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Joined 30 July 2008

Introduction: Being SocialEdit

Interdependence is, and ought to be, as much the ideal of man as self-sufficiency. Man is a social being.' - Mahatma Gandhi.

The part of the introductory lectures that struck me the most was the sheer expanse of topics that came under the umbrella of social psychology, and the number of behaviours and interactions that are considered 'social.'

I like to think of myself as a fairly 'social' person. I see my friends very regularly, enjoy spending time with others, going out on the weekend and meeting new people. I like people and (mostly!) enjoy their company. My friends (who have similar 'social' dispositions to myself) and I will often talk about people we view as 'antisocial.' In our circle, this is by no means a compliment. Consider this typical exchange at a party, for example:

Friend 1: God, have you guys met Kate's new boyfriend Tim?

Friend 2: Ugh, yes...he's hardly the life of the party, is he? I introduced myself to him and tried to make conversation but he made no effort!

Friend 3: He's barely said two words to anyone all night!! It's a party, after all...

Friend 1: antisocial, don't you think?

Poor old Tim, who was most probably just a bit shy and intimidated by our sometimes overbearing friends, was instantly branded with the dreaded 'antisocial' tag. We all know the type: the wallflowers, the slightly uncomfortable ones at parties who never seem to talk to anyone, the recluses, the loners. Even if it is just as a result of shyness or feeling uncomfortable, and despite any number of other positive characteristics, being 'antisocial' is not generally looked upon positively. Compare Tim with Hannah's older brother, another guest at our fictional party:

Friend 1: Oh my God, have you guys met Hannah's brother Matt? He's SO funny...

Friend 2: Oh I know!! He was talking to a group of us just before and he had us all in hysterics...we were hanging on his every word!

Friend 3: He's sooooo nice, too. He was asking me all about uni and work - he was just so friendly!

Friend 1: I wonder if he's single...

Matt, the 'more social' of the two, was clearly the winner in our books. As we're learning in this unit, humans are certainly social beings, and it seems that the more actively and effectively we interact with others and our environment, the better we fare and the more positively we are viewed by others. Of course, my examples here are quite simplistic and consider this...let's call be on some sort of continuum from 'antisocial' to 'very social.' Positive outcomes of course aren't always gained from being the most talkative or friendly (consider the last saccharine sweet, overly chatty person you were stuck with at a party!), but rather the most effective and appropriate use of social interactions. Cultural differences are also vital here.

Now what am I talking about here? I'm not really sure where I'm going with all of this. I suppose I'm interested in this idea that, as personality traits, 'antisocial' is negative and 'social' is positive. Is it just because we're perhaps more likely to like and get along with a friendly, outgoing ('social' characteristics) person than we are someone who is shy or reclusive ('antisocial')? Or does it say something more about social psychology and humans as social beings? Our textbook talks about people being 'social animals' - seeking connection to others and preferring to be with others than alone. Are people who have less of an inclination to seek such connections not looked upon as favourably as those who do, because of the nature of humans as 'social animals'?

This unit certainly seems fascinating, and I'm excited to learn more about social phenomena, particularly about attraction and close relationships, and social influence and persuasion.

A few further thoughts...Edit

In today’s introductory tutorial we had to report things we already knew about social psychology, and things we didn’t know, but wanted to learn about. This was harder than it seemed – there is some difficulty in professing the things you already know (how can you possibly know all there is to know about any topic, especially in such a rapidly evolving science?) and those you don’t (it’s never easy to admit ignorance!). My ‘already know’ list looked mighty paltry in comparison to my overflowing ‘want to know’ list, but when I was reflecting on it later I remembered that there is one thing I do know, which might prove relevant in later weeks.

