Professor Paul Bloom: This is going to begin a
two-lecture sequence on social psychology on how we think about
ourselves, how we think about other people,
how we think about other groups of people.
We've talked a lot about the capacities of the human mind and
some of these capacities involve adapting and dealing with the
material world. So, we have to choose foods,
we have to navigate around the world, we have to recognize
objects, we have to be able to
understand physical interactions.
But probably the most interesting aspect of our
evolved minds is our capacity to understand and deal with other
people. We are intensely interested in
how other people work. The story that was a dominant
news story in 2005 was this. And some of you--this--for
those of you who aren't seeing the screen, is the separation of
Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt. I remember where I was when I
first heard about this. [laughter]
And it's an interesting sight. Just remember--stepping back.
As psychologists we have to question the natural.
We have to take things that are commonsense and explore them.
And one thing which just happens is, we're fascinated by
this stuff. We're fascinated by the lives
of celebrities. We're fascinated by the social
lives of other people. And it's an interesting
question to ask why. And this is one of the
questions which I'm going to deal with in the next couple of
lectures but before I get to the theory of social psychology I
want to talk about an individual difference.
So, we devoted a lecture early on--of a couple of weeks ago,
to individual differences across people in intelligence
and personality. I want to talk a little bit
about an individual difference in our social natures and then I
want people to do a test that will explore where you stand on
a continuum. That test is the piece of paper
you have in front of you. Anybody who doesn't have it
please raise your hand and one of the teaching fellows will
bring it to you. You don't know what to do yet
with it so don't worry. The test was developed actually
by Malcolm Gladwell who is a science writer--in his wonderful
book The Tipping Point. And as he introduces the test,
Gladwell recounts another experiment done by Stanley
Milgram, of course famous for his obedience work but he did a
lot of interesting things. And one classic study he did
was he gave a package to 160 people randomly chosen in Omaha,
Nebraska and he asked these people to get the package
somehow – and this was many years ago before the internet,
before e-mail – to get the package to a stockbroker who
worked in Boston but lived in Sharon,
Massachusetts. What he found was that most
people were able to do it. Nobody, of course,
knew this man but they knew people who might know people who
would know this man. So, most people succeeded.
Most people were able to get the packages to this man and it
took at maximum six degrees of separation,
which is where the famous phrase comes about that we're
all separated from another person by six degrees of
separation. This is not true in general.
This was a very--a single experiment done within the
United States, but the idea is appealing,
that people are connected to one another via chains of
people. But what Milgram found that was
particularly interesting was that in about half of the cases
these packages went through two people.
That is, if you plot the relationships between people--We
can take each person in this room,
find everybody you know and who knows you and draw a line,
but if we were to do this you wouldn't find an even mesh of
wires. Rather, you'd find that some
people are clusters. Some people are what Gladwell
calls "connectors." It's like air traffic.
Air traffic used to be everything flew to places local
to it but now there's a system of hubs,
Chicago O'Hare for instance or Newark where planes fly through.
Some people are hubs. Some people are the sort of
people who know a lot of people. Some people in this room might
be hubs, and it is not impossible to find out.
The piece of paper you have here is 250 names chosen
randomly from a Manhattan phone book.
They capture a range of ethnicities, different parts of
the world, different national origins.
Here's what I'd like you to do. And I'll give about five
minutes for this. Go through these names and
circle how many people you know. Now, the rules of this are,
to know somebody you have to--they have to know you back.
So, if it's a celebrity--Well, here--one of the names here is
Johnson. Now, I've heard of Magic
Johnson but Magic Johnson has never heard of me,
so I cannot circle it. On the other hand,
our department chair is Marcia Johnson.
She has heard of me, so I could circle it.
Go through and circle it. Circle all the people you know
who know you. Those are the people you're
connected to. If you know more than one
person with the same last name, circle it twice.
If you don't have this piece of paper and you want to
participate, please raise your hand and one of the teaching
fellows will bring it to you.
I'm going to talk a little bit more about this while people go
through this. The issue of connections
between people is intellectually interesting for many reasons and
might allow us to develop some generalizations about how people
interact. The game of Six Degrees of
Separation has, of course, turned into a famous
movie trivia thing revolving around the actor Kevin Bacon,
I think chosen just because it rhymes with "separation."
And the game of "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" is played by taking
any actor and computing how many steps it would take to get to
Kevin Bacon. And some computer scientists
have developed this. They've gone through each of
the quarter million actors and actresses on the international
movie database and computed their "Bacon number."
