Category Archives: Emotion and Motivation

Bystanders… just standing by. When do people help and when do they not?

By Erica Zaiser

Understanding when and why people intervene to help others, or when they don’t, is at the heart of social psychology. All students of psychology study the famous case of Kitty Genovese, whose screams while being attacked failed to elicit help from the nearly 40 bystanders. Most research on bystander intervention has found that the size of the group greatly impacts the likelihood of intervention. Too big of a group and everybody shifts responsibility assuming that someone else will help but the more people the less likely that any individual will help.

It seems hard to imagine that people would not help when someone is in trouble, wounded, or in danger, yet it happens all the time. Recently I myself stumbled upon a scene of bystander non-intervention which I have since struggled to understand.

The other day while walking home I came upon a man running up and down the street with no shoes or coat holding a phone out shouting at the people on the street and stopping cars banging on the windows. I took a second to survey the scene and it was clear this man was trying to get something from those around him. However nobody was answering him and none of the cars even rolled down their windows to listen. I heard his questions loud and clear, albeit in broken English, “How to call an ambulance?” Still nobody was saying anything. I shouted to him that he needed to call 999 and he came over profusely grateful for my help and I helped him make his emergency call and assisted him and his family until paramedics could arrive. His mother had fallen unconscious in their flat and he had run into the street desperate to know how to call emergency services in this country. I learned that he and all his family was from eastern Europe and they knew very little English. He also told me that he had been trying to get the number for quite some time but nobody had been willing to help.

Having read work on bystander behaviour I shouldn’t have been that surprised that nobody helped but the situation just didn’t fit the common notion that with greater numbers people are less likely to help. Most of the famous incidents involving non-helping behaviour has been within large crowds. There were maybe 7 or 10 people on the street when I arrived. Most were just standing and watching. I don’t have a great answer for why people didn’t help, maybe they couldn’t understand his question… but it seemed quite clear to me. Maybe they feared that it was some type of scam.. but certainly it can’t hurt to tell someone a phone number.

Even more frustrating than not understanding the lack of help was the sneaking suspicion that had he been British, white, or at least a native English speaker, maybe someone would have helped. Research by Levine and colleagues suggests that there might be an element of truth to that. In a study of non-intervention, their research suggests that bystanders are much more likely to help people when they feel that the person seeking assistance is part of their ingroup. This effect holds true even when controlling for the severity of the situation and the emotional arousal felt by bystanders. In other words, no matter how bad the situation or how badly the bystanders felt, they were still less likely to help when the victim was an outgroup member.

This all makes sense from a social psychological perspective and lines up with other research. People tend to behave better to people in their own group in general. But seeing it play out… was still a little depressing.

Read More: Self-Categorization and Bystander Non-Intervention

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Will Libya be the next Egypt and Tunisia?

Libyans in Dublin march in protest against al-Gaddafi

Representatives of the Libyan Community in Ireland handed a letter to the Department of Foreign Affairs today urging the Government, the EU and the UN to stand by the people of Libya. Courtesy of William Murphy, 21 February 2011. http://www.flickr.com/photos/80824546@N00/5465577884

Will Colonel Muarrar al-Gaddafi, the authoritarian leader of Libya, be able to maintain power amid the current protests and uprising or will the story of Libya become similar to that of Egypt and Tunisia?

Al-Gaddafi has brutally controlled Libya without impunity for the last 42 years.  He is one of the longest serving leaders of the country, and he has experienced little threat from dissent or protest in the past because of his repressive methods, but the political climate in the region and the country may empower Libyans to challenge the status quo.

According to research by Drury and Reicher (2005) Libyans might be empowered by protest against al-Gaddafi’s government if collective action is understood as an expression of social identity.  Other research by Mannarini, Roccato, Fedi, and Rovere (2009) similarly points to the role of social identity in determining support for protest, as well as the perception of injustice and the perception that a vast majority of people are behind the movement.  Political pressure, not just from within Libya but from the international community, is highlighting the illegitimacy of al-Gaddafi’s rule.  Emboldened social identity of the Libyan people re-framed in the context of the political changes in Egypt and Tunisia may be enough to tip the tides.

To read more:

Libya: Past and future? – al-Jazeera, 24 February 2011

Drury, J. & Reicher, S. (2005). Explaining enduring empowerment: a comparative study of collective action and psychological outcomes. European Journal of Social Psychology, 35, 35–58.

Mannarini, T., Roccato, M., Fedi, A. & Rovere, A. (2009). Six Factors Fostering Protest: Predicting Participation in Locally Unwanted Land Uses Movements. Political Psychology, 30, 895–920.

Ostracism and School Shootings: What’s the Connection?

By: Megan Birney

In California today a teacher became yet another victim of gun violence in U.S. schools. According to initial reports, the teacher was shot by a student who he’d had an argument with earlier in the day. After years of reading about these horrific school shootings (Wikipedia lists over 45 of these incidents in the last 5 years), many of us are plagued by the following question: Why does this keep happening?

While there is little doubt that school shootings are the result of many complex factors, some research suggests that a combination of feeling ostracized and not in control could lead individuals to act overly aggressive. Reacting to years of ostracism has consistently been cited as a possible motive in the massacres at both Columbine High School and Virginia Tech. Yet Williams (2007) points out that many individuals who experience ostracism respond by increasing the attention they pay to others and consciously trying to please those around them. It seems, then, that ostracized individuals tend to deal with the pain of ostracism in one of two ways: some become more passive while others become more aggressive.

