When “The Black Sheep” Is White

By: Megan E. Birney

2011 marks 10 years since the mixed-race category was added to the U.K.’s annual censes.  To commemorate this event, BBC Two has been running a series of programmes documenting the mixed-race experience both in Britain and around the world.

One of familys profiled in the series are the Kellys.  While the Kellys are mixed race (the father, Errol, is black and the mother, Alyson, is white), what makes them truly extraordinary is that in 1993, Alyson gave birth to twin boys — one black and one white.

How is this possible?  According to population geneticist Dr. Jim Wilson, Errol’s Jamaican heritage holds the answer. In the days of slavery, white men raping black women were common practice and, as a result, most blacks from outside of Africa have a mix of African and European DNA.  In the case of the Kellys, Errol passed his African DNA to his son James (resulting in James’ black skin) but passed his European DNA to his son Daniel (resulting in Daniel’s white skin).

Not surprisingly, being twins with different skin colours was difficult for James and Daniel growing up.  What is surprising, however, is that it was Daniel – the white twin – that endured the bulk of the racist abuse from students at the all-white school the twins attended.  His mum explains that situation like this: “Those kids couldn’t stand the fact that, as they saw it, this white kid was actually black.  It was as though they wanted to punish him for daring to call himself white.”

According to research by Yzerbyt, Leyens, and Bellour (1995), we are quick to reject ingroup members that are not in line with what is required for group membership.  Because the identity of the group is put at stake by misidentifying an ingroup member, we tend to be especially careful when allowing new members in.  If misidentification does occur, there is a “Black Sheep Effect” in which the “bad” ingroup member is chastised more than a similarly “bad’” outgroup member.  In other words, if an ingroup member and an outgroup member both exhibit an undesirable behaviour, we are likely to be much harder on the ingroup member.

Akin to this theory, the white students at the twins’ school punished Daniel because they had identified him as white (and hence an ingroup member) when he was, in actuality, half black.  Such behaviour from these white students illustrates just how important race is in how we identify both others and ourselves.  While the U.K and the rest of the world have come quite far in how we perceive mixed race people, it is clear that we still have a long way to go.

Yzerbyt, V., Leyens, J., Bellour, F. (1995). The ingroup overexclusion effect: Identity concerns in decisions about ingroup membership. European Journal of Social Psychology, 25 (1), 1-16.

Black and White Twins: The Guardian, Saturday September 24, 2011

Are you afraid to go to Mexico? Mental shortcuts may promote misperceptions about risk

By Kevin R. Betts

Whenever I mention growing up in Metro Detroit to people in my current city of Fargo, I find myself begrudgingly answering questions about street crime and gang violence — regional attractions and achievements, in contrast, are rarely mentioned. Maybe this shouldn’t be surprising given Detroit’s current label as “America’s most dangerous city” and generally gritty reputation. But I can understand why Mexico’s tourism division speaks of fighting battles against misunderstood risks and geographical imprecision propagated by politicians and the media. Speaking to Newsweek about Mexico’s recent achievements, a Mexican official says “Everything you do is like the fourth paragraph. It should be the headline.

The generalized American fear of traveling to Mexico is not without reason. The country’s drug war alone has lasted four and a half years and left 35,000 dead. Yet, politicians and the media speak of this violence as if it were the only story to be told about the country. In reality, risks faced by Americans in Mexico are quite low. Newsweek’s Bryan Curtis crunches the numbers: “…if you look at the number of Americans killed in Mexico since the drug war began in 2006, and then isolate the number of innocents “caught in the crossfire,” it amounts to only 10 or 20 killings per year….This is in a country with hundreds of thousands of American expats and more than 17 million American tourists.” David Shirk, director of the Trans-Border Institute, confirms: “It would be naïve to say there is zero risk…But it would be alarmist to say the risk is much higher than ‘very low.’