I first read about Stanley Milgram’s experiments on obedience to authority in Lauren Slater’s book, ‘Opening Skinner’s Box.’ (see note) In 1961, Milgram, a young social psychologist (and student of Solomon Asch), recruited participants for what they were told was an experiment on memory. They were set up in front of the controls of a very real-looking ‘shock machine’ and instructed to deliver increasing shocks to another participant on the other side of a partition whenever a word-pair question was answered incorrectly. Milgram found that almost 65% of his subjects delivered shocks at maximum levels that they believed to be dangerous, despite the other participant’s increasingly disturbing cries of pain from the other side of the partition. The ‘shocks’ were not real, the ‘other participant’ just an actor, but the results were sobering: the majority of people obeyed the requests of the experimenter (who had a series of scripted ‘lines’ like ‘the experiment requires you to continue,’ or ‘the shocks do not cause any permanent damage’ for when the participants expressed hesitation) and delivered painful and possibly dangerous or lethal shocks to another human.

In the post-WWII climate, Milgram and other psychologists saw the implications for an understanding of Nazism and particularly the Holocaust – how could human beings knowingly inflict such pain on other human beings, just because they are ordered to? How would I have fared, had I, in the name of research participation marks, wandered along to a Milgram laboratory and been asked to shock someone sitting two metres away? How far would I have gone? Of course, I would like to think that I would have stood up to the experimenter; refused to continue with the shocks, took a stand because of some internal strength, morals, or concern for the welfare of others. But what Milgram showed was that sometimes, no matter how much we believe we are moral, caring, upstanding people, some other force makes us act in a way we never could have imagined had we taken only our personalities into account. I suppose this is where I’m going with all this (it was meant to be a short aside...oops) is the power of the social context – an issue at the heart of this unit. - Terribly overdramatic at points but a somewhat effective re-enactment of the experiment process, with not-so-subtle implications for Nazi Germany.

Note: ‘Opening Skinner’s Box’ is a good read. It details ten classic psychological experiments (Skinner’s rats, Harlow’s monkeys, Elizabeth Loftus’s ‘Lost in the Mall’ false memory studies...) in an incredibly rich, interesting way. As Psych students, we’re so used to reading psychological research as numbers and figures and significances and so on, but Slater really delves into each of these and makes them in to stories – you really get an appreciation of the social context and implications for the results. It’s well-written but far from the stale writings of typical psychological readings (its main criticism in the reviews I’ve read was that Slater’s passion for each of the topics reads as emotionality and her writing can appear biased) – I found it very enjoyable!

Internal and External Attributions: 'Justifying The Food.'Edit

My play was a complete success. The audience was a failure. - Ashleigh Brilliant, English author and cartoonist.

Attribution theory, and particularly the actor-observer and self-serving biases discussed in lectures, is a very interesting and (I believe) real phenomena. I had never heard of self-serving bias (the tendency to attribute our own successes (and others' failures) to internal qualities or dispositions, and our failures (and others' successes) to external circumstances) before, and upon consideration of my own attribution tendencies, was hugely surprised at how much it rang true in my own life. Every good mark I get is a reflection of my intelligence, how hard I worked, my knowledge of the material, my flair for the subject, etc etc (modest, I know...). A not-so-good mark is immediately written off as the result of a hard-marking tutor, heavy workload in other subjects, the fact I was sick the week before, or that it was 'a stupid assignment/subject anyway.' It seems like such an arrogant, completely egotistical way of thinking when I put it in writing like that, and yet I can't escape the fact that I catch myself doing it in countless aspects of my life.

In an effort to convince myself I am not wholly egotistical, I remind myself that, for the most part, I also make these self-serving biases with my very close friends - that is, I treat them like I would treat myself - attributing their successes to their personal internal qualities and failures to whatever external constituents we choose to blame them on at the time. In fact, we spend a great deal of our time engaged in this process, which we have dubbed (the term's etymology is too hard to explain) Justifying The Food. 'The Food' can be just about anything: any recent event, action, conflict, drunken encounter, uni result...anything worth discussing. A break-up, for example, would be softened somewhat by some heavy Justification of The Food whereby the whole situation is collectively deemed to have occurred because of the innate faults and shortcomings of the other party, or bad timing, or the weather, or the phases of the moon...whatever we can think of to avoid attributing it to any innate characteristics or personality quirks of our dear friend. Sure, much of this is empathy and being good friends (it would hardly be wise to suggest to a fragile friend that their recent break-up was most probably due to their clinginess and neediness rather than any fault of their boyfriend or, indeed, the phases of the moon!), but our hallowed institution of Justifying The Food is certainly based on self-serving (and 'friend-serving'!) biases.

