SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY


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The role-playing exercise completed during the first practical session is an example of a simulation game, called ‘Starpower’. In such exercises, a set of rules are created to regulate behaviour within what is in essence an artificial social world. Although such exercises are not ‘reality’, they can be extremely useful in illustrating a number of important points about interpersonal behaviour; it is for these reason that we began the practical program with such a simulation game. Here are some of the more important points that are relevant to understanding what happens in such simulation games.

  1. The nature of role play: Simulation vs. reality. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of simulation games is that although we know that the rules that have to be followed are fairly arbitrary, and that the game has only a limited duration, nevertheless most of us find it very easy to quickly get involved in the alternative reality the game creates. It has been suggested that following rules is also an essential aspect of ‘real life’: human beings seem to be very good at playing social roles, and eventually, our attitudes and values are shaped by the roles we have to play. Indeed, we seem to be so good at role playing and do it so automatically, that often we become oblivious to the fact that our behaviour is in fact an act of role-playing. Writers such as Goffman (1959) suggest that all social behaviour can be understood as strategic role-playing: just like actors, people strategically set out to create particular impressions. Once they become competent in performing a role, it becomes ‘second nature’, part of their personality, and is no longer recognised as an alien role (Goffman, 1959).

Such an analysis is in direct contrast with the common tendency to believe that most people, most of the time (ourselves included) act the way we do because of internal, personality characteristics. Such assumptions – sometimes called the ‘fundamental attribution error’ by some psychologists (see below) – tend to ignore the influence of external influences and role demands on behaviour. The tendency to conform to situational pressures, and the demands of externally imposed role expectations on people’s behaviour has been dramatically illustrated by Phil Zimbardo’s prison simulation study at Stanford University, re-created in an improved form some years ago at this University by Prof. Sid Lovibond.

Zimbardo’s work showed that when well-adjusted, healthy individuals are assigned to play the roles of ‘prisoners’ and ‘prison guards’ in a realistic simulation, within a very short period of time exactly the same kinds of negative social behaviours emerge as can be observed in ‘real’ prisons. This study makes the convincing point that role-playing and ‘real behaviour’, games and reality are not that different from each other. In fact, it has been suggested that much of everyday social behaviour can be analysed as playing roles, and the roles that become familiar and automatic will eventually shape our personality. Social scientists typically analyse role-based behaviour in terms of concepts such as role expectations, role perception, role performance, and role conflict. Another example of role demands is the behaviour of subjects in psychology experiments: since the role implies almost unlimited obedience, simple commands may be sufficient to compel otherwise well-adjusted persons to commit extremely anti-social acts, as research by Milgram has shown. After reading the reference by Myers (1990) describing some aspects of role theory, you may want to think back and analyse your own behaviour in the simulation game.

  1. The nature of power. A second point illustrated by this game is that having power tends to have very noticeable and predictable effects on most people. In this game, it invariably happens that those with power (the circle group) make rules which

are to a greater or lesser extent unfair, and favour their own interests. Is it a universal feature of human beings that given an opportunity, they will be corrupted by power?

Social psychological analyses of power suggest that there are a variety of different ways in which power can be accumulated and maintained. Thus, French & Raven distinguished between six different ways of exercising power based on an individual’s ability to punish (coercive power) or reward others (reward power), his or her special expertise (expert power), the position they occupy (legitimate power), and their personality or charisma (referent power) and informational power (cf. Vaughan & Hogg, 2008, p. 238). In this game, power was essentially acquired as a result of an arbitrarily manipulated procedure: the circles in fact were neither more skilled, nor more competent than others; they got their power assigned by the experimenter (an example of legitimate power). Yet not only were they happy to believe that their preeminent position was deserved, but were also more than willing to make rules that would entrench their privileges. You may want to think about why there is hardly ever an instance when the circle group, once given power, makes rules that are fair and equitable? Sometimes, it is possible for one kind of power to be converted into a different kind – for example, those having legitimate power, if using it wisely and reasonably, may acquire referent power or expert power as others will come to voluntarily rely on them for advice or guidance. Was there any evidence of this in your group?

Not all power can be used – sometimes, to use our powers would be more costly than the potential benefits derived. The concept of ‘usable power’ refers to that degree of power that is worth exercising once the costs have been considered. Note that the circles were given absolute power to run the game – they could in fact do whatever they wanted. Yet typically, they made rules that were only moderately unfair. Few attempts were made to completely dominate the game. The reasons for this are obvious: a reckless use of power would have brought with it very high costs, such as an inability to enforce rules, the non-cooperation of other groups, or else the destruction of the enjoyability of the game itself. Thus it is only the nominal power of the circle group that was unlimited – their usable power was severely restricted by the nature of the situation.

