Archive for category Life

Employability Advice

Through a somewhat circuitous route (via an Evernote promotional email), I happenstanced to read this blog entry (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/from-goderich-googlex-advice-i-would-have-given-myself-chris-o-neill) by Chris O’Neill, who is currently the CEO of Evernote (hence the link from the email to the blog entry via LinkedIn). It was a speech he gave to students at Western University (in Canada I presume). Most of it is the standard fluff that “captains of industry” tell young people, but a few points stood out for me:

  • “What about “following your passion?” how many of you have heard that advice …pursue your passion and everything with take care of itself? I just don’t buy it because it simply isn’t that practical.” “When I was sitting where you are right now, I was passionate about my family, the Toronto Maple Leafs, playing sports, drinking beer and hanging out with friends, economics, China, and traveling.” “I tried to combine my passions. For my Senior thesis I built an econometric model to predict demand of China’s growing beer industry, and titled my paper The Great Gulp Forward.” – Yeah, you heard right – The Great Gulp Forward. I wish I had written that paper – the things you do when you are young.
  • “So the lesson I learned: Instead of “following my passion”, I figured out what kind of value I might offer the world and slowly, but surely, organized my career around developing that.” – Totally excellent advice. I have always been wary of the blithe three-word slogan. Goodness, if everyone was blindly following their passion, we would end up with an ill-defined blancmange of anarchy. The advice – value and organisation. Good advice indeed.
  • “Ironically the best career advice I have ever come across is from comedian Steve Martin. … His advice: “Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You.” “. Once again, leave it to the smart smart hard worker to come up with an excellent piece of wisdom. “Over time you should figure out what you want that to be, and thoughtfully build your skills and personal brand to “Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You.” “.
  • Chris calls this Strategic Serendipity – a term coined by Scott Bonham, according to Chris. Not a bad term – a bit “consultant speak” but OK.

 

No Comments

Google Admits its Cars Occasionally Crash

You might look at the headline of the article and think that driverless cars are no good. In fact, the article states the exact opposite – the rate of crashes is low compared to the general populace, they were all low impact crashes, they were all caused by other drivers in other cars, and it has allowed Google to further improve their algorithms to attempt to deal with idiotic human drivers.

Just another plank in the bridge to total driverless cars – can’t come soon enough.

http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/self-driving-cars-crash-chip-computer-tech-news-digest/

Google Admits its Cars Occasionally Crash

Google is busy developing self-driving cars for a number of reasons, one of which is their potential to reduce the number of accidents that occur on the roads each year. However, that doesn’t mean Google’s autonomous vehicles are immune from the odd crash here and there.

It turns out that Google’s self-driving cars have been involved in 11 accidents in the six years since the project began. Thankfully, these were all minor accidents with no injuries sustained by those involved. And considering that Google’s vehicles have covered 1.7 million miles in that time, these figures are actually rather refreshing.

Google maintains none of the accidents were the fault of the cars and their futuristic technology. Instead, all 11 accidents were caused by careless driving by people in other cars. And these incidents are now helping Google identify patterns of poor driving and adapt the software to better predict this flawed human behavior.

According to Chris Urmson, director of Google’s self-driving car program, there are 33,000 accidents on roads in the U.S. every year, and 94 percent of these are caused by human error. So, while Google still needs to get this figure of 11 down to zero, it appears the company’s autonomous vehicles are much safer than any driven by people rather than computers.

No Comments

Trick to Avoid Procrastination

I haven’t re-posted anything from PsyBlog for quite a while, but I came across this article and thought it would be more than useful …

http://www.spring.org.uk/2015/05/avoid-procrastination-funky-tip-makes-you-start-4-times-sooner.php

Avoid Procrastination: Funky Tip Makes You Start 4 Times Sooner

Post image for Avoid Procrastination: Funky Tip Makes You Start 4 Times Sooner

This trick makes you feel closer to your future self so that you start four times sooner.

Thinking about upcoming goals in terms of days rather than months or years motivates action, new research finds.

Even counting months rather than years has a beneficial effect, psychologists have revealed.

Professor Daphna Oyserman of the University of Southern California, who led the study, thinks the tip…

“…may be useful to anyone needing to save for retirement or their children’s college, to start working on a term paper or dissertation, pretty much anyone with long-term goals or wanting to support someone who has such goals.”

Over 1,000 participants took part in four different studies to examine the phenomenon.

People were encouraged to think about goals in terms of different time scales.