Too much Justification of The Food can undoubtedly be dangerous, (they are attributional errors and biases, after all) leading to people thinking of themselves as utterly perfect creatures who only fail as a result of completely uncontrollable external circumstances. But imagine if we held no self-serving biases at all? If every success was just the chance result of positive external phenomena or luck? If every failure was a direct reflection of a personality shortfall, a lack of skill or ability, or some other personal shortcoming? I am reminded of Seligman's work on learned helplessness, a condition where a person perceives themselves to have no control over a situation's outcome, leading to helplessness and often depression or other mental or learning difficulties. Seligman (drawing from Weiner's (and others') attribution theories) wrote on 'explanatory style' and suggested that internal attributions of negative events like 'I failed because I'm stupid' were suggestive of learned helplessness and could be a precursor to depression. He was a proponent of the use of cognitive behavioural therapy to 'correct' such negative 'explanatory styles.'

So perhaps I shouldn't feel so bad about being such an avid user of the self-serving bias? I can certainly do with the ego boost!

Aggression, ‘Ghosts of Rwanda,’ and Bystander ApathyEdit

Americans were allowed to be alive. My neighbours were allowed to be alive. We had to wait to be killed. - 'Ghosts of Rwanda' interviewee.

Ghosts of Rwanda was incredibly confronting, and one of the most shocking examples of what James refers to as ‘what can go wrong’ in our social world. Seeing images of lifeless, bloodied bodies piled high on roadsides, trucks and churches was a terrible reminder of the darker side of human beings. This was not a natural disaster – no earthquake, tsunami, famine or disease killed those people – people killed them. The sheer number of people that were slaughtered (a word used early on in the narrative that at first seemed like a colourful exaggeration, but after seeing the images and hearing the stories of the massacres was actually shockingly apt) – 800,000 is almost incomprehensible. 800,000 – that’s two Canberras.

Aside from my initial shock and disgust, the film and the genocide itself brings up two interesting issues relevant to social psychology.

1. The aggression itself. How? How can human beings knowingly, consciously, inflict such damage on their own race? Looking through the textbook chapter on aggression and antisocial behaviour, none of their explanations (‘Being in a Bad Mood,’ alcohol, wounded pride etc) come close to explaining aggression on such a scale as the Rwandan genocide. Of course, the aggression must be considered in terms of its political context (which is not really covered in full in the film – we get the idea about Hutu extremists but little history of the Tutsi/Hutu conflict) and, importantly, as a function of prejudice. The situation in Rwanda is ultimately a product of extreme prejudice towards the Tutsi minority.

2. The UN’s failure to act. I am reminded of the thing my mother told me when she was lecturing me on the benefits of ‘dobbing’ – that knowing someone is being hurt or mistreated by someone else and not doing anything about it is as bad as hurting or mistreating them yourself. ‘Ghosts of Rwanda’ is full of interviews with various people involved in UN intervention in one way or another, and all of them seem to be full of excuses. Madeleine Albright, for example, talked about the legalities of putting a ‘genocide’ label on the atrocities, and the bureaucratic difficulties associated with it. It seems there was a great deal of shifting of blame and failure to act that went on while the killings continued.

This idea of a failure to act is illustrated in Darley and Latane’s classic 1960s study entitled ‘Bystander Apathy.’ (see bystander effect The researchers were inspired by the murder of Kitty Genovese that took place in a New York apartment block. Despite Genovese’s loud cries for help over the almost half an hour of her brutal attack, and the fact that much of it was clearly visible to onlookers, none of the 38 (this number is disputed, some say closer to a dozen) bystanders took any action to help her. Darley and Latane proposed a five-stage model of helping behaviour:

  1. You, the potential helper, must notice an event is occurring.
  2. You must interpret the event as one in which help is needed.
  3. You must assume personal responsibility.
  4. You must decide what action to take.
  5. You must take action.

