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A Psychology Student's Mental Experience

Archive for the tag “student”

Reading for Research and Other Reasons

As an undergraduate I have got into the habit of reading lots of journal articles for research. When I have an assignment to write, or an essay coming up, I hit the university journal search engine dig out stacks of journal articles about whatever it is I’m writing about. I think I’m actually fairly good at this, I tend to read and cite quite a lot of journals in each of my assignments. Probably too many actually.

Watching and listening to the assistant psychologists on the ward something has sunk in: the importance of reading journals not for the sake of research but in order to keep up with new developments in the field. When you become an assistant psychologist, and very much when you are sitting in the interview for the clinical psychology course, you will be expected to have a good knowledge of what is happening in the field, any changes to NICE guidelines, and so on. From what I can tell knowing the names of prominent psychologists really helps too.

I’m going to spend some of my tube journey into placement reading some journals instead of watching nonstop tv episodes on my laptop (it takes me up to three hours one-way if there are delays!). Reading whole journals rather than just specific articles will be a new experience! Hopefully one I find interesting! Although I have to admit I fully intend to skip some articles if I don’t find them interesting.

Talking about keeping up with journals, I found out today that some of the old Clinical Psychology Forum issues (Currently those before Sep 2010) are available for free to student members of the BPS. Even though they’re not the most recent issues (the newer ones cost a few quid each), they’re worth a read as there are some very interesting articles in there.

What are the similarities and differences between conformity, compliance, and obedience?

Here’s another one of my first year assignments for your casual reading. Please bear in mind that this is all written by myself as a first year student, so it’s accuracy is not to be taken as gospel! Having said that this essay bagged me an A grade, so it can’t be all bad 🙂

What are the similarities and differences between conformity, compliance, and obedience?

This essay looks at the concepts of conformity, compliance, and obedience and lays out the similiarities and differences between them by looking at the factors that influence each. It concludes that conformity stands apart from compliance and obedience, which share more similarities than differences. The reasons for this may be evolutionary in nature.

Conformity, compliance, and obedience are forms of social influence which strongly affect our behaviour is social situations, from following fashions and unwritten social norms which organise our behaviour, to committing immoral acts because we are commanded to by someone who appears to be in a position of authority. This essay looks at the similarities and differences between the three, looking specifically at the factors that influence each three. In conclusion we find that two of the forms of social influence are very similar, almost interchangeable, while the third stands alone with influencing factors different from the other two.

1. Conformity

Conformity is the tendency for people to change their behaviour and paradigm to fit social norms. Experiments (Asch, 1951; Aarts & Dijksterhuis, 2003) have shown that when confronted by social norms individuals will often adjust their paradigm and behaviour to closer approximate the perceived norm. The Asch (1951) experiment involved subjects performing a perception task, saying which of a selection of lines matched a control line in length. Unbeknown to the subject the other participants in the room were all confederates, and the seating was arranged so that the confederates would each give their answer to the trial in turn, with the subject giving their answer last. On critical trials the confederates would all give the same incorrect answer to the question. The experiment showed that around 76% of the subjects would conform to the incorrect answer at least once. In the Aarts & Dijksterhuis (2003) experiment participants who were exposed to pictures of a situation where there is a social expectation of silence, a library, were later quieter on a pronunciation task than the participants who were shown pictures of a normally noisy situation, a railway station. This showed that the normative behaviour of being silent had been unconsciously activated in those subjects who saw the library picture.

There seem to be three main reasons for conformity: a need to be accepted into the societal group, an aversion to conflict, and informational social influence. Each of these could be argued to have ethological roots: improving the accuracy of an individual’s perception of the world, allowing them to assess threats more accurately for the latter reason, and improving an individual’s chances of being accepted into, and protected by, a “tribe” for the former two reasons.

2. Compliance

Compliance is one person yielding to the requests of another. Much research has been carried out into what influences compliance. After participating in training programs of various professions which depend on the professional’s ability to elicit compliance, such as sales and marketing, Cialdini (as cited in Baron, Branscombe, and Byrne 2006) established a list of six main factors that impact compliance rate: friendship / liking, commitment / concistency, scarcity, reciprocity, social validation, and authority.

