their victims deserve their fate (Osofsky & others, 2005). Actions and attitudes feed each other, sometimes to the point of moral numbness. The more one harms another and adjusts one’s attitudes, the easier it becomes to do harm. Conscience is corroded.

To simulate the “killing begets kill­ ing” process, Andy Martens and his col­ laborators (2007) asked University of Arizona students to kill some bugs. They wondered: Would killing initial bugs in a








Cruel acts, such as the 1994 Rwandan genocide, tend to breed even crueler and more hate-filled attitudes.

132 Part One Social Thinking

FIGURE :: 4.3 Killing Begets Killing Students who initially perceived themselves as killing several bugs, by dropping them in this apparent killing machine, later killed an increased number of bugs during a self-paced killing period. (In reality, no bugs were harmed.!







PEACE, 1867-1869

“practice” trial increase students’ will­ ingness to kill more bugs later? To find out, they asked some students to look at one small bug in a container, then to dump it into the coffee grinding machine shown in Figure 4.3, and then to press the “on” button for 3 seconds. (No bugs were actually killed. An unseen stop­ per at the base of the insert tube pre­ vented the bug from actually entering the opaque killing machine, which had torn bits of paper to simulate the sound of a killing.) Others, who initially killed five bugs (or so they thought), went on to “kill” significantly more bugs during an ensuing 20-second period.

Harmful acts shape the self, but so, thankfully, do moral acts. Our charac­ ter is reflected in what we do when we

think no one is looking. Researchers have tested character by giving children temp­ tations when it seems no one is watching. Consider what happens when children resist the temptation. In a dramatic experiment, Jonathan Freedman (1965) intro­ duced elementary school children to an enticing battery-controlled robot, instruct- ing them not to play with it while he was out of the room. Freedman used a severe threat with half the children and a mild threat with the others. Both were sufficient to deter the children.

Several weeks later a different researcher, with no apparent relation to the ear­ lier events, left each child to play in the same room with the same toys. Of the chil­ dren who had been given the severe threat, three-fourths now freely played with the robot; of those given the mild deterrent, two-thirds still resisted playing with it. Apparently, the deterrent was strong enough to elicit the desired behavior yet mild enough to leave them with a sense of choice. Having earlier chosen consciously not to play with the toy, the mildly deterred children internalized their decisions. Moral action, especially when chosen rather than coerced, affects moral thinking.

Moreover, positive behavior fosters liking for the person. Doing a favor for an experimenter or another participant, or tutoring a student, usually increases liking of the person helped (Blanchard & Cook, 1976). People who pray for a romantic partner (even in controlled experiments) thereafter exhibit greater commitment and fidelity to the partner (Fincham & others, 2010). It is a lesson worth remembering: If you wish to love someone more, act as if you do.

In 1793 Benjamin Franklin tested the idea that doing a favor engenders liking. As clerk of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, he was disturbed by opposition from another important legislator. So Franklin set out to win him over:

I did not… aim at gaining his favour by paying any servile respect to him but, after some time, took this other method. Having heard that he had in his library a certain very scarce and curious book I wrote a note to him expressing my desire of perusing that book and requesting he would do me the favour of lending it to me for a few days He sent it immediately and I return d it in about a week, expressing strongly my sense of the favour. When we next met in the House he spoke to me (which he had never done before), and with great civility; and he ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends and our friendship continued to his death, (quoted by Rosenzweig, 1972, p. 769)

INTERRACIAL BEHAVIOR AND RACIAL ATTITUDES If moral action feeds moral attitudes, will positive interracial behavior reduce racial prejudice—much as mandatory seat belt use has produced more favorable

133Behavior and Attitudes Chapter 4

seat belt attitudes? That was part of social scientists’ testimony before the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision to desegregate schools. Their argument ran like this: If we wait for the heart to change—through preaching and teaching—we will wait a long time for racial justice. But if we legislate moral action, we can, under the right conditions, indirectly affect heartfelt attitudes.

That idea runs counter to the presumption that “you can’t legislate morality.” I Yet attitude change has, as some social psychologists predicted, followed desegre-

gation. Consider the following: • Following the Supreme Court decision, the percentage of White Americans

favoring integrated schools jumped and now includes nearly everyone. (For other examples of old and current racial attitudes, see Chapter 9.)

• In the 10 years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the percentage of White Americans who described their neighborhoods, friends, co-workers, or other students as all-White declined by about 20 percent for each of those mea­ sures. Interracial behavior was increasing. During the same period, the per­ centage of White Americans who said that Blacks should be allowed to live in any neighborhood increased from 65 percent to 87 percent {ISR Newsletter, 1975). Attitudes were changing, too.

• More uniform national standards against discrimination were followed by decreasing differences in racial attitudes among people of differing religions, classes, and geographic regions. As Americans came to act more alike, they came to think more alike (Greeley & Sheatsley, 1971; Taylor & others, 1978).

Social Movements










Our political rituals— the daily flag salute by schoolchildren, singing the national anthem—use public conformity to build private allegiance.

We have now seen that a society’s laws and, therefore, its behav­ ior can have a strong influence on its racial attitudes. A danger lies in the possibility of employing the same idea for political socializa­ tion on a mass scale. For many Germans during the 1930s, partici­ pation in Nazi rallies, displaying the Nazi flag, and especially the public greeting “Heil Hitler” established a profound inconsistency between behavior and belief. Historian Richard Grunberger (1971) reports that for those who had their doubts about Hitler, “the ‘Ger­ man greeting’ was a powerful conditioning device. Having once decided to intone it as an outward token of conformity, many expe­ rienced … discomfort at the contradiction between their words and their feelings. Prevented from saying what they believed, they tried to establish their psychic equilibrium by consciously making them­ selves believe what they said” (p. 27).

Th^ practice is not limited to totalitarian regimes. Political rituals— the daily flag salute by schoolchildren, singing the national anthem— use public conformity to build a private belief in patriotism. I recall participating in air-raid drills in my elementary school not far from the Boeing Company in Seattle. After we acted repeatedly as if we were the targets of Russian attack, we came to fear the Russians.

Many people assume that the most potent social indoctrina­ tion comes through brainwashing, a term coined to describe what happened to American prisoners of war (POWs) during the 1950s Korean War. Although the “thought-control” program was not as irresistible as “brainwashing” suggests, the results still were dis­ concerting. Hundreds of prisoners cooperated with their captors. Twenty-one chose to remain after being granted permission to return to America. And many of those who did return came home believing “although communism won’t work in America, 1 think it’s a good thing for Asia” (Segal, 1954).

134 Part One Social Thinking










Edgar Schein (1956) interviewed many of the POWs and reported that the cap- tors’ methods included a gradual escalation of demands. The captors always started with trivial requests and gradually worked up to more significant ones. “Thus after a prisoner had once been ‘trained’ to speak or write out trivia, statements on more important issues were demanded.” Moreover, they always expected active partici- pation, be it just copying something or participating in group discussions, writing self-criticism, or uttering public confessions. Once a prisoner had spoken or written a statement, he felt an inner need to make his beliefs consistent with his acts That often drove prisoners to persuade themselves of what they had done wrong. The “start small and build” tactic was an effective application of the foot-in-thl-door technique, and it continues to be so today in the socialization of terrorists and tor­ turers (Chapter 6).

Now let me ask you, before reading further, to play theorist. Ask yourself: Why in these studies and real-life examples did attitudes follow behavior? Why might playing a role or making a speech influence your attitude?

SUMMING UP: when Does Our Behavior Affect Our Attitudes? • The attitude action relation also works in the reverse

direction: We are likely not only to think ourselves into action but also to act ourselves into a way of thinking. When we act, we amplify the idea under­ lying what we have done, especially when we feel responsible for it. Many streams of evidence con­ verge on this principle. The actions prescribed by social roles mold the attitudes of the role players.

• Similarly, what we say or write can strongly influ­ ence attitudes that we subsequently hold.

• Research on the foot-in-the-door phenovtenon reveals that committing a small act makes people more willing to do a larger one later.

• Actions also affect our moral attitudes: That which we have done, even if it is evil, we tend to justify as right.

• Similarly, our racial and political behaviors help shape our social consciousness: We not only stand up for what we believe, we also believe in what we have stood up for.

• Political and social movements may legislate behavior designed to lead to attitude change on a mass scale.


State the theories that seek to explain the attitudes- follow-behavior phenomenon. Discuss how the contest between these competing theories illustrates the process of scientific explanation.

We have seen that several streams of evidence merge to form a river: the effect of actions on attitudes. Do these observations contain any clues to why action affects attitude? Social psychology’s detectives suspect three possible sources. Self­ presentation theory assumes that for strategic reasons we express attitudes that make us appear consistent. Cognitive dissonance theory assumes that to reduce discomfort, we justify our actions to ourselves. Seif-perception theory assumes that our actions are self-revealing (when uncertain about our feelings or beliefs, we look to our behavior, much as anyone else would).

135Behavior and Attitudes Chapter 4

Self-Presentation: Impression Management ‘The first explanation for why actions affect attitudes began as a simple idea. Who among us does not care what people think? People spend billions on clothes, diets, cosmetics, and now plas­ tic surgery—all because of their fretting over what others think. We see making a good impression as a way to gain social and material rewards, to feel better about ourselves, even to become more secure in our social identities (Leary, 1994,2001, 2004b, 2007,2010).

No one wants to look foolishly incon­ sistent. To avoid seeming so, we express attitudes that match our actions. To appear consistent, we may pretend those attitudes. Even if that means displaying a little insincerity or hypocrisy, it can pay off in managing the impression we are making—or so self-presentation theory suggests.

® Jack Ziegler/The New Yorker

Does our feigning consistency explain why expressed attitudes shift toward consistency with behavior? To some extent, yes—people exhibit a much smaller attitude change when a fake lie detector inhibits them from trying to make a good impression (Paulhus, 1982; Tedeschi & others, 1987).

But there is more to attitudes than self-presentation, for people express their changed attitudes even to someone who has no knowledge of their earlier behav­ ior. Two other theories explain why people sometimes internalize their self­ presentations as genuine attitude changes.

Self-Justification: Cognitive Dissonance One theory is that our attitudes change because we are motivated to maintain consistency among our cognitions. That is the implication of Leon Festinger’s (1957) famous cognitive dissonance theory. The theory is simple, but its range of application is enormous, making “cognitive dissonance” part of the vocabu­ lary of today’s educated people. It assumes that we feel tension, or a lack of har­ mony (“dissonance”), when two simultaneously accessible thoughts or beliefs ( cognitions”) are psychologically inconsistent. Festinger argued that to reduce this unpleasant arousal, we often adjust our thinking. This simple idea, and some surprising predictions derived from it, have spawned more than 2,000 studies (Cooper, 1999).

One way people minimize dissonance, Festinger believed, is through selective exposure to agreeable information. Studies have asked people about their views on various topics, and then invited them to choose whether they wanted to view infor­ mation supporting or opposing their viewpoint. By about a two to one ratio, people (less secure and open-minded people, especially) preferred supporting rather than challenging information (Fischer & Greitemeyer, 2010; Hart & others, 2009; Sweeny & others, 2010). Thus, reported a bipartisan U.S. Senate (2004) intelligence commit­ tee, the belief that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction led government leaders to welcome information supporting their assumption and to downplay contradic­ tory information, and thus to launch a war. People are especially keen on reading information that supports their political, religious, and ethical views—a phenom­ enon that most of us can illustrate from our own favorite news and blog sources.

cognitive dissonance

Tension that arises when one is simultaneously aware of two inconsistent cognitions. For example, dissonance may occur when we realize that we have, with little justification, acted contrary to our attitudes or made a decision favoring one alternative despite reasons favoring another.

selective exposure

The tendency to seek Information and media that agree with one’s views and to avoid dissonant information.

136 Part One Social Thinking

values-relevant topics, “accuracy motives” are more likely to drive us. Thus, we welcome a home inspection before buying or a second opinion before surgery.

theory pertains mostly to discrepancies between behavior and atti- ^des. We are aware of both. Thus, if we sense some inconsistency, perhaps some hypocrisy we feel pressure for change. That helps explain why British and U.S. cig­ arette smokers have been much less likely than nonsmokers to believe that smoking IS dangerous (Eiser & others, 1979; Saad, 2002). ^ ■ director of the Program of International Pol­ icy Attitudes, some Americans struggled to reduce their “experience of cognitive

issonance (Kull, 2003). The war’s main premise had been that Saddam Hussein unhke most other brutal dictators whom the world was tolerating, had weapons of mass destruction As the war began, only 38 percent of Americans said the war was justified even if Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction (Gallup, 2003). Nearly four in five Americans believed their invading troops would find such, and otheTs 200^37″^”*^®^ supported the just-launched war (Duffy, 2003; Newport &

When no such weapons were found, the war-supporting majority experienced dis­ sonance, which was heightened by their awareness of the war’s financial and human costs, by scenes of Iraq m chaos, by surging anti-American attitudes in Europe and in Muslim countries, and by inflamed pro-terrorist attitudes. To reduce their disso­ nance, noted the Program of International Policy Attitudes, some Americans revised their memories of their government’s primary rationale for going to war The rea­ sons now became liberating an oppressed people from tyrannical and genocidal rule and aymg the groundwork for a more peaceful and democratic Middle East. Three months after the war began, the once-minority opinion became, for a time, the major­ ity view: 58 percent of Americans now supported the war even if there were none of me proclaimed weapons of mass destruction (Gallup, 2003). “Whether or not they

“”^^ter,” suggested Republican pollster brank Luntz (2003), because the rationale for the war changed ”

In MIstete Were Made (But Not By Me): Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Deci­ sions and Hurtful Acts, social psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson (2007, p. 7) Illustrate dissonance reduction by leaders of various political parties when faced with clear evidence that a decision they made or a course of action they chose turned out to be wrong, even disastrous. This human phenomenon is nonpmtisan, note Tavris and Aronson: “A president who has justified his actions to himself, behevmg that he has the truth, becomes impervious to self-correction.” For exam-

President Lyndon Johnson’s biographer described him as someone who held to his beliefs, even when sinking in the quagmire of Vietnam, regardless of the facts in the matter.” And Republican president George W. Bush, in the years

after launchmg the Iraq war, said that “knowing what I know today, I’d make the ecision agam” P005), that “I’ve never been more convinced that the decisions I

made are the right decisions” (2006), and that “this war has … come at a high cost m lives and treasure, but those costs are necessary” (2008)

Cognitive dissonance theory offers an explanation for self-persuasion, and it otters several surprising predictions. See if you can anticipate them.

INSUFFICIENT JUSTIFICATION Imagme you are a participant in a famous experiment staged by the creative Festmger and his student). Merrill Carlsmith (1959). For an hour, you are required to perform dull tasks, such as turning wooden knobs again and again. After you finish, the experimenter (Carlsmith) explains that the study concerns how expec- ations affect performance. The next participant, waiting outside, must be led

to expect an interesting experiment. The seemingly upset experimenter, whom estmger had spent hours coaching unHl he became extremely convincing, explains

Chapter 4 137Behavior and Attitudes

that the assistant who usually creates this expectation couldn’t make this session. Wringing his hands, he pleads, “Could you fill in and do this?”

It’s for science and you are being paid, so you agree to tell the next participant (who is actually the experimenter’s accomplice) what a delightful experience you have just had. “Really?” responds the supposed participant. “A friend of mine was in this experiment a week ago, and she said it was boring.” “Oh, no,” you respond, “it’s really very interesting. You get good exercise while turning some knobs. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.” Finally, someone else who is studying how people react to experiments has you complete a questionnaire that asks how much you actually enjoyed your knob-tuming experience.

Now for the prediction: Under which condition are you most likely to believe your little lie and say that the dull experiment was indeed interesting? When paid $1 for fibbing, as some of the participants were? Or when paid a then-lavish $20, as others were? Contrary to the common notion that big rewards produce big effects, Festinger and Carlsmith made an outrageous prediction: Those paid just $1 (hardly sufficient justification for a lie) would be most likely to adjust their attitudes to their actions. Having insufficient justification for their actions, they would experience more discomfort (dissonance) and thus be more motivated to believe in what they had done. Those paid $20 had sufficient justification for what they had done and hence should have experienced less dissonance. As Figure 4.4 shows, the results fit this intriguing prediction.*

In dozens of later experiments, this attitudes-follow-behavior effect was stron­ gest when people felt some choice and when their actions had foreseeable conse­ quences. One experiment had people read disparaging lawyer jokes into a recorder (for example, “How can you teU when a lawyer is lying? His lips are moving.”). The reading produced more negative attitudes toward lawyers when it was a chosen rather than a coerced activity (Hobden & Olson, 1994). Other experiments have

insufficient justification

Reduction of dissonance bv internally justifying one’s behavior when external justification Is “insufficient.”

There is a seldom-reported final aspect of this 1950s experiment. Imagine yourself finally back with the experimenter, who is truthfully explaining the whole study. Not only do you learn that you’ve been duped, but also the experi­ menter asks for the $20 back. Do you comply? Festinger and Carlsmith note that all their Stanford student participants willingly reached into their pockets and gave back the money. This is a foretaste of some quite amazing observations on compliance and conformity discussed in Chapter 6. As we will see, when the social situation makes clear demands, people usually respond accordingly.

“How much I enjoyed the experiment” (-5 to +5)



+0.5 –

“I said the dull experiment was interesting I had insufficient justification for doing so. Hmm, maybe it was sort of interesting.”

“I said the dull experiment was interesting. But I had sufficient reason for doing so—$20.”


-1.0 Condition:

Dissonance Theory:

Control (no lie)

No dissonance

Low dissonance

High dissonance

FIGURE :: 4.4 Insufficient Justification Dissonance theory predicts that when our actions are not fully explained by external rewards or coercion, we will experience dissonance, which we can reduce by believing in what we have done. Source: Data from Festinger & Carlsmith, 1959.

138 Part One Social Thinking

Dissonance theory suggests that parents should aim to elicit desired behavior non- coercively, thus motivating children to internalize the appropriate attitudes.

engaged people to write essays for a measly $1.50 or so. When the essay argues something they don’t believe in—for instance, a tuition increase—the underpaid writers begin to feel somewhat greater sympathy with the policy. Pretense becomes reality.

Earlier we noted how the insufficient justification prin­ ciple works with punishments. Children were more likely to internalize a request not to play with an attractive toy if they were given a mild threat that insufficiently justified their compliance. When a parent says, “Clean up your room, Joshua, or else expect a hard spanking,” Joshua won’t need to internally justify cleaning his room. The severe threat is justification enough.

Note that cognitive dissonance theory focuses not on the relative effectiveness of rewards and punishments admin­

istered after the act but, rather, on what induces a desired action. It aims to have Joshua say, “I am cleaning up my room because I want a clean room,” rather than, “I am cleaning up my room because my parents will kill me if I don’t.” Students who perceive their required community service as something they would have chosen to do are more likely to anticipate future volunteering than those who feel coerced {Stukas & others, 1999). The principle is this: Attitudes follow behaviors for which we feel some responsibility.

Authoritarian management will be effective, the theory predicts, only when the authority is present—because people are unlikely to internalize forced behavior. Bree, a formerly enslaved talking horse in C. S. Lewis’s The Horse and His Boy (1974), observes, “One of the worst results of being a slave and being forced to do things is that when there is no one to force you any more you find you have almost lost the power of forcing yourself” (p. 193). Dissonance theory insists that encouragement and inducement should be enough to elicit the desired action (so that attitudes may follow the behavior). But it suggests that managers, teachers, and parents should use only enough incentive to elicit the desired behavior.

DISSONANCE AFTER DECISIONS The emphasis on perceived choice and responsibility implies that decisions produce dissonance. When faced with an important decision—what college to attend, whom to date, which job to accept—we are sometimes tom between two equally attractive alternatives. Perhaps you can recall a time when, having committed yourself, you became painfully aware of dissonant cognitions—the desirable features of what you had rejected and the undesirable features of what you had chosen. If you decided

to live on campus, you may have realized you were giving up the spaciousness and free- dom of an apartment in favor of cramped, noisy dorm quar-

^ * wKT you elected to live off campus, you may have

c ,, , , , • i^ed that your decision meant Following a 1934 earthquake in India, there were rumors outside physical separation from cam- the disaster zone of worse disasters to follow. It occurred to me .. pus and friends, and having to that these rumors might be “anxiety-justifying”—cognitions that cook and clean for yourself, would justify their lingering fears. From that germ of an idea, I After making important developed my theory of dissonance reduction-making your ^ decisions, we usually reduce view of the world fit with how you feel or what you’ve done. dissonance by upgrading the

Leon Festinger (1920-1989) chosen alternative and down- wmnMMniyimi ubiiibhiwi.w «iiwuu, …….. grading the unchosen option.

THE inside

Behavior and Attitudes Chapter 4 139

Big decisions can produce big dissonance when one later ponders the negative aspects of what Is chosen and the positive aspects of what was not chosen.

In the first published dissonance experiment (1956), Jack Brehm brought some of his wedding gifts to his University of Minnesota lab and had women rate eight prod­ ucts, such as a toaster, a radio, and a hair dryer. Brehm then showed the women two objects they had rated closely and told them they could have whichever they chose. Later, when rerating the eight objects, the women increased their evaluations of the item they had chosen and decreased their evaluations of the rejected item. It seems that after we have made our choices, the grass does not then grow greener on the other side of the fence. (Afterward, Brehm confessed he couldn’t afford to let them keep what they chose.)

With simple decisions, this deciding-becomes-believing effect can breed overcon­ fidence (Blanton & others, 2001): “What I’ve decided must be right.” The effect can occur very quickly. Robert Knox and James Inkster (1968) found that racetrack bettors who had just put down their money felt more optimistic about their bets than did those who were about to bet. In the few moments that intervened between standing in line and walking away from the betting window, noth­ ing had changed—except the decisive action and the person’s feelings about it. There may sometimes be but a slight difference between two options, as I can recall in helping make faculty tenure decisions. The competence of one fac­ ulty member who barely makes it and that of another who barely loses seems not very different—until after you make and announce the decision.

Our preferences influence our deci­ sions, which then sharpen our prefer­ ences. Thischoices-influence-preferences effect occurs even after people press a button to choose what they think was

Post-decision dissonance. © David Sipress. Reprinted with


“1 cloiih c*. ^ 01^ « +4J2vv-


140 Part One Social Thinking






self-perception theory The theory that when we are unsure of our attitudes, we infer them much as would someone observing us—by looking at our behavior and the circumstances under which it occurs.



—GOETHE, 1749-1832

a subliminally presented vacation alternative (nothing was actuaUy shown them). T^ey later tended to prefer the holiday that they believed they had chosen (Sharot &

Decisions, once made, grow their own self-justifying legs of support. Often these new legs are strong enough that when one leg is pulled away-perhaps the original one, as in the Iraq war case—the decision does not collapse. Rosalia decides to take a tnp home if it can be done for an airfare under $500. It can, so she makes her reservation and begins to think of additional reasons why she will be glad to see her family. When she goes to buy the tickets, however, she learns there has been a fare mcrease to $575. No matter; she is now determined to go. As when being

u It never occurs to people, reports Robert Cialdini (1984, p. 103), that those additional reasons might never have existed had the choice not been made in the first place.” c do this. A Yale University team led by Louisa

4-year-olds to rate different stickers on a scale of smiley faces With each child, the researchers then picked three stickers that the child had rated equaUy, and randomly identified two (let’s call them Sticker A and Sticker B) from which the children could choose one to take home. Next, they let the child choose one more^ither the unchosen sticker or the third one. Sticker C. The result (which put a smiley on my face): The children apparently reduced dissonance by down- playmg the appeal of the unchosen first sticker, thus moving them to favor Sticker C 63 percent of the time (rather than half the time, as we might have expected). They repeated the experiment with capuchin monkeys, using alternative sweets instead of stickers. As with the children, so with the monkeys: They, too, revised their attitudes after making an initial decision.

Self-Perception Although dissonance theory has inspired much research, an even simpler theory also explains Its phenomena. Consider how we make inferences about other people’s atti­ tudes. We see how a person acts in a particular situation, and then we attribute the behavior either to the person’s traits and attitudes or to environmental forces. If we see parents coercmg 10-year-old Brett into saying, “I’m sorry,” we attribute Brett’s apology to the situation, not to his personal regret. If we see Brett apologizing with no apparent mducement, we attribute the apology to Brett himself (Figure 4 5)

Self-perception theory (proposed by Daryl Bern, 1972) assumes that we make similar inferences when we observe our own behavior. When our attitudes are weak or ambiguous, we are in the position of someone observing us from the out­ side. Hearing myself talk informs me of my attitudes; seeing my actions provides clues to how strong my beliefs are. This is especially so when I can’t easily attribute my behavior to external constraints. The acts we freely commit are self-revealing

The pioneering psychologist William James proposed a similar explanation for emotion a century ago. We mfer our emotions, he suggested, by observing our bodies and our behaviors. A stimulus such as a growling bear confronts a woman m the forest. She tenses, her heartbeat increases, adrenaline flows, and she runs away. Observing all this, she then experiences fear. At a college where I am to give a lecture, I awake before dawn and am unable to get back to sleep. Noting my wakefulness, I conclude that I must be anxious. One friend of mine was shaking while standing offstage waiting to give a lecture and inferred he was really ner­ vous. When he discovered the floor over the air-handling system was vibrating, his self-perceived nervousness vanished. ^

Do people who observe themselves agreeing to a small request indeed come o perceive themselves as the helpful sort of person who responds positively to

requests for help? Is that why, in the foot-in-the-door experiments, people will then ater agree to larger requests? Indeed, yes, it appears (Burger & Caldwell, 2003)

behavior can modify self-concept.

Behavior and Attitudes Chapter 4 141

Why do actions affect attitudes?

‘i Self-|ustification ‘ -I

(cognitive dissonance) |

Ah … I’ve been waiting all day for this.

I know smoking is i bad for me.

Oh well… the statistics aren’t as awful as they say. Anyway, I’m very hesiltiiy.

I won’t get sick.

FIGURE :: 4.5 Three Theories Explain Why Attitudes Follow Behavior

EXPRESSIONS AND ATTITUDE You may be skeptical of the self-perception effect, as I initially was. Experiments on the effects of facial expressions suggest a way for you to experience it. When James Laird (1974, 1984) induced college students to frown while attaching electrodes to their faces—”contract these muscles,” “pull your brows together”—they reported feeling angry. It’s more fun to try out Laird’s other finding: Those induced to make a smiling face felt happier and found cartoons more humorous. Those induced to repeatedly practice happy (versus sad or angry) expressions may recall more happy memories and find the happy mood lingering (Schnall & Laird, 2003). A Japanese research team created similar expressions—and emotions—by taping rubber bands to the sides of the face and then running them over either the top of the head (rais­ ing the cheeks into a smile) or under the chin (Mori & Mori, 2009).

Clever follow-up studies have found more examples of this facial (and body) feedback effect:

• Botox smoothes emotional wrinkles. If it’s hard for us to know what the frozen-faced Botoxed are feeling, it’s also hard for them to know themselves. Paralyzing the frowning muscles with Botox slows activity in people’s emotion-related brain circuits and slows their reading of sadness- or anger- related sentences (Havas & others, 2010; Hennenlotter & others, 2008). Moreover, being unable to mimic others’ expressions, it’s harder for them to understand others’ emotions (Neal & Chartrand, 2011). Botox messes with embodied cognition.

• When people are instructed to sit straight and push out their chest, they feel more confidence in their written ideas than when sitting slouched forward and with eyes downcast (Brihol & others, 2009).

• People who assume high-power rather than low-power poses (think hands on hips rather than a contracted posture) experience increased testosterone, feelings of power, and risk-tolerance (Carney & others, 2010).





facial feedback efifect

The tendency of facial expressions to trigger corresponding feelings such as fear, anger, or happiness.

142 Part One

According to German psychologist Fritz Strack and colleagues (1988), people find cartoons funnier while holding a pen with their teeth (using smiling muscles) than while holding it with their lips (using muscles incompatible with smiling).











Social Thinking

We have all experienced this phenom­ enon. We’re feeling crabby, but then the phone rings or someone comes to the door and elicits from us warm, polite behavior. “How’s everything?” “Just fine, thanks. How are things wi^ you?” “Oh, not bad….” If our crabbiness was not intense, this warm behavior may change our whole attitude. It’s tough to smile and feel grouchy. Going through the motions

can trigger the emotions. Contrariwise, extending the middle finger makes others’ ambiguous expressions seem more hostile (Chandler & Schwarz, 2009).

Even your gait can affect how you feel. When you get up from reading this chap­ ter, walk for a minute taking short, shuffling steps, with eyes downcast. It’s a great way to feel depressed. Sit all day in a moping posture, sigh, and reply to every­ thing with a dismal voice, and your melancholy lingers,” noted William James (1890, p. 463). Want to feel better? Walk for a minute taking long strides with your arms swinging and your eyes straight ahead.

If our expressions influence our feelings, then would imitating others’ expres­ sions help us know what they are feeling? An experiment by Katherine Bums Vaughan and John Lanzetta (1981) suggests it would. They asked Dartmouth Col­ lege students to observe someone receiving electric shock. They told some of the observers to make a pained expression whenever the shock came on. If, as Freud and others supposed, expressing an emotion allows us to discharge it, then the pained expression should be inwardly calming (Cacioppo & others, 1991). How­ ever, compared with other students who did not act out the expressions, these gri­ macing students perspired more and had faster heart rates whenever they saw the shock being delivered. Acting out the person’s emotion enabled the observers to feel more empathy. The implication: To sense how other people are feeling, let your own face mirror their expressions.

Actually, you hardly need to try. Observing others’ faces, postures, writing styles, and voices, we naturally and unconsciously mimic (Hatfield & others, 1992; Ireland & Pennebaker, 2010). We synchronize our movements, postures, and tones of voice with theirs. Doing so helps us tune in to what they’re feeling. It also makes for “emotional contagion,” which helps explain why it’s fun to be around happy people and depressing to be around depressed people (Chapter 14).

All Nippon Airways employees, biting wooden chopsticks, beam during a smile training session.

Behavior and Attitudes Chapter 4 143

Our facial expressions also influence our attitudes. In a clever experiment, Gary Wells and Richard Petty (1980) had University of Alberta students “test headphone sets” by making either vertical or horizontal head movements while listening to a radio editorial. Who most agreed with the editorial? Those who had been nodding their heads up and down. Why? Wells and Petty surmised that positive thoughts are compatible with vertical nodding and incompatible with horizontal motion. Try it yourself when listening to someone; Do you feel more agreeable when nod­ ding rather than shaking your head? Even being seated in a left- rather than right­ leaning chair has led people to lean more left in their expressed political attitudes (Oppenheimer & Trail, 2010)!

At the University of Cologne, Thomas Mussweiler (2006) likewise discovered that stereotyped actions feed stereotyped thinking. In one clever experiment, he induced some people to move about in the portly manner of an obese person—by having them wear a life vest and by putting weights on their wrists and ankles— and then to give their impressions of someone described on paper. Compared with those in a control condition, those whose movements simulated obesity perceived the target person as exhibiting traits (friendliness, sluggishness, unhealthiness) that people often perceive in obese people. In follow-up experiments, people induced to move slowly, as an elderly person might, ascribed more elderly stereotypic traits to a target person. Doing influenced thinking.

Postures also affect performance. After noting that people associate an arms- folded posture with determination and persistence, Ron Friedman and Andrew Elliot (2008) had students attempt to solve impossible anagrams. Those instructed to work with their arms folded persevered for an average 55 seconds, nearly double the 30 seconds of those with their hands on their thighs.

OVERJUSTIFICATION AND INTRINSIC MOTIVATIONS Recall the insufficient justification effect: The smallest incentive that induces peo­ ple to do something most effectively gets them to like it and keep on doing it. Cognitive dissonance theory explains this: When external inducements are insuf­ ficient to justify our behavior, we reduce dissonance internally by justifying the behavior.

Self-perception theory offers a different explanation: People explain their behav­ ior by noting the conditions under which it occurs. Imagine hearing someone pro­ claim the wisdom of a tuition increase for a hefty $20. Surely the statement would seem more sincere if you thought the per­ son was expressing those opinions for no pay. Perhaps we make similar inferences when observing ourselves. We observe our uncoerced action and infer our attitude.

Self-perception theory goes a step fur- ther. Contrary to the notion that rewards always increase motivation, it suggests that unnecessary rewards can have a hid­ den cost. Rewarding people for doing what they already enjoy may lead them to attribute their action to the reward.

so, this would undermine their self- perception that they do it because they like it. Experiments by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan (1991, 1997, 2008), by Mark Ropper and David Greene (1979), and by Ann Boggiano and her colleagues (1985,

Self-perception at work. © Ed Frascino/The New Yorker



144 Part One Social Thinking

FIGURE:: 4.6 intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation When people do something they enjoy, without reward or coer­ cion, they attribute their behavior to their love of the activity. Exter­ nal rewards undermine intrinsic motivation by leading people to attribute their behavior to the incentive.

Enjoyable activities

oveijustification effect The result of bribing people to do what they already like doing; they may then see their actions as externally controlled rather than intrinsically appealing.

1987, 1992) have confirmed this overjustification effect. Pay people for playing with puzzles, and they will later play with the puzzles less than will those who play for no pay. Promise children a reward for doing what they intrinsically enjoy (for example, playing with Magic Markers), and you will turn their play into work (Figure 4.6).

A folktale illustrates the overjustification effect: An old man lived alone on a street where boys played noisily every afternoon. The din annoyed him, so one day he called the boys to his door. He told them he loved the cheerful sound of children’s voices and promised them each 50 cents if they would return the next day. Next afternoon the youngsters raced back and played more lustily than ever. The old man paid them and promised another reward the next day. Again they returned, whooping it up, and the man again paid them; this time 25 cents. The following day they got only 15 cents, and the man explained that his mea­ ger resources were being exhausted. “Please, though, would you come to play for 10 cents tomorrow?” The disappointed boys told the man they would not be back. It wasn’t worth the effort, they said, to play all afternoon at his house for only 10 cents.

As self-perception theory implies, an unanticipated reward does not diminish intrinsic interest, because people can still attribute their actions to their own moti­ vation (Bradley & Mannell, 1984; Tang & Hall, 1995). (It’s like the heroine who, having fallen in love with the woodcutter, now learns that he’s really a prince.) And if compliments for a good job make us feel more competent and successful, this can actually increase our intrinsic motivation. When rightly administered, rewards may also boost creativity (Eisenberger & others, 1999, 2001,2003).

The overjustification effect occurs when someone offers an unnecessary reward beforehand in an obvious effort to control behavior. What matters is what a reward implies: Rewards and praise that inform people of their achievements—that make them feel, “I’m very good at this”—boost intrinsic motivation. Rewards that seek to control people and lead them to believe it was the reward that caused their effort—”I did it for the money”—diminish the intrinsic appeal of an enjoyable task (Rosenfeld & others, 1980; Sansone, 1986).

How then can we cultivate people’s enjoyment of initially unappealing tasks? Maria may find her first piano lessons frustrating. Toshi may not have an intrinsic love of ninth-grade science. DeShawn may embark on a career not looking forward to making those first sales calls. In such cases, the parent, the teacher, or the man­ ager should probably use some incentives to coax the desired behavior (Boggiano & Ruble, 1985; Cooke & others, 2011; Workman & Williams, 1980). After the person

Behavior and Attitudes Chapter 4 145

complies, suggest an intrinsic reason for doing so: “I’m not surprised that sales call went well, because you are so good at making a first impression.”

If we provide students with just enough justification to perform a learning task and use rewards and labels to help them feel competent, we may enhance their enjoyment and their eagerness to pursue the subject on their own. When there is too much justification—as happens in classrooms where teachers dictate behavior and use rewards to control the children—student-driven learning may diminish (Deci & Ryan, 1985, 1991, 2008). My younger son eagerly consumed 6 or 8 library books a week—until our library started a reading club that promised a party to those who read 10 books in three months. Three weeks later he began checking out only 1 or 2 books during our weekly visits. Why? “Because you only need to read 10 books, you know.”

We have seen one explanation of why our actions might only seem to affect our attitudes {self-presentation theory). And we have seen two explanations of why our actions genuinely affect our attitudes: (1) the dissonance-theory assumption that we justify our behavior to reduce our internal discomfort, and (2) the self­ perception-theory assumption that we observe our behavior and make reason­ able inferences about our attitudes, much as we observe other people and infer their attitudes.

These two explanations seem to contradict each other. Which is right? It’s difficult to find a definitive test. In most instances they make the same predic­ tions, and we can bend each theory to accommodate most of the findings we have considered (Greenwald, 1975). Self-perception theorist Daryl Bern (1972) even suggested it boils down to a matter of personal loyalties and preferences. This illustrates the human element in scientific theorizing. Neither dissonance theory nor self-perception theory has been handed to us by nature. Both are products of human imagination—creative attempts to simplify and explain what we’ve observed.

It is not unusual in science to find that a principle, such as “attitudes follow behavior,” is predictable from more than one theory. Physicist Richard Feynman (1967) marveled that “one of the amazing characteristics of nature” is the “wide range of beautiful ways” in which we can describe it: “I do not understand the reason why it is that the correct laws of physics seem to be expressible in such a tremendous variety of ways” (pp. 53-55). Like different roads leading to the same place, different sets of assumptions can lead to the same principle. If any­ thing, this strengthens our confidence in the principle. It becomes credible not only because of the data supporting it but also because it rests on more than one theoretical pillar.

dissonance as arousal Can we say that one of our theories is better? On one key point, strong support has emerged for dissonance theory. Recall that dissonance is, by definition, an aroused state of uncomfortable tension. To reduce that tension, we supposedly change our 3^ttitudes. Self-perception theory says nothing about tension being aroused when our actions and attitudes are not in harmony. It assumes merely that when our attitudes are weak to begin with, we will use our behavior and its circumstances as a clue to those attitudes (like the person who said, “How do I tell what I think till I see what I say?” [Forster, 1976]).

Are conditions that supposedly produce dissonance (for example, making deci­ sions or taking actions that are contrary to one’s attitudes) indeed uncomfortably arousing? Clearly yes, providing that the behavior has unwanted consequences for which the person feels responsible (Cooper, 1999; Elliot & Devine, 1994).

146 Part One Social Thinking

“A^o, HoskinSy you^re not going to do it just because Pm telling you to do it. You^re going to

do it because you believe in

People rarely internalize coerced behavior.

© Charles Barsotti/The New Yorker Collection/www

self’afBrmation theory

Atheorythat(a) people often experience a self-image threat after engaging in an undesirable behavior; and (b) they can compensate by affirming another aspect of the self. Threaten people’s self-concept in one domain, and they will compensate either by refocusing or by doing good deeds in some other domain.

If, in the privacy of your room, you say something you don’t believe, dissonance will be minimal. It will be much greater if there are unpleasant results—if some­ one hears and believes you, if the statement causes harm and the negative effects are irrevocable, and if the per­ son harmed is someone you like. If, moreover, you feel responsible for those consequences—if you can’t easily excuse your act because you freely agreed to it and if you were able to foresee its consequences—then uncomfort­ able dissonance will be aroused. Such dissonance-related arousal is detectable as increased perspiration and heart rate (Cacioppo &: Petty, 1986; Croyle & Cooper, 1983; Losch & Cacioppo, 1990).

Why is “volunteering” to say or do undesirable things so arousing? Because, suggests Claude Steele’s (1988) self-affirmation theory, such acts are embarrassing. They make us feel foolish. They threaten our sense of personal competence and goodness. Justifying our actions and

decisions is therefore self-affirming; it protects and supports our sense of integrity and self-worth. When people engage in dissonance-generating actions, their think­ ing left frontal lobes buzz with extra arousal (Harmon-Jones &: others, 2008). This is the grinding gears of belief change at work.

What do you suppose happens, then, if we offer people who have commit­ ted self-contradictory acts a way to reaffirm their self-worth, such as doing good deeds? In several experiments Steele found that, with their self-concepts restored, people felt much less need to justify their acts (Steele & others, 1993). People with high and secure self-esteem also engage in less self-justification (Holland & others, 2002).

So, dissonance conditions do indeed arouse tension, especially when they threaten positive feelings of self-worth. But is this arousal necessary for the attitudes- follow-behavior effect? Steele and his colleagues (1981) believe the answer is yes. When drinking alcohol reduces dissonance-produced arousal, the attitudes- follow-behavior effect disappears. In one of their experiments, they induced University of Washington students to write essays favoring a big tuition increase. The students reduced their resulting dissonance by softening their antituition attitudes—unless after writing the unpleasant essays they drank alcohol.







SELF-PERCEIVING WHEN NOT SELF-CONTRADICTING Dissonance procedures are uncomfortably arousing. That makes for self-persuasion after acting contrary to one’s attitudes. But dissonance theory cannot explain atti­ tude changes that occur without dissonance. When people argue a position that is in line with their opinion, although a step or two beyond it, procedures that elimi­ nate arousal do not eliminate attitude change (Fazio & others, 1977, 1979). Disso­ nance theory also does not explain the overjustification effect, because being paid to do what you like to do should not arouse great tension. And what about situations where the action does not contradict any attitude—when, for example, people are induced to smile or grimace? Here, too, there should be no dissonance. For these cases, self-perception theory has a ready explanation.

In short, it appears that dissonance theory successfully explains what happens when we act contrary to clearly defined attitudes: We feel tension, so we adjust our attitudes to reduce it. Dissonance theory, then, explains attitude change. In situa­ tions where our attitudes are not well formed, self-perception theory explains atti­ tude formation. As we act and reflect, we develop more readily accessible attitudes to guide our future behavior (Fazio, 1987; Roese & Olson, 1994).

Behavior and Attitudes Chapter 4 147

UMIVIING UP: Why Does Our Behavior Affect Our Attitudes? ‘Three competing theories explain why our actions affect our attitude reports.

;• Self-presentation theory assumes that people, espe­ cially those who self-monitor their behavior hoping to create good impressions, will adapt their attitude reports to appear consistent with their actions. The available evidence confirms that people do adjust their attitude statements out of concern for what other people will think. But it also shows that some genuine attitude change occurs.

Two of these theories propose that our actions trigger genuine attitude change.

Dissonance theory explains this attitude change by assuming that we feel tension after acting con­ trary to our attitudes or making difficult decisions. To reduce that arousal, we internally justify our

behavior. Dissonance theory further proposes that the less external justification we have for our unde­ sirable actions, the more we feel responsible for them, and thus the more dissonance arises and the more attitudes change. Self-perception theory assumes that when our atti­ tudes are weak, we simply observe our behavior and its circumstances, then infer our attitudes. One interesting implication of self-perception theory is the “overjustification effect”: Rewarding people to do what they like doing anyway can turn their pleasure into drudgery (if the reward leads them to attribute their behavior to the reward). Evidence supports predictions from both theo­ ries, suggesting that each describes what happens under certain conditions.

POSTSCRIPT: Changing Ourselves Through Action To make anything a habit, do it. To not make it a habit, do not do it. To unmake a habit, do something else in place of it. —Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus

This chapter’s attitudes-follow-behavior principle offers a powerful lesson for life: If we want to change ourselves in some important way, it’s best not to wait for insight or inspiration. Sometimes we need to act—to begin to write that paper, to make those phone calls, to see that person—even if we don’t feel like acting. Jacques Barzun (1975) recognized the energizing power of action when he advised aspiring writers to engage in the act of writing even if contemplation had left them feeling uncertain about their ideas:

If you are too modest about yourself or too plain indifferent about the possible reader and yet are required to write, then you have to pretend. Make believe that you want to bring somebody around to your opinion; in other words, adopt a thesis and start expounding it…. With a slight effort of the kind at the start—a challenge to utterance—you will find your pretense disappearing and a real concern creeping in. The subject will have taken hold of you as it does in the work of all habitual writers, (pp. 173-174)

This attitudes-follow-behavior phenomenon is not irrational or magical. That which prompts us to act may also prompt us to think. Writing an essay or role-playing an opposing view forces us to consider arguments we otherwise might have ignored. Also, we remember information best after explaining it in our own terms. As one student wrote me, “It wasn’t until I tried to verbalize my beliefs that I really under­ stood them.” As a teacher and a writer, I must therefore remind myself to not










148 Part One Social Thinking

always lay out finished results. It is better to stimulate students to think through the implications of a theory, to make them active listeners and readers. Even taking notes deepens the impression. William James (1899) made the point a century ago: “No reception without reaction, no impression without correlative expression_ this is the great maxim which the teacher ought never to forget.”

So far in this book we have considered mostly “within-the-skin” phenomena— how we think about one another. Now we consider “between-skins” happenings—how we influence and relate to one another. Therefore, in Chapters 5 through 8 we probe social psychology’s central concern: the powers of social influence.

What are these unseen social forces that push and pull us? How powerful are they? Research on social influence helps illuminate the invisible strings by which our social worlds move us about. The next four chapters reveal these subtle powers, especially cul­ tural influences (Chapter 5), the forces of social conformity (Chapter 6), the principles of persuasion (Chapter 7),

the consequences of participation in groups (Chapter 8), and how all these influences operate together in every­ day situations.

Seeing these influences, we may

better understand why people feel and act as they do. And we may our­ selves become less vulnerable to unwanted manipulation and more adept at pulling our own strings.

ER Genes, Culture

and Gender

“By birth, the same; by custom, different.” —Confucius. The. Anatects

Approaching Earth from light-years away, alien scientists assigned to study the species Homo sapiens feel their excitement rising. Their plan: to observe two randomly sampled humans, Their first sub­

ject, Jan, is a verbally combative trial lawyer who grew up in Nashville

but moved west seeking the “California lifestyle.” After an affair and

a divorce, Jan is enjoying a second marriage. Friends describe Jan as

an independent thinker who is self-confident, competitive, and some­

what domineering.

Their second subject, Tomoko, lives with his spouse and their two

children in a rural Japanese village, a walk from the homes of both

their parents. Tomoko is proud of being a good son, a loyal spouse,

and a protective parent. Friends describe Tomoko as kind, gentle,

respectful, sensitive, and supportive of extended family.

From their small sample of two people of different genders and cul­

tures, what might our alien scientists conclude about human nature?

Would they wonder whether the two are from different subspecies?

Or would they be struck by deeper similarities beneath the surface


The questions faced by our alien scientists are those faced by

today’s earthbound scientists: How do we humans differ? How are

V’/e alike? In a world struggling with cultural differences, can we learn

to accept our diversity, value our cultural identities, yet recognize

How are we influenced by human nature and cultural diversity?

How are males and females alike and different?

Evolution and gender: Doing what comes naturally?

Culture and gender: Doing as the culture says?

What can we conclude about genes, culture, and gender?

Postscript: Should we view ourselves as products or architects of oui social worlds?

Social Influence

our hunnan kinship? I believe we can. To see why, let’s consider the evolutionary,

cultural, and social roots of our humanity. Then let’s see how each might help us

understand gender similarities and differences.


Summarize two perspectives on human similarities and differences: the evolutionary perspective, emphasizing human kinship, and the cultural perspective, emphasizing human diversity.

In many important ways, Jan and Tomoko are more alike than different As mem­ bers of one great family with common ancestors, they share not only a common biolop but also common behavior tendencies. Each of them sleeps and wakes feels hunger and thirst, and develops language through identical mechanisms. Jan and Tomoko both prefer sweet tastes to sour and fear snakes more than sparrows. They both divide the visual spectrum into similar colors and divide time into past present, and future. They and their kin across the globe all know how to read one another’s frowns and smiles.

Jan and Tomoko, and all of us everywhere, are intensely social. We join groups conform, and recognize distinctions of social status. We return favors punish offenses, and grieve a child’s death. As children, beginning at about 8 months of age, we displayed fear of strangers, and as adults we favor members of our own groups. Confronted by those with dissimilar attitudes or attributes, we react warily or negatively. Anthropologist Donald Brown (1991, 2000) identified several hun­ dred such universal behavior and language patterns. To sample among just those beginning with “v,” all human societies have verbs, violence, visiting, and vowels.

Even much of our morality is common across cultures and eras. Before they can walk, babies will display a moral sense by disapproving what’s wrong or naughty ^loom, 2010). People old and young, female and male, whether living in Tokyo, Tehran, or Toledo, all respond negatively when asked, “If a lethal gas is leaking mto a vent and is headed toward a room with seven people, is it okay to push someone into the vent-saving the seven but killing the one?” And they respond more approvingly when asked if it’s okay to allow someone to fall into the vent agam sacrificing one life but saving seven (Hauser, 2006,2009).

Our alien scientists could drop in anywhere and find humans conversing and arguing, laughing and crying, feasting and dancing, singing and worshiping. Every­ where, humans prefer living with others-in families and communal groups-to hvmg alone. Everywhere, the family dramas that entertain us—from Greek trag-

Mexican soap operas—portray similar plots (Dutton, 2006). Similar, too, are adventure stories in which strong and courageous men supported by wise old people, overcome evil to the delight of beautiful women or threatened children.

Such commonalities define our shared human nature. Although differences draw our attention, we’re more alike than different. We’re all kin beneath the skin.

Genes, Evolution, and Behavior ^e universal behaviors that define human nature arise from our biological simi- lanty. We may say, “My ancestors came from Ireland” or “My roots are in China” or Tm Italian,” but anthropologists tell us that if we could trace our ancestors

Genes, Culture, and Gender

back 100,000 or more years, we would see that we are all Africans (Shipman, 2003). In response to climate change and the availability of food, those early hominids migrated across Africa into Asia, Europe, the Australian subcontinent and, even­ tually, the Americas. As they adapted to their new environments, early humans developed differences that, measured on anthropological scales, are recent and superficial. Those who stayed in Africa had darker skin pigment—what Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker (2002) calls “sunscreen for the tropics”—and those who went far north of the equator evolved lighter skins capable of synthesizing vitamin D in less direct sunlight. Still, historically, we all are Africans.

We were Africans recently enough that “there has not been much time to accu­ mulate many new versions of the genes,” notes Pinker (2002, p. 143). Indeed, biolo­ gists who study our genes have found that we humans—even humans as seemingly different as Jan and Tomoko—are strikingly similar, like members of one tribe. We may be more numerous than chimpanzees, but chimps are more genetically varied.

To explain the traits of our species, and all species, the British naturalist Charles Darwin (1859) proposed an evolutionary process. Follow the genes, he advised. Darwin’s idea, to which philosopher Daniel Dennett (2005) would give “the gold medal for the best idea anybody ever had,” was that natural selection enables evolution.

