Tag Archives: Social Influence

Finding a Human In-group in the Wake of a Ravaged Japan

By P. Getty

Much of the research tackling questions regarding our shared human identity seems to focus on the infra-humanization and de-humanization of out-group members (Paladino & Vaes, 2009, for example), or how human norms effect our reactions to victims and perpetrators generally and more specifically in the context of historical atrocities (Greenaway & Louis, 2010). While these research programs are vital to understanding “the human element” of inter-group attitudes, I think they ignore an even more elemental phenomenon that I like to call spontaneous human-in-group affiliation (Getty, in progress). While we are hopelessly bound to humanity, people rarely, if ever, name humanity as a salient in-group. In fact, Lickel, Hamilton and Sherman (2001) studied lay theories of groups and found that the abstraction of group extended only as far as loose affiliations of interests (e.g., Coltrane fans). Not once did they suggest that species-level affiliation was seen as a viable in-group. However, studies of de- and infra-humanization showed that strong identifiers from diverse groups report believing that their in-group posses more human-like qualities than out-group members (Castano & Kafta, 2009). What does this mean? It could be that our species-level affiliation is simply a distant, abstract concept concealed in our allegiances to in-groups, but present nonetheless. The question I’m tackling, then, is, when do we shed our lesser in-group identity and spontaneously identify as “human beings” when being human is not a salient self-categorization?

One clue to answering this question might have been revealed in the aftermath of the devastating earthquakes and following tsunami that ravaged much of the northeastern coast of Japan. While there is little to report about the details of the disaster that goes above and beyond the facts already reported in the media, there does seem to be an interesting phenomenon that might be related to my concept of spontaneous human-in-group affiliation. If one were to follow the link below to the Web site discussing the disaster they would find at the bottom a number of posts (one of which is mine) from concerned and empathetic people from around the world. Some of these people come from countries that have had historical conflict with and mistrust of Japan  (China, for example). Even still, for one reason of another, these folks have been compelled to take the time to write and express their concern for the suffering of others who would normally be out-group members, if not for their human ties.  I commented on this observation: “It is amazing how human beings from around the world, despite strong in-group affiliations and histories of conflict with each other, find their humanity in situations of suffering. We find our human in-group and that, I think, is a fragile good that comes from these situations.”

I still have much work to do to answer the question of spontaneous human-in-group affiliation. My own personal good to come from this disaster, however, is a testable hypothesis: Spontaneous human-in-group affiliation occurs in the wake of natural disasters (Getty, now in progress). You will have to wait for the “why” of this hypothesis when the manuscript is done.

In closing, there is little to say other than to express my sincerest empathy for my fellow humans suffering in Japan. I hope those of you who read this, and are able, will join me in following the link below to contribute to the American Red Cross, who is equipped to help those suffering in Japan, or contribute to other charitable organizations that can do the same.

Follow link to donate funds for Japanese earthquake and tsunami relief via the American Red Cross

Follow link to VOA news and comments about the Japanese disaster.

Paladino & Vaes, 2009

Greenway & Louis, 2010

We’re all in this together… doing it in our own way

By: Christopher C. Duke, Ph.D.

Yep, this picture is kind of cheesy.For better or for worse, global issues like climate change are bound up with existing social identities (Recap: a social identity is any type of social group in which someone is a member and feels a psychological sense of identification with the group.) This means that the practical scientific issues become entangled with social psychological issues. Protection of the natural environment has become associated with particular identities – you can imagine the stereotype of an environmentalist, and the many epithets this evokes (“granola eater,” “tree hugger,” etc.) This means people who identify as an environmentalist may be spurred to further positive action, but people who do not identify with the stereotype of an environmentalist may be put off from taking positive environmental action. In America, belief in climate change is segregated by party lines.

For issues like climate change, a small group of people, no matter how committed, just won’t be enough to cut it. We need all types of people, especially people that are psychologically repelled from the issue because of antagonism towards the stereotype of environmentalists. This is a problem, but it can be overcome. For example, Cohen (2003) experimentally demonstrated that people did not support political policies based on whether the policy matched their stated political views. Instead, the biggest factor was whether people identified with the political party that proposed the policy – if “we” support it, it must be good, but if “they” support it, it must be bad.

