SCIENCE EDUCATION > Psychology

Social Psychology

This collection features classical methods used to investigate how social contexts influence people's actions, thoughts, and attitudes and provides a transparent look into social experiments.

  • Social Psychology

    07:42
    Analyzing Situations in Helping Behavior

    Source: Julian Wills & Jay Van Bavel—New York University

    Social psychologists and personality psychologists both attempt to predict human behavior, but they focus on very different factors. Whereas personality psychologists focus on how personality traits, character, and individual differences affect behavior, social psychologists focus primarily on the power of social situations in shaping behavior.

    We often underestimate the role that social situations can play in determining behavior. We often believe that people who smile are pleasant and happy, people who act rudely are mean, and people who stumble in the street are clumsy. Social psychologists have repeatedly demonstrated that these beliefs may be unfounded, and instead emphasize the importance of the social context in which behavior takes place. Why are some people more apt to help people in need than others? Most of us would surmise it is a function of their personalities—some people are more inclined to help than others. However, psychological research shows that the social situation is often more likely to influence a person’s inclination to be helpful than their personality (which includes religiosity and ethics). The classic experiment of Darley and Batson tested the Biblical parable of the Good Samaritan in which a priest and a Levite—two pious, upstanding citizens—passed by an injured man

  • Social Psychology

    09:19
    Using fMRI to Dissect Moral Judgment

    Source: William Brady & Jay Van Bavel—New York University

    In examining the roles of reason and emotion in moral judgments, psychologists and philosophers alike point to the trolley dilemma and the footbridge dilemma. With the trolley dilemma, most people say that it is appropriate to pull a switch to stop a train from hitting five people by diverting it to kill one person. However, with the footbridge dilemma, most people say it is inappropriate to push a large man off of a bridge in order to hit a train (killing him) and stop it from running into five people. Reason would dictate that in both of the foregoing dilemmas, one life should be sacrificed to save five lives. But to many people, pushing the large man just “feels wrong” because it triggers more negative emotions than pulling a switch. In this case, emotion seems to trump reason.   In recent years, psychology and neuroscience have entered the debate over the roles of reason and emotion in moral judgment. Researchers can scan brain activity as individuals make making moral judgments. Research shows that different brain areas associated are active during contemplation of the footbridge dilemma versus the trolley dilemma. Inspired by Greene, Sommerville, Nystrom, Darley and Cohen, this video demonstrates how to design moral dilemma tasks and integrate them into experiments using using functional magnetic resonance imaging

  • Social Psychology

    04:55
    Perspectives on Social Psychology

    Social Psychology is a complex field—one that investigates how social contexts affect people’s actions, thoughts, and attitudes. It brings the scientific method into our everyday lives by addressing questions relevant to interactions amongst individuals near and far or even over the internet. For example, the video about ostracism details an approach to induce feelings of exclusion without direct face-to-face contact.

    These videos are meant to show the wide reactionary nature of human beings, which also makes the experimental process more complicated. By providing students and scientists a transparent look at the intricate research methods behind classic experiments, this collection strengthens their understanding into just how researchers manipulate contexts to elicit behaviors—some that we are not even aware of harboring. For instance, the video "Implicit Association Test" explores how to measure unconscious attitudes for sensitive topics, like racial prejudice. This collection in Social Psychology provides the perfect introduction to this subject and insight into future directions, such as integration with neuroscience and big data collected via social media outlets.

  • Social Psychology

    08:03
    Evaluating the Accuracy of Snap Judgments

    Source: Diego Reinero & Jay Van Bavel—New York University

    Social psychologists have long been interested in the way people form impressions of others. Much of this work has focused on the errors people make in judging others, such as the exaggerated influence of central traits (such as "warm" and "cold"), the insufficient weight given to the context in which others' behavior takes place, and the tendency for people to make judgments that conform to their initial expectations about another. However, this focus on errors masks the fact that people are quite good at making fairly accurate judgments about other people's characteristics, an ability that was no doubt important over the course of human evolution. Indeed, the human ability to make quick sense of social situations and people ranks among our most valuable skills. What is particularly impressive about our ability to make sense of others is not just how little information we need to make inferences, but how well calibrated we can be with so little information. This video shows some experimental techniques used by psychology researchers, including Ambady and Rosenthal in their seminal work,1 and explores the process of making inferences in the context of students' evaluations of their teachers.

