Tuesday, October 16, 2007

On the Social Psychology of Flash Mobbing

""Are you with the mob?" whispered one anxious first-timer,
only to be shushed with a knowing nod and wink,
followed by a nervous giggle."
Flash mobs: A new social phenomenon?
(Hewitt, 2003)


I just had a call from Claire at The Canberra Times who was looking for a social psychologist to discuss flash mobbing. Apparently no other psychologists would talk with her - the topic was a bit too new/novel? (Isn't that what academics are for, at least in part - to respond to new phenomena? PS It turns out it isn't even that new - it's been around for 4 years!)

Claire said she was recording our conversation and, when prompted, indicated she could well quote from it. However, she refused my request to be shown any quoted text to be published so that I could authorise it. Apparently its normal journalistic practice not to check with sources before publishing from interviews. So I participated with some caution - the topic seemed reasonably benign and intrigued me. I was also in the middle of preparing social psychology lectures so had plenty of possibly related ideas floating around in my head. Claire also assured me that it didn't matter if I didn't know what flash mobbing was.

Anyway, after our chat, I twittered to learn more (Twitter is my new research tool), got some further helpful suggestions, and since I'd far rather quote myself than have someone else potentially misquote me, I figured I'd blog my initial thoughts on the social psychology of flash mobbing...

What is flash mobbing?

Imagine that you are in a public place when suddenly a large crowd turns up (seemingly spontaneously), performs some kind of out-of-the-ordinary behaviour, and then disappears... well you might just have witnessed flash mobbing!

Flash mobbing involves a temporary group of people getting together in a predetermined location to perform a brief action, and then dissipating. Just for kicks. Yup, that's the idea. Or as has been described by CNN, flash mobbing is where "jokers gather en masse at a moment's notice, perform an inane activity and then disperse quickly".

Inherent in these definitions it seems are at least the following criteria or characteristics:
  • relative spontaneity (i.e., rapidness of conception to action is valued)
  • parsimonius organisation (i.e., poetic simplicity is valued)
  • benigness (i.e., the event and its consequences are frivolous, fun, and quirky)
  • critical mass matters; size doesn't (i.e., any collection of people with a simple social contract can perform a flash mob)
  • virality (i.e., replicability and scalability)
Here's some examples of flash mob incidents:
Variations of flash mobbing

The term flash mobbing was coined in 2003. There are several variations and related manifestations of flash mobbing phenomena, e.g.,
  • Smart Mob is apparently a more generic term coined by Howard Rheingold which refers to a form of self-structuring technology-mediated social organisation which engaged in intelligent "emergent behavior."; mass media, however, appears to be more fixated on flash mobs
  • Reality TV shows sometimes 'trick' members of the public by creating a temporary crowd (e.g., 100 person flash mob chasing people) - this is (debatably) a specific example of a flash mob
  • Guerilla Gardening in which groups (usually environmentalists) radically transform a public space by gathering and landscaping/planting, often overnight.
  • Team Buying (or 'Tuangou') in which people who wish to purchase an item from a particular store find each other on the internet and then agree to turn up at the store at a specific day/time and bargain/demand a collective discount for their bulk purchse (becoming popular in China)
  • Culture Jamming, whilst not necessarily a form of flash mobbing, nevertheless seems to represent an element of flash mobbing which is often to make some sort of curious social statement by intentionally behaviour out of the norm and thereby drawing our attention to social assumptions and normative behaviour.
  • Critical Mass has been conducting cycling-related flash mobs since 1992 in which people "take back the streets" using their bikes and other forms of human-powered wheeled transport
  • Street Theatre, Psychodrama and other forms of participatory theatre and performance art also seem to have some parallels and intersections with flash mobbing. Perhaps flash mobbing is just another form of interactive street theatre?
  • Political and Economic Flashmobbing also looms on the horizon. To date, flash mobbing has been relatively benign, but Andrew Read called me to point out that there is real potential, for example, for flash mobs to collectively buy or sell in such a way as to significantly disrupt financial markets. Andrew pointed out that this occurred as early as the 1920's. Indeed we might stop to consider then whether the 2005 Cronulla Riots and the monks marching in Burma as political protest (2007) are examples of more serious forms of flash mobbing.

