The Psychologist on Milgram

27 08 2011

The ever-excellent blog Mind Hacks pointed me toward a special open-access edition of the British Psychological Society’s magazine The Psychologist which covers Stanley Milgram, including articles by psychologists, a historian, and even Milgram’s widow.

Very much worth checking out.

There’s 5 articles in total:

The shock of the old—Stephen D. Reicher and S. Alexander Haslam introduce a special feature which reconnects with Milgram’s vision for social psychology

The man, his passions and motivations—Stanley Milgram’s widow, Alexandra Milgram, with her personal take on his life

Alive and well after all these years—Jerry M. Burger updates the enduring legacy of the Milgram Obedience Studies

The window in the laboratory—Film scholar Kathryn Millard looks at Stanley Milgram as filmmaker

Milgram and the historians—Richard Overy, Professor of History at the University of Exeter, in conversation with Stephen Reicher and Alex Haslam

Why we ask each other about musical taste

24 08 2011

In our first Social Psychology class, I asked students to write something unique about themselves on an index card (as a way of getting to know them). I then asked if they had

Used under Creative Commons license, from Flickr user mikedefiant

any questions about me. I was asked about what my favorite concert was, a question I enjoyed answering.

A recent article in the Huffington Post covers some research by Sam Gosling and colleagues showing that knowing someone’s musical taste gives us some pretty decent information to guess their personality (link to the PDF of their Psychological Science article). It also covered some recent research that shows it tells us whether we might like the person.

we often ask people about their musical preferences because musical taste serves as an easy indicator of whether we are likely to be similar to new people in ways that will influence how much we like them.

Milgram’s 50th Anniversary

24 08 2011

The APS points out that this year is the 50th anniversary of Stanley Milgram’s obedience to authority experiments. They have a PDF of a Psychology Today article from June, 1974 which is an interview with Milgram conducted by the psychologist Carol Tavris. It includes some photos of Milgram. My favorite quote:

We are all fragile creatures entwined in a cobweb of social constraints.

Fear and research

24 08 2011

A post on GradHacker about productivity systems pointed to a very good, and personally moving, talk by Merlin Mann given at Webstock 2011. He’s a writer and speaker, and the talk was about how fear affects creative professionals. In graduate school, there’s a common malady known as the “imposter syndrome.” It takes the form of thinking that I must be the admissions mistake—what am I doing here among all these smart people? As I have progressed through graduate school it has morphed to fear about my research—I am researching and collaborating with people who are incredibly bright and talented and motivated, and I sometimes wonder when I’ll be found out. Fear that the research I publish will be shown to be flawed and invalid.

The reality, of course, is that we’re all struggling on the frontier of knowledge and that brings with it fears and concerns that involve the self and others. The challenge is to walk through the fear, believing that what led you here is why you deserve to be here, researching interesting things and trying to discover principles of behavior that will be useful for the future.

But that rational knowledge doesn’t always keep the fear monster at bay.

Here’s a link to the talk on YouTube. Warning: it is laced with profanity and may not be safe for work.

edit 9/2/2011: A recent post at GradHacker pointed me toward a very good article in Nature on the impostor syndrome, which was actually termed the Impostor Phenomenon by two clinical psychologists in 1978.

Ego depletion, glucose, and self-control

20 08 2011

The excellent science writer John Tierney has an essay in the NY Times Magazine about the effects of ego depletion—the idea that self-control is a limited resource that can be depleted the more we use it. The article, which is excerpted from a book he wrote with the social psychologist Roy Baumeister, specifically addresses the fatigue that sets in when we’re faced with choices, which impedes our ability to make good decisions later.

The most interesting part for me was the implications for poor people who have to make choices all day long in terms of how to allocate limited financial resources. We often associate low socioeconomic status with some kind of willpower failure, and consequently make a dispositional attribution: they are weak people, and so they make bad choices. But in fact, this can be a product of the situation: the many difficult choices they have to make all day long.

Hanna Arendt and Stanley Milgram

19 08 2011

The Guardian has a well done podcast episode about Hannah Arendt’s ideas about the banality of evil. It includes a good summary of Milgram’s research, and the implications for the banality hypothesis. The consensus seems to be that banality isn’t really at play in genocide, but rather that there is real mindful action happening.

But, what happens when the situation around you is so infused with behaviors that are tantamount to evil? That the normal response is to kill and maim? Do you mindfully or mindlessly go along? Questions like these are why I like being a social psychologist.

