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Joined 30 July 2008

Tutorial OneEdit

In the first tutorial for 2008 we played the usual getting to know you games. However, the ‘cocktail party’ game that we played uncovered some interesting things. I thought it was interesting that when asked our religious beliefs most people were unsure how to classify themselves and the overwhelming majority of the class decided that they were atheist or agnostic. I thought this was interesting in a historical sense considering that in the (distant?) past in Australia individuals religious beliefs were considered central to their character. Who one could be friends with, what school you went to and who you could marry were greatly influenced by which religious group you and your family identified with. Of course in many parts of the world this is still the case and indeed many wars are still fought over these beliefs. Conversely when asked our political beliefs most people had no hesitation in classifying themselves by political affiliation. I believe this is representative of Australia today where by there is a shift away from religion and the various churches that constitute them and more a shift toward what is more readily observable and what we see ourselves as having greater control over. Of course this is not the case for everyone as the recent World Youth Day in Sydney will attest there are still many deeply religious people in our society however, apparently far fewer studying Social Psych!

Self Serving BiasEdit

What was most interesting to me in this weeks lecture was the theory of the self-serving bias. Although this is a term that I have heard in previous psych units the fact that we have to write this blog forced me to think about it a little more deeply then I ever had before. And with that I think I learned a few things. The Theory of the self serving bias is basically the tendency to take credit for success but deny blame for failure. The self serving bias, as explained by our text book, is essentially are self-deception strategy. I was able to attribute this theory most recently to a car accident I had. Now it WASN’T MY FAULT (of course) but the fault of the stupid New Zealand roads having stupid ice on them. However, everyone who heard about my crash automatically laughed and asked me if I was drunk (I wasn’t!). No one really considered that it may possibly NOT have been due to my below par driving skills. I think the Japanese expression within this chapter “Others’ misfortune tastes like honey” is well applied to many situations. It made me think and I’m pretty sure my reaction has been the same to friends and family members of mine that I have known to be in minor car prangs. I automatically brand them a bad driver even in cases where the crash truly has not been there fault.


In the tutorial this week we discussed the different ways in which we communicate-both verbal and non-verbal. It was interesting to see how much technology has influenced the way in which we communicate with each other. Things like sms text messaging and other interactive multifaceted technological forums (eg facebook) have almost replaced the need for voice-to-voice (let alone face-to-face) contact. The question that arises is whether or not this form of communication is beneficial or detrimental to our society.

Personal SpaceEdit

Also in this weeks tutorial we examined the issue of personal space by having us invade the invisible boundaries that surround us all. We discussed that what is considered an appropriate distance to stand from someone (especially a stranger) can change depending on the culture. Some cultures are more sensory orientated and physical closeness is more highly regarded. I thought of when I was living in France and when meeting a new person a kiss on each cheek was considered normal and expected behaviour. However, once I returned to London this type of greeting when meeting someone for the first time was considered slightly invasive. According to the text book personal space can also be seen as a form of non-verbal communication. We can sometimes tell a lot about people’s relationships by observing the closeness between them. The closer we feel to someone the closer we allow ourselves to get to them. We also discussed how it can sometimes feel violating when someone invades you personal space uninvited and/or unwanted.

