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AS and A Level: Social Psychology

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Five reasons why social psychology methodology is often contentious

  1. 1 Researcher bias e.g. Zimbardo (1973) was guilty of playing a dual role in his Stanford Prison Experiment – as both prison superintendent and researcher. His resulting lack of objectivity meant he did not stop the experiment quickly enough to prevent particpants from being harmed.
  2. 2 Participant reactivity (hawthorne effect) – Just the act of being observed can change people’s behaviour. Some even consciously act up for the researcher – as was the case with the most vindictive guard in Zimbardo’s study.
  3. 3 Lack of experimental realism e.g. Milgram and Hoffling’s experiments on obedience were both criticised on the grounds that participants wouldn’t believe the set up. However, both researchers disputed this on the basis of their debrief interviews with participants.
  4. 4 Lack of mundane realism – Separate to experimental realism, mundane realism refers to how far the set-up can be generalised to real life social situations. It was argued that Asch’s conformity study lacked mundane realism, for example.
  5. 5 Lack of cross-cultural validity – Social behaviour is largely culturally determined. For example, Smith and Bond (1993) carried out a meta-analysis of conformity studies based on Asch’s procedure and concluded that individualist cultures had lower levels of conformity than collectivist cultures.

Five modern ethical principles in psychology (that we should thank Milgram and Zimbardo for influencing)

  1. 1 Lack of informed consent – must always be obtained, but it is often the case that it would invalidate social psychological research. Some researchers debrief and offer the right to withdraw data to deal with this but there are always questions about whether it is acceptable.
  2. 2 Deception – should be avoided, but if necessary should involve cost benefit analysis – i.e. it is minor deception which will be addressed in a debrief, and it will not cause any harm. If there is deception, there is automatically a lack of informed consent.
  3. 3 Protection from harm – participants should not be exposed to any greater physical or psychological harm than they would be in day to day life.
  4. 4 Privacy and confidentiality – should both be respected. Observations should not take place in a private place without consent. Research should not identify participants, especially if it is of a socially sensitive nature.
  5. 5 Right to withdraw – should always be offered at the start of the study, either to end participation during the procedure or to withdraw data afterwards. This is particularly important in cases of deception.

Five good examples of social influence to use in essays

  1. 1 England riots in 2011 – Conformity, social influence & deindividuation. Conformity: people who wouldn’t normally indulge in anti-social behaviour succumbed to peer pressure. Social learning: some joined in as a result of vicarious reinforcement as they saw those ahead of them get away with their loot. Most importantly, deindividuation: as the rule of law broke down, many of those involved believed that they wouldn’t be identified and punished for their actions, and most of the looting was done under cover of darkness amongst the chaos of burning buildings.
  2. 2 MPs expenses scandal – Conformity and, to an extent, obedience. Conformity: plenty of MPs indulged in fiddling their expenses because others around them were doing it and it seemed ‘perfectly normal’. Obedience, (possibly!) because some of them claimed that they were encouraged to make the most of their expense claims by the Commons Fees office.
  3. 3 Feminism since the Suffragette movement – Successful minority influence, including social crypto-amnesia/ dissociation effect, snowball effect. The suffragettes fulfilled all the characteristics of a successful minority group. Feminism has made massive gains for women’s equality – although the fight has not yet been won in practice. Feminism has fallen out of fashion recently, yet the majority would say they believe in gender equality, showing that the idea has become dissociated from the people who originally fought for it.
  4. 4 The gay civil rights movement in the UK – Successful minority influence. Evidence includes the relatively recent acceptance by government and wider society of Pride celebrations, equality legislation, including civil partnerships, repeal of Section 28 and equal age of consent with heterosexuals.
  5. 5 The ‘Green’ movement in the UK – Successful minority influence, snowball effect, dissociation effect, conformity. No longer is there an association between concern for the environment and ‘tree-hugging’. Environmental sustainability is becoming a mainstream concern and social disapproval tends to centre on people failing to recycling, on driving large, gas-guzzling vehicles, and the environmentally unsound activities of big business. Big companies now indulge in ‘greenwash’: environmentally focused PR campaigns.