If such a model is plausible, then number 3 is undoubtedly the trickiest step. ‘Ghosts of Rwanda’ highlighted the bureaucratic difficulties with the issue of responsibility for the genocide, and we see it happening worldwide. There seems to be a tendency towards apathy for events like Rwanda, and perhaps it is because assuming responsibility for such a massive atrocity is simply too much to comprehend or take on. There are also, of course, all sorts of political, personal, cultural (etc) ramifications for assuming responsibility for an injustice.

While the film was a prime example of ‘when things go wrong,’ there was a touching example of ‘when things go right’ in the story of the hotel owner (whose name escapes me – the guy from ‘Hotel Rwanda’) who took in Rwandans and provided them with shelter from the ongoing conflict. Here is an example of truly prosocial behaviour, and a solitary light in a very dark, sobering time.

Prejudice: The Eyes Have ItEdit

I think there's just one kind of folks. Folks. - Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird.

The original videos of Jane Elliott’s experiments on segregation and discrimination, both in her third grade classroom and her later replications with adults, are remarkable to watch. The speed with which the participants, when put in a situation with someone as charismatic and commanding as Elliott telling them the ‘facts’ about blue and brown eyed people, judge themselves and each other on the basis of eye colour is astounding. The idea seems ridiculous. As I watched the Elliott videos, I thought to myself that, had I been put in the participants’ places I certainly wouldn’t have accepted Elliott’s ridiculous rhetoric about judging other people over their eye colour, attributing any personal attribute to whether they were blue or brown eyed. Eye colour – what an utterly irrelevant and arbitrary way to judge a person! But then, of course, so is skin colour, sexuality, gender, race, religion, weight...any of the characteristics on which we base our prejudices.

I remember a previous lecturer with a passion for cultural issues in psychology speaking about ‘the unearned privilege’ of being in the (in this case, white) majority. I have lived in Australia all my life. I have a relatively culturally homogenous group of friends, all of whom are white and Australian-born. I went to a private Catholic all-girls school whose student body generally mirrored this homogeneity. Canberra, home of the middle class public servant family, offered little more diversity. While none of us were ever overtly racist, we had little real exposure to other cultures. We were white, Australian, Christian, straight, without disabilities, not overweight. Certainly, I did not, and still probably don’t, have any appreciation of what it means to be an outsider or not part of a majority. In Canberra, among my friends, my co-workers, at uni – I always fit in. I have always had the infamous ‘unearned privilege.’

Melisah Feeney’s comments in the lecture about how the nature of racism is changing – from the overt discriminations of ‘old-fashioned’ racism to the subtleties of ‘modern’ racism were very interesting, and true. They apply across minority groups to a more general view of prejudice in today’s society. There aren’t the gaping injustices that women or black people, for example, were subject to in the past. Biases and discriminatory attitudes are much more subtle.

My sister is currently completing her PhD which examines (and I am inevitably simplifying this because even its title is completely above me in terms of comprehension!) young women with intellectual disabilities and their attitudes and experiences with sex and their own sexualities. I was explaining this to my boss and her friend one night and they thought it was a terribly relevant topic, citing all sorts of situations where people with disabilities had become pregnant and were unable to care for their children. Like some sort of education program, or some family planning intervention was needed to stop them from breeding. They had assumed that this was the most pertinent issue in the research and completely dismissed the idea that people with intellectual disabilities should be allowed (and the use of this word alone brings up all sorts of implications for power and discrimination) to express their sexuality and act on their sexual urges in a loving and consensual context. They had essentially assumed sex as an in-group (for people without disabilities) privilege.