Why flash mob?

Given that a "need to belong" and be part of groups has been deeply bred into most animals and particularly human beings during our evolution, it is perhaps no surprise that people continue to seek group experiences, despite (or perhaps because of) societal fragmentations.

Perhaps with the breakdown in traditional groupings (such as sport on a Saturday afternoon), we are seeing an increase in semi-random, emergent groupings. Undoubtedly the spontaneity and creativity is also fuelled by internet and mobile phones which facilitates quick communication and networking. Some flash mobbers use SMS, some use email, some use Facebook, and some use slips of paper handed out, etc.

Still, why do it?

Crowd behaviour from a social psychological point of view is generally seen as arising from deindividuation. Groups are also inclined to polarise and become more extreme in their beliefs/actions over time. As a result flash mobbers may seek more extreme acts as they go on. Risky shift refers to this notion of groups taking on more risky or daring goals than individuals would on their own.

Deindividuation also means that individuals tend to adopt a 'group mind' whereby they tend to become more focused on the group goal and less on their own individual interests. By acting as a group, there is a also diffusion of responsibility. It's difficult to hold an individual accountable and make them identifiable when an act was performed by a collective.

This is my first take on the social psychology of flash mobbing. I'm interested in any other ideas or leads people have. And if you want to go flash mobbing yourself, search Facebook for a group in your local area (e.g., the London group has 8000 members).

Future directions?

Some questions/tasks for the future to consider:
  • Explore further the principle of simplicity of design - is it a criteria or just a characteristic?
  • Is flash mobbing necessarily benign? We could do with more definitional and taxonomic work on clarifying the meaning of flash mobbing and its variants. Can flash mobbing be political? Or does it then become something else?
  • Need to read Howard Rheingold on smart mobs - his name keeps cropping up as having conducted the most substantial academic and practical work around the broader phenomenon of smart mobs. Technology-facilitated, intelligent, emergent networks are a phenomenon it would seem worthy of further investigation.
  • Connect this with outdoor education, e.g., add flash mobbing as an example application of Technology and the Outdoors: Some Experiential Possibilities. Also connect flash mobbing with common adventure.
  • Join some smart mob and flash mob groups. Do some mobs. Create some mobs. Reflect on those mobs.
Further information

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Inspirational writing quotes

There is no royal path to good writing; and such paths as exist do not lead through neat critical gardens, various as they are, but through the jungles of self, the world, and of craft.
~ Jessamyn West

Read, read, read. Read everything - trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it's good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out of the window.
~ William Faulkner

You don't write because you want to say something, you write because you've got something to say.
~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

You have all the scenes. Just go home and word it in.
~Samuel Goldwyn to Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond

If you steal from one author, it's plagiarism; if you steal from many, its research.
~ Wilson Mizner

You could compile the worst book in the world entirely out of selected passages from the best writers in the world.
~G.K. Chesterton

I try to leave out the parts that people skip.
~Elmore Leonard

The wastebasket is a writer's best friend.
~Isaac Bashevis Singer

The story I am writing exists, written in absolutely perfect fashion, some place, in the air. All I must do is find it, and copy it.
~Jules Renard, "Diary," February 1895

When a man is in doubt about this or that in his writing, it will often guide him if he asks himself how it will tell a hundred years hence.
~Samuel Butler

Writing comes more easily if you have something to say.
~Sholem Asch

Writing is a struggle against silence.
~Carlos Fuentes

The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof shit detector. This is the writer's radar and all great writers have had it.
~Ernest Hemingway, interview in Paris Review, Spring 1958

A man will turn over half a library to make one book.
~Samuel Johnson

The best style is the style you don't notice.
~Somerset Maugham

I want to write books that unlock the traffic jam in everybody's head.
~John Updike

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Lecture 8: Groups & Leadership (Some overview thoughts)

Lecture 8: Groups and Leadership (Materials)

I've always found groups and leadership fascinating. Perhaps its because of the delicious complexity and fascinating possibilities (for better or worse) when people cooperate with and work for one another. Many groups flop and flounder; some excel. What makes the difference?