The idea, simplified, is this:

• Organisms have many and varied offspring. • Those offspring compete for survival in their environment. • Certain biological and behavioral variations increase their chances of repro­

duction and survival in that environment. • Those offspring that do survive are more likely to pass their genes to ensuing

generations. • Thus, over time, population characteristics may change.

Natural selection implies that certain genes—those that predisposed traits that increased the odds of surviving long enough to reproduce and nurture descendants—became more abundant. In the snowy Arctic environment, for example, genes programming a thick coat of camouflaging white fur have won the genetic competition in polar bears.

Natural selection, long an organizing principle of biology, has recently become an important principle for psychology as well. Evolutionary psychology stud­ ies how natural selection predisposes not just physical traits suited to particular contexts—polar bears’ coats, bats’ sonar, humans’ color vision—^but also psycho­ logical traits and social behaviors that enhance the preservation and spread of one’s genes (Buss, 2005, 2007, 2009). We humans are the way we are, say evolutionary psychologists, because nature selected those who had our traits—those who, for example, preferred the sweet taste of nutritious, energy-providing foods and who disliked the bitter or sour flavors of foods that are toxic. Those lacking such prefer­ ences were less likely to survive to contribute their genes to posterity.

As mobile gene machines, we carry not only the physical legacy but also the psychological legacy of our ancestors’ adaptive preferences. We long for what­ ever helped them survive, reproduce, and nurture their offspring to survive and reproduce. Even negative emotions—anxiety, loneliness, depression, anger—are nature’s way of motivating us to cope with survival challenges. “The purpose of tbe heart is to pump blood,” notes evolutionary psychologist David Barash (2003). The brain’s purpose,” he adds, is to direct our organs and our behavior “in a way

that maximizes our evolutionary success. That’s it.” The evolutionary perspective highlights our universal human nature. We not

only share certain food preferences but we also share answers to social questions, such as. Whom should I trust? Whom should I help? When, and with whom, should I mate? Who may dominate me, and whom may I control? Evolutionary

Chapter 5 153

natural selection

The evolutionary process by which heritable traits that best enable organisms to survive and reproduce in particular environments are passed to ensuing generations.

evolutionary psychology

The study of the evolution of cognition and behavior using principles of natural selection.






154 Part Two Social Influence









culture The enduring behaviors, ideas, attitudes, and traditions shared by a large group of people and transmitted from one generation to the next.











psychologists contend that our emotional and behavioral answers to those ques­ tions are the same answers that worked for our ancestors.

And what should we fear? Mostly, we fear dangers faced by our distant ances­ tors. We fear foes, unfamiliar faces, and heights—and thus, possible terrorists, the ethnically different, and airplanes. We fear what’s immediate and sudden more than greater, gradual harms from historically newer threats, such as smoking or climate change.

Because our social tasks are common to people everywhere, humans everywhere tend to agree on the answers. For example, all humans rank others by authority and status. And all have ideas about economic justice (Fiske, 1992). Evolutionary psy­ chologists highlight these universal characteristics that have evolved through natu­ ral selection. Cultures, however, provide the specific rules for working out these elements of social life.

Culture and Behavior Perhaps our most important similarity, the hallmark of our species, is our capacity to learn and adapt. Our genes enable an adaptive human brain—a cerebral hard drive that receives the culture’s software. Evolution has prepared us to live cre­ atively in a changing world and to thrive in environments from equatorial jungles to arctic ice fields. Compared with bees, birds, and bulldogs, nature has humans on a looser genetic leash. Ironically, our shared human biology enables our cultural diversity. It enables those in one culture to value promptness, welcome frankness, or accept premarital sex, whereas those in another culture do not. As social psy­ chologist Roy Baumeister (2005, p. 29) observes, “Evolution made us for culture.” (See “Focus On: The Cultural Animal.”)

Evolutionary psychology incorporates environmental influences. It recognizes that nature and nurture interact in forming us. Genes are not fixed blueprints; their expression depends on the environment, much as the tea I am now drinking was not “expressed” until meeting a hot water environment. One study of New Zealand young adults revealed a gene variation that put people at risk for depression, but only if they had also experienced major life stresses such as a marital breakup (Caspi & others, 2003). Neither the stress nor the gene alone produced depression, but the two interacting did.

We humans have been selected not only for big brains and biceps but also for culture. We come prepared to learn language and to bond and cooperate with oth­ ers in securing food, caring for young, and protecting ourselves. Nature therefore predisposes us to learn whatever culture we are born into. The cultural perspective highlights human adaptability. People’s “natures are alike,” said Confucius; “it is their habits that carry them far apart.” And far apart we still are, note world culture researchers Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel (2005). Despite increasing edu­ cation, “we are not moving toward a uniform global culture: cultural convergence is not taking place. A society’s cultural heritage is remarkably enduring” (p. 46).

CULTURAL DIVERSITY The diversity of our languages, customs, and expressive behaviors confirms that much of our behavior is socially programmed, not hardwired. The genetic leash is long. As sociologist Ian Robertson (1987) has noted:

Americans eat oysters but not snails. The French eat snails but not locusts. The Zulus eat locusts but not fish. The Jews eat fish but not pork. The Hindus eat pork but not beef. The Russians eat beef but not snakes. The Chinese eat snakes but not people. The Jale of New Guinea find people delicious, (p. 67)

If we all lived as homogeneous ethnic groups in separate regions of the world, as some people still do, cultural diversity would be less relevant to our daily living. In Japan, where 98.5 percent of people are Japanese (CIA, 2011), internal cultural

Genes, Culture, and Gender Chapter 5 155

focus ON The Cultural Animal

We are, said Aristotle, the social animal. We humans have at least one thing in common with wolves and bees: We flourish by organizing ourselves into groups and working together.

But more than that, notes Roy Baumeister, we are—as he labels us in the title of his 2005 book—The Cultural Animal. Humans more than other animals harness the power of culture to make life better. “Culture is a better way of being social,” he writes. We have culture to thank for our communication through language, our driving safely on one side of the road, our eating fruit in winter, and our use of money to pay for our cars and fruit. Culture facilitates our survival and reproduction, and nature has blessed us with a brain that, like no other, enables culture.

Other animals show the rudiments of culture and lan­ guage. Monkeys have been observed to learn new food­ washing techniques, which then are passed across future generations. And chimps exhibit a modest capacity for language. But no species can accumulate progress across generations as smartly as humans. Your nineteenth-century ancestors had no cars, no indoor plumbing, no electric­ ity, no air conditioning, no Internet, no smartphones.

no Facebook pages, and no Post-it notes—all things for which you can thank culture. Intelligence enables innova­ tion, and culture enables dissemination—^the transmission of information and innovation across time and place.

The division of labor is “another huge and power­ ful advantage of culture,” notes Baumeister. Few of us grow food or build shelter, yet nearly everyone reading this book enjoys food and shelter. Indeed, books them­ selves are a tribute to the division of labor enabled by culture. Although only one lucky person’s name goes on this book’s cover, the product is actually the work of a coordinated team of researchers, reviewers, assistants, and editors. Books and other media disseminate knowl­ edge, providing the engine of progress.

“Culture is what is special about human beings,” con­ cludes Baumeister. “Culture helps us to become something much more than the sum of our talents, efforts, and other individual blessings. In that sense, culture is the greatest blessing of all…. Alone we would be but cunning brutes, at the mercy of our surroundings. Together, we can sustain a system that enables us to make life progressively better for ourselves, our children, and those who come after.”

differences are minimal. In contrast, these differences are encountered many times each day by most residents of New York City, where more than one- third of the 8 million residents are foreign-bom.

Increasingly, cultural diversity surrounds us. More and more we live in a global village, con­ nected to our fellow villagers by electronic social networks, jumbo jets, and international trade. The ntingling of cultures is nothing new. “American” jeans were invented in 1872 by German immigrant Levi Strauss by com­ bining Genes, the trouser style of Genoese sailors, with denim cloth b’om a French town (Legrain, 2003). An unknown pundit has said that nothing typifies global­ ization like the death of Princess Diana: “An English princess with ^ Egyptian boyfriend crashes in

“Women kiss women good night. Men kiss women good night. But men do not kiss men good night—especially in Armonk.”

Although some norms are universal, every culture has its own norms—rules for accepted and expected social behavior. © J. 6. Handelsman/The New Yorker Collection/

156 Part Two Social Influence

Cultures mixing. As these London schoolmates illustrate (one of Muslim heritage, the other Anglo Saxon), immigration and globalization are bringing once-distant cultures together

a French tunnel, riding in a German car with a Dutch engine, driven by a Belgian who was high on Scotch whiskey, fol­ lowed closely by Italian paparazzi on Japanese motorcycles, and is treated by an American doctor using medicines from Brazil.”

Confronting another culture is some­ times a startling experience. American males may feel uncomfortable when Middle Eastern heads of state greet the U.S. president with a kiss on the cheek. A German student, accustomed to speaking to “Herr Professor” only on rare occasions, considers it strange that at my institution most faculty office doors are open and students stop by freely. An Iranian student on her first visit to an American McDonald’s res­ taurant fumbles around in her paper bag looking for the eating utensils until she sees the other customers eat­ ing their french fries with, of all things,

their hands. In many areas of the globe, your best manners and mine are serious breaches of etiquette. Foreigners visiting Japan often struggle to master the rules of the social game—when to take off their shoes, how to pour the tea, when to give and open gifts, how to act toward someone higher or lower in the social hierarchy.

Migration and refugee evacuations are mixing cultures more than ever. “East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,” wrote the nineteenth- century British author Rudyard Kipling. But today. East and West, and North and South, meet all the time. Italy is home to many Albanians, Germany to Turks, England (where Mohammed in its various spellings is now the most frequent name given to newborn boys [Cohen, 2011]) to Pakistanis. The result is both friendship and conflict. One in 5 Canadians and 1 in 8 Americans is an immigrant. As we work, play, and live with people from diverse cultural backgrounds, it helps to understand how our cultures influence us and how our cultures differ. In a conflict­ laden world, achieving peace requires a genuine appreciation for both our genuine differences and our deep similarities.

norms Standards for accepted and expected behavior. Norms prescribe “proper” behavior. (In a different sense of the word, norms also describe what most others do—what is normal.)

NORMS: EXPECTED BEHAVIOR As etiquette rules illustrate, all cultures have their accepted ideas about appropriate behavior. We often view these social expectations, or norms, as a negative force that imprisons people in a blind effort to perpetuate tradition. Norms do restrain and con­ trol us—so successfully and so subtly that we hardly sense their existence. Like fish in the ocean, we are all so immersed in our cultures that we must leap out of them to understand their influence. “When we see other Dutch people behaving in what foreigners would call a Ehatch way,” noted Dutch psychologists Willem Koomen and Anton Dijker (1997), “we often do not realize that the behavior is typically Dutch.”

There is no better way to learn the norms of our culture than to visit another culture and see that its members do things that way, whereas we do them this way. When living in Scotland, I acknowledged to my children that, yes, Europeans eat meat with the fork facing down in the left hand. “But we Americans consider it good manners to cut the meat and then transfer the fork to the right hand. I admit it’s inefficient. But it’s the way we do it.”

To those who don’t accept them, such norms may seem arbitrary and confin- irig- To most in the Western world, the Muslim woman’s veil seems arbitrary and

Genes, Culture, and Gender Chapter 5 157

confining, but not to most in Muslim cultures. Just as a stage play moves smoothly when the actors know their lines, so social behavior occurs smoothly when people know what to expect. Norms grease the social machinery. In unfamiliar situations, when the norms may be unclear, we monitor others’ behavior and adjust our own accordingly.

Cultures vary in their norms for expressiveness, punctuality, rule-breaking, and personal space. Consider the following:

EXPRESSIVENESS To someone from a relatively formal northern European cul­ ture, a person whose roots are in an expressive Mediterranean culture may seem “warm, charming, inefficient, and time-wasting.” To the Mediterranean person, the northern European may seem “efficient, cold, and overconcemed with time” (Beaulieu, 2004; Triandis, 1981).

PUNCTUALITY Latin American business executives who arrive late for a dinner engagement may be mystified by how obsessed their North American counterparts are with punctuality. North American tourists in Japan may wonder about the lack of eye contact from passing pedestrians. (See “Research Close-Up: Passing Encoun­ ters, East and West.”)

RULE-BREAKING When people see social norms being violated, such as banned graffiti on a wall, they become more likely to follow the rule-breaking norm by violating other rules, such as littering. In six experiments, a Dutch research team led by Kees Keizer (2008) found people more than doubly likely to disobey social rules when it appeared that others were doing so. For example, when useless flyers were put on bike handles, one-third of cyclists tossed the flyer on the ground as lit­ ter when there was no graffiti on the adjacent wall. But more than two-thirds did so when the wall was covered with graffiti (Figure 5.1).

PERSONAL SPACE Personal space is a sort of portable bubble or buffer zone that we like to maintain between ourselves and others. As the situation changes, the bubble varies in size. With strangers, most Americans maintain a fairly large personal space, keeping 4 feet or more between us. On uncrowded buses, or in rest­ rooms or libraries, we protect our space and respect others’ space. We let friends come closer (Novelli & others, 2010).

Individuals differ; Some people prefer more personal space than others (Smith, 1981; Sommer, 1969; Stockdale, 1978). Groups differ, too: Adults maintain more distance than children. Men keep more distance from one another than do women. For reasons unknown, cultures near the equator prefer less space and more touch­ es and hugging. Thus, the British and the Scandinavians prefer more distance than the French and the Arabs; North Americans prefer more space than Latin Americans.

FIGURE” 5.1 Degraded Surroundings Can Degrade Behavior In a University of Groningen study, peopie mostiy did not litter the ground with an unwanted flyer when an adjacent wall was clean, but did litter when the wall was graffiti laden.

personal space The buffer zone we like to maintain around our bodies. Its size depends on our familiarity with whoever is near us.



-W. H. AUDEN, 1907-1973

158 Part Two Social Influence

research CLOSE-UP Passing Encounters, East and West

On my Midwestern American campus and in my town, sidewalk passersby routinely glance and smile at one another. In Britain, where I have spent two years, such microinteractions are visibly less common. To a European, our greeting passing strangers might seem a bit silly and disrespectful of privacy; to a Midwesterner, avoiding eye contact—what sociologists have called “civil inattention”—might seem aloof.

To quantify the culture difference in pedestrian inter­ actions, an international team led by Miles Patterson and Yuichi lizuka (2007) conducted a simple field experiment both in the United States and in Japan with the unwit­ ting participation of more than 1,000 pedestrians. Their procedure illustrates how social psychologists some­ times conduct unobtrusive research in natural settings (Patterson, 2008). As Figure 5.2 depicts, a confeder­ ate (an accomplice of the experimenter) would initiate one of three behaviors when within about 12 feet of an

Participant: Solitary pedestrian

with no one close in front or behind.


I Confederate:Initiates the condition at approximately 12 ft. from the participant. ♦

Observer: Approximately 30 ft. behind the confederate. Observer monitors the participant once the confederate makes a hand signal to start the condition.

approaching pedestrian on an uncrowded sidewalk: (1) avoidance (looking straight ahead), (2) glancing at the person for less than a second, and (3) looking at the per­ son and smiling. A trailing observer would then record the pedestrian’s reaction. Did the pedestrian glance at the confederate? smile? nod? verbally greet the confed­ erate? (The order of the three conditions was random­ ized and unknown to the trailing observer, ensuring that the person recording the data was “blind” to the experi­ mental condition.)

As you might expect, the pedestrians were more likely to look at someone who looked at them and to smile at, nod to, or greet someone who also smiled at them. This was especially so when that someone was female rather than male. But as Figure 5.3 shows, the culture differ­ ences were nevertheless striking. As the research team expected, in view of Japan’s greater respect for privacy and cultural reserve when interacting with outgroups, Americans were much more likely to smile at, nod to, or greet the confederate.

In Japan, they conclude, “there is little pressure to reciprocate the smile of the confederate because there is no relationship with the confederate and no obligation to respond.” By contrast, the American norm is to recip­ rocate a friendly gesture.

%: so 45









0 Avoid Glance Look &

Smile Condition

FIGURE:: 5.2 Illustration of Passing Encounter Source: Patterson & others (2006).


FIGURE:: 5.3 American and Japanese Pedestrian Responses, by Condition Source; Adapted from Patterson & others (2006).

159Genes, Culture, and Gender Chapter 5

To see the effect of encroaching on another’s personal space, play space invader. Stand or sit a foot or so from a friend and strike up a conversation. Does the person fidget, look away, back off, show other signs of discomfort? These are the signs of arousal noted by space-invading researchers (Altman & Vinsel, 1978).

Cultures differ not only in their norms for such behaviors, but also in the strength of their norms. One 33-nation study asked people to rate the appropriateness of various behav­ iors (such as eating or crying) in dif­ ferent situations (such as at a bank or a party). Societies exposed to threats such as territorial conflict or resource scarcity tend to be “tighter” cultures, with strong, enforced norms (Gelfand & others, 2011).

Former President Bush honored Saudi friendship norms when strolling with Crown Prince Abdullah in 2005. Many heterosexual North American men were, however, startled by the violation of their own norm of distance from other men.

CULTURAL SIMILARITY Thanks to human adaptability, cultures differ. Yet beneath the veneer of cultural differences, cross-cultural psychologists see “an essential universality” (Lormer, 1980). As members of one species, we find that the processes that underlie our differing behaviors are much the same everywhere. At ages 4 to 5, for example, children across the world begin to exhibit a “theory of mind” that enables them to infer what others are thinking (Norenzayan & Heine, 2005). If they witness a toy being moved while another child isn’t looking, they become able—no matter their culture—to infer that the other child will think it still is where it was.

UNIVERSAL FRIENDSHIP NORMS People everywhere have some common norms for friendship. From studies conducted in Britain, Italy, Hong Kong, and Japan, Michael Argyle and Monika Henderson (1985) noted several cultural varia­ tions in the norms that define the role of friend. For example, in Japan it’s especially

Despite enormous cultural variation, we humans do hold some things in common. © Peter Steiner/The New Yorker Collection/

160 Part Two Social Influence

FIGURE :: 5.4 Leung and Bond’s Universal Social Belief Dimensions

The Big Five Social Beliefs


Social complexity

Reward for application


Fate control

Sample Questionnaire Item

“Powerful people tend to exploit others.”

“One has to deal with matters according to the specific circumstances.”

“One will succeed if he/she really tries.”

“Religious faith contributes to good mental health.”

“Fate determines one’s success and failures.”

In The Female Eunuch, Germaine Greer notes how the language of affection reduces women to foods and baby animals—honey, Iamb, sugar, sweetie-pie, kitten, chick.

important not to embarrass a friend with public criticism. But there are also some apparently universal norms: Respect the friend’s privacy; make eye contact while talking; don’t divulge things said in confidence.

UNIVERSAL TRAIT DIMENSIONS Around the world, people tend to describe others along five personality dimensions: stable, outgoing, open, agreeable, and con­ scientious (John & Srivastava, 1999; McCrae & Costa, 2008). If a test specifies where you stand on these “Big Five dimensions, it pretty well describes your personality, no matter where you live. Moreover, a 49-country study revealed that nation-to- nation differences in people’s scores on Big Five traits such as conscientiousness and extraversion are smaller than most people suppose (Terracciano & others, 2005). Australians see themselves as unusually outgoing. The German-speaking Swiss see themselves as strikingly conscientious. And Canadians describe them­ selves as distinctly agreeable. Actually, however, these national stereotypes exag­ gerate real differences that are quite modest.

UNIVERSAL SOCIAL BELIEF DIMENSIONS Likewise, say Hong Kong social psychologists Kwok Leung and Michael Harris Bond (2004), there are five univer­ sal dimensions of social beliefs. In each of the 38 countries they studied, people vary in the extent to which they endorse and apply these social understandings in their daily lives: cynicism, social complexity, reward for application, spirituality, and fate control (Figure 5.4). People’s adherence to these social beliefs appears to guide their living. TTiose who espouse cynicism express lower life satisfaction and favor assertive influence tactics and right-wing politics. Those who espouse reward for application are inclined to invest themselves in study, planning, and competing.

UNIVERSAL STATUS NORMS Roger Brown (1965, 1987; Kroger & Wood, 1992) has studied another universal norm. Wherever people form status hierar­ chies, they also talk to higher-status people in the respectful way they often talk to strangers. And they talk to lower-status people in the more familiar, first-name way they speak to friends. Patients call their physician “Dr. So and So”; the physician may reply using the patients’ first names. Students and professors typically address one another in a similarly nonmutual way.

Most languages have two forms of the English pronoun “you”: a respectful form and a familiar form (for example, Sie and du in German, vous and tu in French, usted and tu in Spanish). People typically use the familiar form with intimates and subordinates—with close friends and family members but also in speaking to chil­ dren and pets. A German adolescent receives a boost when strangers begin address­ ing him or her as “Sie” instead of “du.”

This first aspect of Brown’s universal norm—that forms of address communi­ cate not only social distance but also social status—correlates with a second aspect: Advances in intimacy are usually suggested by the higher-status person. In Europe, where most twosomes begin a relationship with the polite, formal “you” and may eventually progress to the more intimate “you,” someone obviously has to initi­ ate the increased intimacy. Who do you suppose does so? On some congenial

161Genes, Culture, and Gender

occasion, the elder or richer or more distinguished of the two is the one to say, “Let’s say ‘du’ to each other.”

This norm extends beyond language to every type of advance in intimacy. It is more acceptable to borrow a pen from or put a hand on the shoulder of one’s intimates and subordinates than to behave in such a casual way with strangers or superiors. Similarly, the president of my college invites faculty to his home before they invite him to theirs. In the progression toward intimacy, the higher-status per­ son is typically the pacesetter.

THE INCEST TABOO The best-known universal norm is the taboo against incest: Parents are not to have sexual relations with their children, nor siblings with one another. Although the taboo apparently is violated more often than psycholo­ gists once believed, the norm is still universal. Every society disapproves of incest. Given the biological penalties for inbreeding (through the emergence of disorders linked to recessive genes), evolutionary psychologists can easily understand why people everywhere are predisposed against incest.

NORMS OF WAR Humans even have cross-cultural norms for conducting war. In the midst of killing one’s enemy, there are agreed-upon rules that have been hon­ ored for centuries. You are to wear identifiable uniforms, surrender with a gesture of submission, and treat prisoners humanely. (If you can’t kill them before they sur­ render, you should feed them thereafter.) However, although cross-cultural, these norms are not universal. During the Iraq War that began under the George W. Bush administration, Iraqi forces violated these norms by showing surrender flags and then attacking, and by dressing soldiers as liberated civilians to set up ambushes. A U.S. military spokesperson complained that “both of these actions are among the most serious violations of the laws of war” (Clarke, 2003).

So, some norms are culture-specific, others are universal. The force of culture appears in varying norms, whereas it is largely our genetic predispositions—our human nature—that account for the universality of some norms. Thus, we might think of nature as universal and nurture as culture-specific.

So far in this chapter, we have affirmed our biological kinship as members of one human family. We have also acknowledged our cultural diversity. And we have noted how norms vary within and across cultures. Remember that our quest in social psychology is not just to catalog differences but also to identify universal principles of behavior. Our aim is what cross-cultural psychologist Walter Lonner (1989) has called “a universalistic psychology—a psychology that is as valid and meaningful in Omaha and Osaka as it is in Rome and Botswana.”

Attitudes and behaviors will always vary with culture, but the processes by which attitudes influence behavior vary much less. People in Nigeria and Japan

Chapter 5

Norms—rules for accepted and expected behavior—vary by culture.











E. WILLIAMS (1993)

162 Part Two Social Influence

define teen roles differently from people in Europe and North America, but in all cultures role expectations guide social relations. English writer G. K. Chesterton had the Idea nearly a century ago: When someone “has discovered why men in Bond Street wear black hats he will at the same moment have discovered why men m limbuctoo wear red feathers.”

SUMMING UP: How Are We Influenced by Human Nature and Cultural Diversity?

• How are we humans alike, how do we differ—and why? Evolutionary psychologists study how natural selection favors behavioral traits that promote the perpetuation of one’s genes. Although part of evo­ lution’s legacy is our human capacity to learn and adapt {and therefore to differ from one another), the evolutionary perspective highlights the kinship that results from our shared human nature.

• The cultural perspective higWights human diversity— the behaviors and ideas that define a group and

that are transmitted across generations. The dif­ ferences in attitudes and behaviors from one cul­ ture to another indicate the extent to which we are the products of cultural norms and roles. Yet cross-cultural psychologists also examine the “essential universality” of all people. For exam­ ple, despite their differences, cultures have a number of norms in common, such as respect­ ing privacy in friendships and disapproving of incest.


In psychology, ths characteristics, whether biological or socially influenced, by which people define male and female.


Describe how males and females are alike, and how they differ.

There are many obvious dimensions of human diversity—height, weight hair color to name a few. But for people’s self-concepts and social relationships the two dimensions that matter most-and that people first attune to—are race and especially, gender (Stangor & others, 1992). When you were bom, the first thing people wanted to know about you was, “Is it a boy or a girl?” It’s believed to be either one or the other, and not a matter left to choice. When a Canadian couple in 2011 vowed to keep secret the gender of their baby, “Storm,” so that the child could later develop its own gender identity without having to meet gender expectations, a storm of criticism erupted (AP, 2011). ^

Many cultures, like North American cultures, deliver a strong message: Everyone must be assigned a gender. When an intersex child is born with a combination of male and female sex organs, physicians and the family traditionally have felt com­ pelled to assign the child a gender by diminishing the ambiguity surgically. Between day and night there is dusk. Between hot and cold there is warm. But between male and female there has been, socially speaking, essentially nothing. The closest thing o an exception is transgender people, whose sense of being male or female differs

from their birth sex (APA, 2010). A person may feel like a woman in a man’s body or a man m a woman’s body—and may dress according to the identity they feel.

Gender and Genes In Chapter 9, we will consider how race and sex affect the way others regard and treat us. For now et’s consider gender—the characteristics people associate with male and female. What behaviors are characteristic and expected of males? of females?


“Of the 46 chromosomes in the human genome, 45 are imisex,” noted Judith Rich Harris (1998). Females and males are therefore similar in many physical traits and developmental milestones, such as the age of sitting up, teething, and walking. They also are alike in many psychological traits, such as overall vocabulary, creativ­ ity, intelligence, self-esteem, and happiness. Women and men feel the same emo­ tions and longings, both dote on their children, and they have similar-appearing brains (although, on average, men have more neurons and women have more neu­ ral connections). Indeed, noted Janet Shibley Hyde (2005) from her review of 46 meta-analyses (each a statistical digest of dozens of studies), the common result for most variables studied is gender similarity. Your “opposite sex” is actually your nearly identical sex.

So shall we conclude that men and women are essentially the same, except for a few anatomical oddities that hardly matter apart from special occasions? Actually, some differences do exist, and it is these differences, not the many similarities, that capture attention and make news. In both science and everyday life, differences excite interest—enough to have stimulated some 18,000 studies comparing females and males (Ellis & others, 2008). Compared with males, the average female

• has 70 percent more fat, has 40 percent less muscle, is 5 inches shorter, and weighs 40 pounds less.

• is more sensitive to smells and sounds. • is doubly vulnerable to anxiety disorders and depression.

I Compared with females, the average male is

• slower to enter puberty (by about two years) but quicker to die (by four years, worldwide).

• three times more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit/ hyperactivity disorder), four times more likely to commit suicide, and five times more likely to be killed by lightning.

• more capable of wiggling the ears.

During the 1970s, many scholars worried that studies of such gender differences might reinforce stereotypes. Would gender differences be construed as women’s deficits? Although the findings confirm some stereotypes of women—as less physi­ cally aggressive, more nurturant, and more socially sensitive—those traits are not only celebrated by many feminists but also preferred by most people, whether male or female (Prentice & Carranza, 2002; Swim, 1994). Small wonder, then, that most people rate their beliefs and feelings regarding women as more favorable than their feelings regarding men (Eagly, 1994; Haddock & Zanna, 1994).

Let’s compare men’s and women’s social connections, dominance, aggressive­ ness, and sexuality. After we have described these few differences, we can then consider how the evolutionary and cultural perspectives might explain them. Do gender differences reflect natural selection? Are they culturally constructed—a reflection of the roles that men and women often play and the situations in which they act? Or do genes and culture together bend the genders?

Independence Versus Connectedness Individual men display outlooks and behavior that vary from fierce competitive­ ness to caring nurturance. So do individual women. Without denying that, several late-twentieth-century feminist psychologists contended that women more than nen give priority to close, intimate relationships (Chodorow, 1978,1989; Gilligan, 1982; Gilligan & others, 1990; Miller, 1986). Consider the evidence:

PLAY Compared with boys, girls talk more intimately and play less aggressively, noted Eleanor Maccoby (2002) from her decades of research on gender develop­ ment. They also play in smaller groups, often talking with one friend. Boys more

Genes, Culture, and Gender Chapter 5

Even in physical traits, individual differences among men and among women far exceed the average differences between the sexes. Don Schollander’s world- record-setting 4 minutes, 12 seconds in the 400-meter freestyle swim at the 1964 Olympics trailed the times of all eight women racing in the 2008 Olympic finals for that event.


















164 Part Two Social Influence

Girls’ play is often in small groups and imitates relation­ ships. Boys’ play is more often competitive or aggressive.




^wWch they express more enfotion (CrabtreSooTl^oXn & MurachvfrTooi)’ Arrd they spend more time on social networking sites (Pryor & 0^720107′

nofes sluey Tavt^nnFr u ” I” ^‘«dies, notes bnelley Taylor (2002), women who are under stress more often “tend and


fli (Zl£i^

others, 2010; plgly 2009-Upp^looS^M (Diekman &

Ihon people s responses to various interest inventories fsu & oth7s 2009) ^

Genes, Culture, and Gender Chapter 5 165

parents (women especially) become more traditional in their gender-related atti­ tudes and behaviors (Ferriman & others, 2009; Katz-Wise, 2010). Women spend niore time caring for both preschoolers and aging parents (Eagly & Crowley, 1986). Compared with men, they buy three times as many gifts and greeting cards, write two to four times as many personal letters, and make 10 to 20 percent more long­ distance calls to friends and family (Putnam, 2000). Asked to provide photos that portray who they are, women include more photos of parents and of themselves with others (Clancy & Dollinger, 1993).

SMILING Smiling, of course, varies with situations. Yet across more than 400 studies, women’s greater connectedness has been expressed in their generally higher rate of smiling (LaFrance & others, 2003). For example, when Marianne LaFrance (1985) analyzed 9,000 college yearbook photos, she found females more often smiling. So did Amy Halberstadt and Martha Saitta (1987) in 1,100 magazine and newspaper photos and 1,300 people in shopping malls, parks, and streets.

EMPATHY When surveyed, women are far more likely to describe themselves as having empathy, or being able to feel what another feels—to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. To a lesser extent, the empathy difference extends to laboratory studies:

• Shown slides or told stories, girls react with more empathy (Hunt, 1990). • Given upsetting experiences in the laboratory or in real life, women more

than men express empathy for others enduring similar experiences (Batson & I others, 1996). f, • Observing another receiving pain after misbehaving, women’s empathy- F related brain circuits display elevated activity even when men’s do not—

after the other had misbehaved (Singer & others, 2006). • Women are more likely to cry or report feeling distressed at another’s

distress (Eisenberg & Lennon, 1983). In a 2003 Gallup poll, 12 percent of American men and 43 percent of women reported having cried as a result of the war in Iraq.

All these differences help to explain why, compared with male friendships, both men and women report friendships with women to be more intimate, enjoyable, and nurturing (Rubin, 1985; Sapadin, 1988). When you want empathy and under­ standing, someone to whom you can disclose your joys and hurts, to whom do you turn? Most men and women usually turn to women.

One explanation for this male-female empathy difference is that women tend to outperform men at reading others’ emotions. In her analysis of 125 studies of men’s and women’s sensitivity to nonverbal cues, Judith Hall (1984, 2006) discerned that women are generally superior at decoding others’ emotional











TO GUYS, 1995

empathy The vicarious experience of another’s feelings; putting oneself in another’s shoes.

What do you think: Should Western women become more self-reliant and more attuned to their culture’s individualism? Or might women’s relational approach to life help transform power- oriented Western societies (marked by high levels of child neglect, loneliness, and depression) into more caring communities?

® Michael Jantze. With permission of Publishing.

Social Influence166 Part Two

Because they are generally empathic and skilled at reading others’ emotions, girls are less vulnerable to autism, which to Simon Baron-Cohen (2004,2(X)5) represents an “extreme male brain.”

messages. For example, shown a 2-second silent film clip of the face of an upset woman, women guess more accurately whether she is criticizing someone or discussing her divorce. Women also are more often strikingly better than men at recalling others’ appearance, report Marianne Schmid Mast and Judith Hall (2006). In experiments, high-status people are less accurate in reading others’ emotions (Kraus & others, 2010).

Finally, women are more skilled at expressing emotions nonverbally, says Hall. This is especially so for positive emotion, report Erick Coats and Robert Feldman (1996). They had people talk about times they had been happy, sad, and angry. When shown 5-second silent video clips of those reports, observers could much more accurately discern women’s than men’s emotions when recalling happiness. Men, however, were slightly more successful in conveying anger.

Social Dominance Imagine two people; One is “adventurous, autocratic, coarse, dominant, forceful independent, and strong.” The other is “affectionate, dependent, dreamy, emo­ tional, submissive, and weak.” If the first person sounds more to you like a man and the second like a woman, you are not alone, report John Williams and Deborah Best (1990, p. 15). From Asia to Africa and Europe to Australia, people rate men as more dominant, driven, and aggressive. Moreover, studies of nearly 80,000 people across 70 countries show that men more than women rate power and achievement as important (Schwartz & Rubel, 2005).

These perceptions and expectations correlate with reality. In essentially every society, men are socially dominant (Pratto, 1996). As Peter Hegarty and his colleagues (2010) have observed, across time, men’s names have come first: “King and Queen,” “his and hers,” “Mr. and Mrs.,” “Bill and Hillary.” Shakespeare never wrote plays with titles such as Juliet and Romeo or Cleopatra and Antony

Men also ou,nun.,er .omen enct a”e^hrL”n

amon,lHemost,oneness, such as prisoners and the homeless (Baumeister, 2010). * Women in 2011 were but 19 percent of the world’s legislators (IPU, 2011).

® J. B. HantJelsman/The New Yofker Collection/

• Men more than women are concerned with social dominance and are more likely to favor conservative political candidates and programs that pre­ serve group inequality (Eagly & oth­ ers, 2004; Sidanius & Pratto, 1999).

• Menarehalf of all jurors but have been 90 percent of elected jury leaders; men are also the leaders of most ad hoc laboratory groups (Colarelli & others, 2006; Davis & Gilbert, 1989; Kerr & others, 1982).

• In Britain, men hold 87 percent of top-100 company board positions (BIS, 2011).

• Women’s wages are “between 70 and 90 percent of men’s wages in a major­ ity of countries,” reports the United Nations (2010). Only about one-fifth of this wage gap is attributable to gender differences in education, work experience, or job characteristics (World Bank, 2003).

Genes, Culture, and Gender Chapter 5 167

Across many studies, people perceive leaders as having more culturally mascu­ line traits—as being more confident, forceful, independent, and outspoken (Koenig & others, 2011). When writing letters of recommendation, people more often use such “agentic” adjectives when describing male candidates, and more “communal” adjectives (helpful, kind, sympathetic, nurturing, tactful) when describing women candidates (Madera & others, 2009). The net effect may be to disadvantage women applying for leadership roles.

Men’s style of communicating undergirds their social power. In situations where roles aren’t rigidly scripted, men tend to be more autocratic, women more dem­ ocratic (Eagly & Carli, 2007). In leadership roles, men tend to excel as directive, task-focused leaders; women excel more often in the “transformational” leadership that is favored by more and more organizations, with inspirational and social skills that build team spirit. Men more than women place priority on winning, getting ahead, and dominating others (Sidanius & others, 1994). This may explain why people’s preference for a male leader is greater for competitions between groups, such as when countries are at war, than when conflicts occur within a group (Van Vugt & Spisak, 2008).

Men also act more impulsively and take more risks (Byrnes & others, 1999; Cross & others, 2011). One study of data from 35,000 stockbroker accounts found that “men are more overconfident than women” and therefore made 45 percent more stock trades (Barber & Odean, 2001a). Because trading costs money, and because men’s trades proved no more successful, their results underperformed the stock market by 2.65 percent, compared with women’s 1.72 percent underperformance. The men’s trades were riskier—and the men were the poorer for it.

In writing, women tend to use more communal prepositions (“with”), fewer quantitative words, and more present tense. One computer program, which taught itself to recognize gender differences in word usage and sentence struc­ ture, successfully identified the author’s gender in 80 percent of 920 British fiction and nonfiction works (Koppel & others, 2002).

In conversation, men’s style reflects their con­ cern for independence, women’s for connectedness. Men are more likely to act as powerful people often do—talking assertively, interrupting intrusively, touching with the hand, staring more, smiling less (Leaper & Robnett, 2011). Stating the results from a female perspective, women’s influence style tends to be more indirect—less interruptive, more sensi­ tive, more polite, less cocky, and more qualified and hedged.

So is it right to declare (in the title words of one 1990s bestseller). Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus? Actually, note Kay Deaux and Marianne LaFrance (1998), men’s and women’s conversational styles vary with the social context. Much of the style ‘ve attribute to men is typical of people (men and ‘vomen) in positions of status and power (Hall & others, 2006). For example, students nod more when speaking with professors than when speaking with peers, and women nod more than men (Helweg- Larsen & others, 2004). Men—and people in high- status roles—tend to talk louder and to interrupt ttiore (Hall & others, 2005). Moreover, individuals ”^ry; some men are hesitant, some women assertive.

suggest that women and men are from different ^niotional planets greatly oversimplifies.

Some gender differences do not correlate with status and power. For example, women at all status levels tend to smile more (Hall & others, 20051.

“It’s a guy thing.’

© Donald Reillv/The New Yorker Collection/

168 Part Two Social Influence

aggression Physical or verbal behavior intended to hurt someone. In laboratory experiments, this might mean delivering electric shocks or saying something likely to hurt another’s feelings.












FUNNY T/MES, 2011)

By aggression, psychologists mean behavior intended to hurt. Throughout the world, hunting, fighting, and warring are primarily male activities (Wood & Eagly, 2007). In surveys, men admit to more aggression than do women. In laboratory experiments, men indeed exhibit more physical aggression, for example, by administering what they believe are hurtful electric shocks (Knight & others 1996). In Canada, the male-to-female arrest ratio is 8 to 1 for murder (Statistics Canada, 2010). In the United States, where 92 percent of prisoners are male, it is 9 to 1 (FBI, 2009). Almost all suicide terrorists have been young men (Kruglanski & Golec de Zavala, 2005). So also are nearly all battlefield deaths and death row inmates.

But again the gender difference fluctuates with the context. When there is provocation, the gender gap shrinks (Bettencourt & Kernahan, 1997; Richardson, 2005). And within less assaultive forms of aggression—for instance, slapping a fam­ ily member, throwing something, or verbally attacking someone—women are no less aggressive than men (Bjorkqvist, 1994; White & Kowalski, 1994). Indeed says John Archer (2000, 2004, 2007, 2009) from his statistical digests of dozens of stui les, women may be slightly more likely to commit indirect aggressive acts, such as spreading malicious gossip. But all across the world and at all ages, men much more often injure others with physical aggression.

Sexuality There is also a gender gap in sexual attitudes and assertiveness (Petersen & Hyde, 2010). It s true that in their physiological and subjective responses to sexual stimuli, women and men are “more similar than different” (Griffith 1987). Yet consider the following:

• “I can imagine myself being comfortable and enjoying ‘casual’ sex with different partners,” agreed 48 percent of men and 12 percent of women in an Australian survey (Bailey & others, 2000). One 48-nation study showed country-by-country variation in acceptance of unrestricted sexuality, rang­ ing from relatively promiscuous Finland to relatively monogamous Taiwan (Schmitt, 2005). But in every country studied, it was the men who expressed more desire for unrestricted sex. Likewise, when the BBC surveyed more than 200,000 people in 53 nations, men everywhere more strongly agreed that “I have a strong sex drive” (Lippa, 2008b).

• The American Council on Education’s recent survey of a quarter of a mil­ lion first-year college students offers a similar finding. “If two people really like each other, it’s all right for them to have sex even if they’ve known each other for only a very short time,” agreed 58 percent of men but only 34 per­ cent of women (Pryor & others, 2005).

• In a survey of 3,400 randomly selected 18- to 59-year-old Americans, half as many men (25 percent) as women (48 percent) cited affection for the partner as a reason for hrst intercourse. How often do they think about sex? “Every day” or “several times a day,” said 19 percent of women and 54 percent of men (Laumann & others, 1994). Canadians concur, with 11 percent of women and 46 percent of men saying “several times a day” (Fischstein & others, 2007).

The gender difference in sexual attitudes carries over to behavior. “With few excepHons anywhere in the world,” reported cross-cultural psychologist Marshall Segall and his colleagues (1990, p. 244), “males are more likely than females to initi­ ate sexual activity.”

Compared with lesbians, gay men also report more interest in uncommitted sex, more frequent sex, more interest in pornography, more responsiveness to visual stimuli, and more concern with partner attractiveness (Peplau & Fingerhut, 2007;

Genes, Culture, and Gender Chapter 5 169

Rupp & Wallen, 2008; Schmitt, 2007). The 47 percent of coupled American lesbians is double the 24 percent of gay men who are coupled (Doyle, 2005). Among those electing civil unions in Vermont and same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, two- thirds have been female couples (Belluck, 2008; Rothblum, 2007). “It’s not that gay men are oversexed,” observed Steven Pinker (1997). “They are simply men whose male desires bounce off other male desires rather than off female desires.”

Indeed, not only do men fantasize more about sex, have more permissive atti­ tudes, and seek more partners, they also are more quickly aroused, desire sex more often, masturbate more frequently, use more pornography, are less successful at cel­ ibacy, refuse sex less often, take more risks, expend more resources to gain sex, and prefer more sexual variety (Baumeister & others, 2001; Baumeister & Vohs, 2004; Petersen & Hyde, 2011). In one sample of 18- to 25-year-old collegians, the median man thought about sex about once per hour, the median woman about once every two hours, albeit with great individual differences (Fisher & others, 2011). One sur­ vey asked 16,288 people from 52 nations how many sexual partners they desired in the next month. Among those unattached, 29 percent of men and 6 percent of women wanted more than one partner (Schmitt, 2003, 2005). These results were identical for straight and gay people (29 percent of gay men and 6 percent of lesbi­ ans desired more than one partner).

“Everywhere sex is understood to be something females have that males want,” offered anthropologist Donald Symons (1979, p. 253). Small wonder, say Baumeister and Vohs, that cultures everywhere attribute greater value to female than male sexuality, as indicated in gender asymmetries in prostitution and courtship, where men generally offer money, gifts, praise, or commitment in implicit exchange for a woman’s sexual engagement. In human sexual eco­ nomics, they note, women rarely if ever pay for sex. Like labor unions opposing “scab labor” as undermining the value of their own work, most women oppose other women’s offering “cheap sex,” which reduces the value of their own sexu­ ality. Across 185 countries, the scarcer the available men, the higher is the teen pregnancy rate—because when men are scarce “women compete against each other by offering sex at a lower price in terms of commitment” (Barber, 2000; Baumeister & Vohs, 2004). When women are scarce, as is increasingly the case in China and India, the market value of their sexuality rises, and they are able to command greater commitment.

Sexual fantasies, too, express the gender difference (Ellis & Symons, 1990). In male-oriented erotica, women are unattached and lust driven. In romance novels.


® Alex Gregory/The New Yorker Collection/

170 Part Two Social Influence

H market IS women, a tender male is emotionally consumed by his CToted passion for the heroine. Social scientists aren’t the only ones to have noHced Women can be fascmated by a four-hour movie with subtitles wherein the entire

plot consists of a man and a woman yearning to have, but never actually havin a relationship ” obseijes humorist Dave Barry (1995). “Men HATE that. Men can take maybe 45 seconds of yearning, and they want everybody to get naked Pol

As detectives are more intrigued by crime than virtue, so psychological detec ives are more intrigued by differences than similarities. Let us therefme remind

ourselves. Individual differences far exceed gender differences. Females and tw opposite (altogether different) sexes. Rather, they differ like

SUMMING UP: How Are Males and Females Alike and Different?

• Boys and girls, and men and women, are in many ways alike. Yet their differences attract more atten­ tion than their similarities. Social psychologists have explored gender dif­ ferences in independence versus connectedness. Women typically do more caring, express more empathy and emotion, and define themselves more in terms of relationships.

• Men and women also tend to exhibit differing social dominance and aggression. In every known culture

on earth, men tend to have more social power and are more likely than women to engage in physical aggression. Sexuality is another area of marked gender differ­ ences. Men more often think about and initiate se. whereas women’s sexuality tends to be inspired b’ emotional passion.


Compare and contrast how evolutionary psychologists, and psychologists working from a sociocultural perspective, seek to explain gender variations.

Mindful of the evidence, gender researcher Diane Halpern (2010) describes “con­ sistent findinp of sex differences that hold up across studies, across species

women have pfferent personalities, interests, and abilities?” asked the Gallup Organization (1990) in a national survey. “Is it mainly because of the way men rr^oneX^or” ’’”‘””i u differences part of their biological makeup?” Among the 99 percent who answered the question (apparently without questiL- Sogy.”””’””™*” “u’pbringing’” as sdd

There are, of course, certain salient biological sex differences. Men’s genes pre- ispose the muscle mass to hunt game; women’s the capability to breastfeed infants

Are biological sex differences limited to such obvious distinctions in reproduction wavs thatTsf t h IT”* ho^ones, and braids differ in ways that also contribute to behavioral differences?

Genes, Culture, and Gender Chapter 5 171

Gender and Mating Preferences Noting the worldwide persistence of gender differences in aggressiveness, domi­ nance, and sexuality, evolutionary psychologist Douglas Kenrick (1987) suggested, as have many others since, that “we cannot change the evolutionary history of our species, and some of the differences between us are undoubtedly a function of that history.” Evolutionary psychology predicts no sex differences in all those domains in which the sexes faced similar adaptive challenges (Buss, 1995b, 2009). Both sexes regulate heat with sweat. The two have similar taste preferences to nourish their bodies. And they both grow calluses where the skin meets friction. But evolution- ary psychology does predict sex differences in behaviors relevant to mating and reproduction.

Consider, for example, the male’s greater sexual initiative. The average male produces many trillions of sperm in his lifetime, making sperm cheap compared with eggs. (If you happen to be an average man, you will make more than 1,000 sperm while reading this sentence.) Moreover, while a female brings one fetus to term and then nurses it, a male can spread his genes by fertilizing many females. Women’s investment in childbearing is, just for starters, 9 months; men’s invest- nient may be 9 seconds.

Thus, say evolutionary psychologists, females invest their reproductive opportu­ nities carefully, by looking for signs of resources and commitment. Males compete with other males for chances to win the genetic sweepstakes by sending their genes into the future, and thus look for healthy, fertile soil in which to plant their seed. Women want to find men who will help them tend the garden—resourceful and monogamous dads rather than wandering cads. Women seek to reproduce wisely, men widely. Or so the theory goes.

Moreover, evolutionary psychology suggests, physically dominant males excelled m gaining access to females, which over generations enhanced male aggression and dominance as the less-aggressive males had fewer chances to reproduce. Expos- mg men to images of attractive women primes increased support for international aggression, which is consistent with the theory that mating desires may be one moti­ vation for war (Chang & others, 2011). Whatever genes helped Montezuma II to t>ecome Aztec king were also given to his offspring, along with those from many of fhe 4,000 women in his harem (Wright, 1998). If our ancestral mothers benefited from ^^ing able to read their infants’ and suitors’ emotions, then natural selection may have similarly favored emotion-detecting ability in females. Underlying all these pre­ sumptions is a principle: Nature selects traits that help send one’s genes into the future.

Little of this process is conscious. Few people in the throes of passion stop to think, J Want to give my genes to posterity.” Rather, say evolutionary psychologists, our

© Ed Frascino/The New Yorker Collection/

In species for which males provide more parental investment than females, notes evolutionary psychologist David Schmitt (2006), males have a longer- term mating strategy, are more discriminating among potential mates, and die later.



-SAMUEL BUTLER, 1835-1901

172 Part Two Social Influence

natural yearnings are our genes’ way of making more genes. Emotions execute evo­ lution’s dispositions, much as hunger executes the body’s need for nutrients.

Medical researcher and author Lewis Thomas {1971) captured the idea of hidden evolutionary predispositions in his fanciful description of a male moth responding to a female’s release of bombykol, a single molecule of which will tremble the hairs of any male within miles and send him driving upwind in ardor. But it is doubtful if the moth has an awareness of being caught in an aerosol of chemical attractant. On the contrary, he probably finds suddenly that it has become an excellent day the weather remarkably bracing, the time appropriate for a bit of exercise of the old wings, a brisk turn upwind.

Humans are living fossils—collections of mechanisms produced by prior selec­ tions pressures,” says David Buss {1995a). And that, evolutionary psychologists believe, helps explain not only male aggression but also the differing sexual atti­ tudes and behaviors of females and males. Although a man’s interpretation of a woman’s smile as sexual interest usually proves wrong, occasionally being right can have reproductive payoff.

Evolutionary psychology also predicts that men will strive to offer what women will desire—external resources and physical protection. Male peacocks strut their feathers; male humans, their abs, Audis, and assets {Sundie & others, 2011). In one experiment, teen males rated “having lots of money” as more important after they were put alone in a room with a teen female (Roney, 2003). In one Cardiff, Wales, study, men rated a woman as equally attractive whether she was at the wheel of a humble Ford Fiesta or a swanky Bentley; women found the man more attractive if seen in the luxury car (Dunn & Searle, 2010). “Male achievement is ultimately a courtship display,” says Glenn Wilson (1994).

To attract men, women may balloon their breasts, Botox their wrinkles, and lipo­ suction their fat to offer men the youthful, healthy appearance (connoting fertility) that men desire—while, in some experiments, demeaning the success and appear­ ance of other attractive women (Agthe & others, 2008; Vukovic & others, 2008). Women’s and men’s mate preferences confirm these observations. Consider the following:

• Studies in 37 cultures, from Australia to Zambia, reveal that men everywhere feel attracted to women whose physical features, such as youthful faces and forms, suggest fertility. Women everywhere feel attracted to men whose wealth, power, and ambition promise resources for protecting and nurturing offspring (Figure 5.5). But there are gender similarities, too: Whether residing on an Indonesian island or in urban Sao Paulo, both women and men desire kindness, love, and mutual attraction.