For example, they either thought about saving for a college fund in 18 years or in 6,570 days.

Or, they thought about saving for retirement either in 30 years or in 10,950 days.

Thinking in days made people feel more connected to their future selves, which in turn was a greater motivator to action.

People said they would start working towards their goal four times sooner when the time was expressed in days than when it was expressed in years.

The research was published in the journal Psychological Science (Lewis & Oyserman, 2015).

Procrastination image from Shutterstock

 

 

 

 

 

No Comments

Persuasive and Memorable Stories

“In 350 B.C., Aristotle was already wondering what could make content—in his case, a speech—persuasive and memorable, so that its ideas would pass from person to person. The answer, he argued, was three principles: ethos, pathos, and logos. Content should have an ethical appeal, an emotional appeal, or a logical appeal. A rhetorician strong on all three was likely to leave behind a persuaded audience. Replace rhetorician with online content creator, and Aristotle’s insights seem entirely modern. Ethics, emotion, logic—it’s credible and worthy, it appeals to me, it makes sense. If you look at the last few links you shared on your Facebook page or Twitter stream, or the last article you e-mailed or recommended to a friend, chances are good that they’ll fit into those categories.”

from: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/elements/2014/01/the-six-things-that-make-stories-go-viral-will-amaze-and-maybe-infuriate-you.html

 

 

No Comments

Making Conversation Work For You

I have been a fan of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) for many many years now.  Bandler and Grinder really did come up with something special, and had a reasonable theoretical framework associated with their concepts.

Much of what they wrote about is continually re-played in the popular and business press, under various headings.  If done well, it does not diminish the essential messages nor the utility of what is said.

The following article is one such example of this post-NLP diaspora.  It provides some good advice, in succinct chunks perfectly suited for the web-gen adversity to 200 page tomes:

http://theweek.com/article/index/253693/how-to-make-people-like-you-6-science-based-conversation-hacks

Here are the headlines:

1. Encourage people to talk about themselves

2. To give feedback, ask questions

3. Ask for advice

4. The two-question technique

5. Repeat the last three words

6. Gossip — but positively

 

 

semantic-web: , ,

, ,

No Comments

Office v. Open Plan

Offices.  Open Plan.  Always seem to be the bone of contention in the modern work environment.  I know which side of the fence (or should I say ‘door’) which I firmly sit on – even though I am perpetually on the other side (much to my chagrin).  Psyblog has rounded up a bunch of research in this area, presented here: http://www.spring.org.uk/2013/09/6-psych-tips-for-creating-the-ideal-workspace.php#utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+PsychologyBlog+%28PsyBlog%29 and below …


 

The perfect office space: beautiful curves, natural views and greenery.

There you are, sitting in the office, as usual, working away.

Look away from the screen for a moment and what do you see? How tidy is your desk? Is it an open-plan office? Is there a view out of the window? Are there any plants in sight? Did you personally choose the decorations near your desk?

All these factors and more have interesting psychological effects on how people work and how good they feel about it. So here are six tips, based on psychological research, for creating the ideal workspace.

1. Avoid open-plan (if you can)

Open-plan offices are supposed to encourage communication and team-spirit. At least, that’s the theory.

According to a survey which analysed data from 303 US office buildings, there’s some truth to the boost in communication, but no evidence it increases community spirit (Kim & Dear, 2012).

On top of this, the small benefits in communication are massively outweighed by the disadvantages of working in open-plan offices. Most have worked in these and know exactly what they are: noise, distraction and lack of privacy.

Unsurprisingly, people working in private offices are significantly happier with their working environment.

Not that most people have much choice about this either way and I guess many do their best to create their own sense of privacy using headphones, cubicles or hiding under the desk—whatever works.

2. The great messy/tidy desk debate

Does a messy desk help or hinder? Is the untidy desk really a sign of an untidy mind?

Well, research has found that order and disorder in the environment have different psychological consequences.

An experiment (described here) found that messy desks tended to encourage more creativity, while tidy desks encouraged conformity and general good moral behaviour.

So, both messy and untidy desks have their place, depending on the type of outcome you are looking for.

3. Curvy is beautiful

While we can’t use psychology to solve the messy/tidy debate decisively, we can with curvy versus plain old straight.

In a study by Dazkir and Read (2011), participants were shown some stimulated interiors with loads of straight edges and some with loads of curves.

People rated the curvy environments as making them feel more peaceful, calm and relaxed. So, curvy wins.

