The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘groupism’

The Roots of Racism in Rhesus Monkeys

Posted by The Situationist Staff on October 19, 2011

From Big Think:

Laura Santos on why our prejudices may be deeply ingrained in our evolutionary development.

Related Situationist posts:

Posted in Evolutionary Psychology, Implicit Associations, Video | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Doctors’ Conspiracy of Silence?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 25, 2010

From ABC News, here is the introduction to Kim Carollo’s article, “Many Doctors Reluctant to Report Inept or Impaired Colleagues”:

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Many professional medical organizations ethically require doctors to report other doctors who are incompetent or impaired by substance abuse or mental health problems, but as one recent survey found, more than a third of doctors don’t turn in their colleagues.

Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital surveyed nearly 3,000 doctors across multiple specialties, and of the almost 2,000 who responded, 31 percent objected to the idea that they should have a responsibility to report physicians who are incompetent or impaired.

The survey also found that 17 percent of doctors had encountered an impaired or incompetent colleague over the past three years, but only two-thirds of them actually turned those doctors in. Only 69 percent of doctors said they know how to go about reporting a compromised colleague.

Lead study author Catherine DesRoches of the Mongan Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital told ABC News the fact that more than a third of physicians don’t agree that they have a responsibility to report doctors with problems is a “signifcant number” she finds troubling.

“Self-regulation is the primary mechanism we use to make sure doctors that shouldn’t be practicing are not practicing,” said DesRoches. “That’s a key to protecting patients.”

“This is a very important study, because it reminds us that we’re probably not doing what we should be doing,” said Dr. Virginia Hood, president-elect of the American College of Physicians and professor of medicine at The University of Vermont School of Medicine.

“Our primary responsibility is always patient safety and what’s in the best interest of the patient, and when it appears that we’re not doing what we should be doing, it’s a matter of great concern,” she added.

Doctors who are members of underrepresented minority groups, graduates of foreign medical schools and doctors in smaller practices were less likely to report an impaired or incompetent fellow doctor.

There were three main reasons many doctors did not turn in their colleagues.

“Twenty-three percent believed someone else was taking care of the problem, 15 percent didn’t think anything would happen and 12 percent feared retribution,” said DesRoches.

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To read the entire article, click here.  For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Situation of Bystanders,” “The Deeply Captured Situation of Medicine,” “Mistakes Were Made (but not by me),” “The Situational Effect of Groups,” “Stop that Thief! (or not),” The Situation of Prejudice: Us vs. Them? or Them Is Us?Racism Meets Groupism and Teamism,” “‘Us’ and ‘Them,’” “Four Failures of Deliberating Groups – Abstract,” and “Team-Interested Decision Making.”

Posted in Food and Drug Law, Morality | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situation of Morality and Empathy

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 21, 2010

Situationist friend and author David Berreby recently conducted a fascinating interview of  primatologist Frans De Waal on BloggingHeads.  A rough table of contents of their discussion is listed just below the video.

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Frans’s latest book, “The Age of Empathy” (04:11)
Empathy as a social contagion (06:54)
A biological basis for morality and soccer hooliganism (18:48)
Does religion have to be at war with science? (12:48)
The fragility of empathy (04:08)
Enron, the selfish gene, and Nazi pseudoscience (08:14)

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To read about Frans de Waal’s latest book, The Age of Empathy, click here. To check out David Berreby’s excellent blog, Mind Matters, click here.

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “The Science of Morality,” “The Situation of Kindness,” The Situation of Caring,” New Study Looks at the Roots of Empathy,” “The Situational Effect of Groups,” The Situational Benefits of Outsiders,” Racism Meets Groupism and Teamism,” ‘Us’ and ‘Them,’” “Team-Interested Decision Making,” “Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part I,”The Case for Obedience,” and “March Madness,”

Posted in Book, Conflict, Morality, Video | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Situationist Comedy

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 19, 2009

How would the behavior of 100 people influence you?

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For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Solomon Asch’s Famous Compliance Experiment,” Solomon Asch’s Conformity Experiment . . . Today,” “Journalists as Social Psychologists & Social Psychologists as Entertainers,” “Gender Conformity,” “The Situational Effect of Groups.”

Posted in Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Biased? I know you are but what am I?

Posted by The Situationist Staff on July 5, 2009

Randy Dotinga, writing for the North County Times, quotes Situationist Contributor Peter Ditto on the bias of our media choices.

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If you’re a conservative, you’re more likely to listen to Rush Limbaugh than turn to National Public Radio. And if you’re liberal, you’re probably don’t spend your time tuned to Roger Hedgecock, Sean Hannity and Rick Roberts.

Pretty obvious, right? Yes, but now researchers have gone and confirmed what we think we know: People like to hear opinions that back up what they already think. In a study published this week in a journal called Psychological Bulletin, researchers say we do indeed turn to sources of information that confirm our biases, especially when it comes to things like politics and religion.