FIGURE:: 5.5 Human Mating Preferences David Buss and 50 collaborators surveyed more than 10,000 people from all races, religions, and political systems on six continents and five islands. Everywhere, men preferred attractive physical features sug­ gesting youth and health— and reproductive fitness. Everywhere, women preferred men with resources and status. Source:from Buss (1994b).

Genes, Culture, and Gender Chapter 5 173

• Men everywhere tend to be most L attracted to women whose age and I: features suggest peak fertility. For teen g boys, this is a woman several years 1 older than themselves. For mid-20s ■ men, it’s women their own age. For B older men, it’s younger women, and i the older the man, the greater the age I difference he prefers when select- I ing a mate (Kenrick & others, 2009). I One finds this pattern worldwide, in I European singles ads, Indian marital i ads, and marriage records from the I Americas, Africa, and the Philippines I (Singh, 1993; Singh & Randall, 2007). I Women of all ages prefer men just

slightly older than themselves. Again, I say the evolutionary psychologists, we I see that natural selection predisposes men to feel attracted to female features i associated with fertility. I • Monthly fertility also matters. Women’s behaviors, scents, and voices pro- I vide subtle clues to their ovulation, which men can detect (Haselton & I’ Gildersleeve, 2011). When at peak fertility, women express greater preference 1 for masculine faces, greater apprehensiveness of potentially threatening men,

and greater ability to detect men’s sexual orientation (Eastwick, 2009: Little & others, 2008; Navarrete & others, 2009; Rule & others, 2011).

Reflecting on those findings. Buss (1999) reports feeling somewhat astonished “that men and women across the world differ in their mate preferences in pre­ cisely the ways predicted by the evolutionists. Just as our fears of snakes, heights, and spiders provide a window for viewing the survival hazards of our evolution­ ary ancestors, our mating desires provide a window for viewing the resources our ancestors needed for reproduction. We all carry with us today the desires of our successful forebears.”

Reflections on Evolutionary Psychology Without disputing natural selection—nature’s process of selecting physical and behavioral traits that enhance gene survival—critics see a problem with evolution­ ary explanations. Evolutionary psychologists sometimes start with an effect (such as the male-female difference in sexual initiative) and then work backward to con­ struct an explanation for it. That approach is reminiscent of functionalism, a domi­ nant theory in psychology during the 1920s, whose logic went like this: “Why does that behavior occur? Because it serves such and such a function.” As biologists Paul Ehrlich and Marcus Feldman (2003) have pointed out, the evolutionary theorist can hardly lose when employing hindsight. Today’s evolutionary psychology is like yesterday’s Freudian psychology, say such critics: Either theory can be retrofitted to whatever happens.

The way to overcome the hindsight bias is to imagine things turning out other­ wise. Let’s try it. Imagine that women were stronger and more physically aggres­ sive than men. “But of course!” someone might say, “all the better for protecting their young.” And if human males were never known to have extramarital affairs, nright we not see the evolutionary wisdom behind their fidelity? There is more to bringing offspring to maturity than merely depositing sperm, so men and women both gain by investing jointly in their children. Males who are loyal to their mates 3nd offspring are more apt to ensure that their young will survive to perpetuate

Larry King, 25 years older than seventh wife, Shawn Southwick-King.

174 Part Two Social Influence

focus ON Evolutionary Science and Religion

A certu^ and a half after Charles Darwin wrote On the Ung,n of Species, controversy continues over his big idea- that every earthly creature is descended from another earth y creature. The controversy rages most intensely in the Unrted States, where a Gallup survey reveals that half of adults do not believe that evolution accounts for “how human beings came to exist on Earth” and that 40 percent believe humans were created “within the past 10,000 years or so (Newport, 2007b, 2010). This skepticism of evolu- lon persists despite evidence, including research showing

species genetic relatedness, which long ago persuaded 95 percent of scientists that “human beings have deveh oped over millions of years” (Gallup, 1996)

For most scientists, mutation and natural selection explain the emergence of life, including its ingenious desigrts. For example, the human eye, an engineering marvel that encodes and transmits a rich stream of infer mation, has its building blocks “dotted around the ani­ mal kingdom,” enabling nature to select mutations that over time improved the design (Dennett, 2005) Indeed many scientists are fond of quoting the famous dictum of geneticist (and Russian Orthodox Church member) Theodosius Dobzhansky, “Nothing makes sense in biol­ ogy except in the light of evolution,”

Alan Leshner (2005), the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s executive director, laments

e polarization caused by zealots at both the antiscience

and the antireligious extremes. To resolve the grow­ ing science-religion tension, he believes “we must take every opportunity to make clear to the general public

at science and religion are not adversaries. They can co-exist comfortably, and both have a place and provide important benefits to society.”

There are many scientists who concur with Leshner believing that science offers answers to questions such as _when? and “how?” and that religion offers answers o who? and “why?” In the fifth century, St. Augustine

anticipated today s science-affirming people of faith- The universe was brought into being in a iess than fully ormed state, but was gifted with the capacity to trans­

form Itself from unformed matter into a truly marvelous array of structures and forms” (Wilford, 1999)

And the universe truly is marvelous,’say cosmologists. Had gravity been a tiny bit stronger or weaker, or had the carbon proton weighed ever so slightly more or less our universe-which is so extraordinarily right for producing life—would never have produced us. Although there are questions beyond science (why is there something rather than nothing?), this much appears true, concludes cosmol- ogist Paul Davies (2004, 2007): Nature seems ingeniously devisedtoproduceselTreplicating.information-processing systems (us) Although we appear to have been created over eons of time, the end result is our wonderfully com­ plex, meaningful, and hope-filled existence.

Outside mainstream science, other critics challenge the teaching of evolution. (See Focus On: Evolutionary

Science and Religion.”)

rr. s n”? ” certain other species whose vounf ren ’ T ^dsight—for why humans, and pair off and be mon^mous) ^ ^ investment, tend to

r’K*? r,™ role in cultural explanations- Whv Ho , ^ that hmdsight plays no less a socializes their behavior’ When peoole’s differ? Because their culture describes those roles better than tt exnfa “”7 conjecfuze, say evolu“;^eing mere hfedsight tests evolutionary predictions with H;,ff f ‘ ” ,1^ empirical science that vations, and horml, rnremic cross-cultural obser- inspire a theory that generates new IpqI h) fields, observations


Genes, Culture, and Gender Chapter 5 175

General evolutionary theory

Middle-level evolutionary theories

Theory of Reciprocal Altruism

(see Chapter 14) [rnifwmmInvestment and Sexual Splprtion Theory of Parent-Offspring Conflict Specific evolutionary hypotheses

Hypothesis 1: In species where the sexes differ in parental investment, the higher-investing sex will be more selective in choice of mating partners.

lypothesis 2: Where males lean and sometimes do Icontribute resources to {offspring, females will select {mates in part based on their {ability and willingness to

Hypothesis 3: The sex that invests less parentally in offspring will be more competitive with each other for mating access to the high- investing sex.

Specific predictions derived from hypotheses

Prediction 1: Women hav evolved preferences for men who are high in stat

rediction 2: Women have volved preferences for men ho show cues indicating a iliingness to invest in them

,n,d their offspring.

{rediction 3: Women will iivorce men who fail to fontribute expected ^sources or who divert hose resources to other women and their children.

figure :: 5.6 Sample predictions derived from evolutionary psychology by David Buss (1995a).

• we favor others who share our genes, such as family members, or can return our favors.

• our memories tend to retain survival-relevant information, such as food location (Confer & others, 2010).

Critics nevertheless contend that the empirical evidence is not strongly support­ ive of evolutionary psychology’s predictions (Buller, 2005, 2009). They also worry that evolutionary speculation about sex and gender “reinforces male-female stereo- ^es” (Small, 1999). Might evolutionary explanations for gang violence, homicidal jealousy, and rape reinforce and justify male aggression as natural “boys will be boys” behaviors? But remember, reply the evolutionary psychologists, evolution­ ary wisdom is wisdom from the past. It tells us what behaviors worked in our early bistory as a species. Whether such tendencies are still adaptive today is an entirely different question.

Evolutionary psychology’s critics acknowledge that evolution helps explain both our commonalities and our differences (a certain amount of diversity aids survival). But they contend that our common evolutionary heritage does not, by Itself, predict the enormous cultural variation in human marriage patterns (from one spouse to a succession of spouses to multiple wives to multiple husbands to spouse swapping). Nor does it explain cultural changes in behavior patterns over niere decades of time. The most significant trait that nature has endowed us with.

176 Part Two Social Influence

It seems, is the capacity to adapt—to leam and to change. Evolution is not eenpH determinism, say its defenders, because evolution has prepared us to adapt to var*^






androgynous From andro {man) + gyn (woman)—thus mixing both masculine and feminine characteristics.

Gender and Hormones If genes predispose gender-related traits, they must do so by their effects on our bodies. In male embryos, the genes direct the formation of testes, which begin to secrete testosterone, the male sex hormone that influences masculine appeaS^ce S^d es indicate that girls who were exposed to excess testosterone during fetal 20041 “oTh”” tomboyish play behavior than other girls (Hnes

). Other case studies have followed males who, having been bom without pemses, are reared as girls (Reiner & Gearhart, 2004). Despite their being put in dresses and treated as girls, most exhibit male-typical play and eventually-ta most cases, not without emotional distress—come to have a male identity. anim ^gS^ssion also seems influenced by testosterone. In various ammals, administering testosterone heightens aggressiveness. In humans, viZt ma e criminals have higher than normal testosterone levels; so do National Foot- for hoS h”‘” boisterous fraternity members (Dabbs, 2000). Moreover n w g^der difference in aggression appears early

life (brfore culture has much effect) and wanes as testosterone levels decline uring adulthood. No one of these lines of evidence is conclusive. Taken together

As people mature to middle age and beyond, a curious thing happens Women become more assertive and self-confident, and men become more’^e^patWc Tnd 1990? H^mT® h & others, 1975; Prat? & others,

90). Hormone changes are one possible explanation for the shrinking gender differences. Role demands are another. Some speculate that during courfehfe ^a^ic^^hefeTd both sexes to emphasize traits th.,? er*mce their roles. While courting, providing, and protecting, men play up their

‘^‘”‘•‘i’^P^dence and nurturance (Ltmann, 19771 WMe courtmg and rearing young children, young women restrain their unpulses to assert and be mdependent. As men and women graduate from these «ly adult roles, they supposedly express more of their restrained tendencies Each

becomes more androgynous-capable of both assertiveness and nurturance

SUMMING Summing Up: Evolution and Gender: Doing What Comes Naturally?

• Evolutionary psychologists theorize how evolution might have predisposed gender differences in behav­ iors such as aggression and sexual initiative. Nature’s mating game favors males who take sexual initiative toward females—especially those with physical fea­ tures suggesting fertility—and who seek aggressive dommance in competing with other males. Females who have fewer reproductive chances, place a greater priority on selecting mates offering the resources to protect and nurture their young. Critics say that evolutionary explanations are sometimes after-the-fact conjectures that fail to

account for the reality of cultural diversity; they also question whether enough empirical evidence exists to support evolutionary psychology’s theo­ ries and are concerned that these theories will rein­ force troublesome stereotypes. Although biology (for example, in the form of male and female hormones) plays an important role in gender differences, social roles are also a major mfluence. What’s agreed is that nature endows us with a remarkable capacity to adapt to differing contexts. ®

Genes, Culture, and Gender Chapter 5 177

CULTURE AND GENDER: doing as the culture says?

Understand how culture’s influence is vividly illustrated by differing gender roles across place and time.

Culture, as we noted earlier, is what’s shared by a large group and transmitted across generations—ideas, attitudes, behaviors, and traditions. Like biological crea­ tures, cultures vary and compete for resources and thus evolve over time (Mesoudi, 2009). Cultures evolve through a “culture cycle,” noted Hazel Markus and Alana Conner (2011): “1) people create the cultures to which they later adapt, and 2) cul­ tures shape people so that they act in ways that perpetuate their cultures.” Humans are culturally shaped culture shapers.

We can see the shaping power of culture in ideas about how men and women should behave. And we can see culture in the disapproval they endure when they violate those expectations (Kite, 2001). In countries everywhere, girls spend more time helping with housework and child care, and boys spend more time in unsu­ pervised play (Edwards, 1991; Kalenkoski & others, 2009; United Nations, 2010). Even in contemporary, dual-career. North American marriages, men do most of the household repairs, and women arrange the child care (Bianchi & others, 2000; Fisher & others, 2007).

Gender socialization, it has been said, gives girls “roots” and boys “wings.” Peter Crabb and Dawn Bielawski (1994) surveyed twentieth-century children’s books that received the prestigious Caldecott Award and found that the books showed girls four times more often than boys using household objects (such as broom, sewing needle, or pots and pans), and boys five times more often than girls using production objects (such as pitchfork, plow, or gun). For adults, the situation is not much different. In all the world’s regions, reported the United Nations (2010), “women spend at least twice as much time as men on unpaid domestic work,” and their total work hours (paid + unpaid) exceed men’s. Moreover, women are “rarely employed in jobs with status, power and authority” and are the chief executive of only 13 of the world’s 500 largest corporations. Such behavior expectations for males and females—of who should cook, wash dishes, hunt game, and lead compa­ nies and countries— define gender roles.

Does culture construct these gender roles? Or do gender roles merely reflect men’s and women’s natural behavior tendencies? The variety of gender roles across cultures and over time shows that culture indeed helps construct our gender roles.








ANNAN, 2002

gender role Aset of behavior expectations (norms) for males and females.

Three months after the southeast Asian tsunami on December 26,2004, Oxfam (2005) counted deaths in eight villages and found that female deaths were at least triple those of men. (The women were more likely to be in or near their homes, near the shore, and less likely to be at sea or away from home on errands or at work.)

178 Part Two Social Influence

In Western countries, gender roles are becoming more flexible. No longer is pre­ school teaching necessarily women’s work and piloting necessarily men’s work.

Gender Roles Vary with Culture Despite gender role inequalities, the majority of the world’s people would ideally like to see more parallel male and female roles. A 2003 Pew Global Attitudes survey asked 38,000 people whether life was more satisfying when both spouses work and share child care, or when women stay home and care for the children while the hus­ band provides. In 41 of 44 countries, most chose the first answer.

However, big country-to-country differences exist. Egyptians disagreed with the world majority opinion by 2 to 1, whereas Vietnamese concurred by 11 to 1. When jobs are scarce, should men have more right to a job? Yes, agreed about 1 in 8 people in Britain, Spain, and the United States—and 4 in 5 people in Indonesia, Pakistan, and Nigeria (Pew, 2010, July 10).

In modern cultures, more than in ages past, things (including gender roles) are not the way they were. © Robert Leighton/The New Yorker Collection/www cartoonbank-com

In the last half-century—a thin slice of our long history—gender roles have changed dramatically. In 1938, just 1 in 5 Americans approved “of a married woman earn­ ing money in business or industry if she has a husband capable of supporting her.” By 1996, 4 in 5 approved (Niemi & others, 1989; NORC, 1996). In 1967, 57 percent of first-year American collegians agreed that “the activities of married women are best confined to the home and family.” In 2005, when the question was last asked, only 20 percent agreed (Astin & others, 1987; Pryor & others, 2005).

Behavioral changes have accompanied this attitude shift. In 1965 the Harvard Business School had never granted a degree to a woman. In 2010, 38 percent of its

graduates were women. From 1960 to 2011, women rose from 6 percent to 47 percent of U.S. medical students and from 3 percent to 50 percent of law students (AMA, 2010; ABA, 2011; Hunt, 2000). In the mid-1960s American married women devoted seven times as many hours to housework as did their husbands (Bianchi & others, 2000). By 2010, the gender gap had shrunk, yet persisted: 20 percent of men and 49 percent of women did housework in an average day; with women averaging 2.6 hours on their housework days and men 2.1 hours on theirs (BLS, 2011).

The changing male-female roles cross many cul­ tures, as illustrated by women’s gradually increas­ ing representation in the parliaments of most nations

‘IVben I was your age, things were exactly the way they are now.” (Inglehart & Welzel, 2005; IPU, 2011). Such changes,


Genes, Culture, and Gender Chapters 179

across cultures and over a remarkably short time, signal that evolution and biology do not fix gender roles; Time also bends the genders.

Peer-Transmitted Culture Cultures, like ice cream, come in many flavors. On Wall Street, men mostly wear suits and women often wear skirts and dresses. In Scotland, many men wear pleated skirts (kilts) as formal dress. In some equatorial cultures, men and women wear vir­ tually nothing at all. How are such traditions preserved across generations?

‘The prevailing assumption is what Judith Rich Harris (1998, 2007) calls The Nur­ ture Assumption: Parental nurture, the way parents bring their children up, governs who their children become. On that much, Freudians and behaviorists—and your next-door neighbor—agree. Comparing the extremes of loved children and abused children suggests that parenting does matter. Moreover, children do acquire many of their values, including their political affiliation and religious faith, at home. But if children’s personalities likewise are molded by parental example and nur­ ture, then children who grow up in the same families should be noticeably alike, shouldn’t they?

That presumption is refuted by the most astonishing, agreed-upon, and dramatic finding of developmental psychology. In the enduring words of behavior geneti­ cists Robert Plomin and Denise Daniels (1987), “Two children in the same family [are on average] as different from one another as are pairs of children selected ran­ domly from the population.”

The evidence from studies of twins and biological and adoptive siblings indi­ cates that genetic influences explain roughly 50 percent of individual variations in personality traits. Shared environmental influences—including the shared home influence—account for only 0 to 10 percent of their personality differences. So what accounts for the other 40 to 50 percent? It’s largely peer influence, Harris argues. What children and teens care most about is not what their parents think but what peers think. Children and youth learn their culture—their games, their musical tastes, their accents, even their dirty words—mostly from peers. Most teens there­ fore talk, act, and dress more like their peers than their parents. In hindsight, that makes sense. It’s their peers with whom they play and eventually will work and mate. Consider the following:

• Preschoolers will often refuse to try a certain food despite parents’ urgings— until they are put at a table with a group of children who like it.

• Although children of smokers have an elevated smoking rate, the effect seems largely peer mediated. Such children more often have friends who model smoking, who suggest its pleasures, and who offer cigarettes.

• Young immigrant children whose families are transplanted into foreign cul­ tures usually grow up preferring the language and norms of their new peer culture. They may “code-switch” when they step back into their homes, but their hearts and minds are with their peer groups. Likewise, deaf children of hearing parents who attend schools for the deaf usually leave their parents’ culture and assimilate into deaf culture.

Ergo, if we left a group of children with their same schools, neighborhoods, and peers but switched the parents around, says Harris (1996) in taking her argument to its limits, they “would develop into the same sort of adults.” Parents have an important influence, but it’s substantially indirect; parents help define the schools, neighborhoods, and peers that directly influence whether their children become delinquent, use drugs, or get pregnant. Moreover, children often take their cues from slightly older children, who get their cues from older youth, who take theirs from young adults in the parents’ generation.

The links of influence from parental group to child group are loose enough that the cultural transmission is never perfect. And in both human and primate

180 Part Two Social Influence

cultures, change comes from the young. When one monkey discovers a better way of washing food or when people develop a new idea about fashion or gender roles, the innovation usually comes from the young and is more readily embraced by younger adults. Thus, cultural traditions continue; yet cultures change.

SUMMING UP: Culture and Gender: Doing as the Culture Says? • The most heavily researched of roles—gender

roles—reflect biological influence but also illustrate culture’s strong impact. The universal tendency has been for males, more than females, to occupy socially dominant roles.

• Gender roles show significant variation from cul­ ture to culture and from time to time.

• Much of culture’s influence is transmitted to chil­ dren by their peers.


Explain how biology and culture interact, and also how our individual personalities interact with our situations.

Biology and Culture We needn’t think of evolution and culture as competitors. Cultural norms subtly yet powerfully affect our attitudes and behavior. But they don’t do so independent of biology. Everything social and psychological is ultimately biological. If others’ expectations influence us, that is part of our biological programming. Moreover, what our biological heritage initiates, culture may accentuate. Genes and hor­ mones predispose males to be more physically aggressive than females. But culture

181Genes, Culture, and Gender Chapters

amplifies that difference through norms that expect males to be tough and females to be the kinder, gentler sex.

Biology and culture may also interact. Advances in genetic science indicate how experience uses genes to change the brain (Quartz &: Sejnowski, 2002). Environ­ mental stimuli can activate genes that produce new brain cell branching receptors. Visual experience activates genes that develop the brain’s visual area. Parental touch activates genes that help offspring cope with future stressful events. Genes are not set in stone; they respond adaptively to our experiences.

A new field of epigenetics (meaning “in addition to” genetics) explores the molec­ ular mechanisms by which environments trigger genetic expression. Experience may attach complex molecules to parts of DNA molecules, thereby preventing any genes in that stretch of DNA from producing the proteins coded by that gene. Diet, drugs, and stress, including child abuse, can all produce the epigenetic mol­ ecules that regulate gene expression (Champagne & others, 2003; Champagne & Mashoodh, 2009; McGowan & others, 2010).

Biology and experience interact when biological traits influence how the envi­ ronment reacts. Men, being 8 percent taller and averaging almost double the pro­ portion of muscle mass, are bound to experience life differently from women. Or consider this: A very strong cultural norm dictates that males should be taller than their female mates. In one U.S. study, only 1 in 720 married couples violated that norm (Gillis & Avis, 1980). With hindsight, we can speculate a psychological expla­ nation: Perhaps being taller helps men perpetuate their social power over women. But we can also speculate evolutionary wisdom that might underlie the cultural norm: If people preferred partners of their own height, tall men and short women would often be without partners. As it is, evolution dictates that men tend to be taller than women, and culture dictates the same for couples. So the height norm might well be a result of biology and culture.

Alice Eagly (2009) and Wendy Wood (Wood & Eiagly, 2007) theorize how biology and culture interact (Figure 5.7). They believe that a variety of factors, including biological influences and childhood socialization, predispose a sex­ ual division of labor. In adult life the immediate causes of gender differences in social behavior are the roles that reflect this sexual division of labor. Men, because of their biologically endowed strength and speed, tend to be found in roles demanding physical power. Women’s capacity for childbearing and breast­ feeding inclines them to more nurturant roles. Each sex then tends to exhibit the behaviors expected of those who fill such roles and to have their skills and beliefs shaped accordingly. Nature and nurture are a “tangled web.” As role assignments become more equal, Eagly predicts that gender differences “will gradually lessen.”

Indeed, note Eagly and Wood, in cultures with greater equality of gender roles, the gender difference in mate preferences (men seeking youth and domestic skill, women seeking status and earning potential) is less. Likewise, as women’s employment in formerly male occupations has increased, the gender difference in


Other factors (e.g., biologica influences)

Division of labor between the sexes

Gender-role expectations

Gender-related skills and beliefs

Gender differences in behavior

interaction A relationship in which the effect of one factor (such as biology) depends on another factor (such as environment).

FIGURE :: 5.7 A Social-Role Theory of Gender Differences in Social Behavior Various influences, including childhood experiences and fac­ tors, bend males and females toward differing roles. It is the expectations and the skills and beliefs associated with these dif­ fering roles that affect men’s and women’s behavior.

Source.’Adapted from Eagly (1987, 2009) and Eagly & Wood (1991).

182 Part Two Social Influence

THE inside Alice Eagly onSTORY

I began my work on gender with a project on social influ­ ence in the early 1970s. Like many feminist activists of the day, 1 initially assumed that, despite negative cultural stereotypes about women, the behavior of women and men is substantially equivalent. Over the years, my views have evolved considerably. I have found that some social behaviors of women and men are somewhat different, especially in situations that bring gender roles to mind.

People should not assume that these differences nec­ essarily reflect unfavorably on women. Women’s tenden­ cies to be more attuned to other people’s concerns and to treat others more democratically are favorably evalu­ ated and can be assets in many situations. In fact, my

research on gender stereotypes shows that, if we take both negative and positive qualities into account, the stereotype of women is currently more favorable than the stereotype of men. However, the qualities of niceness and nurturance that are important in expectations about women may decrease their power and effectiveness in situations that call for assertive and competi­ tive behavior.

Alice Eagly Northwestern University

self-reported masculinity/femininity has decreased (Twenge, 1997). As men and women enact more similar roles, some psychological differences shrink.

But not all, report David Schmitt and his international colleagues (2008). Per­ sonality tests taken by men and women in 55 nations show that across the world, women report more extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. These gender differences are greatest in (surprise) prosperous, educated, egalitarian countries. In less fortunate economic and social contexts, suggests Schmitt, “the development of one’s inherent personality traits is more restrained.”

Although biology predisposes men to strength tasks and women to infant care. Wood and Eagly (2002) conclude that “the behavior of women and men is suffi­ ciently malleable that individuals of both sexes are fully capable of effectively carrying out organizational roles at all levels.” For today’s high-status and often high-tech work roles, male size and aggressiveness matter little. Moreover, lowered birthrates mean that women are less constrained by pregnancy and nursing. The end result, when combined with competitive pressures for employers to hire the best talent regardless of gender, is greater gender equality.

The Power of the Situation and the Person Food for thought: If Bohr’s “There are trivial truths and great truths,” declared the physicist Niels Bohr. “The statement is a great truth, opposite of a trivial truth is plainly false. The opposite of a great truth is also true. what is its opposite? Each chapter in this unit on social influence teaches a great truth: the power of the

situation. This great truth about the power of external pressures would explain our behavior if we were passive, like tumbleweeds. But, unlike tumbleweeds, we are not just blown here and there by the situations in which we find ourselves. We act; we react. We respond, and we get responses. We can resist the social situation and sometimes even change it. For that reason. I’ve chosen to conclude each of these “social influence” chapters by calling attention to the opposite of the great truth: the power of the person.

Perhaps stressing the power of culture leaves you somewhat uncomfortable. Do external forces determine your behavior? Most of us see ourselves as free beings, as the originators of our actions (well, at least of our good actions). We worry that

Genes, Culture, and Gender Chapter 5 183

cultural explanations for our actions might lead to what philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre called “bad faith”—evading responsibility by blaming something or someone for one’s fate.

Actually, social control (the power of the situation) and personal control (the power of the person) no more compete with each other than do biological and cultural explanations. Social and personal explanations are both valid, for at any moment we are both the creatures and the creators of our social worlds. We may well be the products of the interplay of our genes and environment. But it is also true that the future is coming, and it is our job to decide where it is going. Our choices today determine our environment tomorrow.

Social situations do profoundly influence individuals. But individuals also influ­ ence social situations. The two interact. Asking whether external situations or inner dispositions determine behavior is like asking whether length or width determines a room’s area.

The interaction occurs in at least three ways (Snyder & Ickes, 1985).






• A given social situation often affects different people differently. Because our minds do not see reality identically or objectively, we respond to a situation as we construe it. And some people (groups as well as individuals) are more sensitive and responsive to social situations than others (Snyder, 1983). The Japanese, for example, are more responsive to social expectations than the British (Argyle & others, 1978).

• People often choose their situations (Ickes & others, 1997). Given a choice, sociable people elect situations that evoke social interaction. When you chose your college, you were also choosing to expose yourself to a specific set of social influences. Ardent political liberals are unlikely to choose to live in suburban Dallas, join the Chamber of Commerce, and watch Fox News. They are more likely to live in San Francisco or Toronto, join Greenpeace, and read the Hujfington Post—in other words, to choose a social world that reinforces their inclinations.

• People often create their situations. Recall again that our preconceptions can be self-fulfilling: If we expect someone to be extraverted, hostile, intelligent, or sexy, our actions toward the person may induce the very behavior we expect. What, after all, makes a social situation but the people in it? A conservative environment is created by conservatives. What takes place in the sorority or fraternity is created by its members. The social environment is not like the weather—something that just happens to us. It is more like our homes— something we make for ourselves.

Thus, power resides both in persons and in situations. We create and are created by our cultural worlds.

SUMMING UP: What Can We Conclude About Genes, Culture, and Gender?

• Biological and cultural explanations need not be contradictory. Indeed, they interact. Biological fac­ tors operate within a cultural context, and culture builds on a biological foundation.

• The great truth about the power of social influ­ ence is but half the truth if separated from its

fc_____________________ ________________________

complementary truth: the power of the person. Per­ sons and situations interact in at least three ways. First, individuals vary in how they interpret and react to a given situation. Second, people choose many of the situations that influence them. Third, people help create their social situations.

184 Part Two Social Influence

POSTSCRIPT: Should We View Ourselves as Products or Architects of Our Social Worlds? The reciprocal causation between situations and persons allows us to see people as either reacting to or acting upon their environment. Each perspective is corr^t for we are both the products and the architects of our social worlds. But is one perspective wiser? In one sense, it is wise to see ourselves as the creatures of our environments {lest we become too proud of our achievements and blame ourselves too much for our problems) and to see others as free actors (lest we become pater­ nalistic and manipulative). ^

Perhaps, however, we would do well more often to assume the reverse-to view ourselves as free agents and to view others as situationally influenced. We would

en assume self-efficacy as we view ourselves, and we would seek understanding and social reform as we relate to others. Most religions, in fact, encourage us to take responsibility for ourselves but to refrain from judging others. Is that because our for^eirs? opposite: to excuse our own failures while blaming others

“Whatever crushes individuality is despotism, by

whatever name it may be called.” —John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859

“The social pressures community brings to bear are a

mainstay of our moral values.” ………… ………………….—, Etzioai, The.Spirit of.CQOimunity, .1993

What is conformity?

What are the classic conformity and obedience studies?

What predicts conformity?

Why conform?

Who conforms?

Do we ever want to be different?

You have surely experienced the phenomenon: As a controversial speaker or a music concert finishes, the adoring fans near the front leap to their feet, applauding. The approving folks just behind

them follow their example and join the standing ovation. Now the

wave of people standing reaches people who, unprompted, would

merely be giving polite applause from their comfortable seats. Seated

among them, part of you wants to stay seated (“this speaker was noth­

ing exciting”). But as the wave of standing people sweeps by, will you

alone stay seated? It’s not easy being a minority of one. Unless

you heartily dislike what you’ve just heard, you will probably rise to

your feet, at least briefly.

Such scenes of conformity raise this chapter’s questions:

* Why, given our diversity, do we so often behave as social clones?

* Under what circumstances are we most likely to conform?

* Are certain people more likely than others to conform?

• Who resists the pressure to conform?

. * Is conformity as bad as my image of a docile “herd” implies?

jt Should I instead be describing their “group solidarity” and

“social sensitivity”?

Postscript: On being an individual within community

188 Part Two Social Influence

conformity A change in behavior or belief as the result of real or imagined group pressure.

compliance Conformity that involves publicly acting in accord with an implied or explicit request while privately disagreeing.

obedience Acting in accord with a direct order or command.

acceptance Conformity that involves both acting and believing in accord with social pressure.

WHAT IS CONFORMITY? Define conformity, and compare compliance, obedience, and acceptance.

Let us take the last question first. Is conformity good or bad? That question has no scientific answer. Assuming the values most of us share, we can say that conformity is at times bad (when it leads someone to drive drunk or to join in racist behavior), at times good (when it inhibits people from cutting into a theater line), and at times inconsequential (when it disposes tennis players to wear white).

In Western individualistic cultures, where submitting to peer pressure is not admired, the word “conformity” carries a negative connotation. How would you feel if you overheard someone describing you as a “real conformist”? I suspect you would feel hurt. North American and European social psychologists, reflecting their individualistic cultures, give social influence negative labels (conformity, sub­ mission, compliance) rather than positive ones (communal sensitivity, responsive­ ness, cooperative team play).

In Japan, going along with others is a sign not of weakness but of tolerance, self-control, and maturity (Markus & Kitayama, 1994). “Everywhere in Japan,” observed Lance Morrow (1983), “one senses an intricate serenity that comes to a people who know exactly what to expect from each other.” Such is also true of self-organized U2 fans whom Marie Helweg-Larsen and Barbara LoMonaco (2008) observed queuing overnight for unreserved concert places at or near the front rail. With the U2 fan code of honor, it’s first come, first served. Fans disdain line cutters.

The moral: We choose labels to suit our values and judgments. Labels both describe and evaluate, and they are inescapable. So let us be clear on the meanings of these labels: conformity, compliance, obedience, acceptance.

Conformity is not just acting as other people act; it is also being affected by how they act. It is acting or thinking differently from the way you would act and think if you were alone. Thus, conformity is a change in behavior or belief to accord with others. When, as part of a crowd, you rise to cheer a game-winning goal, are you conforming? When, along with millions of others, you drink milk or coffee, are you conforming? When you and everyone else agree that women look better with longer hair than with crew cuts, are you conforming? Maybe, maybe not. The key is whether your behavior and beliefs would be the same apart from the group. Would you rise to cheer the goal if you were the only fan in the stands?

There are several varieties of conformity (Nail & others, 2000). Consider three: compliance, obedience, and acceptance. Sometimes we conform to an expectation or a request without really believing in what we are doing. We put on the necktie or the dress, although we dislike doing so. This insincere, outward conformity is compliance. We comply primarily to reap a reward or avoid a punishment. If our compliance is to an explicit command, we call it obedience.

Sometimes we genuinely believe in what the group has persuaded us to do. We may join millions of others in exercising because we accept that exercise is healthy. This sincere, inward conformity is called acceptance. There is even a neuroscience of compliance and acceptance: The shorter-lived memories that underlie public compliance have a different neural basis than the memories that underlie longer-term private acceptance (Edelson & others, 2011; Zaki & others, 2011).

Acceptance sometimes follows compliance; we may come to inwardly believe something we initially questioned. As Chapter 4 emphasized, attitudes follow behavior. Unless we feel no responsibility for our behavior, we usually become sympathetic to what we have stood up for.

Conformity and Obedience Chapter 6 189

“Sure, Ifollouj the herd—not out of brainless obedience, mind you, but out of a deep and abiding respect for the concept of community. ” © Alex Gregory/The New Yorker


SUMMING UP: What Is Conformity? Conformity—changing one’s behavior or belief as a result of group pressure—comes in two forms. Compliance is outwardly going along with the group while inwardly

disagreeing; a subset of compliance is obedience, compli­ ance with a direct command. Acceptance is believing as well as acting in accord with social pressure.


Describe how social psychologists have studied conformity in the laboratory. Explain what their findings reveal about the potency of social forces and the nature of evil.

Researchers who study conformity and obedience construct miniature social worlds—laboratory microcultures that simplify and simulate important features of everyday social influence. Some of these studies revealed such startling find­ ings that they have been widely replicated, making them “classic” experiments. We will consider three, each of which provides a method for studying conformity—and plenty of food for thought.

Sherif’s Studies of Norm Formation The first classic study bridges Chapter 5’s focus on culture’s power to perpetuate norms with this chapter’s focus on conformity. Muzafer Sherif (1935, 1937) won­ dered whether it was possible to observe the emergence of a social norm in the laboratory. Like biologists seeking to isolate a virus so they can experiment with it, Sherif wanted to isolate and then experiment with norm formation.

Imagine yourself a participant in one of Sherif’s experiments. You find yourself seated in a dark room. Fifteen feet in front of you a pinpoint of light appears. At first, nothing happens. Then for a few seconds it moves erratically and finally dis­ appears. Now you must guess how far it moved. The dark room gives you no way lo judge distance, so you offer an uncertain “six inches.” The experimenter repeats

procedure. This time you say, “Ten inches.” With further repetitions, your esti­ mates continue to average about eight inches.

The next day you return to the darkened room, joined by two other partici­ pants who had the same experience the day before. When the light goes off for the first time, the other two people offer their best guesses from the day before. “One mch,” says one. “Two inches,” says the other. A bit taken aback, you nevertheless

FIGURE:: 6.1 A Sample Group from Sherif’s Study of Norm Formation Three individuals converge as they give repeated estimates of the apparent movement of a point of light. Source: Data from Sherif & Sherif (19691, p. 209.

190 Part Two Soda! Influence

First day Second day Third day Fourth day

autokinetic phenomenon Self (at/fo) motion {kinetic). The apparent movement of a stationary point of light in the dark.






say, “Six inches.” With repetitions of this group experience, both on this day and for the next two days, will your responses change? The Columbia University men whom Sherif tested changed their estimates markedly. As Figure 6.1 illustrates, a group norm typically emerged. (The norm was false. Why? The light never moved! Sherif had taken advantage of an optical illusion called the autokinetic phenomenon.)

Sherif and others have used this technique to answer questions about people’s suggestibility. When people were retested alone a year later, would their estimates again diverge or would they continue to follow the group norm? Remarkably, they continued to support the group norm (Rohrer & others, 1954). (Does that suggest compliance or acceptance?)

Struck by culture’s seeming power to perpetuate false beliefs, Robert Jacobs and Donald Campbell (1961) studied the transmission of false beliefs in their Northwestern University laboratory. Using the autokinetic phenomenon, they had a confederate give an inflated estimate of how far the light had moved. The confederate then left the experiment and was replaced by another real participant, who was in turn replaced by a still newer member. The inflated illusion persisted (although diminishing) for five generations of participants. These people had become “unwitting conspirators in perpetuating a cultural fraud.” The lesson of these experiments; Our views of reality are not ours alone.

In everyday life, the results of suggestibility are sometimes amusing. One person coughs, laughs, or yawns, and others are soon doing the same. (See “Research Close-Up: Contagious Yawning.”) One person checks her cell phone and then others check theirs.

Comedy-show laugh tracks capitalize on our suggestibility. Laugh tracks work especially well when we presume that the laughing audience is folks like us— “recorded here at La Trobe University” in one study by Michael Platow and colleagues (2004)—rather than a group that’s unlike us. Just being around happy people can help us feel happier, a phenomenon that Peter Totterdell and his colleagues (1998) call “mood linkage.” In their studies of British nurses and accountants, people within the same work groups tended to share up and down moods. People within a social network also move toward sharing similar obesity, sleep loss, loneliness, happiness, and drug use (Christakis & Fowler, 2009). Friends function as a social system.

Conformity and Obedience Chapter 6 191

research CLOSE-UP Contagious Yawning

Yawning is a behavior that you and I share with most vertebrates. Primates do it. So do cats and crocodiles and birds and turtles and even fish. But why, and when?

Sometimes, notes University of Maryland, Baltimore County, psychologist Robert Provine (2005), scientific research neglects commonplace behavior—including the behaviors he loves to study, such as laughing and yawning. To study yawning by the method of naturalis­ tic observation, notes Provine, one needs only a stop­ watch, a notepad, and a pencil. Yawning, he reports, is a “fixed action pattern” that lasts about six seconds, with a long inward breath and shorter climactic (and pleasur­ able) exhalation. It often comes in bouts, with just over a minute between yawns. And it is equally common among men and women. Even patients who are totally paralyzed and unable to move their body voluntarily may yawn nor­ mally, indicating that this is automatic behavior.

When do we yawn? We yawn when we are bored or tense. When Provine

asked participants to watch a TV test pattern for 30 minutes, they yawned 70 percent more often than others in a control group who watched less-boring music videos. But tension can also elicit yawning, which is com­ monly observed among paratroopers before their first jump, Olympic athletes before their event, and violinists waiting to go onstage. A friend says she has often been embarrassed when learning something new at work, because her anxiety about getting it right invariably causes her to have a “yawning fit.”

We yawn when we are sleepy. No surprise here, except perhaps that people who kept a yawning diary for

FIGURE:: 6.2 What Facial Features Trigger Contagious Yawns?

Provine recorded even more yawns in the hour after wak­ ing than in the yawn-prone hour before sleeping. Often, we awaken and yawn-stretch. And so do our dogs and cats when they rouse from slumber.

We yawn when others yawn. To test whether yawning, like laughter, is contagious, Provine exposed people to a five-minute video of a man yawning repeatedly. Sure enough, 55 percent of viewers yawned, as did only 21 percent of those viewing a video of smiles. A yawning face acts as a stimulus that activates a yawn’s fixed action pattern, even if the yawn is presented in black- and-white, upside down, or as a mid-yawn still image. The discovery of brain “mirror neurons”—neurons that rehearse or mimic witnessed actions—suggests a biological mechanism that explains why our yawns so often mirror others’ yawns—and why even dogs often yawn after observing a human yawn (Joly-Mascheroni & others, 2008).

To see what parts of the yawning face are most potent. Provine had viewers watch a whole face, a face with the mouth masked, a mouth with the face masked, or (as a control condition) a nonyawning smiling face. As Figure 6.2 shows, the yawning faces triggered yawns even with the mouth masked. Thus, covering your mouth when yawning likely won’t suppress yawn contagion.

Just thinking about yawning usually produces yawns, reports Provine—a phenomenon you may have noticed while reading this box. While reading Provine’s research on contagious yawning, I yawned four times (and felt a little silly).

Robert Provine (2005) invited 4 groups of 30 people each to watch 5-minute videotapes of a smiling adult, or a yawning adult, parts of whose face were masked for two of the groups. A yawning mouth triggered some yawns, but yawning eyes and head motion triggered even more.

192 Part Two Social Influence

7 don’t know why. I just suddenlyfelt like calling.

© Mick Stevens/The New Yorker





MIND, 1955

The chameleon effect. Our natural mimicry of others’ postures and language generally elicits liking— except when echoing others’ negative expressions such as anger. From Alex (Sardyl Pentland, “To Signal

Human” in American Scientist, May-June, 2010, p. 207. Copyright © 2010 American Scientist. Reprinted by Permission.

Another form of social contagion is what Tanya Chartrand and John Bargh (1999) call “the chameleon effect. Picture yourself in one of their experiments, working alongside a confederate who occasionally either rubbed her face or shook her foot. Would you—like their participants_ be more likely to rub your face when with a face-rubbing person and shake your foot when with a foot-shaking per­ son? If so, it would quite likely be an automatic behav­ ior, done without any conscious intention to conform. Behavior synchronizing includes speaking; people tend to mirror the grammar that they read and hear {Ireland & Pennebaker, 2010). And, because our behavior influences our attitudes and emotions, our natural mimicry inclines us to feel what the other feels (Neumann & Strack, 2000).

An experiment in the Netherlands by Rick van Baaren and his colleagues (2004) indicates that your mimicry would also incline the other to like you and be helpful to you and to others. People become more likely to help pick up dropped pens for someone whose behavior has mimicked their own. Being mimicked seems to enhance social bonds, which even leads to donating more money to a charity. In a follow-up experiment, Chartrand, van Baaren, and their colleagues had an interviewer invite students to try a new sports drink while some­ times mirroring the student’s postures and movements, with just enough delay to make it not noticeable (Tanner & others, 2008). By the experiment’s end, the copied students became more likely to consume the new drink and say they would buy it. There is one exception to the imitation-fosters-fondness rule: mimicking another’s anger fosters disliking (Van der Velde & others, 2010).

Suggestibility can also occur on a large scale. In late March 1954, Seattle newspa­ pers reported damage to car windshields in a city 80 miles to the north. On the morn­ ing of April 14, similar windshield damage was reported 65 miles away, and later that day only 45 miles away. By nightfall, whatever was causing this windshield pit- tmg had reached Seattle. Before the end of April 15, the Seattle police department had received complaints of damage to more than 3,000 windshields (Medalia & Larsen,

1958). That evening Seattle’s mayor called on President Eisenhower for help.

I was a Seattle 11-year-old at the time. I recall searching our windshield, frightened by the explanation that a Pacific H-bomb test was raining fallout on Seattle. On April 16, however, the newspapers hinted that the real culprit might be mass suggest- ibihty. After April 17 there were no more complaints. Later analysis of the pitted windshields concluded that the cause was ordinary road damage. Why did local resi­ dents notice this only after April 14? Given the suggestion, we had looked carefully at our windshields instead of through them.

Suggestibility is not always so amusing. Hijackings, UFO sightings, and even sui­ cides tend to come in waves. (See “Focus On: Mass Delusions.”) Shortly after the 1774 publication of The Sorrozvs of Young Werther, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s first novel, young European men started dressing in yellow trousers and blue jack­ ets, as had Goethe’s protagonist, a young

Conformity and Obedience Chapter 6 193

focus Mass Delusions

Suggestibility on a mass scale appears as collective I delusions—spontaneous spreading of false beliefs. I Occasionally, this appears as “mass hysteria”—the -J spread of bodily complaints within a school or work- I place with no organic basis for the symptoms. One

4 2,000-student high school was closed for two weeks as j 170 students and staff sought emergency treatment for j stomach ailments, dizziness, headaches, and drowsi- 1 ness. After investigators looked high and low for viruses,

.,1 germs, pesticides, herbicides—anything that would make people ill—they found .,. nothing (Jones & others,

i 2000). In the weeks following September 11, 2001, ; groups of children at schools scattered across the United

J States started breaking out in itchy red rashes without j any apparent cause (Talbot, 2002).

Unlike a viral condition, the rash spread by “line I of sight.” People got the rash as they saw others get- 1 ting it (even if they had no close contact). Everyday I skin conditions—eczema, acne, dry skin in overheated classrooms—got noticed, and perhaps amplified by i anxiety. As with so many mass hysterias, rumors of a prob- ] lem had caused people to notice their ordinary, everyday I symptoms and to attribute them to their school. This ; helps explain why, in 16 percent of English and Welsh I chemical leaks that entailed physical symptoms, “mass

psychogenic illness” rather than the leak itself was found to be the cause (Page & others, 2010).

Sociologists Robert Bartholomew and Erich Goode (2000) report on earlier mass delusions from the last millennium. During the Middle Ages, European convents reportedly experienced outbreaks of imitative behav­ iors. In one large French convent, at a time when it was believed that humans could be possessed by animals, one nun began to meow like a cat. Eventually, “all the nuns meowed together every day at a certain time.” In a German convent, a nun reportedly fell to biting her companions, and before long “all the nuns of this con­ vent began biting each other.” In time, the biting mania spread to other convents.

On June 24,1947, Kenneth Arnold was piloting his pri­ vate plane near Mount Rainier when he spotted nine glit­ tering objects in the sky. Worried that he may have seen foreign guided missiles, he tried reporting what he saw to the FBI. Discovering its office closed, he went to his local newspaper and reported crescent-shaped objects that moved “like a saucer would if you skipped it across the water.” When the Associated Press then reported the sighting of “saucers” in more than 150 newspapers, the term “flying saucers” was created by headline writers, triggering a worldwide wave of flying saucer sightings.


man named Werther. Although the fashion epidemic triggered by the book was amusing, another apparent effect was less amusing and led to the book’s banning in several areas. In the novel, Werther commits suicide with a pistol after being rejected by the woman whose heart he failed to win; after the book’s publication, reports began accumulating of young men imitating Werther’s desperate act.

Two centuries later, sociologist David Phillips confirmed such imitative suicidal behavior and described it as “the Werther effect.” Phillips and his colleagues (1985, 1989) discovered that suicides, as well as fatal auto accidents and private airplane crashes (which sometimes disguise suicides), increase after a highly publicized sui­ cide. For example, following Marilyn Monroe’s August 6,1962, suicide, there were 200 more August suicides in the United States than normal. Moreover, the increase happens only in places where the suicide story is publicized. The more publicity, the greater the increase in later fatalities.

Although not all studies have found the copycat suicide phenomenon, it has sur­ faced in Germany; in a London psychiatric unit that experienced 14 patient suicides m one year; and in one high school that, within 18 days after one student committed suicide, suffered two suicides, seven suicide attempts, and 23 students reporting suicidal thoughts (Joiner, 1999; Jonas, 1992). In both Germany and the United States, suicide rates rise slightly following fictional suicides on soap operas, and, ironi­ cally, even after serious dramas that focus on the suicide problem (Gould & Shaffer, 1986; Hafner & Schmidtke, 1989; Phillips, 1982). Phillips reports that teenagers 9re most susceptible, a finding that would help explain the occasional clusters

194 Part Two Social Influence





FIGURE :: 6.3 Sample Comparison from Solomon Asch’s Conformity Procedure The participants judged which of three comparison lines matched the standard.

of teen copycat suicides. In the days following Saddam Hussein’s widely publicized hanging, boys in at least five countries slipped nooses around their own heads and hung themselves, apparently accidentally (AP, 2007).

Asch’s Studies of Group Pressure Participants in Sherif’s darkened-room autokinetic experiments faced an ambigu­ ous reality. Consider a less ambiguous perceptual problem faced by a young boy named Solomon Asch (1907-1996). While attending the traditional Jewish Seder at Passover, Asch recalled,

I asked my uncle, who was sitting next to me, why the door was being opened. He replied. The prophet Elijah visits this evening every Jewish home and takes a sip of wine from the cup reserved for him.”

I was amazed at this news and repeated, “Does he really come? Does he really take a sip?”

My uncle said, “If you watch very closely, when the door is opened you will see- you watch the cup—you will see that the wine will go down a little.”

And that’s what happened. My eyes were riveted upon the cup of wine. I was determined to see whether there would be a change. And to me it seemed… that indeed something was happening at the rim of the cup, and the wine did go down a little. (Aron & Aron, 1989, p. 27)

Years later, social psychologist Asch recreated his boyhood experience in his lab­ oratory. Imagine yourself as one of Asch’s volunteer subjects. You are seated sixth m a row of seven people. The experimenter explains that you will be in a study of perceptual judgments, and then asks you to say which of the three lines in Figure 6.3 matches the standard line. You can easily see that it’s line 2. So it’s no surprise when the five people responding before you all say, “Line 2.”

The next comparison proves as easy, and you settle in for what seems a simple test. But the third trial startles you. Although the correct answer seems just as clear- cut, the first person gives a wrong answer. When the second person gives the same wrong answer, you sit up in your chair and stare at the cards. The third person agrees with the first two. Your jaw drops; you start to perspire. “What is this?” you ask your­ self. “Are they blind? Or am I?” The fourth and fifth people agree with the others. Then the experimenter looks at you. Now you are experiencing an epistemological dilemma; “What is true? Is it what my peers tell me or what my eyes tell me?”

Dozens of college students experienced that conflict in Asch’s experiments. Those in a control condition who answered alone were correct more than 99 percent of the time. Asch wondered: If several others (confederates coached by the experi­ menter) gave identical wrong answers, would people declare what they would oth­ erwise have denied? Although some people never conformed, three-quarters did so at least once. All told, 37 percent of the responses were conforming (or should we say “trusting of others”).