3. Obedience

Obedience is defined as being “Simply, acting in accordance with rules or orders” (Reber, Reber, & Allen, 2004). Conformity has been studied most famously by Milgram (2010). In his experiment a subject was told to apply electric shocks of increasing strength to a learner, actually a confederate, whenever they made mistakes on a memory task. If the subjects expressed concern the experimenter responded simply with pre-arranged stock sentences such as “The experiment must continue”. Around 65% of participants showed obedience up to the level of administering shocks they believed to be highly dangerous.

4. Similarities

The three concepts of conformity, compliance, and obedience are interrelated and share a number of similarities.
Both compliance and conformity have been shown to be improved by positive inter-personal attitudes. Ingratiation and flattery has been shown to correlate with improved compliance, as has performing small favours for the subject and a positive self-presentation (Gordon, 1996). Drawing attention to incidental similarities between the requestor and the requestee has likewise been shown to improve compliance (Burger et al., 2004) by improving the “friendship” between the two. Similarly cohesiveness of the group has been shown to affect conformity (Crandall, 1988).

Compliance and obedience also have a similarity in the foot-in-the-door approach. Studies have shown that having the participant commit to a small act, such as accepting a taster at a supermarket, can improve later compliance to request (Freedman & Fraser, 1966). This is reflected in the Milgram (2010) experiments on obedience where the subject built up from smaller shocks to larger ones.

Conformity, compliance, and obedience are all subject to the effects of informational social influence. Conformity is obviously based on informational social influence and studies (Cialdini, Kallgren, & Reno, 1990; 2000) have further provided evidence for the normative focus theory; that the saliency of the social norm has a significant correlation to conformity. Compliance is subject to informational social influence under Cialdini’s category of social validation (as cited in Baron, Branscombe, and Byrne 2006), which draws on the subject’s desire to fit with the actions and expectations of society. Studies have also shown that the rate of obedience to destructive commands drops sharply if the participants are reminded that the weight of responsibility falls on their shoulders (Hamilton, 1978), i.e. that they are stepping outside the socially expected behaviour.
Finally obedience and compliance can, for the sake of much of the above, be considered the same thing as while compliance is a request and obedience is an order, both are requesting that the subject comply with the demand.

5. Differences

Compliance and obedience have one main difference: one is a request, a question, and the other is a direct command. While one invites the subject to decline, a command carries with it the social expectations of obedience.
Conformity is strongly affected by whether the culture in question is orientated to individualism or collectivism (Bond & Smith, 1996), however compliance and obedience are less likely to be affected by this particular factor.
Conformity is generally an internalising of the social norms, where the subject takes these and incorporates them into their own paradigm. Conformed behaviour can be shown to become “automatic”, i.e. unconscious, such as in the experiment by Aarts & Dijkersterhuis (2003). However public compliance and obedience do not necessarily belie private attitudes and beliefs.
While compliance and obedience are the result of social expectations, self-gain, and fear of conflict or punishment, conformity also has a stronger ethological cause: The perceptions and behaviours of the majority are likely to be more accurate and conducive to survival than those of the individual or minority.

6. Conclusion

Conformity, compliance and obedience have many aspects in common, however there are more similarities specific to compliance and obedience than those shared by conformity. Most of the differences identified above are between conformity on one side and compliance and obedience on the other.
Conformity is usually internalised by the individual (Aarts & Dijkersterhuis, 2003), whereas compliance and obedience can occur even in the presence of cognitive dissonance. Ethologically conformity can be considered a survival instinct, and may well have preceded our ability to communicate and thus compliance and obedience may be relatively new to us.
Finally obedience is a submission to power, however conformity and compliance are based on more positive driving forces of survival and coherence of the social group.