Graduate school and advancing the field

19 08 2011

I wrote earlier about the notion that the pressure to generate lots of data and publishing many articles early in the academic career may not be conducive to generating big ideas. A recent article in the APS Observer by Travis Riddle and Jeff Craw spoke to the possible detrimental effects of pressure to publish as a graduate student. There are good arguments in favor of and against getting lots of data into the literature, even if it’s not of the best quality.

I think the goal of graduate school is to practice being an academic while under the tutelage of a mentor. Practice, yes, but publish 8 articles, of which 4 are first author? I think that leads to a kind of single-minded focus that might not be the best for training a scholar who can think broadly across the discipline and even across disciplines. I agree with the authors of the article:

“the relatively short duration of graduate school and the demands of publication usually pressure students to publish early and often; consequently, students may approach research in a manner that is antithetical to fostering a great research mind.”

You might even apply a similar reasoning to the tenure clock.

1 Million Edublogs

17 08 2011

I joined Edublogs 5 years ago on January 22, 2006, to share interesting findings in psychology with my students. It was a pretty small site at that time, run by some guy in Australia, but even then the service and support was excellent. They have now passed the 1 million blogs milestone. That is good news since it keeps my blog free and ad-free. I am happy to be part of that milestone.

Get your own Edublogging on.


Culture of honor and accidental deaths

17 08 2011

The textbook we’re using for Social Psychology this term is written by Golovich, Keltner and Nisbett. Richard Nisbett, along with Dov Cohen identified the effect of culture of honor on aggression. This was previously thought to only affect death rates due to homocides, but the APS blog pointed me toward a CBS News coverage of a new study in press at Social Psychological and Personality Science looks at accidental death rates in culture of honor states and finds that the rates are higher in culture of honor states, particularly in rural areas. It also looked at individuals (college students at the University of Oklahoma), and found their endorsement of the ideologies related to culture of honor states predicted risky behaviors, even among women. Here’s the abstract:

“Two studies examined the hypothesis that the culture of honor would be associated with heightened risk taking, presumably because risky behaviors provide social proof of strength and fearlessness. As hypothesized, Study 1 showed that honor states in the United States exhibited higher rates of accidental deaths among Whites (but not non-Whites) than did nonhonor states, particularly in nonmetropolitan areas. Elevated accidental deaths in honor states appeared for both men and women and remained when the authors controlled for a host of statewide covariates (e.g., economic deprivation, cancer deaths, temperature) and for non-White deaths. Study 2, likewise, showed that people who endorsed honor-related beliefs reported greater risk taking tendencies, independent of age, sex, self-esteem, and the big five.”

Barnes, C. D., Brown, R. P., & Tamborski, M. (in press). Living dangerously: culture of honor, risk-taking, and the nonrandomness of ‘accidental’’ deaths. Social Psychological and Personality Science. doi: 10.1177/1948550611410440

Brands as an extension of the self

16 08 2011

A recent in-press article was covered by the Economic Times. The story reports on research by Shirley Y. Y. Chen and colleagues which tested the connection between brands and the sense of self. Previously it had been assumed consumers interacted wit product brands as an interpersonal relationship. But this research seems to point to the idea that brands can, for some consumers at least, become a part of the self, and any challenge to the brand becomes a challenge to the self. We are motivated to protect the self against such attacks.

They basically presented information about Blackberry performance which made it look either fair or poor. Participants who identified highly with the brand suffered reduced self-esteem after the poor performance manipulation.

When the researchers had participants engage in a self-affirmation task (to “briefly describe their most important personal values”), the effect disappeared, which lends credence to the idea that it was some aspect of the self that was damaged by the poor brand performance.

Moreover, when the brand fails, high Self-Brand Connection (SBC) individuals evaluate it more favorably, in an attempt to protect the self. In the words of the researchers:

in an effort to maintain a positive self-view, high SBC individuals react defensively to brand failure by evaluating the brand favorably despite the poor performance.


when high SBC consumers are given the opportunity to self-affirm, they lowered their brand evaluations as well as their self-brand connections in response to negative (vs. non- negative) information.

Link to the article at Science Direct

Cheng, S.Y.Y., White, T. B., & Chaplin, L. N. (in press). The effects of self-brand connections on responses to brand failure: A new look at the consumer–brand relationship, Journal of Consumer Psychology. doi:10.1016/j.jcps.2011.05.005