Memories

It’s amazing. It suddenly occurred to me that I’ve got another account here at wordpress. Wonder whether my classmates from psychology class still drop by occasionally. It’s amazing why people end up resorting to blogging to share their thoughts.

Gossip.

          My usual get together with my ex-classmates took place over the weekend and one thing that struck me as interesting was that although we call it a catching up session, these gatherings often end up as gossip sessions, where everyone contributes a little to the conversation pot. Why do people, myself included, enjoy gossiping and listening to the gossips, about other people in their lives, I wonder.

          Gossiping is an age-old activity people indulge in, ranging from gossip in the small community in the olden days where people simply talk about those in their same village to the present day where people gain access to gossips online about the lives of the famous and rich. The spread of information on the internet and other media sources can be said as a case of supply and demand. Curiosity is the nature of human mind and the need to obtain as much information about the world is a natural instinct. We need to hoard information in order to increase our knowledge for survival. In addition, we need to know things so that we have topics to discuss with our peers, which in turn brings ourselves into the circle, aiding in our survival within the social group.

          With applications such as facebook, friendster, and the various blogging websites, the ease of finding gossip fodder is brought to greater heights. Very often I will hear my friends telling me intimate information about X and Y becoming a couple, A and B having broken up due to a third party, when these people are those we have almost never spoken to in our lives. Some of us even know tiny details of the lives of our favourite, or most hated, celebrities, and relish the spreading of all the ‘knowledge’ that we manage to acquire. When asked where those information came from, the answers would almost always be the internet. Why do we even care about these information about those whom we seldom, or almost never thought of?

          Perhaps it is our need to know whether the other people we know, especially those whom we dislike, are now better off or worse off than us. Knowing bad gossips about those people will make us feel better while good gossips (if they ever do occasionally occur) are up to us to rationalise about. We are free to rationalise that gossips are seldom true when they aren’t to our advantage while on the other hand tell ourselves that all gossips have a tinge of truth in them if they are. It all boils down to the need to survive. In the present day, survival is no longer limited to finding enough food and protecting ourselves from predators. It also includes being able to increase our self-worth and self-esteem. Feeling good about ourselves is highly important in deciding whether we can appease our greatest enemy, that is, ourselves.

          However, we have to always take note that although gossips are great conversation starters, the power of gossip is unimaginable. Think of the butterfly effect where a butterfly’s wings might create tiny changes in the atmosphere that may ultimately alter the path of a tornado or delay, accelerate or even prevent the occurrence of a tornado at a certain location. Gossips may have started as something harmless and really tiny, but eventually, they may alter another person’s life. It may be a good thing to think twice before spreading our next gossip on to our friends and acquaintances.

Stereotyping.

          While driving my father’s car out to run some errands, I encountered a driver who seemed quite confused about where to go and made many blunders while driving. I caught myself having the urge to assume that the driver was female. So strong was the stereotype of women being poor drivers etched into my brain that as a female myself, even I could not help but also possess a poor opinion of female drivers!

          Stereotypes are built from information that we collect from the society around us, including our parents, friends and most importantly, the mass media. This is a very useful tool for the human brain to categorise information about things that are similar in nature so that it is easier for us to retrieve the information or memory that we previously stored. The human brain is bombarded with many responsibilites and has to handle many functions at one time. In the event that we are required to react quickly to a situation without delay, information retrieval has to happen with haste.

          This explains why many people, myself included, quickly form opinions about individuals from other ‘categories’ created by society and ourselves. The efficiency of our brains in performing categorisation of objects, animals and individuals, become a double edged sword when these categories get associated with negative feelings. Such an association is known as prejudice and they very often evolved into acts of discrimination which deny members of certain categories the right to equal chances in the society.

          A friend once told me about his experience with discrimination while on a tour in Sydney, a state where racism against the Chinese was rumoured to be quite pronounced. His family was commanded to empty their belongings on the floor of a shop as the alarm system sounded when they were leaving. Prior to that was a caucasian who also caused the alarm to go off while leaving but no action was taken against him. The experience finally made him realise the agony of belonging to the discriminated community in the society.

