Category Archives: Social Influence

Partitioning Sudan: Failure or Successful Resolution?

Voter registration line in Abyei

People lined up to register to vote in Abyei, Sudan, 18 November 2009. Photo courtesy of U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan. The views expressed here have not been endorsed by the Special Envoy.

A vote for independence from the north is the expected outcome of the referendum in southern Sudan, which was held from 9-15 January 2011. Sudan’s fractured history goes much deeper than the more recent killing and displacement in the Darfur region, including two civil wars between the more developed Islamic north and the impoverished tribal south. The latter conflict was mainly over the religious autonomy of the south and division of oil revenues. (The majority of Sudan’s oilfields are in the south while refineries and pipelines to the seaports are in the north). The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement established tentative peace and mandated a referendum for independence.

Some consider the partitioning of a country to be a failure of diplomacy and intergroup contact.  For southern Sudan gaining independence, although fraught with many new challenges, might be an opportunity to gain equal status with the north. According to Gordan Allport’s intergroup contact hypothesis, equal status is one of the four necessary preconditions for decreasing intergroup prejudice and anxiety. Commentary on Allport’s work (Esses, Jackson, Dovidio, & Hodson, 2008) claims that reducing competition for tangible resources and attenuating symbolic conflict over issues such as identity and religion need to happen simultaneously. In fact, decreasing tension over sovereignty and religious freedom might create more political space to negotiate sharing oil revenues.

On the Ground: Answering Your Sudan Questions, Take 1

Esses, V. M., Jackson, L. M., Dovidio, J. F. and Hodson, G. (2008). Instrumental relations among groups: Group competition, conflict, and prejudice. In J. F. Dovidio, P. Glick and L. A. Rudman (Eds.), On the nature of prejudice: Fifty years after Allport (pp. 227 – 243). Blackwell Publishing Ltd, Oxford, UK.

Priming racist symbol promotes racist voting

By: Erica Zaiser

Since the media is already beginning to review the last US presidential election in order to predict the next one, I thought it would be a good time to discuss a recent article in Political Psychology about the 2008 election. In their pre-election study, the researchers found that priming images of the confederate flag decreased white voters willingness to vote for Obama. Even when assessing a hypothetical black candidate, white participants evaluated the candidate more negatively after being exposed to the confederate flag. However, this wasn’t just an increase in negative attitudes in general, because there was no effect on attitudes towards white candidates.

This isn’t particularly surprising when you think about it. As the authors explain, by priming the confederate flag,  negative attitudes towards blacks are more accessible. However, these studies are good examples of how something somewhat obvious for psychologists in the lab is still striking when you think about the ramifications it can have in the “real world”. Especially when you realize that the results were controlling for political orientation and personal racial attitudes. So it wasn’t that people who already held strong racist views were reminded of their own beliefs; instead, people exposed to the image accessed a set of racist cultural beliefs that the flag represents, regardless of their personal attitudes towards race or politics.

I wanted to write about this because it’s interesting and important to be aware of. I am also worried that psychologists shouldn’t draw too much attention to this effect or we are going to see this type of priming used (or used more) on the campaign trail.

Read more: Exposure to confederate flag affects willingness to vote for Obama

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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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