And the Bacon number is the number of steps it takes for
them to get to Kevin Bacon. So for instance,
Ed Asner was in the movie Change of--;"JFK" with Kevin
Bacon. So, Ed Asner has a Bacon number
of one. Elvis Presley was in the movie
"Change of Habit" with Ed Asner and that's his closest
connection to Kevin Bacon. So, Elvis Presley has a Bacon
number of two. It turns out that if you look
at the 2.5--sorry, the quarter million people on
the movie database and compute their Bacon number,
the average Bacon number is 2.8. That's how many steps your
average person is away from Kevin Bacon.
You could then, for any actor or actress,
compute the most connected one. So, the most connected one
would be the one for whom the quarter million are,
on average, the most connected to.
And the answer of the most connected actor or actress is
reasonably surprising. Does anybody want to guess?
I'll start you off with the wrong answer and this,
by the way, can be found on this web site.
It's not John Wayne. John Wayne has been in many
movies, 180 movies, in fact, over sixty years,
but he isn't well connected at all because mostly he was in
westerns so we saw the same people over and over again.
Meryl Streep also isn't it because Meryl Streep has the
misfortune of playing only in good movies.
[laughter] So, she has no connection with
people like Adam Sandler and John-Claude Van Damme.
[laughter] Guess. Any guesses?
Student: Christopher Walken
Student: Nicholas Cage Professor Paul
Bloom: Christopher Walken is a good one.
We could look it up. I only know a few names here.
Christopher Walken is not a finalist.
Nicolas Cage is an interesting case.
Has Nicolas Cage been in good movies?
I don't want to get--I'm going to get more controversial than I
want to. Student:
A guy who is one step above an extra.
He's like a B-list actor at best.
The most connected guy, and I think this shows that
you're right, is Rod Steiger.
He's the most connected actor in the history of acting because
it isn't that he's been in more movies than everybody else.
Michael Caine has probably been in the most movies of any person
on earth, but he's been in all sorts of movies.
He was in "On the Waterfront," "In the Heat of the Night," and
really bad movies like "Carpool."
He's been in dramas and crime serials, thrillers,
westerns, horror movies, science fiction,
musicals. Now, some people are like Rod
Steiger. So, some people in their
day-to-day lives have many interactions and I think one of
the things we know from interacting with people is we
can distinguish them from other people.
How many people have finished their things right now?
Okay. I know one person in the
department who is one of the most connected people I know on
earth. If I wanted--If I really had to
talk to Rumsfeld, I'd go to this person and say,
"Can you get me in touch with Rumsfeld?"
If I wanted to get somebody whacked, I'd ask this guy.
[laughter] Then I know someone else in the
department and, as best I know,
I'm the only person she knows. [laughter]
So, how many people scores below ten on this?
How many between ten and twenty? Between twenty and thirty?
Thirty and forty? Between forty and fifty?
Fifty and sixty? How many people scored above
sixty? Anybody above sixty?
Gladwell has done this in a lot of places.
The average is twenty-one among a college crowd.
Some people score as high as over 100.
The older you are, the more--the higher you tend
to score, maybe obviously, not--the longer you've been in
the country the higher you tend to score.
Journalists tend to score reasonably high,
academics not so high, and--but what Gladwell points
out is some people have the gift.
Some people are more social than others and this connects in
all sorts of interesting ways. The issue of connection has
social factors and it's one answer that sociologists give
for why it's good to go to Yale. So, one answer is,
well, because of the great intellectual benefits.
Put that aside. Let's be more cynical here.
Another answer is that you develop powerful friends.
And that's closer, but the interesting answer
sociologists come to is it's not so much you develop powerful
friends; rather, you develop powerful
acquaintances. Through Yale you know a lot of
people and they don't have to be close friends but they are
acquaintances. And sociologists point out that
for a lot of aspects of your life, like getting a job,
acquaintances matter, connections matter,
and the connections you establish by going to a place
like Yale hold you in good stead for the rest of your life,
above and beyond any intellectual qualities that this
place may offer.
Here's what we're going to do for the next lecture and a half,
two lectures. We're first going to talk about
the self. Then we're going to talk about
the self and other; basically, differences between
how we think of ourselves and how we think about other people.
Then we're going to talk exclusively about how we think
about other people and then we'll talk about how we think
about groups like Harvard students or gay people or black
I'll start with my favorite finding of all time and this is
about the self. And this is about the spotlight
effect. So, my mornings are often
rushed because I have two kids. So, I get up and sometimes I
don't set the alarm and I get up late;
I stagger out of bed; I wake the kids;
I greet the servants; I get ready;
[laughter] I make breakfast. I run out of the house and then
usually around 3 o'clock somebody points out,
in one case a homeless man, that I have a big glob of
shaving cream in my ear or--because I neglected to
actually look in the mirror while I shaved.