          Having lived in Singapore as the majority race has blinded us to the reality of discrimination. Perhaps discrimination did not seem to be a great issue in our country because as the majority of the population, we Chinese are blind to the discrimination as we are the perpetrators and not the receivers of the treatment. As the majority, our community easily assigns various characteristics to the other communities without questioning reasons for doing so. This leads to unfair association of these communities with characteristics that may not be true of their culture and habits. Worse, such associations may even lead to self-fulfilling prophecies where the said communities accept the associations and begin behaving in the manner that others believed they would.

          It is therefore important to question the impressions that we form about others before coming to conclusions. Making the mistake of stereotyping individuals leading to prejudice or discrimination is unfair to other individuals and deprives both ourselves in getting to know them better as an unique individual and their opportunities in the society.

Peer Pressure and Ostracism

          Peer pressure. The first thing that comes to our minds will be the connection between peer pressure, friends and school. However, peer pressure is in fact, something that is commonly experienced by all individuals, regardless of age.

          In the schoolhouse, we feel the pressure to change certain behaviours and keep certain comments silent in order to “belong”. Those who appeared to be different from the rest or refuse to conform were usually rejected by the rest of the class, or even the school. The same occurs at the workplace, where some individuals were always left out of after work drinks and lunch breaks. Is this our way of selecting the fittest to survive? In the present society, the fittest does not necessarily mean the person who has the biggest muscles, win fights to attract mates or manage to bring back the most food. Humans have evolved such that social skills seem to be of the utmost importance in ensuring survival, whether in the school or working society. We are social creatures and need other people in order to survive.

          Individuals who do not manage to fit in sometimes contemplate suicide, showing the power of ostracism. Ostracism is such an effective punishment that in order to avoid it, many individuals choose to conform to the expectations of the social group that they have chosen to belong to. In order to ensure that we are accepted by other, people try to appear likeable to everyone, including strangers. This is one of the self-presentation goals that appears the most in our cognitive processes. In order to appear likeable, we mould ourselves into the character that will incur positive feelings and relationships. When in the brink of being ostracised, individuals have a higher tendency to show their loyalty to the group by conforming to the actions and attitudes of group members, hoping to avoid exclusion.

          Why the emphasis on getting accepted in the group? Humans are wired to instinctively do anything that they can to survive in this world. As a lone individual, it is very difficult, in fact almost impossible to survive, whether in the prehistorical era or modern one. As a child, we rely and need our parents to take care of us, in order to survive, hence the need to learn how to get along with them. As we grow up and enter the schoolhouse environment, we spend much of our time with our peers. Therefore, our emotional supporting unit shifts to the peers that we have.

          Growing up can be a stressful thing as changes happen both emotionally and physically. Having peers going through the same phase to share these experiences with is an essential support. In order to survive the stress from all these changes, we need to belong among these peers whom we have chosen to ‘hang out’ with. The terrible feeling of becoming an outcast stems from the fear that we might not be able to handle any troubles or setbacks that may come along in life without the help of all these people whom we may rely on, both emotionally and physically.

          However, the good news is that such acts of conformity reduces as individuals grow older. Besides that, not all individuals conform to the majority. There exist individuals who maintained their stand and did not succumb to group pressure. Research have shown that those resilient to peer pressure are individuals with high self-esteem. In addition, they are more motivated to achieve, possess more leadership ability and are less concerned about obtaining other people’s approval as compared to their counterparts who conform. They also tend to be less concientious and authoritarian.

          Have you ever caught yourself witholding certain opinions because you know that they are different from those who belong to your clique? We try our best to fit into the group as it can be difficult to disagree with the majority but it is more important to ensure that we do not conform blindly to the group’s intentions. Peer pressure can be a double-edged sword. If an individual was pressured by the group to work hard and do good, conformity might not be a bad thing. On the other hand, it would be terrible to conform if one was pressed to pick up bad habits. It eventually all boils down to an individual’s ability to differentiate between the right and wrong when it comes to peer pressure.

The grass is greener on the other side

          Have you ever felt this way about life? Another person’s life always seems rosier than your bleak little one. It has been quite a while since I felt that way. Someone very close to my heart told me the crux of having self-esteem is being happy the way you are. But is that attainable? Someone who is barely making ends meet will probably wish for all the money in the world while the person who has already got all the money in the world might be wishing for something else.

