Planning your course effectively – the sociocultural approach and health

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The sociocultural approach is increasingly used in health psychology, as it became obvious that not all disorders could be explained through a biological etiology.  For example, addiction can be caused and sustained through our position in social groups, and treated through the support of social networks. Pegg et al. (2018) conducted a survey that investigated social identity and alcohol use in teens and found that higher levels of exposure to alcohol-related content on social networking sites was associated with higher levels of alcohol use, as the online social identity was maintained through an alignment of behaviour with other members of the online social group. Many health promotion programmes are underpinned by social cognitive theory, with its focus on the interaction of behaviour, internal personal factors (biology and individual cognition) and environmental influences and the key concepts of agency, self-efficacy, vicarious reinforcement and motivation.

More examples on the way!

References

Bandura, A. (2004). Health promotion by social cognitive means. Health Education & Behavior, 31(2), 143-164.

Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: a social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice-Hall.

Pegg, K. J., O’Donnell, A. W., Lala, G., & Barber, B. L. (2017). The role of online social identity in the relationship between alcohol-related content on social networking sites and adolescent alcohol use. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 21, 50-55

Tajfel, H., Billig, M. G., Bundy, R. P., & Flament, C. (1971). Social categorization and intergroup behaviour. European Journal of Social Psychology, 1(2), 149-178

Wenzel, S. L., Green, H. D. Jr, Tucker, J. S., Golinelli, D., Kennedy, D. P., Ryan, G. & Zhou, A. (2009). The social context of homeless women’s alcohol and drug use. Drug and Alcohol Dependence105(1-2), 16–23.

 

Social cognitive theory – so much more than Bobo-bashing!

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Most students and teachers of psychology are familiar with Bandura, Ross & Ross’s classic study into the role of social modelling in aggression*  It showed that children who observed aggressive acts committed by adults in one setting would, through play, reproduce those acts in another setting when the adult role model was absent. Bandura extended this social learning model in the 1980s into what is now a complex and comprehensive social cognitive theory, further developing and exploring concepts underpinning social behaviour: performance feedback, modelling, and – most importantly of all – moral disengagement.

Moral disengagement is the process by which we disengage our moral self in order to distance ourselves from our actions. It can be seen in soldiers who need to disconnect themselves from their actions in order to live with themselves, and in us every time we buy our food in non-recyclable plastic packaging. The decision to go to war in a just cause can be a moral one, but it still involves killing fellow human beings. The desire for conveniently packaged food is an understandable one, but it still involves environmentally degrading our planet.

Bandura uses social cognitive theory to investigate our moral disengagement from  harmful activities. He applies it particularly effectively to drone warfare and to the arms trade. In class I use it to explain how we dehumanise the homeless in order to ignore homelessness.

For Bandura, it is not enough to explain moral disengagement.  He believes that if we can understand the processes underlying it, then we can begin to change them, and this is why he promotes social change through locally-distributed films in Africa, Asia and South America, making the abstract explanations of social cognitive theory concrete to people’s lives. Nearer home, we need to use storytelling and media to keep advertising the environmental dangers of uncontrolled consumption. Psychology has a vital role in social change as well as social explanation, for “As a society, we enjoy the benefits left by those before us who collectively worked for social changes that improved our lives. Our own collective efficacy will determine whether we pass on a habitable planet to our grandchildren and future generations.” (Bandura, 2009

*For those of you who have already bought our book (thank you!), the description of the study design has been changed from a matched pairs to a ‘matched triads’ as the children were matched by measured levels of aggression across the three experimental groups.  The effect is the same, to control this variable. We will publish this change in an updated edition in the future.

Research from Psychology Sorted: Social Identity Theory

sitHow we develop our social identity is still a hot topic today, and for those of you studying the effect of technologies, especially social media, on social identity, there is a developing literature on the subject.  But we should start with the classic minimal groups paradigm from Tajfel (1971), found in our new book Psychology Sorted, as it is still so relevant today.

