The 10 most curious social studies

The 10 most curious social studies

The social psychologist and professor Philip Zimbardo (author of the book "The Lucifer Effect", which deals with how good people become bad), works tirelessly to find out why humans do so many silly or irrational things throughout our lives . The answer is often simply due to other people, those around us, something that social psychologists have amply demonstrated.


  • 1 1. The Halo Effect: when you think you know more than you know
  • 2 2. How and why do we lie to ourselves ?: Cognitive Dissonance
  • 3 3. We create our own enemies. The Thieves Cave experiment
  • 4 4. Our Dark Hearts: The Stanford Jail Experiment
  • 5 5. Obedience to authority. Stanley Milgram's Obedience Experiment
  • 6 6. Are you sure you agree ?: The False Consensus
  • 7 7. Why are you from Madrid and hate Barça ?: Tajfel Social Identity Theory
  • 8 8. The negotiating table: threats do not work
  • 9 9. Why don't we help when there are more people: The Spectator Effect
  • 10 10. Conformity: The Asch Experiment

1. The Halo Effect: when you think you know more than you know

The Halo Effect refers to a cognitive bias whereby the perception of a particular trait is influenced by the perception of previous traits in a sequence of interpretations. That is, if we like a person, we tend to rate him with favorable characteristics even though we don't always have much information about himFor example, we think of someone who is friendly, and this makes us assume that we already know other more specific characteristics such as: he is also intelligent.

Hollywood stars demonstrate the halo effect perfectly. Because they are often attractive and friendly, then and almost automatically, we assume that they are also intelligent, kind, have good judgment and so on.

Edward Thorndike, known for his contributions in the field of school psychology, coined the term "halo effect" and was the first to prove it with empirical evidence. He described this phenomenon in his article "The constant error in psychological qualification".

2. How and why do we lie to ourselves ?: Cognitive Dissonance

Many of the apparent contradictions in which we are often involved in our daily lives, perhaps the most famous is the theory of cognitive dissonance, whose influence has far exceeded the scope of social psychology itself, reaching impact even in neurological studies. In Psychology, cognitive dissonance is known as the tension or discomfort we perceive when we maintain two contradictory or incompatible ideas, or when our beliefs are not in harmony with what we do. It is an unpleasant sensation caused by holding two contradictory ideas at the same time.

For example, many people believe in animal rights, but in this belief they do not include the consumption of meat or using skins, if these have been made with animals that had already been slaughtered for human consumption (such as cowhide) . Some, realizing that the contradiction, leads them to feel dissonance, such as anxiety, guilt, shame, anger, stress and other negative emotional states. In this case, to curb this malaise, they rationalize the fact that it is not really bad to kill animals if it is only for eating, as it is a matter of survival, as do other animals in nature.

Another example could be the following: If we think "I am a good person" and at the same time "I have deceived a friend". In this case, if you feel you are cheating on a friend and at the same time consider yourself a good person, you will be in a state of disharmony that is quite unpleasant, so you will try to do something to eliminate such disharmony. To reduce the discomfort it causes, what we often do is change one of the cognitions, or both, to make them more compatible. For example: "He was not really a good friend and he deserved it because I know he would have done the same to me," or "the fault is his because he has been fooled ...", etc.

3. We create our own enemies. The Thieves Cave experiment

"The Thieves Cave Experiment" is the title of a famous social psychology study conducted in 1954 by Muzafer Sherif and Carolyn Sherif where I know study the origin of prejudice in social groups. This investigation occurred in a large space owned by the boy scouts, which was completely surrounded by the Robber's Cave State Park in the state of Oklahoma.

During the study, Sherif was introduced as a field guard. The study team observed a group of 22 11-year-old male adolescents with similar life experience. They were transferred to the place by buses in two groups of eleven people. Neither group knew of the other's existence. The boys were assigned in two areas quite distant from each other, so that during the first days the presence of the 'others' was ignored. The researchers had cut, as far as they could, pre-existing friendship bonds within each group so that each boy's identification with his new group could happen more quickly.

None of the boys knew each other before the experiment, but very soon hostility was observed between the groups. The hostility between the groups increased to the point where the study team concluded the friction production activities due to their insecurity. The second phase concluded and the third began.

