social issues and debates (Culture and Gender (The distinction between…
social issues and debates
Socially sensitive research
Any research into prejudice and discrimination has the potential to be socially sensitive. Very early research into prejudice can be heavily criticized for exaggerating differences between races and producing biased evidence that whites were superior to blacks. Thankfully, this opinion is not held today, but at the time psychological knowledge legitimized social, educational and economic divisions and endorsed discriminatory practices and legislation.
Psych in society
The main use is to reduce prejudice; in classrooms to reduce racism. Or using our knowledge of stereotypes we can educate people to be more mindful of the similarities that exist between different groups rather than focusing on differences. Intergroup hostility is facilitated by a lack of equal status contact. This explains why communities who are divided by physical barriers or educational or employment integration often experience conflict
If we can understand what conditions create the highest levels of obedience, this knowledge can be used to ensure our soldiers obey higher ranking officers, or employees comply with the requests of their employers. This can be seen in everyday life: police officers wear uniforms and have the ability to use punishment to keep our behaviour in line with the law
Psych over time
Social psychology knowledge is affected by social changes in attitudes and historical events
Personality explanations focus on the nature side of the debate. Intergroup dynamic theories such as RCT and SIT focus on situational factors that affect obedience so are on the nurture side. Also, most personality explanations of prejudice explain that such traits arise from the way in which they are brought up. Adorno says that authoritarian personality comes from harsh parenting.
Culture and Gender
The distinction between collectivistic and individualistic cultures may be useful in understanding whether social influence is affected by culture. It could be argued that obedience would be higher in collectivistic cultures. However, cross-cultural obedience research is not methodologically comparable which may account for differences found. It is yet unclear whether culture is a mediating factor for obedience and prejudice and this is probably because social and cultural conditions are not static. The ever-changing social circumstances affect whether a society is more prone or resistant to authority.
Obedience has been predicted to be higher in women's. However, research such as from Milgram has found there to be no gender differences. Social psychologist theories such as agency theory are largely a product of social circumstances and forces, which are not mediated by gender. Although research into conformity found women to be more compliant than men and it has been argued to be as a result of methodological bias
Psychology as a science
In experiments such as Milgram's research have been able to control variables and carefully manipulated to ensure cause and effect relationships under lab or more natural conditions. Despite an experimental methodology, social psychology can be criticized for studying human social behaviour in a vacuum that cannot be generalised to the real world. Group dynamics rarely exist in a social vacuum, but are affected by social, historical and cultural events which continually change so any scientific approach should acknowledge this.
Comparing RCT and SIT it can be seen that they both describe the role of groups in the formation of prejudice, using in-group favoritism and negative out-group bias. The key difference between them is that RCT describes how competition is necessary for prejudice to occur, whereas SIT did not.
Different ways of explaining obedience and prejudice often reflect social norms and historical events
Social Impact theory can be criticized for developing what can be described as an equation to calculate how people will behave under certain conditions. However, it does not take into account how the social conditions and individuals interact with one another. Personality explanations of prejudice and obedience can also be said to be reductionist because they focus only on the character of the individual and disregard the social conditions in which prejudice and obedience are likely to occur.
Practical issues in design and implementation
The design and implementation of research can often lead to ethical problems. One issue is demand characteristics; if P's are aware of the aim of research they are unlikely to display natural behaviour. Deception is often used to prevent demand characteristics (Milgram). Prejudice seems to be affected by social desirability bias as people tend to mask their prejudices particularly in today's social and cultural climate. Questionnaires often ask about prejudiced beliefs but prejudice today is more ambiguous, less obvious and often too subtle to be detected by questionnaires or questionnaires that ask about prejudiced beliefs may be criticized for not being able to tap into prejudice attitudes.
Everything in obedience research has the risk of causing psychological harm, and the removal of a P's right to withdraw, as P's are gradually ordered to comply with requests to harm another. Similarly, prejudice research also creates the potential for psychological harm as groups are pitted against each other in a host of situations designed to encourage conflict. But it can be argued that these conditions were necessary to accurately study the two issues.