Just the same effect was found in another experiment which found people more likely to judge curvy spaces in general as more beautiful (Vartanian et al., 2013).

4. Room with a view (or a picture of a view)

Most of us know that a nice walk through nature has a calming effect on the mind. Indeed, there is a study showing that a walk in nature can boost memory by 20%.

But what about bringing a little nature inside the office space?

This has also been tested in a study by Berto (2005), who found that just viewing pictures of natural scenes had a restorative effect on cognitive function.

In fact, the benefits of viewing landscapes likely extend to reducing short-term stress as well as benefiting overall health and well-being (Verlarde & Teit, 2007).

5. Plants

If walks in nature and natural scenes can calm the mind, then surely plants should work as well?

Indeed they do, research by Raaaas et al. (2011) found that after being exposed to an office setting with four indoor plants, people’s attentional capacities were restored in comparison to the control condition, which had no plant-life.

6. Decorate

The lean, clean, efficient office space has been seen as the model environment in which to really get some work done.

But, like the tidy desk enthusiasts, the office minimalists are also taking a kicking in the research.

An experiment by Knight & Haslam (2010) looked at the effects of bare offices as compared with those either decorated by the experimenter or decorated by the people occupying them.

What effects, they wondered, would office decoration have on people’s well-being, their attention to detail, their management of information and so on.

The answer is that decorated offices won out over their bare counterparts. When people were empowered by being allowed to do their own decoration, they produced higher productivity and experienced enhanced well-being.

As one of their participants remarked, echoing, I’m sure, the feelings of many:

“…it’s so nice to come into an office with plants and pictures, it makes a place feel more homely, even a glass box [of an office] like this.”

 

 

 

 

No Comments

This is the Future for Healthcare

 

http://www.forbes.com/sites/bruceupbin/2013/02/08/ibms-watson-gets-its-first-piece-of-business-in-healthcare/

IBM‘s Watson, the Jeopardy!-playing supercomputer that scored one for Team Robot Overlord two years ago, just put out its shingle as a doctor or, more specifically, as a combination lung cancer specialist and expert in the arcane branch of health insurance known as utilization management.  Thanks to a business partnership among IBM, Memorial Sloan-Kettering and WellPoint, health care providers will now be able to tap Watson’s expertise in deciding how to treat patients.

Pricing was not disclosed, but hospitals and health care networks who sign up will be able to buy or rent Watson’s advice from the cloud or their own server. Over the past two years, IBM’s researchers have shrunk Watson from the size of a master bedroom to a pizza-box-sized server that can fit in any data center. And they improved its processing speed by 240%. Now what was once was a fun computer-science experiment in natural language processing is becoming a real business for IBM and Wellpoint, which is the exclusive reseller of the technology for now. Initial customers include WestMed Practice Partners and the Maine Center for Cancer Medicine & Blood Disorders.

Even before the Jeopardy! success, IBM began to hatch bigger plans for Watson and there are few areas more in need of supercharged decision-support than health care. Doctors and nurses are drowning in information with new research, genetic data, treatments and procedures popping up daily. They often don’t know what to do, and are guessing as well as they can. WellPoint’s chief medical officer Samuel Nussbaum said at the press event today that health care pros make accurate treatment decisions in lung cancer cases only 50% of the time (a shocker to me). Watson has shown the capability (on the utilization management side) of being accurate in its decisions 90% of the time, but is not near that level yet with cancer diagnoses. Patients, of course, need 100% accuracy, but making the leap from being right half the time to being right 9 out of ten times will be a huge boon for patient care. The best part is the potential for distributing the intelligence anywhere via the cloud, right at the point of care. This could be the most powerful tool we’ve seen to date for improving care and lowering everyone’s costs via standardization and reduced error. Chris Coburn, the Cleveland Clinic’s executive director for innovations, said at the event that he fully expects Watson to be widely deployed wherever the Clinic does business by 2020.

Watson has made huge strides in its medical prowess in two short years. In May 2011 IBM had already trained Watson to have the knowledge of a second-year medical student. In March 2012 IBM struck a deal with Memorial Sloan Kettering to ingest and analyze tens of thousands of the renowned cancer center’s patient records and histories, as well as all the publicly available clinical research it can get its hard drives on. Today Watson has analyzed 605,000 pieces of medical evidence, 2 million pages of text, 25,000 training cases and had the assist of 14,700 clinician hours fine-tuning its decision accuracy. Six “instances” of Watson have already been installed in the last 12 months.

