The Strangest Of Conversations

Upon first read of the propinquity effect, I thought, well that seems odd. Do I really start relationships with people simply because I cross paths with them more often? I bottled my academic wonder and proceeded out into the real world to experience social psychological phenomena.

Sometimes I go to the gym in the evening time. It tends to be more peaceful. Usually, less gym members are using the equipment at that time. I walk up to the ID scanner at the gym, punching in my code and eagerly waiting to see if there are other occupants. Success! It is empty.

I start my work out and about 5 minutes in, I hear the dreaded sound of the ID scanner number pad being used. Someone else was coming in. At first, I was sort of startled that I was that bothered by the presence of another gym-goer, but I had the expectation that I was going to be in solitude for the duration of my workout. How foolish of me.

A middle aged, balding man entered through the swinging doors. A strange yet familiar face. I have seen this man before, maybe 10 or 15 times over the course of the summer. We somehow seem to run into one another in the gym frequently, yet, not planned at all. This, however, was the first time we were alone in the gym.

I rack my weights and glance over to the door when he enters the gym, trying to make eye contact. Why? Well, I do not really know to tell you the truth. Sometimes we cannot explain our own behavior. For some reason, I thought it was necessary that we acknowledge each other’s presence and begin some sort of informal gym friendship. Was it because we were alone? Was it because I had seen him so often that the propinquity effect was starting its engine?

Again, I sat there like an idiot with my weights half racked as I stared into the gray rubber floor contemplating the mysterious social autopilot that was myself. After a moment, I rested the dumbbells on the rack and strolled over to the water fountain.

Normally, this man, let’s call him Erik, and I have no interaction at all. Maybe the occasional forced smile as one has perfected living on the West Coast, but nothing of any substance. I thought to myself, why do I feel the need to have a social interaction with Erik? Are humans inherently social beings when in isolation, but in crowds they seek anonymity? When there are many people in the gym I do not engage in conversation with others.  But all of a sudden confronted with this novel situation I felt like my normal social schema for the gym was turned upside-down.

I succumbed, I decided to embrace the feeling and start a conversation. But before I could open my mouth.

“Hi, my name is Erik. Guess we are on the night shift, huh?”

“(Chuckles) It does seem that way, doesn’t it? My name is Jordan.”

Social Facilitation (Humiliation)

On a whim last Saturday, I decided to call up one of my good friends, Hazen, and ask what his plans were for the coming week. I knew he was coming back from Boston to California on Monday and I had some free time. I asked Hazen if he wanted to road trip down to his grandma’s beach house in Manhattan Beach, CA from my home in Palo Alto, CA.

Hazen eagerly responded, “Yes, absolutely! You can finally learn how to surf!”

The grin on my face disintegrated. I will be honest. I don’t know if I was that excited about the idea of surfing. I am a creature of habit. Change is scary, especially new athletic territory. I knew my sports and I wanted to stick to my guns.

Hazen and I have been friends for a long time. We both have a love for action sports, but I had not tried a new sport in a long time. Usually, I like to perfect my craft before showing off my skills to my friends.

I called Hazen the day before his flight landed. As soon as I mentioned driving to the beach he said, “I checked the wave report, it is going to be awesome conditions for when we are down there.” Well, I knew there was no escaping his fervor so I tried to mentally prepare myself for many buckets of seawater smashing into my face.

We arrived at the beach, carried the large foam surfboards to the beach, and plopped them down on the sand about ten feet in front of the water. He was a good teacher, very calm and collected. After a quick E.L.I.5. about how to pop-up, he gingerly encouraged me to slide the board into the water and begin the embarrassment.

What he failed to tell me was that a group of his friends was going to swing by the beach. Already being outside of my comfort zone, I grew anxious as he waved me to come back to the beach and meet his friends. After nervously shaking 12 hands, Hazen and I both retreated to the water as the group watched us. There I was, very concretely experiencing the dark side of the social facilitation model at work.

The presence of others, check.

Arousal, check.

Dominant Response, sadly… check.