Another question you might want to think about is the extent to which those who wield power in ‘real’ society act in a similar manner, and are able to justify and perpetuate their position. If human beings are in fact intrinsically power hungry and unfair when in power, what does this imply about the way social and political power should be divided between groups? Are Western democracies effective in curbing and distributing power?

  1. Intergroup discrimination. One of the remarkable things about the simulation exercise is how quickly people started to think about each other in terms of group membership – ‘circles’, ‘circles’, ‘us’ vs ‘them’, despite the obviously transparent and flimsy criteria on which group membership had been based. Being a member of a group can contribute to your sense of positive self-worth and identity only to the extent that your group can be seen as different from, and better than, similar other groups. People have a strong tendency to over-value their own groups, and undervalue others, even in extremely superficial and short-lived groups. Giving ourselves a positive sense of identity is one primary cause for using group power to make the difference between our group and others’ appear as great as possible.

Researchers into intergroup behaviour have found that even when people are assigned into groups in terms of clearly arbitrary criteria (such as the throw of a dice, or eye colour!), and even when the groups have no face-to-face existence, no past, and future, the mere use of a group label is by itself often sufficient to generate a significant bias towards favoring ‘ingroup’ members, and discriminating against ‘outgroup’ members. It has been suggested by Tajfel and others that people engage in automatic ingroup favouritism as a means of bolstering their own self-esteem and social identity: if my group can be made to be better than another group, that helps me to develop a more positive sense of my own identity (Vaughan & Hogg, 2008, p. 405). In fact Tajfel suggests that many instances on intergroup discrimination and prejudice in everyday life can be understood in these terms. In that sense, the simulation exercise can be regarded as a short-lived demonstration of the kind of pressures that usually lead to in-group favouritism. Do you think that the categorization of people into competing groups has contributed to intergroup discrimination and abuses of power?

  1. Perceptions and attributions. In the simulation game a kind of social reality was constructed which was highly conducive to generating biased perceptions and attributions between people, and between groups. In forming judgments of others, we often need to simplify and categorise information, weighing different bits of information over others. Attribution theory raises the issue of whether we attribute the behaviour of people to external circumstances (situational attribution), or to internal motives (dispositional attribution). The fundamental attribution error mentioned above occurs when a behaviour clearly has an external explanation, but nevertheless an internal attribution is made by observers focussing on the actor, instead of the situation. An analysis of judgments made by the circles as against others clearly demonstrates such biased attributions, both here, and in previous games.

Most ‘circles’ participating in the game willingly believe that their success was due to their own efforts and ability, while ‘circles’ and ‘triangles’ usually blame circles for their unfair and unreasonable behaviour. Yet work with this type of game has consistently found that members of all powerful groups behave in a manner that improves their position – that is, the individual characteristics and personalities of those who become ‘circles’ have in fact nothing to do with their success or their selfish behaviour, since everyone behaves this way in a similar situation. Nevertheless, most of us observing the selfish behaviour of ‘circles’ are inclined to make inferences about internal, personal characteristics. This is a clear example of the fundamental attribution error. Did you find that the behaviour of individuals in the Circle group tended to be attributed to internal factors?

  1. Group cohesion refers to the extent to which members of a group share the same norms and objectives, and have positive feelings toward each other and their group. People have particularly high group loyalties if the group goes through stressful situations together or if the group was particularly hard to join. Once a group is established and its norms are clear, the group values and group identity are often assumed by its members, even if they are relatively new. The more strongly a person identifies with a group, the more likely it is that his/her behaviour can be changed through group processes. Group cohesion, however, is not always beneficial. Whenever a group with high cohesion is forced to make decisions, the group often regards the maintenance of-group loyalty. and security as of higher priority by individual members than offering dissenting views. The process of behaviour within and between groups is also extensively studied in social psychology (cf. Forgas, 1985, pp. 293-302).

There are a number of additional points you may want to consider when thinking about this simulation exercise:

1) Which group had the highest cohesion and loyalty? Why?

2) When was group cohesion beneficial, and when was it not?

3) Under what conditions were cooperative strategies of negotiation employed? Under what conditions are competitive strategies used?

