Monthly Archives: March 2010

Al-Qaeda, the United States and institutionalized aggression

Osama bin Laden released a new audio recording on Al Jazeera (25 March 2010) threatening to kill any Americans that al-Qaeda takes prisoner if Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is executed and if Washington continues its support of Israel’s continuous occupation of Palestine.

This tells us something about the role of social norms and values, and the rules and regulations that are involved in maintaining social order (Bull, 2002) and how these can be deployed for institutionalized aggression. That is, why people as a group or society may support the use of aggression, yet have distain for similar acts by individuals (e.g. the killer of Banaz Mahmod) (Gautier, 2010). All societies across the globe depend some form of social order for stability in providing much needed resources and a sense of community. These shared social values (e.g. the right to safety, life etc) and norms often include the legitimate use of aggression and violence as a legal (and illegal) means of challenging those that are deemed as a threat to that existing order.

Terrorism (or freedom fighters) along with State and State sponsored violence constitute some examples of the use of the legitimized use of ‘institutionalized aggression’ in order to retain or resist power and control (Chomsky, 2008). Of course, the extent and use of such mechanisms of aggression will, depend on each particular society’s history(ies) and present circumstances. However, whatever the form ‘institutionalized aggression’ takes it tends to be met with something similar.

Al Jazeera – Bin Laden threatens Americans

Man accused of Banaz Mahmod ‘honour’ murder

The Blackwell Reader in Social Psychology

The Bottom Line

What determines the importance of fairness, particularly to strangers?  There are no incentives to play fair when dealing with people we don’t know, aren’t related to, and will never interact with again. Evolutionary psychologist might point to carryover effects of living in smaller communities in our distant past. A recent study led by Joseph Henrich hopes to clarify the issue postulating that there is more to it than simply inheriting fairness attitudes. The research team implemented a Social Dilemma like game called Dictator and administered it to a wide variety of populations. They found that modern living Missourians were most likely to share while hunter-gatherer societies, such as those in the Serengeti or the Amazon, were less likely to do so. One might think that these smaller communities would foster a greater sense of social responsibility and be more willing to share but the researchers point out that while there are clear rules and norms for sharing among kin or ingroup members, a sense of responsibility to the other may be absent when dealing with strangers.  Practices and norms emphasizing fairness to strangers have developed in other societies and this research points to “market integration” as a possible explanation as this factor was the strongest predictor of fairness attitudes. Market integration was operationalized as the amount of food purchased.  In communities where food is hunted, found, or grown people are less likely and willing to share with strangers. But when food is purchased it makes sense that systems would need to develop where strangers (consumers and sellers) can trust one another. The consumer market can’t function is everyone acts selfishly and treats others as if they will act the same. Oddly enough it seems that trust and fairness develop in some cases because they are economically advantageous.

Suggestions for a New Integration in the Psychology of Morality (Sunar, 2009)

Markets, Religion, Community Size, and the Evolution of Fairness and Punishment

Moral Lessons, Down Aisle 9

 

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Earning Moral Credit by Buying “Green”: South Park Was Right All Along!

Remember that episode of South Park when Kyle’s dad gets a hybrid car and suddenly begins to sport a “high and mighty” attitude? With Kyle and Ike in tow, Gerald rides around town in what appears to be Toyota Prius, insulting others who drive non-hybrids, bonding with fellow hybrid owners over their general awesomeness, and blatantly ignoring that “Ike is starving to death” in the backseat. In the bit linked here, the scene ends with Gerald setting off to give “awareness citations” to SUVs in the parking lot of the local hardware store.

The episode certainly got a good chuckle out of viewers – perhaps even some hybrid owners – but who knew at the time that this pattern of behavior was no joke? According to Nina Mazur and Chen-Bo Zhong of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, new research to be released this month in Psychological Science counterintuitively suggests that supposedly virtuous shopping can actually lead to immoral behavior. They find that although mere exposure to “green” products encourages people to be more altruistic, people who actually purchase these same products are more likely to act immorally or unethically after their purchase in the form of sharing less money with an anonymous partner and, in one study, actually cheating and stealing more money (compared to participants who made purchases at a conventional store). The researchers claim that whereas participants who are merely exposed to “green” products are primed with an air of social responsibility and moral capital, participants who actually get a chance to buy the product subsequently experience a phenomenon known as licensing. That is, a person who purchases a “green” product might come to feel that he has earned some sort of moral credential via the purchase, thereby giving him privilege to engage in future asocial and unethical behavior.

What do you think? Are you a purchaser of “green” products? If so, how many times did you congratulate yourself today on your awesomeness? And, while we’re at it, how many pennies did you steal this week from those nice little “give a penny, take a penny” pots at the local coffee shop? We now understand why you’re doing it, but luckily we don’t have to suffer the stench of your immorality over the exhaust of our Hummers and Jeep SRTs.

Thanks! Season 10: Smug Alert – Clips – South Park Studios

Do Green Products Make Us Better People?