So why do so many Americans fear crossing their southern border? It probably has a lot to do with the way in which we process information about unknowns. The availability heuristic, for example, is a rule of thumb we use to predict the likelihood of events based on the ease with which examples can be brought to mind. When we think of Mexico, we may visualize beheadings, kidnappings, and mass graves — images that have been provided for us by politicians and the media in recent years. Just as our attention is drawn toward these acts of violence, our attention is drawn away from Mexico’s natural beauty, delicious food, and friendly people. Another rule of thumb known as the representativeness heuristic contributes to this misperception by leading us to judge the probability of one event by finding a comparable event and assuming the probabilities will be similar. So when we hear about violence in Ciudad Juárez, we wrongly assume that violence is commonplace in places like Acapulco as well. Or more precisely, when we hear about violence in Ciudad Juárez, we wrongly assume that all parts of the city are equally dangerous.

Residents of Detroit understand that their community is more than “America’s most dangerous” and violence in one part of the city says little about violence in another part of the city. Likewise, Americans should realize there is more to Mexico than drug wars and that violence in one region says little about violence in other regions.

Read more:

Bishop, M.A. (2006). Fast and frugal heuristics. Philosophy Compass, 1/2, 201-223.

Come on in, the water’s fine (Newsweek)

America’s most dangerous cities (Forbes)

Social and Personality Psychology Compass

© Blackwell Publishing Ltd

Volume 5, Issue 10 Pages 694 – 823, October 2011

The latest issue of Social and Personality Psychology Compass is available on Wiley Online Library

 

Emotion Motivation

Affiliation Goals and Health Behaviors (pages 694–705)
Jerry Cullum, Megan A. O’Grady and Howard Tennen
Article first published online: 4 OCT 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9004.2011.00376.x

Intrapersonal Processes

The Effects of Social Power on Goal Content and Goal Striving: A Situated Perspective (pages 706–719)
Guillermo B. Willis and Ana Guinote
Article first published online: 4 OCT 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9004.2011.00382.x

 

The Virtue Blind Spot: Do Affective Forecasting Errors Undermine Virtuous Behavior? (pages 720–733)
Gillian M. Sandstrom and Elizabeth W. Dunn
Article first published online: 4 OCT 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9004.2011.00384.x

 

Treatment Choice and Placebo Expectation Effects (pages 734–750)
Andrew Geers and Jason Rose
Article first published online: 4 OCT 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9004.2011.00385.x

 

Selective Exposure, Decision Uncertainty, and Cognitive Economy: A New Theoretical Perspective on Confirmatory Information Search (pages 751–762)
Peter Fischer
Article first published online: 4 OCT 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9004.2011.00386.x

 

The Revision and Expansion of Self-Theory through Preparedness (pages 763–774)
Patrick J. Carroll, Michael J. McCaslin and Greg J. Norman
Article first published online: 4 OCT 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9004.2011.00388.x

Social Cognition

Data-driven Methods for Modeling Social Perception (pages 775–791)
Alexander Todorov, Ron Dotsch, Daniel H. J. Wigboldus and Chris P. Said
Article first published online: 4 OCT 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9004.2011.00389.x

 

How Stereotypes Stifle Performance Potential (pages 792–806)
Toni Schmader and Alyssa Croft
Article first published online: 4 OCT 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9004.2011.00390.x

Social Influence

Self-Awareness Part 1: Definition, Measures, Effects, Functions, and Antecedents (pages 807–823)
Alain Morin
Article first published online: 4 OCT 2011 | DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-9004.2011.00387.x

 

How Netflix just made a bad thing worse

By Kevin R. Betts

Netflix witnessed a storm of customer outrage and tumbling stock prices this month as they dramatically increased their price for subscription to the service. Early this morning, CEO Reed Hastings reacted with an email to customers. The email started, “I messed up. I owe you an explanation.” And an explanation did follow – not only about why the price hike would continue, but also about how subscribers would now be paying for two services, Netflix and Qwikster, if they wished to continue with the full set of features previously provided. I predict that this latest move will lead to even more problems for the company.

I am a longtime subscriber to Netflix and enjoy their DVD and streaming services immensely. Sure, I was irritated with the dramatic price increase just like many other customers. But I accepted it and opted to continue receiving their services. The latest change has led me to reconsider my options, however. I enjoy movies and television, but do I really need to subscribe to more than one independent service provider for this? I never saw a reason to subscribe to Hulu plus or Amazon Prime for their video services because Netflix was already meeting my needs. So why should I subscribe to both Netflix and Qwikster? I shouldn’t and I now intend to update my video subscription service accordingly.