Watson doesn’t tell a doctor what to do, it provides several options with degrees of confidence for each, along with the supporting evidence it used to arrive at the optimal treatment. Doctors can enter on an iPad a new bit of information in plain text, such as “my patient has blood in her phlegm,” and Watson within half a minute will come back with an entirely different drug regimen that suits the individual. IBM Watson’s business chief Manoj Saxena says that 90% of nurses in the field who use Watson now follow its guidance.

WellPoint will be using the system internally for its nurses and clinicians who handle utilization management, the process by which health insurers determine which treatments are fair, appropriate and efficient and, in turn, what it will cover. The company will also make the intelligence available as a Web portal to other providers as its Interactive Care Reviewer. It is targeting 1,600 providers by the end of 2013 and will split the revenue with IBM. Terms were undisclosed.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/bruceupbin/2013/02/08/ibms-watson-gets-its-first-piece-of-business-in-healthcare/

 

No Comments

Why Haters Have to Hate

More from PsyBlog – this guy just continues to come up with pearlers!

http://www.spring.org.uk/2013/08/why-haters-have-to-hate.php

 

 

Why Haters Have to Hate

Post image for Why Haters Have to Hate

Are you an instinctive ‘liker’ or an instinctive ‘hater’?

Some people have the talent to find the bad in anything.

Mountains, brie, Greece, electric toothbrushes; you name it, they don’t like it. And they want to tell you exactly why.

A new study published in theJournal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests this might be a newly identified aspect of personality: how much people are predisposed to like or hate stuff, even if they know almost nothing about it (Helper & Albarracin, 2013).

To investigate, the researchers asked people questions about loads of different things that weren’t connected.

They included everything from ‘abortion’, ‘America’, ‘antidepressants’ and ‘architecture’ down to ‘voluntary euthanasia’, ‘wearing clothes that draw attention’ and ‘wine’.

Imagine if you took five of your friends and asked them about subjects as varied as these; surely you’d get really varied responses. Some people like wine and wearing clothes that draw attention, other people dislike those things. Others couldn’t care less either way.

What the researchers found was that there was certainly lots of variation between what people liked and disliked. But, oddly, at a general level, people were split between likers and haters.

In other words, some people tended to like stuff even though they didn’t really know much about it, and some people had the tendency to hate stuff, whatever it was.

The authors of this article argue that this initial stance towards anything and everything is a facet of personality. In the same way that you can be either extroverted or introverted, you can also be a ‘liker’ or a ‘hater’.

So, the answer to why the haters have to hate is that it’s built into them at the level of their personality.

Now, how you might become a like or a hater in the first place, we don’t yet know. Likely, it’s got a lot to do with genetics. Some people are born haters, others born likers.

But there’s also likely a learning component: people probably learn to become haters—hating from an early age, and so forth.

It raises all kinds of fascinating questions: does being a hater run in the family? Can a liker and a hater be in a relationship together? Which professions have the most haters?

I’ll leave you to ponder these and more important questions!

Image credit: Minh Hoang

 

No Comments

How Rewards Can Backfire and Reduce Motivation — PsyBlog

http://www.spring.org.uk/2009/10/how-rewards-can-backfire-and-reduce-motivation.php

 

How Rewards Can Backfire and Reduce Motivation

no_money

Surely one of the best ways to generate motivation in ourselves and others is by dangling rewards?

Yet psychologists have long known that rewards are overrated. The carrot, of carrot-and-stick fame, is not as effective as we’ve been led to believe. Rewards work under some circumstances but sometimes they backfire. Spectacularly.

Here is a story about preschool children with much to teach all ages about the strange effects that rewards have on our motivation.

It’s child’s play

Psychologists Mark R. Lepper and David Greene from Stanford and the University of Michigan were interested in testing what is known as the ‘overjustification’ hypothesis—about which, more later (Lepper et al., 1973).

Since parents so often use rewards as motivators for children they recruited fifty-one preschoolers aged between 3 and 4. All the children selected for the study were interested in drawing. It was crucial that they already liked drawing because Lepper and Greene wanted to see what effect rewards would have when children were already fond of the activity.

child_drawing

The children were then randomly assigned to one of the following conditions:

  1. Expected reward. In this condition children were told they would get a certificate with a gold seal and ribbon if they took part.
  2. Surprise reward. In this condition children would receive the same reward as above but, crucially, weren’t told about it until after the drawing activity was finished.
  3. No reward. Children in this condition expected no reward, and didn’t receive one.