So what determines how an ostracized person reacts? Williams (2007) suggests that the aggression that sometimes follows ostracism may be the individual’s attempt to restore a sense of control over their environment. Because ostracized individuals often feel invisible, acting out in aggressive ways forces others to notice and acknowledge them.  Aggression in this case may be the only way the individual is able to reclaim a sense of control over their environment.

While we continue to come to grips with the tragedy of school shootings, it may be worth keeping these ideas in mind. If we want to stop these acts of violence, we may want to take a closer look at how ostracism impacts other areas of the ostracized person’s life.

Further Reading:

Vocational school teacher shot by student in Los Angeles

 

Williams, K.D. (2007). Ostracism: The kiss of social death. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 1, 236-237.

I’m Back with a New Identity: Baby Daddy!

by P. Getty

I want to begin this entry with a short apology to my loyal readers—all ten of you—for taking some time away from the blog. I understand if you are upset, what with being without your biweekly fix of weird thoughts and rants that I proudly contribute to the psychological community. I understand that I have slacked in this charge. I will, unless environmental influences shift even more drastically than they already have, continue to provide that service. Still, I feel that I owe you, my loyal reader, an explanation for my absence. Well, if the picture that accompanies this entry and the title above doesn’t give it away, the reason for my absence was that my son, Lucas Kinan (which means danger in Japanese if you are interested) was born on February 2nd, 2011, at 21:20 hrs.  So I was away becoming baby daddy! Strangely, since then, my demeanor has shifted slightly to that of a sleep-deprived zombie. Despite this, however, I’m confident in my new role as baby daddy and look forward to this new adventure while getting back to the blogin’.  Weirdly, my positive attitude seems to be in contrast to what is expected from a person in my shoes, according to the relevant literature.

In a resent review of the literature on men transitioning to fatherhood, Genesoni and Tallandini (2009) identified three phases in this transition that coincide with the stages of their pregnant partners (i.e., prenatal, labor and birth; finally, postnatal). Each stage is accompanied by its own set of challenges and obstacles for the transitioning male. While I don’t want to give away the ending, I will point out that the authors suggest that the postnatal stage (the stage I’m in) has the potential to be the most inter- and intra-personally challenging in the sense of dealing with their our new identity as the baby daddy.  Not me! I’m lovin’ it! Of course, it could be the significant increase in caffeine I’ve consumed daily in order to combat the lack of Zs. Nevertheless, I’m sure this new caffeinated adventure will be full of the strange and the weird, like the rest of my life. With that, there should be interesting tales and experiences that will no doubt find their way into this blog.

With that, I would like to congratulate myself and the rest of the newly named baby daddies out their, and wish us good luck, we are going to need it.

Genesoni & Tallandini (2009)

What makes us happy on Valentine’s Day?

Cut-out book of Valentines circa 1940.

Valentine’s Day was established in honor of three early Christian martyrs named Saint Valentine, but today people celebrate romantic love or love more generally.  Since romance is so salient on this holiday, people who are single can feel ostracized and sometimes motivated to support an anti-love mantra.  I wonder if the second biggest Hallmark holiday is really worth the hype (either for or against). Is love or a partner really what makes people happy in life?

Perhaps one of the answers can be found by looking at one of the current hot topics in social psychology research: the intersection of emotion regulation and well being.  A quick look at the latest program from the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology reveals numerous talks and posters on the topic of mindfulness and emotion regulation.

A recent paper points to the importance of the perspective from which people try to adaptively reflect on their feelings.  According to Ayduk and Kross (2010), participants who analyzed negative experiences from a self-distanced perspective (versus a self-immersed perspective) were less likely to ruminate and reported less negative emotions.  Maybe people’s affective experiences on Valentine’s Day have more to do with how they think about their lives and less about relationship status.

Read more:

Ayduk, Ö. and Kross, E. (2010). Analyzing negative experiences without ruminating: The role of self-distancing in enabling adaptive self-reflection. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4, 841–854.

Meditation vs. Medication: Which Should You Choose?

“I” love “you”

By Erica Zaiser

Valentine’s Day is tomorrow and so many couples may be reflecting on the status of their relationship. If you aren’t already over-thinking what every little thing your partner does (or doesn’t do) this season means, here is yet another way in which you can dissect the quality of your relationship during your romantic evening. Or, at the very least, this might give you something interesting to talk about with your date when you realize you have nothing in common but already paid for two overpriced three-course Valentine’s Day meals.

According to recent research on the language of couples, the words used when a couple discusses their relationship can be indicative of their satisfaction in the relationship and its longevity. In studies looking at daily Instant Messaging conversations between couples, researchers found that the pronouns used most could predict both satisfaction with a partner and the likelihood that the relationship would still be intact 6 months later. For women, their use of “I” was most related to satisfaction with their partner. But men’s use of “me” suggested a small negative relationship with their partner’s satisfaction with them. Although negative emotion words had no relation to satisfaction or stability, the use of positive emotion words by men was related to increased satisfaction for both partners and an increased chance of relationship survival.

There is other research suggesting that the use of “I” can be beneficial over “you” because “you” can be blaming while “I” is self-reflective, but this research shows that there may be gender differences between the perception of and meaning behind pronoun choice. Furthermore, the researchers suggest that word choice by couples is context dependent. Using “you” when discussing the relationship is very different from the use of “you” in normal everyday conversation.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone. Try not to spend the whole evening with your date (if you are lucky enough to have one) counting their “you”s and “I”s.

Read more: Am “I” more important than “you”

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