Aarts, H., & Dijksterhuis, A. (2003). The Silence of the Library:Environment, Situational Norm, and Social Behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 84 (1), 18-28.
Asch, S. E. (1951). Effects of group pressure on the modification and distortion of judgments. In H. Guetzkow (Ed.), Groups, leadership and men (pp. 177-190). Pittsburgh, PA: Carnegie Press.
Baron, R., Byrne, D., Branscombe, N. (2006), Social Psychology 11th Ed, Pearson Education
Bond, R., & Smith, P. (1996). Culture and Conformity: A Meta-Analysis of Studies Using Asch’s (1952b, 1956) Line Judgment Task. 119 (1), 111-137.
Burger, J., Messian, N., Patel, S., Prado, A. d., & Anderson, C. (2004). What a Coincidence! The Effects of Incidental Similarity on Compliance. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin , 30, 35-43.
Cialdini, R., Kallgren, C., & Reno, R. (1990). A Focus Theory of Normative Conduct: Recycling the Concept of Norms to Reduce Littering in Public Places. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 58 (6), 1015-1026.
Cialdini, R., Kallgren, C., & Reno, R. (2000). A Focus Theory of Normative Conduct: When Norms Do and Do Not Affect Behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (26), 1002-1012.
Crandall, C. (1988). Social Contagion of Binge Eating. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 55 (4), 588-598.
Freedman, J., & Fraser, S. (1966). Compliance Without Pressure: The Foot-In-The-Door Technique. Journal ol Personality and Social Psychology , 4 (2), 195-202.
Gordon, R. (1996). Impact of Ingratiation on Judgments and Evaluations: A Meta-Analytic Investigation. Journal or Personality and Social Psychology , 71 (1), 54-70.
Hamilton, V. (1978). Obedience and Responsibility: A Jury Simulation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology , 36 (2), 126-146.
Milgram, S. (2010). Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View. Pinter & Martin Ltd.
Reber, E., Reber, A., & Allen, R. (2004). Dictionary of Psychology (3rd Edition ed.). Penguin.

End of Year Retrospective

I have reached the end of my second year (of four) of university so I thought it might be good to have a quick look back at what the year brought me.

After a number of interviews, and a ridiculous amount of applications and searching, I finally found an excellent placement working in a Forensic Psychology setting. It wasn’t an area that I had considered before, but now I feel it is a door that has opened for me.

Returning from placement I landed in what most people describe as the most difficult term of the entire degree. Five different modules, all of which were assessed 100% by exams (as opposed to an exam/coursework split). Developmental Psychology was the one I was most looking forward to, but due to issues with the lecturer it turned out to be my least liked. Those issues were so bad that myself and the other student rep had to call a meeting with the lecturer and the senior staff, which ended in two hours of him shouting at us all! Cognitive Psychology was actually ok, despite being a module that I can’t quite get excited about. Social Psychology was great, and the lecturer (who is in fact the aforementioned senior staff member) provided excellent handouts which really helped with my complete inability to take good notes! I think I would be interested in taking the advanced social psychology module if there is one, since this module was an excellent foundation but has left me hungry for more. I absolutely loved the Individual Differences module – all about personality and intelligence. I would definitely like to learn more in this area too, and I particularly enjoyed reading about Rogers whose theories I have loved for a long time now. But I was surprised to find that after speed-reading Goldstein’s The Organism I actually prefer his theories to Rogers! Finally I absolutely love love loved biological psychology and thoroughly enjoyed learning about hemispheric specialisation for the exam (I might even write a post about it). I will definitely be looking out for opportunities to learn more in this field.

This year saw me, for the first time, take a break from the Psychology Society and hand over the reigns to other students so that it may grow. And it has done, with my best friend at the helm the society has done fantastically well and gone from strength to strength. However I missed being involved in society activitdp (although I have to admit with this killer term I know I made the right choice), so I have re-joined the psychology society committee as treasures and also founded the university’s first ever Zombie society!

The exams at the end of the year were tough, and as I have said before I have many regrets for the lack of effort I put in earlier in the term. I am particularly disappointed in my Individual Differences exam which I was actually really excited about, cut neither of the two topics I has revised especially well and been extra interested in came up, so I had to fall back on my two backup topics.

I also finally “get” using mind-maps for revision. It may not be the best way of learning little facts like authors and dates of studies, but it ties everything together in a structured way which really helps remembering the rest of the stuff and can make a big difference when it comes to structuring your exam answers.

I also stopped volunteering with MIND this term, once again to allow me to concentrate on my studies. My level 3 NVQ in mental health work was similarly put on hold. I do miss the volunteering and one day I will take it up again (although probably doing something new) but for a while I think I am going to make good use of the extra day a week free.

