Classroom Demonstrations in Social Psychology

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Below are some social psychology classroom demonstrations that have been reported to have success. Classroom demonstrations are a wonderful way to elicit active interest in social psychology and it's application to the real world.

Please add your own demonstrations to this page.... ->


Self Serving Bias re: Traffic/Homelessness

I have done this only once, but with very rewarding results. Basically, I asked everyone to think of 3 reasons why someone is homeless and write them down.

Then I asked everyone in class to think of a specific time when someone in a traffic/driving situation was rude to them. I went around the room and asked why the person may have been rude. Invariably, you'll get a mix of situational ("in a hurry") and dispositional ("jerk" or "bad driver") attributions. I keep track of the ratio.

Next, I ask them to think of a specific time when they were rude to someone else in traffic and the reason why they were rude. I got 100% situational attributions in my classroom demonstration (ie. "didn't see them" or "in a hurry").

Obviously, there is a bias somewhere as it's impossible for both ratios of situational/dispositional attributions to be correct simultaneously for all people.

Last, I ask them to look at their reasons why someone might be homeless and reconsider these reasons in terms of self serving bias.

Actor Observer Effect - Participants rate celebrities and themselves on attributes and find that their own ratings "depend on the situation" more often.

The Fundamental Attribution Error and Teacher Fallibility - Students learn that the teacher's seemingly all encompasing knowledge is situational, meaning that the teacher doesn't necessarily know more in other situations (ie. non-academic/psychology questions).

Meta Resource on Social Influence

There is a wonderful annotated bibliography of Classroom demonstrations in social psychology coming out in Social Influence by Steven Elias and Anthony Pratkanis tentatively entitled "Teaching Social Influence: Demonstrations and Excercises from the Discipline of Social Psychology".

The Virtual Cola Challenge - Experimental Methodology & Design

This was published by (Akers and Hodge 2006) in Teaching of Psychology. In the past, instructors have used cola taste test challenges, modeled after the Pepsi challenge, to illustrate research design pitfalls ((Smith 2002), (Hodge 1986)). However, doing such a test is very time consuming. The authors of this paper tell of doing a virtual challenge where they have students imagine tasting 2 colas. Over 11 semesters, the imaginary cola presented first was preferred more significantly (at least a marginal significance level) 10 times with 400+ students. Students reported learning about how factors like presentation order could influence research results.

Standing Silently in the Face of Oppression - Prejudice and Stereotype in Societal Context - "To know, for example, that a school counselor discouraged a student from continuing his/her education is different from finding out that this same sexist or racist scenario has played out in other schools in other cities and states. Again, this activity helps students to situate themselves in society, and to use a sociological imagination to understand that their experiences can be analyzed as a systemic problem, not just as an individual issue."

Demonstrating Partisanship in Politics

Originally by Prof. Michael Martinez via the spsp list...

2 versions of this questionnaire ->

....were given in version with and one version without party affiliations. Students voted along partisan lines for commisioner of agriculture when party labels were provided while they generally didn't vote at all when no labels were provided. The idea is to show the importance of partisanship as a cue in low information contexts.

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