The predominant 1960s theory of social identity formation came from Sherif et al.’s (1961) study which led to the development of his 1966 realistic conflict theory that competition for scarce resources is the foundation for group (social) identity, and also one cause of conflict. Think of the worldwide competition for water and oil on a large scale and maybe sporting competitions on a smaller scale. Why do you think that schools have ‘houses’, ‘sporting colours’, ‘house badges’?

However, Tajfel’s research contradicted this, demonstrating that only minimal conditions were necessary for group identity to form: his experiment randomly allocated schoolboys to two groups.  The boys thought they had been allocated their group according to their preference for a painting by either Klee or Kandinsky, but this was a deception and the allocation was random. This perception of belonging to a certain group was enough for boys to show in-group favouritism when allocating virtual money via a complex matrix of rules.  The minimal groups paradigm formed the basis of Tajfel and Turner’s social identity theory, which remains a powerful explanation of in-group favouritism and out-group discrimination.

The three sequential steps Tajfel & Turner (1979) deemed necessary for social identity to form are:

  • social categorisation – we understand that people (and things) can be grouped
  • social identification – we identify with a group
  • social comparison – we compare ourselves favourably with another group

Social comparison underlies stereotyping, gang fights (though these can also be seen as competition for scarce resources), between-class competitions, girl/boy competition, online identities…how many more can you think of?

Tajfel’s theory can be used extensively in the curriculum, from his lab experiments in the 1970s (research methods), to an argument for the formation of stereotypes (sociocultural approach), to an explanation of how competition and maybe even conflict is generated in human relationships, to how images are cultivated socially on Snapchat, Instagram and (amongst us oldies) Facebook for cognitive psychology.  This is an example of a classic theory that can be easily accessed through Psychology Sorted.

Contrast two theories of altruism ERQ.

This is a useful task to get students to focus on the command term of ‘contrast’ which they tend to find quite tricky. I give them the essay that I’ve written and they have to highlight all of the phrases/sections that really address the ‘contrast’ aspect of the question i.e. those which explicitly point out the differences between theories/studies/evaluation issues. I also ask them to fill details in the right-hand column so that they know why the essay works. This is a good active learning task, particularly for year 13s and they seem to really engage with it. I have highlighted some examples of explicit ‘contrast’ terms below:

The two theories of prosocial behaviour that will be contrasted in this essay are reciprocal altruism which takes the biological approach and the negative-state relief model which views prosocial behaviour using the cognitive approach. Research into prosocial behaviour is problematic in that it is difficult for psychologists to operationalise prosocial behaviour as a variable and to measure it precisely because it is a very subjective variable which may differ from person to person. Investigating it from a biological perspective (RA) involves using different methodology to that of a cognitive approach (NSR).

Reciprocal altruism is a biological theory that is based on the principles of evolutionary psychology, namely that altruistic acts are performed in order to gain some future benefit from the recipient. The basis of reciprocal altruism is that the donor’s fitness is temporarily compromised in order to help another, fellow organism. This help is given with an expectation of future help from the recipient to the original donor. It is difficult to find empirical support for evolutionary theories – unlike lab-based NSR studies – so psychologists use the idea of ultimate causes to account for current behaviour that may be rooted in primeval instincts.

In contrast to reciprocal altruism, the negative-state relief model considers the extent to which personal discomfort at the sight of another’s distress motivates altruistic acts. The assumption of this model is that when someone witnesses another in need of help they experience a negative mood such as concern, anxiety, guilt. This negative mood may then prompt the individual to offer help in order to improve their own mood, so prompting an egoistic motivation to help rather than being a purely altruistic act. This is a cognitive approach to prosocial behaviour which does not assume evolutionary instincts as the basis to behaviour (which is RA), rather researchers can use the model to draw inferences about behaviour.

Reciprocal altruism is based on the idea that there is a reasonably good probability that two organisms (e.g. two unrelated individual human beings) will meet again at some point in the future, making reciprocity possible. The negative-state relief model, however, focuses on a here-and-now approach, with the individual seeking relief from negative feelings in the moment rather than for some future gain. This is a real point of contrast between the two theories as reciprocal altruism assumes that human beings are programmed to instinctively help someone in need as a way of storing up future favours whereas the negative-state relief model is possibly easier to relate to as it identifies egoistic motivation as a factor in prosocial behaviour. In other words, most people are unlikely to believe that by helping a stranger in the street they are protecting themselves against future misfortune: they may never see this person again, their paths may never cross.