Of course, that means 63 percent of the time people did not conform. The experi­ ments show that most people “tell the truth even when others do not,” note Bert Hodges and Anne Geyer (2006). Despite the independence shown by many of his participants, Asch’s (1955) feelings about the conformity were as clear as the correct answers to his questions; “That reasonably intelligent and well-meaning young people are willing to call white black is a matter of concern. It raises questions about our ways of education and about the values that guide our conduct.”

195Conformity and Obedience

Asch’s procedure became the standard for hundreds of later experiments. Those experiments lacked what Chapter 1 called the “mundane realism” of everyday conformity, but they did have “experimental realism.” People became emotionally involved in the experience. The Sherif and Asch results are startling because they involved no obvious pressure to conform—there were no rewards for “team play,” no punishments for individuality. Other experiments have explored conformity in everyday situations, such as these:

• Dental flossing Sarah Schmiege and her cohorts (2010) told students either that “Our studies show that [fellow] University of Colorado students your age floss approximately [X] times per week,” where X was either the partici­ pant’s own flossing rate, as reported in prior questioning, or five greater than that number. Those given the inflated estimate not only expressed increased intent to floss, but also flossed more over the ensuing three months.

• Cancer screening Monika Sieverding and her colleagues (2010) approached middle-aged German men on the street and invited them to sign up to receive information about cancer screening. If led to believe few (“only 18 percent!”) of other men in Germany had undergone the screening, a similar 18 percent signed up. But 39 percent signed up after being told that most other men (“indeed 65 percent!”) had been screened. Health education campaigns had best not publicize low participation rates, surmised the researchers.

• Soccer referee decisions In many sports, from figure skating to soccer football, referees make instantaneous decisions amid crowd noise. When rating a skating performance or deciding whether a soccer player collision merits a yellow card, does the crowd noise—which increases when an opposing player commits a seeming infraction—make a difference? To find out, Christian Unkelbach and Daniel Memmert (2010) examined 1,530 soccer matches across five seasons in Germany’s premier league. On average, home teams received 1.89 yellow cards and away teams 2.35. Moreover, the differ­ ence was greater in louder soccer stadiums where fans were not separated from the field by a running track. And in laboratory experiments, profes­ sional referees who judged filmed foul scenes awarded more yellow cards when a scene was accompanied by high-volume noise.

If people are that conforming in response to such minimal pressure, how com­ pliant will they be if they are directly coerced? Could someone force the average I^orth American or European to perform cruel acts? I would have guessed not: ^eir humane, democratic, individualistic values would make them resist such pressure. Besides, the easy verbal pronouncements of those experiments are a giant step away from actually harming someone; you and I would never yield lo coercion to hurt another. Or would we? Social psychologist Stanley Milgram ‘Pondered.

Chapter 6

In one of Asch’s conformity experiments, subject number 6 experienced uneasiness and conflict after hearing five people before him give a wrong answer.

Ethical note: Professional ethics usually dictate explaining the experiment afterward (see Chapter 1). Imagine you were an experimenter who had just finished a session with a conforming participant. Could you explain the deception without making the person feel gullible and dumb?

196 Part Two Social Influence

!■ )

FIGURE:: 6.4 Milgram’s Obedience Experiment 5ou/-ce; Milgram, 1974.

Milgram’s Obedience Experiments Milam’s (1965, 1974) experiments-“the most famous, or infamous, studfiesi m the annals of scientific psychology” (Benjamin & Simpson, 2009)—tested happens when the demands of authority clash with the demands of conscience

1 erhaps more than any other empirical contribuHons in the history of social sci- ence, noted Lee Ross (1988), “they have become part of our society’s shared inteh ectual legacy—that small body of historical incidents, biblical parables, and classic

literature that serious thinkers feel free to draw on when they debate about human nature or contemplate human history.”

Although you may recall a mention of this research in a prior course, let’s eo backstage and examine the studies in depth. Here is the scene staged by Milgram a creative artist who wrote stories and stage plays, and who used trial-and-error pilot festing to hone this drama for maximum impact (Russell, 2011): Two men come to Yale University’s psychology laboratory to participate in a study of learning and memory A stern experimenter in a lab coat explains that this is a pioneering study of the effect of punishment on learning. The experiment requires one of them to teach a list of word pairs to the other and to punish errors by delivering shocks of increasing mtensity. To assign the roles, they draw slips out of a hat. One of the men (a mild-mannered, 47-year-old accountant who is actually the experimenter’s con­ federate) says that his slip says “learner” and is ushered into an adjacent room. The other man (a volunteer who has come in response to a newspaper ad) is assigned to the role of teacher.” He takes a mild sample shock and then looks on as the experi­ menter straps the learner into a chair and attaches an electrode to his wrist

Teacher and experimenter then return to the main room (Figure 6.4), where the teacher takes his place before a “shock generator” with switches ranging from 15 to 450 volts m 15-volt mcrements. The switches are labeled “Slight Shock,” “Very Strong Shock, ”Danger: Severe Shock,” and so forth. Under the 435- and 450-volt switches appears XXX. The experimenter tells the teacher to “move one level higher on the shock generator” each time the learner gives a wrong answer. With each hick of a switch, lights flash, relay switches click, and an electric buzzer sounds.

If the participant complies with the experimenter’s requests, he hears the learner grunt at 75, 90, and 105 volts. At 120 volts the learner shouts that the shocks are painful And at 150 volts he cries out, “Experimenter, get me out of here! I won’t be in the experiment anymore! I refuse to go on!” By 270 volts his protests have become screams of agony, and his pleas to be let out continue. At 300 and 315 volts.

197Conformity and Obedience

he screams his refusal to answer. After 330 volts he falls silent. In answer to the teacher’s inquiries and pleas to end the experiment, the experimenter states that the nonresponses should be treated as wrong answers. To keep the participant going, he uses four verbal prods:

Prod 1: Please continue (or Please go on). Prod 2: The experiment requires that you continue. Prod 3: It is absolutely essential that you continue. Prod 4: You have no other choice; you must go on. How far would you go? Milgram described the experiment to 110 psychiatrists,

college students, and middle-class adults. People in all three groups guessed that they would disobey by about 135 volts; none expected to go beyond 300 volts. Rec­ ognizing that self-estimates may reflect self-serving bias, Milgram asked them how far they thought other people would go. Virtually no one expected anyone to proceed to XXX on the shock panel. (The psychiatrists guessed about one in a thousand.)

But when Milgram conducted the experiment with 40 men—a vocational mix of 20- to 50-year-olds—26 of them (65 percent) progressed all the way to 450 volts. Those who stopped often did so at the 150-volt point, when the learner’s protesta­ tions became more compelling (Packer, 2008).

Wondering if people today would similarly obey, Jerry Burger (2009) replicated Milgram’s experiment—though only to the 150-volt point. At that point, 70 percent of participants were still obeying, a slight reduction from Milgram’s result. (In Milgram’s experiment, most who were obedient to this point continued to the end. In fact, all who reached 450 volts complied with a command to continue the proce­ dure until, after two further trials, the experimenter called a halt.)

Having expected a low rate of obedience, and with plans to replicate the experi­ ment in Germany and assess the culture difference, Milgram was disturbed (A. Milgram, 2000). So instead of going to Germany, Milgram next made the learn­ er’s protests even more compelling. As the learner was strapped into the chair, the teacher heard him mention his “slight heart condition” and heard the experi­ menter’s reassurance that “although the shocks may be painful, they cause no per­ manent tissue damage.” The learner’s anguished protests were to little avail; of 40 new men in this experiment, 25 (63 percent) fully complied with the experimenter’s demands (Figure 6.5). Ten later studies that included women found that women’s compliance rates were similar to men’s (Blass, 1999).

The Ethics of Milgram’s Experiments The obedience of his subjects disturbed Milgram. The procedures he used disturbed many social psychologists (Miller, 1986). The “learner” in these experiments actu­ ally received no shock (he disengaged himself from the electric chair and turned on a tape recorder that delivered the protests). Nevertheless, some critics said that Milgram did to his participants what they assumed they were doing to their vic­ tims: He stressed them against their will. Indeed, like Nazi executioners in the early days of the Holocaust (Brooks, 2011), many of the “teachers” did experience agony. They sweated, trembled, stuttered, bit their lips, groaned, or even broke into uncon­ trollable nervous laughter. A New York Times reviewer complained that the cruelty inflicted by the experiments “upon their unwitting subjects is surpassed only by the cruelty that they elicit from them” (Marcus, 1974).

Critics also argued that the participants’ self-concepts may have been altered. One participant’s wife told him, “You can call yourself Eichmann” (referring to Nazi death camp administrator Adolf Eichmann). CBS television depicted the results and the controversy in a two-hour dramatization. “A world of evil so terrifying no one dares penetrate its secret. Until Now!” declared a TV Guide ad for the program (Elms, 1995).

In his own defense, Milgram pointed to the important lessons taught by his nearly hvo-dozen experiments with a diverse sample of more than 1,000 participants. He 3lso reminded critics of the support he received from the participants after the

Chapter 6

Burger and his colleagues (2011) later analyzed their participants’ spontaneous comments. Whether people stopped or obeyed loas not predictable from their expressing concern for the learner’s well-being, which most did, but from their voicing feelings of responsibility for their actions.

In a virtual reality re-creation of the Milgram experiments, participants responded— when shocking a virtual onscreen woman—much as did Milgram’s participants, with perspiration and racing heart (Slater & others, 2006).

198 Part Two Social Influence

FIGURE:: 6.5 The Milgram Obedience Experiment Percentage of participants com­ plying despite the learner’s cries of protest and failure to respond. Soorce.-From Milgram, 1965.

60 ———————————— ——————————————- ——- ———-

50 ____________________ _____ ________________________________

40 ________________ _______________________________ __________ >

30 —— ———————————————– -_________________________

20 —————————— ——————— ——————————–

10 ______________ __________ __________________________ _

0 I——————————————————————————– —- ° 75 150 225 300 375 450

“Moderate” “Strong” “Very “Intense” “Danger “XXX” strong” severe”

deception was revealed and the experiment explained. When surveyed afterward, 84 percent said they were glad to have participated; only 1 percent regretted volun­ teering. A year later, a psychiatrist interviewed 40 of those who had suffered most and concluded that, despite the temporary stress, none was harmed.

The ethical controversy was “terribly overblown,” Milgram believed;

There is less consequence to subjects in this experiment from the standpoint of effects on self-esteem, than to university students who take ordinary course examinations, and who do not get the grades they want…. It seems that [in giving exams] we are quite prepared to accept stress, tension, and consequences for self-esteem. But in regard to the process of generating new knowledge, how little tolerance we show, (quoted by Blass, 1996)

What Breeds Obedience? Milgram did more than reveal the extent to which people will obey an authority; he also examined the conditions that breed obedience. When he varied the social conditions, compliance ranged from 0 to 93 percent fully obedient. Four factors that determined obedience were the victim’s emotional distance, the authority’s close­ ness and legitimacy, whether or not the authority was part of a respected institu­ tion, and the liberating effects of a disobedient fellow participant.

THE VICTIM’S DISTANCE Milgram s participants acted with greatest obedience and least compassion when the “learners” could not be seen (and could not see them). When the victim was

Conformity and Obedience Chapter 6 199

remote and the “teachers” heard no complaints, nearly all obeyed calmly to the end. That situation jjunimized the learner’s influence relative to tiie experimenter’s. But what if we made the learner’s pleas and the experimenter’s instruc­ tions more equally visible? When the learner was in the same room, “only” 40 percent obeyed to 450 volts. Full compliance dropped to a still-astonishing 30 percent when teachers were required to force the learner’s hand into contact with a shock plate. In a reenacted Milgram experiment— with videotaped actors who were either hidden or seen on a computer screen and known to be feigning hurt— participants were, again, much less obedient when the victim was visible (Dambrun & Vatine, 2010).

In everyday life, too, it is easiest to abuse someone who is distant or depersonal­ ized. People who might never be cruel to someone in person may be nasty when posting comments to anonymous people on Internet discussion boards. Through­ out history, executioners have often depersonalized those being executed by plac­ ing hoods over their heads. The ethics of war allow one to bomb a helpless village from 40,000 feet but not to shoot an equally helpless villager. In combat with an enemy they can see, many soldiers either do not fire or do not aim. Such disobedi­ ence is rare among those given orders to kill with the more distant artillery or air­ craft weapons (Padgett, 1989).

As the Flolocaust began, some Germans, under orders, used machine guns or rifles to kill men, women, and children standing before them. But others could not bring themselves to do so, and some who did were left shaken by the experience of face-to-face killing. That led Heinrich Himmler, the Nazi “architect of genocide,” to devise a “more humane” kHling, one that would visually separate the killers and their victims. The solution was the construction of concrete gas chambers, where the killers would not see or hear the human consequences of their horror (Russell & Gregory, 2005).

On the positive side, people act most compassionately toward those who are personalized. That is why appeals for the unborn, for the hungry, or for animal *^ghts are nearly always personalized with a compelling photograph or description. When queried by researchers John Lydon and Christine Dunkel-Schetter (1994), expectant women expressed more commitment to their pregnancies if they had seen ultrasound pictures of their fetuses that clearly displayed body parts.

CLOSENESS AND LEGITIMACY OF THE AUTHORITY The physical presence of the experimenter also affected obedience. When Milgram’s experimenter gave the commands by telephone, full obedience dropped to 21 percent (although many lied and said they were obeying). Other studies confirm that when

one making the command is physically close, compliance increases. Given a light touch on the arm, people are more likely to lend a dime, sign a petition, or sample a riew pizza (Kleinke, 1977; Smith & others, 1982; Willis & Hamm, 1980).

The authority, however, must be perceived as legitimate. In another twist on the asic experiment, the experimenter received a rigged telephone call that required

to leave the laboratory. He said that since the equipment recorded data automat- ically, the “teacher” should just go ahead. After the experimenter left, another per-

who had been assigned a clerical role (actually a second confederate), assumed

An obedient participant in Milgram’s “touch” condition forces the victim’s hand onto the shock plate. Usually, however, “teachers” were more merciful to victims who were this close to them.




Imagine you had the power to prevent either a tsunami that would kill 25,000 people on the planet’s other side, a crash that would kill 250 people at your local airport, or a car accident that would kill a close friend. Which would you prevent?

200 Part Two Social Influence

focus ON Personalizing the Victims

Innocent victims trigger more compassion if personal- ^ soon-forgotten earthquake in Iran

killed 3,000 people, one small boy died, trapped in a well shaft in Italy, and the whole world grieved. Concerned that the projected death statistics of a nuclear war are impersonal to the point of being incomprehensible international law professor Roger Fisher proposed a way to personalize the victims;

It so happens that a young man, usually a navy officer, accompanies the president wherever he goes. This young man has a black attache case which contains the codes that are needed to fire nuclear weapons.

I can see the president at a staff meeting con­ sidering nuclear war as an abstract question He might conclude, “On SlOP Plan One, the deci­ sion IS affirmative. Communicate the Alpha line WZ.” Such jargon keeps what is involved at a distance.

My suggestion, then, is quite simple. Put that needed code number in a little capsule and implant that capsule right next to the heart of a volunteer. The volunteer will carry with him a big, heavy butcher knife as he accompanies the presi­ dent. If ever the president wants to fire nuclear weapons, the only way he can do so is by first with his own hands, killing one human being.’

“George,” the president would say, “I’m sorry, but tens of millions must die.” The president then would have to look at someone and realize what death is—what an innocent death is. Blood on the White House carpet; it’s reality brought home.

When I suggested this to friends in the Pentagon, they said, “My God, that’s terrible. Having to kill someone would distort the president’s judgment. He might never push the button.”

Source: Adapted from “Preventing Nuclear War” by Roger Fisher, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March 1981, pp. 11-17,

called hospital nurses who in one study were dosemL physician and ordered to administer an obvious drug over-

oITmS £ “i; “ f “ ‘–pm ppi^p

gjssilisflig msmmrn

he compliant nurse might empathize with the reported 70 fast-food restnnrnnt managers m 30 states who, between 1995 and 2006^ompliefwifh

Conformity and Obedience Chapter 6 201

Given orders, most soldiers will torch people’s homes or kill—behaviors that in other contexts they would consider immoral.

a self-described authority, usually posing as a police officer (ABC News, 2004; Snopes, 2008; Wikipedia, 2008). The supposed officer described a generic employee or customer. Once the manager had identified someone fitting the description, the authoritative-sounding caller gave an order to strip-search the person to see if he or she had stolen property. One male Taco Bell manager in Arizona pulled aside a 17-year-old female customer who fit the description and, with the caller giving orders, carried out a search that included body cavities. After forcing a 19-year- old female employee to strip against her will, a South Dakota restaurant manager explained that’T never wanted to do it…. I was just doing what he told me to do.” The manager feared that disobedience might mean losing his job or going to jail, explained his defense lawyer.

In another incident, a McDonald’s manager received a call from an “Officer Scott” who described an employee he said was suspected of purse stealing. The female manager brought an 18-year-old woman who fit the description into the office and followed a series of orders to have her empty her pockets and successive pieces of clothing. Over her 31^ hours of humiliating detention, the requests became progressively more bizarre, including sexual contact with a male. The traumatized teen sued McDonald’s, claiming they had not adequately forewarned staff of the scam, and was awarded $6.1 million (CNN, 2007).

INSTITUTIONAL AUTHORITY If the prestige of the authority is that important, then perhaps the institutional pres­ tige of Yale University legitimized the Milgram experiment commands. In post- experimental interviews, many participants said that had it not been for Yale’s reputation, they would not have obeyed. To see whether that was true, Milgram inoved the experiment to less prestigious Bridgeport, Connecticut. He set himself up in a modest commercial building as the “Research Associates of Bridgeport.” ^en the “learner-has-a-heart-condition” experiment was run with the same per­ sonnel, what percentage of the men do you suppose fully obeyed? Although the obedience rate (48 percent) was still remarkably high, it was significantly lower than the 65 percent rate at Yale.

In everyday life, too, authorities backed by institutions wield social power. Robert Ornstein (1991) tells of a psychiatrist friend who was called to the edge of a cliff above San Mateo, California, where one of his patients, Alfred, was threatening to jump. When the psychiatrist’s reasoned reassurance failed to dis­ lodge Alfred, the psychiatrist could only hope that a police crisis expert would soon arrive.


202 Part Two Social Influence

THE inside STORY Stanley Milgram on Obedience

While working for Solomon E. Asch, I wondered whether his conformity experiments could be made more humanly significant. First, I imagined an experiment simi­ lar to Asch’s, except that the group induced the person to deliver shocks to a protesting victim. But a control was needed to see how much shock a person would give in the absence of group pressure. Someone, presumably the experimenter, would have to instruct the subject to give the shocks. But now a new question arose: Just how far would a person go when ordered to administer such shocks? In my mind, the issue had shifted to the willing­ ness of people to comply with destructive orders. It was an exciting moment for me. I realized that this simple question was both humanly important and capable of being precisely answered.

The laboratory procedure gave scientific expression to a more general concern about authority, a concern forced upon members of my generation, in particular

upon Jews such as myself, by the atrocities of World War li. The impact of the Holocaust on my own psyche ener­ gized my interest in obedience and shaped the particular form in which it was examined.

Source: Abridged from the original for this book and from Milgram, 1977, with permission of Alexandra Milgram.

Stanley Milgram (1933-1984)

Although no expert came, another police officer, unaware of the drama, hap­ pened onto the scene, took out his power bullhorn, and yelled at the assembled cliffside group: “Who’s the ass who left that Pontiac station wagon double-parked out there in the middle of the road? I almost hit it. Move it now, whoever you are.” Hearing the message, Alfred obediently got down at once, moved the car, and then without a word got into the police cruiser for a trip to the nearby hospital.

THE LIBERATING EFFECTS OF GROUP INFLUENCE These classic experiments give us a negative view of conformity. But conformity can also be constructive. The heroic firefighters who rushed into the flaming World Trade Center towers were “incredibly brave,” note social psychologists Susan Fiske, Lasana Harris, and Amy Cuddy (2004), but they were also “partly obeying their superiors, partly conforming to extraordinary group loyalty.” Consider, too, the occasional liberating effect of conformity. Perhaps you can recall a time you felt justifiably angry at an unfair teacher but you hesitated to object. Then one or two other students spoke up about the unfair practices, and you followed their example, which had a liberating effect. Milgram captured this liberating effect of conformity by placing the teacher with two confederates who were to help conduct the proce­ dure. During the experiment, both confederates defied the experimenter, who then ordered the real participant to continue alone. Did he? No. Ninety percent liberated themselves by conforming to the defiant confederates.

Reflections on the Classic Studies The common response to Milgram’s results is to note their counterparts in the “I was only following orders” defenses of Adolf Eichmann, in Nazi Germany; of American Lieutenant William Galley, who in 1968 directed the unprovoked slaugh­ ter of hundreds of Vietnamese in the village of My Lai; and of the “ethnic cleans­ ings” occurring in Iraq, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Kosovo.

Conformity and Obedience Chapter 6 203

Soldiers are trained to obey superiors. Thus, one participant in the My Lai massacre recalled:

[Lieutenant Galley] told me to start shooting. So I started shooting, I poured about four clips into the group…. They were begging and saying, “No, no.” And the mothers were hugging their children and…. Well, we kept right on firing. They was waving their arms and begging. (Wallace, 1969)

The “safe” scientific contexts of the obedience experiments differ from the war­ time contexts. Moreover, much of the mockery and brutality of war and geno­ cide goes beyond obedience (Miller, 2004). Some of those who implemented the Holocaust were “willing executioners” who hardly needed to be commanded to kill (Goldhagen, 1996).

The obedience experiments also differ from the other conformity experiments in the strength of the social pressure: Obedience is explicitly commanded. Yet both the Asch and the Milgram experiments share certain commonalities. They showed how compliance can take precedence over moral sense. They succeeded in pressuring people to go against their own consciences. They did more than teach an academic lesson; they sensitized us to moral conflicts in our own lives. And they illustrated and affirmed two familiar social psychological principles: the link between behavior and attitudes and the power of the situation.

The United States military now trains soldiers to disobey inappropriate, unlawful orders.

BEHAVIOR AND ATTITUDES Ghapter 4 noted a situation in which attitudes fail to determine behavior: when external influences override inner convictions. These experiments vividly illustrate that principle. When responding alone, Asch’s participants nearly always gave the correct answer. It was another matter when they stood alone against a group.

In the obedience experiments, a powerful social pressure (the experimenter’s com­ mands) overcame a weaker one (the remote victim’s pleas). Tom between the pleas of the victim and the orders of the experimenter, between the desire to avoid doing harm and the desire to be a good participant, a surprising number of people chose to obey.

Why were the participants unable to disengage themselves? Imagine yourself as the teacher in yet another version of Milgram’s experiment (one he never conducted). Assume that when the learner gives the first wrong answer, the experimenter asks you to zap him with 330 volts. After flicking the switch, you hear the learner scream, complain of a heart disturbance, and plead for mercy. Do you continue?

I think not. Recall the step-by-step entrapment of the foot-in-the-door phenom­ enon (Ghapter 4) as we compare this hypothetical experiment to what Milgram’s participants experienced. Their first commit­ ment was mild—15 volts—and it elicited no protest. By the time they delivered 75 volts 3nd heard the learner’s first groan, they already had complied 5 times, and the next request was to deliver only slightly more. By the time they delivered 330 volts, the par- hcipants had complied 22 times and reduced some of their dissonance. They were therefore in a different psychological state from that of someone beginning the experiment at that point. The same thing occurred with the fast- food restaurant managers in the strip-search scam, after they had complied with initially reasonable-seeming orders from a supposed authority. As we saw in Ghapter 4, external Behavior and internal disposition can feed 6ach other, sometimes in an escalating spiral. ^us, reported Milgram (1974, p. 10):

“Maybe I was too patriotic.” So said ex-torturer Jeffrey Benzien, shown here dem­ onstrating the “wet bag” technique to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He would place a cloth over victims’ heads, bringing them to the terrify­ ing brink of asphyxiation over and over again. Such terror tactics were used by the for­ mer security police to get an accused person to disclose, for example, where guns were hidden. “I did terrible things,” Benzien admitted with apologies to his victims, though he claimed only to be following orders.

204 Part Two Social Influence







GOETHE, 1850

Even in an individualistic culture, few of us desire to challenge our culture’s clear­ est norms, as did Stephen Gough while walking the length of Britain naked (apart from hat, socks, boots, and a rucksack). Starting in June 2003, he made it from Lands End, England’s most south­ erly point, to John O’Groats, Scotland’s most northerly mainland point. During his 7-month, 847-mile trek he was arrested 15 times and spent about five months behind bars. “My naked activism is firstly and most importantly about me stand­ ing up for myself, a declara­ tion of myself as a beautiful human being,” Gough (2003) declared from his website.

Many subjects harshly devalue the victim as a consequence of acting against him. Such comments as, “He was so stupid and stubborn he deserved to get shocked,” were com­ mon. Once having acted against the victim, these subjects found it necessary to view him as an unworthy individual, whose punishment was made inevitable by his own deficiencies of intellect and character.

During the early 1970s, Greece’s military junta used this “blame-the-victim” pro­ cess to train torturers {Haritos-Fatouros, 1988, 2002; Staub, 1989, 2003). There, as in the earlier training of SS officers in Nazi Germany, the military selected candidates based on their respect for and submission to authority. But such tendencies alone do not a torturer make. Thus, they would first assign the trainee to guard prisoners, then to participate in arrest squads, then to hit prisoners, then to observe torture, and only then to practice it. Step by step, an obedient but otherwise decent person evolved into an agent of cruelty. Compliance bred acceptance. If we focus on the end point—450 volts of torture administered—we are aghast at the evil conduct. If we consider how one gets there—in tiny steps—we understand.

As a Holocaust survivor. University of Massachusetts social psychologist Ervin Staub knows too well the forces that can transform citizens into agents of death. From his study of human genocide across the world, Staub (2003) shows where gradually increasing aggression can lead. Too often, criticism produces contempt, which licenses cruelty, which, when justified, leads to brutality, then killing, then systematic killing. Evolving attitudes both follow and justify actions. Staub’s dis­ turbing conclusion: “Human beings have the capacity to come to experience killing other people as nothing extraordinary” (1989, p. 13).

But humans also have a capacity for heroism. During the Nazi Holocaust, the French village of Le Chambon sheltered 5,000 Jews and other refugees destined for deportation to Germany. The villagers were mostly Protestants whose own authori­ ties, their pastors, had taught them to “resist whenever our adversaries will demand of us obedience contrary to the orders of the Gospel” (Rochat, 1993; Rochat & Modigliani, 1995). Ordered to divulge the locations of sheltered Jews, the head pastor modeled dis­ obedience: I don’t know of Jews, I only know of human beings.” Without knowing how terrible the war would be, the resisters, beginning in 1940, made an initial com­ mitment and then—supported by their beliefe, by their own authorities, and by one another—remained defiant till the viUage’s liberation in 1944. Here and elsewhere, the

ultimate response to Nazi occu­ pation came early. Initial help­ ing heightened commitment, leading to more helping.

THE POWER OF THE SITUATION The most important lesson of Chapter 5 (that culture is a pow­ erful shaper of lives) and this chapter’s most important les­ son (that immediate situational forces are just as powerful) reveal the strength of the social context. To feel this for yourself, imagine violating some minor norms: standing up in the mid­ dle of a class; singing out loud in a restaurant; playing golf in a suit. In trying to break with social constraints, we suddenly realize how strong they are.

Conformity and Obedience Chapter 6 205

The students in one Pennsylvania State University experiment found it sur­ prisingly difficult to violate the norm of being “nice” rather than confrontational. Participants imagined themselves discussing with three others whom to select for survival on a desert island. They were asked to imagine one of the others, a man, injecting three sexist comments, such as, “I think we need more women on the island to keep the men satisfied.” How would they react to such sexist remarks? Only 5 percent predicted they would ignore each of the comments or wait to see how others reacted. But when Janet Swim and Lauri Hyers (1999) engaged other students in discussions where such comments were actually made by a male con­ federate, 55 percent (not 5 percent) said nothing. Likewise, although people predict they would be upset by witnessing a person making a racial slur—and would avoid picking the racist person as a partner in an experiment—those actually experienc­ ing such an event typically exhibit indifference (Kawakami & others, 2009). These experiments demonstrate the power of normative pressures and how hard it is to predict behavior, even our own behavior.

How ironic that in 2011, the human struggle with confrontation should play out at Swim and Hyers’ university—Penn State—in a public debate about how its revered football coach and other university officials should have responded to learning that a fellow coach had sexually abused boys. (The coaches reportedly did pass on the reports to superiors, but allowed the alleged abuser to continue using university facilities.) Commentators were outraged; they presumed that they themselves would have acted more strongly. But the lessons of history, of bystander response (see Chapter 12), and of these experiments remind us that saying what we would do in a hypothetical situation is often easier than doing it in a real situation.

Milgram’s experiments also offer a lesson about evil. In horror movies and sus­ pense novels, evil results from a few bad apples, a few depraved killers. In real life we similarly think of Hitler’s extermination of Jews or of Osama bin Laden’s terrorist plot. But evil also results from social forces—from the heat, humidity, and disease that help make a whole barrel of apples go bad. The American military police, whose abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison horrified the world, were under stress, taunted by many they had come to save, angered by comrades’ deaths, overdue to return home, and under lax supervision—an evil situation that produced evil behavior (Fiske, 2004; Lankford, 2009). Situations can induce ordi­ nary people to capitulate to cruelty.

This is especially true when, as happens often in complex societies, the most terrible evil evolves from a sequence of small evils. German civil servants surprised Nazi lead­ ers with their willingness to handle the paperwork of the Holocaust. They were not killing Jews, of course; they were merely pushing paper (Silver & Geller, 1978). When fragmented, evil becomes easier. Milgram studied this compartmentalization of evil by involving yet another 40 men more indirectly. With someone else triggering the shock, they had only to administer the learning test. Now, 37 of the 40 fully complied.

So it is in our everyday lives: The drift toward evil usually comes in small incre­ ments, without any conscious intent to do evil. Procrastination involves a similar unintended drift, toward self-harm (Sabini & Silver, 1982). A student knows the dead­ line for a term paper weeks ahead. Each diversion from work on the paper—a video game here, a TV program there—seems harmless enough. Yet gradually the student veers toward not doing the paper without ever consciously deciding not to do it.

It is tempting to assume that Eichmann and the Auschwitz death camp com­ manders were uncivilized monsters. Indeed, their evil was fueled by virulent anti-Semitism. And the social situation alone does not explain why, in the same neighborhood or death camp, some personalities displayed vicious cruelty and others heroic kindness. Still, the commanders would not have stood out to us as monsters. After a hard day’s work, they would relax by listening to Beethoven and Schubert. Of the 14 men who formulated the Final Solution leading to the Nazi Holocaust, 8 had European university doctorates (Patterson, 1996). Like most other Nazis, Eichmann himself was outwardly indistinguishable from common people





















CBS’S 60 MINUTES, 1979

206 Part Two Social Influence

The “unexceptional” 9/11 terrorists. Hijackers Nawaf al-Hazmi (blue shirt) and Salem al-Hazmi (white shirt) were normal-looking, normal-acting passengers as they went through Dulles Airport security on September 11,2001.

with ordinary jobs (Arendt, 1963; Zillmer & others, 1995). Mohamed Atta, the leader of the 9/11 attacks, reportedly had been a “good boy” and an excellent student from a healthy family. Zacarias Moussaoui, the would-be twentieth 9/11 attacker, had been very polite when applying for flight lessons and buying knives. He called women “ma’am.” The pilot of the second plane to hit the World Trade Center was said to be an amiable, “laid-back” fellow, much like the “intelligent, friendly, and ‘very courteous’” phot of the plane that dove into the Pentagon. If these men had lived next door to us, they would hardly have fit our image of evil monsters. They were “unexceptional” people (McDermott, 2005).

As Milgram noted (1974, p. 6), “The most fundamental lesson of our study is that ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process.” As Mister Rogers often reminded his preschool television audience, “Good people sometimes do bad things.” Under the sway of evil forces, even nice people are sometimes corrupted as they construct moral rationalizations for immoral behavior (Tsang, 2002). So it is that ordinary soldiers may, in the end, follow orders to shoot defenseless civilians; admired political leaders may lead their citizens into ill-fated wars; ordinary employ­ ees may follow instructions to produce and distribute harmful, degrading products; and ordinary group members may heed commands to brutally haze initiates.

So, does a situational analysis of harm-doing exonerate harm-doers? Does it absolve them of responsibility? In laypeople’s minds, the answer is to some extent yes, notes Arthur Miller (2006). But the psychologists who study the roots of evil insist otherwise. To explain is not to excuse. To understand is not to forgive. You can forgive someone whose behavior you don’t understand, and you can understand someone whom you do not forgive. Moreover, adds James Waller (2002), “When we understand the ordinariness of extraordinary evil, we will be less surprised by evil, less likely to be unwitting contributors to evil, and perhaps better equipped to forestall evil.” Jerry Burger’s replication of the famous Milgram study excluded those familiar with it. Had such people—with the knowledge you now have—^been included, might the obedience rate have been much lower (Elms, 2009)?

Finally, a comment on the experimental method used in conformity research (see synopsis. Table 6.1): Conformity situations in the laboratory differ from those in everyday life. How often are we asked to judge line lengths or administer shock?

Conformity and Obedience Chapter 6 207

table •• 6.1 Summary of Classic Obedience Studies

ki’- Topic ^ Norm formation



Sherif Assessing suggestibility regarding seeming move­ ment of light

Asch Agreement with others’ obviously wrong percep­ tual judgments

Real-Life Example |

Interpreting events differently after hearing from others; appreciating a tasty food that others love

i Doing as others do; ) fads such as tattoos ?

Complying with com- mands to ^ock another

Soldiers {» emploj following quesfic

But as combustion is similar for a burning match and a forest fire, so we assume that psychological processes in the laboratory and in everyday life are similar (Milgram, 1974). We must be careful in generalizing from the simplicity of a burning match to the complexity of a forest fire. Yet controlled experiments on burning matches can give us insights into combustion that we cannot gain by observing forest fires. So, too, the social-psychological experiment offers insights into behavior not read­ ily revealed in everyday life. The experimental situation is unique, but so is every social situation. By testing with a variety of unique tasks, and by repeating experi­ ments at different times and places, researchers probe for the common principles that lie beneath the surface diversity.

The classic conformity experiments answered some questions but raised others: Sometimes people conform; sometimes they do not. (1) When do they conform? (2) Why do people conform? Why don’t they ignore the group and “to their own selves be true”? (3) Is there a type of person who is likely to conform? In the next section we will take these questions one at a time.

SUMMING UP: What Are the Classic Conformity and Obedience Studies?

Three classic sets of experiments illustrate how researchers have studied conformity.

• Muzafer Sherif observed that others’ judgments influenced people’s estimates of the movement of a point of light that actually did not move. Norms for “proper” answers emerged and survived both over long periods of time and through succeeding generations of research participants.

* Solomon Asch had people listen to others’ judg- nients of which of three comparison lines was equal to a standard line and then make the same judg- nient themselves. When the others unanimously gave a wrong answer, the participants conformed 37 percent of the time. Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiments elicited an extreme form of compliance. Under optimum

conditions—a legitimate, close-at-hand commander, a remote victim, and no one else to exemplify dis­ obedience—65 percent of his adult male participants fully obeyed instructions to deliver what were sup­ posedly traumatizing electric shocks to a screaming, innocent victim in an adjacent room. These classic experiments expose the potency of several phenomena. Behavior and attitudes are mutually reinforcing, enabling a small act of evil to foster the attitude that leads to a bigger evil act. The power of the situation can induce good people, faced with dire circumstances, to commit reprehen­ sible acts (although dire situations may produce heroism in others).

208 Part Two Social Influence

WHAT PREDICTS CONFORMITY? Identify situations that trigger much— and little—conformity.

Social psychologists wondered: If even Asch’s noncoercive, unambiguous situation could elicit a 37 percent conformity rate, would other settings produce even more? Researchers soon discovered that conformity did grow if the judgments were dif­ ficult or if the participants felt incompetent. The more insecure we are about our judgments, the more influenced we are by others.

Group attributes also matter. Conformity is highest when the group has diree or more people and is unanimous, cohesive, and high in status. Conformity is also highest when the response is public and made without prior commitment. Let’s look at each of these conditions.

Group Size In laboratory experiments, a small group can have a big effect. Asch and other researchers found that 3 to 5 people will elicit much more conformity than just 1 or 2. Increasing the number of people beyond 5 yields diminishing returns (Gerard & others, 1968; Rosenberg, 1961). In a field experiment, Milgram and his colleagues (1969) had 1, 2, 3, 5, 10, or 15 people pause on a busy New York City sidewalk and look up. As Figure 6.6 shows, the percentage of passersby who also looked up increased as the number looking up increased from 1 to 5 persons.

The way the group is “packaged” also makes a difference. Rutgers University researcher David Wilder (1977) gave students a jury case. Before giving their own judgments, the students watched videotapes of four confederates giving their judg­ ments. When the confederates were presented as two independent groups of two people, the participants conformed more than when the four confederates presented their judgments as a single group. Similarly, two groups of three people elicited more conformity than one group of six, and three groups of two people elicited even more. The agreement of independent small groups makes a position more credible.

FIGURE:: 6.6 Group Size and Conformity The percentage of passersby who imitated a group looking upward increased as group size increased to 5 persons. ^ource.’Data from Milgram, Bickman, & Berkowitz, 1969.

Conformity and Obedience Chapter 6 209

Unanimity Imagine yourself in a conformity experiment in which all but one of the people responding before you give the same wrong answer. Would the example of this one nonconforming confederate be as liberating as it was for the individuals in Milgram’s obedience experiment? Several experiments reveal that someone who punctures a group’s unanimity deflates its social power (Allen Levine, 1969; Asch, 1955; Morris & Miller, 1975). As Figure 6.7 illustrates, people will usually voice their own convictions if just one other person has also differed from the major­ ity. The participants in such experiments often later say they felt warm toward and close to their nonconforming ally. Yet they deny that the ally influenced them: “I would have answered just the same if he weren’t there.”

It’s difficult to be a minority of one; few juries are hung because of one dissenting juror. And only 1 in 10 U.S. Supreme Court decisions over the past half-century has had a lone dissenter; most have been unanimous or a 5-4 split (Granberg & Bartels, 2005).

Conformity experiments teach the practical lesson that it is easier to stand up for something if you can find someone else to stand up with you. Many religious

FIGURE :; 6.7 The Effect of Unanimity on Conformity When someone giving correct answers punctures the group’s unanimity, individuals conform only one-fourth as often. Source: From Asch, 1955.

It is difficult to stand alone as a minority of one. But doing so sometimes makes a hero, as was the lone dissenting jury member played by Henry Fonda in the classic movie 12 Angry Men.

210 Part Two Social Influence







groups recognize this. Following the example of Jesus, who sent his disciples out in pairs, the Mormons send two missionaries into a neighborhood together. The sup­ port of the one comrade greatly increases a person’s social courage.

Observing someone else’s dissent—even when it is wrong—can increase our own independence. Charlan Nemeth and Cynthia Chiles (1988) discovered this after having people observe a lone individual in a group of four misjudge blue stim­ uli as green. Although the dissenter was wrong, after they had observed him the observers were more likely to exhibit their own form of independence: 76 percent of the time they correctly labeled red slides “red” even when everyone else was incor­ rectly calling them “orange.” Participants who had no opportunity to observe the “green” dissenter conformed 70 percent of the time.

cohesiveness A “we feeling”; the extent to which members of a group are bound together, such as by attraction to one another.

A minority opinion from someone outside the groups we identify with—from someone at another college or of a different religion—sways us less than the same minority opinion from someone within our group (Clark & Maass, 1988). A het­ erosexual arguing for gay rights would sway heterosexuals more effectively than would a homosexual. People even comply more readily with requests from those said to share their birthday, their first name, or features of their fingerprint (Burger & others, 2004; Silvia, 2005).

The more cohesive a group is, the more power it gains over its members. In college sororities, for example, friends tend to share binge-eating tendencies, espe­ cially as they grow closer (Crandall, 1988). People within an ethnic group may feel a similar “own-group conformity pressure”—to talk, act, and dress as “we” do. Blacks who “act White” or Whites who “act Black” may be mocked by their peers (Contrada & others, 2000).

In experiments, too, group members who feel attracted to the group are more responsive to its influence (Berkowitz, 1954; Lott & Lott, 1961; Sakurai, 1975). Fear­ ing rejection by group members whom they like, they allow them a certain power (Hogg, 2001). In his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, the seventeenth-century philosopher John Locke recognized the cohesiveness factor: “Nor is there one in ten thousand who is stiff and insensible enough to bear up under the constant dislike and condemnation of his own club.”

Our inclination to go with our group—to think what it thinks and do what it does—surfaced in one experiment as people reported greater liking for a piece of music that was said to be liked by people akin to themselves (but disliked the music more when it was liked by someone wnlike themselves [Hilmert & others, 2006]). Likewise, when university students compare themselves with drinkers who are dissimilar from themselves, they become less likely to drink (Lane & others, 2011). And after observing cheating by someone wearing a T-shirt from their own university, participants in another experiment became more likely to cheat. But if the cheater wore a T-shirt from a competing university, it had the opposite effect: the participants became more honest (Gino & others, 2009). Cohesion-fed confor­ mity also appears in college dorms, where students’ attitudes over time become more similar to those living near them (Cullum & Harton, 2007).

And it has tragically appeared in massacres, as men have been unwilling to sepa­ rate themselves from their close comrades, even when killing was not something they would have done apart from their group. Historian Christopher Browning (1992) recalls the nearly 500-man German Reserve Police Battalion 101 being awak­ ened in Poland one morning in July 1942. Their well-liked commander nervously explained that they had been ordered to send the male adults from the 1,800 Jews in a nearby village to a work camp, and to shoot the women, children, and elderly. With obvious discomfort over this task, he offered to let any of the older men who did not feel up to the task to step out. Only a dozen did. The rest participated, with many of them being physically sick with disgust afterwards.

Conformity and Obedience Chapter 6 211



In post-war testimonies from some 125 men, most of whom were middle-aged family men, anti-Semitism did not explain their actions. Rather, reported Browning, they were constrained by the power of cohesion: Don’t break ranks. The men felt a “strong urge not to separate themselves from the group by stepping out” (p. 71).

Status As you might suspect, higher-status people tend to have more impact (Driskell & Mullen, 1990). Junior group members—even junior social psychologists—ack­ nowledge more conformity to their group than do senior group members (Jetten & others, 2006). Or consider this: Studies of jaywalking behavior, conducted with the unwitting aid of nearly 24,000 pedestrians, reveal that the baseline jaywalking rate of 25 percent decreases to 17 percent in the presence of a nonja5^alking confeder­ ate and increases to 44 percent in the presence of another jaywalker (Mullen & oth­ ers, 1990). The nonjaywalker best discourages jaywalking when well dressed. Even chimps are more likely to imitate the behaviors of high-ranking group members (Homer & others, 2010). Among both humans and other primates, prestige begets influence.

Milgram (1974) reported that in his obedience experiments, people of lower status accepted the experimenter’s commands more readily than people of higher status. After delivering 450 volts, a 37-year-old welder turned to the higher-status experimenter and deferentially asked, “Where do we go from here. Professor?” (p. 46). Another participant, a divinity school professor who disobeyed at 150 volts, said, “I don’t understand why the experiment is placed above this person’s life” and plied the experimenter with questions about “the ethics of this thing” (p. 48).

One of conformity researchers’ first questions was this; Would people conform more in their public responses than in their private opinions? Or would they wob­ ble more in their private opinions but be unwilling to conform publicly, lest they appear wishy-washy?

The answer is now clear: In experiments, people conform more when they must respond in front of others rather than writing their answers privately. Asch’s partici­ pants, after hearing others respond, were less influenced by group pressure if they could write answers that only the experimenter would see. Likewise, when college instructors ask controversial questions, students express more diverse opin­ ions when answering anonymously, with clickers, than when raising hands (Stowell & others, 2010). It is much easier to stand up for what we believe Iri the privacy of the voting booth than before a group.

Prior Commitment In 1980, Genuine Risk became the second filly ever to win the Kentucky Derby. In fier next race, the Preakness, she came off file last turn gaining on the leader. Codex, a colt. As they came out of the turn neck ^d neck. Codex moved sideways toward Genuine Risk, causing her to hesitate and §iving him a narrow victory. Had Codex brushed Genuine Risk? Had his jockey ®ven whipped Genuine Risk in the face?

Did Codex brush against Genuine Risk? After race referees publicly announced their decision, no amount of evidence could budge them.

212 Part Two Social Influence

Prior commitment: Once they commit themselves to a posi­ tion, people seldom yield to social pressure. Real umpires and referees rarely reverse their initial judgments. © Robert Mankoff/The New Yorker Collection/





The race referees huddled. After a brief deliberation they judged that no foul had occurred and confirmed Codex as the winner. The decision caused an uproar. Televised instant replays showed that Codex had indeed brushed Genuine Risk, the sentimental favorite. A protest was filed. The officials reconsidered their decision, but they did not change it.

Did their declared judgment immediately after the race affect officials’ openness toward reaching a different decision later? We will never know for sure. We can, how­ ever, put people through a labora­ tory version of this event—with and

without the immediate commitment—and observe whether the commitment makes a difference. Again, imagine yourself in an Asch-type experiment. The experimenter displays the lines and asks you to respond first. After you give your judgment and then hear everyone else disagree, the experimenter offers you an opportunity to reconsider. In the face of group pressure, do you now back down?

People almost never do (Deutsch & Gerard, 1955). After having made a public commitment, they stick to it. At most, they will change their judgments in later situations (Saltzstein & Sandberg, 1979). We may therefore expect that judges of diving or gymnastic competitions, for example, will seldom change their ratings after seeing the other judges’ ratings, although they might adjust their later perfor­ mance ratings.

Prior commitments restrain persuasion, too. When simulated juries make deci­ sions, hung verdicts are more likely in cases when jurors are polled by a show of hands rather than by secret ballot (Kerr & MacCoun, 1985). Making a public com­ mitment makes people hesitant to back down.

Smart persuaders know this. Salespeople ask questions that prompt us to make statements for, rather than against, what they are marketing. Environmentalists ask people to commit themselves to recycling, energy conservation, or bus riding. That’s because behavior then changes more than when environmental appeals are heard without inviting a commitment (Katzev & Wang, 1994). Teens 14 to 17 who make a public virginity-till-marriage pledge reportedly become somewhat more likely to remain sexually abstinent, or to delay intercourse, than similar teens who don’t make the pledge (Bearman & Bruckner, 2001; Bruckner & Bearman, 2005; Uecker, 2008). (If they violate their pledge, however, they are somewhat less likely to use a condom.)

….. ii 4/W


“All right! Have it your own way. It was a ball.’

SUMMING UP: What Predicts Conformity? • Using conformity testing procedures, experimenters

have explored the circumstances that produce con­ formity. Certain situations appear to be especially powerful. For example, conformity is affected by the characteristics of the group: People conform most when three or more people, or groups, model the behavior or belief.

• Conformity is reduced if the modeled behavior or belief is not unanimous.

• Conformity is enhanced by group cohesion. • The higher the status of those modeling the behav­

ior or belief, the greater likelihood of conformity. • People also conform most when their responses are

public (in the presence of the group). • A prior commitment to a certain behavior or belief

increases the likelihood that a person will stick with that commitment rather than conform.

Conformity and Obedience Chapter 6 213

WHY CONFORM? Identify and understand the two forms of social influence that explain why people will conform to others.

“Do you see yonder cloud that’s almost in the shape of a camel?” asks Shakespeare’s Hamlet of Polonius. “‘Tis like a camel indeed,” replies Polonius. “Methinks it is a weasel,” says Hamlet a moment later. “It is backed like a weasel,” acknowledges Polonius. “Or like a whale?” wonders Hamlet. “Very like a whale,” agrees Polonius. Question; Why does Polonius so readily agree every time Hamlet changes his mind?

Or consider this situation: There I was, an American attending my first lecture during an extended visit at a German university. As the lecturer finished, I lifted my hands to join in the clapping. But rather than clap, the other people began rap­ ping the tables with their knuckles. What did this mean? Did they disapprove of the speech? Surely, not everyone would be so openly rude to a visiting dignitary. Nor did their faces express displeasure. No, I realized, this must be a German ovation. Whereupon, I added my knuckles to the chorus.

What prompted this conformity? Why had I not clapped even while the others rapped? Why did Polonius so readily echo Hamlet’s words? There are two possi­ bilities: A person may bow to the group (a) to be accepted and avoid rejection or (b) to obtain important information. Morton Deutsch and Harold Gerard (1955) named these two possibilities normative influence and informational influence. The first springs from our desire to be liked, and the second from our desire to be right.

Normative influence is “going along with the crowd” to avoid rejection, to stay in people’s good graces, or to gain their approval. Perhaps the subordinate Polonius agreed with Hamlet, the higher-status Prince of Denmark, to curry favor.

In the laboratory and in everyday life, groups often reject those who deviate consistently (Miller & Anderson, 1979; Schachter, 1951). ‘That’s a lesson learned by a media studies professor who became an outcast while playing the online game “City of Heroes” (Vargas, 2009). The professor, with whom I empathize because (I am not making this up) we share the same name—David Myers— played by the rules but did not conform to the customs. Much as drivers who go 50 in a 70 mph zone are disliked for violating norms but not rules, Myers was derided with instant messages: “I hope your mother gets cancer.” “EVERYONE HATES YOU.” “If you kill me one more time I will come and kill you for real and I am not kidding.”

As most of us know, social rejection is painful; when we deviate from group norms, we often pay an emotional price. Brain scans show that group judgments differing from one’s own activate a brain area that also is active when one feels the pain of bad betting decisions (Klucharev & others, 2009). Gerard (1999) recalls that in one of his conformity experiments, an initially friendly participant became upset, asked to leave the room, and returned looking

sick and visibly shaken. I became worried and suggested that we discontinue the ses­ sion. He absolutely refused to stop and continued through all 36 trials, not yielding to the others on a single trial. After the experiment was over and I explained the subter­ fuge to him, his entire body relaxed and he sighed with relief. Color returned to his face. I asked him why he had left the room. “To vomit,” he said. He did not yield, but at what a price! He wanted so much to be accepted and liked by the others and was afraid he would not be because he had stood his ground against them. There you have normative pressure operating with a vengeance.