Or I have once been to a party and I found my shirt was
misaligned, seriously misaligned,
not one button but--Anyway, [laughter]
so--and so I feel when this happens I'm very immature.
And I basically feel this is the end of the world,
this is humiliating and everybody notices.
And so the question is, how many people notice when
something happens? And the spotlight effect--Well,
before talking about my favorite experiment ever,
there is an episode of "The Simpsons" that provides a
beautiful illustration of the spotlight effect.
And then it has a beautiful illustration of psychological
testing, so I'll give you them quickly one after the other.
So, Tom Gilovich, a social psychologist,
was interested in the question of the spotlight effect,
which is when we wear a pink shirt to work,
shaving cream in our ear or whatever,
do we systematically overestimate how much other
people notice? He did a series of experiments.
And in one experiment what he did was he got in the subjects
– standard Intro Psych drill – and said,
"I want you to wear a T-shirt for the next day and I want it
to have a picture on it," and he got them to wear
T-shirts that had pictures on it that were the most embarrassing
pictures that they could have on it.
It turns out that if you ask people what's the worst picture
to have on the T-shirt that you are wearing,
the number one answer is Hitler tied with Barry Manilow.
[laughter] The best pictures to have on
your T-shirt are Martin Luther King Jr.
and Jerry Seinfeld. It turns out that people--And
then he had them go about their day and asked them,
"How many people noticed your T-shirt?"
And then the psychologists went around and they asked the
people, "How many of you noticed this person's T-shirt?"
And it turned out they got it wrong by a factor of about two.
They thought, say, 100 noticed,
but fifty people noticed. And across study after study
after study Gilovich and his colleagues have found support
for the spotlight effect, which is that you believe that
people are noticing you all the time but they aren't.
They're busy noticing themselves.
And this is actually a useful thing to know.
Gilovich got interested in this because he's interested in the
psychology of regret. And it turns out that if you
actually ask dying people, or really old people basically,
"What do you regret from your life?"
they regret the things as a rule that they didn't try.
But when you asked them why they didn't try it the answers
tended to be "I would look silly."
And it turns out, interesting to know,
that people just don't care as much as other people think you
are. You could take that as good
news or bad news but the spotlight is not on us as much
as we think it is. There's a second effect
Gilovich discovers called "the transparency effect."
And the transparency effect is quite interesting.
The transparency effect is that we believe that we're more
transparent than we are. I need somebody up here who
thinks that he or she is a bad liar.
Just--I just need you to say three sentences.
I'll even tell you what it is ahead of time.
I'm going to ask you three questions: "Have you been in
London? Do you have a younger sibling?"
and "Do you like sushi?" I want you to answer with one
of those answers there. I want you to lie about one of
them. The task will be for everybody
else to recognize and guess which one you're lying about.
Do you want to go up? Yeah.
And I will even write down which one you should lie on.
So, I want you to lie as to that number.
Have you ever been in London? Student:
No, I have not been in London. Professor Paul Bloom:
Do you have a younger sibling? Student:
Yes, I have a younger sibling. Professor Paul Bloom:
Do you like sushi? Student:
No, I do not like sushi. Professor Paul Bloom:
Okay. Let's have a vote.
She was lying about one of them. Who votes for one?
Who votes for two? Who votes for three?
Pretty much of a tie between two and three.
You could say which one you were lying.
Student: Three. Professor Paul Bloom:
The effect--there are two aspects of the effect.
One aspect is people are actually quite good at lying.
It is a rare person who couldn't stand up there and
everybody would figure out what they're lying about,
but the transparency effect is we don't feel that way.
We often feel like things bleed out of us and so people will
systematically overestimate the extent to which other people
notice their secrets. And this is actually,
in general, why it's sometimes difficult to teach or to tell
stories because we constantly overestimate how much other
people know. We think of ourselves as more
transparent than we are. A second social psychological
phenomena is you think you're terrific.
If I asked people, "How well are you doing in
Intro Psych this semester?" and I asked you to give
yourself a percentage rating relative to the rest of the
class, then if everybody was accurate,
or at least not systematically biased, the number should add up
to 50%. Roughly half of you are doing
better than average and roughly half of you are doing worse than
average. It turns out though that people
will systematically and dramatically view themselves as
better than average. They will view themselves as
better than average when asked how good they are as a student,
as a teacher, as a lover, and particularly,
as a driver. [laughter]
Everybody who drives thinks that he or she is a wonderful
driver. This has been called the "Lake
Wobegon effect" based on Garrison Keillor's story about a
place where all the children are above average.