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Peter Ditto, a professor of psychology at UC Irvine, said there’s a bit more to it. We listen to, say, a conservative host because we believe he —- or in rare cases, she —- looks at the world through the correct prism.

“Republicans turn to Fox News not because they think it will confirm their beliefs, but because they believe they are the unbiased keepers of the truth —- and that MSNBC and CNN are biased toward the left,” Ditto said. “Liberals do exactly the opposite.”

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Read the entire article, including comments on social scientists’ tendency to find bias in conservatives, here.  For related Situationist The Maverickiness Paradox,” “Deep Capture – Part VII,” “The Situation of Biased Perceptions,” and posts, see “I’m Objective, You’re Biased.”

Posted in Cultural Cognition, Entertainment, Ideology, Situationist Contributors | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

The Situational Effect of Groups

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 17, 2009

Silent Crowd (tochis)In his Guardian article, “Hands up if you’re an individual,” Stuart Jeffries offers a brief summary of some social psychology classics.  Below, we have included excerpts.  After reviewing Milgram’s famous experiments on obedience, Jeffries writes:

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This was one of the classic experiments of group psychology, though not all have involved duping volunteers into believing they had electrocuted victims. Group psychology has often involved experiments to explain how individuals’ behaviours, thoughts and feelings are changed by group pressures.

It is generally thought to have originated in 1898 when Indiana University psychologist Norman Triplett asked children to spin a fishing reel as fast as they could. He found that when the children were doing the task together they did so much faster than when alone. Triplett found a similar result when studying cyclists – they tended to record faster times when riding in groups rather than alone, a fact that he explained because the “bodily presence of another contestant participating simultaneously in the race serves to liberate latent energy not ordinarily available”.

More than a century later, social psychology explores how other people make us what we are; how unconscious, sometimes ugly, impulses make us compliant and irrational. Why, for example, do I smoke even though I know it could be fatal? How can there be such a gap between my self-image and my behaviour (this is known as cognitive dissonance)?

Why do high-level committees of supposed experts make disastrous decisions (for example, when a Nasa committee dismissed technical staff warnings that the space shuttle Challenger should not be launched, arguing that technical staff were just the kind of people to make such warnings – this is seen as a classic case of so-called “groupthink”)?

Why do we unconsciously obey others even when this undermines our self-images (this is known as social influence)? What makes us into apathetic bystanders when we see someone attacked in the street – and what makes us have-a-go-heroes? What makes peaceful crowds turn into rioting mobs?

Group psychological studies can have disturbing ramifications. Recently, Harvard psychologist [and Situationist contributor] Mahzarin Banaji used the so-called implicit association test to demonstrate how unconscious beliefs inform our behaviour. [Sh]e concluded from [her] research that the vast majority of white, and many black respondents recognised negative words such as “angry”, “criminal” or “poor” more quickly after briefly seeing a black face than a white one. . . .

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The nature of conformism has obsessed social psychologists for decades. In 1951, psychologist Solomon Asch did an experiment in which volunteers were asked to judge the correct length of a line by comparing it with three sample lines. The experiment was set up so that there was an obviously correct answer. But Asch had riddled a group with a majority of stooges who deliberately chose the wrong answer. The pressure of the majority told on Asch’s volunteers. He found that 74% conformed with the wrong answer at least once, and 32% did so all the time.

What impulses were behind such conformism? Social psychologists have long considered that we construct our identities on the basis of others’ attitudes towards us. Erving Goffman, in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959), analysed social encounters as if each person was engaged in a dramatic performance, and suggested that each such actor was a creation of its audience.

Through such performances of self we internalise role expectations and gain positive self-esteem. We cast other individuals and groups in certain roles. Such behaviour may make some of us unconscious racists, but it also lubricates the wheels of social life.

French psychologist Serge Moscovici developed what is called social representation theory, arguing that shared beliefs and explanations held by a group of society help people to communicate effectively with one another. He explored the notion of anchoring, whereby new ideas or events in social life are given comforting redescriptions (or social representations). For example, a group of protesters against a motorway might be described demeaningly by the road lobby as a “rent-a-mob,” while the protesters themselves might anchor themselves more falteringly as “eco-warriors”.

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Social psychologists have also been long-obsessed by the psychology of crowds. In 1895, French social psychologist Gustave le Bon described crowds as mobs in which individuals lost their personal consciences. His book, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, influenced Hitler and led many later psychologists to take a dim view of crowds.

After the war, German critical theorist Theodor Adorno wrote of the destructive nature of “group psychology.” Even as late as 1969, Stanford psychologist [and Situationist contributor] Philip Zimbardo argued that a process of deindividuation makes participants in crowds less rational.

Most recent crowd psychology has not been content to brand crowds necessarily irrational. Instead, it has divided into contagion theory (whereby crowds cause people to act in a certain way), convergence theory (where crowds amount to a convergence of already like-minded individuals) and emergent norm theory (where crowd behaviour reflects the desires of participants, but it is also guided by norms that emerge as the situation unfolds). . . .