A group can be a temporary, fleeting phenomenon. When you are in lift with other people even for less than a minute, for that period of time there is a sense of being a group and that impacts on behaviour.

The mere presence of single other person is sufficient for many interesting effects to occur. Zajonc and colleagues studied cockroaches in the 1960's and amazingly found that when faced with easy mazes, the creatures would run faster (and reach the destination which contained reward) when four fellow roaches were present. However, when faced with difficult mazes, the roaches were more successful (in terms of reaching the destination) when on their own. This illustrates social drive theory which proposes that we become aroused in the presence of others which will help performance if the task is easy and well-practiced, but will interfere with performance is the task is harder and the person is less skilled/practiced.

In some situations, groups are more efficient and productive. This is related to the 'wisdom of crowds' phenomenon whereby 'two heads are better than one'. But groups are also subject to problems such as the costs/hassles involved with communicating and coordinating, social loafing, groupthink (overly focusing on normative views) and group polarisation.

Social dilemma research has attempted to examine cooperation versus competition in an effort to work out what factors enhance cooperation. Getting to know and communicating with others generally helps. And one is also influence by the cooperative or competitive orientation adopted by others.

Leadership refers to the phenomenon that some people within a group wield disproportionately more influence over group members than others. We call these people leaders. Leadership theory has evolved from seeing leaders as endowed by birthright (e.g., race, royalty, class) to being stable, personality traits, to being behaviours which can be learned, to being a functional of leadership style plus specific situational demands, to evolving beyond a transactional or exchange economic model of leadership to a more transformational, humanistic approach of empowering individuals. In fact, there are situations, such as when group members have expertise and tasks are well defined, where it would seem where being without a leader could be more beneficial.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Lecture 7: Relationships (Brief Overview)

In Lecture 7: Relationships we explored topics such as:
  • Attraction: e.g., what causes it? Similarity, propinquity (psychological exposure/proximity), arousal, cultural norms, hormones (incl. testosterone), beauty, etc.
  • Rejection: what causes it and what are its effects? e.g,. numbness, confusion, shame, increased pain tolerance, more likely to eat junk food, etc.
  • Social Exchange Theory and Investment Models of Relationships: which view relationships as economic-like transactions and which make sense from an evolutionary and cognitive point of view
  • Beauty: Symmetry, "what-is-beautiful-is-good", variations across culture, time, and gender; Evolutionary explanations (Women: health, fertility, youth; Men: stability, resources, status)
  • Types of love: Passionate (short-term, physiological arousing, intense, dominant) and Compassionate (longer-lasting, caring, understanding, etc.), Exchange vs. Communal, Sternberg's Triangular Model (Passionate, Intimate, Commitment), Schacter's two factor emotion model (arousal + cognitive interpretation towards an appropriate love object), Hatfield & Walster's (1981) 3-factor theory of romantic love (which basically adds culture to Schacter's model).
  • Attachment styles: Based on Freudian and learning theory, as well animal experiments and human research, psychologists have suggested that adult attachment styles derive to a significant degree from infant and early childhood attachment styles which can range between being overly clingy (Anxious/Ambivalent) to balanced (Secure), to being overly distant and uncomfortable with people getting too close (Avoidant).
  • Maintaining relationships: Idealised picture of one another and the relationship (even though relationships tend not to improve over time) as well as devaluing alternatives (e.g., happily married men rate potential alternative partners as less attractive); secret is avoiding downward spiral e.g., tit-for-tat negative reciprocation, social allergies (small annoying habits become more irritating over time), and relationship-destabilising attributions (i.e., making global, stable, internal attributions for each other's failings and specific, unstable, external attributions for each other's successes). People will tend to stay in relationships in part because of "sunk investment" and the costs and risks involved in switching to an alternative.
  • Ending relationships: Various models describe a period of waiting to see if things will improve and brooding, then accelerated deteriorating through neglect and/or active seeking of alternatives, direct confrontation (voice behaviour), exit behaviour, and then a moratorium period including "grave-dressing" during which the relationship is buried and grieved, so that the partners can get closure and move on.