Ghosts of RwandaEdit

This lecture is the first time in my university career that I can say 100% for certain I did no drift off or fall asleep even once. When I knew that we were watching the Ghosts of Rwanda I was automatically alert. After watching Hotel Rwanda some years ago I found this particular story of human tragedy both extremely interesting and distressing. It is unfathomable to me that such atrocious acts were not only going on but were being televised around the world and yet so little was actually able to be done to help these people. The word genocide was a term that caused controversy as whether or not to act. Not whether what was happening was horrendously wrong or not. Just the fact that the legal definition of ‘genocide’ was not announced by the UN all those people were able to die with little to no intervention. The United Nations was founded in the aftermath of World War II, just as the world was beginning to learn the full horrors of history's worst genocide, the Holocaust that consumed 6 million Jews and 3 million others in Europe. The term ‘genocide’ will always be intrinsically linked to the World Was II holocaust where Hitler exterminated millions of Jews. The main noticeable difference, I thought, between the two was that with Rwanda technology had advanced so much that the world was being televised actual images of what was going on. Ignorance was much easier to plead in WW2 where there were not virtually live images being screened into everyone’s living rooms on the news every evening. The fact that so little was done on a government level for the Rwandan’s makes the acts of the individuals who chose to act against those committing the heinous war crimes all the more admirable. Our text book also examines issues of pro-social behaviour and the acts of a German man, Oskar Schindler, in World War II. This type of behaviour, and indeed the behaviour of many brave individuals in the Ghosts of Rwanda go against many themes we had covered earlier in the semester. The theory of normative influence (i.e. going along with the crowd in order to be liked and accepted) is one that was severely violated by Schindler. He in fact, risked the ultimate exclusion from his group (death) by helping the Jews in the second world war. Similarly, the theory of informational influence was violated by some of the people in the Ghosts of Rwanda who ignored the pleas and views of their governments and stayed behind in Rwanda to try and help. Conversely, some other people in the video totally adhered to this theory. Madeline Albright (the American UN member) for example, initially went along with the group who was voting no to an intervention in Rwanda because she believed that the advice she was receiving was from people who knew far more then her. These themes are also raised in today’s current political climate. As we watch the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing their neighbouring country, Russia, is invading the somewhat smaller sovereign state of Georgia The daily news is showing murder and destruction on a large scale and once again, much like with Rwanda, we have the leaders of the ‘free’ world urging for peace but not actually doing much to help. Is it human nature to stand back and let these events happen time and time again? As this quote by former US senator Jon Corzine intimates: Words without deeds violates the moral and legal obligation we have under the genocide convention but, more importantly, violates our sense of right and wrong and the standards we have as human beings about looking to care for one another. A few years ago I heard an opinion regarding genocide and the responsibility of all people to actively question the acts and policies of their governments because all acts of genocide in the history of the world have been committed by the government of the time. I think this is important to remember and try to do as Schindler did, and not just blindly follow others.

The Olympics and the In-group Out-group PhenomenonEdit

The in crowd-out crowd phenomenon is no where more visible then at the Olympic Games. Daily we are screened events where Australian’s are competing and when medals are won a sense of National pride is evoked. We cheer for ‘our team’ to come out ahead of the rest. We identify with the Australian athletes that are over in Beijing competing and feel not only a sense of pride but also a sense of ownership when medals are won. “We” won a gold in the women’s 4x200 relay, “we” won silver in the diving etc etc. The out-group phenomenon is also evident. Although encouraged to show good sportsmanship the medal tally is recorded and broadcasted in several different mediums daily and an athlete that wins is more highly revered then one who comes 10th. The wearing of team uniform and colours is a simple yet effective way of determining those who are in our group and those who are in opposing groups. The test book definition of competition (a situation in which people can attain their goals only if others do not) does not make sporting competitions sound like a very positive thing. And yet the Olympic games is seen as a movement toward peace.