Sometimes the high price of deviation compels people to support what they do hot believe in or at least to suppress their disagreement. “I was afraid that Leideritz 9nd others would think I was a coward,” reported one German officer, explain-

his reluctance to dissent from mass executions (Waller, 2002). Fearing a court- martial for disobedience, some of the soldiers at My Lai participated in the massacre.

normative influence Conformity based on a person’s desire to fulfill others’ expectations, often to gain acceptance.

informational influence Conformity occurring when people accept evidence about reality provided by other people.





Social Influence214 Part Two

Normative influence leads to compliance, especially for people who seen others ridiculed or who are seeking to climb a status ladder (Hollander, 1958; Janes & Olson, 2000). As John F. Kennedy (1956) recalled,” “The way to get along/1 was told when I entered Congress, ‘is to go along’” (p. 4).

Normative influence often sways us without our awareness. When a research team led by Jessica Nolan (2008) asked 810 Californians what influenced their energy conservation, people rated environmental protection and saving money ahead of other people doing it. Yet it was their beliefs about how often their neigh­ bors tried to conserve that best predicted their own self-reported conservation. And in a follow-up study, it was door-hung normative messages, such as “99% of people in your community reported turning off unnecessary lights to save energy,’ that produced the greatest drop in electricity use. ^

Informational influence, on the other hand, leads people to privately accept others influence. Viewing a changing cloud shape, Polonius may actually see what Hamlet helps him see. When reality is ambiguous, as it was for participants in the autoki- netic situation, other people can be a valuable source of information. The individual may reason, “I can’t tell how far the light is moving. But this guy seems to know.

Our friends have extra influence on us for informational as well as normative reasons (Denrell, 2008; Denrell & Le Mens, 2007). If our friend buys a particular car and takes us to a particular restaurant, we will gain information that may lead us to like what our friend likes—even if we don’t care what our friend likes. Our friends influence the experiences that inform our attitudes.

To discover what the brain is doing when people experience an Asch-type comor- mity experiment, an Emory University neuroscience team put participants in a func­ tional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scanner while having thern answer perceptual questions after hearing others’ responses (Bems & others, 2005). (The task involved mentally rotating a figure to find its match among several possibihtiesO When the participants conformed to a wrong answer, the brain regions dedicated to perception became active. And when they went against the group, brain regions associated with emotion became active. These results suggest that when people con­ form, their perceptions may be genuinely influenced. Follow-up fMRI studies have identified neural activity associated with normative influence (in a bram area that is active when people are anxious about social rejection) and with informational ii^u- ence (in areas involved with one’s judgments of a stimulus) (Zaki & others, 2011).

So, concern for social image produces normative influence. The desire to be correct produces informational influence. In day-to-day life, normative and informational influence often occur together. I was not about to be the only person m that German lecture hall clapping (normahve influence). Yet the others’ behavior also showed me the appropriate way to express my appreciation (informational influence).

Conformity experiments have sometimes isolated either normative or infor­ mational influence. Conformity is greater when people respond publicly before a group; this surely reflects normative influence (because people receive the same information whether they respond publicly or privately). On the other hand, con­ formity is greater when participants feel incompetent, when the task is difficult, and when the individuals care about being right—all signs of informational influence.

SUMMING UP: Why Conform? • Experiments reveal two reasons people conform.

Normative influence results from a person’s desire for acceptance: We want to be liked. The tendency to conform more when responding publicly reflects normative influence.

• Informational influence results from others’ pro­ viding evidence about reality. The tendency to conform more on difficult decision-making tasks reflects informational influence: We want to be right.

215Conformity and Obedience Chapter 6

Chimpanzees, like humans, have been observed to ape their peers, especially those of high status. They may copy tool use or food-washing hab­ its observed in role models. And after they have observed and picked up a cultural way of doing something—perhaps a technique for scooping up tasty ants with a stick— they persist.

WHO CONFORMS?__________________ Describe how conformity varies not only with situations but also with persons. Discuss social contexts in which personality traits shine through.

Are some people generally more susceptible (or should I say, more open) to social influence? Among your friends, can you identify some who are “conformists” and others who are “independent”? In their search for the conformer, researchers have focused on three predictors: personality, culture, and social roles.

During the late 1960s and 1970s, researchers observed only weak connections between personal characteristics and social behaviors such as conformity (Mischel, 1968). In contrast with the demonstrable power of situational factors, personality scores were poor predictors of individuals’ behavior. If you wanted to know how conforming or aggressive or helpful someone was going to be, it seemed you were better off knowing about the situation rather than the person’s psychological test scores. As Milgram (1974) concluded: “1 am certain that there is a complex personal­ ity basis to obedience and disobedience. But I know we have not found it (p. 205).

During the 1980s, the idea that personal dispositions make little difference prompted personality researchers to pinpoint the circumstances under which traits do predict behavior. Their research affirms a principle that we met in Chap­ ter 4: Although internal factors (attitudes, traits) seldom precisely predict a spe­ cific action, they better predict a person’s average behavior across many situations (Epstein, 1980; Rushton & others, 1983). An analogy may help: Just as your response to a single test item is hard to predict, so is your behavior in a single situation. And just as your total score across the many items of a test is more predictable, so is your total conformity (or outgoingness or aggressiveness) across many situations.

Personality also predicts behavior better when social influences are weak, ^ilgram’s obedience experiments created “strong” situations; their clear-cut demands made it difficult for personality differences to operate. Even so, Milgram’s

216 Social InfluencePart Two

Personality effects loom larger when we note people’s differing reactions to the same situation, as when one person reacts with terror and another with delight to a roller coaster ride.

FIGURE :: 6.8 Traits and situations together shape behavior. Research on the “Big Five” personality traits (neuroticism, extraver­ sion, openness, agreeableness, conscientiousness) shows them to be genetically disposed characteristics that, along with external influences, guide our lives (McCrae, 2011).




participants differed widely in how obedient they were, and there is good reason to suspect that sometimes his participants’ hostility, respect for authority, and con­ cern for meeting expectations affected their obedience (Blass, 1990, 1991). And in “weaker” situations—as when two strangers sit in a waiting room with no cues to guide their behavior—individual personalities are free to shine (Ickes & others, 1982; Monson & others, 1982; and see Cooper & Withey’s (2009) call for more research).

But even in strong situations, individuals differ. An Army report on the Abu Ghraib prison abuse praised three men who, despite threats of ridicule and court-martial, stood apart from their comrades (O’Connor, 2004). Lt. David Sutton terminated one

incident and alerted his commanders. “I don’t want to judge, but yes, I witnessed something inappropri­ ate and I reported it,” said Sutton. Navy dog handler William Kimbro resisted “significant pressure” to par­ ticipate in “improper interrogations.” And Specialist Joseph Darby blew the whistle, giving military police the evidence that raised the alarm. Darby, called a “rat” by some, received death threats for his dissent and was given military protection. But back home, his mother joined others in applauding: “Honey, I’m so proud of you because you did the good thing and good always triumphs over evil, and the truth will always set you free” (ABC News, December 2004).

The pendulum of professional opinion swings. Without discounting the undeniable power of the social forces recognized in the 1960s and 1970s, the pendulum has swung back toward an appreciation of individual personality and its genetic predisposi­ tions (Figure 6.8). Like the attitude researchers we considered earlier, personality researchers are clarify-

External influences

‘Cultural norms • Immediate situation

♦ ‘Meliavio^S attitudes

naiity traits ■■■

Genetic reaffirming the connection between who we predispositions are and what we do. Thanks to their efforts, today’s

social psychologists now agree with pioneering theo­ rist Kurt Lewin’s (1936) dictum: “Every psychological

Conformity and Obedience Chapter 6 217

event depends upon the state of the person and at the same time on the environ­ ment, although their relative importance is different in different cases” (p. 12).

Culture When researchers in Australia, Austria, Germany, Italy, Jordan, South Africa, Spain, and the United States repeated the obedience experiments, how do you think the results compared with those with American participants? The obedience rates were similar, or even higher—85 percent in Munich (Blass, 2000).

But does cultural background help predict how conforming people will be? Indeed it does. James Whittaker and Robert Meade (1967) repeated Asch’s con­ formity experiment in several countries and found similar conformity rates in most—31 percent in Lebanon, 32 percent in Hong Kong, 34 percent in Brazil—but 51 percent among the Bantu of Zimbabwe, a tribe with strong sanctions against non­ conformity. When Milgram (1961) used a different conformity procedure to com­ pare Norwegian and French students, he consistently found the French students to be less conforming. An analysis by Rod Bond and Peter Smith (1996) of 133 studies in 17 countries showed how cultural values influence conformity. Compared with people in individualistic countries, those in collectivist countries (where harmony is prized and connections help define the self) are more responsive to others’ influ­ ence. In collectivist Japan, Western observers were struck by the absence of loot­ ing and lawlessness following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami; respect for social norms prevailed (Cafferty, 2011). In individualist countries, university students see themselves as more nonconforming than others in their consumer purchases and political views—as individuals amid the sheep (Pronin & others, 2007).

There may be some biological wisdom to cultural differences in conformity. Although nonconformity supports creative problem solving, groups thrive when coordinating their resporses to threats. Thus, note Damian Murray and his co­ workers (2011), countries that have a high risk of nine different pathogens, such as malaria, typhus, and tuberculosis, tend to have cultures that display relatively high conformity levels. Conformity supports social norms regarding food preparation, hygiene, public health, and contact with unknown people, report the researchers.

Cultural differences also exist within any country. For example, in five studies, Nicole Stephens and her co-researchers (2007) found that working-class people tend to prefer similarity to others, whereas middle-class people more strongly preferred to see themselves as unique individuals. In an experiment, people chose a pen from among five green and orange pens (with three or four of one color). Of university students from working-class backgrounds, 72 percent picked one from the majority color, as did only 44 percent of those from middle-class backgrounds (with a college- graduate parent). Those from working-class backgrounds also came to like their cho­ sen pen more after seeing someone else make the same choice. They responded more positively to a friend’s knowingly buying the same car they had just bought. And they were also more likely to prefer visual images that they knew others had chosen.

In addition, cultures may change over time. Replications of Asch’s experiment with university students in Britain, Canada, and the United States sometimes trigger less conformity than Asch observed two or three decades earlier (Lalancette & Standing, 1990; Larsen, 1974, 1990; Nicholson & others, 1985; Perrin & Spencer, 1981). So conformity and obedience are universal phenomena, yet they vary across cultures and eras.

Social Roles All the world’s a stage. And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts. —William Shakespeare

218 Part Two Social Influence

Heiress Patricia Hearstas “Tanya,” the revolutionary, and as a suburban socialite.

Role theorists have assumed, as did William Shakespeare’s character Jaques in As You Like It, that social life is like acting on a theatrical stage, with all its scenes, masks, and scripts. And those roles have much to do with conformity. Social roles allow some freedom of interpretation to those who act them out, but some aspects of any role must be performed. A student must at least show up for exams, turn in papers, and maintain some minimum grade point average.

When only a few norms are associated with a social category {for example, riders on an escalator should stand to the right and walk to the left), we do not regard the position as a social role. It takes a whole cluster of norms to define a role. My roles as a professor or as a father compel me to honor a whole set of norms. Although I may acquire my particular image by violating the least important norms (valuing efficiency, I rarely arrive early for anything), violating my role’s most important norms (failing to meet classes, abusing my children) could have led to my being fired or having my children removed from my care.

Roles have powerful effects. In Chapter 4 we noted that we tend to absorb our roles. On a first date or on a new job, you may act the role self-consciously. As you internal­ ize the role, self-consciousness subsides. What felt awkward now feels genuine.

That is the experience of many immigrants. Peace Corps workers, and interna­ tional students and executives. After arriving in a new country, it takes time to learn how to talk and act appropriately in the new context—to conform, as I did with the Germans who rapped their knuckles on their desks. And the almost universal experience of those who repatriate back to their home country is reentry distress (Sussman, 2000). In ways one may not have been aware of, the process of conform­ ing will have shifted one’s behavior, values, and identity to accommodate a differ­ ent place. One must “re-conform” to one’s former roles before being back in sync.

The case of kidnapped newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst illustrates the power of role playing. In 1974, when she was 19, Hearst was kidnapped by some young revo­ lutionaries who called themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA). Soon Hearst publicly announced that she had joined her captors and renounced her for­ mer life, her wealthy parents, and her fiance. She asked that people “try to under­ stand the changes I’ve gone through.” Twelve days later, a bank camera recorded her participation in an SLA armed holdup.

Nineteen months later, Hearst was apprehended. After two years’ incarceration and “deprogramming,” she resumed her role as an heiress, marrying “well” and becoming a suburban Connecticut mother and author who devotes much of her time to charitable causes Qohnson, 1988; Schiffman, 1999). If Patricia Hearst had really been a “closet” revolutionary all along, or had she merely obeyed her captors to escape punishment, people could have understood her actions. What they could not understand (and what therefore made this one of the biggest news stories of the

219Conformity and Obedience Chapter 6

1970s) was that, as Philip Brickman (1978) wrote, “she could really be an heiress, really a revolutionary, and then perhaps really an heiress again.” Surely, a role shift on this scale could not happen to you or me—or could it?

Yes and no. As we saw earlier in this chapter, our actions depend not only on the power of the situation but also on our personalities. Not everyone responds in the same way to pressure to conform. In Patricia Hearst’s predicament, you or I might respond differently. Nevertheless, we have seen that social situations can move most “normal” people to behave in “abnormal” ways. This is clear from those experiments that put well-intentioned people in bad situations to see whether good or evil prevails. To a dismaying extent, evil wins. Nice guys often don’t finish nice.

ROLE REVERSAL Role playing can also be a positive force. By intentionally playing a new role and conforming to its expectations, people sometimes change themselves or empathize with people whose roles differ from their own.

Roles often come in pairs defined by relationships—parent and child, teacher and student, doctor and patient, employer and employee. Role reversals can help each understand the other. A negotiator or a group leader can therefore create bet­ ter communication by having the two sides reverse roles, with each arguing the other’s position. Or each side can be asked to restate the other party’s point (to the other’s satisfaction) before replying. The next time you get into a difficult argument with a friend or parent, try to restate the other person’s perceptions and feelings before going on with your own. This intentional, temporary conformity may repair your relationship.

So far in this chapter, we have discussed classic studies of conformity and obedi­ ence, identified the factors that predict conformity, and considered who conforms and why. Remember that our primary quest in social psychology is not to catalog differences but to identify universal principles of behavior.

Social roles will always vary with culture, but the processes by which those roles influence behavior vary much less. People in Nigeria and Japan define teen roles differently from people in Europe and North America, but in all cultures role expectations guide the conformity found in social relations.







SUMIVIING UP: Who Conforms? P* The question “Who conforms?” has produced few E definitive answers. Personality scores are poor pre- ^ dictors of specific acts of conformity but better pre­

dictors of average conformity. Trait effects sometimes seem strongest in “weak” situations where social forces do not overwhelm individual differences.

Although conformity and obedience are universal, different cultures socialize people to be more or less socially responsive. Social roles involve a certain degree of conformity, and conforming to expectations is an important task when stepping into a new social role.

DO WE EVER WANTTO BE DIFFERENT? Explain what can motivate people to actively resist social pressure—by doing Z when compelled to do A.

This chapter emphasizes the power of social forces. It is therefore fitting that we conclude by again reminding ourselves of the power of the person. We are not just billiard balls moving where pushed. We may act according to our own values, independently of the forces that push upon us. Knowing that someone is trying to coerce us may even prompt us to react in the opposite direction.




MEN, 1764-1799

220 Part Two Social Influence




Reactance. NON SEQUITUR © 1997 Wiley Miller. Reprinted with permission of Universal Press Syndicate, All Rights Reserved.

reactance A motive to protect or restore one’s sense of freedom. Reactance arises when someone threatens our freedom of action.

Reactance at work? Underage students have been found to be less often abstinent and more often drinking to excess than students overthe legal drinking age.

Reactance Individuals value their sense of freedom and self-efficacy. When blatant social pressure threatens their sense of freedom, they often rebel. Think of Romeo and Juliet, whose love was intensified by their families’ opposition. Or think of children asserting their freedom and independence by doing the opposite of what their par­ ents ask. Savvy parents therefore offer their children choices instead of commands: “It’s time to clean up: Do you want a bath or a shower?”

The theory of psychological reactance—that people act to protect their sense of freedom—is supported by experi­ ments showing that attempts to restrict a person’s free­ dom often produce an anticonformity “boomerang effect” (Brehm & Brehm, 1981; Nail & others, 2000). In one field experiment, many nongeeky students stopped wearing a Livestrong” wristband when nearby geeky academic students started wearing the band (Berger & Heath, 2008). Likewise, rich Brits stopped wearing Burberry caps after the caps caught on among soccer hooligans (Clevstrom & Passariello, 2006).

Reactance may contribute to underage drinking. A sur­ vey of 18- to 24-year-olds by the Canadian Centre on Sub­ stance Abuse (1997) revealed that 69 percent of those over the legal drinking age (21) had been drunk in the last year, as had 77 percent of those under 21. In the United States, a survey of students on 56 campuses revealed a 25 percent rate of alcohol abstinence among students of legal drink-

(21) but only a 19 percent abstinence rate among students under 21 (Engs & Hanson, 1989).

Asserting Uniqueness Imagine a world of complete conformity, where there were no differences among people. Would such a world be a happy place? If nonconformity can create discomfort, can sameness create comfort?

People feel uncomfortable when they appear too dif­ ferent from others. But in individualistic Western cultures they also feel uncomfortable when they appear exactly like everyone else. As experiments by C. R. Snyder and Howard Fromkin (1980) have shown, people feel better when

221Conformity and Obedience

they see themselves as moderately unique. Moreover, they act in ways that will assert their individuality. In one experiment, Snyder (1980) led Purdue University students to believe that their “10 most important attitudes” were either distinct from or nearly identical to the attitudes of 10,000 other students. When they next participated in a conformity experiment, those deprived of their feeling of unique­ ness were the ones most likely to assert their individuality by nonconformity. Moreover, individuals who have the highest “need for uniqueness” tend to be the least responsive to majority influence (Imhoff & Erb, 2009).

Both social influence and the desire for uniqueness appear in popular baby names. People seeking less commonplace names often hit upon the same ones at the same time. Among the top 10 U.S. girls’ baby names for 2007 were Isabella (2), Madison (5), and Olivia (7). Those who in the 1960s broke out of the pack by nam­ ing their baby Rebecca, thinking they were bucking convention, soon discovered their choice was part of a new pack, noted Peggy Orenstein (2003). Hillary, a popu­ lar late ’80s, early ’90s name, became less original-seeming and less frequent (even among her admirers) after Hillary Clinton became famous. Although the popular­ ity of such names then fades, observes Orenstein, it may resurface with a future generation. Max, Rose, and Sophie sound like the roster of a retirement home—or a primary school.

Seeing oneself as unique also appears in people’s “spontaneous self-concepts.” William McGuire and his Yale University colleagues (McGuire & others, 1979; McGuire & Padawer-Singer, 1978) invited children to “tell us about yourself.” In reply, the children mostly mentioned their distinctive attributes. Foreign-born chil­ dren were more likely than others to mention their birthplace. Redheads were more likely than black- and brown-haired children to volunteer their hair color. Light and heavy children were the most likely to refer to their body weight. Minority children were the most likely to mention their race.

Likewise, we become more keenly aware of our gender when we are with people of the other gender (Cota & Dion, 1986). When I attended an American Psychologi­ cal Association meeting with 10 others—all women, as it happened—I immediately was aware of my gender. As we took a break at the end of the second day, I joked that the line would be short at my bathroom, triggering the woman sitting next to me to notice what hadn’t crossed her mind—the group’s gender makeup.

The principle, says McGuire, is that “one is conscious of oneself insofar as, and in the ways that, one is different.” Thus, “If I am a Black woman in a group of White women, I tend to think of myself as a Black; if I move to a group of Black men, my blackness loses salience and I become more conscious of being a woman” (McGuire & others, 1978). This insight helps us understand why White people who grow up amid non-White people tend to have a strong White identity, why gays may be more conscious of their sexual identity than straights, and why any minority group tends to be conscious of its distinctive­ ness and how the surrounding culture relates to it (Knowles & Peng, 2005). The majority group, being less conscious of race, may see the minority group as hypersensitive. When occasion- ^ly living in Scotland, where my American accent marks me 3s a foreigner, I become con­ scious of my national identity 3nd sensitive to how others react to it.

When the people of two cul- hires are nearly identical, they still will notice their differences.

Chapter 6

When body tattoos come to be perceived as pack behavior— as displaying conformity rather than individuality— will their popularity decline?










THE ROOF, 1991








OF PAIN, 1940

Asserting our uniqueness. Though not wishing to be greatly deviant, most of us express our distinctiveness through our personal styles and dress.

222 Part Two Social Influence

however small. Even trivial distinctions may provoke scorn and conflict. Jonathan Swift satirized the phenomenon in Gulliver’s Travels with the story of the Little- Endians’ war against the Big-Endians. Their difference: The Little-Endians preferred to break their eggs on the small end, the Big-Endians on the large end. On a world scale, the differences may not seem great between Sunni and Shia. But anyone who reads the news knows that these small differences have meant big conflicts (Rothbart & Taylor, 1992). Rivalry is often most intense when the other group closely resembles you.

So, although we do not like being greatly deviant, we are, ironically, all alike in wanting to feel distinctive and in noticing how we are distinctive. {In thinking you are different, you are like everyone else.) But as research on the self-serving bias (Chapter 2) makes clear, it is not just any kind of distinctiveness we seek but dis­ tinctiveness in the right direction. Our quest is not merely to be different from the average, but better than average.

SUMMING UP: Do We Ever Want to Be Different? • Social psychology’s emphasis on the power of social

pressure must be joined by a complementary empha­ sis on the power of the person. VVe are not puppets. When social coercion becomes blatant, people often experience reactance—a motivation to defy the coer­ cion in order to maintain their sense of freedom.

• We are not comfortable being greatly different from a group, but neither do we want to appear the same as everyone else. Thus, we act in ways that preserve our sense of uniqueness and individual­ ity. In a group, we are most conscious of how we differ from the others.

POSTSCRIPT: On Being an Individual Within Community Do your own thing. Question authority. If it feels good, do it. Follow your bliss. Don’t conform. Think for yourself. Be true to yourself. You owe it to yourself.

We hear words like those over and again if we live in an individualistic West­ ern nation, such as those of Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, or, especially, the United States. The unchallenged assumption that individualism is good and conformity is bad is what Chapter 1 called a “social representation,” a collectively shared idea. Our mythical cultural heroes—from Sherlock Holmes to Luke Skywalker to Neo of the Matrix trilogy—often stand up against institutional rules. Individualists assume the preeminence of individual rights and celebrate the one who stands against the group.

In 1831 the French writer Alexis de Tocqueville coined the term “individual­ ism” after traveling in America. Individualists, he noted, owe no one “anything and hardly expect anything from anybody. They form the habit of thinking of themselves in isolation and imagine that their whole destiny is in their hands.” A century and a half later, psychotherapist Fritz Peris (1972) epitomized this radical individualism in his “Gestalt prayer”;

I do my thing, and you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations. And you are not in this world to live up to mine.

Psychologist Carl Rogers (1985) agreed: “The only question which matters is, ‘Am I living in a way which is deeply satisfying to me, and which truly expresses me?’”

As we noted in Chapter 2, that is hardly the only question that matters to people in many other cultures, including those of Asia, South America, and most of Africa. Where community is prized, conformity is accepted. Schoolchildren often display

Conformity and Obedience

their solidarity by wearing uniforms; many workers do the same. To maintain harmony, confrontation and dissent are muted. “The stake that stands out gets pounded down,” say the Japanese. South Africans have a word that expresses human connection. Ubuntu, explained Desmond Tutu (1999), conveys the idea that “my humanity is caught up by, is inextricably bound up in, yours.” Umuntu ngu- muntu ngahantu, says a Zulu maxim: “A person is a person through other persons.”

Amitai Etzioni (1993), a past president of the American Sociological Associa­ tion, urges us toward a “communitarian” individualism that balances our noncon­ formist individualism with a spirit of community. Fellow sociologist Robert Bellah (1995/1996) concurs. “Communitarianism is based on the value of the sacredness of the individual,” he explains. But it also “affirms the central value of solidarity … that we become who we are through our relationships.”

As Westerners in various nations, most readers of this book enjoy the benefits of nonconformist individualism. Communitarians remind us that we also are social creatures having a basic need to belong. Conformity is neither all bad nor all good. We therefore do well to balance our “me” and our “we,” our needs for indepen­ dence and for attachment, our individuality and our social identity.


7 Persuasion “To swallow and follow, whether old doctrine or new

propaganda, is a weakness still dominating the

human mind.” —Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Human Work, 1904

“Remember that to change thy mind and to follow him

that sets thee right, is to be none the less a free agent.” —M.arcus Aure.lius Antoninus, Mec/ftar/ons, yiji,. 1.6,.121-180

What paths lead to persuasion?

What are the elements of persuasion?

Extreme persuasion: How do cults indoctrinate?

How can persuasion be resisted?

Postscript: Being open but not naive

M any of life’s powers can either harm or help us. Nuclear power enables us to light up homes or wipe out cities. Sexual power helps us to express committed love or to seek selfish gratification.

Similarly, persuasion’s power enables us to promote health or to sell

addiction, to advance peace or stir up hate, to enlighten or deceive.

And such powers are great. Consider the following:

• The spread of weird beliefs: About 1 American in 5 thinks the

sun revolves around the earth (Dean, 2005). About 1 in 5 have

expressed belief that President Obama is a Muslim and 1 in 4

that he was born outside the United States (Blanton, 2011;

Pew, 2010). Others deny that the moon landing and the

Holocaust happened.

• A trillion-dollar war: The United States’ invasion of Iraq was

enabled by persuasive messages that led half of Americans to

believe that Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein was involved in the

9/11 attacks and 4 in 5 to believe that weapons of mass destruc­

tion would be found (Duffy, 2003; Gallup Organization, 2003;

Newport & others, 2003). Both beliefs, history records, were false.

Shortly before the war, Americans, under the influence of their

leaders and media, favored military action against Iraq by 2 to 1,

whereas Europeans were opposing it by the same margin

Social Influence226 Part Two

persuasion The process by which a message induces change in beliefs, attitudes, or behaviors.







(Burkholder, 2003; Moore, 2003; Pew Research Center, 2003). Depending on

where they lived, people received, discussed, and believed differing informa­

tion. Persuasion matters.

Climate change skepticism: The scientific community, represented by various

national academies of science and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate

Change, is in a virtual consensus about three facts of life; (1) Atmospheric

greenhouse gases are accumulating; (2) diminishing sea ice and rising land,

sea, and atmospheric temperatures all confirm the world’s warming; and

(3) this climate change will almost certainly produce rising sea levels and more

extreme weather, including record floods, tornadoes, droughts, and high tem­

peratures. Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities,

and poses significant risks,” declares the U.S. National Research Council (2010).

Nevertheless, as the past decade was ending, popular climate skepticism was

growing. The number of Americans who believed global warming has been

happening declined from 84 to 74 percent between 2007 and 2010, as concern

diminished (Krosnick, 2010; Figure 7.1). In Britain, the proportion who believed

climate change was not only happening but also “now established as largely

manmade” dropped from 41 percent in 2009 to 26 percent in 2010. And the

number of Germans fearing global warming dropped to 42 percent, from

Alarmed Concerned

November 2008

‘zi Q

Cautious Disengaged Doubtful Dismissive

Highest belief in global warming Lowest belief in global warming Mos concerned Least concerned Most motivated Least motivated Proportion represented by area of circle

FIGURE :: 7.1 Global Climate Change Concern of U.S. Adults Indexed by the Yale Project on Climate Change and the George Mason University Center for Climate Chanoe Communication (Leiserowitz & others, 2011).


|i 62 percent 4 years earlier

i (Rosenthal, 2010). Researchers

r, wondered: Why is the scientific

I consensus failing to persuade

;■ and to motivate action? And

what might be done?

• Promoting healthier living:

Due partly to health-promotion

cr. campaigns, the Centers for

^ Disease Control and Prevention reports that the American cigarette smoking

f rate has plunged to 21 percent, half the rate of 40 years ago. Statistics Canada

reports a similar smoking decline in Canada. And the rate of new U.S. collegians

reporting abstinence from beer has increased—from 26 percent in 1982 to 62

percent in 2010 (Pryor & others, 2007, 2010).

As the previous examples show, efforts to persuade are sometimes diabolical, sometimes controversial, and sometimes beneficial. Persuasion is neither inher­ ently good nor bad. It is a message’s purpose and content that elicit judgments of good or bad. The bad we call “propaganda.” The good we call “education.” Educa­ tion is more factually based and less coercive than propaganda. Yet generally we call it “education” when we believe it, “propaganda” when we don’t (Lumsden & others, 1980).

Persuasion, whether it be education or propaganda, is everywhere—at the heart of politics, marketing, courtship, parenting, negotiation, evangelism, and court­ room decision making. Social psychologists therefore seek to understand what leads to effective, long-lasting attitude change. What factors affect persuasion? As persuaders, how can we most effectively “educate” others?

Imagine that you are a marketing or advertising executive. Or imagine that you are a preacher, trying to increase love and charity among your parishioners. Or imagine that you want to restrain climate change, to encourage breast-feeding, or to campaign for a political candidate. What could you do to make yourself and your message persuasive? And if you are wary of being influenced, to what tactics should you be alert?

To answer such questions, social psychologists usually study persuasion the way some geologists study erosion—^by observing the effects of various factors in brief, controlled experiments. The effects are small and are most potent on weak attitudes that don’t touch our values. Yet they enable us to understand how, given enough time, such factors could produce big effects.

WHAT PATHS LEAD TO PERSUASION? Identify two paths leading to influence. Describe the type of cognitive processing each involves— and its effects.

While serving as chief psychologist for the U.S. War Department during World War II, Yale professor Carl Hovland and colleagues (1949) supported the war effort by studying persuasion. Hoping to boost soldier morale, the Hovland team

Think Globally. Act Lo wily-

recycle at ^

Chapter 7 227

Persuasion is everywhere. When we approve of it, we may call it “education.”











228 Part Two Social Influence

Pay attention to the message?

Comprehend it?

No action

Believe it? ar

No action

Remember it?

No action

Behave accordingly?


No action No action

FIGURE:: 7.2 The Hurdles of the Persuasion Process To ekrt action a persuasive message must clear several hurdles. What is crucial, however is not so much remembering the message itself as remembering one’s own thoughts in response

central route to persuasion Occurs when interested people focus on the arguments and respond with favorable thoughts.

peripheral route to persuasion Occurs when people are influenced by incidental cues, such as a speaker’s attractiveness.

studied the effects of training films and historical documentaries on new recruits’ what ma ‘‘’”y continued studying what makes a messap persuasive. Their research manipulated factors related to Inyth~cr communi“

Ohio State University researchers then focused on people’s thouxhis in response to persuasive messages. If a message is clear but unconvincing, then you will Lsilv ounterargue the message and won’t be persuaded. If the message offers convinc^

mg arguments then your thoughts will be more favorable and you will most likely be persuaded. People’s “cognitive responses” matter. ^ tbatrf°™ ® entails clearing several hurdles. Any factors

if an atartve “crease persuasion. For exam- h source increases your attention to a message, then the messaeeshould have a better chance of persuading you. message

The Central Route Je’” Cacioppo (Cass-ee-OH-poh) (1986; Petty & others 2009)

eonzed that persuasion is likely to occur via one of two routes^ When people arc motivated and able to think about an issue, they are likely to take the cZtral route to persuasion—focusing on the arguments. If those arguments are strone and impelling, persuasion is likely. If the message offerf only weak Lgu and wdl crnterarg”::’;!”

The Peripheral Route not f of the arguments doesn’t matter. Sometimes we’re

ot motivated or able to think carefully. If we’re distracted, uninvolved or iust plain busy, we may not take the time to reflect on the message’s content’ Ralhei han analping whether the arguments are compelling, we might follow the

peripheral route to persuasion-focusing on cues that HggerZtmaticaccIp! ce without much thinking. In these situations, easily understood familiL

Persuasion Chapter 7 229

statements are more persuasive than novel statements with the same mean­ ing. Thus, for uninvolved or distracted people, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” has more impact than “Don’t risk everything on a single venture” {Howard, 1997).

Smart advertisers adapt ads to their consumers’ thinking. They do so for good reason. Much of consumer behavior— such as one’s spontaneous decision, while shopping, to pick up some ice cream of a particular brand—is made unthinkingly (Dijksterhuis & others, 2005). Something as minor as German music may lead cus­ tomers to buy German wine, whereas others, hearing French music, reach for French wine {North & others, 1997). BUlboards and television commercials— media that consumers are able to take in for only brief amounts of time—therefore use the peripheral route, with visual images as peripheral cues. Instead of providing arguments in favor of smoking, cigarette ads associate the product with images of beauty and pleasure. So do soft-drink ads that promote “the real thing” with images of youth, vitality, and happy polar bears. On the other hand, magazine computer ads (which interested, logical consumers may pore over for some time) seldom feature Hollywood stars or great athletes. Instead, they offer customers infor­ mation on competitive features and prices.

These two routes to persuasion—one explicit and reflective, the other more implicit and automatic—were a forerunner to today’s “dual processing” models of the human mind. Central route processing often swiftly changes explicit attitudes. Peripheral route processing more slowly builds implicit attitudes, through repeated associations between an attitude object and an emotion (Jones & others, 2009; Petty & Brinol, 2008; Walther & others, 2011).

Peripheral route processing. “Product placements’ influence implicit attitudes.

on TV and in movies aim to








KAMPF, 1926

Different Paths for Different Purposes The ultimate goal of the advertiser, the preacher, and even the teacher is not just to have people pay attention to the message and move on. Typically, the goal is behavior change (buying a product, loving one’s neighbor, or studying more effectively). Are the two routes to persuasion equally likely to fulfill that goal? Petty and colleagues (1995,2009) note how central route processing can lead to more enduring change than does the peripheral route. When people are thinking carefully and mentally elabo­ rating on issues, they rely not just on the strength of persuasive appeals but on their own thoughts in response as well. It’s not so much the arguments that are persua­ sive as the way they get people thinking. And when people think deeply rather than superficially, any changed attitude will more likely persist, resist attack, and influence behavior (Petty & others, 1995,2009; Verplanken, 1991).

None of us has the time to thoughtfully analyze all issues. Often we take the peripheral route, by using simple rule-of-thumb heuristics, such as “trust the experts” or “long messages are credible” (Chaiken & Maheswaran, 1994). Residents of my community once voted on a complicated issue involving the legal ownership of our local hospital. I didn’t have the time or the interest to study that question myself (I had this book to write). But I noted that referendum supporters were all

230 Part Two Social Influence


Analytical and motivated

‘‘Leslie’s economic plan makes sense! I’ll vote for Leslie!”


High effort Elaborate Agree or counterargue


Cogent arguments evoke enduring’ agreement


Not analytical or involved

Low effort Use peripheral cues Rule of thumb heuristics i

Cues trigger liking and acceptance but often only temporarily

‘Leslie seems nice, I’ll vote for Leslie!”

FIGURE:: 7.3 The Central and Peripheral Routes to Persuasion Computer ads typically take the central route, by assuming their audience wants to systematically compare features and prices. Soft-drink ads usually take the peripheral route, by merely associating their product with glamour, pleasure, and good moods. Central route processing more often produces enduring attitude change.

people I either liked or regarded as experts. So I used a simple heuristic—friends and experts can be trusted—and voted accordingly. We all make snap judgments using such heuristics: If a speaker is articulate and appealing, has apparently good motives, and has several arguments (or better, if the different arguments come from different sources), we usually take the easy peripheral route and accept the mes­ sage without much thought (Figure 7.3).

SUMMING UP: What Paths Lead to Persuasion? • Sometimes persuasion occurs as people focus on

arguments and respond with favorable thoughts. Such systematic, or central route, persuasion occurs when people are naturally analytical or involved in the issue.

• When issues don’t engage systematic thinking, persuasion may occur through a faster, “peripheral

route,” as people use heuristics or incidental cues to make snap judgments.

• Central route persuasion, being more thought­ ful and less superficial, is more durable and more likely to influence behavior.

Persuasion 231Chapter 7


Describe how the factors that comprise persuasion affect the likelihood that we will take either the central or the peripheral route to persuasion.

Among the ingredients of persuasion explored by social psychologists are these four; (1) the communicator, (2) the message, (3) how the message is communicated, and (4) the audience. In other words, who says what, by what method, to whom?

who Says? The Communicator Imagine the following scene: I. M. Wright, a middle-aged American, is watching the evening news. In the first segment, a small group of radicals is shown burning an American flag. As they do, one shouts through a bullhorn that whenever any government becomes oppressive, “it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…. It is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government!” Angered, Mr. Wright mutters to his wife, “It’s sickening to hear them spouting that Commu­ nist line.” In the next segment, a presidential candidate speaking before an antitax rally declares, “Thrift should be the guiding principle in our government expendi­ ture. It should be made clear to all government workers that corruption and waste are very great crimes.” An obviously pleased Mr. Wright relaxes and smiles: “Now that’s the kind of good sense we need. That’s my kinda guy.”

Now switch the scene. Imagine Mr. Wright hearing the same revolutionary line about “the Right of the People” at a July 4 oration of the Declaration of Independence (from which the line comes) and hearing a Communist speaker read the thrift sentence from Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong (from which it comes). Would he now react differently?

Social psychologists have found that who is saying something does affect how an audience receives it. In one experiment, when the Socialist and Liberal leaders in the Dutch parliament argued identical positions using the same words, each was most effective with members of his own party (Wiegman, 1985). “Accepting that there are differences between people” sounds sensible to most of us—unless we hear those words spoken by former South African prime minister Hendrik Verwoerd (1958), explaining his government’s segregationist apartheid policy. It’s not just the message that matters, but also who says it. What makes one communicator more persuasive than another?

credibility Believability. A credible communicator is perceived as both expert and trustworthy.

CREDIBILITY Any of us would find a statement about tfre benefits of exercise more believ­ able if it came from the Royal Society or National Academy of Sciences rather than from a tabloid newspaper. But the effects of source credibility (perceived expertise and trustworthiness) diminish 9ffer a month or so. If a credible person’s oiessage is persuasive, its impact may ^ade as its source is forgotten or dissoci­ ated from the message. And the impact of a noncredible person may corre­ spondingly increase over time if people

Effective persuaders know how to convey a message effectively. © Charles Barsotti/The New Yorker Collection/

232 Part Two

sleeper effect A delayed impact of a message that occurs when an initially discounted message becomes effective, such as we rememberthe message but forget the reason for discounting it.


—VIRGIL, AENE/D, 19 6.C.

Social Influence

remember the message better than the reason for discounting it (Cook & Flay, 1978; Kumkale & Albarracin, 2004; Pratkanis & others, 1988). This delayed persuasion^ after people forget the source or its connection with the message, is called the sleeper effect.

PERCEIVED EXPERTISE How does one become an authoritative “expert”? One way is to begin by saying things the audience agrees with, which makes one seem smart. One reason the “scientific consensus” about climate change fails to persuade is that people count as “expert” someone whose conclusions support their own pre­ existing values and views. Researchers have observed this “congenial views seems more expert” phenomenon on topics ranging from climate change to nuclear waste to gun laws (Kahan & others, 2010).

It also helps to be seen as knozuledgeable on the topic. A message about tooth- brushing from “Dr. James Rundle of the Canadian Dental Association” is more con­ vincing than the same message from “Jim Rundle, a local high school student who did a project with some of his classmates on dental hygiene” (Olson & Cal, 1984). After spending more than a decade studying high school marijuana use, Univer­ sity of Michigan researchers concluded that scare messages from unreliable sources did not affect marijuana use during the 1960s and 1970s. From a credible source, however, scientific reports of the biological and psychological results of long-term marijuana use “can play an important role in reducing … drug use” (Bachman & others, 1988).

Another way to appear credible is to speak confidently. Whether pitching a busi­ ness plan or giving advice, a charismatic, energetic, confident-seeming person often is convincing (Moore & Swift, 2011; Pentland, 2010). Bonnie Erickson and collaborators (1978) had University of North Carolina students evaluate court­ room testimony given in a straightforward manner or in a more hesitant manner. For example:

Question: Approximately how long did you stay there before the ambulance arrived?

Answer: [Straightforward] Twenty minutes. Long enough to help get Mrs. David straightened out.

[Hesitating] Oh, it seems like it was about uh, 20 minutes. Just long enough to help my friend Mrs. David, you know, get straightened out.

The students found the straightforward witnesses much more competent and credible.

PERCEIVED TRUSTWORTHINESS Speech style affects a speaker’s apparent trustworthiness. Gordon Hemsley and Anthony Doob (1978) found that if video­ taped witnesses looked their questioner straight in the eye instead of gazing down­ ward, they impressed people as more believable.

Trustworthiness is also higher if the audience believes the communicator is not trying to persuade them. In an experimental version of what later became the “hidden-camera” method of television advertising, Elaine Hatfield and Leon Festinger (Walster & Festinger, 1962) had some Stanford University under­ graduates eavesdrop on graduate students’ conversations. (What they actually heard was a tape recording.) When the conversational topic was relevant to the eavesdroppers (having to do with campus regulations), the speakers had more influence if the listeners presumed the speakers were unaware of the eavesdrop- ping. After all, if people think no one is listening, why would they be less than fully honest?

We also perceive as sincere those who argue against their own self-interest. Alice Eagly, Wendy Wood, and Shelly Chaiken (1978) presented University of

Persuasion Chapter 7 233

Massachusetts students with a speech attacking a company’s pollution of a river. When they said the speech was given by a political candidate with a business background or to an audience of company supporters, it seemed unbiased and was persuasive. When the same antibusiness speech was supposedly given to environmentalists by a pro-environment politician, listeners could attribute the politician’s arguments to personal bias or to the audience. Being willing to suf­ fer for one’s beliefs—which Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and other great leaders have done—also helps convince people of one’s sincerity (Knight & Weiss, 1980).

Norman Miller and colleagues (1976) at the University of Southern California found that perceptions of trustworthiness and credibility also increase when people talk fast. People who listened to tape-recorded messages rated fast speakers (about 190 words per minute) as more objective, intelligent, and knowledgeable than slow speakers (about 110 words per minute). They also found the more rapid speakers more persuasive. John F. Kennedy, an exceptionally effective public speaker, some­ times spoke in bursts approaching 300 words per minute.

Some television ads are obviously constructed to make the communicator appear both expert and trustworthy. A drug company may peddle its pain reliever using a speaker in a white lab coat, who declares confidently that most doctors recom­ mend the product’s key ingredient (which is merely aspirin). Given such peripheral cues, people who don’t care enough to analyze the evidence may automatically infer that the product is special. Other ads seem not to use the credibility principle. It’s not primarily for his expertise about sports apparel that Nike paid Tiger Woods $100 million to appear in its ads.

Thus, communicators gain credibility if they appear to be expert and trustwor­ thy (Pornpitakpan, 2004). When we know in advance that a source is credible, we think more favorable thoughts in response to the message. If we learn the source after a message generates favorable thoughts, high credibility strengthens our confi­ dence in our thinking, which also strengthens the persuasive impact of the message (Brinol & others, 2002, 2004; Tormala & others, 2006).

ATTRACTIVENESS AND LIKING Most of us deny that endorsements by star athletes and entertainers affect us. We know that stars are seldom knowledgeable about the products they endorse. Besides, we know the intent is to persuade us; we don’t just accidentally eavesdrop on Jennifer Lopez discussing clothes or fragrances. Such ads are based on another characteristic of an effective communicator: attractiveness.

We may think we are not influenced by attractiveness or likability, but research­ ers have found otherwise. We’re more likely to respond to those we like, a phenom­ enon well-known to those organizing charitable solicitations and candy sales. Even a mere fleeting conversation with someone is enough to increase our liking for that person and our responsiveness to his or her influence (Burger & others, 2001). Our liking may open us up to the communicator’s arguments (central route persuasion), or it may trigger positive associations when we see the product later (peripheral route persuasion). As with credibility, the liking-begets-persuasion principle sug­ gests applications (Table 7.1).

Attractiveness comes in several forms. Physical attractiveness is one. Arguments, especially emotional ones, are often more influential when they come from people ‘ve consider beautiful (Chaiken, 1979; Dion & Stein, 1978; Pallak & others, 1983). Most people understand that attractiveness matters most when people are making superficial judgments. In experiments, people exploit opportunities to use attrac- ^ve communicators with less analytical recipients (Vogel & others, 2010).

Similarity also makes for attractiveness. As Chapter 11 will emphasize, we tend tu lij|e people who are like us. We also are influenced by them, a fact that was harnessed by a successful antismoking campaign that featured youth appeal- ^g to other youth through ads that challenged the tobacco industry about its

attractiveness Having qualities that appeal to an audience. An appealing communicator (often someone similar to the audience) is most persuasive on matters of subjective preference.

234 Part Two Social Influence

TABLE :: 7.1 Six Persuasion Principles In his book Influence: Science and Practice, persuasion researcher Robert Cialdini (2008) illustrates six principles that underlie human relationships and human influence, (This chapter describes the first two’


Establish your expertise; identify problems you have solved and people you have served.

Win friends and influence people. Create bonds based on similar interests, praise freely.

Use “peer power”—have respected ofliers lead the way.

Be generous with your time and resources. What goes around, comes around.

Instead of telling restaurant reservation callers “Please call if you change your plans,” ask, “Will you call if you change your plans?” and no-shows will drop.

Highlight genuinely exclusive information or opportunities.

Authority: People defer to credible experts.

Liking: People respond more affirmatively to those they like.

^ Social proc^: People allow flie example of oth- era to validate how to think, feel, and act.

Reciprocity: People feel obliged to repay in kind what they’ve received.

Consistency: People tend to honor their pub- Uc dommitments.

Scarcity: People prize what’s scarce.

destructiveness and its marketing prac­ tices (Krisberg, 2004). People who act as we do, subtly mimicking our postures, are likewise more influential. Thus, salespeo­ ple are sometimes taught to “mimic and mirror”: If the customer’s arms or legs are crossed, cross yours; if she smiles, smile back. (See “Research Close-Up: Experi­ menting with a Virtual Social Reality”)

Another example: Theodore Dembroski, Thomas Lasater, and Albert Ramirez (1978) gave African American junior high students an audiotaped appeal for proper dental care. When a dentist assessed the cleanliness of their teeth the next day, those who heard the appeal from an African American dentist (whose face they were shown) had cleaner teeth. As a general rule, people respond bet­ ter to a message that comes from someone in their group (Van Knippenberg & Wilke, 1992; Wilder, 1990).

Is similarity, as in this instance, more important than credibility? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Timothy Brock (1965) found paint store customers influenced by the testimony of a similarly ordinary per­ son who had recently bought the same amount of paint they planned to buy; they were less influenced by an expert who had recently purchased 20 times as much. But recall that when discussing dental hygiene, a leading dentist (a dissimilar but expert source) was more persuasive than a student (a similar but inexpert source).

Such seemingly contradictory findings bring out the scientific detective in us. They suggest that an undiscovered factor is at work—that similarity is more important given the presence of factor X, and credibility is more important given the absence of factor X. Factor X, as George Goethals and Erick Nelson (1973) dis­ covered, is whether the topic is more one of subjective preference or objective reality-

Attractive communicators, such as Rihanna endorsing her perfume, often trigger peripheral route persuasion. We associate their message or product with our good feelings toward the communicator, and we approve and believe.

Persuasion Chapter 7 235

research CLOSE-UP Experimenting with a Virtual Social Reality

University of California, Santa Barbara social psychologist Jim Blascovich developed a new interest soon after walk­ ing into a colleague’s virtual reality lab. Wearing a headset, Blascovich found himself facing a plank across a virtual deep pit. Although he knew that the room had no pit, he couldn’t suppress his fear and bring himself to walk the plank.

The experience triggered a thought: Might social psy­ chologists have a use for virtual environments? Might they offer people real-seeming experiences that the researcher could control and manipulate? Might this allow social psychologists to study conformity? To enable physically remote people to interact in a virtual meeting? To observe people’s responses to another’s physical deformity? To explore persuasion?

The experimental power of virtual human interaction is shown in an experiment by Blascovich’s former associate, Jeremy Bailenson, in collaboration with graduate student Nick Yee. At Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interac­ tion Lab, 69 student volunteers fitted with a 3-D virtual reality headset found themselves across the table from a virtual human—a computer-generated man or woman who delivered a 3-minute pitch for a university security policy that required students to carry an ID at all times.

The digital person featured realistic-looking lips that moved, eyes that blinked, and a head that swayed. For half the participants, those movements mimicked, with a 4-second delay, the student’s movements. If the student tilted her head and looked up, the digital chameleon would do the same. Earlier experiments with real humans had found that such mimicry fosters liking, by suggesting empathy and rapport (see Chapter 11). In Bailenson and Yee’s (2005) experiment, students with a mimicking rather than a nonmimicking digital com­ panion similarly liked the partner more. They also found the mimicker more interesting, honest, and persuasive; they paid better attention to it (looking away less often); and they were somewhat more likely to agree with the message.

For Blascovich and Bailenson (2011), such studies illustrate the potential of virtual social realities. Creating stimuli that imply others’ presence costs less, requires less effort, and provides more experimental control than creating stimuli with others’ actual presence. People, even trained confederates, are difficult to control. Digital people can be perfectly controlled. And exact replica­ tions become possible.

Experimenting with a virtual social reality. In an experiment by Jeremy Bailenson and Nick Yee, a person whose expres­ sions and movements echoed one’s own was both liked and persuasive.

When the choice concerns matters of personal value, taste, or way of life, similar communicators have the most influence. But on judgments of fact—Does Sydney have less rainfall than London?—confirmation of belief by a dissimilar person does more to boost confidence. A dissimilar person provides a more independent judgment.

236 Part Two Social Influence

What Is Said? The Message Content It matters not only who says something but also wimt that person says. If you were to elp organize an appeal to get people to vote for school taxes or to stop smoking or to

give money to world hunger relief, you might wonder how best to promote central route persuasion. Common sense could lead you to either side of these questions-

• Is a logical message more persuasive—or one that arouses emotion? Will you get more opmion change by advocating a position only slightly discrepant from the listeners’ existing opinions or by advocating an extreme pomt of view?

