The Situationist

Posts Tagged ‘Albert Bandura’

The Power of Suggestion

Posted by The Situationist Staff on January 12, 2011

In the wake of the massacre in Tucson one of the debates has been over whether a toxic environment might have contributed to the assailant’s behavior.  Social psychology has demonstrated countless times the power of seemingly trivial situatonal forces to encourage hostility and violence.  One of the classics is a 1975 study of the effects of dehumanization.

Here is a 1999 summary of that study by Situationist Contributor Phil Zimbardo.

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My colleague, Albert Bandura, and his students contnued this line of research by extending the basic paradigm here to study the minimal conditions necessary to create dehumanization (Bandura, Underwood, & Fromson, 1975). What they manipulated was only the actors’ perceptioin of their victims–no authority pressures, no induced anonymity. A group of college students expected to help train another group of students from a nearby college by collectively shocking them when they erred on the task.

Just as the study was about to begin, the participants overhead the assistant tell the experimenter one of three phrases–Neutral: “The subjects from the other school are here.” Humanized: “The subjects from the other school are here; they seem ‘nice.'” Dehumanized: “The subjects from the other school are here, they seem like ‘animals.'” Mind you, they never saw those other students, or heard anything directly from them, it is only this label that they had to go on in imaging what they were like.

On trial one, the manipulation failed to have a differential effect on their aggression, and had the researchers ended the study there, we would conclude that dehumanizing labels have no behavioral impact, but as the study wore on, it had a major impact. The boys, who imagined their victims as “animals,” progressively elevated their shock levels over each trial after the first, significantly more than the neutral control. Humanizing labels helped to reduce the aggression significantly below the level of the neutral control.

When the participants were interviewed subsequently about why they behaved as they did, what the researchers found was that the experimental condition enabled them to become morally disengaged, to activate a set of psychological mechanisms that minimized the evil of their deeds, while justifying it in a variety of ways. So a one-word label can create a stereotype of the victim, of the enemy, that also lowers the height of that line between good and evil and enables more good people to cross over and become perpetrators.

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Work cited:  Bandura, A., Underwood, B., & Fromson, M. E. (1975). Disinhibition of aggression through diffusion of responsibility and dehumanization of victims. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 9, 253-269 (pdf here).

For a sample of related Situationist posts, see

Posted in Classic Experiments, Conflict, Education, Emotions, Morality, Situationist Contributors, Social Psychology | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Albert Bandura wins Grawemeyer Award

Posted by The Situationist Staff on April 22, 2008

Albert BanduraFrom The Observer:

Albert Bandura was awarded [one of the] 2008 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Awards [for $200,000].

A native of Canada, Albert Bandura received his doctoral degree from the University of Iowa in 1952. He began his appointment at Stanford University in 1953, where he remains as the David Starr Jordan professor of social science in psychology. In 2002 Bandura was ranked the 20th Century’s fourth most eminent psychologist in a survey conducted by the Review of General Psychology, coming in behind only B.F. Skinner, Jean Piaget, and Sigmund Freud. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Bandura has received APS’s highest honors, the William James Fellow Award and the James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award, in recognition of his lifetime of contributions to both basic and applied psychological science. In addition to the APS awards, Bandura has received the Gold Medal Award for lifetime contributions from the American Psychological Foundation.

Bandura’s list of distinctions, including the Grawemeyer Award, stems from his ground-breaking research on motivational factors and self-regulatory mechanisms that influence behavior. His famous “Bobo Doll Studies” of the determinants and mechanisms of observational learning led to the development of social learning theory; an approach later termed Social Cognitive Theory. Bandura showed that people’s attitudes, values, and styles of behavior can be shaped through the power of social modeling. the way we learn and act in the future can be shaped simply by watching others and modeling our behavior after them. His early later research focused on the role of self-efficacy in motivation, learning, and action. This emphasis on cognition is what set Bandura apart from other behaviorists at the time, who explained behavior solely in terms of its environmental influence effects.

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To watch a 93-minute video of Albert Bandura discussing his pioneering work in the area of social learning and social cognitive theory, including its direct influence on the design of the original entertainment education telenovelas in Mexico, click on the video below.

Posted in Education, Social Psychology, Video | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

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