To reduce friction and promote unity between the two groups, Sherif devised and introduced tasks that required cooperation between both groups. These tasks are referred to in the study as "super-ordinate objectives." A super-ordinate goal is a desire, a challenge or a danger that both parties need to resolve in a social conflict, and that neither group can solve on its own. The proposed challenges included a water shortage problem, a stuck field truck that needs a lot of force to be returned to the field, and to find a film to project it. These and other necessary collaborations caused hostile behavior to decrease. The groups were intertwined to the point that at the end of the experiment the boys insisted on returning home all on the same bus.

This study shows the ease with which hostility can be formed between groups and within them and is one of the most cited in the history of social psychology.

4. Our dark hearts: The Stanford Jail Experiment

What happens when you put good people in a bad place? Does humanity win evil, or does evil triumph? These are some of the questions that were raised in this study about Stanford Jail.

Participants were recruited through newspaper advertisements and the offer of a $ 15 daily pay for participating in the "simulation of a prison." Of the 70 who responded to the announcement, Zimbardo and his team selected the 24 that they considered healthier and psychologically stable. The participants were predominantly white, young and middle class. They were all university students.

The guards received batons and military-inspired uniforms. Mirror glasses were also provided to prevent eye contact. Unlike the prisoners, the guards would work in shifts and return home during free hours.

The prisoners were to wear only muslin gowns (without underpants) and sandals with rubber heels. They would be designated by numbers instead of by their names. These numbers were sewn to their uniforms. They also had to wear nylon stockings on the head to pretend they had shaved heads. In addition, they would wear a small chain around their ankles as a "constant reminder" of their imprisonment and oppression.

The day before the experiment, the guards attended a brief orientation meeting, but no other explicit rules were provided apart from the prohibition of physical violence. They were told that it was their responsibility to run the prison, what they could do in the way they thought most convenient.

Participants selected to play the role of prisoners were simply told to wait at their homes to be "visited" on the day the experiment began. Without prior notice they were "charged" for armed robbery and arrested by royal policemen from the department of Palo Alto, who cooperated in this part of the experiment. The prisoners passed a complete detention procedure by the police, including taking fingerprints, taking a photograph to be signed and reading their rights. After this process they were transferred to the fictitious prison, where they were inspected naked, "laid off" and given their new identities.

The experiment was quickly out of control. The prisoners suffered - and accepted - a sadistic and humiliating treatment at the hands of the guards, who quickly became sadistic, in the end many inmates showed serious emotional disorders.

After a relatively bland first day, a riot broke out on the second day. The guards volunteered to overtime and dissolve the revolt, attacking prisoners with fire extinguishers without direct supervision of the investigative team. Hygiene and hospitality were quickly abandoned. The right to go to the bathroom became a privilege that could, as often happened, be denied. Some prisoners were forced to clean toilets with their bare hands. The mattresses were removed from the "bad" cells and the prisoners were also forced to sleep naked on the concrete floor. Food was also frequently denied as a measure of punishment. They were forced to go naked as humiliation, among many other ill-treatment.

As the experiment evolved, many of the guards increased their sadism, particularly at night, when they thought the cameras were turned off. Investigators saw approximately one third of the guards showing "genuine" sadistic tendencies. After just six days, eight ahead of schedule, the experiment was canceled. Many of the guards were angry when this happened.

It has been said that the result of the experiment demonstrates the impressionability and obedience of people when they are provided with a legitimizing ideology and institutional support. In other words, it is assumed that it was the situation that caused the participants' behavior and not their individual personalities.

5. Obedience to authority. Stanley Milgram's Obedience Experiment

The purpose of this experiment was measure the willingness of a participant to obey the orders of an authority even if they might conflict with their personal conscience.

The experiments began in July 1961, three months after Adolf Eichmann was tried and sentenced to death in Jerusalem for crimes against humanity during the Nazi regime in Germany. Eichmann was a normal name, even boring, that had nothing against the Jews. Why had he participated in the Holocaust? Was it just for obedience? Could it be that all other Nazi accomplices only comply with orders? Or was it that the Germans were different? Milgram devised these experiments to answer these questions.