And the Lake Wobegon effect in psychology involves a systematic
bias to see ourselves as better than average.
What psychologists don't really know is why the Lake Wobegon
effect exists, and there are a couple of
proposals. One is the nature of the
feedback we get. So, for a lot of aspects of
your life you only get feedback when you're good,
when you do something good. In a normal,
productive, healthy, happy environment,
people don't scream at you about how bad you're doing but
they compliment how good you are and that could lead to an
inflated self-esteem on the part of people in certain domains.
Another possibility is there's different criteria for goodness.
For a driver, for instance,
when I ask you to rank how good you are as a driver,
what people often do is they think--they say,
"I'm better than average," but what they do is they focus on
one aspect of their driving. So, some of you might say,
"Hey, I'm just a great parallel parker so I'm a great driver."
Others might say, "I'm very careful,
great driver." Others might say,
"I take chances no one else will--great driver," [laughter]
but above and beyond that there does seem to be a psychological
effect manifested here and manifested elsewhere,
which is a motivation to feel good about yourself.
You think you're important, which is why the spotlight
effect exists. You think your thoughts bleed
out, which is why the transparency effect exists.
But above and beyond that, in a normal,
healthy mind you think you're terrific.
And so, this shows up in all sorts of ways.
It shows up as well in what's been called "the self-serving
bias." Half of you did above average
on the Midterm; half of you did below average
on the Midterm, but if I went up and asked each
of you why the answers would not be symmetrical.
People who did well in the Midterm would describe it in
terms of their capacities or abilities.
They'd say, "It's because I'm smart, hardworking,
brilliant." People who did poorly would
say, "The Midterm was unfair. I was busy.
I have better things to do with my time."
Professors as well--When people get papers accepted it is
because the papers are brilliant.
When they got them rejected it's because there's a
conspiracy against them by jealous editors and reviewers.
There is this asymmetry all the time.
The asymmetry has been found in athletes, in CEOs and in
accident reports. And again, this is sort of a
positive enhancement technique. You think that you're terrific
and because you're terrific the good things that happen to you
are due to your terrific-ness; the bad things are due to
accident and misfortune.
The final aspect of self that I want to talk about is the idea
that what you do makes sense. And this is one of the more
interesting sub domains of social psychology.
The idea was developed by the social psychologist Leon
Festinger and it's called "Cognitive Dissonance Theory."
And what Festinger was interested in was the idea that
what happens when people experience an inconsistency in
their heads. And he claimed it causes an
unpleasant emotional state, what he described as
"dissonance." And he argued that we act so as
to reduce dissonance. When there's a contradiction in
our heads we're not happy and will take steps to make the
contradiction go away. This all sounds very general
but there are some striking demonstrations of this and how
it could work in everyday life. So, this very simple example is
that--is the confirmation bias. Some of you are politically
right wing. Some of you are politically
left wing. If I asked you what magazines
you read, it turns out people who are right wing read right
wing magazines, people who are left wing read
left wing magazines, because people don't as a rule
enjoy getting information that disconfirms what they believe
in. They want to have information
that confirms what they believe in and that supports it.
If you support Bush you're going to be looking for good
news about Bush, if you don't support him you'll
be looking for bad news. And this manifests itself in
all sorts of interesting ways. I'll tell you about a very
simple experiment. I'll--It was done by Louisa
Egan here at Yale and it illustrates a point which is
going to--which--and then I'll talk about real world
implications of this. Very simple.
You have three M&Ms. You pretest to make sure that
the person doesn't like any M&M more than the other.
And there are three M&Ms. Who cares?
But then you ask them to choose between two of them.
So, suppose they choose the red one.
You've got to choose one. So, they get to eat the red one.
Now, they're offered--You take the red one away and now they're
offered a choice between the two remaining ones.
It turns out, to a tremendous degree,
and you could imagine yourself in that situation,
they choose this one, the one that wasn't the one
they turned down. And the claim is that when you
choose this, in order to justify your decision,
you denigrate the one you didn't choose.
And so this one you didn't choose is then tainted and you
turn and then when compared to a third one you favor that third
one. What's particularly interesting
is you get this effect easily with undergraduates but you also
get it with four-year-olds and with monkeys.
So, the same denigration tends to be more general.
Well, that's a laboratory effect but there are some more
interesting manifestations of cognitive dissonance.