Looking forward, I have spent the day preparing to resume my NVQ work. Learning from my revision experience I have created a plan of what work to do on what day, and provided I stick to my quite intense schedule I will be finished in about three weeks ish. I have also started planning to get ahead for my next term; I have obtained copies of the lecture slides and I will add them as tasks on my schedule. I will also be returning to the gym tomorrow after almost three weeks off. I am dying to go! These past weeks I have done no exercise at all and my diet has been appalling!

So in many ways nothing has changed – I am still working hard! But at least now I don’t need to feel guilty every time I take a break!

Revision Tips #1 – Memory

A big part of studying is about remembering. Of course you have to then be critical, evaluate the arguments, and so on, but if you can’t remember any of the arguments or the evidence you are pretty stuck! So I’ve put together this post with lots of empirically supported information about memory to help you tackle your revision. I hope you find this useful, and if you do please rate the article using the stars at the bottom, and maybe leave a comment with some tips of your own!

Can remembering make you forget?
If we repeatedly attempt to retrieve a memory we improve our ability to do so in the long term. This is called the testing effect. However it has a side effect that you may not know about – it can actually reduce our ability to recall those things that we have not “tested” ourselves on (Anderson et al., 1994). However in contrast it has also been found to improve recall of non-tested material in certain instances (). Chan (2009) conducted some experiments to determine under which conditions each of these occured, and although I will not go into the detailed description (which would require explaining the van Dijk & Kintsch (1983) text processing model, which I am not convinced I really understand myself!) the summary seems to be that the more we can integrate what we are learning with existing knowledge the better we will be at remembering it. However learning independent facts that are unrelated and difficult to integrate into our existing knowledge can lead to the forgetting effect.
So what do we do with that?
When you are revising, remember to link things together as much as possible. Do not learn things individually, but relate them to each other. For example when learning about the van Dijk & Kintsch (1983) text processing model I could compare it to other models, and think about how it fits into the wider context of our ability to read.

Despite many claims in both directions, Nehlig (2010) reported that caffeine has inconcistent effects on memory and attention, with no benefits being seen from intentionally learned data. Mednick et al. (2008) also reported that caffeine had minimal impact on memory and motor performance tasks compared to napping.
It should also be noted that the impact of caffeine on sleep may have a subsequent impact on memory and recall. The general advice seems to be that you should only consume caffeine first thing in the morning, if at all.

Van Der Werf et al. (2009) found that it isn’t just the amount of sleep you get that is important for good memory and recall, but also the type. Shallow sleep (caused by disrupted sleep) leeds to weaker subsequent hippocampal activation compared to participants who experienced deep sleep.
So it is important not only to get enough sleep (and ignore what people say about a minimum of 8 hours, everyone is different and requires a different amount of sleep), it is also important to ensure you get good quality sleep. This means avoiding stimulants like caffiene and nicotine before you sleep, avoiding eating just before bed, and having a quiet place to sleep among other things. Have a look at this page on Sleep Hygiene for more information.

Cue-Dependent Memory
Everyone has heard that you remember things better in the same environment that you learned them in. This is called reinstatement effect (as in, the learning environment is reinstated at recall) or cue-dependent memory). This theory has a long history, perhaps most famously demonstrated by Godden and Baddeley (1975) who had participants memorise word lists underwater then found that they recalled those lists better underwater than on land. There is a long controversy around these findings, with many studies failing to replicate the results in a variety of environmental conditions, however an in-depth meta-analysis by Smith & Vela (2001) has shown reliable results so maybe there is something in it after all.
However it has also been claimed (Carey, 2010) that varying your learning environment improves subsequent recall, possibly by building more associations in your memory.
So what do we do with this?
You should ideally keep environmental distractors to a minimum anyway as things like music, TV, etc. draw your attention away from what you are learning and studies have shown that divided attention leads to poorer memory encoding. However there may be an added benefit here to matching the environment to your test condition (the quiet of an exam hall for example). I have also seen suggestions that wearing a specific perfume or cologne while revising then wearing that same one in the exams may help – however I have not seen any empirical evidence of this!