Love, Sex and MarriageEdit

One concept that I identified with in the readings and lecture on relationships was the idea of the differences between passionate and companionate love. As we have learnt, passionate love refers to the strong feelings of fervour and infatuation with another person. Think butterflies in the stomach, nervous giggles, excitement and ardour that characterise the blissful early stages of relationships. Then there’s companionate love, which our textbook suggests is ‘calmer and more serene’ than passionate love. Think solidarity, caring, mutual concern, and a kind of overarching synchrony that comes with long-term togetherness.

I was lucky enough to grow up with parents who personified companionate love. They have now been together for 37 years, and their relationship is so incredible that it almost seems impossible – they have certainly set an impossibly high standard in terms of my own expectations in a mate. While they have each lead (and continue to lead) tremendously successful and rich lives separately and are completely independent in this regard, when they are together they are a remarkable team. Their relationship is characterised by an unflinching solidarity that is evident in even trivial activities like their nightly cup of tea together (8.30 sharp, and usually accompanied by The Bill or the better documentary of the non-commercial channels, he in his chair, she in hers, with matching hand-knitted knee rugs and few words spoken). Mutual understanding and care are certainly important in maintaining their relationship, but they supplement these things with a lovely, self-deprecating sense of humour, never taking themselves too seriously. Every year on their wedding anniversary, they jokingly ask one another ‘so, should we try for another year then?’

One other thing that stood out from this week was the theories of sexuality, and particularly evolutionary theory. Evolutionary theory purports that men have ‘less to lose’ from sex than women, who risk pregnancy and its significant temporal and financial costs. Because of this, men would be more likely to recklessly engage in sex for sex’s sake, whereas women would tend to be more cautious because of its potential impact. I suppose this is true of many psychological theories based on an evolutionary approach, but this theory of sexuality seems much less relevant in a modern context. Today, the ease with which an endless range of contraception is available has markedly diminished a woman’s cautiousness because sex no longer has to end in pregnancy. The sexual revolution of the ‘60s and ‘70s that saw the birth of ‘free love’ was partly heralded by the wider introduction of contraception, and particularly the ease and freedom of the oral contraceptive pill.

Groups: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.Edit

‘It is a well-known fact that although the public are fine when taken individually, when it forms itself into large groups, it tends to act as though it has one partially consumed Pez tablet for a brain.’ – Dave Barry, American writer and humourist.

The readings for this topic include both negative and positive aspects of groups and group involvement in a way that again lends support to James’s separation of social psychology topics into ‘what can go right,’ and ‘what can go wrong.’ As such, I will organise my musings on groups under these headings.

Groups: What can go right?

- The social interaction, feeling ‘part’ of something that is united and shares common goals and interests. Being part of a sports team or a social group, for example, is a generally positive thing: you are part of a supportive network and you can depend on and share experiences with fellow group members.

- Group membership can be involved in identity formation. Many of the ways I identify myself reflect the groups I belong to: I am a daughter and sister (family group); I am a friend (friendship group); I am a female (gender group). Group membership can become a heuristic for characterising ourselves and others.

- Social facilitation. The textbook references early psychologist Triplett, who found that success in bicycle races was often bolstered by the presence of competitors (as opposed to racing alone). While the authors go on to dismiss the idea of competition as necessary for success, I find that I (either consciously or unconsciously) ‘compete’ with members of some of my groups and that such competition spurs me on to do better. In high school, for example, part of my motivation to do well on an assignment was because I was competing with others in my friendship group on that particular task. This seems to be less a function of the ‘evaluation apprehension’ that Baumeister and Bushman discuss and more like Triplett’s bicycle races. Either way, the presence of others certainly has some effects on performance.

- Shared resources. The former can be both a positive and a negative aspect of groups. Belonging to a group means you have access to a much broader range of resources. Eastern societies, for example, place an emphasis on the community and group over the individual, so that an individual will often act for the good of the group, rather than for individual gain. On the flipside are Communist schools of thought, where the theoretical base of egalitarianism and common ownership had disastrous implications when applied practically.

Groups: What can go wrong?