Did You Know 2.0

here's a jazzed up version of "shift happens" (which I discussed initially in Lecture 1 reflections)- it's basically facts & figures that suggest singularity is well under way - and that we should be moving with this future rather than stuck in the past, etc; a handy reference for those of us working in institutions which don't get it yet:

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Relationship Video #4: Toy Boy (Hyundai Car Ad)

In this Hyundai car commercial, a French wife betrays her husband by heading out for a good time with a handsome toy boy...(0:46)

Relationship Video #3: Blind Date

A hopeful couple head out on a blind date...(0:30)

Relationship Video #2: Last Rolo

In this advertisement, a young man and woman in love go to the movies. The man is so dedicated to his partner that her offers her his last rolo (chocolate caramel candy). However, when presented with a more attractive alternative focus for his attraction... (0:35 mins)

Relationship Video #1: Vodafone Aeroplane Ad

In this ad, a young man on an aeroplane flight attempts to enhance his social status by taking photographs of himself with an attractive woman (who is asleep) and sending them to a friend. (1:38 mins)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Free Speech, Tasering Andrew Meyer, & Disabled Youtube Comments

OK, so its bad enough that journalism student and political enthusiast, Andrew Meyer , didn't get his questions answered, then got arrested, tasered, etc. but why on earth also disable comments about this event on youtube???

Hello? I guess that means conversations to interpret this social event need to use other mediums.

Watch it for yourself:

Student Tasered At Kerry Speech: Longer Version

(Note: Apparently Kerry says something to the effect of "it's OK, let me answer his questions")

This will cause no end of comment, I suspect, especially with the video so readily distributed, and with elections in the US and Australia on their way. And so it should.

Jon Rabin Baitz has provided more erudite insight into the event than typical news reports: More Pinter than Python.

I'm still a bit shocked/outraged to digest the incident intellectually. But here's the beginnings of some elements of social psychology going on here, e.g.,
  • Political psychology
  • Norms
  • Weapons effect (Why not just drag him outside instead of tasering him in the hall!? Was public torture necessary?)
  • Bystander effect
  • Stereotypes
  • Social control
  • Cyberpsychology
  • Culture of fear
  • Leadership
Some other comments:

Friday, August 31, 2007

Example Concept Map: Using MS Word and MW Snap

Ruth asked for a hand with getting her concept map (which was created using MS Word) into a Blogger post.

See Creating a concept map for the steps I followed. Note that I used MW Snap rather than MS Paint because it resulted in a higher resolution.

Figure 1. An example concept map in Blogger, created using MS Word and MW Snap (Hart, 2007).

I like the flow-chart nature of the concept map, but I think the dark shading makes the text difficult to read.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

How to embed a MindMeister concept map

The basic steps are:
  • Create a MindMeister account
  • Create a MindMeister concept map
  • Click on Share (at the bottom of a map)
  • Click on Publish
  • Check make available on the internet
  • Copy the embed code
  • Save
  • Create a new blog post
  • Click on Html
  • Paste the embed code
  • Save
  • I suggest you put an embedded MindMeister concept map its own posting. Then link to it from your main blog essay posting. There seem to be some problems with other text not being viewable in the Compose editing when embedded MindMeister code is used.
  • Also be aware that MindMeister disables the ability to embed after one month on the free account. The map is still there and can be exported, etc., but it can't be embedded into other pages unless you upgrade (or open up a new account).
  • Provide some brief instructions to the reader on how to read/use the map, e.g., (You can click, drag, and zoom)

Kid Nation: 21st century Lord of the Flies?

CBS' reality TV show Kid Nation, due for release mid-September, 2007 has 40 kids aged 8 to 15 living together for 40 days in an abandoned New Mexico town, with no adults. The program offers a modern day version of William Golding's "Lord of the Flies". Can children can create an effective society on their own?

From a social psychological point of view, the program stands to offer a fascinating examination and example of theories such as our social selves, prejudice, group processes, leadership, communication, and so on.

From an experiential education point of view, it will be interesting to see how well the children were able to adapt and learn without direct adult guidance.

Currently, however, the show is attracting considerable media and legal attention, with claims of violating children's human rights. See this current google news search, with article headlines such as:

Monday, August 27, 2007

Example MindMeister Concept Map

Marketing: Ready, Set, Go, Bruce!