In the age of MySpace, Facebook and online dating, group psychologists are now trying to find out what goes on when we present ourselves to the world online, how we are judged for doing so and how groups are formed online. Other social psychology touches on such voguish areas of research as social physics (which contends that physical laws might explain group behaviour) and neuroeconomics (which looks at the role of the brain when we evaluate decisions and interact with each other), but the age-old concerns remain part of our zeitgeist.

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You can read the entire article here.   For a sample of Situationist posts examining the interaction of individuals and groups, see “The Situational Benefits of Outsiders,” Racism Meets Groupism and Teamism,” Racism Meets Groupism and Teamism,” “‘Us’ and ‘Them,’” “The Maverickiness Paradox,” “Four Failures of Deliberating Groups – Abstract,” “Team-Interested Decision Making,” “History of Groupthink,” “Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part I,” and “March Madness,” To read some of the previous Situationist posts describing or discussing classic experiments from soical psychology and related fields, click here.

Posted in Choice Myth, Classic Experiments, Conflict, Implicit Associations, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Situational Benefits of Outsiders

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 31, 2009

Dwight Schrute Bobblehead - from Dan H on FlickrFrom BYUNews:

Nobody wants to share a cubicle with a new hire like Dwight Schrute. The beet-farming volunteer sheriff’s deputy/paper salesman creates many awkward moments because of his differences with co-workers on NBC’s “The Office.”

But according to new research co-authored by a Brigham Young University business professor, better decisions come from teams that include a “socially distinct newcomer.”  That’s psychology-speak for someone who is different enough to bump other team members out of their comfort zones.

Researchers noticed this effect after conducting a traditional group problem-solving experiment. The twist was that a newcomer was added to each group about five minutes into their deliberations. And when the newcomer was a social outsider, teams were more likely to solve the problem successfully.

The research is published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

“One of the most-cited benefits of diversity is the infusion of new ideas and perspectives,” said study co-author Katie Liljenquist, assistant professor of organizational leadership at BYU’s Marriott School of Management. “And while that very often is true, we found the mere presence of a newcomer who is socially distinct can really shake up the group dynamic. That leads to discomfort, but also to a better process that ultimately yields superior outcomes.”

The key factor is simply whether newcomers are distinct in some way from the other group members.

“Remember, socially ‘distinct’ doesn’t necessarily mean socially ‘inept,'” says Liljenquist, whose co-authors on the paper are Northwestern’s Katherine Phillips and Stanford’s Margaret Neale. “Dwight’s upbringing and past work history – in addition to his bobblehead doll collection – all contribute to the measure of diversity he brings to ‘The Office’ melting pot.”

The paper adds a new wrinkle to the wealth of research on teams, says Melissa Thomas-Hunt, associate professor at Cornell’s Johnson School of Management.

“[This research] is groundbreaking in that it highlights that the benefits of disparate knowledge in a team can be unleashed when newcomers actually share opinions of knowledge with old-timers but are socially different,” Thomas-Hunt says. “It is the tension between social dissimilarity and opinion similarity that prompts heightened effectiveness in diverse teams.”

What explains the results?

According to Liljenquist, newcomers in the experiment didn’t necessarily ask tougher questions, possess novel information, or doggedly maintain a conflicting point of view. Just being there was enough to change the dynamic among old-timers who shared a common identity.

When a member of the group discovered that he agreed with the new outsider, he felt alienated from his fellow old-timers – consequently, he was very motivated to explain his point of view on its merits so that his peers wouldn’t lump him in with the outsider.

The person who found himself disagreeing with the in-group – and instead agreeing with an outsider – felt very uncomfortable. An opinion alliance with an outsider put his social ties with other team members at risk.

“Socially, that can be very threatening,” Liljenquist says. “These folks are driven to say, ‘Wait, the fact that I disagree with this outsider doesn’t make me weird. Something more is going on here; let’s figure out what’s at the root of our disagreement.’ The group then tends to analyze differing opinions and critical information much more thoroughly, and that facilitates much better decision-making results.”

Another revelation

The experiment also revealed a fallacy in the assumptions we make about our own effectiveness in groups. The subjects in the experiment were members of different fraternities and sororities. In general, when the newcomer was from the same sorority or fraternity as the other team members, the group reported that it worked well together, but was less likely to correctly solve the problem.

In contrast, when the newcomer was a member of a rival sorority or fraternity, the opposite was true – these groups felt they worked together less effectively, yet they significantly outperformed socially homogenous groups.

“What’s really distinct about this research is that, from a self-reporting perspective, what people perceive to be beneficial turns out to be dead wrong,” Liljenquist says. “The teams that felt they worked least effectively together were ironically the top performers!”