• Should the message express your side only, or should it acknowledge and refute the opposing views?

• If people are to present both sides-^ay, in successive talks at a community meetmg or m a political debate—is there an advantage to going first or last?

Let’s take these questions one at a time.






KtAbUN VERSUS EMOTION Suppose you were campaigning in support of world hunger relief. Would you best Itemize your arguments and cite an array of impressive statistics? Or would you be rnore effective presenting an emotional approach—perhaps the compelling storv of one starvmg child? In my community, supporters of a proposed antidiscrimina­ tion ordinance protecting gay people wondered: To what extent might opinions be swayed by reason and evidence related to sexual orientation, and to what extent by emotion. Is what matters more what people know or their feelings toward whom they know. Of course, an argument can be both reasonable and emotional. You can marry passion and logic. Still, which is more influential—reason or emotion? Was Shakespeare ^ ^ysander right: “The will of man is by his reason sway’d”? Or was

ord Chesterfield s advice wiser: “Address yourself generally to the senses, to the heart, and to the weaknesses of mankind, but rarely to their reason”^

The answer: It depends on the audience. Well-educated or analytical people Zl ZqaqZZZ (Cacioppo & others, 1983,1996; Hovland& oth­ ers, 1949). Thoughtful, involved audiences often travel the central route; they are more responsive to reasoned arguments. Uninterested audiences more often travel he peripheral route; they are more affected by their liking of the communicator

(Chaiken, 1980; Petty & others, 1981). To judge from mterviews before major elections, many voters are uninvolved.

As we might therefore expect, Americans’ voting preferences have been more pre- dictable from emotional reactions to the candidates than from their beliefs about me candidates traits and likely behaviors (Abelson & others, 1982). What matters IS not just candidates’ positions (which candidate embodies your views) but their likeability (who you want to spend time with).

It also matters how people’s attitudes were formed. When people’s initial atti- udes are formed primarily through emotion, they are more persuaded by later

emohonal appeals; when their initial attitudes are formed primarily through rea­ son, they are more persuaded by later intellectual arguments (Edwards 1990- Fabrigar & Petty, 1999). New emotions may sway an emotion-based attitude. But to change an information-based attitude, more information may be needed.

THE EFFECT OF GOOD FEELINGS Messages also become more persuasive mrough association with good feelings. Irving Janis and colleagues (1965; Dabbs & Jams, 1965) found that Yale students were more convinced by persuasive mes- ffmure 7 4? ” 1”“‘=“■”8 ‘^e messages ( gure 7.4). Similar y, Mark Galizio and Clyde Hendrick (1972) found that Kmt State University students were more persuaded by folk-song lyrics accompanied by pleasant guitar music than they were by unaccompanied lyrics. There is, it seems,

Persuasion Chapter 7 237

Percent influenced

100 r……………………. Reading with no food

Eating while reading

Cancer cure Armed forces Moon trip 3-D movies

FIGURE:: 7.4 People who snacked as they read were more persuaded than those who read without snacking.

Source: Data from Janis, Kaye. & Kirschner(1965}.

FIGURE :: 7.5 In experiments at Radboud University Nijmegen, humor enhanced people’s liking for products such as these.

something to be gained from conducting business oyer sumptuous lunches with soft background music.

Good feelings often enhance persuasion, partly by enhancing positiye thinking 3nd partly by linking good feelings with the message {Petty & others, 1993). As noted in Chapter 3, people who are in a good mood yiew the world through rose-colored glasses. But they also make faster, more impulsiye decisions; they rely more on periph­ eral cues (Bodenhausen, 1993; Brayerman, 2005; Moons & Mackie, 2007). Unhappy F^ple ruminate more before reacting, so they are less easily swayed by weak argu- nients. (They also produce more cogent persuasive messages [Forgas, 2007].) Thus, if you can’t make a strong case, you might want to put your audience in a good mood and hope they’ll feel good about your message without thinking too much about it.

Knowing that humor can put people in a good mood, a Dutch research team led by Madelijn Strick (Strick & others, 2009) invited people to view ads in the vicinity of either funny cartoons (Figure 7.5) or the same cartoons altered to be unfunny. Their finding: Products associated with humor were better liked, as measured by an implicit attitude test, and were more often chosen.

238 Part Two Social Influence

“If the jury had been sequestered in a nicer hotel, this would probably never have happened. ”

Good feelings help create positive attitudes. ® Frank Cotham/The New Yorker Collection/

A proposed new U.S. ciga­ rette warning, shown here, uses fear arousal.

THE EFFECT OF AROUSING FEAR Messages can also be effective by evoking negative emotions. When persuading peo­ ple to cut down on smoking, get a tetanus shot, or drive carefully, a fear-arousing mes­ sage can be potent (de Hoog & others, 2007; Muller & Johnson, 1990). By requiring ciga­ rette makers to include graphic representa­ tions of the hazards of smoking on each pack of cigarettes, more than three dozen other governments have assumed—correctly, it turns out—that showing cigarette smok­ ers the horrible things that can happen to smokers adds to persuasiveness (O’Hegarty & others, 2007; Peters & others, 2007; Stark & others, 2008). If its courts will allow, the United States will follow the example of other nations in requiring graphic photo warnings (Reardon, 2011; Wilson, 2011).

But how much fear should you arouse? Should you evoke just a little fear, lest peo­ ple become so frightened that they tune out your painful message? Or should you try to scare the daylights out of them? Experi­ ments show that, often, the more fright­

ened and vulnerable people feel, the more they respond (de Hoog & others, 2007; Leventhal, 1970; Robberson & Rogers, 1998).

The effectiveness of fear-arousing communications has been applied in ads dis­ couraging not only smoking but also risky sexual behaviors and drinking and driv­ ing. When Claude Levy-Leboyer (1988) found that attitudes toward alcohol and drinking habits among French youth were changed effectively by fear-arousing pictures, the French government incorporated such pictures into its TV spots.

One effective antismoking ad campaign offered graphic “truth” ads. In one, vans pull up outside an unnamed corporate tobacco office. Teens pile out and unload 1,200 body bags covering two city blocks. As a curious corporate suit peers out a window above, a teen shouts into a loudspeaker: “Do you know how many people tobacco kills every day? … We’re going to leave these here for you, so you can see what 1,200 people actually look like” (Nicholson, 2007). Unlike teens who viewed a simultaneous cerebral Philip Morris ad (lecturing, “Think. Don’t Smoke”) and were not less likely to smoke, those viewing the more dramatic and edgy ad became significantly less inclined to smoke (Farrelly & others, 2002,2008).

Fear-arousing communications have also been used to increase breast cancer detection behaviors, such as getting mammograms or doing breast self-exams, and checking for signs of skin cancer. Sara Banks, Peter Salovey, and colleagues (1995) had women aged 40-66 years who had not obtained

BRAND 20aassAa9)R&^


mammograms view an educational video on mammography. Of those who received a positively framed message (emphasizing that getting a mammogram can save yoim life through early detection), only half got a mammogram within 12 months. Of those who received a fear-framed message (emphasizing that not getting a mam­ mogram can cost you your life), two-thirds got a mammogram within 12 months.

Playing on fear works best if a message leads people not only to fear the severity and likelihood of a threatened event but also to perceive a solution and feel capa­ ble of implementing it (DeVos-Comby & Salovey, 2002; Maddux & Rogers, 1983; Ruiter & others, 2001). Many ads designed to reduce sexual risks will aim both to arouse fear—”AIDS kills”—and to offer a protective strategy: Abstain, wear a condom, or save sex for a committed relationship. Also, “gain-framed” messages are often equally effective as “loss-framed” messages (O’Keefe &c Jensen, 2011). Gain-framed messages focus on the advantages of healthy behavior (for example, “If you wear sunscreen, you’ll have attractive skin” rather than “If you don’t wear sunscreen, you’ll have unattractive skin”). Thus, a global climate change article that ends by describing future catastrophic consequences is less persuasive to many skeptics than one that concludes by discussing possible solutions (Feinberg & Wilier, 2010).

Vivid propaganda often exploits fears. The Nazi newspaper Der Stiirmer aroused fear with hundreds of unsubstantiated anecdotes about Jews who were said to have ground rats to make hash, seduced non-Jewish women, and cheated families out of their life savings. Streicher’s appeals, like most Nazi propaganda, were emotional, not logical. The appeals also gave clear, specific instructions on how to combat “the danger”: They listed Jewish businesses so readers would avoid them, encouraged readers to submit for publication the names of Germans who patronized Jewish shops and professionals, and directed readers to compile lists of Jews in their area (Bytwerk & Brooks, 1980).

Vivid stories can also, however, be used for good, especially when what’s most memorable conveys the central message rather than distracting from it (Guadagno & others, 2011). After the genocidal conflict between Rwanda’s Hutus and Tutsi, a yearlong field experiment explored the impact of a radio soap opera that featured stories of prejudice, conflict, communication, reconciliation, and even love across group lines in two fictional communities. Compared with a control group exposed to a health-related radio soap opera, listeners became more accepting of empathy, cooperation, trauma healing, and even intermarriage (Paluck, 2009). Fiction fos­ tered forbearance.


Picture the following scene: Nicole arrives home on spring vacation and hopes to convert her portly, middle-aged father to her new “health-fitness lifestyle.” She runs 5 miles a day. Her father says his idea of exercise is “channel surfing.” Nicole thinks, “Would I be more likely to get Dad off his duff by urging him to try a modest exercise program, say a daily walk, or by trying to get him involved in something strenuous, say a program of calisthenics and running? Maybe if I 3sked him to take up a rigorous exercise program, he would compromise and at least take up something worthwhile. But then again maybe he’d write me off and <^0 nothing.”

Like Nicole, social psychologists can reason either way. Disagreement produces discomfort, and discomfort prompts people to change their opinions. (Recall from Chapter 4 the effects of dissonance.) So perhaps greater disagreement will pro­ duce more change. Then again, a communicator who proclaims an uncomfortable Message may be discredited. People who disagree with conclusions drawn by a newscaster rate the newscaster as more biased, inaccurate, and untrustworthy. People are more open to conclusions within their range of acceptability (Liberman & Chaiken, 1992; Zanna, 1993). So perhaps greater disagreement will produce l^ss change.

Chapter 7 239









Social Influence240 Part Two

FIGURE:: 7.6 Discrepancy Interacts with Communicator Credibility Only a highly credible communicator maintains effectiveness when arguing an extreme position. Source: Data from Aronson, Turner, & Carlsmith (1963).

0 >—__________________________________ ______________________________________________ Medium Large


Elliot Aronson, Judith Turner, and Merrill Carlsmith (1963) reasoned that a credi­ ble source-one hard to discount-would elicit the most opinion change when advo- cahng a greatli/ discrepant position. Sure enough, when credible T. S. Eliot was said to have highly praised a disliked poem, people changed their opinion more than when he gave it amt praise. But when “Agnes Stearns, a student at Mississippi State Teachers College, evaluated a disliked poem, high praise was no more per-

Tu”” ‘^is’^repancy and credibility interact: The effect of a large versus small discrepancy depends on whether the com- mumcator is credible.

So the answer to Nicole’s question-“Should 1 argue an extreme position?”-is, It depends Is Nicole in her adoring father’s eyes a highly prestigious, authorita-

fitness program. If not, Nicole would be wise to make a more modest appeal.

The answer also depends on her father’s engagement with the issue. Deeply volved people tend to accept only a narrow range of views. To them, a moderately

discrepant message may seem foolishly radical, especially if the message argues an opposing view rather than bemg a more extreme version of their own view (Pallak & others 1972; Petty & Cacioppo, 1979; Rhine & Severance, 1970). Thus, social psy­ chologists Arie Kruglanski, Michele Gelfand, and Rohan Gunaratna (2010) advise how to construct messages that may help deradicalize committed terrorists- Build such messages upon elements of their preexisting beliefs.

On the other hand if Nicole’s father has not yet thought much either way about exercise she can probably take a more extreme position. So, if you are a credible authority and your audience isn’t much concerned with your issue, go for if Advo­ cate a discrepant view. °


ShnHH’r community’s gay rights initiative faced a strategic question: Or wi seek to refute each of the opposition’s arguments? Or would that likely backfire, by planting ideas that people would remember long

ter forgetting the discounting? Once again, common sense offers no clear answer, Acknowledging the opposing arguments might confuse the audience and weaken the case. On the other hand, a message might seem fairer and be more disarming if It recognizes the opposition’s arguments. ^

Carol Werner and colleagues (2002) showed the disarming power of a simple two-sided message in an experiment on aluminum-can recycling. Signs added to

Persuasion 241Chapter 7

wastebaskets in a University of Utah classroom building said, for example, “No Aluminum Cans Please!!!!! Use the Recycler Located on the First Floor, Near the Entrance.” When a final persuasive message acknowledged and responded to the main counterargument—”It May Be Inconvenient. But It Is Important!!!!!!!!!!!”— recycling reached 80 percent (double the rate before any message, and more than in other message conditions).

After Germany’s defeat in World War II, the U.S. Army did not want soldiers to relax and think that the still-ongoing war with Japan would become easy. So Carl Hovland and colleagues (1949) in the Army’s Information and Education Division designed two radio broadcasts. Both argued that the Pacific war would last at least two more years. One broadcast was one-sided; it did not acknowledge contradic­ tory arguments, such as the advantage of fighting only one enemy instead of two. The other broadcast was two-sided; it mentioned and responded to the opposing arguments. As Figure 7.7 illustrates, the effectiveness of the message depended on the listener. A one-sided appeal was most effective with those who already agreed. An appeal that acknowledged opposing arguments worked better with those who disagreed.

Experiments also reveal that a two-sided presentation is more persuasive and enduring if people are (or will be) aware of opposing arguments (Jones & Brehm, 1970; Lumsdaine & Janis, 1953). In simulated trials, a defense case becomes more credible when the defense brings up damaging evidence before the prosecution does (Williams & others, 1993). Thus, a political candidate speaking to a politically informed group, or a community group advocating for or against gay rights, would indeed be wise to respond to the opposition. So, if your audience will be exposed to opposing views, offer a two-sided appeal.

This interaction effect typifies persuasion research. For optimists, positive persuasion works best (“The new plan reduces tuition in exchange for part-time university service”). For pessimists, negative persuasion is more effective (“All students will have to work part-time for the university, lest they pay out-of-state tuition”) (Geers & others, 2003). We might wish that persuasion variables had sim­ ple effects. (It would make this an easier chapter to study.) Alas, most variables, note Richard Petty and Duane Wegener (1998), “have complex effects—increasing persuasion in some situations and decreasing it in others.”

As students and scientists, we cherish “Occam’s razor”—seeking the simplest possible principles. But if human reality is complex, well, our principles will need to have some complexity—to acknowledge interaction effects—as well.







One-sided Two-sided

FIGURE:: 7.7 The Interaction of Initial Opinion with One- Versus Two-Sidedness After Germany’s defeat in World War II, American soldiers skeptical of a message suggesting Japan’s strength were more persuaded by a two-sided communication. Soldiers initially agreeing with the message were strengthened more by a one-sided message.

Source; Data from Hovland, Lumsdaine, & Sheffield (1949).

The message

242 Part Two Social Influence

primacy effect Other things being equal, information presented first usually has the most influence.

recency effect Information presented last sometimes has the most influence. Recency effects are less common than primacy effects.

PRIMACY VERSUS RECENCY Imagine that you are a consultant to a prominent politician who must soon debate pother prominent politician over a ballot proposition on bilingual education Three weeks before the vote, each politician is to appear on the nightly news and

statement. By the flip of a coin, your side receives the choice o whether to speak first or last. Knowing that you are a former social psychology student, everyone looks to you for advice.

You mentally scan your old books and lecture notes. Would first be better? Peo- • interpretations. Moreover, a belief, once formed IS difficult to discredit, so going first could give voters ideas that would favorably bias how they perceive and interpret the second speech. Besides, people may pay

^S^in, people remember recent things better. Might it really be more effective to speak last?

Your first line of reasoning predicts what is most common, a primacy effect- formation presented early is most persuasive. First impressions are important! For example, can you sense a difference between these two descriptions?

• John is intelligent, industrious, impulsive, critical, stubborn, and envious. John IS envious, stubborn, critical, impulsive, industrious, and intelligent.

en Solomon Asch (1946) gave those sentences to college students in New York City, those who read the adjectives in the intelligent-to-envious order rated me person more positively than did those given the envious-to-intelligent order. The earlier information seemed to color their interpretation of the later information producing the primacy effect.

Some other primacy effect examples:

In some experiments, people who succeed on a guessing task 50 percent of the time—but whose successes come early—seem more capable than those whose successes come after early failures Qones & others, 1968; Langer & Roth, 1975; McAndrew, 1981). ^

• In political polls and in primary election voting, candidates benefit from being listed first on the ballot (Moore, 2004b).

• Norman Miller and Donald Campbell (1959) gave Northwestern University students a condensed transcript from an actual civil trial. They placed the plaintiff’s testimony and arguments in one block and those for the defense in another. The students read both blocks. When they returned a week later to declare their opinions, most sided with the information they had read first.

What about me opposite possibility? Would our better memory of recent infor­ mation ever create a recency effect? We have all experienced what the book of Prov­ erbs observed: The one who first states a case seems right, until the other comes and cross-examines.” We know from our experience (as well as from memory experiments) that today’s events can temporarily outweigh significant past events. As we noted in Chapter 3, today’s blizzard makes long-term global warming seem less a threat, just as today’s sweltering heat makes it seem more a mreat

To test for a possible recency effect. Miller and Campbell gave another group of students one block of testimony to read. A week later, the researchers had them read the second block and then immediately state their opinions. The results were me reverse of the other condition—a recency effect. Apparently the first block of arguments, being a week old, had largely faded from memory.

Forgetting creates the recency effect (1) when enough time separates the two messages and (2) when the audience commits itself soon after the second message, men the ^o messages are back-to-back, followed by a time gap, the primacy effect usually o^urs (Figure 7.8). This is especially so when the first message stimu­ lates thinking (Haugtvedt & Wegener, 1994). What advice would you now give to me political debater? ®

Persuasion Chapter 7

Primacy effect predicted:

Message #1 Message #2 (time) Response

Message #1 accepted

Recency effect Message #1 predicted:

(time) Message #2


Message #2 accepted

figure:: 7.8 Primacy Effect Versus Recency Effect Viftien two persuasive messages are back-to-back and the audience then responds at some later time, the first message has the advantage (primacy effect). When the two messages are separated in time and the audience responds soon after the second message, the second message has the advantage (recency effect).

In 2008, the U.S. Democratic Party convention was immediately followed by the Republican Party convention, after which there was a 2-month time gap before the election. If experiments on primacy 9nd recency are applicable, which party would benefit most from this timing?


Dana Carney and Mahzarin Banaji (2008) discovered that order can also affect simple preferences. When encountering two people or horses or foods or whatever, people tend to prefer the first presented option. For example, when offered two similar-looking pieces of bubble gum, one placed after the other on a white clip­ board, 62 percent, when asked to make a snap judgment, chose the first-presented piece. Across four experiments, the findings were consistent: “First is best.”

244 Part Two Social Influence

How Is It Said? The Channel of Communication For persuasion, there must be communication. And for communication, there must be a channel: a face-to-face appeal, a written sign or document, a media advertisement.

Commonsense psychology places faith in the power of written words. How do we try to get people to attend a campus event? We post notices. How do we get drivers to slow down and keep their eyes on the road? We put “Drive Carefully” messages on billboards. How do we discourage students from dropping trash on campus? We post antilitter messages on campus bulletin boards.

ACTIVE EXPERIENCE OR PASSIVE RECEPTION? Are spoken appeals more persuasive? Not necessarily. Those of us who speak pub­ licly, as teachers or persuaders, often become so enamored of our spoken words that we overestimate their power. Ask college students what aspect of their college experience has been most valuable or what they remember from their first year, and few, I am sad to say, recall the brilliant lectures that we faculty remember giving.

Thomas Crawford (1974) and associates tested the impact of the spoken word by going to the homes of people from 12 churches shortly before and after they heard sermons opposing racial bigotry and injustice. When asked during the second interview whether they had heard or read anything about racial prejudice or dis­ crimination since the previous interview, only 10 percent recalled the sermons spontaneously. When the remaining 90 percent were asked directly whether their priest had “talked about prejudice or discrimination in the last couple of weeks,” more than 30 percent denied hearing such a sermon. The end result: The sermons left racial attitudes unaffected.

When you stop to think about it, an effective preacher has many hurdles to surmount. As Figure 7.2 showed, a per­ suasive speaker must deliver a message that clears five hurdles; It must not only get attention but also be understand­ able, convincing, memorable, and com­ pelling. A carefully thought-out appeal must consider each of those steps in the persuasion process.

Consider another well-intentioned effort. At Scripps College in California, a weeklong antilitter campaign urged stu­ dents to “Keep Scripps’ campus beauti­ ful,” “Let’s clean up our trash,” and so forth. Such slogans were placed in stu­ dents’ mailboxes each morning and dis­ played on prominent posters. The day before the campaign began, social psy­ chologist Raymond Paloutzian (1979) placed litter near a trash can along a well- traveled sidewalk. Then he stepped back to record the behavior of 180 passersby No one picked up anything. C)n the last day of the campaign, he repeated the test with 180 more passersby. Did the pedes­ trians now race one another in their zeal to comply with the appeals? Hardly Only 2 of the 180 picked up the trash.

Passively received appeals, however, are not always futile. My drugstore sells

Advertising power. Cigarette advertising campaigns have correlated with teen smoking increases among the targeted gender (Pierce & Gilpin, 1995; Pierce & others, 1994). This photo shows models practicing the “correct” pucker and blow technique for a 1950s TV ad.

channel of communication The way the message is delivered—whether face- to-face, in writing, on film, or in some other way.

Persuasion Chapter 7 245

two brands of aspirin, one heavily advertised and one unadvertised. Apart from slight differences in how fast each tablet crumbles in your mouth, any pharmacist will tell you the two brands are identical. Aspirin is aspirin. Our bodies cannot tell the difference. But our pocketbooks can. The advertised brand sells to millions of people for three times the price of the unadvertised brand.

With such power, can the media help a wealthy political candidate buy an elec­ tion? In presidential primaries, those who spend the most usually get the most votes (Crush, 1980; Open Secrets, 2005). Advertising exposure helps make an unfa­ miliar candidate into a familiar one. As we will see in Chapter 11, mere exposure to unfamiliar stimuli breeds liking. Moreover, mere repetition can make things believ­ able (Dechene &: others, 2010; Moons & others, 2009).

Researcher Hal Arkes (1990) calls such findings “scary.” As political manipula­ tors know, believable lies can displace hard truths. Repeated cliches can cover com­ plex realities. Even repeatedly saying that a consumer claim is false can, when the discounting is presented amid other true and false claims, lead older adults later to misremember it as true (Skurnik & others, 2005). As they forget the discounting, their lingering familiarity with the claim can make it seem believable. In the politi­ cal realm, even correct information may fail to discount implanted misinformation (Bullock, 2006; Nyhan tSc Reifler, 2008). Thus, in the 2008 U.S. presidential election, false rumors—that Obama was a Muslim, that McCain wanted to keep U.S. forces in Iraq for 100 years—resisted efforts at disconfirmation, which sometimes helped make the falsehood seem familiar and thus true.

Mere repetition of a statement also serves to increase its fluency—the ease with which it spills off our tongue—which increases believability (McGlone & Tofighbakhsh, 2000). Other factors, such as rhyming, further increase fluency and believability. “Haste makes waste” may say essentially the same thing as “rushing causes mistakes,” but it seems more true. Whatever makes for fluency (familiarity, rhyming) also makes for credibility.

Because passively received appeals are sometimes effective and sometimes not, can we specify in advance the topics on which a persuasive appeal will be success­ ful? There is a simple rule; Persuasion decreases as the significance and familiarity of the issue increase. On minor issues, such as which brand of aspirin to buy, it’s easy to demonstrate the media’s power. On more familiar and important issues, such as attitudes about a lengthy and controversial war, persuading people is like trying to push a piano uphill. It is not impossible, but one shove won’t do it.

As we saw in Chapter 4, Behavior and Attitudes, active experience also strength­ ens attitudes. When we act, we amplify the idea behind what we’ve done, especially when we feel responsible. What is more, attitudes more often endure and influence our behavior when rooted in our own experience. Compared with attitudes formed passively, experience-based attitudes are more confident, more stable, and less vul­ nerable to attack. These principles are evident in many studies that show that the niost effective HIV-prevention interventions not only give people information but also give them behavioral training, such as by practicing assertiveness in refusing sex and using protection (Albarracin & others, 2005).

PERSONAL VERSUS MEDIA INFLUENCE Persuasion studies demonstrate that the major influence on us is not the media but our contact with people. Modern selling strategies seek to harness the power of Word-of-mouth personal influence through “viral marketing,” “creating a buzz,” ^d “seeding” sales (Walker, 2004). The Harry Potter series was not expected to be a best seller {Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone had a first printing of 500 copies). It Was kids talking to other kids that made it so.

Two classic field experiments illustrate the strength of personal influence. Some years ago, Samuel Eldersveld and Richard Dodge (1954) studied political persua­ sion in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They divided citizens intending not to vote for a revi­ sion of the city charter into three groups. Among those exposed only to what they saw and heard in the mass media, 19 percent changed their minds and voted in

















246 Part Two Social Influence

favor of the revision on election day. Of a second group, who received four mail­ ings in support of the revision, 45 percent voted for it. Among people in a third group, who were visited personally and given the appeal face-to-face, 75 percent cast their votes for the revision.

In another field experiment, a research team led by John Farquhar and Nathan Maccoby (Farquhar & others, 1977; Maccoby, 1980; Maccoby & Alexander, 1980) tried to reduce the frequency of heart disease among middle-aged adults in three small California cities. To check the relative effectiveness of personal and media influence, they interviewed and medically examined 1200 participants before the project began and at the end of each of the following 3 years. Residents of Tracy, California, received no persuasive appeals other than those occurring in their reg­ ular media. In Gilroy, California, a 2-year multimedia campaign used TV, radio, newspapers, and direct mail to teach people about coronary risk and what they could do to reduce it. In Watsonville, California, this media campaign was supple­ mented by personal contacts with two-thirds of those participants whose blood pres­ sure, weight, and age put them in a high-risk group. Using behavior-modification principles, the researchers helped the Watsonville participants set specific goals and reinforced their successes.

As Figure 7.9 shows, after 1, 2, and 3 years, the high-risk participants in Tracy (the control town) were at about as much at risk as before. High-risk participants in Gilroy, which was deluged with media appeals, improved their health habits and decreased their risk somewhat. Those in Watsonville, who received personal con­ tacts as well as the media campaign, changed most.

MEDIA INFLUENCE: THE TWO-STEP FLOW Although face-to-face influence is usually greater than media influence, we should not underestimate the media’s power. Those who personally influence our opinions must get their ideas from

two>step flow of some source, and often their sources are the media. Elihu Katz (1957) observed that communication many of the media’s effects operate in a two-step flow of communication: from The process by which media media to opinion leaders to the rank and file. In any large group, it is these opinion infiuence often occurs leaders and trendsetters—”the influentials”—that marketers and politicians seek to through opinion leaders, who woo (Keller & Berry, 2003). Opinion leaders are individuals perceived as experts, in turn influence others. They may include talk show hosts and editorial columnists; doctors, teachers, and

FIGURE:: 7.9 Percentage change from baseline (0) in coronary risk after t, 2, or 3 years of health education. Source; Data from Maccoby 0 980).

0 1 2 3 Year of study

Persuasion 247Chapter 7

scientists; and people in all walks of life who have made it their business to absorb information and to inform their friends and family. If I want to evaluate computer equipment, I defer to the opinions of my sons, who get many of their ideas from the printed page. Sell them and you will sell me.

The two-step flow of information influences the drugs your physician describes, reports a Stanford School of Business research team (Nair & others, 2008). Physicians look to opinion leaders within their social network—often a university hospital- based specialist—when deciding what drugs to favor. For more than 9 in 10 physi­ cians, this influence comes through personal contact. The largest drug companies know that opinion leaders drive sales, and therefore they target about one-third of their marketing dollars on these influential people.

The two-step flow model reminds us that media influences penetrate the culture in subtle ways. Even if the media had little direct effect on people’s attitudes, they could still have a major indirect effect. Those rare children who grow up without watching television do not grow up beyond television’s influence. Unless they live as hermits, they will join in TV-imitative play on the schoolground. They will ask their parents for the TV-related toys their friends have. They will beg or demand to watch their friends’ favorite programs, and they will do so when visiting friends’ homes. Parents can just say no, but they cannot switch off television’s influence.

COMPARING MEDIA Lumping together all media, from mass mailings to television to social networking, oversimplifies. Studies comparing different media find that the more lifelike the medium, the more persuasive its message. Thus, the order of persuasiveness seems to be: live (face-to-face), videotaped, audiotaped, and written.

To add to the complexity, messages are best comprehended and recalled when written. Comprehension is one of the first steps in the persuasion process (recall Figure 7.2). So Shelly Chaiken and Alice Eagly (1976) reasoned that if a message is difficult to comprehend, persuasion should be greatest when the message is writ­ ten because readers will be able to work through the message at their own pace. The researchers gave University of Massachusetts students easy or difficult mes­ sages in writing, on audiotape, or on videotape. Figure 7.10 displays their results: Difficult messages were indeed most persuasive when written; easy messages, when videotaped. The TV medium takes control of the pacing of the message away from the recipients. By drawing attention to the communicator and away from the message itself, TV also encourages people to focus on peripheral cues, such as the communicator’s attractiveness (Chaiken & Eagly, 1983).

Opinion change

In study after study, most people agree that mass media influence attitudes—other people’s attitudes, but not their own (Duck & others, 1995).

FIGURE :: 7.10 Easy-to-understand messages are most persuasive when videotaped. Difficult messages are most persuasive when written. Thus, the difficulty of the message interacts with the medium to determine persuasiveness. Source.’Data from Chaiken & Eagly (1976).

Social Influence248 Part Two

To Whom Is It Said? The Audience Persuasion varies with who … says what… by what medium … to whom. Let’s consider two audience characteristics: age and thoughtfulness.

HOW OLD ARE THEY? As evident during the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign—with John McCain the decided favorite of older voters and Barack Obama of younger voters—people’s social and political attitudes correlate with their age. Social psychologists offer two possible explanations for age differences:

• A life cycle explanution: Attitudes change (for example, become more conser­ vative) as people grow older.

• A generational explanation: Attitudes do not change; older people largely hold onto the attitudes they adopted when they were young. Because these attitudes are different from those being adopted by young people today, a generation gap develops. (Figure 7.11 offers one example of a large generation gap.).

The evidence mostly supports the generational explanation. In surveys and resurveys of groups of younger and older people over several years, the attitudes of older people usually show less change than do those of young people. As David Sears (1979, 1986) put it, researchers have “almost invariably found generational rather than life cycle effects.”

The teens and early twenties are important formative years (Koenig & others, 2008; Krosnick & Alwin, 1989). Attitudes are changeable then, and the attitudes formed tend to stabilize through middle adulthood. Gallup interviews of more than 120,000 people suggest that political attitudes formed at age 18—relatively Republican- favoring during the popular Reagan era, and more Democratic-favoring during the unpopular George W. Bush era—tend to last (Silver, 2009).

Young people might therefore be advised to choose their social influences—the poups they join, the media they imbibe, the roles they adopt—carefully. In analyz­ ing National Opinion Research Center archives, James Davis (2004) discovered, for example, that Americans reaching age 16 during the 1960s have, ever since, been more politically liberal than average. Much as tree rings can, years later, reveal the telltale marks laid down by a drought, so attitudes decades later may reveal

FIGURE :: 7.11 Ageneration gap in 2011 U.S. attitudes regarding same-sex marriage, as reported by Gallup. A “life cycle” explanation of gen­ erational differences in attitudes suggests that people become more conservative with age. A “generational explanation” sug­ gests that each generation tends to hold on to attitudes formed during the adolescent and early adults years.

Percent Influenced 80 ————- –

55■^ 18-34

Percent favoring gay marriage, by age

Persuasion Chapter 7 249

the events, such as the Vietnam War and civil rights era of the 1960s, that shaped the adolescent and early twenties mind. For many people, these years are a critical period for the formation of attitudes and values.

Vermont’s Bennington College provides a striking example. During the late 1930s and early 1940s, Bennington students—women from privileged, conservative families—encountered a free-spirited environment led by a left-leaning young fac­ ulty. One of those professors, social psychologist Theodore Newcomb, later denied that the faculty was trying to make “good little liberals” out of its students. Yet the students became much more liberal than was typical of those from their social back­ grounds. Moreover, attitudes formed at Bennington endured. A half-century later, the Bennington women, now 70ish, voted Democratic by a three-to-one margin in the 1984 presidential election, whereas other college-educated women who were in their sev­ enties were voting Republican by a three-to-one margin (Alwin & others, 1991). The views embraced at an impressionable time had survived a lifetime of wider experience.

Adolescent and early adult experiences are formative partly because they make deep and lasting impressions. When Howard Schuman and Jacqueline Scott (1989) asked people to name the one or two most important national or world events of the previous half-century, most recalled events from their teens or early twenties. For those who experienced the Great Depression or World War II as 16- to 24-year- olds, those events overshadowed the civil rights movement and the Kennedy assassination of the early sixties, the Vietnam War and moon landing of the late six­ ties, and the women’s movement of the seventies—all of which were imprinted on the minds of younger people who experienced them as 16- to 24-year-olds. We may therefore expect that today’s young adults will include events such as 9/11 and the Iraq war or the ensuing economic recession as memorable turning points.

That is not to say that older adults are inflexible. Studies conducted by Norval Glenn in 1980 and 1981 found that most people in their fifties and sixties had more liberal sexual and racial attitudes than they had in their thirties and forties. Given the “sexual revolution” that began in the 1960s and became mainstream in the 1970s, these middle-aged people had apparently changed with the times. Few of us are utterly uninfluenced by changing cultural norms. Moreover, near the end of their lives, older adults may again become more susceptible to attitude change, perhaps because of a decline in the strength of their attitudes (Visser & Krosnick, 1998). Or perhaps, as some research suggests, resistance to attitude change peaks in midlife because that’s when people tend to occupy higher power social roles, which call forth resoluteness (Eaton & others, 2009).

WHAT ARE THEY THINKING? The crucial aspect of central route persuasion is not the message but the responses it evokes in a person’s mind. Our minds are not sponges that soak up whatever pours over them. If a message summons favorable thoughts, it persuades us. If it provokes us to think of contrary arguments, we remain unpersuaded.

FOREWARNED IS FOREARMED—IF YOU CARE ENOUGH TO COUNTER- ARGUE What circumstances breed counterargument? One is knowing that some­ one is going to try to persuade you. If you had to tell your family that you wanted to drop out of school, you would likely anticipate their pleading with you to stay. So you might develop a list of arguments to counter every conceivable argument they might make.

Jonathan Freedman and David Sears (1965) demonstrated the difficulty of trying to persuade people under such circumstances. They warned one group of Califor­ nia high schoolers that they were going to hear a talk: “Why Teenagers Should Not Be Allowed to Drive.” Those forewarned did not budge in their opinions. Others, not forewarned, did budge. In courtrooms, too, defense attorneys sometimes fore­ warn juries about prosecution evidence to come. With mock juries, such “stealing thunder” neutralizes its impact (Dolnik & others, 2003).











250 Part Two Social Influence

need for cognition The motivation to think and analyze. Assessed by agreement with items such as “The notion of thinking abstractly is appealing to me” and disagreement with items such as “I only think as hard as I have to.”

“Are you better off than you were four years ago?” Ronald Reagan soared to victory with a memorable rhetorical question that triggered voters’ thinking.

DISTRACTION DISARMS COUNTERARGUING Persuasion is also enhanced by a distraction that inhibits counterarguing (Festinger & Maccoby, 1964; Keating & Brock, 1974; Osterhouse & Brock, 1970). Political ads often use this technique. The words promote the candidate, and the visual images keep us occupied so we don’t analyze the words. Distraction is especially effective when the message is simple (Harkins & Petty, 1982; Regan & Cheng, 1973). SomeHmes, though distraction precludes our processing an ad. That helps explain why ads viewed during vio- 20?5°2007)^^ ^ programs are so often unremembered and ineffective (Bushman,

UNINVOLVED AUDIENCES USE PERIPHERAL CUES Recall the two routes to persuasion—the central route of systematic thinking and the peripheral route of heuristic cues. Like a road that winds through a small town, the central route has starts and stops as the mind analyzes arguments and formulates responses. Like the freeway that bypasses the town, the peripheral route speeds people to their des- tmation. Analytical people-those with a high need for cognition-enjoy thinking carefully and prefer central routes (Cacioppo & others, 1996). People who like to conserve their mental resources—those with a low need for cognition—are quicker to respond to such peripheral cues as the communicator’s attractiveness and the pleasantness of the surroundings.

This simple theory—that what we think in response to a message is crucial espe­ cially if we are motivated and able to think about it-has generated many predic­ hons most of ^ich have been confirmed by Petty, Cacioppo, and others (Axsom & others 1987; Haddock & others, 2008; Harkins & Petty, 1987). Many experiments have explored ways to stimulate people’s thinking

• by using rhetorical questions. • by presenting multiple speakers (for example, having each of three speakers

give one argument instead of one speaker giving three). • by making people feel responsible for evaluating or passing along the message. • by repeating the message. • by getting people’s undistracted attention.

The consistent finding with each of these techniques: Stimulating thinking makes strong messages more persuasive and (because of counterarguing) weak messages less persuasive.

The theory also has practical implica­ tions. Effective communicators care not only about their images and their mes- sages but also about how their audience is likely to react. The best instructors get students to think actively. They ask rhetorical questions, provide intriguing examples, and challenge students with difficult problems. Such techniques fos­ ter the central route to persuasion. In classes in which the instruction is less

you can still provide your own central processing. If you think about the material and elaborate on the arguments, you are likely to do better in the course.

During the final days of a closely contested 1980 U.S. presidential cam­ paign, Ronald Reagan effectively used

Persuasion Chapter 7 251

rhetorical questions to stimulate desired thoughts in voters’ minds. His summary statement in the presidential debate began with two potent rhetorical questions that he repeated often during the campaign’s remaining week: “Are you better off than you were four years ago? Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was four years ago?” Most people answered no, and Reagan, thanks partly to the way he prodded people to take the central route, won by a bigger-than-expected margin.

SUMMING UP: What Are the Elements of Persuasion? L :• What makes persuasion effective? Researchers have B explored four factors: the communicator (who says B it), the message (what is said), the channel (how it is R said), and the audience (to whom it is said). Jm. Credible communicators tend to be f)ersuasive. Peo- m pie who speak unhesitatingly, who talk fast, and m who look listeners straight in the eye seem more B credible. So do people who argue against their own [ self-interest. An attractive communicator is especially El effective on matters of taste and personal values. ^ Associating a message with good feelings makes it m more convincing. People often make quicker, less ^ reflective judgments while in good moods. Fear- ^ arousing messages can also be effective, especially p if the recipients feel vulnerable but can take protec- || tive action. I* How discrepant a message should be from an

audience’s existing opinions depends on the com- r municator’s credibility. And whether a one- or r two-sided message is more persuasive depends

on whether the audience already agrees with the message, is unaware of opposing arguments, and is unlikely later to consider the opposition. When two sides of an issue are included, the primacy effect often makes the first message more persuasive. If a time gap separates the presentations, the more likely result will be a recency effect in which the sec­ ond message prevails. Another important consideration is how the message is communicated. Usually, face-to-face appeals work best. Print media can be effective for complex messages. And the mass media can be effective when the issue is minor or unfamiliar, and when the media reach opinion leaders. Finally, it matters who receives the message. The age of the audience makes a difference; yoimg people’s attitudes are more subject to change. What does the audience think while receiving a mes­ sage? Do they think favorable thoughts? Do they counterargue? Were they forewarned?


State some persuasion and group influence principles that have been harnessed by new religious movements (“cults”).

On March 22, 1997, in California, Marshall Herff Applewhite and 37 of his disci­ ples decided the time had come to shed their bodies—mere “containers”—and be whisked up to a UFO trailing the Hale-Bopp Comet, en route to heaven’s gate. So they put themselves to sleep by mixing phenobarbital into pudding or apple­ sauce, washing it down with vodka, and then fixing plastic bags over their heads so they would suffocate in their slumber. On that same day, a cottage in the Quebec village of St. Casimir exploded in an inferno, consuming 5 people—the latest of ^4 members of the Order of the Solar Temple to have committed suicide in Canada, Switzerland, and France. All were hoping to be transported to the star Sirius, nine ^ight-years away.

The question on many minds: What persuades people to leave behind their for- ner beliefs and join these mental chain gangs? Should we attribute their strange

252 Part Two Social Influence

One of 37 suicide victims seeking heaven’s gate.

cult (also called new religious movement) A group typically characterized by(l) distinctive rituals and beliefs related to its devotion to a god or a person, (2) isolation from the surrounding “evil” culture, and (3) a charismatic leader. (A sect, by contrast, is a spinoff from a major religion.)

Behaviors to strange personalities? Or do their experiences illustrate the common dynamics of social mfluence and persuasion^ cipfeT^cTlxnSft hindsight analysis. It uses persuasion prin-

pies to explam, after the fact, a curious social phenomenon. Second exolaininff why people believe something says nothing about the truth of their beliefs That is I nSncfr ath^rd^ -“‘Sht tell us .h, a thefst tel e

rtthe? n r f T “‘heist disbelieves, but it cannot tell us who is right. Explaining ther belief does nothmg to change its validity. Remember that if someone trie!

to discount your beliefs by saying, “You just believe that because ‘ you m^gh! recall Archbishop William Temple’s reply to a questioner who challenged- “Wdl o course. Archbishop, the pomt is that you believe what you believe because of the way you were brought up.” To which the archbishop replied: “That is as h mav be ut the fact remains that you believe I believe what 1 believe because of the Jay 1

was brought up, because of the way you were brought up ” ^

Sw, Myung Moon’s mixture of Christianity, anticommunism, and glorification of Moon himself as a new messiah attracted a worldwide following In response to Moon s declaration “What I wish must be your wish,” many people committed themselves and their incomes to the Unification Church. ^ ^ from disciples of Jim Jones, who had followed him there from San Francisco, shocked the world when they died by following his order to of cya Jte.” P”-killers, and’a leth”

tur’e”aTme!fJ”*’-“’ >^emorizing Scrip-

Sio^ Kom!hTl gnidually relieved of their bank accounts and pos­ sessions. Koresh also persuaded the men to live celibately while he slept with their wives and daughters, and he convinced his 19 “wives”!hat they should bear hL children Under siege after a shootout that killed 6 members and^4 federal agents tedJral followers they would soon die and go with him straight to heaven!

H f L ® ’■f’omed the compound with tanks, hoping to inject tear gas Bv the end of the assault, 86 people were consumed in a fire. Fot tear gas. By the

Persuasion Chapter 7 253

“You go on home without me, Irene. I’m going to join this man’s cult.

Hundreds of thousands of people in recent years have been recruited by members of some 2500 religious cults, but seldom through an abrupt decision. © Charles Addams. With permission Tee and Charles Addams Foundation.

Marshall Applewhite was not similarly tempted to command sexual favors. Hav­ ing been fired from two music teaching jobs for affairs with students, he sought sex­ less devotion by castration, as had 7 of the other 17 Heaven’s Gate men who died with him (Chua-Eoan, 1997; Gardner, 1997). While in a psychiatric hospital in 1971, Applewhite had linked up with nurse and astrology dabbler Bonnie Lu Nettles, who gave the intense and charismatic Applewhite a cosmological vision of a route to “the next level.” Preaching with passion, he persuaded his followers to renounce families, sex, drugs, and personal money with promises of a spaceship voyage to salvation.

How could these things happen? What persuaded these people to give such total allegiance? Shall we make dispositional explanations—by blaming the vic­ tims? Shall we dismiss them as gullible or unbalanced? Or can familiar principles of conformity, compliance, dissonance, persuasion, and group influence explain their behavior—putting them on common ground with the rest of us who in our own ways are shaped by such forces?

Attitudes Follow Behavior As Chapter 4 showed over and again, people usually internalize commitments made voluntarily, publicly, and repeatedly. Cult leaders seem to know this.

COMPLIANCE BREEDS ACCEPTANCE New converts soon learn that membership is no trivial matter. They are quickly made active members of the team. Behavioral rituals, public recruitment, and fund- raising strengthen the initiates’ identities as members. Those in social psychological experiments come to believe in what they bear witness to (Aronson & Mills, 1959; Gerard & Mathewson, 1966), and cult initiates likewise become committed advo­ cates. The greater the personal commitment, the more the need to justify it.

the FOOT-IN-THE-DOOR PHENOMENON How are people induced to make a commitment to such a drastic life change? Sel­ dom by an abrupt, conscious decision. One does not just decide, “I’m through with mainstream religion. I’m gonna find a cult.” Nor do cult recruiters approach people

254 Part Two Social Influence

on the street with, “Hi. I’m a Moonie. Care to join us?” Rather, the recruitment strategy exploits the foot-in-the-door principle. Unification Church recruiters, for example, would invite people to a dinner and then to a weekend of warm fellow­ ship and discussions of philosophies of life. At the weekend retreat, they would encourage the attenders to join them in songs, activities, and discussion. Potential converts were then urged to sign up for longer training retreats. The pattern in cults is for the activities to become gradually more arduous, culminating in having recruits solicit contributions and attempt to convert others.

Once converts have entered the cult, they find that monetary offerings are at first voluntary, then mandatory. Jim Jones eventually inaugurated a required 10-percent-of-income contribution, which soon increased to 25 percent. Finally, he ordered members to turn over to him everything they owned. Workloads also became progressively more demanding. Former cult member Grace Stoen recalls the gradual progress:

Nothing was ever done drastically. That’s how Jim Jones got away with so much. You slowly gave up things and slowly had to put up with more, but it was always done very gradually. It was amazing, because you would sit up sometimes and say, wow, I really have given up a lot. I really am putting up with a lot. But he did it so slowly that you figured. I’ve made it this far, what the hell is the difference? (Conway & Siegelman, 1979, p. 236)

Persuasive Elements We can also analyze cult persuasion using the factors discussed in this chapter (and summarized in Figure 7.12): Who (the communicator) said zohat (the message) to whom (the audience)?

THE COMMUNICATOR Successful cults typically have a charismatic leader—someone who attracts and directs the members. As in experiments on persuasion, a credible communicator is someone the audience perceives as expert and trustworthy—for example, as “Father” Moon.

Jim Jones used psychic readings” to establish his credibility. Newcomers were asked to identify themselves as they entered the church before services. Then one of his aides would quickly call the person’s home and say, “Hi. We’re doing a sur­ vey, and we d like to ask you some questions.” During the service, one ex-member recalled, Jones would call out the person’s name and say

Have you ever seen me before? Well, you live in such and such a place, your phone number is such and such, and in your living room you’ve got this, that, and the other, and on your sofa you’ve got such and such a pillow…. Now do you remember me ever being in your house? (Conway & Siegelman, 1979, p. 234)

Who says? What?


Credibility expertise trustworthiness


Message content

Reason vs. emotion Discrepancy One-sided vs. two-sided Primacy vs. recency

How? To whom?


Active vs. passive Personal vs. media


Analytical or emotional


FIGURE:: 7.12 Variables Known to Affect the Impact of Persuasive Communications In real life, these variables may interact: the effect of one may depend on the level of another.

Persuasion Chapter 7 255

Trust is another aspect of credibility. Cult researcher Margaret Singer (1979) noted that middle-class Caucasian youths are more vulnerable to recruitment because they are more trusting. They lack the “street smarts” of lower-class youths (who know how to resist a hustle) and the wariness of upper-class youths (who have been warned of kidnappers since childhood). Many cult members have been recruited by friends or relatives, people they trust (Stark & Bainbridge, 1980).

the message The vivid, emotional messages and the warmth and acceptance with which the group showers lonely or depressed people can be strikingly appealing: Trust the master, join the family; we have the answer, the “one way.” The message echoes through channels as varied as lectures, small-group discussions, and direct social pressure.

THE AUDIENCE Recruits are often young people under 25 years old, still at that comparatively open age before attitudes and values stabilize. Some, such as the followers of Jim Jones, are less educated people who like the message’s simplicity and find it difficult to counterargue. But most are educated, middle-class people who, taken by the ideals, overlook the contradictions in those who profess selflessness and practice greed, who pretend concern and behav’^e callously.

Potential converts are often at turning points in their lives, facing personal crises, or vacationing or living away from home. They have needs; the cult offers them an answer (Lofland & Stark, 1965; Singer, 1979). Gail Maeder joined Heaven’s Gate after her T-shirt shop had failed. David Moore joined when he was 19, just out of high school, and searching for direction. Times of social and economic upheaval are especially conducive to someone who can make apparent simple sense out of the confusion (O’Dea, 1968; Sales, 1972).

Most of those who have carried out suicide bombings in the Middle East (and other places such as Bali, Madrid, and London) were, likewise, young men at the transition between adolescence and adult maturity. Like cult recruits, they come under the influence of authoritative, religiously oriented communicators. These compelling voices indoctrinate them into seeing themselves as “living martyrs whose fleeting moment of self-destruction will be their portal into bliss and hero­ ism. To overcome the will to survive, each candidate makes public commitments creating a will, writing good-bye letters, making a farewell video—that create a psychological point of no return (Kruglanski & Golec de Zavala, 2005). All of this typically transpires in the relative isolation of small cells, with group influences that fan hatred for the enemy.

Group Effects Cults also illustrate the next chapter’s theme: the power of a group to shape mem­ bers’ views and behavior. The cult typically separates members from their previous social support systems and isolates them with other cult members. There may then occur what Rodney Stark and William Bainbridge (1980) call a “social implosion”: External ties weaken until the group collapses inward socially, each person engag­ ing only with other group members. Cut off from families and former friends, they lose access to counterarguments. The group now offers identity and defines real­ ity. Because the cult frowns on or punishes disagreements, the apparent consensus helps eliminate any lingering doubts. Moreover, stress and emotional arousal nar­ row attention, making people “more susceptible to poorly supported arguments, social pressure, and the temptation to derogate nongroup members” (Baron, 2000).