It’s Complicated: The Realm of On & Off Relationships

Think Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams, Marilyn Manson and Evan Rachel Wood, Jennifer Aniston and John Mayer – just few of celebrity pairs that have gotten on and off, breaking up, then getting back again, sometimes extending the cycle to the point where we are left guessing as to their future romantic plans. On and off relationships are not uncommon. A study by Dailey et al sought to provide a baseline description of on-off relationships and their differences with noncyclical relationships, or relationships that end and do not renew. Factors such as relational development and dissolution, reasons and initiators for dissolution of relationship were looked at. The study revealed the commonality of these kinds of relationships among the participants. Participants who have been in on and off relationships were less likely to report positive characteristics of the initial stages of their relationships. Then why go back to such a relationship if that is so? The researchers also noted that while most breakups were unilateral / non mutual, there was an even higher percentage of on-off relationships that were non mutual, compared to noncyclical relationships. It is possible that one partner would still be interested in instigating reconciliation. Noncyclical partners also reported greater use of mutual disintegration to end a relationship, whereas on-off partners often used methods that were more unclear, such as the “Let’s take a break” excuse. Such method may increase uncertainty whether the relationship is merely ‘on break’ or if it has been terminated.

Several recommendations include the need to address internal factors in the relationships, and the need for certainty,  for both partners to be explicit in their desires to continue or end a relationship.

Celebrity Couples Who Separate and Reunite

On-again/off-again dating relationships: How are they different from other dating relationships? Dailey et al (2009). Personal Relationships

Photo: “2004-12-02 – Light Switch – Messed. Up” by , c/o Flickr. Some Rights Reserved

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Mad Scientists: Can we ever revisit Milgram’s diabolical studies?

By Erica Zaiser

Every student of social psychology remembers studying Stanley Milgram’s famous experiment. His studies shaped future thinking about authority, extreme group behavior, and morality. Many of those same psychology students, captivated by the lure of such exciting and revealing studies, would have also learned that you can no longer actually do that kind of research anymore.

The BBC recently reenacted the Milgram experiment for TV and now, the French have added their own twist. The BBC recently reported on a French TV documentary, which showed that under the guise of a game show, contestants were willing to send an electrical shock to other contestants– sometimes at dangerous levels. These types of TV “experiments” are not subject to the same ethical considerations social psychologists are. Of course, this also means they are also not subject to the same expectation of scientific rigour.  It’s always somewhat exciting to see confirmation (even in a highly unscientific setting) that what was shown by Milgram in the 60s may  still hold true today. However, the potential harm to participants from that type of experiment justifies the ethical limitations preventing such research.

Is there a middle ground?

Some psychologists have found that they can still re-do old experiments but also reduce potential harm to their participants by moving the experiments from the physical world into a virtual world. Two researchers in France used virtual reality to re-examine Milgram’s ideas. Like Milgram, they found that participants showed more obedience when they couldn’t see the victim and they also found that participants felt less distress when the victim was from North Africa than when he was of their same ethnic background.  Virtual reality has opened up a way for psychologists to do research on extreme behaviour, but minimize harm to participants.  Perhaps both psychologists and participants can benefit from future use of virtual reality as a medium for experiments.

Read more: Reopening the study of extreme social behaviors: Obedience to authority within an immersive video environment

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Are Too Many Choices a Hindrance?

One reason for achieving goals is that people are motivated by self-gratification that may occur consciously or unconsciously (Aarts, 2007).  Addressing needs, or accomplishing a task etc. are examples of goal achievement that occur on a regular basis.  Some tasks however require more thought process and perhaps may involve more choices. While more choices are what society may strive for, it is arguably a positive outcome.

Take television or cable channels, for instance, the former may allow a person in the U.S. access to see 12 channels while the latter may result in 70 or more.  A person can be content with watching one show at any given time or bits and pieces of many. Whereas channel surfing may be a popular past time it’s hardly time well spent and people may even be less happy in the end. In the context of dating there may be the ‘perfect [person] list’ where there is an elusive perfect individual somewhere out there.  The individual may be so overwhelmed with choices of an ideal that, again, the outcome is less than positive.

Iyengar, Wells, and Schwartz (2006) argue that too many choices can make someone feel worse rather than better. The researchers found that people who were fixed on options (i.e. TV channels or attributes on the perfect person list, for instance) and used external sources (i.e. TV guide and fashion) as information tended to be less happy.  An explanation for the result is that, in pursuing the goal, the individual is in search for the ideal and while a person may have indeed performed better in some way in the end the ideal cannot been reached (Iyengar et al., 2006).

Depiction of water choices

Read more: NPR- basic TV offers cable alternative

Read more: Ladies and ‘perfect man’ list

Iyengar, S.S., Wells, R.E., & Schwartz, B. (2006).  Doing better but feeling worse: Looking for the “best” job undermines satisfaction.

Aarts, H. (2007). On the emergence of human goal pursuit: The nonconscious regulation and motivation of goals.

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Act your age: young people will like you more!

By Erica Zaiser

We live in a world afraid of getting older. Society constantly reminds us that aging is wrong and that a young look is the key to maintaining social status.  Plastic surgery has become increasingly common, especially among the rich and famous. Although, some celebrities have defied this trend by publicly saying no to attempts to look younger than they are. But, because status is so dependent on beauty and youth, many just assume that eventually the pressure for celebrity staying power will cause them to change their minds. The only way to be accepted by new young fans is to look their age, right?

Not according to recent research. Schoemann and Branscombe (2010) have found that both men and women who try to appear younger than their ages are evaluated more negatively by young people than those who comfortably portray the age they are. The authors argue that older people posing as younger threaten the social identities of young people. So, those celebrities constantly trying to look younger than they are, may in fact be losing more fans than those who have staunchly said no to surgery and yes to aging naturally and gracefully.

Read more: Looking young for your age: Perceptions of anti-aging actions

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