In the workplace

Common “social distinctions” in today’s workplace, Liljenquist says, would include:

  • One employee from accounting working on a team in which everyone else is from sales
  • An employee of a company that had just been bought out finding herself on a team of people from the acquiring firm
  • An out-of-stater finding himself on a team full of natives of the company’s home state

To help employees in those situations cope, managers would be wise to explain that such conflict can actually generate better results.

“Without that information people just assume, ‘This is really uncomfortable. My team obviously must not be working effectively,'” Liljenquist says. “The experience in diverse teams may not always be a feel-good session, but if employees know that from the outset, they can better deal with inevitable conflicts and recognize the potential benefits – that the affective pains can translate to real performance gains.”

Although Liljenquist acknowledges many other cases for diversity in the workplace, she contends that “reaping the benefits of diverse workgroups doesn’t necessarily require that newcomers bring unique perspectives or expertise to the table. Simply having people around us who differ on some dimension ­- whether it is functional background, education, race or even a different fraternity – drives a very different decision-making process at a group level because of the social and emotional conflict we experience in their presence.”

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Read the rest of the summary here.   For a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Racism Meets Groupism and Teamism,” “‘Us’ and ‘Them,'” “The Maverickiness Paradox,” “Four Failures of Deliberating Groups – Abstract,” “Team-Interested Decision Making,” “History of Groupthink,” and “Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part I.”

Posted in Abstracts, Conflict, Life, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , | 2 Comments »

Racism Meets Groupism and Teamism

Posted by The Situationist Staff on March 25, 2009

Racial Bias TeamFrom Eureaka Alert:

White people don’t show hints of unconscious bias against blacks who belong to the same group as them, a new study suggests.

But this lack of bias only applied to black people in their group, according to the findings. Most white people in the study still showed evidence of some unconscious bias towards blacks who were in an opposing group, or who were unaffiliated with either group.

What impressed the researchers, however, was just how quickly these group bonds could form. The lack of bias toward fellow black group members was uncovered just minutes after whites joined the mixed-race group, and without participants even meeting their fellow members personally.

“The results suggest that when we share some kind of identity with a group of people, we automatically and immediately feel positively toward them, regardless of race,” said Jay Van Bavel, co-author of the study and post-doctoral fellow in psychology at Ohio State University.

“You can think in terms of people who go to the playground and play a game of pickup basketball. All it takes is a flip of a coin to make someone your teammate, and at least for that game, you’re going to feel positively toward your teammates, white and black.”

Van Bavel conducted the study with William Cunningham, assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State. Their study appears in the March issue of the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

The study involved two separate but related experiments with college students, one done in Canada and one in the United States.

The students took a computer test commonly used by psychologists to reveal unconscious, or automatic racial bias. The test examines people’s first reactions to seeing a black face, before their conscious mind can edit and override biases.

Even though most people disavow any racial bias, this test consistently shows that about three-quarters of white North Americans have some level of unconscious racial bias, Van Bavel said. These unconscious thoughts can lead people to make biased decisions without realizing they are being biased.

For example, a manager may pass over a resume of a person whose name suggests she is an African American, without even recognizing why he is doing it, according to Van Bavel.

The computer test flashes pictures of black and white faces quickly on the screen followed nearly instantaneously by positive words (such as love) or negative words (such as hatred). Participants have to very quickly – within about one-half of a second — categorize the words as positive or negative.

In general, white people find it more difficult to correctly classify positive words when they were first shown a photo of a black person.

“Seeing a black face automatically activates this association with negative things for many white people and if they don’t have time to correct this negative image – which they don’t in this study – they associate negative words with black faces,” Cunningham said.

In the first experiment, 109 students at the University of Toronto were randomly assigned to one of two groups made up for the study – one named the Lions and the other called the Tigers. A control group learned about the two groups, but was not assigned to either one of them.

Members of the Lions and Tigers were shown photos of the members of both groups, and told it was important to learn who belonged to their team, and who belonged to other team.

Later, they were given the computer bias test. Results showed that students in the control group, who were not a member of either mixed-race group, showed a preference for white faces over black faces, as was expected.

But white members of the two teams showed no bias against black members of their own teams. They did, however, show bias towards black members of the opposing team.

“Team members were evaluating people based on whether they were on the same team – not evaluating them based on their race,” Cunningham said.

The second experiment involved 126 students at Ohio State. The setup was essentially the same, except that participants also evaluated white and black faces that were not members of either of the two groups. Results showed that white students showed no bias against blacks who belonged to their team. They showed nearly equivalent levels of bias towards black members of the opposing team, and black members who were not associated with either team.

This suggests that whites were showing increased positive feelings toward black members of their own team, but not increased negative feelings toward blacks who belonged to the opposing team.

“White students felt the same toward blacks on the opposing team and people who didn’t belong to any team,” Van Bavel said. “That means liking people from your team doesn’t mean you have to hate members of the other team.”

Van Bavel said the unconscious biases studied in this research have real-life consequences.

“What’s dangerous about these attitudes is that they can come into play even when we’re not aware of them, and even when we think we are being egalitarian,” he said.