Ultimately, this means that dissimilar people are much more likely to get on board for taking action on climate change if their leaders forge their own self-determined path to promote the issue of climate change. Importing a disliked outgroup’s “brand” of environmentalism can backfire spectacularly. Disparate social groups need their own unique style of environmentalism. Fortunately, that is already happening. For example, Carbon Nation is a new documentary about climate change, aimed at politically conservative people who are typically resistant to the conventional image of environmentalism, and would not respond to a movie like An Inconvenient Truth. In Carbon Nation, the people who speak about climate change are a former CIA director, a conservative Alaskan, an army colonel, and a Texan farmer. To be sure, we need people like Al Gore and the self-identified tree huggers, but – like it or not – we especially need the hunters, the blue collar workers, and the truck drivers if we are to see effective public action on climate change. You can see the trailer for Carbon Nation here:

If you want a more detailed look at these kinds of issues, my PhD research uses experimental studies to investigate social identity’s role in environmental issues.

Cohen, G.L. (2003). Party over policy: The dominating impact of group influence on political beliefs. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85(5), 808–822.

Duke, C. C. (2010). Social identity and the environment: The influence of group processes on environmentally sustainable behaviour.

‘Will Carbon Nation succeed where An Inconvenient Truth failed?’ The Guardian.

Emotions as a Source of Motivation

Walk proud… walk like an Egyptian!

I was in Egypt from Tuesday 25 January through Saturday 29 January 2011, i.e. the first five days of the people’s up rise.  I witnessed a series of events, actions that have left me flabbergasted.

Cairo at 11.00 am on the day of the peaceful protests that were to start at 02.00 pm seemed  busy and peaceful all at once — like it always is. It seemed that the day would develop as usual. 

For the larger part of the day, I stayed tuned to Al Jazeerah and Al Arabiyah  — two cable new channels — to keep track of the walkout that was about to begin.  The crowds began to gather in and around Tahrir Square.  They came from all social strata.  Most people carried peaceful signs that pronounce five clear-stated demands:  that the President steps down; that neither he nor his son run for office again; that the Government Cabinet be dissolved and new Ministers be appointed; that the Shura Council be dissolved and new fair elections take place; and that the Constitution be amended. There was a lot of security on the streets but there was no engagement between them and the protesters.  Surrounding streets were closed off from vehicles to prevent needless confrontations.

For several hours, the events were developing rather peacefully.  Many of my family members and friends were amongst the demonstrators and I felt envious of their strong sense of civic engagement, patriotism and willpower.  A strong sense of identity dawned on each and every Egyptian, as well as anyone who has any link to Egypt.

Shared identity in action in Egypt Then as the early hours of the evening kicked in and the tone of the events was slowly shifting.  Tension was building up. People did notdisperse and go home.  People declared they would remain and their tone became far more hostile.  The protest went on into the late hours.  Outside, you could hear the sound of ad hoc gunshots and glass breaking.

Day two of the uprise seemed a mixture of patriotic youth still making the same demands in addition to hungry people demanding change to be able to feed their families.  These were two distinct groups.  Yesterday’s protesters had split.   Additionally, one could notice the huge number of security guards on the streets, especially on the streets leading to Tahrir Square and important Government offices.  However, they only stood there, anticipating problems that may arise on this second day of demonstrations.

How did this all start?  A few people on Facebook and other social networks thought they could arouse the interest, the anger, the despair, the humiliation and the revolt of the Egyptian people towards the 30-year Mubarak regime.  Did they not realize that Egypt has a population of 80 million of which only a small percentage would be able to grasp the ideologies they were voicing and would know how to respect the boundaries dictated by what is termed “peaceful protest”?  Did they not realize that there were many angry and suppressed people who would take advantage of the situation to escalate it into the adversity it has become today?  Now what???

Day three was filled with mixed feelings:  people were left confused between their sense of solidarity and fear from the turn of events. Emotions led their motivation.  The same three distinct groups prevailed.

People remained glued to their television screens if they were not physically present at the protest.  People waited.  What were we waiting for?