I fell every which way possible. On my back, on my stomach, on the board, then a wave in the face. I did my best to laugh off the failure and my smiles were also met with warm jokes and memories from his friends. I went to sleep that night dissatisfied.

The next day, we moseyed around Hermosa Beach and the pier. Come evening time, I wanted to take another crack at the waves. This time, sans friends. What was once a seemingly impossible task with an audience turned into a successful learning experience punctuated with success in solitude.

I was able to get on the board and ride a wave or three. I was calm, no one to be embarrassed in front of. Hopefully, it is one of my last times being on the rough side of social facilitation theory. At least, I am running out of embarrassing situations, one step at a time.

Psychological Reactance

When I was in high school, I had a fairly large group of friends. When we were all incoming juniors, our parents collectively got scared of the imminent increase in shenanigans. It is no secret that high school boys will inevitably be involved in some elicit activity, whether it be drugs and alcohol, reckless driving, or who knows, maybe even throwing pumpkins at stop signs. In short, our parents all had different methods of preparing for this shift from mama’s boy to upperclassmen.

One set of parents, Mr. and & Mrs. Cozad, had a particular method to prepare for such a transformation. Strict Zero Tolerance. All of our friends surmised that this method would not work, but we didn’t know the reasons why behind the hypothesis. Sure everyone knows that when your child is 5 years old and you tell them whatever you do, don’t eat the cookie … they are going to eat the cookie. But, I think that one sort of believes that they are above such a treatment and can think past that form of childish psychology. Or so I thought it was childish.

What was truly going on here was psychosocial reactance. After learning about the concept of psychological reactance, my attitudes for the behavior of Mr. Cozad, Mrs. Cozad, and their son have changed. I initially though that the behavior of the Cozad Parents was foolish but I did not understand why. For some reason, I knew that their son, Brock, would rebel against their warnings. I did not understand that his behavior was a result of psychological reactance.

The story takes a darker turn, unfortunately. Brock soon became addicted to Xanax and a handful of other substances. We tried to council him as friends but there is only so much information he would listen to. He believed it was all criticism and that we had somehow sided with his parents. He became paranoid that we were telling his parents information. I wish I had known about this psychological concept in order to explain to him, his own behavior and ideally remedy it. What started as a fight for independence soon derailed his life.

My understanding of psychological reactance will change how I handle such situations in the future, both as a peer and as a parent. I would have attempted to speak with Brock early in his drug use and attempted to get him to understand why he was acting the way he was. I agree that his parents’ method of behavior control was not conducive to a healthy mental health for their son, but I wish that I did not lose a friend over such an event.

I wish that there were studies investigating drug use and the presence and effect of psychological reactance but these experiments would have to be correlational studies due to ethical issues. I wish that more parents would be aware of the concept before having the tough discussions with their teenagers. So now I ask, what is the ideal action here from the perspective of a parent in a situation like this?

Freshman Year, PSY 1, Hazing, and the Asch Paradigm

Before reading this, I would like to say that this information is confidential and is not going to be shared outside the context of this class. The people responsible for these events have all graduated or left Tufts. I am not and never was a member of Delta Tau Delta.

This week’s lectures really hit home for me. It was the healing wound in my own psychological sense of self. My heart fluttered when I opened lecture 3, week 3, “The Self: Part III.” I scrolled down the topic list after I saw the word cognitive dissonance to find myself staring at the dreaded word, hazing. The word is a port key to my past that I think of about rarely. While it was a dark time, I remember these events by the power and self-confidence it gave me.

My freshman year, 2014-2015, I decided to rush ∆T∆. Much like the rest of the group of boys, I felt as if the group of friends I had made in the first semester all had found their outlet on campus. I was still searching for mine. I was weary of Greek Life at Tufts. I had heard stories from orientation leaders and from friends and family. After ignorantly questioning some of the brothers about the pledging process (the answers I got were all lies of course), I accepted my bid. Just as the blog post stated, things started out small during the initial week of the pledge process: cleaning, laundry, running peoples food to them in class.

Things were tame.