But this study suggests there may be ways to battle this unconscious, automatic racism.

“We want to change how people see someone at the very earliest stages. If you see someone as a member of your own team or group, race may not even come to mind. You are thinking about that person in terms of some kind of shared relationship,” Van Bavel said.

In the real world, this means creating contexts to show how people are connected whenever possible. This may mean emphasizing our shared identities as residents of a city, fans of a sports team or members of a church.

“It’s part of human nature to feel positively about members of our own group,” Cunningham said. “The challenge is to find ways to call attention to our shared identities.”

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For some related Situationist posts, see “Why Race May Influence Us Even When We “Know” It Doesn’t,” The Cognitive Costs of Interracial Interactions,” “Guilt and Racial Prejudice,” “Perceptions of Racial Divide,”Hoyas, Hos, & Gangstas,”‘Us’ and ‘Them,’March Madness,” Race Attributions and Georgetown University Basketball,” “Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part I,” “The Origins of Sports Team Fandom,” “Attributing Blame — from the Baseball Diamond to the War on Terror,” and “Situationist Theories of Hate – Part II.”

Posted in Abstracts, Implicit Associations, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , , , | 6 Comments »

“Us” and “Them”

Posted by The Situationist Staff on December 21, 2008

Us versus them t-shirtSam Sommers wrote a terrific situationist post, titled “The Power of Us,” on the Psychology Today blog.  Here are some excerpts.

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Customers who insist on paying with a personal check at the grocery store. Waitresses who don’t write down your order. People who sit right in front of you at the movies when there are other free seats in their row. . . . Drivers who insist on backing into spaces in wide-open parking lots. Squirrels.

All of the above would make my list of Top 10 pet peeves. But at the top, without question, would have to be people who charge into elevators, head down, without waiting to see if anyone is getting off. Same with subway cars, for that matter. It’s just common courtesy, people. Which is what made the following interaction such a dissonance-inducing moment for me.

I was at the doctor’s office for a regular appointment and had to head up to the 7th floor. As the elevator doors opened and I began to exit, a middle-aged gentleman barreled in a clear hurry, like a Muscovite rushing into a bread store in the perestroika 1990s. I literally turned sideways to avoid a collision, feeling a bit like a torero sans cape. Clearly, this guy was worthy of Public Enemy #1 status.

But then a funny thing happened. He took a look at me, made a sudden U-turn, and followed me out of the elevator, all the while wheeling behind him his cart with several boxes on it. He pointed at my chest and asked, “did you go to school there?” Realizing that he was referring to the college name emblazoned on my t-shirt, I answered that, yes, indeed, this was my alma mater. “Me too,” he exclaimed. “What year did you graduate?”

And so began a 10-minute conversation that I wasn’t particularly thrilled to be having, what with my own dispositional aversion to small talk with strangers combined with the desire to check in on time for my appointment. But my fellow alum proved himself to be a pleasant enough fellow. And it’s always enjoyable to reminisce about familiar people and places from your past, especially when you went to a small school that doesn’t afford such opportunities that often. So we parted ways and I continued on to my doctor’s office in relatively good spirits.

And this is when it hit me–I had mentally pardoned my newfound friend from his otherwise capital offense. Now, I’m not saying I was wrong to do this. Why go around life bearing resentments and grudges against strangers for transgressions that are, objectively speaking, trivial? But were not for the common link established by my t-shirt, I never would have left this interaction in a positive mood, much less a somewhat favorable impression of this guy.

That’s the power of “us.” Sharing group membership with other people has dramatic effects on how we see and interact with them. Whether it’s a common alma mater or favorite sports team, whether it’s a more central aspect of identity such as race or religion, we’re more generous in our perceptions of fellow members of our own ingroups.

As written about by persuasively by social psychologist Marilynn Brewer, some of the disparities and prejudices that persist in our society likely have just as much to do with ingroup favoritism as they do outgroup derogation or dislike. Distinguishing between these different causes of intergroup disparity is clearly important, especially for efforts to remedy differential outcomes in any domain.

At the same time, from a practical perspective, differential outcomes are differential outcomes. It matters little to the job applicant who is passed over for a position whether the job went to someone else because of ingroup favoritism towards the competition or because of outgroup prejudice directed towards her. It is of little solace to the Black defendant hit with felony charges for a borderline offense that the relative leniency shown towards a comparable White defendant resulted from the desire to “give a good kid a second chance” as opposed to any type of disparity based on racial animus. In this sense, the power of us can be just as dangerous as the dislike of them. . . .

. . . .

I’d maintain that one of the unsung obstacles faced by many minority and female professionals is that they’re simply less likely to benefit from such “usness,” in terms of hiring as well as promotion decisions. The White male entering the workplace simply has a greater chance of effortless bonding with his White male colleagues and superiors, whether over past affiliations or shared cultural interests. It’s an often overlooked benefit of majority group membership that can be hard to quantify.