Marshall Applewhite and Bonnie Nettles at first formed their own group of two, reinforcing each other’s aberrant thinking—a phenomenon that psychiatrists call folie a deux (French for “insanity of two”). As others joined them, the group’s social

256 Part Two Social Influence



















YOU,” 2007

Military training creates cohesion and commitment through some of the same tactics used by leaders of new religious movements, fraternities, and therapeutic communities.

isolation facilitated peculiar thinking. Internet conspiracy groups can likewise fos- ter paranoia. Heaven s Gate was skilled in Internet recruiting.

^ese techniques—increasing behavioral commitments, persuasion, and groun isolation-do not however, have unlimited power. The Unification Church suc^ cessfully recruited fewer than 1 in 10 people who attended its workshops (Ennis & Verrilh, 1989). Most who joined Heaven’s Gate left before that fateful Ly. fevid Koresh ruled with a mix of persuasion, intimidation, and violence. As Jim Jones

increasingly had to control people with intimidation He used threats of harm to those who fled the community, teatin« for noncomphance, and drugs to neutralize disagreeable members. By ttie end he was as much an arm twister as a mind bender.

Some of these cult influence techniques bear similarities to techniques used bv more benign, widely accepted groups. Buddhist and Catholic monasteries for example, have cloistered adherents with kindred spirits. Fraternity and sormity

IS no unlike their own rush” period. Members lavish prospective pledges with som” T t iT n” *e pledge period, new members are sornewhaMsolated, cut off from old friends who did not pledge. They spend time

behalf. They are expected to comply with all its demands. The result is usually a committed new member. ^

“me therapeutic communities for recovering drug and cohol abusers. Zealous self-help groups form a cohesive “social cocoon,” have

W8l!T990)“^“’ ™ profound influence on members’ behavior (Galanter,

Another constructive use of persuasion is in counseling and psychotherapy which social counseling psychologist Stanley Strong views “as a branch of applfed ocial psychology (1978, p. 101). Like Strong, psychiatrist Jerome Frank ^^974,

82) reco^ized years ago that it takes persuasion to change self-defeating atti- zealours If fr™”‘ Psychotherapy siting, like cult! and zealous self-help groups, provides (1) a supportive, confiding social relationship; iff ‘i’i“ of “pertise and hope; (3) a special rationale or myth that explains one’s difficulties and offers a new perspective; and (4) a set of rituals and learning experi- ences that promises a new sense of peace and happiness.

Persuasion Chapter 7 257

I choose the examples of fraternities, sororities, self-help groups, and psychother- ipy not to disparage them but to illustrate two concluding observations. First, if we attribute new religious movements to the leader’s mystical force or to the followers’ peculiar weaknesses, we may delude ourselves into thinking we are immune to social control techniques. In truth, our own groups—and countless political lead­ ers, educators, and other persuaders—successfully use many of these same tactics on us. Between education and indoctrination, enlightenment and propaganda, con­ version and coercion, therapy and mind control, there is but a blurry line.

Second, the fact that Jim Jones and other cult leaders abused the power of persua­ sion does not mean persuasion is intrinsically bad. Knowing that persuasive power, like nuclear power, can be harnessed for evil purposes should alert us, as scientists and citizens, to guard against its immoral use. But the power itself is neither inher­ ently evil nor inherently good; it is how we use it that determines whether its effect is destructive or constructive. Condemning persuasion because of deceit is like con­ demning eating because of gluttony.

lUMMING UP: Extreme Persuasion: How Do Cults Indoctrinate?

e successes of religious cults provide an opportu­ nity to see powerful persuasion processes at work. It appears that their successes result from three general


Eliciting behavioral commitments (as described in Chapter 4)

Applying principles of effective persuasion (this chapter) Isolating members in like-minded groups (to be discussed in Chapter 8)

HOW CAN PERSUASION BE RESISTED? Identify some tactics for resisting influence. How might we prepare people to resist unwanted persuasion?

Martial arts trainers devote as much time teaching defensive blocks, deflections, and parries as they do teaching attack. “On the social influence battlefield,” note Brad Sagarin and colleagues (2002), researchers have focused more on persua­ sive attack than on defense. Being persuaded comes naturally, Daniel Gilbert and colleagues (1990, 1993) report. It is easier to accept persuasive messages than to doubt them. To understand an assertion (say, that lead pencils are a health hazard) is to believe it—at least temporarily, until one actively undoes the initial, automatic acceptance. If a distracting event prevents the undoing, the acceptance lingers.

Still, blessed with logic, information, and motivation, we do resist falsehoods. If the credible-seeming repair person’s uniform and the doctor’s title have intimi­ dated us into unthinking agreement, we can rethink our habitual responses to authority. We can seek more information before committing time or money. We can question what we don’t understand.

Strengthening Personal Commitment Chapter 6 presented another way to resist: Before encountering others’ judgments, niake a public commitment to your position. Having stood up for your convic­ tions, you will become less susceptible (or, should we say, less “open”) to what others have to say. In mock civil trials, straw polls of jurors can foster a hardening of expressed positions, leading to more deadlocks (Davis & others, 1993).

Social Influence258 Part Two

CHALLENGING BELIEFS How might we stimulate people to commit themselves? Charles Kiesler offered one possible way: Mildly attack their position Kiesler found that committed people were attacked strongly enough to cause them ” so strongly as to overwhelm them, they became even K T explained. When you attack committed people and your attack is of inaHp s ength, you drive them to even more extreme behaviors in defense of their

attitude inoculation Exposing people to weak attacks upon their attitudes so that when stronger attacks come, they will have refutations available.


fKia ..1 ^ first receivmg a small challenge to their belief and ifrxs.” wti’

the insi^de^ I confess to having felt like Mr. Clean when doing this immunization work because I was studying ho^ to help people resist being manipulated. Then, after our research was published, an advertising executive called and said, “Very interesting. Professor: I was delighted to read about it.” Somewhat righteously, I replied “Very n.ce of you to say that, Mr. Executive, but I’m really on the other side. You’re trying to persuade people, and I’m trying to make them more resistant.” “Oh, don’t under­ rate yourself. Professor,” he said. “We can use what

you re doing to diminish the effect of our competitors’ ads.” And sure enough, it has become almost standard for advertisers to mention other brands and deflate their claims.

William McGuire (1925-2007) Yale University

William McGuire on Attitude Inoculation ; .

Persuasion Chapter 7 259

of the ad. Seeing the ad again thus also brought to mind the puncturing counterar­ guments. Antismoking ads have effectively done this, for example, by re-creating a “Marlboro Man” commercial set in the rugged outdoors but now showing a cough­ ing, decrepit cowboy.

A “poison parasite” ad.

Real-Life Applications: Inoculation Programs Could attitude inoculation work outside the laboratory by preparing people to resist unwanted persuasion? Applied research on smoking prevention and con­ sumer education offers encouraging answers.

INOCULATING CHILDREN AGAINST PEER PRESSURE TO SMOKE Consider how laboratory research findings can lead to practical applications. One research team had high school students “inoculate” seventh-graders against peer pressures to smoke (McAlister & others, 1980). The seventh-graders were taught to respond to advertisements implying that liberated women smoke by saying, “She’s not really liberated if she is hooked on tobacco.” They also acted in role plays in which, after being called “chicken” for not taking a cigarette, they answered with statements such as “I’d be a real chicken if I smoked just to impress you.” After several of these sessions during the seventh and eighth grades, the inocu­ lated students were half as likely to begin smoking as were uninoculated students at another junior high school—one that had an identical parental smoking rate (Figure 7.13).

Other research teams have confirmed that inoculation procedures, sometimes supplemented by other life skill training, reduce teen smoking (Botvin & others, 1995,2008; Evans & others, 1984; Flay & others, 1985). Most newer efforts emphasize strategies for resisting social pressure. One study exposed sixth- to eighth-graders to antismoking films or to information about smoking, together with role plays of student-generated ways of refusing a cigarette (Hirschman & Leventhal, 1989). A year and a half later, 31 percent of those who watched the antismoking films had taken up smoking. Among those who role-played refusing, only 19 percent had begun smoking.

Antismoking and drug education programs apply other persuasion principles, too. They use attractive peers to communicate information. They trigger the stu­ dents’ own cognitive processing (“Here’s something you might want to think about”). They get the students to make a public commitment (by making a rational decision about smoking and then announcing it, along with their reasoning, to their classmates). Some of these smoking-prevention programs require only 2-6 hours

260 Part Two Social Influence

FIGURE:: 7.13 The percentage of cigarette smokers at an “inoculated” junior high school was much less than at a matched control school using a more typical smoking education program.

Source: Data from McAlister & others (1980), Telch & others (1981).

Months of study

of class, using prepared printed materials or videotapes. Today, any school district or teacher wishing to use the social psychological approach to smoking preven­ tion can do so easily, inexpensively, and with the hope of significant reductions in future smoking rates and associated health costs.





INOCULATING CHILDREN AGAINST THE INFLUENCE OF ADVERTISING Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Italy, and Sweden all restrict advertising that targets children (McGuire, 2002). In the United States, notes Robert Levine in The Power of Persuasion: How We’re Bought and Sold, the average child sees more than 10,000 commercials a year. “Two decades ago,” he notes, “children drank twice as much milk as soda. Thanks to advertising, the ratio is now reversed” (2003, p. 16).

Smokers often develop an “initial brand choice” in their teens, stated a 1981 report from researchers at Philip Morris (Federal Trade Commission, 2003). “Today’s teenager is tomorrow’s potential regular customer, and the overwhelm­ ing majority of smokers first begin to smoke while still in their teens” (Lichtblau, 2003). That explains why some cigarette and smokeless tobacco companies aggres­ sively market to college and university students, by advertising, by sponsoring parties, and by offering free cigarettes (usually in situations in which students are also drinking), all as part of their marketing of nicotine to “entry level” smokers (Farrell, 2005).

Floping to restrain advertising’s influence, researchers have studied how to immunize young children against the effects of television commercials. Their research was prompted partly by studies showing that children, especially those under age 8 years, (1) have trouble distinguishing commercials from programs and fail to grasp their persuasive intent, (2) trust television advertising rather indiscrim­ inately, and (3) desire and badger their parents for advertised products (Adler & others, 1980; Feshbach, 1980; Palmer & Dorr, 1980). Children, it seems, are an adver­ tiser’s dream: gullible, vulnerable, and an easy sell.

Armed with these findings, citizens’ groups have given the advertisers of such products a chewing out (Moody, 1980): “When a sophisticated advertiser spends millions to sell unsophisticated, trusting children an unhealthy product, this can


only be called exploitation.” In “Mothers’ Statement to Advertisers” (Motherhood Project, 2001), a broad coalition of women echoed this outrage:

For us, our children are priceless gifts. For you, our children are customers, and childhood is a “market segment” to be exploited…. The line between meeting and cre­ ating consumer needs and desire is increasingly being crossed, as your battery of highly trained and creative experts study, analyze, persuade, and manipulate our children…. The driving messages are “You deserve a break today,” “Have it your way,” “Follow your instincts. Obey your thirst,” “Just Do It,” “No Boundaries,” “Got the Urge?” These [exemplify] the dominant message of advertising and marketing: that life is about selfishness, instant gratification, and materialism.

On the other side are the commercial interests. They claim that ads allow par­ ents to teach their children consumer skills and, more important, finance children’s television programs. In the United States, the Federal Trade Commission has been in the middle, pushed by research findings and political pressures while trymg to decide whether to place new constraints on TV ads for unhealthy foods and for R-rated movies aimed at underage youth.

Meanwhile, researchers have found that inner-city seventh-graders who are able to think critically about ads—who have “media resistance skills”—also better resist peer pressure as eighth-graders and are less likely to drink alcohol as ninth-graders (Epstein & Botvin, 2008). Researchers have also wondered whether children can be taught to resist deceptive ads. In one such effort, a team of investigators led by Norma Feshbach (1980; S. Cohen, 1980) gave small groups of Los Angeles-area elementary schoolchildren three half-hour lessons in analyzing commercials. The children were inoculated by viewing ads and discussing them. For example, after viewing a toy ad, they were immediately given the toy and challenged to make it do what they had just seen in the commercial. Such experiences helped breed a more realistic understanding of commercials.

Consumer advocates worry that inoculation may be insufficient. Better to clean the air than to wear gas masks. It is no surprise, then, that parents resent it when advertisers market products to children, then place them on lower store shelves where kids will see them, pick them up, and nag and whine until sometimes wear­ ing the parent down. For that reason, urges the “Mothers Code for Advertisers, there should be no advertising in schools, no targeting children under 8 years, no

Chapter 7 261

Children are the advertiser’s dream. Researchers have therefore studied ways to inoculate children against the more than 10,000 ads they see each year, many as they are glued to a TV set.










262 Part Two Social Influence

product placements in movies and programs targeting children and adolescents and no ads directed at children and adolescents “that promote an ethic of selfish­ ness and a focus on instant gratification” (Motherhood Project, 2001).

Implications of Attitude Inoculation The best way to build resistance to brainwashing probably is not just stronger mdoctrmation into one’s current beliefs. If parents are worried that their children might become members of a cult, they might better teach their children about the various cults and prepare them to counter persuasive appeals.

For the same reason, religious educators should be wary of creating a “germ- free ideological environment” in their churches and schools. People who live amid diverse views become more discerning and more likely to modify their views only m response to credible arguments (Levitan & Visser, 2008). Also, a challenge to one s views, if refuted, is more likely to solidify one’s position than to undermine It, particularly if the threatening material can be examined with like-minded others (Visser & Mirabile, 2004). Cults apply this principle by forewarning members of how families and friends will attack the cult’s beliefs. When the expected challenge comes, the member is armed with counterarguments.

Another implication is that, for the persuader, an ineffective appeal can be worse than none. Can you see why? Those who reject an appeal are inoculated against mrther appeals. Consider an experiment in which Susan Darley and Joel Cooper (1972) mvited students to write essays advocating a strict dress code. Because that was against the students’ own positions and the essays were to be published, all chose not to write the essay—even those offered money to do so. After turning down the money, they became even more extreme and confident in their anti-dress code opimons. Those who have rejected initial appeals to quit smoking may like­ wise become immune to further appeals. Ineffective persuasion, by stimulating the listener’s defenses, may be counterproductive. It may “harden the heart” against later appeals. ®

SUMMING UP: How Can Persuasion Be Resisted? • How do people resist persuasion? A prior public

commitment to one’s own position, stimulated per­ haps by a mild attack on the position, breeds resis­ tance to later persuasion.

• A mild attack can also serve as an inoculation, stimulating one to develop counterarguments that

will then be available if and when a strong attack comes.

• This implies, paradoxically, that one way to strengthen existing attitudes is to challenge them, although the challenge must not be so strong as to overwhelm them.

POSTSCRIPT: Being Open tfut Not Naive As recipients of persuasion, our human task is to live in the land between gullibility and cynicism. Some people say that being persuadable is a weakness. “Think for yourself, we are urged. But is being closed to informational influence a virtue, or is it the mark of a fanatic? How can we live with humility and openness to others and yet be critical consumers of persuasive appeals?

To be open, we can assume that every person we meet is, in some ways, our superior. Each person we encounter has some expertise that exceeds our own and thus has something to teach us. As we connect, we can hope to learn from this per­ son and to reciprocate by sharing our knowledge.

Persuasion Chapter 7 263

B To be critical thinkers, we might take a cue from inoculation research. Do you P want to build your resistance to false messages without becoming closed to valid I messages? Be an active listener. Force yourself to counterargue. Don’t just listen;

react. After hearing a political speech, discuss it with others. If the message cannot I withstand careful analysis, so much the worse for it. If it can, its effect on you will

be that much more enduring.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful,

committed citizens can change the world.” .. —Anthropoto.gisl. Margarel.

Tawna is nearing the end of her daily run. Her mind prods her to keep going; her body begs her to walk the remaining six blocks. She compromises and does a slow jog home. The next day condi­

tions are identical, except that two friends run with her. Tawna runs

her route 2 minutes faster. She wonders, “Did I run better merely

because Gail and Sonja went along? Would I always run better if in

a group?”

At almost every turn, we are involved in groups. Our world con­

tains not only 7 billion individuals but also 196 nation-states, 4 million

local communities, 20 million economic organizations, and hundreds

of millions of other formal and informal groups—couples having din­

ner, housemates hanging out, soldiers plotting strategy. How do such

groups influence individuals?

Group interactions often have dramatic effects. Intellectuals hang

out with other intellectuals, and they strengthen one another’s intel­

lectual interests. Deviant youth hang out with other deviant youth,

amplifying one another’s antisocial tendencies. But how do these

groups affect attitudes? And what influences lead groups to make

smart and dumb decisions?

What is a group?

Social facilitation: How are we affected by the presence of others?

Soda! loafing: Do individuals exert less effort in a group?

I Deindividuation: When do people lose their sense of self in groups?


I Group polarization: Do groups I intensi^ our opinions? iI I Groupthink: Do groups hinder I or assist good dedsions?

The influence of the minority: How i do Individuals influence the group? i! i Postscript: Are groups bad for us?

Social Influence266 Part Two

Individuals also influence their groups. As the 1957 classic film 12 Angry Men

opens, 12 wary murder trial jurors file into the jury room. It is a hot day. The tired

jurors are close to agreement and eager for a quick verdict convicting a teenage boy

of knifing his father. But one maverick, played by Henry Fonda, refuses to vote guilty.

As the heated deliberation proceeds, the jurors one by one change their minds until

they reach a unanimous verdict: “Not guilty.” In real trials, a lone individual seldom

sways the entire group. Yet history is made by minorities that sway majorities. What

helps make a minority—or a leader—persuasive?

We will examine these intriguing phenomena of group influence one at a time. But

first things first: What is a group and why do groups exist?



Two or more people who, for longer than a few moments, interact with and influence one another and perceive one another as “us.”

The answer to this question seems self-evident—until several people compare their definitions. Are jogging partners a group? Are airplane passengers a group? Is a group those who identify with one another, who sense they belong together? Is a group those who share common goals and rely on one another? Does a group form when individuals become organized? When their relationships with one another continue over time? These are among the social psychological definitions of a group (McGrath, 1984).

Group dynamics expert Marvin Shaw (1981) argued that all groups have one thing in common: Their members interact. Therefore, he defines a group as two or more people who interact and who influence one another. A pair of jogging com­ panions, then, would indeed constitute a group. Different groups help us meet dif­ ferent human needs—to affiliate (to belong to and connect with others), to achieve, and to gain a social identity (Johnson & others, 2006).

By Shaw’s definition, students working individually in a computer room would not be a group. Although physically together, they are more a collection of individuals than an interacting group (though each may be part of a group with dispersed others in an online chat room). The distinction between collec­ tions of unrelated individuals in a computer lab and the more influential group behavior among interacting individuals sometimes blurs. People who are merely in one another’s presence do sometimes influence one another. At a football game, they may perceive themselves as “us” fans in contrast with “them”—the opposing fans.

In this chapter, we consider three examples of such collective influence: social facilitation, social loafing, and deindividuation. These three phenomena can occur with minimal interaction (in what we call “minimal group situations”). Then we con­ sider three examples of social influence in interacting groups: group polarization, groupthink, and minority influence.

SUMMING UP: What Is a Group? • A group exists when two or more people interact for more than a few moments, affect one another in some

way, and think of themselves as “us.”

Group Influence Chapter 8 267


Describe how we are affected by the mere presence of another person—by people who are not competing, do not reward or punish, and in fact do nothing except be present as a passive audience or as co-actors.

The Mere Presence of Others More than a century ago, Norman Triplett (1898), a psychologist interested in bicy­ cle racing, noticed that cyclists’ times were faster when they raced together than when each one raced alone against the clock. Before he peddled his hunch (that others’ presence boosts performance), Triplett conducted one of social psycholo­ gy’s first laboratory experiments. Children told to wind string on a fishing reel as rapidly as possible wound faster when they worked with competing co-actors than when they worked alone. “The bodily presence of another contestant… serves to liberate latent energy,” concluded Triplett.

A modem reanalysis of Triplett’s data revealed that the difference did not reach statistical significance (Stroebe, 2012; Strube, 2005). But ensuing experiments did find that others’ presence improves the speed with which people do simple multi plication problems and cross out designated letters. It also improves the accuracy with which people perform simple motor tasks, such as keeping a metal stick in contact with a dime-sized disk on a moving turntable (F. H. Allport, 1920, Dashiell, 1930; Travis, 1925). This social facilitation effect also occurs with animals. In the presence of others of their species, ants excavate more sand, chickens eat more grain, and sexually active rat pairs mate more often (Bayer, 1929; Chen, 1937; Larsson, 1956).

But wait: Other studies revealed that on some tasks the presence of others hinders performance. In the presence of others, cockroaches, parakeets, and green finches learn mazes more slowly (Allee & Masure, 1936; Gates & Allee, 1933; Klopfer, 1958). This disruptive effect also occurs with people. Others’ presence diminishes efficiency at learning nonsense syllables, completing a maze, and performing complex multiplication problems (Dashiell, 1930; Pessin, 1933; Pessin & Husband, 1933).

Saying that the presence of others sometimes facilitates performance and sometimes hinders it is about as satisfying as the typical Scottish weather forecast—predicting that it might be sunny but then again it might rain. By 1940, social facilitation research ground to a halt, and it lay dormant for 25 years until awakened by the touch of a new idea.

Social psychologist Robert Zajonc (1923-2008, pronounced Zy-ence, rhymes with science) wondered whether these seem­ ingly contradictory findings could be reconciled. As often happens at creative moments in science, Zajonc (1965) used one field of research to illuminate another. The illumination

co-actors Co-participants working individually on a noncompetitive activity.

social facilitation

(1) Original meaning: the tendency of people to perform simple or well-learned tasks better when others are present. (2) Current meaning; the strengthening of dominant (prevalent, likely) responses in the presence of others.

Social facilitation: Do you ride faster when bicycling with others?

268 Part Two Social Influence

FIGURE :: 8.1 The Effects of Social Arousal Robert Zajonc reconciled apparently conflicting findings by proposing that arousal from others’ presence strengthens dominant responses (the correct responses only on easy or well- learned tasks).

(strengthen dominant responses

‘nhancing behavior

















came from a weU-established experimental psychology principle: Arousal enhances whatever response tendency is dominant. Increased arousal enhances perfor­ mance on easy tasks for which the most likely-“dominant”-response is cor­ rect. People solve easy anagrams, such as akec, fastest when aroused. On complex tasks, for which the correct answer is not dominant, increased arousal promotes uicowcf responding. On more difficult anagrams, such as theloacco, people do worse when aroused. ^ ^ uu

Could this principle solve the mystery of social facilitation? It seemed reasonable presence will arouse or energize people (Mullen & others,

997), most of us can recall feeling tense or excited in front of an audience. If social arousal facilitates dominant responses, it should boost performance on easy tasks and hurt performance on difficult tasks. ^

With that explanation, the confusing results made sense. Winding fishing reels doing simple multiplication problems, and eating were all easy tasks for wWch the resporises were well learned or naturally dominant. Sure enough, having others around boosted performance. Learning new material, doing a maze, and solving complex math problems were more difficult tasks for which the correct responses were mitially less probable. In these cases, the presence of others increased the number of incorrect responses on these tasks. The same general ru^~arousal facili- tates dominant responses—worked m both cases (Figures.!). Suddenly, what had looked like contradictory results no longer seemed contradictory. ■ so simple and elegant, left other social psychologists think­ ing what Thomas H. Huxley thought after first reading Darwin’s On the Ormn of bpecies: How extremely stupid not to have thought of that!” It seemed obvious- once Zajonc had pointed it out. Perhaps, however, the pieces fit so neatly only taHe^sfs? hindsight. Would the solution survive direct experimen-

After almost 300 studies, conducted with the help of more than 25,000 volunteers, the solution has survived (Bond & Titus, 1983; Guerin, 1993, 1999). Social arousal facilitates dominant responses, whether right or wrong. For example, Peter Hunt and Joseph Hillery (1973) found that in others’ presence, students took less time to learn a simple maze and more time to learn a complex one (just as the cockroaches do.). And James Michaels and collaborators (1982) found that good pool players in a student union (who had made 71 percent of their shots while being un^obtru- sively observed) did even better (80 percent) when four observers came up to watch them play. Poor shooters (who had previously averaged 36 percent) did even worse ^5 percent) when closely observed. Likewise, novice drivers more often fail driv­ ing tests when tested with another to-be-tested person in the car rather than alone (Rosenbloom & others, 2007).

Athletes, actors, and musicians perform well-practiced skills, which helps explain why they often perform best when energized by the responses of a supportive audience. Studies of more than a quarter million college and professional athletic events worldwide reveal that home teams win approximately 6 in 10 games (some­ what fewer for baseball and football, somewhat more for basketball and soccer, but

269Group Influence

fABLE •• 8.1 Home Advantage in Major Team Sports

Source.’Jeremy Jamieson (2010).

Sport Games Studied Percentage of Home

Games Won

Baseball 120,576 ‘ Y Y 55.6

American football 11,708 57.3

hockey … , 5a739 56.5

Basketball 30,174 63.7

consistently more than half [Table 8.1]). The home advantage may, however, also stem from the players’ familiarity with their home environment, less travel fatigue, feelings of dominance derived from territorial control, or increased team identity when cheered by fans (Zillmann & Paulus, 1993).

Crowding: The Presence of Many Others So people do respond to others’ presence. But does the presence of observers always arouse people? In times of stress, a comrade can be comforting. Never­ theless, with others present, people perspire more, breathe faster, tense their muscles more, and have higher blood pressure and a faster heart rate (Geen & Gange, 1983; Moore & Baron, 1983). Even a supportive audience may elicit poorer performance on challenging tasks (Butler & Baumeister, 1998). Having your entire extended family attend your first piano recital probably won’t boost your performance.

The effect of others’ presence increases with their number (Jackson & Latane, 1981; Knowles, 1983). Sometimes the arousal and self-conscious attention created by a large audience interferes even with well-learned, automatic behaviors, such as speaking. Given extreme pressure, we’re vulnerable to “choking.” Stutterers tend to stutter more in front of larger audiences than when speaking to just one or two people (Mullen, 1986).

Being in a crowd also intensifies positive or negative reactions. When they sit close together, friendly people are liked even more, and unfriendly people are rfisliked even more (Schiffenbauer & Schiavo, 1976; Storms & Thomas, 1977). In experiments with Columbia University students and with Ontario Science Cen­ ter visitors, Jonathan Freedman and co-workers (1979, 1980) had an accomplice listen to a humorous tape or watch a movie with other participants. When they ell sat close together, the accomplice could more readily induce the individuals to laugh and clap. As theater directors and sports fans know, and as researchers have confirmed, a “good house” is a full house (Aiello & others, 1983; Worchel & Brown, 1984).

Perhaps you’ve noticed that a class of 35 students feels more warm and lively in a room that seats just 35 than when spread around a room that seats 100. When oth­ ers are close by, we are more likely to notice and join in their laughter or clapping. But crowding also enhances arousal, as Gary Evans (1979) foimd. He tested 10-person groups of University of Massachusetts students, either in a room 20 by 30 feet or in one 8 by 12 feet. Compared with those in the large room, those densely packed had higher pulse rates and blood pressure (indicating arousal). On difficult tasks they made more errors, an effect of crowding replicated by Dinesh Nagar and Janak Pandey (1987) with university students in India. Crowding, then, has a similar effect to being observed by a crowd: it enhances arousal, which facilitates dominant responses.

Chapter 8

Heightened arousal in crowded homes also tends to increase stress. Crozvding produces less distress in homes divided into many spaces, however, enabling people to withdraw in privacy (Evans & others, 1996,2000).

270 Part Two Social Influence

Why Are We Aroused in the Presence of Others? What you do well, you will be energized to do best in front of others (unless you become hyperaroused and self-conscious). What you find difficult may seem impossible in the same circumstances. What is it about other people that creates arousal? Evidence supports three possible factors (Aiello & Douthitt, 2001; Fein- berg & Aiello, 2006): evaluation apprehension, distraction, and mere presence.

EVALUATION APPREHENSION Nicholas Cottrell surmised that observers make us apprehensive because we wonder how they are evaluating us. To test whether evaluation apprehension exists, Cottrell and associates (1968) blindfolded observers, supposedly in preparation for a perception experiment. In con­

trast to the effect of the watching audience, the mere presence of these blindfolded people did not boost well-practiced responses.

Other experiments confirmed Cottrell’s conclusion: The enhancement of dominant responses is strongest when people think they are being evaluated. In one experi­ ment, individuals running on a University of California at Santa Barbara jogging path sped up as they came upon a woman seated on the grass—she was facing them rather than sitting with her back turned (Worringham & Messick, 1983).

The self-consciousness we feel when being evaluated can also interfere with behaviors that we perform best automatically (Mullen & Baumeister, 1987). If self- conscious basketball players analyze their body movements while shooting critical free throws, they are more likely to miss.

A good house is a full house, as James Maas’s Cornell University introductory psychology students experienced in this 2000-seat auditorium. If the class had 100 students meeting in this large space, it would feel much less energized.

evaluation apprehension Concern for how others are evaluating us.

DRIVEN BY DISTRACTION Glenn Sanders, Robert Baron, and Danny Moore (1978; Baron, 1986) carried evalu­ ation apprehension a step further. They theorized that when we wonder how co­ actors are doing or how an audience is reacting, we become distracted. This conflict between paying attention to others and paying attention to the task overloads our cognitive sptem, causing arousal. We are “driven by distraction.” This arousal comes not just from the presence of another person but even from a nonhuman distraction, such as bursts of light (Sanders, 1981a, 1981b).

MERE PRESENCE Zajonc, however, believed that the mere presence of others produces some arousal even without evaluation apprehension or arousing distraction. Recall that facilitation effects also occur with nonhuman animals. This hints at an innate social arousal mechanism common to much of the zoological world. (Animals probably are not consciously worrying about how other animals are evaluating them.) At the human level, most runners are energized when running with some­ one else, even one who neither competes nor evaluates. And university rowing team members, perhaps aided by an endorphin boost from the communal activ­ ity, tolerate twice as much pain after rowing together rather than solo (Cohen & others, 2009).

This is a good time to remind ourselves that a good theory is a scientific shorthand: It simplifies and summarizes a variety of observations. Social facilitation theory does this well. It is a simple summary of many research findings. A good theory also offers

271Group Influence Chapters

clear predictions that (1) help confirm or modify the theory, (2) guide new exploration, and (3) suggest practical applications. Social facilitation theory l^as definitely generated the first two types of prediction: (1) The basics of the theory (that the presence of others is arousing and that this social arousal enhances dominant responses) have been confirmed, and (2) the theory has brought new life to a long-dormant field of research.

Are there (3) some practical appli­ cations? We can make some educated guesses. As Figure 8.2 shows, many new office buildings have replaced private offices with large, open areas divided by low partitions. Might the resulting awareness of others’ pres­ ence help boost the performance of well-learned tasks but disrupt creative thinking on complex tasks? Can you think of other possible applications?

FIGURE 8.2 In the ‘open-office plan,’ people work in the presence of others. Increasingly, office environments provide their workers with “col­ laborative spaces” (Arieff, 2011).

HUMMING UP: Social Facilitation: How Are We Affected by the Presence of Others?

Social psychology’s most elementary issue con­ cerns the mere presence of others. Some early experiments on this question found that perfor­ mance improved with observers or co-actors pres­ ent. Others found that the presence of others can hurt performance. Robert Zajonc reconciled those findings by applying a well-known principle from experimental psychology: Arousal facilitates domi­ nant responses. Because the presence of others is arousing, the presence of observers or co-actors boosts performance on easy tasks (for which the correct response is dominant) and hinders

performance on difficult tasks (for which incorrect responses are dominant). Being in a crowd, or in crowded conditions, is simi­ larly arousing and facilitates dominant responses. But why are we aroused by others’ presence? Experiments suggest that the arousal stems partly from evaluation apprehension and partly from distraction—a conflict between paying attention to others and concentrating on the task. Other experi­ ments, including some with animals, suggest that the presence of others can be arousing even when we are not evaluated or distracted.


Assess the level of individual effort we can expect from members of work groups. In a team tug-of-war, will eight people on a side exert as much force as the sum of their best efforts in individual tugs-of-war? If not, why not?

Social facilitation usually occurs when people work toward individual goals and when their efforts, whether winding fishing reels or solving math problems, can be individually evaluated. These situations parallel some everyday work situations.

Social Influence272 Part Two

But what about those in which people pool their efforts toward a common goal and where individuals are not accountable for their efforts? A team tug-of-war provides one such example. Organizational fund-raising—pooling candy sale pro­ ceeds to pay for the class trip—provides another. So does a class group project on which all students get the same grade. On such “additive tasks”—tasks where the group’s achievement depends on the sum of the individual efforts—will team spirit boost productivity? Will bricklayers lay bricks faster when working as a team than when working alone? One way to attack such questions is with labora­ tory simulations.

social ioafiag The tendency for people to exert less effort when they pool their efforts toward a common goal than when they are individually accountable.

Many Hands Make Light Work Nearly a century ago, French engineer Max Ringelmann (reported by Kravitz & Martin, 1986) found that the collective effort of tug-of-war teams was but half the sum of the individual efforts. Contrary to the presumption that “in unity there is strength,” this suggested that group members may actually be less motivated when performing additive tasks. Maybe, though, poor performance stemmed from poor coordination—people pulling a rope in slightly different directions at slightly different times. A group of Massachusetts researchers led by Alan Ingham (1974) cleverly eliminated that problem by making individuals think others were pulling with them, when in fact they were pulling alone. Blindfolded participants were assigned the first position in the apparatus shown in Figure 8.3 and told. Pull as hard as you can.” They pulled 18 percent harder when they knew they

were pulling alone than when they believed that behind them two to five people were also pulling.

Researchers Bibb Latane, Kipling Williams, and Stephen Harkins (1979; Harkins & others, 1980) kept their ears open for other ways to investigate this diminished effort, which they labeled social loafing. They observed that the noise produced by six people shouting or clapping “as loud as you can” was less than three times that produced by one person alone. Like the tug-of-war task, how­ ever, noisemaking is vulnerable to group inefficiency. So Latane and associates followed Ingham s example by leading their Ohio State University participants to believe others were shouting or clapping with them, when in fact they were doing so alone.

Their method was to blindfold six people, seat them in a semicircle, and have them put on headphones, over which they were blasted with the sound of people shouting or clapping. People could not hear their own shouting or clapping, much less that of others. On various trials they were instructed to shout or clap either

FIGURE:: 8.3 The Rope-Pulling Apparatus People in the first position pulled less hard when they thought people behind them were also pulling. Source: Data from Ingham, lev- inger, Graves, & Peckham, 1974. Photo by Alan G. Ingham.

273Group Influence

alone or along with the group. People who were told about this experiment guessed the participants would shout louder when with others, because they would be less inhibited (Harkins, 1981). The actual result? Social loafing: When the participants believed five others were also either shouting or clapping, they produced one-third less noise than when they thought themselves alone. Social loafing occurred even when the participants were high school cheerleaders who believed themselves to be cheering together rather than alone (Hardy & Latane, 1986).

Curiously, those who clapped both alone and in groups did not view themselves as loafing; they perceived themselves as clapping equally in both situations. This parallels what happens when students work on group projects for a shared grade. Williams reports that all agree loafing occurs—but no one admits to doing the loafing.

John Sweeney (1973), a political scientist interested in the policy implications of social loafing, observed the phenomenon in a cycling experiment. University of Texas students pumped exercise bicycles more energetically (as measured by elec­ trical output) when they knew they were being individually monitored than when they thought their output was being pooled with that of other riders. In the group condition, people were tempted to free-ride on the group effort.

In this and 160 other studies (Karau & Williams, 1993; Figure 8.4), we see a twist on one of the psychological forces that makes for social facilitation: evaluation apprehension. In the social loafing experiments, individuals believed they were evaluated only when they acted alone. The group situation (rope pulling, shouting, and so forth) decreased evaluation apprehension. When people are not accountable and cannot evaluate their own efforts, responsibility is diffused across all group members (Harkins & Jackson, 1985; Kerr & Bruun, 1981). By contrast, the social facilitation experiments increased exposure to evaluation. When made the center of attention, people self-consciously monitor their behavior (Mullen & Baumeister, 1987). So, when being observed increases evaluation concerns, social facilitation occurs; when being lost in a crowd decreases evaluation concerns, social loafing occurs (Figure 8.5).

To motivate group members, one strategy is to make individual performance identifiable. Some football coaches do this by filming and evaluating each player individually. Whether in a group or not, people exert more effort when their out­ puts are individually identifiable: University swim team members swim faster in intrasquad relay races when someone monitors and announces their individual times (Williams & others, 1989).

% Percent of individual performance


free riders People who benefit from the group but give little in return.

FIGURE :: 8.4 Effort Decreases as Group Size Increases A statistical digest of 49 studies, involving more than 4000 participants, revealed that effort decreases (loafing increases) as the size of the group increases. Each dot represents the aggregate data from one of these studies.

Source: From K. D. Williams, J. M. Jackson, & S. J. Karau, in Social Dilemmas: Perspectives on Individuals and Groups, edited by D. A. Schroeder. Copyright © 1992 by Praeger Publishers. Reprinted with permission of Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc., Westport, CT.

274 Part Two Social Influence

Individual efforts evaluated

Others’ presence

Individual efforts pooled and NOT evaluated

FIGURE :: 8.5 Social Facilitation or Social Loafing? When individuals cannot be evaluated or held accountable, loafing becomes more likely. An individual swimmer is evaluated on her ability to win the race. In tug-of-war, no single person on the team is held accountable, so any one member might relax or loaf.

Social Loafing in Everyday Life How widespread is social loafing? In the laboratory, the phenomenon occurs not only among people who are pulling ropes, cycling, shouting, and clapping but also among those who are pumping water or air, evaluating poems or editorials, pro­ ducing ideas, typing, and detecting signals. Do these consistent results generalize to everyday worker productivity?

In one small experiment, assembly-line workers produced 16 percent more product when their individual output was identified, even though they knew their pay would not be affected (Faulkner & Williams, 1996). And consider: A key job in a pickle factory once was picking the right size dill pickle halves off the conveyor belt and stuffing them into jars. Unfortunately, workers were tempted to stuff any size pickle in, because their output was not identifiable (the jars went into a common hopper before reaching the quality-control section). Williams, Harkins, and Latane (1981) note that research on social loafing suggests “making individual production identifiable, and raises the question: ‘How many pickles could a pickle packer pack if pickle packers were only paid for properly packed pickles?’”

Researchers have also found evidence of social loafing in varied cultures, par­ ticularly by assessing agricultural output in formerly communist countries. On their collective farms under communism, Russian peasants worked one field one day, another field the next, with little direct responsibility for any given plot. For their own use, they were given small private plots. One analysis found that the private plots occupied 1 percent of the agricultural land, yet produced 27 percent

Group Influence Chapter 8 275

of the Soviet farm output (H. Smith, 1976). In communist Hungary, private plots accounted for only 13 percent of the farmland but produced one-third of the output (Spivak, 1979). When China began allowing farmers to sell food grown in excess of that owed to the state, food production ^ped 8 percent per year—2.5 times the annual increase in the preceding 26 years (Church, 1986). In an effort to tie rewards to productive effort, today’s Russia is “decollectiv- izing” many of its farms (Kramer, 2008).

What about collectivist cultures under noncommunist regimes? Latane and co-researchers (Gabrenya & others, 1985) repeated their sound-production experiments in Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, India, and Malaysia. Their find­ ings? Social loafing was evident in all those countries, too. Seventeen later studies in Asia reveal that people in col­ lectivist cultures do, however, exhibit less social loafing than do people in individualist cultures (Karau & Williams, 1993; Kugihara, 1999). As we noted in Chapter 2, loyalty to family and work groups runs strong in collectivist cultures. Likewise, women (as Chapter 5 explained) tend to be less individualistic than men—and to exhibit less social loafing. .

In North America, workers who do not pay dues or volunteer time to their unions or professional associations nevertheless are usually happy to accept the benefits those organizations provide. So, too, are public television viewers who don’t respond to their station’s fund drives. This hints at another possible explana­ tion of social loafing. When rewards are divided equally, regardless of how much one contributes to the group, any individual gets more reward per unit of effort by free-riding on the group. So people may be motivated to slack off when their efforts are not individually monitored and rewarded. Situations that welcome free riders can therefore be, in the words of one commune member, a “paradise for parasites.”

But surely collective effort does not always lead to slacking off. Sometimes the goal is so compelling and maximum output from everyone is so essential that team spirit maintains or intensifies effort. In an Olympic crew race, will the individual rowers in an eight-person crew pull their oars with less effort than those in a one- or two-person crew?

The evidence assures us they will not. People in groups loaf less when the task is challenging, appealing, or involving (Karau & Williams, 1993; Tan & Tan, 2008). On challenging tasks, people may perceive their efforts as indispensable (Harkins & Petty, 1982; Kerr, 1983; Kerr & others, 2007). When people see others in their group as unreliable or as unable to contribute much, they work harder (Plaks & Higgins, 2000; Williams & Karau, 1991). But, in many situations, so do less capable indi­ viduals as they strive to keep up with others’ greater productivity (Weber & Hertel, 2007). Adding incentives or challenging a group to strive for certain standards also promotes collective effort (Harkins & Szymanski, 1989; Shepperd & Wright, 1989). Group members will work hard when convinced that high effort will bring rewards (Shepperd & Taylor, 1999).

Groups also loaf less when their members are friends or they feel identified with or indispensable to their group (Davis & Greenlees, 1992; Gockel & others, 2008, Karau & Williams, 1997; Worchel & others, 1998). Even just expecting to interact with someone again serves to increase effort on team projects (Groenenboom & oth­ ers, 2001). Collaborate on a class project with others whom you will be seeing often and you will probably feel more motivated than you would if you never expected to see them again. Cohesiveness intensifies effort.

These findings parallel those from studies of everyday work groups. When groups are given challenging objectives, when they are rewarded for group success.

Teamwork at the Charles River regatta in Boston. Social loafing occurs when people work in groups but without individual accountability—unless the task is challenging, appealing, or involving and the group members are friends.

276 Part Two Social Influence

and when there is a spirit of commitment to the “team,” group members work hard (Hacl^an, 1986). Keeping work groups small can also help members believe their contributions are indispensable (Comer, 1995). Although social loafing is common wheii group members work without individual accountability, many hands need not always make light work. ^ °

SUMMlNGj^ Social Loafing: Do Individuals Exert Less

Effort in a Group? Social facilitation researchers study people’s per­ formance on tasks where they can be evaluated individually. However, in many work situations, people pool their efforts and work toward a com­ mon goal without individual accountability. Group members often work less hard when per­ forming such “additive tasks.” This finding parallels

everyday situations in which diffused responsibility tempts individual group members to free-ride on the group’s effort. People may, however, put forth even more effort m a group when the goal is important, rewards are significant, and team spirit exists.


Define deindividuation” and identify circumstances that trigger it.

‘TK 1^”r American troops entering Iraq’s dhes, looters- los^ bpT’^Th’^T Saddam Hussein’s police-ran rampant. Hospitals lost beds. The National Library lost tens of thousands of old manuscripts and lay in ^oldermg rums. Umyersities lost computers, chairs, even lightbulbs. The National Museum m Baghdad lost 15,000 stolen objects—most of what had not previously

2003a, 2003b; Lawler, 2003c; Polk & Schuster, 2005). Not smce the Spanish conquistadors ravaged the Aztec and Inca cultures has so much been lost so quickly,” reported Science (Lawler, 2003a). “They came m mobs. A group of 50 would come, then would go, and another would come,” explained one umversity dean (Lawler, 2003b).

2011 arson and looting that occurred in London d other English cities—had the rest of the world wondering; What happened to

the looters sense of morality? Why did such behavior erupt? And why was it not anhcipated? th^>!^T even left many of the rioters later wondering what possessed fWh “pniT seemed bewildered by their behavior h^^p’r H Tu ^ university graduate, explained

that her daughter had been sobbing in her bedroom since her arrest over a stolen television. She doesn t even know why she took it. She doesn’t need a telly.” An engineering student, arrested after looting a supermarket while he was walking home, was said by his lawyer to having “got caught up in the moment” and was now incredibly ashamed” (Somaiya, 2011).

Group Influence Chapters 277

Doing Together What We Would (Slot Do Alone Social facilitation experiments show that groups can arouse people, and social loafing experiments show that groups can diffuse responsibility. When arousal and diffused responsi­ bility combine, and normal inhibitions diminish, the results may be startling. People may commit acts that range from a mild lessening of restraint (throwing food in the dining hall, snarling at a referee, screaming during a rock concert) to impulsive self-gratification (group vandalism, orgies, thefts) to destructive social explosions (police brutality, riots, lynchings).

These unrestrained behaviors have something in com­ mon: They are somehow provoked by the power of a group. Groups can generate a sense of excitement, of being caught up in something bigger than one’s self. It is harder to imagine a single rock fan screaming deliriously at a private rock con­ cert, or a single police officer beating a defenseless offender or suspect. It’s in group situations that people are more likely to abandon normal restraints, to forget their individual iden­ tity, to become responsive to group or crowd norms—in a word, to become what Leon Festinger, Albert Pepitone, and Theodore Newcomb (1952) labeled deindividuated. What circumstances elicit this psychological state?


Apparently acting without their normal conscience, people looted Iraqi institutions after the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

A group has the power not only to arouse its members but also to render them unidentifiable. The snarling crowd hides the snarling basketball fan. A lynch mob enables its members to believe they will not be prosecuted; they perceive the action as the group’s. Looters, made faceless by the mob, are freed to loot. In an analysis of 21 instances in which crowds were present as someone threatened to jump from a building or a bridge, Leon Mann (1981) found that when the crowd was small and exposed by daylight, people usually did not try to bait the person with cries of “Jump!” But when a large crowd or the cover of night gave people anonymity, the crowd usually did bait and jeer.

Brian Mullen (1986) reported a similar effect associated with lynch mobs: The bigger the mob, the more its members lose self-awareness and become willing to commit atrocities, such as burning, lacerating, or dismembering the victim.

In each of these examples, from sports crowds to lynch mobs, evaluation appre­ hension plummets. People’s attention is focused on the situation, not on them­ selves. And because “everyone is doing it,” all can attribute their behavior to the situation rather than to their own choices.

deindividuation Loss of self-awareness and evaluation apprehension; occurs in group situations that foster responsiveness to group norms, good or bad.

ANONYMITY How can we be sure that the effect of crowds means greater anonymity? We can’t. But we can experiment with anonymity to see if it actually lessens inhibitions. Philip Zimbardo (1970, 2002) got the idea for such an experiment from his undergradu­ ate students, who questioned how good boys in William Golding’s Lord of the Flies could so suddenly become monsters after painting their faces. To experiment with such anonymity, he dressed New York University women in identical white coats and hoods, rather like Ku Klux Klan members (Figure 8.6). Asked to deliver electric shocks to a woman, they pressed the shock button twice as long as did women who Were unconcealed and wearing large name tags. Even dimmed lighting or wearing

278 Part Two Social Influence

FIGURE:: 8.6 In Philip Zimbardo’s deindividuation research, anonymous women delivered more shock to helpless victims than did identifiable women.

sunglasses increases people’s perceived anonymity, and thus their willingness to cheat or behave selfishly (Zhong & others, 2010).

The Internet offers similar anonymity. Millions of those who were aghast at the looting by the Baghdad mobs were on those very days anonymously pirating musk tracks using file-sharing software. With so many doing it, and with so little con­ cern about being caught, downloading someone’s copyright-protected property and then offloading it to an MP3 player just didn’t seem terribly immoral. When compared with face-to-face conversations, the anonymity offered by chat rooms, newsgroups, and listservs also has been observed to foster higher levels of hostile, uninhibited “flaming” behavior (Douglas & McCarty, 2001). Internet bullies who would never to someone’s face say, “Get a life, you phony,” will hide behind their anonymity. Facebook, to its credit, requires people to use their real names, which constrains the bullying, hate-filled, and inflammatory comments.

On several occasions, anonymous online bystanders have egged on people threatening suicide, sometimes with live video feeding the scene to scores of peo­ ple. Online communities “are like the crowd outside the building with the guy on the ledge,” noted one analyst of technology’s social effects (quoted by Stelter, 2008). Sometimes a caring person tried to talk the person down, while others, in effect, chanted, Jump, jump.” “The anonymous nature of these communities only emboldens the meanness or callousness of the people on these sites.”

Testing deindividuation on the streets, Patricia Ellison, John Govern, and their colleagues (1995) had a confederate driver stop at a red light and wait for 12 sec­ onds whenever she was followed by a convertible or a 4 X 4 vehicle. While endur­ ing the wait, she recorded any horn-honking (a mild aggressive act) by the car behind. Compared with drivers of convertibles and 4 X 4s with the car tops down, those who were relatively anonymous (with the tops up) honked one-third sooner, twice as often, and for nearly twice as long. Anonymity feeds incivility.

A research team led by Ed Diener (1976) cleverly demonstrated the effect both of being in a group and of being physically anonymous. At Halloween, they observed 1,352 Seattle children trick-or-treating. As the children, either alone or in groups, approached 1 of 27 homes scattered throughout the city, an experimenter greeted them warmly, invited them to “take one of the candies,” and then left the candy unattended. Hidden observers noted that children in groups were more than twice as likely to take extra candy as solo children. Also, children who had been asked their names and where they lived were less than half as likely to transgress as those who were left anonymous. As Figure 8.7 shows, the transgression rate varied dra­ matically with the situation. When they were deindividuated both by group immer­ sion and by anonymity, most children stole extra candy.

279Group Influence Chapter 8

Percent transgressing

Alone In groups

FIGURE:: 8.7 Children were more likely to transgress by taking extra Halloween candy when in a group, when anonymous, and, especially, when deindividuated by the combination of group immersion and anonymity.

Source: Data from Diener & others (1976).

Those studies make me wonder about the effect of wearing uniforms. Prepar­ ing for battle, warriors in some tribal cultures (like some rabid sports fans) deper­ sonalize themselves with body and face paints or special masks. After the battle, some cultures kill, torture, or mutilate any remaining enemies; other cultures take prisoners alive. Robert Watson (1973) scrutinized anthropological files and dis­ covered this: The cultures with depersonalized warriors were also the cultures that brutalized their enemies. In Northern Ireland, 206 of 500 violent attacks stud­ ied by Andrew Silke (2003) were conducted by attackers who wore masks, hoods, or other face disguises. Compared with undisguised attackers, these anonymous attackers inflicted more serious injuries, attacked more people, and committed more vandalism.