I suppose we waited to see the reaction of the Presidency… where was President Mubarak?  Why had he not yet addressed the people of Egypt?  The people of Egypt were waiting and so was the world.

Late into the night, the mobile networks and internet networks were halted.  People felt angry, cut off from the world.  It was the first time that we all realised that  for over 10 years now, we have grown to be dependent on our mobile lines and most of us did not know anyone else’s landlines! 

Day four was labelled Angry Friday. History was in the making.  The afternoon progressed fairly quietly and well into the people’s newly developed routine for the past three days our eyes remained focused on television, television and more television.  The events were escalating and the tension was mounting.  Another caliber of people had hit the streets of Cairo:  people were breaking and entering shops and companies, looting them of their goods.  Banks, ATM machine, airline offices, etc… everything was being raided!  What happened to the peaceful protest?  Where did the Facebook community and other social networks go?  They were being replaced and outnumbered by a number of street bullies who seized the opportunity to disrupt the peaceful protest and transform it into the “up rise of the thieves” as it was now being labelled.  Chaos was everywhere and the only conceivable response was to instate a curfew from 6.00 pm to 7.00 am the next morning in attempt to limit the people’s movement on the streets.  Did it work?  Not really for protesters remained camped out in Tahrir Square and chanted “We will not leave until he (the president) leaves!”

The weight of the situation was taking its toll on everyone.  Everyone sat quietly watching the live feeds on television.   People’s tolerance was hitting rock bottom.  People were upset at the way the protest was turning into a confrontation amongst protesters.  Some newcomers who supported the Government challenged the crowd that was striving for it to be dissolved.  People were being influenced by the president’s speech.  Egyptians are emotional people and their position may be swayed if their emotions are triggered.

Gunshots continued well into the night… a sound that everyone had grown accustomed to for four nights straight now.

I left the next morning to the airport as soon as the curfew was lifted.  

This journey seemed to take “forever”… this same route I had enjoyed four days before in the opposite direction.  However this time, frantic pedestrians filled the highway.  Most of them walked with nude torso swaying their arms in the air with pocket knives, and other arms. They were attacking passing cars.  They banged on the hoods and trunks of the cars in attempt to scare the drivers into stopping so they could loot them.  Meanwhile a”City Center” was going up in flames… that same shopping mall that stood tall and busy a few days before was slowly melting away.  In the midst of this sad scene, the-hungry-people-of-Egypt-turned-thieves robbed whatever goods and food they could get hold of from the inflamed stores.

I went through several road blocks until reaching the toll stations preceding the entrances to Cairo International Airport.  There I was subjected to a thorough car search before being allowed to proceed.  Inside the terminal, I battled my way through people sitting, laying, sleeping on the floor waiting for news of their flights that had not even flown in; people rioting in front of airline offices demanding answers to their million and one questions regarding their flights; and security guards trying to keep everything under control!  People were angry, tired and confused.

What other emotions will they feel next?

Reicher, S. D., Haslam, S. A., & Hopkins, N. (2005). Social identity and the dynamics of leadership: Leaders and followers as collaborative agents in the transformation of social reality. The Leadership Quarterly, 16, 547-568.

Haslam, S. A., Reicher, S. D., & Platow, M. J. (2010). The new psychology of leadership: Identity, influence, and power. Psychology Press.

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

Minority Influence on Capitol Hill

In the late 1960s Serge Moscovici developed a theory of social influence that investigated how minority groups influence majority groups and vice versa. Since then, the theory has been elaborated quite a bit to include in-groups and out-groups and to consider the relevance of the message and the context in which messages are delivered.

Lately, we’ve been hearing a lot about majorities, minorities, and super-majorities in Washington, DC. With the election of Scott Brown to the Senate the Democrats have lost their filibuster-proof “super-majority” and with the hearings on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (the military’s approach to sexuality) minority messages are being heard in different ways. And with the actions of the Blue Dog group in the Democratic Party and the Tea Party movement in the Republican party there are even in-group minority groups hoping to influence policy. So how are these groups making their voices heard and what can social psychology tell us about their techniques and successes?