Because usness is powerful. It leads us to bond quickly with some people, but not others. It prompts us to be far less stingy with the benefit of the doubt for similar individuals. And it can even get you off the hook when you violate cardinal rules of elevator etiquette, and I must tell you, that’s no small feat.

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To read his entire post (with links and a postscript) including a section examining the low number of African American coaches in Division I football, click here.  For some related Situationist posts, see”March Madness,” Race Attributions and Georgetown University Basketball,” “Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part I,” “The Origins of Sports Team Fandom,” “Attributing Blame — from the Baseball Diamond to the War on Terror,” and “Situationist Theories of Hate – Part II.”

Posted in Conflict, Emotions, Life, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Us & Them Politics

Posted by Al Sahlstrom on October 28, 2008

In just over a week, we will see a referendum on “Joe Six-Pack” politics. Over the past decade or two, the Republican Party has promoted a political fiction that conflates wholesomeness, independence, tradition, and common sense with anti-intellectualism and suspicion of outsiders. More recently, Sarah Palin has championed the effort to highlight the supposed division between secular liberal coastal elites and “normal” Americans. By her own words, Palin believes that small towns are “the real America” and she has warned that Barack Obama “is not a man who sees America as you see it and how I see America.” While it might be comforting to dismiss these efforts as a desperate appeal to emotional voters who don’t know or don’t care about the substantive issues in this election, the persistence of these “us vs. them” arguments in our current political paradigm hints at deeper reasons for concern.

Regardless of policy expertise, is there reason to think that makes a difference whether Sarah Palin is a moose-hunting, “Joe Six-Pack” conservative Christian? Yes. Humans are fundamentally social and those distinctions matter – no matter which side of them you may be on. In fact, our affinity for those with similar backgrounds provides an important means of making sense of the world and strengthening ties with others. We have such a natural predisposition for “birds of a feather” to “flock together” that even groups formed with no prior connection among the members (or no meaningful connection at all) can demonstrate a preference for their comrades over those outside the group. Social psychologists call this the “minimal group” paradigm: Individuals randomly assigned to one group over another, absent any rational justification, engage in self-evaluation that favors their new group and strengthens their affiliation with its members. In cultural, family, or political groups, our affiliation with others can provide a comforting means of evaluating the immense, complex web of incomplete information with which we are presented in everyday life. Psychologists have even found that identification of a policy proposal as being from one’s own party can be more determinative of an individual’s approval than the actual content of the proposed policy.

Because our evaluation of policies and political candidates is not purely rational, candidates like Sarah Palin can invoke existing or imagined group affiliations to reframe the political landscape and override other, more rational considerations.

All of this matters because, regardless of who draws the lines in the sand, these tactics do not uniquely manipulate one segment of the country or one end of the political spectrum. Rather they impact all of us by contributing to a situation that alters our perceptions, incites prejudice, and affects behavior across the board. When political tacticians push small town Americans to claim moral superiority over the rest of the country, the resulting climate encourages liberal, college-educated Americans to ignore the complexity in regional and local politics in favor of their own self-serving views. In short, the idea that liberals are more rational or intellectual than conservatives perpetuates a simplistic, partisan view that precludes empathy and interferes with positive change.

It is neither novel nor surprising that this presidential campaign has seen attempts to mobilize support based on identity appeals and false dichotomies. But as we decide which candidate will best face the domestic and international challenges of the next four years, it is worth remembering that our perceptions of those issues and ideas are inherently shaped by how we view ourselves in relation to those with different backgrounds and opposing perspectives. Unless we account for how “Joe Six-Pack” politics manipulate and polarize our political views, Conservatives will never be independent and Liberals will never truly be rational.

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For a related Situationist post, see “Without the Filter.”

Posted in Conflict, Ideology, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

March Madness

Posted by Jon Hanson & Michael McCann on March 21, 2008

George Mason and Georgia Fans 3

This post was first published in March of 2007.

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Watching this year’s tournament, it is difficult not to notice the profoundly passionate (mad?) fan baseDuke Fans enjoyed by so many teams. We’re not just talking about the “Go! Go! Rah! Rah! Siss Boom Bah!” of conventional cheering sections. We’re talking about camping overnight (sometimes over two nights) on cold, wet sidewalks to queue up for pricey game tickets. We’re talking about full-on body painting — face, hair, the works — to exhibit team spirit. And, in some cases, we’re talking about taunts and jeers directed at the opposing team and their equally, um, “enthusiastic” supporters. Those familiar with the “Duke Sucks” refrain know what we are talking about. Of course, this is nothing new. And, for the fans of some teams, the devotion lasts all season.

Among “true fans” there seems to be a race to excess, as the images above of Duke, George Mason and Georgia fans indicate. These fans care. A lot. True, all those teams have been eliminated in this year’s tournament, including the Blue Devils who were knocked out in the first round. Regardless, no one can say that these fans didn’t do their part to will their teams to victory — blind faith, unlimited allegiance, and some fluorescent body paint, such is the stuff of deep fandom.