Axelrod & Hamilton (1981) devised a computer-based model of chess games involving two players to test reciprocal altruism. Batson et al (1989) in contrast, used a lab experiment with some manipulation of naïve participants. Axelrod & Hamilton took the unusual route of analysing a range of strategies used in chess games that had been provided by economists, sociologists, political theorists and mathematicians. This contrasts to Batson et al’s more conventional use of a lab experiment involving 44 students taking an introductory psychology course at the University of Kansas. Batson et al’s sample represents a typical group of participants for psychological research whereas Axelrod & Hamilton’s represents a more diverse and less ethnocentric population.

In Batson et al half of the participants were told that they would be watching a video that would make them feel sad; the other half were told that the video would make them feel happy. The experimenter left the room and a confederate entered and asked the participant if they would be willing to give some time to help make phone calls related to blood donation. There were more offers of help from participants in the sad mood condition than in the positive mood condition. The researchers concluded that the participants in the sad condition may have helped in a bid to feel better (self-reward), thereby supporting the Negative State Relief model. Axelrod & Hamilton did not implement an independent variable, unlike Batson et al but their results, they claim, supported reciprocal altruism: the most successful way of achieving the highest average chess score was to employ a strategy known as tit for tat which may ultimately be more beneficial to an individual than pure self-serving acts.

There are limitations to each study, mainly linked to the operationalising of prosocial behaviour, for different reasons. Axelrod & Hamilton assumed that the players were drawing from evolutionary instincts to derive the most successful strategy but they may simply have been playing cautiously and using cognitive decision-making processes to plan their moves. This is the major flaw with reciprocal altruism: it is very difficult to use Axelrod & Hamilton’s research as evidence of a biological approach as chess is a highly skilled game at which players must constantly think, process information, form judgements and make decisions.

Batson et al’s research also has limitations but these are not at the level of the approach used (cognitive) but rather they are concerned with the issue of demand characteristics as a possible source of bias. The sample in this study were psychology students, (contrasted to Axelrod & Hamilton’s sample of experts) so they might have guessed the aim of the study or behaved in an artificial way due to the contrived nature of the procedure. It is also possible that individual differences affected the result (more likely with a small sample) i.e. some participants may be naturally less caring than other participants. It would be very difficult therefore, for the researchers to be confident that they had successfully operationalised the negative-state relief model in their study.

To conclude, the main points of contrast between the two theories is that reciprocal altruism assumes that people behave prosocially for an expected future benefit – and that they do so without real, conscious thought – whereas the negative-state relief model assumes that help is given in the moment for egoistic reasons. The main source of difficulty in accepting reciprocal altruism as a valid theory of prosocial behaviour is the paucity of evidence to support it whereas for the negative-state relief model the main problem concerns the operationalising of the negative state and its subsequent ego-driven motivation towards prosocial behaviour.

[1236 words]

 

Coming soon – ‘Psychology Sorted’, the book!

Hi Psychology teachers from all over the world! Yes, I know that summer is beckoning but wouldn’t you like a sneaky peak at a BRAND NEW RESOURCE that is due to be out around October 1st? Written by Laura Swash and Claire Neeson, this resource will solve all those pesky teaching dilemmas such as: ‘Which studies should I use for each topic and how can I re-use them to create less bulk for the students to learn?  How can I find a streamlined, easy, cross-referenced resource that’s user-friendly (for me and my students)?  What can I use for both teaching AND revision?’ Here is a sample for you to taste, to get the ‘flavour’ of what we’re doing. Add us to your school shopping list: #1 Order ‘Psychology Sorted’ next term.  Sorted!