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  1. Do females have larger colour vocabularies than males? OCR psychology coursework

    It was therefore concluded that females have larger colour vocabularies than males. Introduction It is a widely believed view that women have larger colour vocabularies than men. Linguist Robin Lacoff claims that females have larger colour vocabularies as they spend more time on colour-oriented tasks such as shopping. This is, however, intuitive and not based on any actual evidence. Rich (1977) conducted a study to investigate whether gender affects the size of a person's colour vocabulary using coloured cards. Participants were shown cards and asked to describe their colour.

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  2. Assess the extent to which psychological explanations and research have established the factors in interpersonal attraction

    The effect of physical attraction may also affect the way people are perceived. Hunsberger & Cananagh (1988) found that students tended to rate attractive teachers as being nicer, friendlier and less punitive than others. This may be an example of the halo effect, whereby people interpret physical attractiveness as an indication of other positive features. Another study in support of this is that by Wheeler & Kim (1997), who found that Korean, American and Canadian students rated physically attractive people as being more sociable, happy, extroverted, friendly and mature.

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  3. Explain to what extent psychologists have explained love

    To support this, he interviewed students and identified a number of common stories used to describe love, such as the fairytale story of a prince and a princess (Sternberg, 1998). This shows that the way we interpret love may be influenced by our environment and culture. Although the original typology of love relationships in Steinberg's theory was developed as a result of interviews with students at the university in which he worked, external support was gained by Fehr (1988), who used qualitative methods to ask participants to describe love.

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  4. Describe and evaluate research relating to the formation and/or maintenance of relationships

    Theories suggest that, although interpersonal attraction may be enough to form a relationship, it may not be enough to maintain it. An example of this is Social Exchange Theory, an 'economic exchange theory' of relationship maintenance developed by Thibaut & Kelly (1959). This theory is concerned with the construction of 'payoff matrices', the calculations of the possible activities a couple could participate in. This led to particular emphasis on profit and loss, suggesting that we maintain a relationship if the profits on both sides outweigh the costs.

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  5. Effects Of Media Violence on Aggression

    However, when Bandura rewarded all of the children for imitating the behaviour of the adult, this was shown not to be the case. Thus, all three groups of children had comparable levels of observational learning, but those who had seen the adult punished did not replicate the behaviour. Evaluation and Criticism of Bandura's Social Learning Theory Studies who show children imitate violent behaviour seen on television are consistent with social learning theory. Anderson and Gill carried out two experiments. The first showed that young men who are usually aggressive may be particularly vulnerable to the effects of repeated exposure to violent games.

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  6. Outline and evaluate research relating to the effects of two environmental stressors on aggression

    This is problematic as the findings may not be valid as they did not measure what they intended to measure. In contrast to this, Palmarek's study is supported by Baron and Bell (1976). They studied how the heat affects the willingness to give electric shocks to another person. They found that the level of aggression increased between 92F and 95F, and any temperature higher than this resulted in a decrease of aggression. The reason for this may be down to the extreme stress caused by the temperature as the participants could not cope with the reactions of the person receiving the shocks in addition to the extreme heat.

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  7. A Replication of the Study by Murstein Investigating the Matching Hypothesis

    assert that we are attracted to others whose "presence for us is rewarding." There is a general consensus regarding the main factors that have an effect on the initial attraction between two people according to their reward value and these are: proximity, exposure & familiarity, similarity and physical attractiveness. Much research has confirmed the intuitive belief that physical attractiveness is a highly important factor when choosing sexual partners. Physical attractiveness is immediate, it signals as to whether we are healthy and therefore reproductively fit. For example, in Walster et al. 's(1966)'Computer Dance' study, it was found that physical attractiveness was the single most important determinant as to whether partners liked each other and whether they would go out on a second date.

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  8. Discuss the implications of findings from studies of partial and total sleep deprivation.

    However, one problem with this study is the fact that it is a case study. This means that the results of this particular study cannot be generalised to everybody else. This is problematic as it is not representative of everybody. REM sleep is essential. Dement (1960) conducted a study to support this. He used 8 participants over several nights. They were attached to an EEG which allowed Dement to wake up one group when they entered REM. The REM deprived group of participants became agitated, anxious and unable to concentrate, and after several nights entered REM on falling asleep.