Maryland Fans RiotingFew things feed the fires of madness quite like success. Otherwise ordinary (intoxicated) college students turn into “mobs” following an important team victory. To the left we see a photo of Maryland fans rioting after their team . . . won the NCAA title. “Yay us! I know, let’s burn some furniture to celebrate.”

So what is going on? How can teams do this to us? Why would John Q. Freshman and Jane Q. Sophomore go to such extremes, spending so much time, energy, money, even dignity, to root for their school? After-all, most college fans could as easily have gone to another college, even a rival college; and the students at Them University are often indistinguishable from those at Us University, except for their college affiliation and bumper stickers.

Still, to most of us, bumper-sticker distinctions are enough to justify our love for our team and our loathing for theirs. After all, Us U. accepted us, while Them U. accepted them. “It’s Us against Them! Let’s torch the sofa!”

Bluto Blutarsky and The Heights Pictorial

There are many partial explanations for this strange behavior — which is rendered particularly puzzling in light of our more general self-conceptions as individuals living in an individualistic culture. Of course, we are not just individuals doing things our own way according to our own moral compass and preferences. Our own identities are largely wrapped in group associations that are no less random than, among countless other variables, where we are born or the the acceptance and rejection letters of college admissions committees. And once we have identified in-groups and out-groups, our attributions and understanding of the world is interpreted through those distorting lenses. Thus, as Situationist Contributor Susan Fiske has written with Shelley Taylor, the categories carry their own weight: “Simply categorizing people into groups minimizes within-group variability and maximizes between-group differences”:

Categorization’s effect of reducing perceived variability is even stronger when people are considering groups to which they do not belong. A group of outsiders (an outgroup) appears less variable than one’s own group (ingroup) . . . . Minimizing the variability of members within an outgroup means that they are not being recognized as distinct individuals as much as they would be if they were perceived as ingroup members.

Social psychologists have also discovered that these groups give rise to various motivated attributions of causation, responsibility, and blame — including the “ultimate attribution error”: In-group members tend to make internal (dispositional) attributions to positive in-group behavior and negative out-group behavior, as well as external (situational) attributions to negative in-group behavior and positive out-group behavior.

It may be tempting to conclude that such tendencies of individuals to coalesce into a highly regulated and constraining collective unit is limited to just drunken, hormonally hyper, college students. No doubt, that helps. But the madness of March runs much deeper than that. Need we say more than Boston Red Sox versus the New York Yankees? In case you answered “yes,” consider the following two quotations from two baseball fans, who, we suspect, have much in common. First, the Yankees fan:

Down at St. Marks Ale House in the East Village, a 25-year old fan said: “The worst would be losing to Boston fans because they’re such ignorant, bitter people. They’re so used to losing, all they have is hate. There’s no humility. That’s what we want to see. We want to see humility.”

Ok, now the Red Sox fan:

“We don’t hate the Yankees because they suck at baseball, I think it’s obvious they don’t, we hate them because they are all stuck up jerks who are all over-paid just because all their fans are bad losers and they need to pay guys millions of dollars so they can win. Besides that, they are all drunken freaks on crack (well, a lot of them are).”

Kid Saying Yankees Suck!

(As objective scholars, we think it important that we remain neutral by simply pointing out the obvious: the second quotation is credible while the first one is clearly the drunken rantings of Yankee crackpot.)

Speaking of drinking, although alcohol might exacerbate the team-oriented behaviors and prejudices, it occurs among the sober as well. Indeed, one of social psychology’s best-known, classic experiments involved this phenomenon among kids at camp. Eliot Smith and Diane Mackie, two experts on group behavior, summarize the experiment in their Social Psychology Text as follows:

On June 19 1954, two groups of 11-year-old boys tumbled out of buses to start summer camp in the Sans Bois mountains near Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Robbers Cave State Park, name for the hideout of he notorious outlaw Jesse James, offered a 200-acre site with fishing, swimming, canoeing, hiking, and the usual camp games and sports. The new arrivals were ordinary White, middle-class boys with no record of school, psychological, or behavioral problems. They had nothing on their minds except high hopes for a fun-filled 3-week vacation.

The camp was more than it seemed, however. Unknown to the boys, their parents had agreed to let them participate in a field study of intergroup conflict set up by Muzafer Sherif and his colleagues — a study that came to be known as the Robbers Cave experiment . . . . The boys did not know that the camp counselors and directors were social psychologists and research assistants. Nor, at first, did members of each group know that another group was sharing the campsite.