Each child was invited into a separate room to draw for 6 minutes then afterwards either given their reward or not depending on the condition. Then, over the next few days, the children were watched through one-way mirrors to see how much they would continue drawing of their own accord. The graph below shows the percentage of time they spent drawing by experimental condition:

time_spent_drawing2

As you can see the expected reward had decreased the amount of spontaneous interest the children took in drawing (and there was no statistically significant difference between the no reward and surprise reward group). So, those who had previously liked drawing were less motivated once they expected to be rewarded for the activity. In fact the expected reward reduced the amount of spontaneous drawing the children did by half. Not only this, but judges rated the pictures drawn by the children expecting a reward as less aesthetically pleasing.

Rewards reduce intrinsic motivation

It’s not only children who display this kind of reaction to rewards, though, subsequent studies have shown a similar effect in all sorts of different populations, many of them grown-ups. In one study smokers who were rewarded for their efforts to quit did better at first but after three months fared worse than those given no rewards and no feedback (Curry et al., 1990). Indeed those given rewards even lied more about the amount they were smoking.

Reviewing 128 studies on the effects of rewards Deci et al. (1999, p. 658)concluded that:

“tangible rewards tend to have a substantially negative effect on intrinsic motivation (…) Even when tangible rewards are offered as indicators of good performance, they typically decrease intrinsic motivation for interesting activities.”

Rewards have even been found to make people less creative and worse at problem-solving.

Overjustification

So, what’s going on? The key to understanding these behaviours lies in the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. When we do something for its own sake, because we enjoy it or because it fills some deep-seated desire, we are intrinsically motivated. On the other hand when we do something because we receive some reward, like a certificate or money, this is extrinsic motivation.

bear2

The children were chosen in the first instance because they already liked drawing and they were already intrinsically motivated to draw. It was pleasurable, they were good at it and they got something out of it that fed their souls. Then some of them got a reward for drawing and their motivation changed.

Before they had been drawing because they enjoyed it, but now it seemed as though they were drawing for the reward. What they had been motivated to do intrinsically, they were now being given an external, extrinsic motivation for. This provided too muchjustification for what they were doing and so, paradoxically, afterwards they drew less.

This is the overjustification hypothesis for which Lepper and Greene were searching and although it seems like backwards thinking, it’s typical of the way the mind sometimes works. We don’t just work ‘forwards’ from our attitudes and preferences to our actions, we also work ‘backwards’, working out what our attitudes and preferences must be based on our current situation, feelings or actions (see also: cognitive dissonance).

When money makes play into work

Not only this but rewards are dangerous for another reason: because they remind us of obligations, of being made to do things we don’t want to do. Children are given rewards for eating all their food, doing their homework or tidying their bedrooms. So rewards become associated with painful activities that we don’t want to do. The same goes for grown-ups: money becomes associated with work and work can be dull, tedious and painful. So when we get paid for something we automatically assume that the task is dull, tedious and painful—even when it isn’t.

This is why play can become work when we get paid. The person who previously enjoyed painting pictures, weaving baskets, playing the cello or even writing blog posts, suddenly finds the task tedious once money has become involved.

Yes, sometimes rewards do work, especially if people really don’t want to do something. But when tasks are inherently interesting to us rewards can damage our motivation by undermining our natural talent for self-regulation.

 

No Comments

Social Identity Theory — PsyBlog

http://www.spring.org.uk/2007/11/why-groups-and-prejudices-form-so.php

 

This classic social psychology experiment shows how little excuse people need to form into groups and start discriminating against others.

People’s behaviour in groups is fascinating and frequently disturbing. As soon as humans are bunched together in groups we start to do odd things: copy other members of our group, favour members of own group over others, look for a leader to worship and fight other groups. Just glance at Sherif’s Robbers Cave experiment for proof of how easy it is to provoke war between groups.

But think about the types of groups you belong to, and you’ll realise they differ dramatically. Some groups are more like soldiers in the same unit or friends who have known each other from childhood. Long-standing, tight-knit, protecting each other. Perhaps it’s not surprising people in these groups radically change their behaviour, preferring members of their own group over others in many ways.

Other groups, though, are much looser. Supporters of a large sports club, for example, or work colleagues only together on a project for a few months or even a group of people in an art gallery appreciating a painting.