- Deindividuation. When an individual is a member of a group, there can be a tendency for their deeds to be ‘hidden’ under the group’s veil, leading to a loss of individual accountability. Obvious examples exist in the extremists of history: fascists, Nazis, and so on. It seems to me though, that deindividuation does not necessarily have to be negative. My mum is a very involved member of the St Vincent de Paul Society, a Catholic charity organisation. They have a policy where members are not allowed to receive recognition for their good works, instead they are recognised under the banner of the society. While this used to frustrate me because of the time and effort that went in to much of my mother’s initiatives in the society, she seemed very much at ease with the idea. She explained that nothing she achieved was done alone, always with the help of fellow members, and that she thought their policy reduced greed and fostered solidarity by encouraging members to work for the good of the society.

- Social loafing and the reduction of productivity in an individual when working in a group. When reading about the social loafing phenomenon, my thoughts immediately turned to assignment group work. One of the main reasons most students dread working in groups is that there will inevitably be an uneven distribution of workload. I can’t count the number of times I have whinged with my friends and classmates about the token ‘loafer’ who gets away with doing very little and then freely rides on the group’s successes.

- The aforementioned deindividuation and the associated lack of accountability can often mean that group membership can facilitate violence or other antisocial behaviours. Extreme examples of Nazi Germany, the Cronulla riots, or looting abound in the text. I also thought this could be relevant in less overtly violent contexts: think about the school-aged child who, when bolstered by a group of friends, is much more likely to tease and taunt an unpopular child than when he or she is without that group’s protection.

'We're All In This Together,' aren't we?Edit

‘The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.’– Nelson Henderson.

Had I thought ahead, I would have saved my reflections on bystander apathy and the Darley and Latane studies that I included in the aggression/Ghosts of Rwanda subheading for this topic – but never mind.

I had been thinking about the topic of prosocial behaviour – and in particular, altruism – before beginning the readings for this week. The topic of altruism had come up in tutorial discussions in a couple of psychology classes and is one I find particularly interesting. The idea of selfless generosity, of helping others without reward (like the Henderson quote above), seems to me to be an almost impossible concept. Although there are certainly countless instances of people who help and care for others seemingly without any sort of selfish motivations or expectations of anything in return (from the ‘big names’ of do-gooders like Mother Theresa or Oskar Schindler to everyday ‘altruists’ like parents and carers), it seems that some form or other of positive reinforcement is inevitable.

When I think of ‘good deeds’ that I have performed in the past, (giving a donation to charity or spending hours comforting a distraught friend) despite how selfless they may seem, other forces are always at play (I may feel obligated to give to a charity, or enjoy the good feeling I get when I donate; friendships are reciprocal and I can expect the same comfort when I am upset). ‘Good deeds’ are just that – something good inevitably comes out of them. A big product of helping behaviour is the good feeling people get, knowing they have been of real assistance and seeing the positive outcomes of their help. Volunteer workers often talk about their work as ‘rewarding’ (check out some quotes from volunteers at Aid Camps International here: and notice the enjoyment and other rewards they mention). I suppose one issue here is whether these rewards come after the fact – volunteers (and other ‘altruists’) embark on their projects purely to help people and promote positive change, and any rewards they happen to get out of this are simply by-products – or whether the rewards themselves are incentives (all my Motivation and Emotion study is coming out here now – John Gross would be proud!) that motivate the behaviour in the first place. If it is the latter, then the behaviour is not selfless, and therefore not really altruistic.

Reading back on all of this, it looks like a very grim view I take of our world. If we delve too deeply into our motivations for any behaviour, then we inevitably come up selfish. I don’t mean to undermine the remarkable efforts of volunteers, mothers and other ‘altruists.’ Good deeds are good deeds, regardless of the motivations behind them. Humans should want to help each other – it should feel good, it should be rewarding. Helping others will undoubtedly benefit us in some way – like Ben Lee sang, ‘we’re all in this together’ after all, aren’t we?

An Apathetic Greenie Is Reformed!Edit

At first glance, this was the topic I was least interested in. Although today’s ‘green is good’ mentality and the proliferation of environmental issues in the media makes this a bit of a taboo, I have to say that I simply have little interest in or passion for the environment. It’s a terrible reflection of Generation Y apathy and probably some amount of ignorance, but I’m afraid it’s the truth. I was pleasantly surprised when I realised that environmental psychology encompassed a range of issues that I had not considered, and perhaps contained a great deal more for me than I previously thought.