He placed an ad asking for volunteers for a study related to memory and learning. The participants were 40 men between 20 and 50 years old and with different types of education, from only primary school to doctorates. The procedure was as follows: an investigator explains to a participant and an accomplice (the participant believes at all times that he is another volunteer) that they will prove the effects of punishment on learning.

He tells both of them that the goal is to check how much punishment is necessary to learn better, and that one of them will be a student and the other a teacher. He asks them to take a piece of paper from a box to see what role they will play in the experiment. The accomplice always leaves the role of "student" and the participant, that of "teacher."

In another room, the "student" is attached to a kind of electric chair and electrodes are placed. A list of paired words has to be learned. Then, the "teacher" will say words and the "student" will have to remember which one is associated. And, if it fails, the "teacher" gives it a download.

At the beginning of the study, the teacher receives a real 45 volt discharge so that he sees the pain it will cause in the "student." Afterwards, they tell him that he should start administering electric shocks to his "student" every time he makes a mistake, increasing the discharge voltage every time. The generator had 30 switches, marked from 15 volts (soft discharge) to 450 (danger, deadly discharge).

The "false student" gave mostly wrong answers on purpose and, for each failure, the teacher had to give him a download. When he refused to do so and addressed the investigator, he gave him instructions (4 procedures):

Procedure 1: Please continue.
Procedure 2: The experiment requires that it continue.
Procedure 3: It is absolutely essential that you continue.
Procedure 4: You have no alternative. It must continue.

If after this last sentence the "teacher" refused to continue, the experiment was stopped. If not, it stopped after it had administered the maximum of 450 volts three times in a row.

This experiment would be considered unethical today, but revealed surprising results. Before doing so, psychologists, middle class people and students were asked what they thought would happen. Everyone believed that only some sadists would apply the maximum voltage. However, 65% of the "teachers" punished the "students" with a maximum of 450 volts. None of the participants flatly refused to give less than 300 volts.

6. Are you sure you agree ?: The False Consensus

In psychology, the effect of false consensus is a cognitive bias by which many people tend to overestimate the degree of "agreement" that others have with them. People tend to assume that their own opinions, beliefs, predilections, values ​​and habits are among the most chosen, widely supported by the majority. This belief is a bias that exaggerates the confidence of individuals in their own beliefs, even if they are erroneous or minority.

Frequently this bias appears in opinion groups in which the collective opinion is the same as that of the individuals of the group. Since group members have reached an internal consensus and rarely find someone to dispute that consensus, they tend to believe that everyone, including people outside the group, is of the same opinion as the group.

The most cited false consensus experiment in the literature was conducted with university students who were asked if they would be willing to make a man-announcement across the campus, carrying a sign in front and one behind with the word "repent." In total several hundreds of students participated in the experiment. A certain number accepted and others rejected the work. Both groups (the "acceptors" and the "rejects") were then asked to calculate the percentages of those who accepted and those who rejected. It turned out that the students' calculations were inclined towards what they themselves thought: those who were willing to accept the sign thought that 60% would be too, those who rejected it estimated that only 27% would be willing to take it.

7. Why are you from Madrid and hate Barça ?: Tajfel's Social Identity Theory

It is a theory formed by Henri Tajfel and John Turner to understand the psychological foundations of discrimination between groups.

The human being has the basic need to have a positive self-esteem. Identity and self-esteem are generated through two dimensions: Personal identity: I am Pedro, I am a nice person, I am a nervous person, etc. Social identity: I am a man, I am Latin American, I am a Christian, etc.

The Social Identity Theory suggests that people identify with groups in order to "maximize their positive distinction", since the groups offer us both cultural identity (they tell us who we are) and self-esteem (they make us feel good about ourselves).

So, if we are from a "group" that like Real Madrid, we will avoid and discriminate against the opposite group, in this case the FCB. If we are from class A at school, we will believe that we are better than those of B. If we are women, we will like jokes about men, and vice versa, and also, if we can, we will send them by WhatsApp for all to see and see. They laugh with us.