  • Social Psychology

    08:54
    A Minority of One: Conformity to Group Norms

    Source: William Brady & Jay Van Bavel—New York University

    It is obvious that we are influenced by those around us, but in the early to mid 1900's, psychologists began to study how potent social influence can be on our thoughts and behaviors. Motivated in part by attempts to explain the behaviors of Nazi soldiers in World War II, one topic of considerable interest at the time in psychology was conformity, the phenomenon in which people match their attitudes, behaviors, or beliefs to group norms. While behaviorist psychology explained conformity in terms of simple reinforcement learning (e.g., it is rewarding to follow the group), Gestalt psychologists argued that conformity is the result of perception being determined just as much by our social world as the physical world. Starting in 1951, Solomon Asch conducted a series of experiments to test the Gestalt idea that group norms can influence our perception of the world, even when the group norm is incorrect in a judgment of something that can be measured objectively. The experiments involved participants making a judgment about which of three comparison lines matched the length of a standard line. The experiments consisted of a group of people who were confederates with the exception of the one participant, and on certain judgments the confederates purposely claimed that the wrong comparison line matched the standard. This allowed the experiment

  • Social Psychology

    11:51
    Misattribution of Arousal and Cognitive Dissonance

    Source: Peter Mende-Siedlecki & Jay Van Bavel—New York University

    A host of research in psychology suggests that feelings of psychological arousal may be relatively ambiguous, and under certain circumstances, can lead us to make inaccurate conclusions about our own mental states. Much of this work flows from seminal research conducted by Stanley Schacter and and Jerome Singer. If someone experiences arousal and does not have an obvious, appropriate explanation, they may attempt to explain their arousal in terms of other aspects of the situation or social context. For example, in one classic study, participants were told they were receiving a drug called “Suproxin,” in an attempt to test their vision.1 In reality, they received shots of epinephrine, which typically increases feelings of psychological arousal. While some participants were told that the drug would have side effects similar to epinephrine, others were not informed of the side effects, others were misinformed, and others received a placebo with no arousing side effects. Participants then interacted with a confederate, who was either behaving in a euphoric or an angry manner. The authors observed that participants who had no explanation for their feelings of arousal (e.g., the uninformed condition) were most susceptible to the confederates. In other words, these participants took on the confederates’ emotion (ei

  • Social Psychology

    09:12
    Marginal Dishonesty: The Adding-to-10 Task

    Source: Julian Wills & Jay Van Bavel—New York University

    Classical economic theory asserts that people are rational and self-interested. In addition to seeking wealth and status, people are motivated by other goals. As a result, financial motives can sometimes be dwarfed by other internal needs, such as maintaining a positive self-concept or affiliating with other group members.

    Ethical dilemmas, such as the temptation to cheat on taxes, can result when these motives are in conflict. On the one hand, people may be tempted to save money by underreporting their taxable income. On the other hand, no one wants to perceive themselves as a dishonest, free-rider. As a result, people are reluctant to fully exploit unethical opportunities because doing so can severely undermine their self-image as morally upstanding individuals. Instead, people cheat to a much smaller degree than they are capable of: just enough to gain additional resources, but not so much as to compromise their self-image. This tendency for marginal dishonesty, or the "fudge factor," is an important principle in social psychology and can be tested through a variety of techniques. Mazar, Amir, and Ariely originally described six separate experiments involving (dis)honesty and a theory of self-concept maintenance.1 The "Adding-to-10 Task" is one of the experimental techniques discussed and is prevalent in research that inv

