Category Archives: Social Influence

That is probably not a ghost, it’s probably just randomness.

By, Adam K. Fetterman

Poster design by Gravillis Inc.

A recent trend in cable television is paranormal investigation shows. For example, the SyFy channel has Ghost Hunters and A&E has Paranormal State. The point of these shows is to investigate claims of the paranormal and then confirm or debunk them. While certain shows do a fairly good job of at least “trying” to debunk the claims, others make no clear attempt. For instance, many, if not all, of these shows feature a time of “investigation” in which the main “characters” try to communicate with the spirit world. They do so by asking the “ghosts” to make a noise or make themselves appear. Usually they will come up with some sort of noise or evidence and conclude that, “indeed, there is a presence!” The first problem here is that, in order to properly debunk such events, one must not believe in them in the first place, or at least have some education in explaining psychological or natural experiences. However, the main issue is that a truly skeptical person will take the evidence of a random noise in response to a question as chance occurrence that is more likely to be explained statistical randomness. One the other hand, a paranormal believer would dismiss that event as chance and explain it paranormally.

This is what is known as the conjunction fallacy. According to Rogers, Davis, & Fisk (2008), indeed those who believe in the paranormal, are more susceptible to the conjunction fallacy than non-believers. Furthermore, they found that those less educated in math, statistics and psychology were more susceptible as well. Therefore, when two not-so-rare events occur (i.e. talking and a bump in the night), paranormal believers make the error in concluding that both events occurring simultaneously was too improbable to be coincidence. Based on previous findings, Rogers and colleagues suggest that this happens because those that believe in the paranormal have less understanding of chance and randomness. In closing, it is obvious that these shows are for purely entertainment value and most people would not tune in if they didn’t find “evidence” of the paranormal. However, it does seem troublesome to perpetuate a lack of rational and logical reasoning skills.

In a couple weeks: Why some are motivated to believe in the paranormal?

Researching the paranormal with Ryan Buell. By, Jennifer Vazquez – The Leader

A&E’s Paranormal State website.

SyFy’s Ghost Hunters website.

Rogers, P., Davis T., & Fisk, J. (2009). Paranormal belief and susceptibility of the conjunction fallacy. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 23, 524-542

Are you aware of your partner’s secret STD?

By Kevin R. Betts

“Don’t wait until you’re naked in bed with someone to tell them you have an STD.” This is legitimate advice from therapist and relationship expert Rachel A. Sussman, as quoted in a recent CNN health article. But as an uninfected individual, is this unfortunate scenario something that you need to be concerned about? Certainly an individual that you willingly become intimate with wouldn’t put you at risk without at least informing you. Right? Not necessarily.

Take HIV infection as an example. Fisher, Kohut, and Fisher (2009) point out that most research in the social sciences aimed at preventing the spread of HIV targets uninfected individuals. Meanwhile, research aimed at preventing high risk behaviors among infected individuals remains scarce. Yet it is infected individuals that are the greatest threat to the spread of this disease. Fisher et al. (2009) argue that this inappropriate focus on the behaviors of uninfected individuals resulted from the well-intentioned efforts of researchers to avoid strengthening existing patterns of prejudice, fear of contagion, and blaming the victim. Although these intentions are admirable, they nonetheless have neglected to consider an important link in the chain of infection. Many infected individuals remain willing to hide information about HIV and other contagious diseases from their partner(s). Fisher et al. (2009) urge social scientists to refocus their efforts on preventing high risk behaviors among infected individuals.

What should uninfected individuals take from this example? It is important that you speak with your partner(s) about sexually transmitted diseases. Although this discussion may be uncomfortable, it may also save you extensive physical and psychological distress down the line.

Read more:

8 tips for telling your partner a health secret (CNN)

Fisher, W.A., Kohut, T., & Fisher, J. (2009). AIDS exceptionalism: On the social psychology of HIV prevention research. Social Issues and Policy Review, 3, 45-77.

View other posts by Kevin R. Betts

Jesus made me vote that way.

By, Adam K. Fetterman
It is Election Day 2010 and there are a variety of motivations people have to vote and how to vote. Many are angry and some are anxious and uneasy, according to Holly Bailey. Many conservative voters are angry at the Democrat controlled house and senate. Many liberals are upset about the lack of hope and change promised to them by President Barack Obama, regardless of how many of his promises he has acted on. Regardless of party, many voters are basically upset with the state of the country. For these reasons, people have a motivation to vote and to vote in a certain way. However, these may not be the only things influencing the way they vote.

