Sunday, October 16, 2011


Last week, the only social psychology that I connected to a class came from Environmental Economics. I went to my first session of training for my new job at Lush today, though, and of course any jobs with sales has to do with social psychology.

Environmental Economics: We began to talk about green jobs, and why so many companies are becoming more and more green. Sometimes, the reason for these companies to become more environmentally friendly is not to be environmentally friendly. Green jobs attract employees, because if a person is choosing between two workplaces, and they're about the same, they pay the same, etc., but one of them is green and the other one isn't, they will likely choose the green job. Also, we talked about this concept applying to Meredith. For Meredith, being green attracts employees, tuition-paying students, donors, and lets people in the community hear about the college because of certain events Meredith holds as well. Therefore, being green is not only beneficial to the environment, but actually moreso beneficial to companies at an economical standpoint. Being green on a small scale makes us feel better, due to cognitive dissonance. If we think of ourselves as good people, and a commercial tells us that good people recycle and encourage others to recycle, green jobs are attractive because we can continue to be good people!

Energy Saving & Desperate Housewives

These observations occurred the week of fall break. I got very jumbled, busy, and--basically a mess during and after fall break, so I got behind on posts. Luckily I keep a "sticky note" on my computer desktop with all of my blog ideas week to week, so I'm planning on doing a few separate posts for the weeks I missed.

Environmental Science: In environmental science, Laura Fieselman came into our class and had a presentation about encouraging people to have more sustainable behavior within a group--whether it be a company, a school, your family, etc. First of all, she said you have to state your goal(s), and for the company it was to increase commingled recycling, reduce paper use, and purchase environmentally friendly products. Then you have to list the barriers, and ways to get around those barriers. One example she had was simply the fact that some employees thought the recycling bins were ugly, and didn't want them in their offices. The way to get around that was to convince them that having that bin shows that they are a good person and an environmentally conscious person, so who cares if it's ugly--it makes you look good. Then, you have to set up "marketing" for these behaviors to constantly remind people to change it. This includes logos, titles and taglines; prompts (for example to recycle, or a sticker above the lights that remind people to turn them off when they leave); commitment to following through with the project (which links to making a public commitment in social psychology, the people are more likely to follow through with it if they have told many people, or themselves, that they will); and incentives, like a party for the office who recycled the most or something. Then, at the end of a project, or at checkpoints throughout the project, you want to share successes of others and communicate the effect of the project so far. All of these components are important for changing someone's behavior. These are effective means to change someone's behavior, especially since they involve incentives and specific instructions to get to those incentives. In order for people to change a habit, constantly being surrounded by signs, logos, stickers, etc. that remind someone of the project/behavior change will ensure more effective cooperation as well.

Desperate Housewives: Since we were out of school less than we were in school this week, another source of linkage to social psych was good ol' television. There was a perfect example of cognitive dissonance that related exactly with the Opie the bird man video. Sorry if you aren't familiar with the characters, but Susan on Desperate Housewives is a good mom, a positively influential kindergarten teacher, a good, honest wife, and lastly a law abiding citizen. However, when Carlos kills Gabby's abusive step-father, and Susan and many other housewives help cover up this murder and decide not to tell anyone--not even their husbands--Susan has a great cognitive dissonance on her hands. She begins committing small crimes, trying to get punished. She ends up having to do community service, and several other small punishments, but nothing makes her feel punished enough in the end. Just like Opie, who just wants an instant punishment so he can go back to being a good boy, she wanted to do her time or punishment and become a law abiding citizen and honest person again. She cannot handle it and soon enough she tells her husband (and that's all I know for now, but when we went over that video in class it reminded me of this episode).

That was about it for social psychologically related stuff in my life for that week.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Persuasion and Conformity

This week was a little hectic--I had 3 tests and then had to leave for the Honors trip. Luckily, I still had a few examples of Social Psychology implemented in my other classes.

Environmental Science: In lab this week, we visited the "Envision Center" at NCSU. It was all about Smart Grid technology being
implemented into houses so that the power company can directly communicate with you and receive feedback on your energy. Therefore, they can tell you how to reduce your energy use as well as tell if your power is out in a storm, a
nd you can respond by altering your usage on a daily and hourly basis. The part that related to social psychology was how Smart Grids allowed you to instantly find out how much energy you are using, so that you can immediately try to use less. This would be more effective for much of the population since they are getting the instant gratification of knowing they are reducing their energy by seeing a visual representa
tion of that decrease in energy.
Now, we just get our electric bill every month, and might not understand it. We just know if it's cheaper or more expensive than last month's bill so we must be doing something right. This doesn't usually make us change our behavior, and if it does, we're pretty much just guessing what it is we need to do less of. If we can directly see what we're doing to use up energy at that moment, we will be more likely to change our behavior right then in there, so that our bills will be cheaper (and we will use less energy).

During the Honors Trip: There were a few instances of real-life experience social psychology during the honors trip. I remember one specific example of conformity while a group of about ten of us were walking around the camp. We were pretty far away, and someone stated that they wanted to turn back. About four people, including me, wanted to keep going, so we just kept walking, maybe saying a short statement about wanting to continue. Seeing us continue to walk, one person saw us and ran to catch up, saying "well if you're going, I'll go too." Eventually, about six or eight of the previous ten was continuing to walk, when more than half of them were willing to go back to the camp. The original dissenters who had publicly said that they wished to turn back did not turn back. However, some people that had originally agreed with them saying, "Me too, I want to go back to camp," eventually turned back around to follow the group. Also, I believe that if I were in fact the only one who wanted to keep going, I would have probably agreed to go back (mostly because I wouldn't want to walk alone in the woods by myself in an unfamiliar place).