Spaced Learning
Screenshot of the Mnemosyne softwareA long long time ago, Ebbinghaus (1913) discovered that learning could be significantly improved by correctly spacing practice sessions, however his techniques failed to gain the popularity they deserve. More recently Piotr Wozniak performed research into finding the optimal spacing for retention, and developed an algorithm which he built into his software SuperMemo. The algorithm has also been adapted and included in the free software Mnemosyne which is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
Using this software you can test yourself regularly in a way that is evidence-based to give you the best recall. Mnemosyne is very simple to use, and you can even get an add on which works on Android phones so you can test yourself any time.

Related to this Taylor (2010) also found that practicing different skills in an interwoven spaced approach rather than as one block improved performance. So rather than spending a whole day learning one topic, you are better off mixing things up a bit!

Anderson, M. C., Bjork, R. A., & Bjork, E. L. (1994). Remembering can cause forgetting: Retrieval dynamics in long-term memory. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 20, 1063–1087.

Carey, B., 2010 Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits. New York Times. Accessed: 20-Apr-2012

Chan, J.C.K., 2009. When does retrieval induce forgetting and when does it induce facilitation? Implications for retrieval inhibition, testing effect, and text processing. Journal of Memory and Language, 61(2), pp.153-170.

Ebbinghaus, H., Ruger, H. Alford. (1913). Memory: a contribution to experimental psychology. New York: Teachers College, Columbia University.

Godden,D. R., & Baddeley,A. D. (1975). Context-dependent memory in two natural environments: Land and underwater. British Journal of Psychology, 66, 325-331.

Mednick, S.C. et al., 2008. Comparing the benefits of caffeine, naps and placebo on verbal, motor and perceptual memory. Behavioural brain research, 193(1), pp.79-86.

Nehlig, A., 2010. Is caffeine a cognitive enhancer? Journal of Alzheimer’s disease : JAD, 20 Suppl 1, pp.S85-94.

Smith, S.M. & Vela, E., 2001. Environmental context-dependent memory: a review and meta-analysis. Psychonomic bulletin & review, 8(2), pp.203-20.

Taylor, K. & Rohrer, D., 2010. The effects of interleaved practice. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24, pp.837-848.

Van Der Werf, Y.D. et al., 2009. Sleep benefits subsequent hippocampal functioning. Nature neuroscience, 12(2), pp.122-3.

van Dijk, T. A., & Kintsch, W. (1983). Strategies of discourse comprehension. New York: Academic Press.

Being an Ambassador

I have been a Student Ambassador for Widening Participation pretty much since my first week at Brunel. I was introduced to the scheme by the ambassadors that facilitated Head Start Week that I attended in my first year (a week before freshers week where certain students have the opportunity to come in, experience various lectures and seminars, and get to explore the campus and services). As a ambassador for widening participation I get to talk to younger students from under represented backgrounds about the benefits and experience of higher education. I give short talks on my experience as a student, take groups on tours of the campus, and try to fill young students with an interest and enthusiasm for higher education that they might not otherwise have.

And there are days like today, where I am at a higher education fayre at a college. I am here to talk to students and parents and there are a lot more practical questions to answer (most groups on campus are primary or middle school so much more general interest).

I love this work, I love having the opportunity to encourage people from a more difficult background (like myself) to aim higher, to believe in themselves and aspire to be better than the opportunities given to them. And as a student I have to admit that, being paid work, the money is certainly welcome!

Keep Moving Forward

Unfortunately I did not get the placement I applied for. It upset me quite a lot when I first found out. But now a bit of time has passed and I am able to view things in a much more constructive way. I have been able to learn a lot from the experience, and have done more research into how to succeed in interviews (the best of which I have crammed into an article I’ve written for the next PsychNews, so keep your eyes peeled!). I know now that I will do even better in the next interview I face thanks to this experience.

I have also found a back-up placement. It is at where I volunteer, which is why ideally I would like to avoid it for the sake of widening my experiences. But it is there as a fallback, which takes the pressure off somewhat.

I have finally managed to get myself in gear and start revising. I am tackling statistics first since I missed almost all of the lectures. There is an awful lot that I don’t understand, but I am getting there slowly. MS OneNote is proving to be a real godsend for my note-making/revising despite its many flaws, thank you Gil for insisting I try it out!

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