8. The negotiating table: threats do not work

Interpersonal negotiation is an activity that we are sometimes part of without even realizing it. The experiment of Moran Deutsch and Robert Krauss He investigated two central factors in the negotiation: how we communicate with each other and the use of threats. The experiment investigates the two most important factors that determine success in interpersonal negotiation: the threat and communication.

To resolve the conflict, there are two basic guidelines that people can follow to participate in negotiations: cooperative or competitive. These two styles of conflict differ in such a way that in one of them both parties seem to have an advantage, while in the other the result is win / lose.

The researchers used a game that forced two people to negotiate with each other. The teachings of this study are very clear: the least beneficial results in the negotiation was when both players threatened each other and the ones that obtained the most benefits were where there were no threats. Even when only one of the parties threatened, the benefits were better than when both threatened each other.

In another part of the experiment, to test the effect of the communication Deutsch and Krauss created a second experiment, which was identical in all aspects to the first, except that the participants were given headphones to talk to each other. Here the result was quite curious: the fact that both participants communicate with each other made no significant difference in the benefits obtained in the game. In other words, those who communicate more fail to reach a better understanding between them.

Apparently the competitive orientation of people is much stronger than the motivation to communicate. The testimonies of the players may explain it better: it was difficult to start talking to the other person, which for them was a total stranger. As a result they talked to each other less than normal.

The conclusions that can be drawn in this study are very clear: cooperative relationships tend to be much more beneficial in general than competitive relationships. Something that does not seem to matter much in real life, where competition over cooperation prevails, which is an indication of our lack of expertise in effective communication.

9. Why we don't help when there are more people: The Spectator Effect

The spectator effect is a psychological phenomenon whereby someone is less likely to intervene in an emergency situation when there are more people than when they are alone.

In social psychology the "spectator effect"is the surprising finding that the mere presence of other people inhibits our own help behaviors in an emergency. John Darley and Bibb Latane were inspired to investigate emergency behaviors to help after the murder of Kitty Genovese in 1964

An example that shocked a lot of people is the case of Kitty Genovese, which was stabbed with deadly result in 1964 by a rapist and serial killer. According to the press, the killing took place for at least half an hour. The killer attacked Genovese and stabbed her, but left the scene after attracting the attention of a neighbor. The killer then returned ten minutes later and ended the assault. Journalistic reports reported that 37 witnesses were stabbing without intervening or coming into contact with the police. This shocked the public and extensive editorials were published that claimed that the United States had become a cold and compassionate society.

However, according to a study published in American Psychologist in 2007, the story of Genovese's murder was greatly exaggerated by the media. Specifically, there were 38 witnesses watching, they did contact the police at least once during the attack and many of the people who overheard the attack could not really see what was happening.

10. Conformity: The Asch Experiment

The conformity studies carried out by Solomon Asch are considered classics in Social Psychology. The experimental design was basically that Asch asked the participants to respond to problems of perception. Specifically, he asked the subjects to indicate in a set of three lines of different sizes which of them most closely resembled a standard or test line.

This simple task should not be difficult for a person of medium intellectual abilities, however the experimental subjects did not always say the correct answer. Actually, the experiment did not consist of a perception test, but rather tried to see how group pressure forces the judgments to vary. The tests of the experiment were performed on a group of about six or eight people, of which only one was truly an experimental subject since the others (without knowing the experimental subject) were complicit in the researcher.

During some of the tests of the tests (critical trials) the accomplices gave clearly wrong answers, that is, they unanimously chose a wrong line as a pair of the test line (for example, in the drawing line 1 instead of the 2, which would be correct). They also issued their responses before the true experimental subject responded. In this situation, many of the experimental subjects chose to say the same thing as the experimenter's accomplices, that is, they opted for false answers, de facto, they agreed with the wrong answer 37% of the time. On the contrary, only 5% of subjects who answered the same questions without accomplices (that is, without group pressure) made mistakes. In different studies 76% of the subjects supported the group's false responses at least once, that is, they opted for compliance.

Another interesting fact that emerges from these works is that about 25% of the subjects never gave in to group pressure. We must also point out that there were subjects who followed the group in almost all of their responses.

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