Prejudice and Racism in AustraliaEdit

The themes explored this week were prejudice and stereotypes. The poem that was read to us at the start of the lecture was quite moving and highlighted the extent of the racism and prejudice that minority groups in Australia can experience. Today’s lecture about prejudice and stereotypes in Australia was both upsetting and insightful. It would be nice to think that in our “lucky” country such repulsive behaviour would no longer exist. Unfortunately this is clearly not the case, although efforts are being made. Kevin Rudd’s apology to the stolen generation is one such effort. However, the fact that this apology was not unanimously supported by all Australians shows how far we still have to go. The theme of modern racism and prejudice was explored in depth. As the definition given to us in the lecture: the modernisation of racism is being aware of society’s laws and so expressing your views strategically (i.e. being politically correct). There is evidence of this in today’s society everywhere. Whether it’s not being friends with someone because of their race (but never verbally expressing that fact), or telling racist jokes with friends that you would never repeat in a different environment. It was, however, inspiring to hear the positive stories where individuals have positively changed people’s ideas about race. The principal, Chris Sarra that spurned the project “Young, Black and Deadly” was particularly inspirational. Chris Sarra hails from Bundaberg in Queensland. The youngest of 10 children, Chris experienced first-hand many of the issues faced by Indigenous students throughout their schooling. Entering university Chris found encouragement and inspiration from various lecturers and mentors who encouraged him to go beyond the expectations the system usually held for young Indigenous students. In the late 1990’s Chris took on the challenges of Indigenous education as the Principal of Cherbourg State School in South East Queensland and from here has accomplished a lot in changing that particular areas education system and views when it comes to what Indigenous youths are capable of. Unfortunately in Australia we are still a long way from being culturally tolerant, even of our own indigenous people. Coincidently a few days after this lecture I was listening to Hack on Triple Jand they were interviewing Chris Sarra on his vision for Indigenous youths. It reminded me a lot of an assignment I did in first year on Tania Major (who later went on to become the Young Australian of the Year in 2007). Tania Major came to public attention in 2004 as the youngest person ever elected to ATSIC. She broke the ice of public discussion about a number of issues concerning the welfare of young Indigenous people when she was featured on several national television programs. While she made some people feel very uncomfortable, she was happy to do so. She spoke directly and very publicly about the appalling secrets of domestic violence in her community in the belief that the best way to represent her people was to tell the truth. Tania is the only person within her isolated rural community to complete a university degree; indeed, she's the only one to have successfully completed Year 12. Tania has become a role model not only for Indigenous youth, but also for all young Australian's. Although Tania, who gained a law degree, is now seen as an advocate for Indigenous Australians she also went against the norm for her community by going out and gaining a degree, at the expense of being shunned by some members of her community, which also encompasses other psychological theories (such as normative influence etc) that we have explored this semester while still covering this weeks issue of prejudice and racism in Australia.


This is a cute little clip from the highly popular tv show, Flight of the Conchords called Albi the Racist Dragon that, although in a joking way, takles the issue of racism in a childrens television show [1].

The need to belongEdit

This weeks lecture was on relationships. When I first enrolled in Social Psychology I assumed that a great deal of the unit would be dealing with this topic so it’s good to finally be getting into it. This lecture was very interesting but also very broad as it had so much to cover. One of the most interesting points I found was the theory of the need to belong and it being a basic need. The need to belong (affiliation) is defined in our text as the desire to form and maintain, lasting relationships with other individuals. In our society we consider those who live alone for long periods of time and have limited contact or interactions with others (such as hermits) as weird and that there must be something wrong with them. And the text book asserts that this is actually true with people who do not have fulfilling social engagements being at a higher risk of physical and mental problems and can even die younger So I guess it is more important to go out on the weekends then to stay in and do assignments! I’ve been right all along! Belongingness consists of two aspects that must be satisfied in order for the need to belong to be fulfilled. These are regular (positive) contact and close, stable, mutually intimate contacts. So even though we have the opportunity to form many new friends every day it is basically human nature that we will stick to a close group of about half a dozen friends. This is closely linked with the theory of Dunbar's Number. I find it really interesting that in recent times there has been studies in regards to Dunbar’s number and internet networking sites (such as facebook or myspace). Although Dunbar’s number is set at about 150 as the upper limit of the amount of meaningful relationships one can have, some people have observed that these sites have severely altered this. It is now far easier to talk to people whom in times past you normally would have lost complete contact with. However, as most people who use these sorts of sites can attest, friendship requests come from the most random of places. People that you weren’t friends with at school 10 years ago are suddenly your facebook friends. In my opinion a lot of these relationships do not constitute the definition of friendship, and therefore really have little bearing on Dunbar’s theory.


There were many theories of attraction explored in this unit just as there are many different types of relationships. The theory of the matching hypothesis (birds of a feather), that build on the theory of similarity (ie. Tendency to like other people similar to us to reduce cognitive dissonance), was one that was really interesting to me. The matching hypothesis states that people tend to pair up with others who are equally attractive. This is especially true among lovers, but it also is true among friends. It occurs in same sex and opposite sex relationships. It would appear that we find those the most similar to us the most attractive. I think this is probably true although there are exceptions to this rule. The old saying, opposites attract, is testament to this. How many times have you found yourself thinking “what the hell are they doing with them?” We tend to not only form these relationships ourselves but also automatically assume that this is the way that is should be and any variation on this is incongruent to our internal ideals of society. Finding partners that are similar to us in matters of personality, likes, dislikes, and daily living are quite understandable. You would usually have to have something in common with a person in order to be in the environment to meet them in the first place. Therefore the attraction to others similar to us is probably more social then cultural. The text book differentiates between cultural and social by saying; the behaviour is not something that originates with human beings living in culture, but rather something that originated among animals that formed into groups to help each other live better. If anything, culture has more been a tool of diversity.

