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Social Psychology Research Paper

Implicit Personality Theory – 1.1
Implicit personality theory is defined as something which makes people function as an individual. A particular form of implicit personality theory looks at how personality is structured and what traits tend to go together or cluster. This is referred to by Zebrowitz (1990) as ‘person type’.

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Research has shown that an individuals name is part of the central core of the self-image. This can sometimes form a basis for other expectations. Harari & Mcdavid (1973) pointed out that first names, like surnames are often associated with particular characteristics, partly determined by the media. Harari and Mcdavid asked experienced teachers to evaluate a set of short essays which had been written by 11 year olds who were identified by their first name only. Some essays were randomly associated with four names, stereotyped by other teachers as attractive and favorable. Certain names were deemed as attractive and favorable and some names were deemed as unattractive and unfavorable. Research into the marking of the children’s essays showed that the children with the names that had been deemed unattractive were given a lesser mark than those whose names had been deemed as attractive. Research also shown that the effect was stronger with boys names than it was with girls names.

Another form of implicit personality theory looks at peoples’ appearance. It is the view of psychologists that what a person is like psychologically can be determined by what they look like just as easily as talking to them. Allport (1954) showed some clear examples of beliefs that people who are fat are jollier than people who are thin, people with high foreheads are a sign of superior intelligence, people with eyes which are close together is a sign of untrustworthiness and redheads have a fiery temper.

There have been a number of studies which have demonstrated the ‘attractive stereotype’, that is, the tendency to infer that physically attractive people also have more attractive personalities.

Stereotypes are said to be a special kind of inter personality theory. It is said to be a theory that is related to ensure social group. The stereotype term was introduced into the social sciences by Lippman (1922). He defined a stereotype as a picture in our heads which we see when we think about someone or something.

An example of a study of ethnic stereotypes comes from Katz & Braly (1933)
One hundred undergraduates at Princeton University in the USA were presented with a list of ethnic groups. The list was made up of Americans, Jews, Negroes, Turks, Germans, Chinese, Irish, English, Italians and Japanese and 84 words describing personality. The people were asked to list five or six traits which were common to each of the ethnic groups. The aim was to find out whether traditional social stereotypes (as typically portrayed in papers and magazines) were actually held by the Princeton students. In all considerable agreement was shown especially about the negative traits, and most disturbingly many of the students who took part in the experiment had had no personal contact with many of the ethnic groups featured in the experiment.

The presumption can therefore be made that their opinion of these people was gained through the media or the opinions of others.

Attribution Theory – 1.2
The attribution theory deals with the general principles governing how we select information to arrive at certain explanations for behaviour.

Psychologists claim that although we are constantly told we should not judge each other we cannot help it. We are inundated with sensory data, some of it contradictory. Faced with this information overload, we make personality judgments in order to explain otherwise confusing behaviour.

According to Jean attribution is a three step process and explains the ways in which we perceive other people. Jean uses the following case scenario in order to clarify her case.

1) I saw that! (Perception of the action)
2) You meant to do that! (Judgment of intention)
2) You’re a slob! (Attribution of disposition)

Heider (1958) claims that the way in which we perceive other people is determined by the culture in which we have been brought up in. Heider claims that the ‘ordinary’ person is a naïve scientist whom links observable behavior to unobservable causes, and these causes (rather than the behaviour itself) provides a meaning to what people do.

What mainly interested Heider was the fact that members of a culture share basic assumptions about behaviour. These assumptions belong to the belief system that forms part of the culture as a whole, and distinguishes one culture from another. This means that in the view of Heider the way in which people perceive each other is strongly affected by their society.

Heider, Jones and Davis (1965) believe that the goal of the attribution process is to be able to make correspondent inferences. We need to be able to infer that both the behaviour and the intention that produced it correspond to some underlying stable feature of the person. An example of this is if a young man gives up his seat on a bus for an old lady then we would infer that the man is kind and unselfish. This is a correspondent inference, because both the behaviour and the disposition can be labeled in the same way.

The above examples are clear in demonstrating how we act towards and perceive other people however there are some sources of error in the attribution process.

Research into sources of error and bias seem to provide a much more accurate account of how people actually make causal attributions. Zebrowitz (1990) defines sources of bias as:
‘…the tendency to favor one cause over another when explaining some effect. Such favoritism may result in casual attributions that deviate from predictions derived from rational attributional principles, like co-variation….’

Psychologists claim that almost all behaviour is the product of both the person and the situation and that our casual explanations empahasise one or the other.