Does becoming physically anonymous always unleash our worst impulses? For­ tunately, no. In all these situations, people were responding to clear antisocial cues. Robert Johnson and Leslie Downing (1979) point out that the Klan-like outfits worn by Zimbardo’s participants may have been stimulus cues for hostility. In an experi­ ment at the University of Georgia, women put on nurses’ uniforms before deciding how much shock someone should receive. When those wearing the nurses’ uni­ forms were made anonymous, they became less aggressive in administering shocks than when their names and personal identities were stressed. From their analysis of 60 deindividuation studies, Tom Postmes and Russell Spears (1998; Reicher & others, 1995) concluded that being anonymous makes one less self-conscious, more group-conscious, and more responsive to cues present in the situation, whether negative (Klan uniforms) or positive (nurses’ uniforms).

arousing and DISTRACTING ACTIVITIES Aggressive outbursts by large groups are often preceded by minor actions that arouse and divert people’s attention. Group shouting, chanting, clapping, or danc­ ing serve both to hype people up and to reduce self-consciousness.

Ed Diener’s experiments (1976,1979) have shown that activities such as throwing rocks and group singing can set the stage for more disinhibited behavior. There is a self-reinforcing pleasure in acting impulsively while observing others doing like- ‘vise. When we see others act as we are acting, we think they feel as we do, which reinforces our own feelings (Orive, 1984). Moreover, impulsive group action absorbs nur attention. When we yell at the referee, we are not thinking about our values; we are reacting to the immediate situation. Later, when we stop to think about what we nave done or said, we sometimes feel chagrined. Sometimes. At other times we seek

280 Part Two Social Influence










-YI-FU TUAN, 1982

self-awareness A self-conscious state in which attention focuses on oneself. It makes people more sensitive to their own attitudes and dispositions.

deindividuating group experiences—dances, worship experiences, team sports— where we can enjoy intense positive feelings and closeness to others.

Diminished Self-Awareness Group experiences that diminish self-consciousness tend to disconnect behavior from attitudes. Research by Ed Diener (1980) and Steven Prentice-Dunn and Ronald Rogers (1980, 1989) revealed that unself-conscious, deindividuated people are less restrained, less self-regulated, more likely to act without thinking about their own values, and more responsive to the situation. Those findings complement and rein­ force the experiments on self-awareness.

Self-awareness is the opposite of deindividuation. Those made self-aware, by acting in front of a mirror or a TV camera, exhibit increased self-control, and their actions more clearly reflect their attitudes. In front of a mirror, people taste-testing cream cheese varieties eat less of the high-fat variety (Sentyrz & Bushman, 1998).

People made self-aware are also less likely to cheat (Beaman & others, 1979; Diener & Wallbom, 1976). So are those who generally have a strong sense of themselves as distinct and independent (Nadler & others, 1982). In Japan, where (mirror or no mirror) people more often imagine how they might look to others, people are no more likely to cheat when not in front of a mirror (Heine & others, 2008). The principle: People who are self-conscious, or who are temporarily made so, exhibit greater consistency between their words outside a situation and their deeds in it.

We can apply those findings to many situations in everyday life. Circumstances that decrease self-awareness, as alcohol consumption does, increase deindividua­ tion (Hull & others, 1983). Deindividuation decreases in circumstances that increase self-awareness: mirrors and cameras, small towns, bright lights, large name tags, undistracted quiet, individual clothes and houses (Ickes & others, 1978). When a teenager leaves for a party, a parent’s parting advice could well be “Have fun, and remember who you are.” In other words, enjoy being with the group, but be self- aware; maintain your personal identity; be wary of deindividuation.

SUMMING UP: Deindividuation: When Do People Lose Their Sense of Self in Groups?

• When high levels of social arousal combine with dif- • The resulting diminished self-awareness and self- fused responsibility, people may abandon their nor- restraint tend to increase people’s responsiveness to mal restraints and lose their sense of individuality. the immediate situation, be it negative or positive.

• Such deindividuation is especially likely when peo- Deindividuation is less likely when self-awareness pie are in a large group, are physically anonymous, high. and are aroused and distracted.


Describe and explain how interaction with like-minded people tends to amplify preexisting attitudes.

Many conflicts grow as people on both sides talk mostly with like-minded others. Which effect—good or bad—does group interaction more often have? Police bru­ tality and mob violence demonstrate its destructive potential. Yet support-group

Group Influence Chapter 8 281

leaders, management consultants, and educational theorists proclaim group inter­ action’s benefits, and social and religious movements urge their members to strengthen their identities by fellowship with like-minded others.

Studies of people in small groups have produced a principle that helps explain both bad and good outcomes: Group discussion often strengthens members’ initial inclina­ tions. The unfolding of this research on group polarization illustrates the process of inquiry—how an interesting discovery often leads researchers to hasty and erroneous conclusions, which ultimately are replaced with more accurate conclusions. This is a scientific mystery I can discuss firsthand, having been one of the detectives.

The Case of the “Risky Shift” More than 300 studies began with a surprising finding by James Stoner (1961), then an MIT graduate student. For his master’s thesis in management, Stoner tested the commonly held belief that groups are more cautious than individuals. He posed decision dilemmas in which the participant’s task was to advise imagined char­ acters how much risk to take. Put yourself in the participant’s shoes: What advice would you give the character in this situation?’

Helen is a writer who is said to have considerable creative talent but who so far has been earning a comfortable living by writing cheap westerns. Recently she has come up with an idea for a potentially significant novel. If it could be written and accepted, it might have considerable literary impact and be a big boost to her career. On the other hand, if she cannot work out her idea or if the novel is a flop, she will have expended considerable time and energy without remuneration.

Imagine that you are advising Helen. Please check the lowest probability that you would consider acceptable for Helen to attempt to write the novel.

Helen should attempt to write the novel if the chances that the novel will be a suc­ cess are at least

____linlO ____ 2 in 10 ____ 3 in 10 ____ 4inl0 ____ Sin 10 ____6 in 10 ____ 7 in 10 ____Sin 10 ____9 in 10 ____ 10 in 10 (Place a check here if you think Helen should attempt the novel only

if it is certain that the novel will be a success.)

After making your decision, guess what this book’s average reader would advise. Having marked their advice on a dozen items, five or so individuals would then

discuss and reach agreement on each item. How do you think the group decisions compared with the average decision before the discussions? Would the groups be likely to take greater risks, be more cautious, or stay the same?

To everyone’s amazement, the group decisions were usually riskier. This “risky shift phenomenon’^ set off a wave of group risk-taking studies. These revealed that risky shift occurs not only when a group decides by consensus; after a brief discus­ sion, individuals, too, will alter their decisions. What is more, researchers success­ fully repeated Stoner’s finding with people of varying ages and occupations in a dozen nations.

During discussion, opinions converged. Curiously, however, the point toward which they converged was usually a lower (riskier) number than their initial average. Here was a delightful puzzle. The small risky shift effect was reliable, unexpected, and without any immediately obvious explanation. What group influ­ ences produce such an effect? And how widespread is it? Do discussions in juries.

group polarization Group-produced enhancement of members’ preexisting tendencies; a strengthening of the members’ average tendency, not a split within the group.

This item, constructed for mv own research, illustrates the sort of decision dilemma posed by Stoner.

282 Part Two Social influence

business committees, and military organizations also promote risk taking? Does ^is explain why teenage reckless driving, as measured by death rates, nearly dou- bles when a 16- or 17-year-old driver has two teenage passengers rather than none (Chen & others, 2000)? Does it explain stock bubbles, as people discuss why stocks are rismg, thus creaHng an informational cascade that drives stocks even higher (Sunstein, 2009)? ^ ^

After several years of study, we discovered that the risky shift was not universal. We could write decision dilemmas on which people became more cautious after discussion. One of these featured “Roger,” a young married man with two school- age children and a secure but low-paying job. Roger can afford life’s necessities but few of Its luxuries. He hears that the stock of a relatively unknown company may soon triple m value if its new product is favorably received or decline considerably if It does not sell. Roger has no savings. To invest in the company, he is considering selling his life insurance policy. °

Can you see a general principle that predicts both the tendency to give riskier advice after discussing Helen’s situation and more cautious advice after discussing Roger s? If you are like most people, you would advise Helen to take a greater risk than Roger, even before talking with others. It turns out there is a strong tendency for discussion to accentuate these initial leanings; groups discussing the “Roger” dilemma became more risk-averse than they were before discussion.

Do Groups Intensify Opinions? Realizing that this group phenomenon was not a consistent shift toward increased risk, we reconceived the phenomenon as a tendency for group discussion to enhance group members’ initial leanings. This idea led investigators to propose what French researchers Serge Moscovici and Marisa Zavalloni (1969) called group polarization: Discussion typically strengthens the average inclination of group members.

FIGURE :: 8.8 Group Polarization The group polarization hypothesis predicts that discussion will strengthen an attitude shared by group members.

GROUP POLARIZATION EXPERIMENTS This new view of the group-induced changes prompted experimenters to have people discuss attitude statements that most of them favored, or that most of them opposed. Would talking in groups enhance their shared initial inclinations? In groups, would risk takers take bigger risks, bigots become more hostile, and giv­ ers become more generous? That’s what the group polarization hypothesis predicts (Figure 8.8). ^

Dozens of studies confirm group polarization.

Moscovici and Zavalloni (1969) observed that discussion enhanced French students initially positive attitude toward their president and negative atti­ tude toward Americans.

• Mititoshi Isozaki (1984) found that Japanese university students gave more pronounced judg­ ments of “guilty” after discussing a traffic case. When jury members are inclined to award damages, the group award similarly tends to exceed that preferred by the median jury member (Sunstein, 2007a).

• Markus Brauer and co-workers (2001) found that French students’ dislike for certain other people was exacerbated after discussing their shared negative impressions.

Before After discussion discussion

Group Influence Chapter 8 283

Another research strategy has been to pick issues on which opinions are divided and then isolate people who hold the same view. Does discussion with like- minded people strengthen shared views? Does it magnify the attitude gap that sep­ arates the two sides?

George Bishop and I wondered. So we set up groups of relatively prejudiced and unprejudiced high school students and asked them to respond—before and after discussion—to issues involving racial atti­ tudes, such as property rights versus open housing (Myers & Bishop, 1970). We found that the discussions among like-minded students did indeed increase the initial gap between the two groups (Figure 8.9).

Studies in Britain and Australia con­ firm that group discussion can magnify both negative and positive tendencies. When people share negative impressions of a group, such as an immigrant group, discussion supports their negativity and increases their willingness to discriminate (Smith & Postmes, 2011). And when people share concern about an injustice, discussion amplifies their moral concern (Thomas & McGarty, 2009).

GROUP POLARIZATION IN EVERYDAY LIFE In everyday life, people associate mostly with others whose attitudes are simi­ lar to their own. (See Chapter 11, or just look at your own circle of friends.) Does everyday group interaction with like-minded friends intensify shared attitudes? Do nerds become nerdier and jocks jockier?

It happens. The self-segregation of boys into all-male groups and of girls into all-female groups accentuates over time their initially modest gender differences, notes Eleanor Maccoby (2002). Boys with boys become gradually more competitive and action oriented in their play and fictional fare. Girls with girls become more relationally oriented.

On U.S. federal appellate court cases, “Republican-appointed judges tend to vote like Republicans and Democratic-appointed judges tend to vote like Democrats,” David Schkade and Cass Sunstein (2003) have observed. No surprise there. But such tendencies are accentuated when among like-minded judges. “A Republican appoin­ tee sitting with two other Republicans votes far more conservatively than when the same judge sits with at least one Democratic appointee. A Democratic appointee, meanwhile, shows the same tendency in the opposite ideological direction.”

group POLARIZATION IN SCHOOLS Another real-life parallel to the labo­ ratory phenomenon is what education researchers have called the “accentuation” effect: Over time, initial differences among groups of college students become accentuated. If the first-year students at college X are initially more intellectual than the students at college Y, that gap is likely to increase by the time they graduate. Likewise, compared with fraternity and sorority members, independents tend to have more liberal political attitudes, a difference that grows with time in college (Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991). Researchers believe this results partly from group members reinforcing shared inclinations.

group POLARIZATION IN COMMUNITIES Polarization also occurs in com­ munities, as people self-segregate. “Crunchy places … attract crunchy types and become crunchier,” observes David Brooks (2005). “Conservative places … attract

FIGURE :: 8.9 Discussion increased polarization between homogeneous groups of high- and low-prejudice high school students. Talking over racial issues increased prejudice in a high-prejudice group and decreased it in a low-prejudice group. Source: Data from Myers & Bishop (1970).






IN THE 1990s?… THE






284 Part Two Social Influence

Animal gangs. The pack Is more than the sum of the wolves.

In two trials, South African courts reduced sentences after learning how social psychological phenomena, including deindividuation and group polarization, led crowd members to commit murderous acts (Colman, 1991). What do you think: Should courts consider social psychological phenomena as possible extenuating circumstances?

conservatives and become more so.” Neighborhoods become echo chambers, with opinions ricocheting off kindred-spirited friends.

Show social psychologists a like-minded group that interacts mostly among themselves and they will show you a group that may become more extreme. One experiment assembled small groups of Coloradoans in liberal Boulder and conser­ vative Colorado Springs. The discussions increased agreement within small groups about global warming, affirmative action, and same-sex unions. Nevertheless, those in Boulder generally converged further left and those in Colorado Springs further right (Schkade & others, 2007).

With communities serving as political echo chambers, the United States is increasingly polarized. Political clustering even appears in shopping options. One analysis found 89 percent of Whole Foods stores in counties that supported Obama in 2008 and 62 percent of Cracker Barrel restaurants in counties supporting his Republican opponent, John McCain (Stolberg, 2011). The end result has become a more divided country. The percentage of landslide counties—those voting 60 percent or more for one presidential candidate—nearly doubled between 1976 and 2008 (Bishop, 2008). The percentage of entering collegians declaring themselves as politically “middle of the road” dropped from 60 percent in 1983 to 46 in 2010, with corresponding increases in those declaring themselves on the right or the left (Pryor & others, 2005,2010).

In laboratory studies, the competitive relationships and mistrust that individuals often display when playing games with one another often worsen when the play” ers are groups (Winquist & Larson, 2004). During actual community conflicts, like- minded people associate increasingly with one another, amplifying their shared tendencies. Gang delinquency emerges from a process of mutual reinforcement within neighborhood gangs, whose members share attributes and hostilities (Cart­ wright, 1975). If “a second out-of-control 15-year-oId moves in [on your block],” surmises David Lykken (1997), “the mischief they get into as a team is likely to be more than merely double what the first would do on his own…. A gang is more dangerous than the sum of its individual parts.” Indeed, “unsupervised peer groups” are “the strongest predictor” of a neighborhood’s crime victimization rate, report Bonita Veysey and Steven Messner (1999). Moreover, experimental inter­ ventions that take delinquent adolescents and group them with other delinquents actually—no surprise to any group polarization researcher—increase the rate of problem behavior (Dishion & others, 1999).

GROUP POLARIZATION ON THE INTERNET E-mail, blogs, and electronic chat rooms offer a potential new medium for like-minded people to find one another and for group interaction that increases social fragmentation and polarization. Facebook

Group Influence Chapter 8 285

offers tens of thousands of groups of kindred spirits discussing religion, politics, hobbies, cars, music, and you name it. The Internet’s countless virtual groups enable peacemakers and neo-Nazis, geeks and goths, conspiracy schemers and cancer survivors to isolate themselves with like-minded others and find support for their shared concerns, interests, and suspicions (Gerstenfeld & others, 2003; McKenna & Bargh, 1998, 2000; Sunstein, 2001, 2009). Indeed, most of us read blogs that reinforce rather than challenge our views, and those blogs link mostly to like-minded blogs— connecting liberals with liberals, conservatives with conservatives—like having conversations with the bathroom mirror (Lazer & others, 2009). WiH such discussions produce group polarization? Will socially networked birds of a feather find support for their shared beliefs, values, and suspicions? Will peacemak­ ers become more pacifistic and militia members more terror prone? E-mail, Google, and chat rooms “make it much easier for small groups to rally like-minded people, crystallize diffuse hatreds, and mobilize lethal force,” observes Robert Wright (2003). As broadband spreads. Internet-spawned polarization will increase, he speculates. According to one University of Haifa analysis, terrorist websites—which grew from a dozen in 1997 to some 4,700 at the end of 2005—increased more than four times faster than the total number of websites (Ariza, 2006). GROUP POLARIZATION IN TERRORIST ORGANIZATIONS From their analysis of terrorist organizations throughout the world, Clark McCauley and Mary Segal (1987; McCauley, 2002) note that terrorism does not erupt suddenly. Rather, it arises among people whose shared grievances bring them together and fans their fire. As they interact in isolation from moderating influences, they become progres­ sively more extreme. The social amplifier brings the signal in more strongly. The result is violent acts that the individuals, apart from the group, would never have committed.

For example, the 9/11 terrorists were bred by a long process that engaged the polarizing effect of interaction among the like-minded. The process of becoming a

and kept more or less to myself.”

© Enk Hilgerdt/The New Yorker Collection/

focus ON Group Polarization

Shakespeare portrayed the polarizing power of the like-minded group in this dialogue of Julius Caesar’s followers;

Antony: Kind souls, what weep you when you but behold Our Caesar’s vesture wounded? Look you here. Here is himself, marr’d, as you see, with traitors.

First Citizen: O piteous spectacle! Second Citizen: O noble Caesar!

Third Citizen: O woeful day! Fourth Citizen: O traitors, villains! First Citizen: O most bloody sight! Second Citizen: We will be revenged! All: Revenge! About! Seek! Burn! Fire! Kill! Slay! Let

not a traitor live!

Source: From Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, Act III, Scene ii, lines 199-209.

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BERNARD SHAW (1856-1950)

Social Influence

terrorist, noted a National Research Council panel, isolates individuals from other belief systems, dehumanizes potential targets, and tolerates no dissent (Smelser & Mitchell, 2002). Group members come to categorize the world as “us” and “them” (Moghaddam, 2005; Qirko, 2004). Ariel Merari (2002), an investigator of Middle Eastern and Sri Lankan suicide terrorism, believes the key to creating a terrorist sui­ cide is the group process. “To the best of my knowledge, there has not been a single case of suicide terrorism which was done on a personal whim.”

According to one analysis of terrorists who were members of the Salafi Jihad— an Islamic fundamentalist movement, including al Qaeda—70 percent joined while living as expatriates. After moving to foreign places in search of jobs or educa­ tion, they became keenly mindful of their Muslim identity and often gravitated to mosques and moved in with other expatriate Muslims, who sometimes recruited them into cell groups that provided “mutual emotional and social support” and “development of a common identity” (Sageman, 2004).

Massacres, similarly, have been found to be group phenomena. The violence is enabled and escalated by the killers egging one another on, noted Robert Zajonc (2000), who knew violence as a survivor of a World War II Warsaw air raid that killed both his parents (Burnstein, 2009). It is difficult to influence someone once “in the pressure cooker of the terrorist group,” notes Jerrold Post (2005) after interview­ ing many accused terrorists. “In the long run, the most effective antiterrorist policy is one that inhibits potential recruits from joining in the first place.”

Explaining Polarization Why do groups adopt stances that are more exaggerated than that of their average individual member? Researchers hoped that solving the mystery of group polar­ ization might provide some insights into group influence. Solving small puzzles sometimes provides clues for solving larger ones.

Among several proposed theories of group polarization, two have survived scientific scrutiny. One deals with the arguments presented during a discussion and is an example of what Chapter 6 called informational influence (influence that results from accepting evidence about reality). The other concerns how members of a group view themselves vis-a-vis the other members, an example of norma­ tive influence (influence based on a person’s desire to be accepted or admired by others).

INFORMATIONAL INFLUENCE According to the best-supported explanation, group discussion elicits a pooling of ideas, most of which favor the dominant viewpoint. Some discussed ideas are common knowledge to group members (Gigone & Hastie, 1993; Larson & oth­ ers, 1994; Stasser, 1991). Other ideas may include persuasive arguments that some group members had not previously considered. WTien discussing Helen the writer, someone may say, “Helen should go for it, because she has little to lose. If her novel flops, she can always go back to writing cheap westerns.” Such statements often entangle information about the person’s arguments with cues concerning the person s position on the issue. But when people hear relevant arguments without learning the specific stands other people assume, they still shift their positions (Burnstein & Vinokur, 1977; Hinsz & others, 1997). Arguments, in and of them­ selves, matter.

But there s more to attitude change than merely hearing someone else’s argu­ ments. Active participation in discussion produces more attitude change than does passive listening. Participants and observers hear the same ideas, but when par­ ticipants express them in their own words, the verbal commitment magnifies the impact. The more group members repeat one another’s ideas, the more they rehearse and validate them (Brauer & others, 1995).

287Group Influence

I This illustrates a point made in Chapter 7. People’s minds are not just blank tablets for persuaders to write upon. With central route persuasion, what people think in response to a message is crucial. Indeed, just thinking about an issue for a couple of minutes can strengthen opinions (Tesser & others, 1995). (Perhaps you can recall your feelings becoming polarized as you merely ruminated about someone you disliked, or liked.) Even just expecting to discuss an issue with an equally expert person holding an opposing view can motivate people to mar­ shal their arguments and thus to adopt a more extreme position (Fitzpatrick & Eagly, 1981).

normative INFLUENCE A second explanation of polarization involves comparison with others. As Leon Festinger (1954) argued in his influential theory of social comparison, we humans want to evaluate our opinions and abilities by comparing our views with others’. We are most persuaded by people in our “reference groups”—groups we identify with (Abrams & others, 1990; Hogg & others, 1990). Moreover, wanting people to like us, we may express stronger opinions after discovering that others share our views.

When we ask people (as I asked you earlier) to predict how others would respond to items such as the “Helen” dilemma, they typically exhibit pluralistic ignorance: They don’t realize how strongly others support the socially preferred tendency (in this case, writing the novel). A typical person will advise writing the novel even if its chance of success is only 4 in 10 but will estimate that most other people would require 5 or 6 in 10. (This finding is reminiscent of the self-serving bias: People tend to view themselves as better-than-average embodiments of socially desirable traits and attitudes.) When the discussion begins, most people discover they are not out­ shining the others as they had supposed. In fact, some others are ahead of them, having taken an even stronger position in favor of writing the novel. No longer restrained by a misperceived group norm, they are liberated to voice their prefer­ ences more strongly.

Perhaps you can recall a time when you and someone else wanted to go out with each other but each of you feared to make the first move, presuming the other probably did not have a reciprocal interest. Such pluralistic ignorance impedes the start-up of relationships (Vorauer & Ratner, 1996).

Or perhaps you can recall when you and others were guarded and reserved in a group, until someone broke the ice and said, “Well, to be perfectly honest, I think….” Soon you were all surprised to discover strong support for your shared views. Sometimes when a professor asks if anyone has any questions, no one will respond, leading each student to infer that he or she is the only one confused. All presume that fear of embarrassment explains their own silence but that everyone else’s silence means they understand the material.

Dale Miller and Cathy McFarland (1987) bottled this familiar phenomenon in a laboratory experiment. They asked people to read an incomprehensible article and to seek help if they ran into “any really serious problems in understanding the paper.” Although none of the individuals sought help, they presumed other people Would not be similarly restrained by fear of embarrassment. Thus, they wrongly inferred that people who didn’t seek help didn’t need any. To overcome such plu­ ralistic ignorance, someone must break the ice and enable others to reveal and rein­ force their shared reactions.

Social comparison theory prompted experiments that exposed people to others’ positions but not to their arguments. This is roughly the experience we have when reading the results of an opinion poll or of exit polling on election day. When peo­ ple learn others’ positions—without prior commitment and without discussion or sharing of arguments—will they adjust their responses to maintain a socially favorable position? As Figure 8.10 illustrates, they will. This comparison-based

Chapter 8

social comparison Evaluating one’s opinions and abilities by comparing oneself with others.

pluralistic ignorance A false impression of what most other people are thinking or feeling, or how they are responding.

288 Part Two Social Influence

FIGURE :: 8.10 On “risky” dilemma items (such as the case of Helen), mere exposure to others’ judgments enhanced individuals’ risk-prone tendencies. On “cautious” dilemma items (such as the case of Roger), exposure to others’ judgments enhanced their cautiousness. Soufce. Oata from Myers (1978).











Cautious items

Risky items

No exposure Exposure Mere exposure to others’ judgments


An Economist cover about the 1987 stock market crash Reprinted by permission of Kevin Kal Kallaugher, The Economist.

polarization is usually less than that produced by a lively discussion. Still, it’s sur- one teter!** conforming to the group average, people often go it

Merely learning others’ choices also contributes to the bandwagon effect that creates blockbuster songs, books, and movies. Sociologist Matthew Saleanik and colleagues (2006) experimented with the phenomenon by engaging 14 341 Internet participants in listening to and, if they wished, downloading previously

unknown songs. The researchers ran­ domly assigned some participants to a condition that disclosed previous partic­ ipants download choices. Among those given that information, popular songs became more popular and unpopular songs became less popular.

Group polarization research illustrates the complexity of social-psychological inquiry. Much as we like our explana­ tions of a phenomenon to be simple, one explanation seldom accounts for all the data. Because people are complex, more than one factor frequently influences an outcome. In group discussions, persua­ sive arguments predominate on issues that have a factual element (“Is she guilty of the crime?”). Social comparison sways responses on value-laden judgments (“How long a sentence should she serve?”) (Kaplan, 1989). On the many issues that have both factual and value-laden aspects, the two factors work together. Discover­ ing that others share one’s feelings (social comparison) unleashes arguments (infor­ mational influence) supporting what everyone secretly favors.

Group Influence Chapters 289

SUMMING UP: Group Polarization: Do Groups Intensify Our Opinions?

• Potentially positive and negative results arise from group discussion. While trying to understand the curious finding that discussion increased risk tak­ ing, investigators discovered that discussion actu­ ally tends to strengthen whatever is the initially dominant point of view, whether risky or cautious.

• In everyday situations, too, group interaction tends to intensify opinions. This group polarization

phenomenon provided a window through which researchers could observe group influence.

• Experiments confirmed two group influences: informational and normative. The information gleaned from a discussion mostly favors the ini­ tially preferred alternative, thus reinforcing sup­ port for it.


Describe when and why group influences often hinder good decisions. Describe also when groups promote good decisions and how we can lead groups to make optimal decisions.

Do the social psychological phenomena we have been considering in these first eight chapters occur in sophisticated groups such as corporate boards or the president’s cabinet? Is there likely to be self-justification? Self-serving bias? A cohesive “we feel­ ing” promoting conformity and stifling dissent? Public commitment producing resis­ tance to change? Group polarization? Social psychologist Irving Janis (1971, 1982) wondered whether such phenomena might help explain good and bad group deci­ sions made by some twentieth-century American presidents and their advisers. To find out, he analyzed the decision-making procedures that led to several major fiascos:

Pearl Harbor. In the weeks preceding the December 1941 Pearl Harbor attack that put the United States into World War II, military commanders in Hawaii received a steady stream of information about Japan’s preparations for an attack on the United States somewhere in the Pacific. Then military intel­ ligence lost radio contact with Japanese aircraft carriers, which had begun moving straight for Hawaii. Air reconnaissance could have spotted the carri­ ers or at least provided a few minutes’ warning. But complacent command­ ers decided against such precautions. The result: No alert was sounded until the attack on a virtually defenseless base was under way. The loss: 18 ships, 170 planes, and 2,400 lives. The Bay of Pigs Invasion. In 1961, President John Kennedy and his advisers tried to overthrow Fidel Castro by invading Cuba with 1,400 CIA-trained Cuban exiles. Nearly all the invaders were soon killed or captured, the United States was humiliated, and Cuba allied itself more closely with the former U.S.S.R. After learning the outcome, Kennedy wondered aloud, “How could we have been so stupid?” The Vietnam War. From 1964 to 1967, President Lyndon Johnson and his “Tuesday lunch group” of policy advisers escalated the war in Vietnam on the assumption that U.S. aerial bombardment, defoliation, and search-and- destroy missions would bring North Vietnam to the peace table with the appreciative support of the South Vietnamese populace. They continued the

290 Part Two Social Influence

groupthink “The mode of thinking that persons engage in when concurrence-seeking becomes so dominant in a cohesive in-group that it tends to override realistic appraisal of alternative courses of action.”—Irving Janis(1971)

escalation despite warnings from government intelligence experts and nearly all U.S. allies. The resulting disaster cost more than 58,000 American and ^ 1 million Vietnamese lives, polarized Americans, drove the president from office, and created huge budget deficits that helped fuel inflation in the 1970s.

Janis believed those blunders were bred by the tendency of decision-making groups to suppress dissent in the interest of group harmony, a phenomenon he called groupthink. (See “The Inside Story: Irving Janis on Groupthink.”) In work groups, team spirit is good for morale and boosts productivity (Mullen & Copper, 1994). But when making decisions, close-knit groups may pay a price. Janis believed that the soil from which groupthink sprouts includes

• an amiable, cohesive group. • relative isolation of the group from dissenting viewpoints. • a directive leader who signals what decision he or she favors.

When plannmg the ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion, the newly elected President Kennedy and his advisers enjoyed a strong esprit de corps. Arguments critical of the plan were suppressed or excluded, and the president soon endorsed the invasion.

Symptoms of Groupthink From historical records and the memoirs of participants and observers, Janis iden­ tified eight groupthink symptoms. These symptoms are a collective form of dis­ sonance reduction as group members try to maintain their positive group feeling when facing a threat (Turner & Pratkanis, 1994; Turner & others, 1992).

The first two groupthink symptoms lead group members to overestimate their group’s might and right.

• An illusion of invulnerability. The groups Janis studied all developed an exces­ sive optimism that blinded them to warnings of danger. Told that his forces had lost radio contact with the Japanese carriers. Admiral Kimmel, the chief naval officer at Pearl Harbor, joked that maybe the Japanese were about to round Honolulu’s Diamond Head. They actually were, but Kimmel’s laugh­ ing at the idea dismissed the very possibility of its being true.

• Unquestioned belief in the group’s morality. Group members assume the inher­ ent morality of their group and ignore ethical and moral issues. The Kennedy

THE inside STORY Irving Janis on Groupthink

The idea of groupthink hit me while reading Arthur Schlesinger’s account of how the Kennedy administra­ tion decided to invade the Bay of Pigs. At first, I f?bs puzzled; How could bright, shrewd people like John F. Kennedy and his advisers be taken in by the CIA’s stu­ pid, patchwork plan? I began to wonder whether some kind of psychological contagion had interfered, such as social conformity or the concurrence-seeking that I had observed in cohesive small groups. Further study (ini­ tially aided by my daughter Charlotte’s work on a high school term paper) convinced me that subtle group pro­ cesses had hampered their carefully appraising the risks

and debating the issues. When I then analyzed other U.S. foreign policy fiascos and the Watergate cover-up, I found the same detrimental group processes at work.

Irving Janis (1918-1990)

Group Influence Chapter 8 291

Self-censorship contributes to an illusion of unanimity. © Henry Martin/The New Yorker Collection/

group knew that adviser Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., and Senator J. William Fulbright had moral reservations about invading a small, neighboring country. But the group never entertained or discussed those moral qualms.

Group members also become closed- minded.

• Rationalization. The groups discount challenges by collec­ tively justifying their decisions. President Johnson’s Tuesday lunch group spent far more time rationalizing (explaining and justifying) than reflecting upon and rethinking prior decisions to escalate. Each initiative became an action to defend and justify.

• Stereotyped view of opponent. Participants in these groupthink tanks consider their enemies too evil to negotiate with or too weak and unintelligent to defend themselves against the planned initiative. The Kennedy group convinced itself that Castro’s military was so weak and his popular support so shallow that a single brigade could easily overturn his regime.

Finally, the group suffers from pressures toward uniformity.

• Conformity pressure. Group members rebuffed those who raised doubts about the group’s assumptions and plans, at times not by argument but by personal sarcasm. Once, when President Johnson’s assistant Bill Moyers arrived at a meeting, the president derided him with, “Well, here comes Mr. Stop-the-Bombing.” Faced with such ridicule, most people fall into line.

• Self-censorship. To avoid uncomfortable disagreements, members withheld or discounted their misgivings. In the months following the Bay of Pigs invasion, Arthur Schlesinger (1965, p. 255) reproached himself “for having kept so silent during those crucial discussions in the Cabinet Room, though my feel­ ings of guilt were tempered by the knowledge that a course of objection would have accomplished little save to gain me a name as a nuisance.”

• Illusion of unanimity. Self-censorship and pressure not to puncture the con­ sensus create an illusion of unanimity. What is more, the apparent consensus confirms the group’s decision. This appearance of consensus was evident in the Pearl Harbor, Bay of Pigs, and Vietnam fiascos and in other fiascos before and since. Albert Speer (1971), an adviser to Adolf Hitler, described the atmosphere around Hitler as one where pressure to conform suppressed all deviation. The absence of dissent created an illusion of unanimity:

In normal circumstances people who turn their backs on reality are soon set straight by the mockery and criticism of those around them, which makes them aware they have lost credibility. In the Third Reich there were no such correctives…. No external factors disturbed the uniformity of hundreds of unchanging faces, all mine. (p. 379)







292 Part Two

Groupthink on a Titanic scale. Despite four messages of possible icebergs ahead, Captain Edward Smith—a directive and respected leader—kept his ship sailing at full speed into the night. There was an illusion of invul­ nerability {many believed the ship to be unsinkable). There was conformity pressure (crew mates chided the look­ out for not being able to use his naked eye and dismissed his misgivings). And there was mindguarding (a Titanic telegraph operator failed to pass the last and most complete iceberg warning to Captain Smith).

a rfr, n ‘he group from information that would call into question the effectiveness or morality of its decisions. Before the Bay of Pigs invasion, Robert Kennedy took Schlesinger aside and told him Don push It any further.” Secretary of State Dean Rusk withheld diplo-

hc and intelligence experts’ warnings against the invasion. They thussr Groupthink symptoms can produce a failure to seek and discuss contrary infor­

mation and alternative possibilities (Figure 8.11). When a leader promotes^ idea d“dXTsrMSe“^

Social conditions 1 High cohesiveness 2 Insulation of the group 3 Lack of methodical

procedures for search and appraisal

4 Directive leadership 5 High stress with a low

degree of hope for finding a better solution than the one favored by the leader or other influential persons

Symptoms of groupthink

Concurrence­ seeking

1 Illusion of invulnerability

2 Belief in inherent morality of the group

3 Collective rationalization

4 Stereotypes of other groups

5 Direct pressure on dissenters

6 Self-censorship 7 Illusion of unanimity 8 Self-appointed


Symbols of defective decision making

1 Incomplete survey of alternatives

2 Incomplete survey of objectives

3 Failure to examine risks of preferred choice

4 Poor information search 5 Selective bias in

processing information at hand

6 Failure to reappraise alternatives

7 Failure to work out contingency plans i

FIGURE :: 8.11 Th©or6tical Analysis of Groupthink Source: Jans & Mann (1977, p. 132).

Group Influence Chapter 8 293

British psychologists Ben Newell and David Lagnado (2003) believe groupthink symptoms may have also contributed to the Iraq War. They and others contended that both Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush surrounded themselves with like- minded advisers and intimidated opposing voices into silence. Moreover, they each received filtered information that mostly supported their assumptions—Iraq’s expressed assumption that the invading force could be resisted; and the United States’ assumption that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, that its people would welcome invading soldiers as liberators, and that a short, peaceful occupa­ tion would soon lead to a thriving democracy.

Critiquing Groupthink Although Janis’s ideas and observations have received enormous attention, some researchers are skeptical (Fuller & Aldag, 1998; t’Hart, 1998). The evidence was retrospective, so Janis could pick supporting cases. Follow-up experiments have, however, supported aspects of Janis’s theory:

• Directive leadership is indeed associated with poorer decisions, because ’ subordinates sometimes feel too weak or insecure to speak up (Granstrom & I Stiwne, 1998; McCauley, 1998). I • Groups that make smart decisions have widely distributed conversation, with I socially attuned members who take turns speaking (Woolley &c others, 2010). I • Groups do prefer supporting over challenging information (Schulz-Hardt & P others, 2000). I • When members look to a group for acceptance, approval, and social identity,

they may suppress disagreeable thoughts (Hogg & Hains, 1998; Turner & Pratkanis, 1997).

• Groups with diverse perspectives outperform groups of like-minded experts (Nemeth & Ormiston, 2007; Page, 2007). Engaging people who think differ­ ently from you can make you feel uncomfortable. But compared with com­ fortably homogeneous groups, diverse groups tend to produce more ideas and greater creativity.

‘ • In discussion, information that is shared by group members does tend to dominate and crowd out unshared information, meaning that groups often do not benefit from all that their members know (Sunstein & Hastie, 2008).

Yet friendships need not breed groupthink (Esser, 1998; Mullen & others, 1994). In a secure, highly cohesive group (say, a family), committed members will often care enough to voice disagreement (Packer, 2009). The norms of a cohesive group can favor either consensus, which can lead to groupthink, or critical analysis, which prevents it (Postmes & others, 2001). When academic colleagues in a close-knit department share their draft manuscripts with one another, they want critique: “Do what you can to save me from my own mistakes.” In a free-spirited atmosphere, cohesion can enhance effective teamwork, too.

Moreover, when Philip Tetlock and colleagues (1992) looked at a broader sample of historical episodes, it became clear that even good group procedures sometimes yield ill-fated decisions. As President Carter and his advisers plotted their humili­ ating attempt to rescue American hostages in Iran in 1980, they welcomed differ­ ent views and realistically considered the perils. Had it not been for a helicopter problem, the rescue might have succeeded. (Carter later reflected that had he sent in one more helicopter, he would have been reelected president.) To reword Mister Rogers, sometimes good groups do bad things.






Preventing Groupthink Flawed group dynamics help explain many failed decisions; sometimes too many cooks spoil the broth. However, given open leadership, a cohesive team spirit can improve decisions. Sometimes two or more heads are better than one.

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Social Influence

In search of conditions that breed good decisions, Janis also analyzed two suc­ cessful ventures: the Truman administration’s formulation of the Marshall Plan for getting Europe back on its feet after World War II and the Kennedy administra­ tion’s handling of the former U.S.S.R.’s attempts to install missile bases in Cuba in 1962. Janis’s (1982) recommendations for preventing groupthink incorporate many of the effective group procedures used in both cases:

• Be impartial—do not endorse any position. Don’t start group discussions by having people state their positions; doing so suppresses information sharing and degrades the quality of decisions (Mojzisch & Schulz-Hardt, 2010).

• Encourage critical evaluation; assign a “devil’s advocate.” Better yet, wel­ come the input of a genuine dissenter, which does even more to stimulate original thinking and to open a group to opposing views, report Charlan Nemeth and colleagues (2001a, 2001b).

• Occasionally subdivide the group, then reunite to air differences. • Welcome critiques from outside experts and associates. • Before implementing, call a “second-chance” meeting to air any lingering


When such steps are taken, group decisions may take longer to make, yet ultimately prove less defective and more effective.

Group Problem Solving Not every group decision is flawed by groupthink. Under some conditions, two or more heads really are better than one. In work settings such as operating rooms and executive boardrooms, team decisions surpass individual decisions when the discussion values each person’s skills and knowledge and draws out their varied information (Mesmer-Magnus & DeChurch, 2009).

Patrick Laughlin and John Adamopoulos (1980; Laughlin, 1996; Laughlin & oth­ ers, 2003) have shown the wisdom of groups with various intellectual tasks. Con­ sider one of their analogy problems:

Assertion is to disproved as action is to a. hindered b. opposed c. illegal d. precipitate e. thwarted

Most college students miss this question when answering alone, but answer correctly (thwarted) after discussion. Moreover, Laughlin finds that if just two members of a six-person group are initially correct, two-thirds of the time they convince all the others. If only one person is correct, this “minority of one” almost three-fourths of the time fails to convince the group. And when given tricky logic problems, three, four, or five heads are better than two (Laughlin & others, 2006).

Deli Wamick and Glenn Sanders (1980) and Verlin Hinsz (1990) confirmed that several heads can be better than one when they studied the accuracy of eyewitness reports of a videotaped crime or job interview. Interacting groups of eyewitnesses gave accounts that were much more accurate than those provided by the average iso­ lated individual. Two heads are better than one even for simple perceptual judgments made by similarly capable people (Bahrami & others, 2010; Ernst, 2010). When unsure of what they’ve seen, sports referees are smart to confer before making their call.

Several heads critiquing one another can also allow the group to avoid some forms of cognitive bias and produce some higher quality ideas (McGlynn & others, 1995; Wright & others, 1990). In science, the benefits of diverse minds collaborating has led to more and more “team science”—to an increasing proportion of scientific publica­ tion, especially highly cited publication, by multi-author teams (Cacioppo, 2007).

295Group Influence Chapter 8

But contrary to the popular idea that face-to-face brainstorming generates more creative ideas than do the same people working alone, researchers agree it isn’t so (Paulus & others, 1995, 2000, 2011; Stroebe & Diehl, 1994). And contrary to the popular idea that brainstorming is most productive when the brainstormers are admonished “not to criticize,” encouraging people to debate ideas appears to stimulate ideas and to extend creative thinking beyond the brainstorming session (Nemeth & others, 2004).

People feel more productive when generating ideas in groups (partly because people disproportionately credit themselves for the ideas that come out). But time and again researchers have found that people working alone usually will generate more good ideas than will the same people in a group (Nijstad & others, 2006; Rietzschel &c others, 2006). Large brainstorming groups are especially inef­ ficient. In accord with social loafing theory, large groups cause some individ­ uals to free-ride on others’ efforts. In accord with normative influence theory, they cause others to feel apprehensive about voicing oddball ideas. And they cause “production blocking”—losing one’s ideas while awaiting a turn to speak (Nijstad & Stroebe, 2006). As James Watson and Francis Crick demonstrated in discovering DNA, challenging two-person conversations can more effectively engage creative thinking. Watson later recalled that he and Crick benefited from not being the most brilliant people seeking to crack the genetic code. The most brilliant researcher “was so intelligent that she rarely sought advice” (quoted by Cialdini, 2005). If you are (and regard yourself as) the most gifted person, why seek others’ input? Like Watson and Crick, psychologists Daniel Kahneman and the late Amos “Tversky similarly collaborated in their exploration of intuition and its influence on economic decision making. (See Chapter 3 and also “The Inside

[Story: Behind a Nobel Prize” shown below.)






HE inside STORY Behind a Nobel Prize: Two Minds Are Better Than One

in the spring of 1969, Amos Tversky, my younger col­ league at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and I met over lunch and shared our own recurrent errors of judgment. From there were born our studies of human intuition.

I had enjoyed collaboration before, but this was magi­ cal, Amos was very smart, and also very funny. We could spend hours of solid work in continuous mirth. His work was always characterized by confidence and by a crisp elegance, and it was a joy to find those characteristics now attached to my ideas as well. As we were writing our first paper, I was conscious of how much better it was than the more hesitant piece I would have written by myself.

All our ideas were jointly owned. We did almost all the work on our joint projects while physically together, including the drafting of questionnaires and papers. Our principle was to discuss every disagreement until it had been resolved to our mutual satisfaction.

Some of the greatest joys of our collaboration—and probably much of its success—came from our ability to


elaborate on each other’s nascent thoughts: If I expressed a half-formed idea, I knew that Amos would be there to understand it, probably more clearly than I did, and that if it had merit, he would see it.

Amos and I shared the wonder of together owning a goose that could lay golden eggs—a joint mind that was better than our separate minds. We were a team, and we remained in that mode for well over a decade. The Nobel Prize was awarded for work that we produced during that period of intense collaboration.

Daniel Kahneman

Princeton University,

Nobel Laureate, 2002

296 Part Two Social Influence

However, Vincent Brown and Paul Paulus (2002) have identified three wavs t„ enhance group brainstorming: ^ ^

• Combine group and solitary brainstorming. Group brainstorming is most pro­ ductive when it precedes solo brainstorming. With new categories primed by the group brainstorming, individuals’ ideas can continue flowing without bemg impeded by the group context that allows only one person to speak at a time. Creative work teams also tend to be small and to alternate working alone, working in pairs, and meeting as a circle (Paulus & Coskun, 2012).

• Have group members interact by writing. Another way to take advantage of group priming, without being impeded by the one-at-a-time rule, is to have group members write and read, rather than speak and listen. Brown and Paulus describe this process of passing notes and adding ideas, which has everyone active at once, as “brainwriting” (see also Heslin, 2009; Kohn & others, 2011). Moreover, when leaders urge people to generate lots of ideas (rather than just good ideas), they generate both more ideas and more good ideas (Paulus & others, 2011). So whatever comes to mind put it down. ‘ ^

• Incorporate electronic brainstorming. There is a potentially more efficient way to avoid the verbal traffic jams of traditional group brainstorming in larger groups: Let individuals produce and read ideas on networked computers.

So, when group members freely combine their creative ideas and varied insights the frequent result is not groupthink but group problem solving. The wisdom of groups is evident m everyday life as well as in the laboratory:

Weather forecasting. “Two forecasters will come up with a forecast that is more accurate than either would have come up with working alone,” reports Joel Myers (1997), president of the largest private forecasting service. In 2010, scienhsts’ predictions of the summer’s minimum Arctic sea ice ranged from 2.5 million to 5.6 million square kilometer#. The average—4.8 million— almost exactly matched the actual result (Wiltze, 2010).

• Google. Google has become a dominant search engine by harnessing what James Surowiecki (2004) calls The Wisdom of Crowds. Google interprets a link to Page X as a vote for Page X, and weights most heavily links from pages that are themselves highly ranked. Harnessing the democratic character of the Web, Google often takes less than one-tenth of a second to point you to what you want. ^

• Game shows. For a befuddled contestant on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, a valuable lifeline was to “ask the audience,” which usually offered wisdom superior to the contestant’s intuition. This is because the average judgment from a crowd of people typically errs less than does the average judgment by mdividuals. o ) o j The “crowd within.” Likewise, the average of different guesses from the same persons tends to surpass the person’s individual guesses (Herzog & Hertwig, 2009). Edward Vul and Harold Pashler (2008) discovered this when asking people to guess the correct answers to factual questions such as “What per­ centage of the world’s airports are in the United States?” Then the research­ ers asked their participants to make a second guess, either immediately or 3 weeks later. The result? “You can gain about 1/lOth as much from asking yourself the same question twice as you can from getting a second opinion from someone else, but if you wait 3 weeks, the benefit of re-asking yourself the same question rises to 1/3 the value of a second opinion.”

• Prediction markets. In U.S. presidential elections since 1988, the final public opinion polls have provided a good gauge to the election result. An even bet­ ter predictor, however, has been the Iowa Election Market. Taking everything

Group Influence Chapters 297

(including poUs) into account, people buy and sell shares in candidates. Other prediction markets have harnessed collective wisdom in gauging the likelihood of other events, such as an avian flu epidemic (Arrow & others, 2008; Stix, 2008).

Thus, we can conclude that when information from many, diverse people is combined, all of us together can become smarter than almost any of us alone. We’re in some ways like a flock of geese, no one of which has a perfect navigational sense. Nevertheless, by staying close to one another, a group of geese can navigate accu­ rately. The flock is smarter than the bird.

SUMMING UP: Groupthink: Do Groups Hinder or Assist Good Decisions?

Analysis of several international fiascos indicates that group cohesion can override realistic appraisal of a situation. This is especially true when group members strongly desire unity, when they are iso­ lated from opposing ideas, and when the leader signals what he or she wants from the group. Symptomatic of this overriding concern for har­ mony, labeled groupthink, are (1) an illusion of invulnerability, (2) rationalization, (3) unques­ tioned belief in the group’s morality, (4) stereo­ typed views of the opposition, (5) pressure to conform, (6) self-censorship of misgivings, (7) an illusion of unanimity, and (8) “mindguards” who protect the group from unpleasant information. Critics have noted that some aspects of Janis’s groupthink model (such as directive leadership)

seem more implicated in flawed decisions than others (such as cohesiveness). Both in experiments and in actual history, how­ ever, groups sometimes decide wisely. These cases suggest ways to prevent groupthink: upholding impartiality, encouraging “devil’s advocate” posi­ tions, subdividing and then reuniting to discuss a decision, seeking outside input, and having a “second-chance” meeting before implementing a decision. Research on group problem solving suggests that groups can be more accurate than individuals; groups also generate more and better ideas if the group is small or if, in a large group, individual brainstorming follows tile group session.


Explain when—and how—individuals influence their groups. Identify what makes some individuals effective.

Each chapter in this social influence unit concludes with a reminder of our power as individuals. We have seen that

• cultural situations mold us, but we also help create and choose these situations.

• pressures to conform sometimes overwhelm our better judgment, but blatant pressure motivates reactance as we assert our individuality and freedom.

• persuasive forces are powerful, but we can resist persuasion by making pub­ lic commitments and by anticipating persuasive appeals.

This chapter has emphasized group influences on the individual, so we conclude by seeing how individuals can influence their groups.

298 Part Two Social Influence

Note: “Minority influence” r^ers to minority opinions, not to ethnic minorities.







In the film 12 Ang?y Men, a lone juror eventually wins over 11 others. In a jury room, that’s a rare occurrence. Yet in most social movements, a small minority will sway, and then eventually become, the majority. “All history,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson, “is a record of the power of minorities, and of minorities of one.” Think of Copernicus and Galileo, of Martin Luther King, Jr., of Susan B. Anthony, of Nelson Medela. The American civil rights movement was ignited by the refusal of one African American woman, Rosa Parks, to relinquish her seat on a bus in Mont­ gomery, Alabama. Technological history has also been made by innovative minori­ ties. As Robert Fulton developed his steamboat—”Fulton’s Folly”—he endured constant derision: “Never did a single encouraging remark, a bright hope, a warm wish, cross my path” (Cantril & Bumstead, 1960). Indeed, if minority viewpoints never prevailed, history would be static and nothing would ever change.

What makes a minority persuasive? What might Arthur Schlesinger have done to get the Kennedy group to consider his doubts about the Bay of Pigs invasion? Experiments initiated by Serge Moscovici in Paris have identified several determi­ nants of minority influence: consistency, self-confidence, and defection.