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  9. Stress, outline one technique to measure stress.Evaluate the difficulties in measuring stress.

    At the end the participant adds up their total score which could range from a low score such as 15 to a high score such as 400. If the participant attains a score of more than 200 points In the last two years then they can be said to ave encountered such high levels of stress that they have a 40% chance of suffering from a stress related illness. This likelihood is increased to an alarming 70% if the participant attains a score higher than 300 points.

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  10. Substance Use

    Withdrawl symptons follow and are the undesirable experiences when a person stops drug taking for example. This is likely to include moodiness and irritability. The penultimate stage is conflict and is identified as the stage in which people are in conflict with themselves or others and finally, the last stage is relapse; this is identified as the ever-present risk of falling back into old habits and beginning to take drugs once again for example. Consequently Griffiths found that these components were the same for a wide range of addictive behaviours and discovered that most people will experience these symptoms with varying degrees of severity.

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  11. patient practitioner relationship

    Along with a formal dress sense drawing upon Argyle's findings in 1975 another important factor in maintaining patient confidence is to maintain good non verbal contact relations - such as eye contact and facial expressions. Taylor's study found that verbal communication with a patient is not addressed with much success during medical training and suggested three reasons for this: no agreement on what makes a positive consultation, good communication may create a sensitive doctor unable to make tough decisions and thirdly the belief that a Doctor is already busy enough without the stress of worrying about their verbal communication.

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  12. Social Pressure and Perception

    Conformity In 1935 a Psychologist called Sherif wanted to show how people conformed to other people's ideas, so he used an experiment called the "Autokinetic Effect" and this involved placing the subjects in a darkened room with a pin point of light which would eventually move about. Sherif asked the subjects to estimate how much the pin point of light moved and they all gave very different answers ranging from one to seven inches. Each subject tended to make the same sort of judgement whenever they were tested.

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  13. Outline and evaluate two or more studies relating to human altruism and/or Bystander Behaviour

    To test this theory, Batson used a placebo drug that had no real effects but led all female participants to interpret their reactions as high or low empathy. Participants then watched a confederate named 'Elaine' receive electric shocks, and were given the chance to take her place, this would indicate empathetic concern, or to leave which would indicate personal distress.

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  14. Outline 2 or more explanations of human altruism

    So therefore this creates helping for an egotistic reasoning. According to the hypothesis, the first good that appears to be altruistic is simply just raising your own mood. If we were feeling bad then we want to help someone else to raise our own mood, not mattering if the emotions present before the opportunity arises or aroused but the situation itself. If there's an easier route however, then according to the negative state model, people will in fact take it.

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  15. Outline Some Criticisms of Majority Social Influence Research and Consider Whether these are Fair

    Each participant in turn called out which line matched the comparison line. The confederates supplied the wrong answer in 12 out of the 18 trials (these were the critical trials) In 32% of the critical trials, the students conformed to the majority answer, with 74% yielding at least once. In post experiment interviews it was revealed that participants conformed for two reasons; fear of rejection by the group (normative social influence) and self-doubt over perception led by the desire to be right (informational social influence).

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  16. Outline and Evaluate Psychological Research into Minority Social Influence

    All the participants (172 in total) had good eyesight, so this could not have been a confounding variable in the study. Six participants (two confederates-the minority, and four na�ve-the majority) at a time were asked to make an estimate as to the colour of 36 separate slides- each slide was blue but the brightness differed. There were two conditions of the trials- the first was where the accomplices called every slide 'green' (demonstrating consistency), and the second was where the accomplices claimed the slides were 'green' 24 times but 'blue' the remaining 12 times (demonstrating inconsistency).

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  17. Psychology Coursework

    The independent group design will be used for this experiment as two groups will be used where the participants have been selected specifically based on their age using a systematic sampling method. All members of the association will be listed alphabetically into the two age groups required, and then every alternate member will be selected until there is a list of ten participants in each age group. This method of sampling is justified, as it is the easiest option; it does not take into account the gender, occupation or religious background of the participants, it merely selects them based on their ages and their position alphabetically on a 'register'.

