kirk0271: November 2011 Archives

You just took exam three for your Psy1001 class. You wound up receiving a seventy percent, while your best friend scored an eighty-six percent. In your mind, you justify your score by saying that the questions were really hard or that the person next to you was distracting. When dealing with your friend, you say that she is just a natural genius and all exams are easy for her. Does this sound familiar? For most people, it does. This concept of overestimating the impact of dispositional influences like intelligence on other people's behavior is called the fundamental attribution error, which we learned about in chapter 13 of the Lilienfeld text. Since this topic applies so easily to our every day lives, the fundamental attribution error will be a concept that I will still remember in five years.

When judging other people's actions, we are much more likely to attribute their behavior to their personality, attitudes, and intelligence. When someone makes a rude comment, we say it is because she is cold-hearted, jealous, or ruthless. Instead, we should pay more attention to the situational influences on people's behavior, like maybe she just received some bad news or her car was just towed. We commit the fundamental attribution error because it is easy to make snap judgments. Also, it almost impossible to know all of the situational factors on people's behaviors.

The robotically animated clip above shows the other side of the fundamental attribution error. When explaining our own behavior, we are more aware of situational influences, so we tend to attribute our own actions to situational factors. This is because we know all of the situational influences that surround us.

Both sides of the fundamental attribution error are extremely visible in my life, now that the concept has been introduced to me. Now, I will keep this concept in my mind when judging my behavior and the behavior of others.

Take That, First Borns!

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My oldest brother Joseph, myself, and my older brother Patrick.

When my brother Patrick was 10 years old, he told my father about his theory of the effects of birth order on personality. Patrick hypothesized that the first born, my oldest brother Joseph, is 'the practice child', who parents make all of their mistakes on. According to Patrick's plan, the oldest child will have to go to therapy later on in life, like their thirties, because of their psychological problems caused by their tumultuous upbringing. Then the middle child, who in my family's case is Patrick, would be the perfect child. Parents would know all of the correct techniques in raising a child, rearing a prodigy. When it comes to raising the last born child, who is me in my family, parents would become very lackadaisical in their duties, rearing a spoiled, unruly offspring.

Since my brother still likes to bring up his theory from time to time, I was very intrigued when the topic of birth order came up in chapter 14 of the Lilienfeld text. According to the text, there have been few studies that show that birth order does have an effect on personality, usually showing how firstborns are achieving, middle-borns are diplomatic, and later-borns are adventurous. For example, one psychologist who appeared on The Early Show talks about his theory on the close relationship between birth order and personality. Explained in the link below, the psychologist states that firstborns are natural leaders and perfectionists, middle-borns are inventive and secretive, and last-borns are financially irresponsible and outgoing. By giving few famous examples of each, the psychologist can persuade his audience to believing that there is strong correlation. However, the psychologist does not even explain how he came to these conclusions, meaning that other scientists cannot replicate the study. When researchers cannot replicate experiments, then they cannot know if the original findings are accurate. As a result of this low replicability rate, the Lilienfeld text says that researchers cannot find a consistently strong association between birth order and personality, meaning the two are not as closely related as much of the media, and my brother, believes.

A video from the show 8 Simple Rules, where Kerry is usually complaining about being ignored as the middle child, since everyone loves her perfect older sister Bridget.

Truth is, You're a Liar

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Television shows, like Maury shown above, utilize the polygraph test on a regular basis to 'prove' that a partner is lying, cheating, or committing other dishonorable acts. In chapter 11 of the Lilienfeld text it says the largest organization of polygraph examiners claims that the polygraph test is 98 percent accurate. It is extraordinary claims like this that television shows tell their audience and participants, persuading them to believe that the polygraph results are correct. But are these results actually that accurate?
According to the Lilienfeld text, polygraph tests are based on the Pinocchio response, a perfect physiological or behavioral indicator of lying like spiked blood pressure, perspiration, and/or breathing. According to the USA Today article linked below, this means that lie detectors are more of an arousal detector, because scientists still do not know how the nervous system acts when it is lying. If a person responds higher to a control question like "Have you ever been tempted to steal anything from a candy store?" than to a relevant question like "Did you kill your brother?" then they pass the polygraph test. In a perfect world, guilty suspects would experience this heightened autonomic activity, while the innocent would not. However, this is usually not the case. Polygraph tests give a high rate of false positives, or deeming innocent people guilty because of their heightened physiological responses. False positives occur because innocent people are usually very worried about being wrongly convicted, which heightens their physiological responses to relevant questions. On the other hand, the polygraph tests can result in false negatives, or concluding that the guilty person is innocent. This occurs when the guilty person changes their responses to the control questions, allowing them to pass the test. Also, some guilty parties have psychopathic personalities, meaning they have low levels of guilt and fear, causing them to not respond highly to the relevant questions.
The USA Today article also says that the polygraph test is only 61 percent accurate, which is slightly higher than chance. Remember that the next time you watch Maury or MTV's Exposed, linked below. Also keep in mind that it makes for better television drama if the person is found to be a liar. How interesting would a television show be if the participants were all squeaky clean?

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This page is an archive of recent entries written by kirk0271 in November 2011.

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