Sample_Section 1_Bio. updated

Bio KS1 Fisher et al_2005

Introduction to a topic – acculturation

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Acculturation is the process of adaptation to another culture, both by the people who move to the new ‘host’ culture and those already living there, who are receiving the immigrants.  It is an interesting topic, with many complex layers, encompassing as it does the ideas of ‘acculturative stress’ and ‘culture clash’ as well as issues of bilingualism and transmission of values. For a touching introduction to the topic, see this Youtube film – Refugees in Europe on their adopted homelands.  I identified language, sport and food as adaptations that the refugees had made in order to integrate. You will probably find others.

Berry (2008) argues that the process of acculturation leads to cultural and psychological changes in both parties. Instead of one rather homogeneous global society ensuing, as the ‘non-dominant group’ (the minority group) is absorbed into the host culture, the behaviours of those engaged in acculturation are varied and complex, and he identifies four acculturation strategies used by immigrants.  He points out that the responses of the host culture are crucial in shaping these.

STRATEGY DEFINITION
Assimilation When individuals do not wish to maintain their own culture and seek daily interactions with people from the host culture.
Separation When individuals wish to maintain their own culture and do not wish to integrate, therefore they avoid contact with the host culture. This can only be pursued if the host culture does not impose marginalisation or assimilation.
Integration When individuals wish to interact with the host culture and be an integral part of this culture, while maintaining their own identity as well. Integrated individuals are bicultural. This can only be pursued if the host culture is open and welcoming and does not impose marginalisation or assimilation.
Marginalisation Often follows on enforced cultural loss, and is when individuals have no interest in integration or assimilation into the host culture, even though they have lost their own.

Application of this theory can be seen in the works of Lyons-Padilla et al. (2015), who have developed a hypothesis that marginalisation in a globalised society leads to radicalisation. See her TEDx talk on ‘cultural homelessness’.

Maybe you are living in a culture that is not your own?  Think about the adjustments you make each day, and how people adjust to you.  This is a part of the psychology course that you can really make your own!

Theories of stereotyping

According to Tajfel (1970) we are naturally inclined towards Social Categorisation and Social Comparison. This tendency to think about people in terms of the groups they belong to and to make comparisons between our group and others would support the development of stereotypes.

This relates to the concept of ‘outgroup homogeneity’, researched by Qualtrone & Jones (1980). This theory proposes that we tend to perceive outgroup member as more similar to each other than they really are whilst recognising variation and individuality in ingroup members (whom we see as hetergenous). Taylor & Porter (1994) suggest that this tendency to see the outgroup as homogenous  is the product of social interaction patterns; we interact much more with people from our ingroups and thus get to know their individual differences and idiosyncrancies. However, we interact far less with outgroups which encourages us to develop a simplified social representation of them.

This still leaves us with the question of where the particular stereotypes come from – on what basis, for example, did the stereotype that ‘old ladies like cats’ come from?

The Formation of Stereotypes: how and why are stereotypes formed?

Our social world is very complex and has a great deal of information. To avoid information overload, we use stereotypes because they save energy and can easily be applied to people.

Why and how do stereotypes form, where do they come from?

Personal experience with group members and the groups themselves.

We make generalisations based on our experiences with people.

Gatekeepers like the media, family members, and authority figures.

Studies and Theories of Stereotype Formation:

‘Grain of truth’ hypothesis (Campbell, 1967)
Illusory Correlation (Hamilton & Gifford, 1976)
Confirmation Bias
Cohen (1981)

Some examples of research on stereotyping:

Hamilton & Gifford’s (1976) experiment tested the illusory correlation theory. This demonstrates illusory correlation, because there was no association between the traits and the group membershipIllusory correlations can lead to people remembering information that confirms the expected relationship. This is due to confirmation bias, or when one favours information that supports their preconceptions.

Cohen (1981) performed an experiment to determine whether stereotypes can affect the memories of people. Participants were shown a video, and half were told the woman in the video was a waitress; half were told she was a librarian. When participants recalled details about the video, they remembered details that seemed to be consistent with the commonly accepted stereotypes of the careers. Those who thought she was a librarian were more likely to remember she wore glasses. Those who thought she was a waitress were more likely to remember her drinking alcohol.

Therefore, stereotypes can affect the type of information we focus on and what we remember.