Concurrently, I was enrolled in PSY 1, as it was a very undecided freshman thing to do. On a Tuesday night, maybe the fourth or fifth week of the spring semester, the pledge class got called to the house (back when they were still allowed on campus). The pledge class, all 21 kids, gathered in the basement. We lined up by height as the pledge master barked.

We were then forced to drink 4, 1.75L bottles of cheap spirits between 21 people. If my math is correct that’s about 7 drinks per person in a sub-five-minute time period. After the beginning act, more alcohol ensured with push-ups, insults, and verbal abuse. Lastly, we were given a table with a large nondescript shape on top, covered by a black tarp.

The pledge master ripped off the tarp and exposed a mountain of food items, but the food was all expired or stale. We were then commanded to eat all the food on the table “or suffer consequences”. And so we did. We were broken. For about 20 minutes we all looked at each other and realized that Hazing is very much alive at Tufts and about to rear its ugly head for us for the duration of the semester. This was week 2 of pledging, and we had 11 more to go. We all knew it wouldn’t get easier. After we completed the gruesome task, we hung our heads low and we trudged out of the basement. One of my friends in the house, a sophomore, pulled me a side.

He said, “Don’t worry man, it doesn’t get much worse than that.”

He lied to me, he knew it, I knew it.

I made my way back to my dorm room in the middle of the night, I glanced at my phone screen before finding solace in sleep. My girlfriend had texted me knowing something was happening. I couldn’t break the news to her, not then, I was not ready. I was worried she would be ashamed of me, I was worried everyone I knew, my family, people who loved me, would be disappointed in me.

The next day, I made my way to PSY 1 in Cabot Auditorium. It was a fascinating lecture which culminated in the discussion and analysis of the Asch Paradigm, “the presence of a defector led the target to maintain their true beliefs,” that phrase stuck with me. I couldn’t help but think about it in the context of what I experienced the night before.

What if one of us had defected. What was going on was wrong. The entire pledge class knew that. Why did we simply go along with the majority? I thank Solomon Asch for his research. I will be honest, I endured four more grueling “pledge events” as they are called. Each about 40% more miserable than the previous.

I had gotten very close to some of my pledge brothers. They respected me. I talked about how contorted the situation was, some agreed completely, some kept their heads down. I spoke with the chapter president about hazing, condemning Delta Tau Delta’s practices. I realized that the problem was not one I could fix myself, but one that was a personal test for me and who I thought I was.

About 4 weeks into pledging, we were called to the basement. But this time, I had conviction. I was already creeping near the breaking point of compliance, and many of the upper classmen brothers knew that. What they did not know was that I was going to act as a “true partner” for my pledge brothers (See Asch).

We lined up by height. The pledge master barked. The forced us to consume alcohol. Then one of my good friends got called to the front, and the vice president of the fraternity proceeded to verbally abuse him.

I cracked. I dropped my pledge book and pledge pin on the ground.

I said, “This is messed up, and everyone in this room knows it.”

I walked out of that basement, never to return there again. Seven of my pledge brothers followed me within the next two weeks.

The scary thing was, I was right. Everyone in that room did know that what was happening was wrong. Or at least one point they did. There was a number of social psychological principles at work here. First, cognitive dissonance was ever present in the hazing process within Delta Tau Delta. As we have discussed in lecture, cognitive dissonance is the discrepancy between thoughts and behavior. Everyone knows hazing is bad, but why do people do it. The likely reasoning is that they change their attitudes about the behavior. They are forced to. The internal conflict between what they think and what they do is too great so one of the variables has to change. The actions were already completed, thus their thoughts must change. Second, while we have not studied conformity extensively in this class yet, my public speaking out about the pledge process and hazing allowed my fellow pledge brothers to go against the majority (the brotherhood in this situation) and change the behavior, to stand behind what they believe and show that they do not believe in hazing.

Social Cognition & Race

Another memory from my vacation with my family. As I said before, we were in the British Virgin Islands for about a week. I, my dad, and my sister Caroline are all avid snorkelers. We had come to the island without much planning and had failed to set up water adventure type activities. We decided that it would be better if we opted for one of the “tourist-trap” half day cruises than not going snorkelling at all.