Leadership- good or evil?Edit

The second half of this weeks lecture was dedicated to leadership and how to become a successful and respected leader. The video we watched highlighted both the ineffective and effective ways in which to lead a group. People often discuss people who are believed to be “born leaders” and this video highlighted how much more difficult it can be for people who do not possess this somewhat authoritarian or even authoritative personality trait. As with the vicar in the video (“Confidence Zone”), she was probably not usually an assertive person and yet within her profession she was forced to lead a fairly large group. The video highlighted how difficult it is for these non-assertive people to lead people who may be considered to be “born leaders”. There was one man within the parish group who appeared to have this quality and be almost resentful that he was not in the leadership position within this group. James also discussed how to be a successful leader. Although a leader is there to direct followers a successful leader engages in non-direct leadership. It is more powerful to listen to and take on the needs of the followers. This in turn develops a good relationship which allows for less resistance and more cooperation. This style of leadership is understandably more successful. However, it is easy to point to instances in history where this successful leadership style has been used for evil. Before the beginning of the Second World War, Hitler appealed to the people of Germany by understanding the trials and tribulations that had been suffering. By building an element of understanding between himself and the people a level of trust was garnered. When the time came for Hitler to commit some of the worst acts of human kind of all time there was far less resistance as he had built up a rapport with the people who were now hesitant to view him in a negative light after some of the apparent good he had done for the country. So is there any leadership style that can be used for only good, or do all leaders have the potential to turn evil? With leadership comes a certain level of power and it is this that tends to allow people to believe that they are above retribution. Ordinary people can become somewhat drunk off the power. Perhaps it is not the leadership that leads to the evil but the power? However there are two sides to this argument as well. While Hitler was both powerful and evil others in the world at the time must also have been powerful or they never would have defeated him. Therefore power, like electricity or nuclear energy, is neither good nor evil but has the potential, if abused, to be both.

Women and LeadershipEdit

The issue of leadership and power in regards to feminism is one that is particularly topical in the current political climate. In Australia much hype was made over current Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd’s 2nd in charge, Julia Gillard. But this media hype pales in comparison to the current political race in the USA. Hilary Clinton Hilary Clinton caused a lot of attention around the world when she entered the race to become the leader of the Democrats. Around the world the question was asked “Was a woman capable of leading the (former?) most powerful country in the world?”. Although Clinton lost the race to Obama (who has raised many questions of his own) the issues of leadership and gender did not stop. With the addition of Sarah Palin Sarah Palin to the Republican Party the issue has gained even more focus. All of these powerful women have had their potential ability as a leader questioned purely based on their sex. And this issue is not new. From 1979 to 1990 Margaret Thatcher was the Prime Minister of England and was the butt of many jokes and constantly felt a lack of respect from her males peers. What these women all have in common is the emphasis on their seemingly “male” traits. Thatcher spent most of her time in office with the title of the Iron Lady for her hard line while Palin constantly reinforces her love of fishing and shooting (for sport), stereotypically male pursuits. It would appear in today’s world the most successful female leaders are the ones that are best at being blokes. Part of this may stem from women being seen as ‘softer’ then males. And who wants the leader of their country to be a wimp? So does this mean that men are better at being leaders or that we are socialised to be used to having male leadership? And is there a change in sight?