  • Social Psychology

    13:00
    Ostracism: Effects of Being Ignored Over the Internet

    Source: Peter Mende-Siedlecki & Jay Van Bavel—New York University

    Social ostracism is defined as being ignored and excluded in the presence of others. This experience is a pervasive and powerful social phenomenon, observed in both animals and humans, throughout all stages of human development, and across all manner of dyadic relationships, cultures, and social groups and institutions. Some have argued that ostracism serves a social regulatory function, which can enhance group cohesion and fitness by removing unwanted elements.1 As such, the feeling of ostracism can serve as a warning to alter one’s behavior, in order to rejoin with the group.2 Research in social psychology has focused extensively on the affective and behavioral consequences of social ostracism. For example, individuals who have been ostracized report feeling depressed, lonely, anxious, frustrated, and helpless,3 and while they may now evaluate the source of their ostracism more negatively, they will also often try to ingratiate themselves to them.2 Furthermore, it has been speculated that the fear of ostracism is ultimately driven by a strong need to belong and to feel included, and serves as a social pressure leading to conformity, compliance, and impression management.4 In a model developed by Williams (1997), ostracism uniquely targets four core needs— belonging, self-esteem, control, and meaningful existence&

  • Social Psychology

    10:21
    Inducing Emotions

    Source: William Brady & Jay Van Bavel—New York University

    Psychologists have long known that people behave differently in good moods versus bad moods, and this general principle extends to consumer behavior. Economists, as well, have come to appreciate that an individual’s financial decisions are not solely the result of extensive cost-benefit calculations; other factors like emotion are at play. Further, incidental emotions affect the behavior of buyers and sellers even though they are unrelated to the transaction at hand. While earlier research focused on the impact of global feelings (positive-negative), more recent research examines more specific emotions (e.g., anger and fear). In consumer settings, research shows that anger triggers greater risk-seeking behavior among buyers and sellers and that fear triggers the opposite, i.e., conservative behavior.   The following experiment tests how two specific negative emotions—disgust and sadness—influence people’s financial valuation of objects.1 The experiment examines the relationships between induced emotional states (disgust and sadness) and the endowment effect. Inherent in this experiment is a common technique for inducing specific emotions in a laboratory setting. Once the emotions are created, they can then be implemented in a number of experimental conditions.

  • Social Psychology

    09:24
    Persuasion: Motivational Factors Influencing Attitude Change

    Source: William Brady & Jay Van Bavel—New York University

    Decades of social psychological research sought to understand a fundamental question that pervades our social life including politics, marketing and public health; namely, how are people persuaded to change their attitudes towards an idea, person, or object? Traditional work found that there are key factors that influence whether persuasion is successful or not including the source of the persuasive message ("source"), and the argument content of the message ("content"). For example, expert sources and messages with sound arguments are typically more persuasive. However, as more studies were conducted, conflicting findings began to arise in the field: some studies found that expert sources and good arguments were not always required for successful persuasion.In the 1980's, psychologists Richard Petty, John Cacioppo and their colleagues proposed a model to account for the mixed findings in studies on persuasion.1,2 They proposed the Elaboration Likelihood Model of persuasion, which stated that persuasion occurs via two routes: a central route or a peripheral route. When persuasive messages are processed via the central route, people engage in careful thinking about the messages, and therefore, the content (i.e., the quality of the argument) matters for successful persuasion. However, when messages are processed via the per

  • Social Psychology

    09:14
    Creating the Minimal Group Paradigm

    Source: Julian Wills & Jay Van Bavel—New York University

    The study of intergroup relations, such as prejudice, conflict, and discrimination, has always been a central topic in social psychology. Does discrimination stem from competition with other groups, a history of conflict, or derogatory stereotypes? Despite an abundance of real-world examples, the ingredients that lead to intergroup discrimination are often unclear. To help solve this problem, a group of psychologists created "minimal groups" to strip away confounds like monetary self-interest and a history of conflict that are normally involved in intergroup discrimination. In minimal groups, participants are randomly assigned to completely novel groups. Thus, any consequences emerging from this minimal group induction must stem from identifying with a social group and separating the social world into "us" and "them." Research using minimal groups has shown that, despite the arbitrary nature of group membership, participants willingly discriminate by favoring members of their in-group over members of the out-group. The minimal group paradigm is widely used in social psychology to study the most basic elements of intergroup relations. This method was first introduced in a 1971 paper called Social Categorization and Intergroup Behaviour by Henri Tajfel and colleagues.1 Across three experiments, the authors documented the in-group fav