It seems impossible that people stood together for only 30 seconds to look at a painting can be said to form a group in any measurable way. Surely it’s too fleeting, too ephemeral? This is exactly the type of question social psychologist Henry Tajfel and colleagues set out to answer (Tajfel et al., 1971).

They believed it was possible for a group, along with its attendant prejudices, to form at the drop of a hat. In fact they thought a group could form even when there was no face-to-face contact between members, none of the people knew each other and their ‘group’ behaviour had no practical consequences. In other words they had absolutely nothing to gain (or lose) from this barely existent group.

Forming a ‘minimal group’

Tajfel and colleagues came up with a neat solution for testing their idea. Participants, who were 14 and 15 year-old boys, were brought into the lab and shown slides of paintings by Klee and Kandinsky. They were told their preferences for the paintings would determine which of two groups they would join.

Of course, this was a lie designed to set up the idea of ‘us’ and ‘them’ in their minds. The experimenters wanted two groups of boys with not the faintest idea who was also in their own group or what the grouping meant or what they had to lose or gain.

After this setup, the boys were taken to a cubicle, one at a time. Each was then asked to distribute virtual money to the other members of both groups. The only information they had about who they were giving it to was a code number for each boy and that boy’s group membership.

There were a series of rules for the distribution of the money that were designed to tease out who the boys favoured: their own group or the other group. The rules were changed slightly in different trials so that it was possible to test a number of theories. Did the boys distribute the money:

  • Fairly?
  • To obtain maximum joint profit?
  • For maximum ingroup (own group) profit?
  • For maximum difference between groups?
  • Using favouritism? This involves a combination of maximum ingroup profit and maximum difference?

Startling findings

From the way the virtual money was distributed, the boys did indeed demonstrate the classic behavioural markers of group membership: they favoured their own group over the other. And this pattern developed consistently over many, many trials and has subsequently been replicated in other experiments in which groups were, if you can believe it, even more minimal.

When I first came across this experiment, my first reaction was to find it startling. Remember, the boys had no idea who was in their group ‘with them’ or who was in the other group. But, the most puzzling aspect of this experiment is that the boys had nothing whatsoever to gain from favouring their own group – there didn’t seem to be anything riding on their decisions.

Out in the real world there’s a good reason to favour your own group – normally it is also advantageous to yourself. You protect yourself by protecting others like you.

Social identity theory

What Tajfel argued, though, was that there was something riding on the decisions the boys made, but it was something very subtle, yet incredibly profound.

Tajfel argued that people build their own identities from their group memberships. For example, think of each of the groups you belong to: say at work, or within your family. Part of who you are is probably defined by these groups. Putting it the other way around: the nature of your group memberships define your identity.

As our group membership forms our identity, it is only natural for us to want to be part of groups that are both high status and have a positive image. Crucially though, high status groups only have that high status when compared to other groups. In other words: knowing your group is superior requires having a worse group to look down upon.

Seen in the light of social identity theory, then, the boys in the experiment do have a reason to be selfish about the allocation of the virtual cash. It is all about boosting their own identities through making their own group look better.

Criticisms

No experiment can, or should, be automatically taken at face value. Questions have to be asked about whether it is really telling us what the authors claim. There are two criticisms often levelled at this experiment and its interpretation:

  1. The participant’s behaviour can be explained by simple economic self-interest. But: in another experiment only symbols were used rather than ‘virtual’ money and the results were the same.
  2. The participants were responding to what they thought the experimenters wanted (psychologists call this ‘demand characteristics’). But: Tajfel argues it is unclear to the participants what the experimenters wanted. Recall that the rules for distributing money frequently changed. Also, the participants were encouraged to think that choosing whose paintings they liked (the ‘first’ experiment) was unrelated to the allocation of virtual money (the ‘second’ experiment).

Despite these criticisms, Tajfel and colleagues’ findings have stood the test of time. The experiment, or something like it, has been repeated many times with different variations producing much the same results.

Centrality of group membership

Social identity theory states that our identities are formed through the groups to which we belong. As a result we are motivated to improve the image and status of our own group in comparison with others.

Tajfel and colleagues’ experiment shows that group membership is so important to us that we join the most ephemeral of groups with only the slightest prompting. We will then go out of our way to make our own group look better compared to others.

The simple fact of how important group membership is to us, and how easily we join groups, often without realising it, is both a subtle and profound observation about human nature.

No Comments