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Social psychology for schooling


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Hi there.

I'm sure we've all come to realise how useful and even critical certain knowledge of social psychology can be in situations so why stop here?

As stated in my "Day of Compassion" assignment, I'm releasing the work I've done in an effort to bring together and hopefully make even the smallest impact on the way children are taught in schools, that is: to use social psychology and it's techniques to deliver education in the most efficient and impactful manner.

If you have a moment and would like to contribute I would really value your help and input. Even the smallest comment or thought could help.

The idea is to present Social Psychology research findings and techniques in a way that is relevant to schooling and can be presented to an educational institution, and I'm looking to the Coursera community, to you to help better and further it.

Unless a TA or any of the other moderators object, the research I have compiled is free for anyone to use, provided there is no plagiarism etc in regards to the various sources I have gotten my information from. That is to say, you can copy any work I have done in the linked document but please adhere to the rules of other people's work that I have made use of.

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Social psychology for schooling

  1. 1. Social Psychology for Schooling Compiled by Jared Glass After recently having finished a 12 years of education, from primary school to college, I have found some of the findings of Social Psychology not only very interesting, but also very relevant to schooling, education and life in general. It is for that reason that I have compiled this brief list of what are in my humble opinion some of the most relevant social psychology. Self-Esteem Motivation A study (by Bushman & others, 2011) has found that college students preferred a self-esteem boost over receiving a paycheck, seeing a best friend, eating their favourite food, drinking alcohol or even engaging in their favourite sexual activity. If a high self-esteem individual has their self-esteem threatened (by an unflattering comparison or failure), they generally compensate for it by trying harder next time or blaming someone else but someone with low self-esteem may blame themselves or give up. Summary: Students with low self-esteem are more likely to give up and may need extra positive reinforcement after taking a knock to their self-esteem. Further Reading/Reference: p51 “Myers, D. G. (2012). Social psychology. New York McGraw-Hill”. Self-Efficacy vs Self-Esteem Self-efficacy is how competent an individual feels about their ability to perform a certain task. “Children and adults with strong feelings of self-efficacy are more persistent, less anxious and less depressed. They also live healthier lives and are more academically successful.” (p56, Myers, D. G. (2012). Social psychology. New York McGraw-Hill) A study (by Meuller & Dweck, 1998) showed that self-efficacy feedback leads to better performance than self-esteem feedback. Children praised for working hard (self-efficacy, performing a specific task) knew they could exert more effort next time but children that were praised for “being really smart” (self-esteem, general statement irrelevant to any specific task) were afraid to try again for the possible fear of not looking so smart next time. Summary: Praising self-efficacy (working hard on a specific task) leads to better performance than self-esteem (general praise) based praise. Further Reading/Reference: p56 “Myers, D. G. (2012). Social psychology. New York McGraw-Hill”.aggressively Aggression One of the ways aggression is learnt is by observational learning. In a study (by Albert Bandura & others. 1961) found that children that had previously watched an adult act aggressively, would when aggravated act aggressively too but children put through the same predicament without seeing initially seeing the aggressive adult's actions were less likely to release their in anger in a destructive manner. In another study (by Berkowitz and others, 1978, 1989), it was found that even the sight of a weapon can be an aggression cue. In an experiment, children that had just played with a toy gun had become more willing to knock over another child's blocks. The same effect has been seen in adults where when subjects in another experiment gave more electric shocks to a tormenter if a gun was visibly near by (Berkowitz & LePage, 1967). When caregivers ignore children’s' aggressive behaviour and reinforce their non-aggressive behaviour, children have been found to become less aggressive (Hamblin & others), Contrary to what many people believe, the consensus amongst social psychologists is: “Venting to reduce anger is like using gasoline to put out a fire.” - Brad Bushman (2002), Researcher. Summary: Seeing others act out aggression or even seeing a visual cue associated with aggression can lead to increased aggression. Venting aggression leads to increased aggression and can cause others to follow the example. Further Reading/Reference: p289, p290, p297 “Myers, D. G. (2012). Exploring social psychology. New York McGraw- Hill”.