For instance, take the case of Joe Lieberman and the Blue Dog group and their influence on the healthcare bill. One way that minorities can influence outcomes is by getting a majority member to deflect (Joe Lieberman). This also often results in other majority members feeling like they, too, can deflect if the majority message is not fully in line with their views (as the Blue Dogs did). Another way that minorities can influence the majority is to have an in-group member side with their position. We have seen this in the case of Admiral Mullen testifying that as a member of the military he feels that it is time to repeal “Don’t ask, Don’t tell.” His position as an in-group member of the military helps the minority message, and this was strategically matched on the opposing side with testimony by John McCain, a former military hero (and therefore also an in-group member) arguing an opposing message.

Another example of minority influence occurred when President Obama began building his cabinet and justified appointments that some deemed as too conservative. His argument that this would spur innovation is in line with social psychologist’s findings that the presence of minorities in groups is “related to more team innovation and effectiveness.” Whether this has been the case over the past year is debatable. But there is no doubt that the fledging Tea Party is hoping to use its influence as a vocal in-group minority to push its Republican Party away from the center. How this will play out also remains to be seen. It is important to note, however, that all of these situations involve subjective decisions (ones driven by personal beliefs, emotions, etc.) rather than objective decisions (such as correct answers to a math problem) which further complicate the outcomes.

This application to the political arena is just one application of majority and minority influence theories. As Crano and Seyranian (2009) argue, the theory is also helpful in understanding workgroups, juries, community organizations, classrooms, wars, and international relations.

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Walk this way… Look this way

By Erica Zaiser
You know those moments when you are walking and someone else seems to be coming straight towards you. Don’t you hate when you both move to the same side to pass each other and then have an awkward moment where you almost collide? It usually ends with both parties engaged in that terribly uncoordinated dance, trying to figure out which way the other person is going to go. Or is that just me? But really, if you think about it, its pretty amazing how often we don’t actually run into each other. Most of the time when we walk down the street we coordinate our use of physical space with a total stranger pretty well, without saying a word, and we tend to do it very quickly. It makes you wonder, what are we doing to effectively communicate our intention to move left or right?

Research from the December issue of Psychological Science helps unravel this phenomenon a bit. In an experiment using eye-tracking, Nummenmaa and colleagues found that people use their gaze to indicate which direction they will travel. Conversely, you receive information from the gaze of an oncoming pedestrian and react by purposefully moving in the opposite direction. This might seem obvious but its actually an interesting finding because most past studies on gaze-following have shown it to be a reflexive social habit. In other words, when people look somewhere, we tend to automatically follow their gaze and look in the same direction. This research suggests that we might have two systems guiding our gaze -following: the first being an automatic response to follow the direction of a gaze and the second system based on intentions and goals, which allows us to interpret a gaze within a specific context. Thus, in the context of pedestrian navigation, gaze-following does not occur in its ordinary passive, automatic way… if it did, we might run into each other a lot more often.


Read more:   I’ll Walk This Way: Eyes Reveal the Direction of Locomotion and Make Passersby Look and Go the Other Way.

Alternative Pain Medicine: A Loved One’s Picture

Pain_PillsBeen to the doctor for a painful medical procedure lately? How about overexerted yourself over the weekend during a ballgame with your buddies? In either case, over the counter pain medication, or analgesics if you prefer, will do. An overwhelming number of pharmaceutical companies have some sort of chemical concoction waiting to be picked up at the local pharmacy.

Recent findings however may change the way people think about mitigating pain. Evidently the mere mental representation of a partner is enough to mitigate experienced pain (Master et al., 2009). Not surprisingly holding the hand of one’s partner during a painful procedure is better than holding a strangers if both were to stand behind a curtain. Would you guess that the picture of one’s partner is better than holding the partners hand while behind a curtain?  Masters et al., found that indeed the mental representation or picture reduced more pain. A question left unanswered is what to do if you’re single? Alternatively can a different source (i.e. grandma’s picture) replace the partner’s picture?

square-eye Read more: Pain medication

square-eye Master, S.L., Eisenberger, N.I., Taylor, S.E., Naliboff, B.D., Shirinyan, D., Lieberman, M.D. (2009). A picture’s worth: Partner photographs reduce experimentally induced pain.

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