Does true altruism exist?Edit

According to our text book definition, prosocial behaviour is defined as doing something that is good for other people or for society as a whole. The idea of helping others leads to other concepts that were covered by this weeks lecture, a main one being altruism. Altruistic helping is defined as helping in which the helper expects nothing in return for offering the help. This leads to a controversial topic, are any of our actions truly altruistic or do are we always rewarded in some way for our actions? This reminded me of an episode of the popular television series, Friends, where two of the central characters, Phoebe and Joey, are having an argument that is essentially about altruism. In this episode Joey and Phoebe are arguing whether actions are altruistic or self serving because they make us feel good. Joey challenges Phoebe to find a selfless act she can do that won’t make her feel good and therefore be a reward for her. One instance of Phoebe looking for a good deed is below:

Phoebe: I just found a selfless good deed; I went to the park and let a bee sting me.
Joey: How is that a good deed?
Phoebe: Because now the bee gets to look tough in front of his bee friends. The bee is happy and I am not.
Joey: Now you know the bee probably died when he stung you?
Phoebe: Dammit!
- From Friends, episode 101 “The One Where Phoebe Hates PBS”

Phoebe tries one last-ditch effort. Despite having a deep dislike for the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), she makes a $200 pledge to the local station during a fund drive in which Joey is taking calls. This act would seem to have all of the hallmarks of selflessness: Phoebe wants to spend her money elsewhere, but instead gives it to an organisation she dislikes. Even better, her phone call lands Joey, a struggling actor, on camera. But Phoebe's act has an unintended benefit. She feels good that her benevolence inadvertently helped her friend. In other words, Phoebe got something out of it (a good feeling), and her selfless act is ruined. Much to Phoebe’s dismay she conforms to Joey’s school of thought, that true altruism does not exist. There has been biological interest in this phenomenon. It has been shown that the same area of the brain that receives pleasure when one recieves money is the same area activated to feel pleasure when one gives money. Therefore, perhaps even on a biological level, we can prove that true altruism does not exist. However, this is not a universally accepted view. Many other studies have been carried out to determine that humans are innately altruistic. Other studies with toddlers and chimpanzies have found that both of those groups will instinctively help others, when it is of no apparent benfit to themselves.

Interestingly another definition I found for altruism was the belief in, or practice of, selfless concern for the well-being of others. Most of us would find it hard to totally put aside thoughts of our own well being in an effort to help another. But there is a relationship that is common in our society where this level of altruistic helping is very evident- the relationship between parents and their children. Most parents would say they would do anything, even at the detriment of their own well being, to ensure the safety of their children. And we all know children are the least thankful creatures to grace the planet so most of their hard work and toil goes unnoticed and unrewarded. Arguably, however, this conforms to the prosocial idea of reciprocity. Reciprocity is the obligation to return in kind what another has done for us. So while a parent may be acting under altruistic helping, once parents hit old age children are bound by the ideal of reciprocity to return the favour and look after them with little or no reward.


Prior to reading the notes for this weeks tutorial I had never thought much about the word ‘zeitgeist’ except in reference to the Smashing Pumpkins album (coincidently I didn’t think much of that either!). So, having only Billy Corgan as a reference point I was interested to learn more about this in relation to social psychology. Zeitgeist is a German language expression that literally translates to zeit- time geist- spirit meaning “the spirit of the age and its society”. Interestingly, I referred to the message from the Smashing Pumpkins promoter that was released to promote the release of the album (in 2007). It claimed that the album “…didn’t just capture the spirit of our times, as the title may suggest…” Billy Corgan (the lead singer of the Pumpkins), when interviewed on the album went on to say that [the album] Zeitgeist “is about our government, our culture, and our current fixation on the wrong things”. In a way Billy has encapsulated the essence of what the definition of a Zeitgeist is. Singles released from the album had covers that portrayed among other things, images of Paris Hilton, not because the band were in any way fans of hers but because her image and what she is seen to stand for may be seen, in part, as a spirit of the times that we live in. Indeed the word zeitgeist is used to describe the intellectual, cultural, ethical, and political climate of an era.

