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social psychology chapter 3

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- The marble-choice scenario helps us to see the intuitive appeal of heuristics, but it raises an important question: Do heuristics influence judgment when the real-world stakes are high? The answer is "yes." For example, imagine that a deadly disease is threatening a small town of 600 people, and public health officials are considering two different treatment plans. If Treatment A is adopted, 200 lives will be saved. If Treatment B is adopted, there's a 1/3 probability that all 600 people will be saved, and a 2/3 probability that no one will be saved. Which would you choose? If you are like most participants asked this question by the Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman and his collaborator, Amos Tversky (Tversky & Kahneman, 1981), you would probably choose Treatment A. But now consider the following version of the same problem: If Treatment A is adopted, 400 people will die. If Treatment B is adopted, there is a 1/3 probability that nobody will die and a 2/3 probability that all 600 people will die. Would you now prefer Treatment B? If you take a close look at these two framings of the issue, they are statistically identical choices. But people's preferences change dramatically when they are cued to think about what would be lost compared with what might be gained. When the question is framed the second way, in terms of lives lost, the vast majority of people prefer to take the chance with Treatment B where there is some chance of avoiding any loss of life. Our experiential minds are more readily swayed by thinking about what we might lose than by thinking about what we might gain. It takes a much closer and more rational consideration of the odds to realize that these choices are the same.
- A study by Higgins and colleagues (1977) suggests that your impression will depend on the traits that are accessible to you before you met him. Participants in this study were told they would be completing two unrelated studies on perception and reading comprehension, but in actuality the tasks were related. In the "first" study, participants performed a task in which they identified colors while reading words (commonly referred to as a Stroop task). In this task, you might see the word bold printed in blue letters, and your job would be to identify the color blue. This task gives the researchers a way to make certain ideas accessible for some participants but not for others. Half of the participants were randomly assigned to read words with negative implications (e.g., reckless). The other half of the participants read words with positive implications (e.g., adventurous). In the "second" study, participants were asked to read information about a person named Donald who takes part in various high-risk activities, and to answer some questions about their impression of Donald. You can see from FIGURE 3.9 that the words participants were primed with during task 1 had a dramatic effect on the impressions they formed of Donald. Those participants who had previously read negative words pertaining to recklessness were likely to form more negative impressions of Donald, whereas those participants who had previously read positive words pertaining to adventurousness tended to view Donald more positively. Their impressions differed despite the fact that they were presented with identical information about Donald! What led to these different impressions, of course, were the different ideas that were primed in the participants before they read about him. This finding suggests that our impressions of others are shaped by salient schemas.
- Just like impressions, social behavior can be influenced by recently primed schemas without the person being consciously aware of their influence. Consider this scenario. You show up to participate in a psychology study, thinking that it concerns language proficiency. You are asked to complete a task in which you try to unscramble words to make sentences. You're told to use four of the five words presented. You start on the task and are presented with they/her/bother/see/usually. So you start scribbling something like "they usually bother her" and then proceed to the next set of words. Unknown to you, you have been randomly assigned to be in a condition in which words related to the schema rudeness have been primed (notice the word bother). Other participants were presented with neutral words or words related to the schema politeness (e.g., respect).
- After completing a series of such sentences, you take your packet to the experimenter to find out what you need to do next. The problem is that the experimenter is stuck in conversation with another person, and the conversation doesn't seem likely to end anytime soon. Think about a time when you are in a hurry but have to wait your turn. Would you wait patiently or try to interrupt others so that you can get on your way? Would other thoughts in your mind influence your behavior?
- Study results suggest that they would (Bargh et al., 1996). When no category was primed, 38% of participants interrupted within a 10-minute time frame. But among those primed with rudeness, 64% were too impatient to wait that long, whereas only 17% of those primed with politeness-related words interrupted. Schemas that are primed in one context can shape behavior in a different context.
- Could this insidious schema-based confirmation bias actually cause objective information to do more harm than good? To find out, Darley and Gross (1983) had participants watch one of two versions of a videotape about a nine-year-old fourth grader named Hannah, showing her playing in a playground, along with scenes of her neighborhood and school. The videotapes made it clear that Hannah had either an upper-class or lower-class background. Darley and Gross reasoned that participants shared the common schema of upper-class kids as academically successful and the common schema of lower-class kids as unsuccessful.
- Half the participants (the no-performance group) were then simply asked to rate Hannah's academic abilities on a scale ranging from kindergarten to sixth-grade level. The other half (the performance group) were shown a second videotape, which was the same whether Hannah was earlier depicted as upper or lower class, before being asked to rate Hannah. This videotape showed Hannah performing on an oral achievement test, answering questions ranging from easy to hard, doing well on some and not well on others.
- Which group do you think was especially likely to be influenced in their ratings by Hannah's socioeconomic status—the no-performance group or the performance group? We might expect participants given only class-based schemas to rate Hannah higher if they thought she was upper rather than lower class. However, one would hope that participants provided with objective evidence of Hannah's academic abilities would rely on that information and ignore the class-based schemas.
- And yet the opposite occurred, as we see in FIGURE 3.10. The objective evidence increased the bias rather than decreasing it. The group that didn't have the opportunity to see Hannah perform estimated her math abilities to be the same regardless of whether she was upper or lower class. They seemed to realize that they didn't have much basis for prejudging her abilities after only seeing her on a playground. However, the group that observed Hannah take an oral achievement test rated her much better if she was upper rather than lower class. These participants saw Hannah's performance and rated her abilities in line with what they expected from a student of her social class. The point is that the participants didn't interpret the so-called objective evidence objectively; instead, they interpreted it as confirming what they already believed they knew about Hannah's ability.
- People's schemas, even when tentative, can also lead to biased efforts to gather additional information, efforts that tend to confirm their preexisting schemas. Participants in one study had a brief discussion with a conversation partner who was described to them as being an extravert or an introvert (Snyder & Swann, 1978). Their job was to assess whether this was true, and they were given a set of questions to choose from to guide their conversation. Participants tended to ask the conversation partner questions that already assumed the hypothesis was true and would lead to answers confirming the hypothesis. For example, a participant wanting to determine if the partner was an extravert chose to ask questions such as, "What kinds of situations do you seek out if you want to meet new people?" and "In what situations are you most talkative?" However, if they wanted to determine if the partner was an introvert, they chose questions such as, "What factors make it hard for you to really open up to people?" and "What things do you dislike about loud parties?" What's important to note here is that these are leading questions: When answering a question about how she livens up a party, for example, a person is very likely to come across as extraverted, even if she is not; likewise, even an extravert will look introverted when talking about what he dislikes about social situations. This study shows that people tend to seek evidence that fits the hypothesis they are testing rather than also searching for evidence that might not fit that hypothesis.