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Mental Health Matters: Overlooked field of social psychology
Social psychology studies how our society and rules impact our thoughts and behaviour, both as individuals and as a group.
Social psychologists can explain why a sample of the Kamloops population would show 90 per cent of them would never consider committing a criminal act, but half of them smoke marijuana, which is a criminal offense.
Here are a few things social psychology has unearthed and is talking about — and this is a peek over their shoulders, just for fun:
• As a group, people tend to assign good fortune to internal factors within them, whereas they attribute bad luck to forces outside of them.
This is called the “actor-observer bias,” where my promotion is the result of my wonderful abilities and work, whereas my being passed over for promotion is because my boss is blind or my colleague is manipulative.
• Stereotypes and prejudices are described by social psychology like this: When we gather and sort data about groups, for example by religion, race, social class, etc., we tend to over-emphasize the differences between different groups while at the same time we minimize the differences within groups.
As a result, we end up with views that lump people from a group as “all the same” and give too much attention to how that group differs from others.
• People tend to take on artificial roles and act them out — even to extremes.
A Stanford University experiment took a group of people and artificially created a prison.
They assigned some subjects randomly to the roles of guards and prisoners.
The experiment was halted much sooner than planned because those in the role of guards began to abuse authority too much and those in the role of prisoner became too anxious.
Most people, regardless of their history, will go to extremes (and sometimes even dangerous lengths) to obey authority figures.
Researcher Stanley Milgram showed research subjects were willing to deliver painful electric shocks to someone else when told to do so — even if they were told the shock was potentially fatal.
• Did you know the more people there are present at an incident, the less likely it is that someone will step forward to help?
Social psychologists call this “the bystander effect.”
People tend to go along with the group even if they think the group is wrong.
This is not only true on abstract judgements, but on other perceptions as well.
Study participants are asked to judge which of three lines is longest and will routinely pick one that is clearly incorrect if others (who are confederates of the study) pick it first.
In a phenomenon known as “expectation confirmation,” people usually find data that confirm their existing beliefs and ignore information that may contradict what they want to be true.
Here in Kamloops, if you think mining is inherently “bad” for the environment, you will see all information in that light.
If you see mining as a growth opportunity, you will see all the data through that lens.
We form our attitudes and beliefs intentionally and unintentionally.
These attitudes become filters of which we are mostly unaware, but which influence how we think or value an issue or thing.
We like some foods because we want the health benefit and “develop a taste” for it over time, whereas other foods we just “like,” not realizing we like it because of parental or other influence long-since forgotten or never noticed in the first place.
So, you see, there are powerful influences in our family groups, in our work and social arenas and in our society that impact how we see issues, what we believe or think about issues and, ultimately, on how we behave.
It is always a good time to take a serious look at what you believe and how you react to different issues and open yourself up to the possibility you may be missing something more.
Thanks for exploring mental health along with us in Kamloops This Week.
You can shape our exploration by sending your comments and questions to Kamloops@cmha.bc.ca or following us on Twitter @CMHAKamloops.