Here's the latest advertisement for University of Canberra. I like the innovative, catchy style, although I wonder about the "stereotyping" of student life and kinda sad end (sitting in an office). What do you think? How could this ad be improved? Comment here or on on youtube.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Student blog examples from drop-in tutorial

In this week's drop-in tutorial:
  • Ladyzulu worked out how to:
    • Copy an essay draft from MS Word into a blog posting - the formatting came through quite nicely - feel free to read and comment (she's the 1st person to publish a blog draft - congratulations! :) ).
    • Create a concept map in MS Word, using the Drawing toolbar, then using PrintScreen and MS Paint to capture and save the image, and then uploading the image into a blog posting - see example concept map. For more info on how to do this, see creating a concept map.
  • Amanda worked out how to:
    • Copy a table from an MS Word document into a blog posting - the formatting came through very well - see example.
    • Embed a video from youtube in a blog posting - see example.
    • Add a photo to one's blogger profile
  • Fiona was keen to embrace the possibilities of online concept mapping using MindMeister. She had already created a concept map for her essay and we then worked out how to embed the map into a blog posting - see example. There are several really appealing features of this approach, e.g.,
    • a detailed, readable map can be presented
    • zoom and scroll
    • nodes can be hyperlinked
    • collaborative maps can be developed
    • free, online

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Lecture 4: Reactions to "Ghosts of Rwanda"

Although I've seen Ghosts of Rwanda four or five times now, viewing it yesterday during Lecture 4 Aggression didn't seem to get any easier or any more comfortable. And it doesn't seem to get any easier to write about.

So, my hat's off to those who have already started blogging their reactions.

I suspect we experience our own mini-psychological trauma when exposed to this kind of story and footage about human brutality on a mass social scale. I go through a kind of mini-depression for a few days after engaging in details of what happened. But I also believe that by going into some of the most difficult topics in psychology, we can emerge with a richer understanding and stronger capability for achieving more desirable outcomes.

However, I don't think we should move too lightly over our emotional reactions. They need processing - this might be a private or shared process. And then gradually as we emerge, we can explore how the events can be understood at least from a social psychological perspective.

There is more background information on the film's website (Ghosts of Rwanda), including the full transcript (thanks kelg85). There is also a lot of documentation from various sources and perspectives about the Rwandan genocide the broader societal conflict and issues (e.g.,The Rwandan Conflict: Origin, Development, Exit Strategies). Not much of this material is from social psychological perspective per se, and little seems to be by Rwandans themselves (perhaps an indication of the cultural shock and decimation). Nevertheless, books such as the following are recommended if you want to delve further:
We should also pay attention to what has been taking place since and is going on now in terms of building peace and reconciliation. We can't change the past, but we can influence the present and the future. Since 1994, there has been a huge and ongoing effort not just towards rebuilding society, but even towards creating a new society which is a model for other cultures in conflict, e.g.,

Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Survival of Psychiatric Diagnosis - Prof. David Pilgrim

At the inaugural Centre for Applied Psychology lecture series at the University of Canberra today, David Pilgram presented a valuable overview of the history of psychiatric diagnosis, highlighting the anti-psychiatric criticisms of the dominant addiction to biomedical model.

Personally, I've always been kind of puzzled by psychiatric and clinical psychological committment to categorisation. Perhaps this was revealed by the audience questions which seemed to struggle with Pilgrim's suggestion that we might try approaching clinical psychological work without such heavy reliance on the social constructs of psychiatric diagnosis.

With our recent talk in the social psychology unit about schemas, I could more readily see how schemas apply to, and explain both the convenience and potential consequences of psychiatric categorisation. Diagnosis seems to offer the illusion of cognitive control over the behaviour of others. Kingsley Tonkin (one of the new clinical psych. staff at UC) made the point, for example, that diagnosis was being used as a way of acting on fear and uncertainty about indigenous people's potential future actions in Queensland.

It is easy to talk about this from a philosophical view, but I thought it was great that in the audience were individuals with so-called psychiatric issues who responded to Pilgrim's provocative views. This gave the session an extra, challenging, realism.