According to research by Abraham Rutchick (2010), the place in which one votes can have a significant effect on the way one votes. What he found was that when voting in a church or exposed to Christian imagery, people tend to vote more conservatively. For example, people voting in a church tended to vote for conservative candidates and ban same-sex marriages, than those voting in secular locations (Rutchick, 2010). This is a very important finding. Churches are particularly popular polling locations. It has always seemed odd to vote in churches, but until now there has been no reason to not vote in churches. They are in the communities and can hold a lot of people. However, given the evidence of the influence, it seems that voting should be conducted in secular locations, away from the biasing influence of the churches. If not for this reason, then at least of the separation of church and state, even if the reasons are not apparent.

2010: A campaign year driven by conflicted emotions. By, Holly Bailey

Rutchick, A. M. (2010). Deus ex machina: The influence of polling place on voting behavior. Political Psychology, 31, 209-225.

“I just don’t trust you with that accent”: Non-native speakers and the fluency effect

By Erica Zaiser

The other day I was at a pub quiz and a question had been asked which I didn’t know the answer to. While discussing possible answers, one team member said what she thought was the right answer. It just didn’t sound believable to me. Then another team member said the exact same thing and it suddenly sounded like it was probably the right answer. Now, there are lots of reasons why that might happen. I might just have been convinced by two team members voicing the same opinion. Or maybe the second team member simply sounded more confident in her answer, which led to me placing my confidence in her. Or, it occurred to me, it may have been because the first team member was not a native English speaker and the second was.

In an interesting recent set of studies researchers found that when people hear information they are less likely to believe it when the speaker has a non-native accent. According to the researchers, this isn’t just because of prejudice, as one might assume. It’s actually to do with the fluency effect. The ease at which a message is processed is assumed to be indicative of how truthful the message is. In their studies, even when people heard messages which were originally from a native speaker and simply being passed on by the foreign speaker, people still were less likely to trust the message than when it was said directly by a native speaker.

In studies looking at children, researchers found that children were more likely to endorse actions done by a native speaker than a foreign speaker. Although that research wasn’t specifically looking at the fluency effect, it’s quiet possible that it plays a role in guiding children’s choices in selecting to trust information.

The worst part is that I had read this article just before the quiz, so this process was fresh in my mind and it still caught me up. So, for those non-native English speakers out there who are wondering why nobody believes things they say… you may want to put on your best native English accent and try repeating it. Some of us just can’t seem to override the fluency effect.

Read more: Children’s selective trust in native accented speakers.

Read more: BPS Research Digest Blog- Speakers with a foreign accent are perceived as less credible.

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More BS From The BCS: The Oregon Ducks Get Shafted Again!

By, P. Getty

Of course my wife would never agree with me—she’s less of a Notre Dame fan than she is an ardent despiser of the Ducks—but as the title of this little rant indicates, the big news this week is that the Oregon Ducks got screwed out of the #1 spot on the BCS rankings again. Three weeks in a row, the #1 team (Alabama, Ohio State and Oklahoma, respectively) was knocked off the top. After Alabama was defeated and Ohio State took their place, Oregon moved up to #2 spot, where they remain. Since Ohio States’ defeat the following week, a lower-ranked team has passed both Boise State (#3) and Oregon to steal the top spot! One would expect, as I do, that if the top ranked teams is defeated, then the #2 team should take their spot. Am I right?

Well not according to the BCS’ f’ing computer system! How can it be that a damn computer program rank the Ducks #11 when every human poll has them ranked at #1, where, in my not-so-humble opinion, they belong? I don’t understand it—though I do. I don’t want to understand it—though I must. The answer, of course: statistics.

Statistics, however, is not the reason why I’ve been cursing the BCS or #1 team and their fans, hoping that they will crash and burn during the next week’s game. The problem is that ever since I’ve become what I like to call a “pilgrim in an unholy land” (Pennsylvania), I’ve become strongly attached to all that is Oregon, the Ducks being especially salient in that they represent my alma mater (and my wife’s but she hates them). It’s as if they have somehow been incorporated into my social identity—my in-group—and their neglect in the rankings have made me prone to fits of rage! I wonder if this realization explains my hatred for the top team? I wonder if this hatred is unusual?