One is the insufficient justification effect,
which is so famous it had a cartoon based on it.
The guys says, "Why should I hire you as my
consultant?" The dog--Some dog says,
"I use my special--the special process of cognitive dissonance
to improve employee morale." "How does it work?"
"Well, when people are in an absurd situation their minds
rationalize it by inventing a comfortable illusion."
Not quite right. When people are--have an
internal conflict, when there's something
uncomfortable--Well, that's right.
So says to this person, "Isn't it strange you have this
dead-end job when you're twice as smart as your boss?
The hours are long, the pay is mediocre,
nobody respects your contribution,
yet you freely choose to work here.
It's absurd. No.
Wait. There must be a reason.
I must work here because I love this work, I love this job."
[laughter] This actually works. Here is the classic experiment
by Festinger. Gave two groups of people a
really boring task, paid one of them twenty
dollars, which back when this study was
done was real money, gave another group of subjects
one dollar, which was insultingly small,
then asked them later, "What do you think of the
task?" It turns out that the group
that had--were paid a dollar rated the task as much more fun
than the group given twenty dollars.
So, think about that for a moment.
You might have predicted it the other way around,
the twenty dollars, "wow, well,
twenty dollars, I must have enjoyed it because
I got twenty dollars," but in fact,
the logic here is the people with twenty dollars when asked,
"What do you think of the task?"
could say, "It was boring. I did it for twenty dollars."
The people paid one dollar were like the character in the
Dilbert cartoon. When paid a dollar they said,
"Well, I don't want to be a donkey.
I don't want to be some guy who does this boring thing for a
dollar. It wasn't that bad really,
it was kind of interesting, I learnt a lot," to justify
what they did. This has a lot of real world
implications. Festinger did a wonderful study
with people--a group of people, and he wrote this up in a book
called When Prophesy Fails, who were convinced that
the world was going to end so they went on a mountain and they
waited for the world to end. They had a certain time and
date when the world was going to end.
He hung out with them and then the time passed and the world
didn't end. What people then said,
and this is what he was interested in--;So,
people's predictions were totally proven wrong and they
left their families, they gave away their houses,
they gave away all their possessions, they lost all their
money, but what Festinger found was
they didn't say, "God, I'm such a moron."
Rather, they said, "This is fantastic.
This is exactly--This shows that us going to the mountain
has delayed the ending of the world and this shows that we're
doing exactly the right things. I couldn't have been smarter."
And in general, when people devote a lot of
energy or money or expense to something, they are
extraordinarily resistant to having it proven wrong.
Now, people have manipulated cognitive dissonance in all
sorts of ways and, for instance,
hazing. Hazing is cognitive dissonance
at work. Fraternities and med schools
and other organizations haze people.
What they do is when people enter the group they humiliate
them, they cause them pain, they cause them various forms
of torture and unpleasantness. Why?
Well, because it's very successful at getting somebody
to like the group. If I join a fraternity--it is
also by the way illegal so – but if I were to join a
fraternity and they say, "Welcome to the fraternity,
Here. Have a mint," and then we have
a good time and everything. I'm thinking "okay,
sounds like a fun idea." But if I join a fraternity and
they pour cow poop on my head and make me stand in the rain
for a month wearing pantyhose while they throw rocks at me
[laughter] I then think--after it I think
"God, I went through a lot of stuff
to get into this fraternity. It must be really good."
And in fact, hazing through cognitive
dissonance draws the inference that this is really,
really valuable and this is why it exists.
If you are a political--If you are running for office,
you will tend to have volunteers and not necessarily
pay people. One reason for this is obvious;
it's cheaper not to pay people, but the other reason is more
interesting. If you don't pay people,
they are more committed to the cause.
Again, it's cognitive dissonance.
If you pay me ten thousand dollars a month to work for you,
I'll work for you and I'll think "I'm doing it for ten
thousand dollars a month, that makes a lot of sense," but
if I do it for nothing then I have to ask myself,
"Why am I doing it?" And I will conclude I must
think very highly of you. Therapy for free tends to be
useless therapy. This is one-- [laughs]
Therapists ask for money for all sorts of reasons,
including they like money. But one reason why they ask for
money is if you don't pay for therapy you don't think it has
any value. You have to give up something.
So, cognitive dissonance will lead you then to think that what
you are giving it up for has some value and then you
establish a liking for it.
Finally, cognitive dissonance shows up with children.
One of the most robust and replicated findings in education
or developmental psychology is very simple.
You take two groups of kids and you ask them to do something
like draw pictures. Half of the kids you reward.