  2. 2. The Fundamental Attribution Error This is the tendency for people “to underestimate the impact of situational factors and overestimate the role of dispositional factors in controlling behaviour”. For example, a student may look scruffy and have scuff marks on his/her uniform which could lead to the conclusion that this is a particularly sloppy student (dispositional) and disregard the possibility that this student may have just been a victim of bullying (situational). Further Reading/Reference: Ross L. (1977). The intuitive psychologist ad his shortcomings: Distortions in the attribution process. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.). Advances in experimental social psychology (Col. 10. pp 173-220) New York: Academic Press. Stereotypes A study (by Steele & Aronson, 1997) found that just by telling black American students that a test is diagnostic of their verbal ability, or having them state their race before the test, lead to a drop in the test scores, just because of the stereotypes associated with being a black American. That said, when Asian women were made aware of their ethnicity their math performance improved (Amabady, Shih, Kim & Pittinsky) but then dropped again after being made aware of their gender. Summary: Stereotypes can produce both positive and negative results though in many cases, the negative often seem to outweigh the positive. Stereotypes can be reduced though. One way is to practice empathy by “looking through the world through their eyes” which has proven to reduce stereotyping (Galinisky & Moskowitz, 2000). Another is to change the orientation of the stereotype. An experiment found that by encouraging black American students to think of intelligence as malleable rather than fixed, their grades increased (Aronson, Fried & Good, 2002) Further Reading/Reference: p31 “Plous, S. (Ed.). (2003). Understanding prejudice and discrimination (pp. 3-48). New York: McGraw-Hill” Deindividuation This is the diffusal of responsibility when in a group. This can lead from small misdeeds to vandalism, riots and even murder by mobs. One of the factors that contribute is the group size. Leon Mann (1986) found that when a large crowd had massed around someone that threatened to jump off a building, the crowd would bait the person with cries of “Jump!”. Though in a smaller group where individuals were more accountable, people would not usually exhibit the same behaviour. Another factor is Anonymity. A small group under the cover of night exhibited much the same behaviours as the larger group when presented with a suicide attempter. The same goes for wearing masks etc. In the other side, a study (by Beaman & others, 1970; Diener & Wallbom, 1976) found that people made self-aware were less likely to cheat. So being made self-aware produces the opposite effect of deindividuation. Summary: Deindividuation can be combatted by making people self-aware (for example, being made to wear name tags in a well lit room to reduce cheating). Further Reading/Reference: p209 “Myers, D. G. (2012). Exploring social psychology. New York McGraw-Hill”. The Bystander Effect “The bystander effect is a social psychological phenomenon that refers to cases in which individuals do not offer any means of help to a victim when other people are present. The probability of help is inversely related to the number of bystanders. In other words, the greater the number of bystanders, the less likely it is that any one of them will help. Several variables help to explain why the bystander effect occurs.” ( Every now and then these stories surface in the media. One is the story of Kitty Genovese ( who was stabbed outside her apartment while all any of the bystanders did was yell at the assailant, who later returned to murder and rape her. Summary: The larger the group of bystanders, the less likely any of them are to help as the responsibility of helping gets diffused amongst the entire group and doesn't fall on any individual's shoulders. Making people aware of the bystander effect helps to reduce it. Another way is to place responsibility on an individual by pointing and saying something along the lines of “You, yes you. I'm pointing at you. Help me!”. Further Reading/Reference: p385 “Myers, D. G. (2012). Exploring social psychology. New York McGraw-Hill”.
  3. 3. Groupthink “Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an incorrect or deviant decision-making outcome. Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative ideas or viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.” ( This can lead to important information being unvoiced or ignored as well as opinions being strengthened (Group Polarization - which leads to a more extreme decision coming from a group than would come from the separate individuals (for example, people tend to behave more extremely in a group then when they are by themselves). Summary: Groupthink can be combated by encouraging critical evaluation, including outside critique, not endorsing a specific position etc. Just being made aware of he possibility of groupthink can aid against it. Further Reading/References: p217 “Myers, D. G. (2012). Social psychology. New York McGraw-Hill”., Conflict Resolution When resolving conflict, Dr William Ury, a world renown expert on negotiations and author of two best seller books recommends an approach called: “taking the third side”. An approach where someone assumes the role of neutral mediator and makes sure the conflicting parties follow set principles of negotiating: 1. Separate the problem from the people, don't get into personal attacks. 2. Focus on underlying interests rather than express positions. 3. Generate a variety of options before deciding what to do. 4. Insist that the result be based on some objective standard (Market value, scientific judgment etc). For example, to solve a dispute between two students, they may be told to talk it out with the aid of a mediator which instructs them not to resort to name calling (so the students can stay focused on the problem), points out anything that the students may have in common (to form common ground and potentially form a connection with the other student) and then generate a few different options of how the problem may be solved so the students can choose the one they both agree most with. If for instance, student A broke a possession of student B and the final agreement of the negotiations were for student B to remunerate student A for the damages, the fourth point would be the price (to avoid the students getting into a later quarrel about how much the object was actually worth). Summary: Having a third party to mediate negotiations