So we called around, deciding on a cruise/adventure company called Island Vibes. The party boat arrived out front of our hotel and drove with half o the vessel landing on the sandy beach, its motors still submerged int he water behind it. We boarded the boat and set off for our snorkeling adventure. We arrived at the snorkelling grounds, one of the largest coral reefs in the world, the third largest to be exact. It was stunning, after roughly 45 minutes of being in the water, the patrons hoisted themselves back onto the party boat. Many of the guests of Island Vibes brought towels with them on the boat, however, our party of three did not know that towels were not included.

The captain and first mate of the boat were both black. All but two of the guests on the boat were white. There were two black guests sitting near the front of the boat, albeit, close to the captain and first mate. My sister was cold and made her way to the front of the boat, saying nothing to me or my dad. She then proceeded to ask one of the black guests where “they” (referring to Island Vibes) store towels on the boat.

The man, Will, politely stated that he did not know because he was a guest on the boat. This lead to an honest face palm for my sister followed by group laughs from her, Will, and Will’s girlfriend.

The social psychological concept of social cognition & race can be seen in this story. While initially, I thought my sister was being very short sited, I know understand that this was a demonstration of the pervasive nature of race and how it shapes social cognition. Luckily, I do not think my better understanding of this principle would have smoothed the outcome of this situation because there were no hurt feelings.

During further analysis of the situation, my sister explained her logic as my family was all thoroughly perplexed by her mistake. Her reasoning and explanation for her actions take us back to the story right before we get in the water to snorkel. Before we get in the water, the captain jokes that, “If we were to put a black man in the water with the guests, they would follow him where ever he goes.” This statement was said before we went in the water and it received nervous but earnest laughter from the guests, who were all uncomfortable from the undertones of historical racial servitude.

My sister concluded that she was primed. In a strange sense, this joking statement from the captain primed her to subliminally believe the invariant that all black people on the boat were some how affiliated with the crew.

Fundamental Attribution Error

It was a warm evening in the British Virgin Islands. I was on vacation with my family in the summertime during a brief break from school. I had just finished my first summer session of online courses and was enjoying an outing with my family. Upon arrival at the restaurant, we witnessed the most peculiar of interactions. The restaurant was very fancy and it was the type of place where everyone arrives underdressed. We walked up to the front desk and checked in for our reservation. They handed my mom a small metallic buzzer that would vibrate when our table was ready. The restaurant was running behind and we didn’t think anything of it.

A large bearded man emerged from the small waiting area with palm trees. He walked with conviction towards the two hostesses behind the front desk. The bearded man proceeded to berate the two women at the front desk for about three or four minutes. Another bearded man emerged, this time very well dressed and with a professional and concerned smile displayed on his face. He had done this many times before it seemed. He approached the complaining man gingerly, yet with confidence. The first bearded man raised his voice complaining that the restaurant had given his table away. He did not listen to the manager’s explanation but decided to make an even larger scene.

My mother and father immediately started making hushed comments to one another. They remarked that he was an unkind person and made statements about all aspects of this man’s character. I was about to chime in but then the key term fluttered across my mind. I realized that I, and my family, had just become undeniably guilty of one basic principle of social psychology, Fundamental Attribution Error. This principle states that generally, people assume that one acts or performs in a manner that reflects their true characteristics. We want to explain their behavior as products of their personality. However, it is often the truth that people’s behavior is attributed to external factors. These are things like situational influences or other elements that are outside of someone’s character traits.

My family assumed that the bearded man was a bad person. Someone who went out of their way to make life difficult for someone else, in this case the two hostesses and the manager of the restaurant. Yet, in reality, it was much more likely that this man had many external factors leading up to his actions. After having this slight revelation in the waiting area, I thought to myself that this man could have had a long traveling day, he had his two children with him. It was just the three of them, it seemed stressful to me. They were about 4 and 7 years of age, bothersome and rowdy. Everyone loses their cool at some point, and the lecture gave me a better understanding of how people behave. The take away from this is always give people the benefit of the doubt, with certain tolerance of course.