What Netflix must realize is that my decision to opt out of one service has little to do with its actual price. Hastings makes clear in his email to customers that “There are no pricing changes (we’re done with that!).” Rather, it is my perception that has changed. I do not want to pay for two very similar video services. And I predict that many other customers will think and react similarly. Consider research addressing the effectiveness of partitioned versus bundled pricing. Sheng, Bao, and Pan (2007) state, “It is profitable to partition a total price into two separate parts only when the surcharge is relatively small compared to the base price, or the surcharge has a well-justified purpose. Otherwise, an all-inclusive price might generate higher purchase intentions, thus increasing demand.” Not only did Netflix partition its prices in such a way that has already proved to drive away customers, but they now want us to continue our patronage through two independent service providers. And away go another group of subscribers.

I hope that Netflix has thought about this issue more than I have because it is likely to have long-term consequences for their success as a company. Dramatic price hikes this month drove enough customers away. Making it psychologically easier for us to forgo their services is unlikely to make things better.

Read more:

Netflix renames DVD-by-mail service, adds video games (CNN)

Sheng, S., Bao, Y., & Pan, Y. (2007). Partitioning or bundling? Perceived fairness of the surcharge makes a difference. Psychology and Marketing, 24, 1025-1041.

View more posts by Kevin R. Betts

Scholarly Content on the Impact of 9/11

Navy videographer at Ground Zero

In the 10 years since the events of September 2001 a vast amount of scholarly research has been written on the impact of 9/11. Wiley-Blackwell is pleased to share with you this collection of free book and journal content, featuring over 20 book chapters and 185 journal articles from over 200 publications, spanning subjects across the social sciences and humanities.

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Don’t be a hero! Benefits of the bystander effect

Patrons exit a crowded soccer stadium

By Kevin R. Betts

I started reading a book this weekend titled, “The Perfect Swarm: The Science of Complexity in Everyday Life.” Author Len Fisher’s central idea is that understanding swarm intelligence can help us make better decisions. Swarm intelligence refers to the collective behavior of decentralized organisms, whether they be locusts, ants, humans or otherwise. The inside cover reads, “…we can use swarm intelligence to start a craze, to work better in committees and get more from our social networks, or even to know when we should change our minds.” Stated simply, it is sometimes in our best interest to just follow the crowd.

As a student of social psychology, one particular question that Fisher asks caught my attention. When in an emergency situation, how can one best navigate a crowd to exit an area where others are also trying to exit? Real life examples of such situations include the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001 as well as the nightclub fires in Rhode Island in 2003 and Moscow in 2009. Fisher’s recommendation is that potential victims head straight for the exits and continue onward until they are at a safe distance. He suggests that this ideal strategy is often impeded, however, by individuals who stop to seek out loved ones or secure their belongings and interfere with the flow of exiting traffic. What Fisher is suggesting is that we not try to be heroes. Rather, we should get the heck out while we can and expect that others are doing the same!

Fisher’s solution to this problem caught my attention because it promotes safety by discouraging helping behavior. It is known that in emergency situations where many people are present, people often fail to provide assistance because they either do not notice the incident, fail to interpret it as an emergency, or fail to assume responsibility. In the case of the 2001 terrorist attacks or the nightclub fires, it is probably the failure to assume responsibility which discourages helping the most. Social psychologists refer to this phenomenon as the bystander effect and have focused much effort on techniques to overcome it. This is because in most cases, it is socially advantageous to help. For example, coming to the aid of an individual experiencing a heart attack on a crowded street might save a life. Yet, as Fisher makes apparent, other situations exist where the best way to help others is simply to help ourselves.

Few of us will ever find ourselves in situations like those experienced by victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks or Rhode Island and Moscow nightclub fires. If we are so unfortunate, however, we might wish to take Fisher’s advice by at least considering whether our assistance would be of any value. What would you do in this situation? Do you expect that your loved ones would do the same?

Read more:

5 years after a nightclub fire, survivors struggle to remake their lives (New York Times)

Hoefnagels, C., & Zwikker, M. (2001). The bystander dilemma and child abuse: Extending the Latané and Darley Model to domestic violence. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 31, 1158-1183

View more posts by Kevin R. Betts