Maybe you give them a sticker or a toy.
The other half you don't reward. Now, according to sort of a
simple-minded view of operant conditioning in behaviorist
psychology, the children you reward should do it more.
That's how operative conditioning works.
In fact though, the children who you reward
later on think that this activity has less value and they
are less likely to do it when there's no reward present.
And the idea, again, is the kids who don't
get rewarded say to themselves, "Well,
I just spent time doing it, it must have an intrinsic
value," while the children who get rewarded say,
"I did it for the sticker. I did it for the toy.
I don't care much for this." And so, rewarding children has
a danger, which is if you give them too much reward and too
much a value for what they're doing they will denigrate the
activity. Now, we need to be careful here
about what's going on. It's not simple inconsistency.
So, go back to this insufficient justification
effect. So, the dollar group rated a
task as more fun than the twenty dollar group.
And it's true; each group needed a
justification for lying about the task.
Each group needed a justification for saying how
interesting the task was, but they each had a
justification. They were each doing it for
money after all. So, cognitive dissonance is a
little bit more subtle. It's not just that there's a
clash. Rather, we adjust our beliefs
to make ourselves look more moral and rational than we are.
Go back to hazing. There's a perfectly good reason
why I let them do all those things to me.
I'm the sort of person who will let people do those things to
me. The problem is that's not an
answer I could live with. So, cognitive dissonance
motivates me to create an answer that's more comfortable for me,
an answer such as "This must be a really wonderful group with a
wonderful bunch of people." And in other words,
we are biased to believe that we are terrific.
So, to sum up, there are three main findings
about you that come out in social psychology.
One is you believe everybody notices you even when they
don't. You're the hero of your story.
The second one is, you're terrific,
you are better than average in every possible way,
each one of you. And finally,
what you do makes sense. If it doesn't make sense,
you'll--If it doesn't make sense or, more to the point,
if it's something that you do that's foolish or makes you look
manipulative or cheap, you'll distort it in your head
so that it does make sense. I want to move now to how we
think about self and other, how we think about ourselves
relative to how we think about other people.
And this brings us to the notion of attribution.
So, an attribution is a claim about the cause of somebody's
behavior and Heider--;Now, there's all sorts of reasons
for somebody's behavior. Suppose you insult me or
suppose you're very kind to me. I could say you're a kind
person or you're a rude person. I could say "this must be a
great day for you" or "you must be a lot of--under a lot of
stress or you must want something."
There's different sorts of attributions we could make to
people but Heider's insight is we tend to attribute other
people's actions to their personality characteristics,
to long-standing aspects of what they are.
And this is known as a person bias.
And more generally, people tend to give too much
weight to the person and not enough weight to the situation.
This is also sometimes known as the fundamental attribution
error. The fundamental attribution
error, which is one of the core ideas in psychology,
is that we tend to over-attribute things to a
person's personality or desires or nature and not enough to the
situation or the context. There's a lot of demonstrations
of this. A lot of the demonstrations
have to do with intelligence so, for example,
there's actually been studies showing that people tend to
overestimate the intelligence of professors.
Why? Because I stand up here and I
talk about the one or more than one thing I know about and so
it's easy to infer that I must know a lot but in fact by the
time this semester ends I will have tell you--told you
everything I know. [laughter]
And if you stood up and started talking about everything you
knew you'd look really smart too.
The best study to show this is a quiz show study,
which is you take two people and you flip a coin.
And one of them is the quiz master and the quiz master gets
to ask questions, any question he or she wants.
And the other person has to answer the questions.
And if they play seriously, the quiz master's going to
destroy the other person. "What was my dog's name?"
[laughter] "Well, I don't know." "What's the capital of the city
in which I was born?" "Well, I don't know."
And then you'd expect a third person watching this to say,
"Who cares? It's just--They're just doing
this because of the coin they flipped."
But in fact, when the person watching this
has to assess their intelligence they give the quiz asker a
higher intelligence rating than the other person.
After all, "He seemed to know a lot of answers.
The other person didn't get much right."
We tend to fail to discount the situation.
If you were giving a job talk--and this is for people in
graduate school particularly--If you were giving a job talk and
the slide projector breaks, you're screwed.
Nobody is going to say to themselves, "Oh,
well, it's not such a good talk because the slide projector
broke." They'll say,
"It's not such a good talk because of the person."
Somebody could give a talk and we could throw smarties at them
the whole time and then you could--then the other people
would say, "The person looked kind of
upset during the whole talk. [laughter]
I wonder--They seemed like a nervous type."
