Tag Archives: social norms

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

New Year’s resolutions

As the New Year approaches many people will be contemplating and setting New Year’s resolutions. Since many of those are likely to involve exercise programmes, I want to briefly cover some of the health attitude theories (Biddle and Nigg, 2000) that can provide us with important frameworks for understanding people’s motivations to undertake psychical activity and why ultimately, some people will succeed or fail to maintain those New Year’s resolutions.

Belief attitude theories tend to centre on the model of health belief (Becker et al. 1997), the theory of reasoned action (Ajzen and Fishbein, 1970) and the theory of planned behaviour (Ajzen and Madden, 1986). The health belief model suggests that a person’s beliefs about the health-enhancing value of exercise (physical fitness, psychological well-being) tends to be weighed against their perceived costs in participating in the activity (e.g. time, commitment etc) and the amount of social support (Kelly et al. 1991), which in turn will determine the person’s level of participation or subsequent withdrawal.

The theory of reasoned action and its successor the theory of planned behaviour focus primarily on the relationship between a person’s attitude to exercise and/or a person’s self-efficacy, social norms about exercise, and a person’s subsequent exercise behaviour. Both these theories suggest that a person’s intention to exercise reflects their personal beliefs about exercise (attitude), the social norms surrounding exercise (what their friends and families may think). Therefore a person’s attitude to their New Year’s resolution of beginning an exercise programme will predict the level of their participation, whether they commit to maintaining the activity long-term will also be influenced by other factors such as age and gender, (Motl et al., 2002).

Motivation

Sport Psychology

‘Thinking outside the Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung’

Ich bin Brüno!Brüno, the latest work by British comedian Sacha Baron-Cohen, has just achieved the highest-grossing opening weekend for an 18-certificate (i.e. adult-rated) film in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

This ‘mockumentary’ revolves around the reactions of various celebrities and members of the public to Baron-Cohen’s portrayal of the eponymous flamboyantly gay Austrian fashionista. Since those involved believed they were dealing with a genuine rather than fictional character, their responses to his outrageously exaggerated portrayal of stereotypical homosexuality provide a satirical comment on the prejudice and hypocrisy present within a supposedly enlightened modern society.

Extreme reactions provoked by the filming led to Baron-Cohen being both threatened with assault and arrested multiple times, as well as facing subsequent legal action. This mirrors the response to his previous controversial film of the same format, in which he played ‘Kazhakhstani’ Borat. Not only did this similarly result in legal action, but the ensuing furore culminated in an international diplomatic incident.

Whilst such films may claim to provide a revealing insight into homophobia, anti-semitism, and the like, they also raise uncomfortable questions for the audience themselves. For example, it is debatable as to whether they are truly viewed by all cinema-goers as a sophisticated piece of social commentary, or whether they simply allow the ‘politically correct’ an opportunity to laugh at otherwise unacceptable stereotypes.

In terms of their technical approach, many of the humorous scenarios featured within these films echo the ‘breach studies’ of ethnomethodologist Garfinkel, which examined the responses of unsuspecting participants to deliberate violations of social norms.

In a further psychological link, Sacha Baron-Cohen is the cousin of Simon Baron-Cohen, Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge.

(And in case you were wondering, ‘Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung’ is German for ‘speed-limit’!)

Square-eyeBrüno’s official MySpace page

Square-eyeFilm review from the Guardian

Square-eye£1.99 - smallSmith, J. R. & Louis, W. R. (2009). Group Norms and the Attitude–Behaviour Relationship

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