Environmental PsychologyEdit

Nature Deficit Disorder Nature Deficit Disorder refers to the alleged trend that children are spending less time outdoors resulting in a wide range of behavioural problems. The reasons children have for spending more time indoor then their predecessors have a myriad of determinants. The technological age has meant that time our parents and grandparents would have spent climbing tress, today’s generation spends in front of computer or video games. The argument against technology is a tired one. But there is much reason for it. Richard Louv, the man who coined the term Nature Deficit Disorder does not attribute the “disease” to merely video game. In 2006 Louv released the book “Lost Child in the Woods” in which he expressed his concerns over the lack of time the current generation of children spend getting in touch with nature. His book raises many valid points. Today’s childhood generation is the first to be realistically facing having a lower life expectancy than their parents. Children today are faced with many more obstacles that prevent them from engaging with the environment. The lure of technology is only one of them. The increase in available sensationalistic media to parents has caused a state of almost over protection of children that their parents did not face which has in turn resulted in today’s children not being free to roam as they once were. While dangers do indeed exist for children the media has made many parents afraid to let their children off into the wilderness alone for a weekend or even an afternoon. Similarly, as the worlds population grows, many children have less access to nature. Urban raised children may have to travel come distance to get the chance to climb a tree. While in Australia this is less likely to be the case in America it is a true reality. As with many social effects it is always the underprivileged, or those from a lower socio economic status, who suffer the most. In the US lower SES children often have to grow up in areas where the closest park they can go to requires bus transport and where the nearest place to play sport could encounter drive bys. For these reasons it is much safer for these children to stay indoors. But this is by no means safe. Louv continues in his book to tackle the growing (almost) world wide epidemic of childhood obesity. He has also, subsequently, fostered a movement known as the “Leave no child inside” movement that endeavours to tackle both childhood obesity and also the increasing number of child mental health problems (eg ADHD) that he believes many also, in part, be linked to Nature Deficit Disorder. A really interesting point I picked up on came from watching an interview with Louv where he reported that while the level of organised sport in America has gone up so has the level of obesity. He brings up this point to highlight that there is no substitute for the unstructured, unsupervised nature play that used to fill children’s daily lives. I think the most poignant argument for outside play and how it should not be taken for granted comes from the eternally wise young words of Anne Frank, the Jewish girl who spent years of her childhood imprisoned in an attic to avoid Nazi prosecution. Anne says of nature-play in her diary, “The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely, or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and god”. If anyone would know, it would be her.

Shaping our Buildings Another aspect of the Environmental Psychology lecture that really got my attention was the quote by Winston Churchill which stated “We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us”. This quote is really interesting on many levels, I believe, and to anyone who has studied the architecture of the world through different ages or indeed travelled around different parts of it. One architect sprang instantly to my mind when I heard this quote because I believe it applied to him so aptly was Antoni Gaudi, a Spanish architect who is so intimately related to the topic of Environmental Psychology I had to mention him. Gaudi belonged to the Modernist style ( Art Nouveau) movement and was famous for his unique and highly individualistic designs. No trip to Barcelona today is complete without a look at some of Gaudi’s most famous buildings, the most famous of which is the Sagrada Familia. While all of Gaudi’s building designs are indeed unique and magnificent there is also an air of strangeness about them. Nothing ever appears to be staying still. This comes from Gaudi’s own sense of belonging to nature. Gaudi has reportedly said of his designs many times, that as long as there are no straight lines in nature there will be none in his buildings. Gaudi’s affiliation with nature probably stems back to his childhood where he suffered from rheumatic fever and so preferred spending time alone in the outdoors then with non-sympathetic peers. But to refer back to Churchill’s quote, many saw Gaudi’s designs as somewhat insane. And later reports on the mans life claim this to also be the case. Gaudi reached his demise when homeless, penniless and ragged he was run over by a tram. Due to his appearance he was unrecognisable as the world famous architect, her was refused help by many passer bys before he finally died in a hospital for the poor some three days later. Gaudi’s mental state was believed to have been contributed to by the sequential deaths of many loved ones over a series of years. So while we admire the crazy-genius of Gaudi’s work there probably appears some literal relation in the words of Churchill to this particular man.

To conclude...Edit

Well the semester has finally drawn to a close. Social psychology has proved to be a very interesting area of study and from reading other's wiki pages it has become clear how diverse a field it can be and to how many different areas the theories and research can be applied. Overall this has been an interesting and worthwhile unit. Thanks James!