On first encounter, the Biophilia Hypothesis and its proposal that ‘humans have an instinctive affinity with life-like processes’ seems more like a wanky mantra one would find on the wall of a King Street candle shop than a serious psychological theory. Dismissing its wankiness (and as I type this, Microsoft Word is taking great pleasure in immediately underlining it in red, but I assure you that it is a legitimate adjective) for moment, I think about the places and things that I find beautiful and visually pleasing. Tree-lined streets in autumn, snow on mountains, that impossible green in Ireland’s rolling hills, bonfires, unspoilt beaches, waves crashing against high cliffs...Edward Wilson was right – that infamous affinity with nature is present even in this environmental cynic!

Baumeister and Bushman also make some interesting comments about the impact of overpopulation, and in particular, its effects on personal space. They comment that we control the effects of overcrowding by maintaining an invisible boundary around us – our own ‘personal’ space. The size of this personal bubble can vary depending on the type of social contact (from the closeness of lovers or best friends to the distance of acquaintances or strangers) but also on cultural differences – they mention the differences between ‘contact’ cultures and ‘noncontact’ cultures. I am reminded of comedian Carl Barron, who (and I have tried desperately to find a clip of this on YouTube, but no luck!) spoke about the differences between a ‘city’ greeting and a ‘country’ greeting. Barron jokes that a ‘city’ handshake involves torsos almost touching and a tiny handshake, whereas a ‘country’ handshake is approached from metres away and is broad and overemphasised. His imitation of each is very funny, but also illustrates the impact of population crowding on the size of one’s personal space. I knew comedy could be educational!

Final ThoughtsEdit

Some final reflections on this e-portfolio, assessment in general, and the unit as a whole.

E-Portfolio - I loved it. In Psychology there are so few opportunities to write freely, without the constraints of essay questions or APA style or endless citations or statistics. Psychology has a history of not being taken seriously in the scientific world, and so it takes great pains to present itself as a genuine science, with facts and figures and evidence to boot. While it does this though, I think some of the magic of its findings are lost. I wrote earlier on about Lauren Slater's book Opening Skinner's Box and how she took ten dry research articles and turned them in to stories. This is what we have been given the opportunity to do here. We are not answering an essay question, we are not reporting significance levels or F values or any other obscure, cold statistic. We can take the empirical underpinnings of each topic and talk about them in a meaningful way - see if they ring true in our own lives and experiences. It was inevitably a learning experience as well - I wrote about each topic with lecture notes and textbook open beside me to refer to, and was certainly a way of engaging with and solidifying the information in both. I love being able to write freely like I have here, and so without a doubt, this was my favourite assessment item of my degree!

Other assessment - Being able to choose our own essay topics was daunting but exciting. It made me feel less like a uni student, bound by the lecturer's choice of a couple of topics, and more like a real researcher or academic, free to pursue any research interest I would like.

Comments were made in another user's E-Portfolio about how they believed research participation should not be an assessable part of the unit. I can't say I agree - I think it gives an interesting insight into the way research projects are conducted, and valuable examples of successful (and not so successful!) designs. Besides, when I'm a fourth year student longing for a decent sample size to boost the power of my study, I think I'll be pretty grateful to have compulsory research participation in psychology units!

The Unit - I realise I'm sounding like some kind of unreasonably chirpy broken record, but again - I loved it. I found the topics to be the most interesting and relevant that I have studied thus far. It cemented my interest in the social psychology realm and made me consider pursuing research interests in this area. The only suggestion I would make is that there was a supplementary chapter in the textbook (Application Module A) involving the application of social psychology to consumer behaviour that would make an interesting lecture subject, particularly considering the number of students who take marketing, advertising or public relations units in conjunction with psychology.

Otherwise, a great unit. I'll miss it!