  • Social Psychology

    10:09
    The Implicit Association Test

    Source: Julian Wills & Jay Van Bavel—New York University

    One of the core constructs in social psychology is the notion of an attitude toward an object or person. Traditionally, psychologists measured attitudes by simply asking people to self-report their beliefs, opinions, or feelings. This approach has limitations, however, when measuring socially sensitive attitudes, like racial prejudice, because people are often motivated to self-report unprejudiced, egalitarian beliefs (despite harboring negative associations). In order to bypass this social-desirability bias, psychologists have developed a number of tasks that attempt to measure implicit attitudes that are less amenable to deliberate control (and potential distortion). The Implicit Association Test, or IAT, is one of the most influential measures of these unconscious attitudes. The IAT was first introduced in a 1998 paper by Anthony Greenwald and colleagues.1 This video will demonstrate how to conduct the IAT used in the final experiment, where European American participants (who report explicit egalitarian attitudes) exhibit implicit preferences for their own race.

  • Social Psychology

    10:30
    Nonconscious Mimicry Occurs when Affiliation Goals are Present

    Source: Diego Reinero & Jay Van Bavel—New York University

    People are social chameleons and regularly engage in nonconscious behavioral mimicry. This occurs when an individual unwittingly imitates the behaviors of another person, such as crossing one's legs moments after a person sitting adjacent does so, or adjusting one's body posture to match a conversation partner. Rapport between two people increases behavioral mimicry, just as mimicry also increases rapport. Psychologists have posited that this mimicry is attributed to a perception-behavior link;1 seeing a person engage in a behavior activates that behavioral representation, which then makes the perceiver more likely to engage in that behavior him- or herself. The following experiment expands on these previous findings by testing whether people, without intention or awareness, use mimicry to their advantage. Because goals activate behavioral strategies and plans of action that help people pursue those goals,2 Lakin and Chartrand hypothesized that individuals would mimic another person more when they have a goal to affiliate than when they do not.3

  • Social Psychology

    08:30
    Effects of Thinking Abstractly or Concretely on Self-control

    Source: Diego Reinero & Jay Van Bavel—New York University

    Whether it's refraining from having a second serving of ice cream, studying instead of attending a fun party, or deciding to put money away in a savings account, sacrificing short-term outcomes in favor of long-term outcomes (i.e., delaying gratification) is a central tenant of self-control. When people apply self control, they engage numerous psychological processes to help them achieve their goal. These self-regulatory processes have been studied by psychologists for decades. A decision to resist tempting short-term rewards can depend on an individual's mindset and focus. Psychologists have found evidence that how someone construes an event can influence how they make judgments and decisions, a theory called Construal Level Theory (CLT). In particular, CLT asserts that the same object or event can be represented at multiple levels of abstractness or psychological distance, most commonly either a high-(abstract/distant) or low-(concrete/near) level of construal.1 Thinking about a situation with high-level construal entails emphasizing the global, superordinate, central features of an object or event (i.e,, zooming out and looking at the big picture), whereas thinking about a situation with low-level construal entails focusing on its unique and specific features. For example, thinking about children playing catch with high-level construal,

  • Social Psychology

    08:33
    Thinking Too Much Impairs Decision-Making

    Source: Peter Mende-Siedlecki & Jay Van Bavel—New York University

    When we are considering a tough choice between two or more attractive options, we often end up actively weighing the pros and cons of each alternative. By reflecting on their advantages and disadvantages, we attempt to fit a complex, subjective decision into an orderly set of criteria. However, research in psychology suggests that this sort of introspective approach might not always yield the most optimal outcomes.1 In other words, sometimes thinking hard about a problem or a choice may not produce desired results. Similar results have been demonstrated in the domains of emotion (participants who ruminated about a bad mood showed less mood improvement than participants who were merely distracted from their mood;2 and memory (verbalizing the details of a criminal’s face led to poorer recognition in a photo array of possible suspects.3 Furthermore, Wilson and colleagues observed that reflecting on the reasons behind one’s attitudes (i.e., considering “why” one feels a certain way) can disrupt the consistency between attitudes and behavior, and can even change attitudes.4 Why might this be the case? Wilson and colleagues speculate that often we don’t typically have a very good understanding of why we actually feel the way we do.5 Upon introspection of our feelings, we may hone in on irrelevant but

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