During the first week, as they took part in separate activities designed to promote group cohesion, each group developed norms and leaders. They gave themselves names, the Eagles and the Rattlers, and each group designed a flag. Toward the end of the week, the groups discovered each other. Seeing “those guys” using “our ball field” and “our hiking trails” sparked demands for a competition. The staff was only too pleased to arrange a 4-day tournament including baseball, tug-of-war, a treasure hunt, and other events. The experiments even promised the winners a fancy trophy, shiny badges, and four-bladed pocketknives. Both groups practiced hard, cheered their teammates, and roundly booed and insulted the competition. Hostilities escalated as the tournament progressed, culminating in a flag-burning when the Eagles lost the tug-of-war.

Muzafer Sherif Rattlers Eagles 3

The Eagles ultimately won the tournament, collecting the trophy and the coveted pocketknives. But while they were taking a celebratory swim, the Rattlers raided their cabins and stole the prizes. The rivalry had turned into full-blown war, and the staff was kept buys silencing the name calling, breaking up fist fights, and cleaning up after cabin raids and food fights. The experiment had transformed 22 perfectly normal boys into to gangs of brawling troublemakers, full of hostility and intent on exacting revenge for every real or imagined slight.

In short, the subjects in the Robber’s Cave experiment behaved very much like the subjects in the natural experiments in, among other places, college athletics. Randomly assigned and “normal” people can, with only the tiniest situational manipulations, readily form strong in-group alliances and robust out-group aversions.

One might be tempted to conclude that extreme “groupism” or “teamism” is limited to the irrelevant — that fans allow themselves to get swept up in, say, the NCAA tournament or the Eagles and Rattlers engaged in food fights and cabin raids solely because it’s fun, and there’s no real harm in it.

According to that account, people care so much about their teams in part because, in the grand scheme, their team’s performance matters so little. With the premise, we wholeheartedly agree: It is hard to know why it matters who makes it to the Final Four. We say that, though, not as big-dance killjoys, but as hard-core fans who actually care a great deal — though for reasons that are beyond the grasp of our conscious minds. And so it is that we have serious doubts that about the argument that our concern with sports is simply all in fun. We think it more likely that the “all in good fun” rationalization is what we offer to make sense of the disproportionate role that sports play in our lives — something akin to an alcoholic announcing that he drinks because he enjoys drinking and not because he is addicted.

Regardless, there seem to be other situations in which our team-oriented tendencies do clearly matter — do pose meaningful risk of harm to others or ourselves. And in those moments, the dynamics seem strikingly familiar. The body paints and costumes of the bleachers have much in common with the body paints and uniforms of blood feuds and battlefields. Blind faith, unlimited allegiance, and some camouflaging body paint; that is the stuff of armed combat. Team affiliation — “us versus them” — is the stuff local violence and global wars. Teams identified by schools, clans, genders, races, regions, religions, languages, nations get swept up in the excesses of “us and them,”often in ways that can only be described as irrationally self-destructive. So it is, that, particularly in retrospect, we are befuddled by the spats, fights, battles, and wars that others have fought (or that we ourselves were embroiled in previously): “Why did it matter so much? What were they thinking? Were those people mad?”

Iraq Burning 4

Sports have long been understood as a powerful means of teaching and learning lessons about life — about winning and losing, hard work, competition, and teamwork. But sports have a lot to teach us about ourselves that we seem to want to ignore and might not want to admit. Sports reflect and exploit tendencies that have both good and bad effects. Why not dwell a little lesss on the former and focus a bit more on the latter?

March Madness for all its fun and irrelevance may be a symptom of a deeper tendency — a madness of sorts — that social psychologists have long seen at the heart of intergroup aggression and conflict. Parents, teachers, coaches, universities and the like should focus on that tendency and the questions it raises such as: How is it that largely random and often insignificant variations can determine who is “us” and who is “them”? Why do we so quickly, easily, unthinkingly fall into line behind the flag of the perceived “us,” so ready to attack those who we perceive as “them.” Why are we so stingy with our empathy and so generous with our self-righteousness toward out-group members?

Our aim in raising these issues is not to take the fun out of sports, which we love; rather, it is to suggest that we might better learn about ourselves from our sports so that we might take some of the fun out of needless agression, conflict, and war. Just as Sherif and his colleagues learned a great deal about human conflict in their Robber’s Cave study, there is much that might be learned from the experiments taking place every day on the playing fields, tracks, courts, and diamonds of sports.

Those questions and topics are the focus of some of our ongoing work, and we hope to return to them in subsequent posts.

Oh, and in the meantime . . .

Go Hoyas!

To read the comments from last year’s version of this post, click here and scroll down. To read a sample of related Situationist posts, see “Race Attributions and Georgetown University Basketball,” “Some (Interior) Situational Sources War – Part I,” “Deindividuation and Seung Hui Cho,” “The Origins of Sports Team Fandom,” “Attributing Blame — from the Baseball Diamond to the War on Terror,” and “Situationist Theories of Hate – Part II.” (Next week we plan to post a summary of research neuroscientific research suggesting how our brains tend to see outgroups members differently from ingroup members.)

Posted in Conflict, Emotions, Politics, Situationist Sports, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

 
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