Summer SAVY 2016 (Session 1, Day 4) – Social Psychology 101
It was a busy day again in Social Psychology 101! Here’s what we did:
- Today was a bit different from our other days at SAVY so far – our topic was a little bit of a secret for a little while, and we began the day by trying out an experiment on ourselves. In our adaptation of Sherif’s classic study on social influence, we discovered that working with others made us more accurate but also less different from each other.
- This kicked off our big ideas for today: social influence and conformity. After discussing the ways we conformed in our experiment and in our own lives – many of which are helpful and sometimes even necessary to cooperation between people – we looked at some examples of conformity from the real world that are less clearly beneficial and more mysterious. Doing “the Wave” at a sports game, facing out towards the doors of an elevator, or getting on board with the latest dance craze are all ways that we conform to others that promote a sense of unity and culture within a group. However, when we looked at social influence in Nazi Germany, it was easy to see that social influence can sometimes be downright dangerous for people who aren’t in the in-group. Why do people sometimes use social influence to harm each other? How can we prevent that kind of damaging social influence from happening?
- To start answering this question, we began by watching videos that showed both sides of this issue: One showed us how we can encourage compassion, while the other showed us how we can encourage discrimination. Our students were quick to see how using the principles of the first video could have been employed to fight the discrimination and injustice seen in the second video.
- Next, we examined some famous studies on social influence and conformity that went a bit deeper with these ideas. The work of Asch, Moscovici, Milgram, and Zimbardo showed us the dangers of majority and minority influence, obedience to authority, and abuse of power, as well as showing us the dark side of the history of social psychology. However, they also helped us recognize and hopefully avoid situations that put people in danger of abusing social power and hurting each other – and that includes psychologists!
- Ultimately we were able to draw a few important conclusions: conformity and social influence help us get along with each other, but they can also slow down change, stifle individuality, and worse. That’s why it’s important to be mindful of conformity when it occurs, to give minority opinions a hearing, and to make sure we avoid the dangerous combination of great power and little responsibility!
This week has gone by so quickly – how can tomorrow already be our last day? We’ll have to make it our best one yet as we design and run our own psychology studies!