4) Did any group members display increased confidence for the actions and decisions of the group, which, in your opinion, would not have been displayed alone? Was this true of most group members?

5) To what extent did circles abuse their power? What factors contributed to such behaviour?

6) Would this have been any different if different individuals were chosen to be in the circle group? Would you have acted the same way?

7) Is everyone vulnerable to the temptation to abuse power?

8) To change behaviour, is it necessary to change the system in which that behaviour occurs?

9) What are the consequences of powerlessness on motivation and performance?

10) What influences the degree of ‘usable power’ available to a group in this situation?

11) Is there a tendency for people to accept behaviours by those in power as reasonable, when the same behaviours would not be tolerated from those out of power?

12) Is ingratiation an inevitable consequence of unequal power distribution?

13) Do those in power necessarily develop a different view of themselves and their subordinates than those out of power?

14) Does communication change with unequal power distribution? How was communication different within groups vs. between groups?


Forgas, J.P. (1985). Interpersonal behaviour. Oxford: Pergamon, p. 283; and pp. 293-302.

Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life. New York: Doubleday. Myers, D. G. (1990). Social Psychology (3rd Ed.) (pp. 41-42, and pp. 174-180).

Tajfel, H. & Forgas, J.P. (1981). Social categorisation: Cognitions, values and groups. In: J.P. Forgas (Ed.) Social cognition: Perspectives on everyday understanding. London: Academic Press.

Vaughan, G.M. & Hogg, M.A. (2008). Social Psychology. (5th Ed.). Pearson: Australia.


PSCY2061 Social Assignment

Technology is the first issue discussed by basically considering the fact that can it be accepted in the cultures of the people across the world. Cultural issues emerge often whenever there is an interactivity activity. Technology being a current issue can play a crucial role in different cultures and therefore focusing on the positive impacts of new technology outweighs the negative impacts. For this reason, new technology needs to be accepted and be impressed in different cultures to ease many activities in various cultures. Some cultural practices look current and some outdated. Cultural practices that have no benefits to the people need condemnation since new technologies will be able to facilitate faster spread on information about such evil practices hence need to be impressed.

Technology will be basically be adopted when persuasive people volunteer to create awareness to various cultures about the use of these new technologies in their cultures. The persuaders should do this with the aim of influencing the leaders of different societies who have got profound role in such culture (Manuel, 2009). Therefore, by influencing them, clearly shows that people will be able to adopt the new technologies hence the new technologies will be accepted in cultures.

The fact considered is not only that new technologies being accepted but considerations on how it will change the cultures that harm people. After people empress the new technology, sharing of information will be faster and therefore certain issues in cultures that are very harmful will be condemned successfully. The new technologies will be used to spread information faster focusing on why the practices should condemned mainly by looking at the negative impacts of such cultural practices to the lives of the people hence giving people the sense (Bateman, 2010).

The next issue discussed is the influence of social media on the academic performance of students which most people thought that social media impacts more negatively on academic performance on students, the reverse is true after close interaction by a comrade who really appreciates social media on his performance based on the results after impressing social media. The sense was directly seen since the media is used for discussions of academic works for example the whatsapp (Ruckreim, 2009) platform where students have got groups, they discuss academic matters here, they update urgent classes on this platform  which ensures that students are updated and therefore cannot  miss such classes hence academic performance improved due to social media.

Students have various challenges in life where by some think that they have problems in life which are sources of stress that negatively impact to their academic performance. Sharing such issues make such students to discover they are not the only ones and their challenges they are facing look less serious as compared to others (Time Magazine, 2010). This encourages them and in the process the level of stress reduces enabling them to concentrate on their academic work. This is made possible due to use of social media platforms such facebook, instagram, twitter just to name a few where they update such information and comments from friends who have experienced more problems than the updated one offering advice how to overcome such issues.

From this, it is clearly true that social media has greatly impacted positively on academic performance of some students who have principles and adhere to them to the latter hence, cannot be mislead when they use social media. To those who do not have principles, social media can impact negatively to their academic performance since such people do not have control on when and how to use the media.


Bateman, R. (2010). Smartphone’s gives you wings: pedagogical affordances of mobile web 2.0.

Manuel, C. (2009). The rise of network society (2nd .ed) ,Oxford .(Retrieved online)

Ruckreim, F. (2009). Digital technology and mediation: A challenge activity theory (retrieved      online).

Time Magazine. (2010). Social media. Retrieved form online.

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