Experiments with People: Revelations from Social Psychology

Experiments with People: Revelations from Social Psychology

Experiments with People: Revelations from Social Psychology

Experiments with People: Revelations from Social Psychology

Synopsis

Experiments With People explores the fascinating subject of social psychology. It showcases 28 intriguing studies that have significantly advanced our understanding of human thought and social behavior. These studies, mostly laboratory experiments, shed light on phenomena that would otherwise remain deeply puzzling-the irrationality of everyday thinking, the cruelty and indifference of `ordinary' people, the operation of the unconscious mind, and the intimate bond between the self and others. In so doing, the book tells the inside story of how social psychological research gets done and why it matters. Each chapter focuses on the details and implications of a single study, but cites related research and real-life examples along the way. An attractive feature of the book is that all its chapters are fully self-contained, allowing them to be read in any order without loss of coherence. An introductory chapter sets the stage by providing a concise exposition of why conducting `experiments with people' is a uniquely powerful means of investigating psychological questions in a truly scientific way. For pedagogical convenience, each chapter is divided into standard subsections: Background-provides the rationale for the study; What They Did-outlines the design and procedure used; What They Found-summarizes the results obtained; So What?-articulates the significance of those results; Afterthoughts-explores the broader issues raised by the study; and Revelation-encapsulates the `take-home message' of each chapter. This paperback is ideal as a main or supplementary text for seminars and courses in social psychology, but could equally serve as a supplementary text for courses in introductory psychology or research design. Written in a lively and conversational style, Experiments With People should also appeal to anyone wishing to learn more about social issues and dynamics, or keen to gain greater insight into themselves or others.

Excerpt

Welcome! This book provides an opportunity to explore the fascinating, underpublicized, and sometimes misunderstood subject of social psychology. In it, twenty-eight intriguing studies that throw light on human social thinking and behavior are reviewed. These studies, mostly laboratory experiments, address topics such as people's unawareness of why they do what they do, the tenacity with which they maintain beliefs despite contrary evidence, and the surprising extent to which they are influenced by the social groups to which they belong. The results of these studies help the reader understand many social phenomena that would otherwise remain deeply puzzling, such as the operation of unconscious prejudices, belief in mental telepathy, intense loyalty to questionable groups, the occasional cruelty and indifference of ordinary people, and the nature of love relationships. We chose to include each study because, in addition to being ingeniously designed and carefully executed, it raised a question of theoretical significance or addressed a problem of practical importance.

This volume is not a reader—we do not reproduce (lawyers take note!) any of the original journal articles. Rather, each chapter offers a detailed exposition of, and commentary on, a single study (though often citing closely related research). We first introduce the problem that the researchers sought to solve (“Background”). We then describe how the study was conducted (“What They Did”) and what its findings were (“What They Found”). Next comes a “So What?” section, the purpose of which is to persuade anyone inclined to view the study as trivial that his or her misgivings are unfounded. We continue with an “Afterthoughts” section, in which we discuss some of the broader issues that the study raises, of a conceptual, practical, or ethical nature. Finally, each chapter concludes with an explicit statement of the unique “Revelation” that each study affords, often a profound and counterintuitive truth.

One of our goals in writing this volume was to make a convincing case for the use of experiments in social psychological research. Colloquially, the word experiment refers to the trying out of some new idea or technique. Our usage is more technical: It refers to the random assignment of many subjects—here human participants—to different groups (condi-

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