As an undergraduate psychology student, I remember writing an article for the university newspaper about the rapid expansion in the diagnostic categories for mental illness which have occurred in the last 100 or so years. In comparison, our vocabulary and understanding about psychological well-being had progressed little. I suggested that it might be time invest more energy in exploring and mapping out the realms of psychological well-being such as, for example, the work Ken Wilber has been doing.

Interestingly, we don't tend to diagnose and categorise well-being, but do tend to with distress. We tend to allow for diverse forms of psychological well-being without imposing artificial labels but when threatened by bouts of so-called madness, Western psychological and psychiatric culture seems to default to labeling in order to achieve a sense of control and protection.

This is not to say Western psychology hasn't achieved much and many parts of it have clearly helped many people towards improved psychological well-being and effectiveness. But many seem to forget that psychology is a young science, with much of its psychological practice heavily embedded in political and cultural agendas. So, I found it refreshing to hear David Pilgrim's warning about the potentially blinkering, limiting, and even inhumane effects of our psychiatric and clinical psychological industries and professions currently being dominated in their weltanschauung by a culturally constructed set of debatable symptom categories.


Professor David Pilgrim
Professor of Mental Health Policy, University of Central Lancashire UK and Consultant Clinical Psychologist Lancashire Care NHS Trust.

Thursday 9 August 4:30pm

"The survival of Psychiatric Diagnosis"

Professor Pilgrim will examine past and current debates about applying medical diagnoses to psychological difference in society, beginning with a brief historical overview from antiquity to 'anti-psychiatry' and a summary of recent debates. The paper then offers two case studies of common diagnoses ('depression' and 'schizophrenia').

Professor Pilgrim believes the main challenge for social science is no longer about what is wrong with psychiatric diagnosis (that is now well rehearsed) but accounting for how and why it has survived. In answering this question about survival, inter-disciplinary work could attend to the pre-empirical positions of mental health researchers; the ways in which mental disorders are similar and different to physical disorders; and the interest in work of different social groups defending or attacking psychiatric diagnoses in varying contexts.

When: Thursday 9 August, 4:30-6pm
Where: University of Canberra, 12B50

About Professor Pilgrim

David Pilgrim is Professor of Mental Health Policy, University of Central Lancashire and Consultant Clinical Psychologist Lancashire Care NHS Trust. His work over the past 20 years has been split between the NHS and higher education. Hispublications include: Pilgrim, D. (2005) Key Concepts in Mental Health, London: Sage; Cheshire, K. and Pilgrim, D. (2004) Clinical Psychology: A Short Introduction, London: Sage; Rogers, A. and Pilgrim, D. (2003) Mental Health and Inequality, Basingstoke: Palgrave; Rogers, A. and Pilgrim, D. (2001) Mental Health Policy in Britain (2nd Edition), Basingstoke: Palgrave. The third edition of A Sociology of Mental Health and Illness (with A. Rogers for Open University Press) won the BMA book award for 2006.

Also see comments on this presentation by:

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Bandura, Social Learning, Aggression, & Bobo dolls (Resources)

Bandura conducted a classic study in the 1960's about the role of social learning in aggressive behaviours of children. It is also known as the "bobo doll experiment". Here's some handy resources:

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Lecture 3: Social Thinking (Reflections)

In Lecture 3: Social Thinking, we examined an array of cognitive mechanisms we use for interpreting and acting on our social environments.

I suggested that these cognitive mechanisms provided the underlying architecture for the occurrence of more observable social phenomenon, including extreme events such as genocide, which can be seen as "perfect storms" of social psychological variables coming together within particularly cultural contexts.

In this lecture, we consider the role of our cognitive mechanisms in the formation and changing of attitudes, and their application in social influence and persuasion.

Key Concepts
  • Social Cognition
    • Cognitive Miser (and the duplex mind)
    • Knowledge structures
      • Schemata
      • Scripts
      • Stereotypes
    • Priming
    • Framing
    • Attributions
      • Internal vs. external
      • Correspondence Bias (or Fundamental Attribution Error)
      • Actor-observer bias
      • Self-serving bias
    • Heuristics
    • Social Perception
  • Attitudes
    • Mere-exposure effect
    • Cognitive dissonance
  • Influence and persuasion
    • Compliance and conformity
    • Normative
    • Informational
    • Minority
Social Cognition

Humans are cognitive misers in that we use our conscious mind relatively little, with most of the processing being done by the automatic mind (also see duplex mind). The automatic mind uses a variety of adaptive, cognitive shortcuts to reduce cognitive load. These schemas, scripts, stereotypes, heuristics, and so on, all serve to efficiently process complex environmental and social information, and help to provide a sense of control and predictability over our social environment.