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  18. Social learning theory

    An individual is also more likely to imitate a role model if they have low self esteem. We are also more likely to imitate a person's aggression, if we are vicariously reinforced. This is when we see someone getting rewarded for being aggressive (for example, a boy being congratulated by his friends for punching someone). We are more likely to remember the behaviour if rewarded and then repeat it at some appropriate time in the future. Bandura claimed that seeing other people behaving aggressively lowers our existing inhibitions against aggression and it is because of this that we model our behaviour on the behaviour of the models.

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  19. Free essay

    Explain methods used by psychologists to reduce prejudice - evaluate these methods.

    3. The opportunity of equal status contact between rival groups or individuals. 4. A society that provides equal opportunities for attainment of status or social position for all individuals. This list is by no means exhaustive but is sufficient to draw upon the main theories that give rise to the proposed solutions. 2. The existence of a superordinate goal that precipitates cooperation between rival groups or individuals. The studies of Sherif et al (1961) showed that when rival groups must work together to achieve a common goal the level of prejudice is reduced.

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  20. Explain and evaluate: Agency theory, Power of Social Roles, Social Identity theory, Realistic Group Conflict theory

    Milgram argued that this is because from early childhood we are conditioned to be obedient to authority. In school, we learn to put aside our individual wishes in favour of maintaining order and achieving collective goals. Many rules and regulations exist to reinforce obedience, so that eventually we tend to accept what we are told to do without question. Additionally, there are factors that operate to keep one in the agentic state. These are known as binding factors and buffers.

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  21. An Investigation into the way men and women attract the opposite sex through personal advertisements.

    This process of "natural selection" supposedly helps minimise disadvantageous mutations and accumulate minor advantageous mutations. For example, a gene resistant to a disease will be passed on in offspring and preserved in order to minimise the chance of death and prevent offspring from mating. Natural selection is the preservation of advantageous genes that enable a species to survive in the wild, and is the equivalent to domestic breeding. Over long periods of time, weak traits are eliminated as humans will not select mates with these characteristics and therefore these inferior genes cannot be passed through generations.

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  22. Outline the processes of evolution and explain how theory of mind is an adaptation resulting from the selective forces that have operated during evolution

    The theory of evolution is in the most part derived from the work of Charles Darwin (1809-1892). Following many years of painstaking research, most notably surrounding his study of species of the Galapagos Islands, he arrived at the theory that species have gradually evolved from common ancestors. He researched the possible processes through which evolutionary change could have occurred and argued that there is a strong relationship between genes and environment, whereby genes that allow for traits most suited to dealing with changes in the environment will be selected for.

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  23. describe two different methods that have been used to study the concept of identity, and comment on their contribution to our understanding of identity.

    We will look at two of these methods here. Firstly, experimental methods such as those used by Tajfel and his colleagues in a series of social categorisation experiments carried out in the early 1970s. And secondly, a form of analysis known as discourse analysis often used to test theories of social constructionism. Social identity Theory (SIT) suggests that if people categorize themselves as belonging to a group, they will readily discriminate in favour of their group (the ingroup) and against others (the outgroups).

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  24. Identify a transition that may be experienced by a child or group of children. What sort of support could be provided by practitioners to help children experiencing this transition?

    By using this model it can help practitioners to understand and interpret the behaviour of the child. Book 1 Chapter 6 supports Bronfenbrenner's theory that a child belongs to a system of networks which are interconnected by showing how a teacher believed that a child was bullying others. This was out of character and after contacting the parents it was established that there had been a disruption at home which had led to the girl feeling frustrated. Transitions need to be carefully planned especially when a child begins school this is particularly the case when a child is vulnerable.

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  25. Outline and evaluate research (theories/studies) into life changes as a source of stress (Holmes & Rahe), and discuss potential stressors and ethical issues in research on obedience.

    The pps therefore, could not give informed consent, and were not aware of what tasks they were really undertaking. Milgram argued however that without deception, the experiment would have been impossible. The results would have been completely invalid as the pps would have not been reluctant to administer shocks they knew were false. He also found that 83.7 per cent of the pps said that they were glad to have taken part. By completing this questionnaire, Milgram did fulfill the BPS guidelines for debriefing, but it still remains that not 100 per cent were happy with taking part, and possibly would not have done if Milgram had correctly informed participants of every aspect.

    • Word count: 1216

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