[laughter] This can be taken to extremes
and the biggest extreme is the case of actors,
which is if there's ever a case--Anybody know who this is,
the actor? [laughter]
Have none of you been alive in 1950?
[laughter] This is Robert Young. Does anybody know the part he
plays? He played an--He played a
doctor called Marcus Welby in this famous show "Marcus Welby,
M.D.," and Marcus Welby was a wonderful doctor.
He was compassionate and kind, he made house calls,
he saved lives, he counseled people,
and it turned out that Robert Young was then deluged with
mail, thousands of pieces of mail,
by people asking for his advice on health matters.
[laughter] And he then,
in a twist, exploited the fundamental attribution
error--people confusing the actor for the role--exploited
this by going on TV and espousing the benefits of Sanka
decaffeinated coffee where he produced the famous line "I am
not a doctor but I play one on TV,"
[laughter] whereupon people heard this and
said, "Well, he must have some authority then about medical
It turns out that the confusion between actors and their roles
is extremely common. Many people,
for instance, view Sylvester Stallone as
either an actual hero during the Vietnam War or sort of a hero
during the Vietnam War given all his Rambo stuff but in fact,
of course, he played--he was in a Swiss boarding school teaching
girls age twelve through fifteen during the Vietnam War.
But it doesn't seem that way because the role infects how we
think about the person. When this movie came out twenty
years ago they needed a character to play a gay man.
According to IMDb, where I get all my information,
they hit up all the big stars, Harrison Ford,
Michael Douglas, and Richard Gere,
and they all turned it down because they didn't want to play
a gay man because people would think that they were gay.
Finally, they got Harry Hamlin to do it, who was kind of a
B-list sort of guy. The biggest extreme of the
fundamental attribution error, confusing the actor for his
role, is Leonard Nimoy who,
because he played the emotionless Vulcan,
Spock, on Star Trek, was then repeatedly viewed by
people who saw him on the street as if he was an actual Vulcan.
[laughter] He got sufficiently upset about
this to write a book called I Am Not Spock where he
described all the ways in which he was not a Vulcan.
[laughter] His career, where he attempted
many times to play roles that were different from his Vulcan
nature, stalled until finally many
years later he gave up and wrote another book called I Am
Spock [laughter] where he finally conceded to
the fundamental attribution error.
[laughter] If I gave this lecture ten
years ago, I would say that the fundamental attribution error is
a human universal, something that we're born with,
a fundamental aspect of human nature.
This is not entirely true though and we know that through
some very interesting cross-cultural research that
compares these biases across different countries,
in this study between the United States and India.
And it turns out that for whatever reason,
and it would take another course to talk about the
different explanations, but people start off at,
say, age eight not committing the fundamental attribution
error but in Western cultures, where there's an ideology
perhaps that people are in charge of their own destiny,
the error occurs and people over-attribute the role to the
person. In some Eastern cultures
there's more of a view about faith and more attributions to
situation. And this has been shown in many
ways. For instance,
if you look at newspaper reports about murders,
in cultures like the United States the report tends to
emphasize the personal characteristics of the person
accused of the murder. In countries like India,
the reports tend to emphasize, to a greater degree,
the situation that the person found himself in that might have
driven him to commit a murder. So, this is an important
reminder that just because we find something in our culture
and just because it might well be pervasive doesn't mean
necessarily that it's universal.
So, to summarize so far, and we're going to look at this
a little bit more for the rest of this lecture,
we've talked about two morals in social psychology.
One is enhancement of the self but the other is what you can
call "oversimplification of the other."
So, we know ourselves that our behavior is due to a complicated
cluster of the situation and our personal natures.
When things go badly, in fact, we'll blame the
situation. When things go well,
the self-serving attribution bias, we'll credit ourselves.
We don't do this for other people.
For other people we're a lot less forgiving.
You do something stupid, that's--you're a stupid person.
I do something stupid, it's an off day.
And so, you have this difference between how we think
about ourselves and how we think about other people.
Let's talk a little bit about what we think about other people
and start by talking about why we like other people.
And here I'm going to some extent to go over material that
was raised earlier in the course in Peter Salovey's wonderful
lecture. So, some of this,
our liking of other people, is obvious and we talked about
it in Dean Salovey's lecture, we talked about it when we
talked about sexual attractiveness.
We like people who are honest, who are kind,
who are smart, who are funny,
but study after study finds more fundamental processes are
also at work and here is a list of three of them.