For observed events and behaviours which are common (i.e., fit norms, schemata and scripts), our automatic mind does most of the processing. For unusual events and behaviours humans tend to want to find explanation (attribution).

There appears to be a natural tendency to connect observed behaviour with an actor's disposition. This is called correspondent inference. When we infer an actor's disposition from a behaviour and its consequences and play down possible situational explanations we demonstrate what is know as the correspondence bias or the fundamental attribution error (FAE).

We are more likely to make a FAE when dealing with others than with ourselves. We give more credence to situational explanations for our own behaviour than we do when interpreting the behaviour of others. This is the actor-observer effect.

We further demonstrate self-serving bias by tending to attribute our successes to dispositional causes and our failures to external causes; whereas we tend to do the opposite when explaining other people's behaviour.

The ultimate attribution error occurs when we use these biases in the context of groups, e.g., we tend to make self-serving attributions about our in-groups (the groups to which we belong and identify with) and out-groups.

Heuristics, schemata, scripts, stereotypes, etc. can be usefully thought of as algorithmic "nets" or "filters" which we use to catch certain kinds of information and which help us to navigate typically encountered social environments. The occurrence of unusual events is more likely to flag conscious awareness which (if cognitive capacity is available) and can then trigger consciousness thinking and consideration. However, we tend to prefer and attend more to information which is consistent with our expectations, making it difficult to change existing, largely automatic cognitive processing of our social environment.

Whilst the extent to which these cognitive biases occur is somewhat innate, it also varies across cultures. For example, the FAE is fair more prevalent in the US than in India.


Attitudes were the first major area of study in cognitively focused social psychology.

are valenced dispositions we experience towards people, objects, ideas, and events. Attitudes are the basic experience of like (attraction) or dislike (revulsion) which we experience in varying strengths to just about everything.

Attitudes tend to become polarized (become more exaggerated) over time.

Attitudes can manifest in thinking (cognition), feeling (emotion), and behaviour.

Attitudes are acquired via:
  • Mere-exposure effect
  • Classical conditioning
  • Operant conditioning
  • Social learning
and thus are shaped by all past experiences and by group memberships and social identity.

Attitude research has been criticised for the lack of relationship to actual behaviour. Attitudes are most likely to predict behaviour:
  • when the attitude is specifically related to a specific behaviour
  • over time and situations (as opposed to behaviour in a specific situation at a specific time)
  • when the behaviour is freely chosen
People like to have consistent cognitions, particularly when it comes to beliefs and attitudes. It tends to cause psychological distress to hold opposed concepts in mind. This can give rise to cognitive dissonance, particularly, for example, when one's behaviour is inconsistent with one's attitude. Dissonance can be dealt with by:
  • Changing attitude
  • Changing behaviour
  • Using defence mechanisms to deal with the dissonance (i.e., push awareness of the dissonance out of the conscious mind)
This desire for consistency appears to actually be that we like other people to have a consistent view of us.

Influence and Persuasion

Influence refers to ways in which an individual's attitudes and behaviour is altered by their perceptions of the social environment.

Normative influence occurs when your behaviour conforms with the majority, i.e., you do what everyone else does (e.g., Asch's Conformity Experiment). Going along with the majority, however, doesn't mean that your private attitude is consistent with the majority. It just means that your external behaviour fits with normative behaviour.

Informational influence occurs particularly in situations which are ambiguous or you are under cognitive load or you lack expertise. In such situations not only is your behaviour likely to conform with the majority, you are also likely to believe that other people are correct.

Influence techniques consist of various ways in which people can be manipulated into changing attitudes/behaviours, e.g., foot-in-the-door (start with a small request, then build up).

Minority influence occurs when even a single individual is a dissident (i.e., goes against the norm). Particularly when a minority is consistent in its alternative message, it can have a disproportionate influence on swaying the majority.