French Phonetics: We had to watch an Italian film (part of the foreign film series) called Bread and Tulips. In the movie there were a few examples of persuasion. The main character's husband convinced a plumber to be a detective for him, to find and spy on his wife who ran away to Venice. He used flattery to get him to agree to the job, and then to keep him doing the job, he used fear. Also, when the main character's sister was trying to convince her to return home from Venice, she told her that her son was doing drugs. That was a fear tactic as well as tapping into her emotions. (It ended up that the boy was 'only' smoking pot and wanted to drop out of school because he didn't see the point). The older man that she met in Venice who let her stay with her (out of the kindness of his heart) ended up having to convince her to come back to Venice. When she asked him why she had to return, he said "Because I love you." That was emotional appeal, and it worked. She ended up playing accordion with him while he sang, and she continued her job at the Venetian florist, and even brought her son with her since they both shared the feeling that they didn't belong in the other Italian town they were in with their dad/husband.

Monday, September 19, 2011

From the Start of Fall

It is already mid-September, but I am just starting this blog to connect Social Psychology with all of my other courses (especially those that are closely tied with Environmental Sustainability). I figured I would do a longer blog post this week to sum up everything that has related so far during the semester.

Environmental Science: So far in Environmental Science we have discussed global warming/climate change/whatever a more accpetable or politically correct term is for this issue, a fair amount. There are a lot of problems with getting people to change their ways to help the environment. One of the problems is simply the knowledge of climate change. Even though at least 90-95% of scientists believe in climate change, many citizens resist believing it because there isn't any supposed "proof". Even though there is much research to show that it is very highly likely that climate change is occuring and that humans are at least somewhat contributing, scientists hardly ever say that they exactly 100% have perfectly proven something, because then it wouldn't be science. A lot of "normal" people, and even politicians, don't fully understand this about science and believe that when scientists can't say that they 100% have proven something that there is a flaw in the scientists' arguments.

Another reason people are reluctant to change their behavior is because climate change isn't something that is going to immediately affect a citizen. A singular person probably won't be able to tell if by he/she carpooling to work, biking most places, turning down the A/C and the heat, using CFL's or LED's, and reducing their overall consumption his/her carbon footprint will decrease and he/she will be helping to slow global warming. Since there is no immediate reward, many people don't see the importance of changing their behavior.

A couple of things that are working in changing people's behavior dealing with climate change is the messages of fear and the example set by companies and/or other individuals. In Social Psychology, we studied that messages of fear only work very well if followed by very specific instructions on what to do next. When movies are shown, commercials are played, or advertisements are seen by citizens that have frightening or sad messages about global warming, we will, for the most part, immediately make a peripheral, emotional connection. We might be scared about what is becoming of our planet and the poor animals and the poor ecosystem, etc. and wonder what we can do to help. If the ads, movies, and commercials have a specific goal, they will usually be fairly effective. For example, if a sad poster is up in the hallway at school that has a picture of a sad looking polar bear on a melting ice berg that says something like "Polar bears are losing their homes. Help save the planet by recycling, and go to our website to find out how else you can help," the primary message from this poster is to recycle and some students may even go to the website for further instructions. However if there was just a picture of a sad polar bear, it probably wouldn't convince many people to recycle.

The examples set by companies or other people is even more important because humans depend so much on their environment to make decisions. If a citizen sees another citizen (especially one who looks professional and trustworthy) recycling, reducing electricity use, bringing reusable bags to the grocery store, etc., they are more likely to start doing it too, or at least think about doing it. This is because humans rely on their surroundings for information and so they often conform to the behavior of other people, especially ones they can relate to or who they look up to in some way. Also, when big companies agree to participate in being green, it gets people in the habit of having green behavior. For example, Whole Foods has a large array of recycling bins right in the front of their store next to the trash cans. If it is conveniant and simple for people to recycle, they are more likely to participate and even feel pressured to do so at least when they're at Whole Foods being watched, and/or seeing signs to do so.

Environmental Economics: We have been reviewing a lot of Micro and Macro economics, but we have touched on a few environmental issues that relate to Social Psych. In Economics, one of the only ways we've talked about influencing people's decisions is to change supply, so that demand responds to it. For example, since we know incandescent bulbs are worse for the environment, we will put an excise tax on companies for producing those bulbs, which will increase their costs and decrease their output and raise the cost, thus lowering demand for those bulbs.. On the other hand, we know CFL bulbs are better, so we can subsidize the companies for producing those bulbs, which will increase production and decrease price, thus increasing demand for those bulbs.

Other than that, the only relation to Social Psychology I can think of is conformity in shopping. We spoke about how in a free market, usually a product that is the same will sell for the lowest price. However, when the brand matters, people will pay more for whatever reason. One of the reasons people will pay more is for the tastefulness of the brand. Say Johnny's friends all wear Ralph Lauren polos to school every day. All of the cool kids also wear Ralph Lauren polos. In order to conform with the cool people as well as his friends, Johnny is willing to pay twice or three times as much for a Ralph Lauren polo shirt than for a polo shirt from Wal-Mart, because the brand is popular, expensive, and trendy. That is why companies can get away with charging a lot more for a similar product.

I hope you will excuse the length of this blog post! I attempted to wrap up my classes from the last month. They will obviously be shorter and more specific in the coming weeks.