          Why is the grass always greener on the other side? Maybe the grass looked greener precisely because we are not on the other side to look at it. Perhaps if we were given a day to live another person’s life, every single tiny bit of it, we might end up preferring our own. Everyone tries to paint a perfect image of themselves to strangers, hence it will be easy to see the pretty sides of their lives. The biggest problem with looking at someone else’s life and envying them is that we only get to see bits and pieces of that life. There are simply too many things hidden from our view as the grass patch is far away.

          Being contented with life is the key ingredient to happiness. Instead of constantly looking over at the lawns of other people, we can try appreciating the beauty of our own. Nurture our own grass patches and make them beauties that we can grow to love.

Overestimating Ourselves and Underestimating Others?

Meet The Fockers

Directed by Jay Roach
Produced by Robert De Niro,
Jay Roach,
Jane Rosenthal
Written by Mary Ruth Clarke and Greg Glienna (characters)
John Hamburg and Marc Hyman (story)
James Herzfeld & John Hamburg (screenplay)
Starring Ben Stiller (Gaylord Greg Myron Focker)
Robert De Niro (Jack Tiberius Byrnes, Father of Pamela)
Teri Polo (Pamela Martha Byrnes/ Pamela Martha Focker)
Dustin Hoffman (Bernard Focker, Father of Greg)
Barbra Streisand (Rozalin Focker, Mother of Greg)
Blythe Danner (Dina Byrnes, Mother of Pamela)
Music by Randy Newman
Distributed by USA
Universal Studios
– non-USA –
DreamWorks
Release date(s) December 22, 2004
Running time 110 min.
Language English
Preceded by Meet the Parents (2000)
Followed by

Little Fockers (2009)

IMDb profile (Adopted from Wikipedia)

          I recently re-watched Meet the Fockers, a comedy starring Ben Stiller who was acting as the son-in-law, Greg Focker, of a retired CIA agent, Jack Byrnes (portrayed by Robert De Niro). Jack always wanted to protect his daughter and hence did everything that he could to test Greg’s sincerity and honesty. 

          The one thing that stuck in my mind was how much Jack emphasized on the circle of trust. Greg was kicked out of the circle of trust after being suspected of having had a child with another woman, prior to wedding his wife. This little episode in the movie reminded me of the attribution theory that Prof Tan mentioned in his recent-most lecture.

          The attribution theory is a description of the way that people explain the causes for the behaviours of themselves and others. Fritz Heider (1958) proposed that there are two ways that people attribute these causes, namely: internal attributions, and external attributions.

          A good example of a bias in the attribution theory could be seen from Jack Byrne’s natural tendency to distrust people outside of his circle of trust. This was probably due to his training in the CIA where he was taught to instinctively attribute the cause of people’s behaviours to their characters before assessing the entire situation.

          The same phenomenon can be seen to be replicated in normal life events. In the event that one commits the same mistake as another person, a disparity in the assignment of blame will most likely occur. Fundamental attribution error and self-serving attribution could be said to be at work in this case.

          Self-serving attribution is defined as the tendency of an individual to assign self  successes to internal, dispositional factors and blame external, situational factors for self failures. Fundamental attribution error occurs when an individual tends to overestimate the extent to which a person’s behaviour is due to internal, dispositional factors and underestimate the role of situational factors.  When we commit the mistake, it’ll usually be due to “bad mood”, or it is “just not our day”. However, when the fault lies with someone else, it will be due to the person being “incompetent”.

          The instinct to protect ourselves is one that is natural and could be seen even in social situations. Defensive self-serving attributions are good examples of such an instinct. We are wired to rationalise our behaviours in ways that avoid feelings of vulnerability and mortality so that we can survive better in the world. In addition, unrealistic optimism, which is a belief that good things are more likely to happen to oneself than to his or her peers and vice versa for negative events, further serve to help a person avoid those feelings better.

          In a nutshell, I feel that the instinct to survive is a powerful force in the formulation of our thoughts and beliefs which in turn shape our behaviours. In order to survive better, we have the need to feel good about ourselves, hence we are wired to avoid feelings that tend to attack our self-esteem and encourage those that will make us feel more competent and confident to handle the stresses in life.

Just an Introduction to this Humble Blog

What do the templates we choose reflect about our temperaments (or in common terms, character)? I wonder. This blog was set up specially for the purpose of jotting down thoughts related to social psychology. Hope everyone enjoys the little events in life that reminded us of the many interesting theories we learnt in social psychology.