Persuasion is the intentional use of psychological influence techniques in order to get a person or group to adopt a desired behaviour (e.g., purchase a produce) or change an attitude (e.g., become pro-abortion).

The successfulness of an attempt at persuasion can be seen as relying on:
  • From Whom (credibility, likability)
  • Message Content (reason, emotion)
  • Audience
There are two basic routes to persuasion:
  • Alpha strategies (increasing the strong, compelling, credible argument)
  • Omega strategies (reducing/removing barriers/resistance)

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Lecture 2: Social Thinking (Brief overview)

In Lecture 2 we focused on: a) Culture and Nature (Ch2); and b) The Self (Ch3).

The key purpose in discussing Culture and Nature was to appreciate and explore Baumeister and Bushman's (2008) argument, based on socio-biology, that the human being has evolved a brain which is particularly receptive to learning culture. Becoming a member of a culture and groups within a culture brings many survival advantages. This culture consists of all the abstract ideas and knowledge created historically and kept alive in a culture. If a new born child is to be allowed to access the resources of this culture, then it must undergo considerable mentoring and training in order to be accepted as a member and given access to rewards.

The key purpose in discussing The Self was to examine and explore the major ways psychologists operationalise feelings, attitudes, and thoughts which people have about themselves. Some of the most commmonly discussed self-constructs are self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-efficacy. The lecture also considered Baumeister's criticism that Western cultures have become overly obsessed with enhancement of the self, as oppposed to focusing on learning skills which arguably then leads to increased self-esteem. The "cult of the self" also appears to have had detrimental effects of our social systems, a theme we pick up on in the final tutorial on Social Disengagement.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Lecture 1: Evolution, change & challenge (Reflections)

In the first lecture I tried to paint something of the picture ("Zoom") of where we've come from as a species from a cosmological perspective, and highlighted some of the social change trends which are impacting and likely to impact on humanity and social systems into the future.

There is of course much more about this story which could be discussed...

e.g., I heard about an interactive drama/play recently (Of All The People of the World) which is based around 6.6 billion grains of rice - each grain representing a person. The actors move the rice around from table to table , sometimes in wheelbarrows, and the audience can mingle and go from table to table. The piles of rice on each table represent people in a certain category (e.g., a pile of rice on one table might represent all the people living with HIV+). This was a dramatic technique to try to communicate and explore the volume and distribution of people into different groups.

I also came across and enjoyed this slick presentation "Shift Happens" which picks up on and extends similar themes related to social evolution and change.

The presentation lacks referencing, so perhaps some of the claims should be taken with a grain of salt?

(BTW: This is an example of embedded multimedia - in this case, a slide presentation. slideshare has many shared presentations. You can also embed video sharing sites such as youtube)

What are your favourite "World Facts/Trends" and how do they bear on the topic and nature of social psychology?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Purpose of this blog

The purpose of this blog is to share:
  • Info
  • Ideas
  • Issues
  • Lecture reflections
  • Tips & Training
(and to show large font size)

Friday, July 6, 2007

UCSpace as a LMS?

I thought I'd have a go at using UCSpace (which uses Confluence, a corporate wiki) in semester 2 as the unit homepage, linking out to various Web2.0 tools.

Basically, I'm going to use three Google tools:
WebCT is only used for the gradebook.

Proof of concept for the 7125/6666 Social Psychology wikispace.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Blogger: Configuration & Settings

I went through all the Blogger configuration options and made a few changes to the 'look and feel':
  1. Added a page element for the social psychology image
  2. Added a page element for Links, with a link to the Unit Materials
  3. Added some details to About Me and uploaded an image
  4. Added email settings, so that I receive email notifications of postings and comments, and so that I can send emails as blog posts
  5. Chose the Minima template and edited the html to change the layout of Blog Title (colour, font, size, removed border)

Such customisations are not necessary. But they can help to give your blog a unique identity.

Changes 1 to 4 are reasonably straightforward; 5 requires knowledge of html.

Test Blogger Post sent via Email

This is a test blog post sent and published via email.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Test Blog

This is simply a test blog posting.

Edited and republished 2007-09-06