Well, according to Nicholas Dixon (2001), who has written on the ethics of sports fans, would probably say, yes, it is unusual. Dixon believes that loyalty to one’s team is ultimately a “good,” because fan loyalty does not equate to harshness towards other teams or their fans. I believe I challenge that notion. Still, I don’t think Dixon is familiar with the inter-group literature, because the majority of that literature would predict that a strong-identifier, like me, would do about anything, even derogating the other teams publicly, to insure my in-group’s superior status….

Thankfully, though, while my feelings are strong in the matter, the ethical side of my conscious is clear; I haven’t stooped to outgroup derogation that this literature suggests (see Branscombe & Wann, 1994, for a review) I would. Nope. I haven’t gone out of my way to publicly bash the undeserving numskulls at Auburn (the current #1 ranked team), or their idiot fans who probably bribed the programmers over at the BCS to move them up to the top spot from #4 when they clearly deserve to be rotting at the bottom of the rankings….

Did I just write that?

BCS Computers don’t like Oregon Much, by Larry Brown

Dixon (2001)

Branscombe & Wann (1994)

Homer is just like me!

By, Adam K. Fetterman
Catholicism has not had a good last couple years/decades. This has been particularly true recently with the scandals involving the pope and child abuse. So, it would seem like a good idea to take some focus off these situations and lighten things up a bit. This is what they have done recently. According, to the Time website, the Vatican’s official newspaper has declared Homer Simpson as a Catholic. This is odd to most fans because Homer, and the rest of the Simpson flock (minus Lisa who proclaims to be a Buddhist), are clearly and openly protestant. Specifically with Homer, some could probably argue that he is not even a protestant. They use a couple examples of why Homer is a Catholic, but most appear to be reflective of Christianity in general, not to mention that most of the Catholicism references in the show are mocking in nature. Why might someone, or thing, come to such an odd belief, such as Homer Simpson being of their religion?

One possible explanation may come from what is known as the “false consensus effect” (Ross, Greene, & House, 1977). According to a review by Baumeister, Dale, & Sommer (1998), this effect is a type of projection in which individuals have a bias to think that others’ traits are similar to their own. So, it may, for whatever motivation, be that the Vatican newspaper writers are projecting their own traits or beliefs on what they perceive as a well liked popular figure, and Homer is definitely that. Another weird thing that people might notice is that Family Guy’s Griffin family is actually Catholic, but the Vatican decided against mentioning them. However, it probably would not be considered a positive to associate oneself with a show as “controversial” as that one.

Before someone comments that the Vatican paper was arguing that Homer represents what a good Catholic should be. This may be so, but that was not clear in the Time piece linked here. Furthermore, one would have to ignore a considerable amount of aspects of the show to consider The Simpsons as reflecting good Catholic values. However, relative to the Griffins in Family Guy, one could see how they would like to associate themselves with the “tamer”, and more loved, Simpsons family. Don’t we all?

“Homer Simpson: A True Catholic?” By Megan Friedman, Time Magazine

Baumeister et al. (1998). Freudian defense mechanisms and empirical findings in modern social psychology: Reaction formation, projection, displacement, undoing, isolation, sublimation, and denial. Journal of Personality, 66, 1081-1124.

Friends and Facebook: Online social behavior- not that different from the real world?

By Erica Zaiser

Continuing with my previous post about Facebook, TIME recently reported on another study using the social networking site. According to the article, researchers in Denver wanted to understand why people “defriend” others in Facebook and what types of behaviours are likely to lead to a break in the online friendship. Unsurprisingly, they found that things are pretty similar in an online social network to a real-life social network. People defriend others much for the same reasons they end real world friendships. People who go on an on about a subject on Facebook were most likely to get defriended followed by people who talk about politics or religion and people who post racist or offensive comments.

As Facebook has grown in popularity so has interest in it as an area of research for social psychologists. Another study looking at Facebook found a relationship between number of friends and impressions about a persons attractiveness and popularity. Generally more friends made participants in the study believe the person was more attractive and popular, but only to a point. When the number of friends became very large (more than 300) people then began to doubt the users popularity and rated the user as being almost as unattractive as those who had very few friends. According to the research, people began to doubt that people had accrued their large number of friends simply because they were extroverted and instead may be making assumptions that the profile owner added friends for other reasons (like they are actually desperate for friends and are just adding whomever they can to look popular).