between conflicting parties can greatly help the effectiveness of the negotiations. Further Reading/Reference: Fisher. R., & Ury. W., with Patton, B. (Ed.) (2011). Getting to yes, Negotiating agreement without giving in (3rd cd., rev. ed.). New York: Penguin. Normative Messages An experiment by Robert B. Cialdini (Department of Psychology, Arizona State University) has shown that normalizing a negative behaviour to try change it can still have a negative effect. In the experiment, to try stop the public from removing petrified wood from an state park, one of two messages was displayed. The first “Many past visitors have removed petrified wood from the Park, changing it;s natural state” actually led to an increase in petrified wood removal. This is because the underlying message is “many past visitors have removed petrified wood”, making it a “normal” thing to do. The second sign was much more effective in reducing theft: “Please don't remove petrified wood from the Park, in order to preserve the natural state of the Petrified forest”. Because this sign didn't normalize the theft, the amount of wood removed from the park dropped drastically. Summary: When crafting a message, avoid normalizing a negative as by normalizing it it is actually showing that it is the social norm and therefore more acceptable. Saying something like “Many children drop out of school because of drug addiction.” could have a negative effect as it normalizes the action as opposed to saying “Drug addiction is very likely to cause a student to become a dropout.” which doesn't show that it is the social norm since it doesn't address more than one person. Further Reading/Reference: Crafting Normative Messages to Protect the Environment, Robert B. Cialdini. Persuasion
  4. 4. The psychology behind persuasion is made up of two main routes; the Central and Peripheral routes. The Central route is aimed at a more analytical and motivated audience who would be very involved in the argument. This route makes use of cogent arguments that revoke enduring agreement. The Peripheral route isn't addressed to an analytical or involved audience. This audience may not know anything more than general knowledge on the topic. This route makes use of cues to trigger liking and acceptance, though this is often only temporary. “Analytical people - those with a high need for cognition - enjoy thinking carefully and prefer central routes (Cacioppo & others, 1996). People who like to conserve their mental resources - those with a low need for cognition - are quicker to respond to such peripheral cues as the communicator’s attractiveness and the pleasantness of the surroundings.” One may use the peripheral route when persuading disinterested students why they should stay in school and the central route as to why a promising student should join the chess or debate team etc. a variety of experiments have been conducted to explore various ways to stimulate people's thinking by splitting up multiple points to multiple speakers, so each person only gives one argument. Also by using rhetorical questions, repeating the message, getting people's undistracted attention and making people feel responsible for passing on or evaluating the message. Summary: Creating an argument specific to the type of audience will definitely impact it's effect. Further Reading/Reference: p180 “Myers, D. G. (2012). Exploring social psychology. New York McGraw-Hill”. Buying Happiness A study (by Micheal Norton & others) revealed that when students were given money to spend, the students that were instructed to spend the money on someone else later reported to be more happy than students that were instructed to spend the money on themselves. One of the reasons for this is that the act of giving is a social interaction which is a mentally rewarding process. Harbaugh. Mayr and Burghart (2007) found that giving (in the form of charitable donations) stimulates the same part of the brain as other rewarding stimuli ranging from looking at art and attractive faces to cocaine. Micheal Norton & others also found that when a team was given money to put towards a group activity, the team would go on to outperform competitors that were given money for each individual to spend on themselves. Summary: Spending money on others can be very rewarding. Spending money as a team can build and strengthen the team. Further Reading/Reference: p8 “Feeling Good about Giving: competitors The Benefits (and Costs) of Self-Interested Charitable Behavior”, Lalin Anik, Lara B. Aknin, Michael I. Norton, Elizabeth W. Dunn References: p51, p56, p217 “Myers, D. G. (2012). Social psychology. New York McGraw-Hill”. P180, p289, p290, p297, p209, p385 “Myers, D. G. (2012). Exploring social psychology. New York McGraw-Hill”. Ross L. (1977). The intuitive psychologist ad his shortcomings: Distortions in the attribution process. In L. Berkowitz (Ed.). Advances in experimental social psychology (Col. 10. pp 173-220) New York: Academic Press. p31 “Plous, S. (Ed.). (2003). Understanding prejudice and discrimination (pp. 3-48). New York: McGraw-Hill” Fisher. R., & Ury. W., with Patton, B. (Ed.) (2011). Getting to yes, Negotiating agreement without giving in (3rd cd., rev. ed.). New York: Penguin. Crafting Normative Messages to Protect the Environment, Robert B. Cialdini. p8 “Feeling Good about Giving: attribution The Benefits (and Costs) of Self-Interested Charitable Behavior”, Lalin Anik, Lara B. Aknin, Michael I. Norton, Elizabeth W. Dunn
  5. 5. Acknowledgements: Special thanks go to Professor Scott Plous (Ph.D) for creating and sharing the Social Psychology course that inspired this article. It would not have been created if it weren't for his insightful and interesting teachings. Also thanks to Coursera for hosting the Social Pstchology course as well as the many other courses that are also made available to the public for free. Coursera is doing amazing work and I highly recommend a visit to their website (