The fundamental attribution error is and example of a source of error in the attributional process. The fundermental attribution error refers to the general tendency to overestimate the importance of personal/ dispositional factors relative to situational/environmental factors as causes of behaviour (Ross, 1977). This will tend to make others behaviour seem more predictable which in turn enhances our sense of control over the environment.

An example of attributional error can be gained from the actor-observer effect. This is where actors and observers make different observations of the same event. (Jones & Nesbit,1971)

And example of this is as follows.

• Actors usually see their own behaviour as primarily a response to the situation, and therefore is quite variable from situation to situation.
• The observer typically attributes the same behaviour to the actors intentions and dispositions, and therefore is quite consistent across situations (the cause is internal). The observer’s attribution to internal causes is, of course, the fundamental attributional error.

Attitudes – 1.3
Many psychologists have different interpretations of the meaning of the word attitude.

Gordon Allport (1935) claims that attitude is the most distinctive and indispensable concept in social psychology and that an attitude is a mental and neural state of readiness, organized through experience, exerting a directive or dynamic influence upon the individual’s response to all objects and situations with which it is related.

According to Hogg & Vaughan (1995) attitudes are a basic and persuasive in human life and that without the concept of attitude, we would have difficulty construing and reacting to events. Trying to make decisions, and making sense of our relationships with people in everyday life.

In other words attitudes provide us with ready made reactions and interpretations of events, just as other aspects of our cognitive ‘equipment’ do, such as schemas and stereotypes. It is said that attitudes save us energy as we already have pre-defined values and ideas about particular subjects so we don’t have to consider what we think about them when the issue arises. However not all attitudes serve the same function as Katz (1960) believes that attitudes serve in both conscious and un-conscious motives.

In my opinion Gordon Allport’s theory relates best to today’s society and emphasizes the fact that we are not only influenced by objects and circumstances but these influences remain a part of who we are as a person.

There are a number of ways in which attitudes can be changed. However in order to get a clear picture of attitude change we must firstly consider the processes that goes on in the mind of the person whose attitude is being changed.

According to the theories of systematic processing, what is considered important is that the recipient of a message deals with the message in the correct way in order for them to process the information correctly.

Hovland (1953) claimed that the impact of persuasive messages can be understood in terms of a sequence of processes.

Attention to message –> Comprehension of the content –> Acceptance of its conclusions
Hovland claims that if any of these fails to occur then persuasion is unlikely to be achieved.

There are a number of forms of persuasion that can be invoked when changing an individuals attitude. The media plays a primary role in the changing of our attitudes in our everyday lives. As consumers we come into contact with adverts which are designed to shock the mind of the consumer. An example of this are smoking adverts which tell us that smoking will seriously damage your child.

According to Stroebe (2000), mass media campaigns designed to change some specific health behaviour should use arguments aimed mainly at changing beliefs relating to that specific behaviour – rather than focusing on more general health concerns. This is another example of the compatibility principle. For example, to persuade people to lower their dietary cholesterol, it wouldn’t be very effective merely to point out that coronary heart disease is the major killer but would be more effective to suggest ways in which an individual can lower their cholesterol through positive eating.

In order to arouse fear, it isn’t enough that ea health risk has serious consequences, but the individual must also feel personally at risk. There is some psychological evidence to show that unless individuals feel venerable to a threat, they’re unlikely to form the intention to act upon the recommendations of the message (Kuppens 1996). Feeling venerable relates to what Mcguire calls the initial level of concern.

The most influential theories of attitude change have concentrated on the principle of cognitive consistency. Human beings are seen as internally active information-processors who sort through and modify a large number of cognitive elements in order to achieve some kind of cognitive coherence. This need for cognitive consistency means that theories such as Heider’s balance theory (1958), Osgood & Tannenbaum’s congruity theory (1955), and Festinger’s cognitive dissonance theory (1957) aren’t just theories of attitude change, but are also theories of human motivation.

Prejudice – 1.4

Prejudice is defined as an attitude which has been gained and is maintained by members of a group, with attitudes that are usually negative.

Many scientists believe that prejudice is something that is part of a person from the moment they are born. It is claimed that regardless of how an individual is raised they will still have prejudice characteristics inside them. The biological theory claims that people are prejudice as a result of evolution and that people are almost programmed to be bias against others.

Prejudice is a subject which is very controversial in today’s society however scientists still cannot guarantee where its origins are.