Facebook and other online  social mediums are interesting to look at for psychologists because its both possible to study unique social phenomenon in the online world but also because behaviours online may help researchers understand behaviours offline. Perhaps in real life, people who are seen as “too social” are sometimes viewed as negatively as people who have just a few friends.

Read more: Too much of a good thing? The relationship between number of friends and interpersonal impressions on Facebook

CNN on Long and ParrisRead more: TIME article: How to lose Facebook friends the fastest.

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Are we free to ink?

Apparently 1 in every 5 British adults has been ‘inked’ (Guardian 2010). But is the evident popularity of tattooing a result of multiple individual expressions of free will and agency devoid of cultural influence?

According to Woody, the tattoo artist interviewed by the Guardian, this form of body modification is much more than mere fashion ‘A tattoo gives you something to live for…Why do you get up in the morning? To wear grey, to have your life ruled by train timetables? A tattoo offers you something personal and fun and exciting in a world that can be drab and grey.’

Academics such as Pitts (2000) and Sullivan (2004) would agree that the decision to ‘ink’, along with other forms of body modification (e.g. piercing) is an act by an empowered individual making his/her own intentional and uninfluenced choice. Sullivan (2004) goes as far as to argue that the search for meaning in tattooing is pointless because it is more than an intentional act. It is ‘an integral aspect of the inter-subjective and/or inter-textual character of what we might call existence and existences’ (2004: 3).

One of the issue with arguing that people make autonomous/uninfluenced choices is that it is complicit with neoliberal discourses which position individuals as rational, calculating and self-regulating; ascribing them full responsibility for their life biography regardless of the constraints upon their actions (Walkerdine et al., 2001).

Gill (2007: 73) argues that if tattooing, or any other fashion item, ‘were simply a freedom of choice and not cultural influence then why is the ‘look’ so similar? If it were the outcome of peoples’ individual idiosyncratic preferences, then surely there would be greater diversity?’ She argues that the choice to body modify or consume any other fashion item, is arrived at anything but autonomously because choices have everything to do with the person’s daily exposure to cultural images that shape their tastes, desires and what they perceive as a beautiful body.

CNN on Long and ParrisThe rise and rise of the tattoo

CNN on Long and ParrisSocialization: Insights from Social Cognition

Terrorism as collective communication

By Kevin R. Betts

Recently, intelligence surfaced about several dozen Muslim militants with European citizenship training for attacks that may involve European capitals. These reports are especially worrisome because unlike previous threats, this most recent one involves individuals with unrestricted access between training grounds in Pakistan and various European countries. Western officials are currently advising vigilance among those living and traveling in Europe as attempts are made to dismantle the threat.

Research on terrorist threats like the one captured above have surged following the shocking attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001. Is it possible to make sense of these threats using this research and improve counterterrorism efforts? Recent work by Fischer, Fischer, Weisweiler, and Frey (2010) suggests that we can. They presented a collective communication model of terrorism (CCMT), which “proposes that terrorism is a complex process of collective dialogue between terrorists and potential victims about political/societal issues and aims…” Their model is an extension of the classic communication model, which comprises a sender, a message, and a receiver. In the CCMT, the terrorist as sender possesses attributes that influence the nature of interactions with the receiver. These attributes may regard cultural origin and motive for the attack, among others. The victim of terrorist threats is the receiver in this model, and also possesses various attributes that influence the nature of interactions. The message in this model may concern political or social issues, and is communicated through a threat or attack committed by the terrorist on to the victim. Fischer et al. (2010) extend this basic model further by considering ways in which the receiver interprets and responds to the message. For instance, victims may respond in ways that are conflict-escalating or deescalating, either of which communicates a new message to the terrorist. This often results in a cyclical process whereby the sender and receiver continuously switch roles sending opposing messages.

What is the implication of this research for counterterrorism efforts? If terrorists and victims simply take turns communicating opposing messages, then no solution can be reached. For counterterrorism measures to be effective, genuine understanding of the motives behind terrorist threats is necessary. Why do today’s terrorists feel hatred toward their victims? Why do they see violence as an acceptable medium of communication? By answering these questions, we may be able reduce the number of future threats, and respond more appropriately to those that still emerge.

Read more:

Dozens of Europeans in terror training (MSNBC)

Fischer, P., Fischer, J.K, Weisweiler, S., & Frey, D. (2010). Terrorism as collective communication: The collective communication model of terrorism (CCMT). Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4/9, 692-703.

View other posts by Kevin R. Betts

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