One is proximity. We tend to like people who
we're close to physically, who we are physically and
spatially close to, who we spend a lot of time
with. In one study they looked at a
housing project in Manhattan and they asked people where their
best friend was and 90% of them said,
"My best friend is in the same building as me," and 50% of them
says the same floor. Ask yourself who is your best
friend at Yale. For how many of you is it
somebody in your same college? Okay.
How many in a different college? So, call it a tie but then
there's a lot more colleges that aren't yours than the one--How
many of you would you--say your best friend is somebody
your--currently on your same floor?
Yeah. If you were going to marry
somebody from this class, it is the person you are
sitting next to? [laughter]
Now, in some sense this is an--a rather trivial finding.
Of course you're going to get more involved in people you
encounter frequently. How else is it going to work?
But it's actually more than that.
The more you see something the more you like it and this is
sometimes known as "the mere exposure effect."
The mere exposure effect is simply seeing something makes it
likable perhaps because it becomes comfortable and safe.
In one study by James Cutting, Cutting taught an Introduction
to Psychology course and before each lecture he'd flash pictures
on the screen. He'd have a screen saver
showing pictures on the screen, paintings, and didn't say
anything about them. People would sit down,
look at them while they prepared their notes.
At the end of the semester he then asked people to rate
different pictures as to how much they liked them,
and even though people had no memory of seeing one or--versus
the other they tend to like the pictures more that they had seen
before. They were somehow familiar and
somehow more likable. If I showed you a picture of
yourself versus a mirror image of yourself and asked which one
you'd like more, the answer is very strong.
You'd like your mirror image more because the mirror image is
what you tend to see from day to day.
If I showed your best friend a picture of you versus a mirror
image picture of you, your best friend would say he
or she likes the picture more because that corresponds to what
he or she sees each day. Familiarity is itself a desire
for liking, a force for liking.
Similarity--we like people who are similar to us.
Friends tend to be highly similar to one another.
So do husbands and wives. Now, to some extent,
similarity is hard to pull apart from proximity.
So, the fact that you are similar to your friends at Yale
might just be because you are close to your friends at Yale
and people who are at Yale tend to be fairly similar to one
another. But there's a lot of evidence
that similarity, above and beyond proximity,
has an effect on attractiveness and on liking.
Similarity predicts the success of a marriage and through a
phenomena people aren't exactly sure about,
couples become more and more similar over the course of a
relationship. Finally, people like
good-looking people. People like attractive people.
Physically attractive people are thought to be smarter,
more competent, more social and nicer.
Now, some of you who are very cynical and/or very good looking
might wonder "yes, but good-looking people like me
actually are smarter, more competent,
more social and morally better."
This is not a crazy response. It is--it could be,
for instance, that the advantages of being
good looking make your life run a lot easier.
Teachers are more responsive to you, people treat you better,
you have more opportunities to make your way through the world,
you make more money, you have more access to things,
and that could, in turn,
cause you to improve your life. This would be what's known in
the Bible as a "Matthew effect." A Matthew effect is a
developmental psychology phrase for the sort of thing where,
well, as Jesus said, "For unto everyone that hath
shall be given and he shall have abundance."
That means if you're good looking you'll also be smart but
from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he
hath. It's a long version of the rich
get richer and the poor even lose what they hath.
So, there's a variety of studies suggesting that teachers
rate attractive children as smarter and higher achieving.
Adults think that when an ugly kid misbehaves it's because they
have an ugly soul [laughter] while the attractive kid,
"oh, that little scamp, somebody must have been
bothering him." When I was in the University of
Arizona and we lived next--and all I remember of my
neighborhood is we lived next to this little boy and his name was
Cute kid, but come on. [laughter]
Also in mock trials judges give longer prison sentences to ugly
That's the Matthew effect, those who hath little get even
that taken away and thrown into prison.
There is a recent study, which I'll tell you about but I
am not comfortable with it as an experiment.
The study observed people in a shopping--in a parking lot of a
supermarket and found that parents were a lot rougher to
the kids if their kids are ugly than if their kids are good
looking. And they attribute it to the
fact that, for all sorts of reasons, the ugly kid just
matters less to the parent. I was watching a poker game
once on TV and somebody who lost said, and I quote,
"They beat me like an ugly stepchild" [laughter]
and the fate of the ugly stepchild is,
in fact, not a very good fate but this is not a good study.
For one thing, and I don't know how to phrase
this in a politically correct way,
but the parents of ugly kids are likely to themselves be ugly
people [laughter] and maybe what they're finding
is just ugly people are more violent than good-looking
This is an excellent time to stop the lecture [laughter]
so I'm going to stop the lecture and we're going to
continue social psychology on Wednesday.