There is not a great deal of social explanations for the existence of widespread prejudice. One of the few predictions is based on social norms .These are what the specific society either officially or unofficially agrees is normal behaviour, these are normally laws which are unspoken but are abided as a matter of course. For example most people know it is not polite to smoke in other people’s houses unless they give you permission.

Another biological approach to prejudice is called the Realistic Conflict Theory. This theory is based on the idea that in some cases, different groups are in competition for limited resources, such as food, water and money. They then band together, based on their ethnic heritage to take what they believe should be theirs.

Although biological explanations of prejudice formation are controversial they are based in other accepted scientific theories, such as evolution, however they still might explain why prejudice exists in some individuals and not others, it has been proven that biology is not a good founder of prejudicial behaviour.

The psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud were put forward by him towards the end of the 19th century. As ever the views of Freud carried a great deal of influence and led to a number of psychoanalytic theories being derived. Dollard (1939) claimed that aggression towards individuals and groups is caused by frustration. Frustration leads to a high and unpleasant state of arousal, which is released in the form of aggression. Dollard claimed that sometimes aggression is so powerful that it is not possible to show aggression towards the offending individual, item or legislation. This form of extreme aggression is what Freud called displacement. This is where the aggression is directed towards something else for example a husband’s wife when he gets home from a stressful day at the office. This is known as scapegoating which is finding someone or something else to vent your frustrations on. Weatherley (1961) found that anti-Semitic subjects (those prejudiced against Jews), who were frustrated by being insulted were more aggressive in their descriptions of people with Jewish sounding names. However it should be noted that verbal prejudice does not always show itself in discriminatory behaviour as LaPiere (1934) found.

From another point of view it can be argued that frustration aggression which has been created through scapegoating provides a plausible account of one of the factors which cause prejudice.

On a negative side frustration can lead to constructive attempts to remove it’s source or to resigned attitude as well as aggression.

Conformity theory links in with the interpersonal theory of the origins of prejudice. New members of a society can acquire existing prejudice through conformity to norms of discrimination. Conformity is especially powerful if individuals grow up in a non- conscious ideology – not even knowing that there are other ways of behaving.

Minard (1952) found coal miners conformed to norms of prejudice above ground but norms of c0-operation below ground. Pettigrew (1959) found conformity to prejudice in the USA.

Discrimination in society could also be acquired by the social learning theory processes of observation and imitation. An individual will learn acts of discrimination from those around, but will be more likely to demonstrate those behaviours if they expect positive consequences. (e.g. social approval or increased self-esteem).

Although both of the above points are valid it must be taken into consideration that conformity does not account well for the transmission of pre-existing prejudices, but can not account for their origin. The social learning theory has proved to be a good theory which can demonstrate both the acquisition and demonstration of prejudice and discrimination within a society.

Prejudice can be reduced in a number of key ways. Firstly there is education. If children are educated with the notions of tolerance and are provided with an insight into the causes and effects of prejudice then this can help the child to gain a better understanding of the devastating affects prejudice can cause. Conformity to norms theory would argue that education is necessary to prevent a non-conscious ideology forming in communities where prejudice is so accepted that is becomes an unquestioned norm.

Jane Elliot conducted the ‘blue eyes’ – ‘brown eyes’ study on her classes to teach them what it felt like to be a victim of prejudice. Interviews with the individuals as adults showed that they had been inoculated against discriminatory behaviour as a result of her test. Education can reduce prejudice if it is carried out at a social level and is seen to be unacceptable by the majority in society.

Super- Ordinate Goals are another way of reducing prejudice. Star et al concluded that ‘efforts’ at integration of white and colored troops into the same units may well be more successful when attention is focused on concrete tasks where all of the troops have to perform together as one unit. Inter-personal liking in these studies is however not always generalized into social groups as a whole. An example of this is when children leave their classroom they can always return to prejudice families or societies.

Social policy is another way of reducing discrimination with the use of law.
Political and social measures can act to reduce institutionalized discrimination through ensuring political power sharing, providing equal opportunities legislation, encouraging the idea of one nation and targeting areas of economic frustration.
The Supreme Court case of Brown vs Board of Education in 1954 started the desegregation of public schools in the USA. Power sharing in South Africa ended Apartheid policies there.

Bogatz & Ball (1971) found that white children in the USA who watched mixed race TV programs like ‘Sesame Street’ developed more positive attitudes towards blacks and Hispanics.

Policies like desegregation must be equally applied and regarded as inevitable and socially supported half-hearted measures often cause more disruption. There is a danger that discrimination will just shift to more subtle forms.

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