56 Applying Social Psychology
The Analysis Phase:
In the Problem phase (Chapter 2) we have already explored some possible explanations for the problem. In the Analysis phase we continue the search for explanations. First, we define the outcome variable, that is, the variable that we want to change. Ideally the outcome variable should be phrased in terms of the desired end situation (for example, tolerance towards ethnic police officers). Subsequently, in the divergent stage we try to generate as many explanations as possible and try to link these explanations to relevant social psychological theories. Finally, in the convergent stage we evaluate each of the theory-based explanations in terms of their relevance, validity, and plausibility for the problem under investigation.
SPECIFYING THE OUTCOME VARIABLE
SPECIFYING THE OUTCOME VARIABLE
What do we want to influence? In the previous chapter we stated that the problem must be operationalized as precisely as possible, specifying exactly what the problem is, why and for whom it is a problem, and the main causes of the problem. After formulating a problem definition it is often clear what variable we want to explain, and eventually change to remedy the problem. For example, in tackling workplace bullying it is quite clear that bullying is the problem and that interventions should focus on dealing with bullying tactics (Smith, Talamelli, Cowie, Naylor & Chauhan, 2004). Thus, the outcome variable here — what must be explained and changed — is bullying behaviour. Yet the outcome variable has not always been properly identified in the Problem phase. A first aim of the Analysis phase is to specify the outcome variable or variables in order to clarify what the target behaviours are for intervention. In our case, that variable often has a social psychological dimension. As stated before, ideally the outcome variable will be phrased in terms of the desired end state, for example, less bullying in the workplace, more garbage recycling, a reduction in teenage pregnancies, more positive attitudes toward gays.
The Analysis Phase 57
By and large, the literature distinguishes between three different social psychological variables (see for example, Aronson, Wilson & Akert, 2002; Brehm, Kassin & Fein, 2005; Hewstone, Stroebe & Jonas, 2005; Hogg & Vaughan, 2005; Kenrick, Neuberg & Cialdini, 2005; Myers, 2005).
1. Behaviours and behavioural intentions: how do we (intend to) behave? Examples are aggression, absenteeism, anti-social behaviour, sexism, smoking, dieting, donating to charity, and volunteering.
2. Attitudes and cognitions what do we think and value? Examples are attitudes towards ethnic minority members, beliefs and optimism about personal health, knowledge about safe sex practices, preferences for modes of transport, support for abortion programmes.
3. Emotions or affect what do we feel? Examples are fear of death, anger towards authorities, stress feelings, feelings about unfairness at work, worries about one's unhealthy practices, but also positive feelings like joy, happiness, and sympathy.
Sometimes an explanatory model incorporates behavioural, attitudinal as well as emotional factors, for example, in research programmes about smoking and dieting (Kok et al., 1996). As another example, in a study on absenteeism, Geurts, Buunk and Schaufeli (1994) examined how feelings of resentment and perceptions of one's own work situation relative to others predicted absenteeism.
With any problem it is vital for applied social psychologists to determine as early as possible what their primary outcome variable will be. Frequently the problem is defined only at a macro-level, for example, environmental pollution, gun crime or the incidence of breast cancer. In many cases, such societal problems are the starting point for research and intervention. For example, policy makers generally will be concerned about an increase in gun or knife killings, the air pollution in main industrial areas, or the number of women dying of breast cancer. However, social psychologists can affect these problems only indirectly, through inducing changes in a specific set of behaviours, attitudes, and feclings in a specific set of individuals. For example, pollution can be reduced if more people ride bikes instead of driving cars (Van Vugt et al., 1995). Gun crime can be tackled by making it more difficult for people to buy guns (Podell & Archer, 1994). The incidence of breast cancer can be reduced if women regularly engage in breast self-examination. Biking to work, a decreased interest in guns, and engaging in breast self-examination are the sort of outcome variables which are of interest to applied scientists using the PATH model.
It is preferable in the first instance to focus on a single outcome variable rather than a set of variables. First, the variables might be so closely related that a change in one factor will automatically produce a change in the other. In the context of healthy eating, for example, attitudes and behaviours are often related (Brug, Oenema & Campbell, 2003). Thus, it is assumed that a change in preference towards healthy food increases the sales of healthy foods like fruit and vegetables. Therefore, it is not necessary to include both variables as outcome variables: focusing on 'a preference for healthy food' as the outcome variable will suffice.
Second, when outcome variables are not directly related, it is often because they have a different ontogenetic history, and therefore require quite different explanations
58 Applying Social Psychology
and interventions. For example, there are generally weak correlations between a range of environmentally relevant behaviours like recycling, energy use, water conservation, and transportation (Gardner & Stern, 1996; Schulz & Oskamp, 2000). Hence, explanations for garbage recycling may have little to do with accounts of why people use buses or conserve energy or water. Accordingly, it would be unwise to incorporate them into a single PATH model. It is therefore clear that social psychologists must be selective in their decisions on what to focus on and choose between several outcome variables.
Box 3.1 Interview with Professor Dieter Frey of the University of
'I first got interested in applied social psychology more than 25 years ago. I began my applied research with a series of studies on the recuperation process after severe accidents and surgeries. I applied the basic social psychology of control theory and helplessness theory to this area. Our research showed that the recuperation process after severe accidents in large part depends on the answers to the following questions:
· Are victims asking the 'Why me?' question (Why did this happen to me?')?
· Do they think the accident could have been avoided?
· Do they think they were responsible for the accident?
· Can they foresee the process of recuperation?
· Do they think they can control the recuperation?
We found that the people who recover best are those who do not ask the 'Why me?' question, who see the accident as unavoidable, who do not hold themselves responsible for the accident, who can foresee the process of recuperation and who think that they can influence the recuperation process. Hopefully, this research contributed to a better understanding of the aftermath of severe accidents and to a better way of coping with such life crises for victims, their families and the social workers working with them.
'Later in my career, I did applied research on the environment and in the organizational field. In particular, I got more interested in how our social psychological theories can be applied in the natural setting of processes of motivation, leadership, optimizing teamwork, and innovation. For the future, I am very optimistic about applied social psychological research. I think that we will see an increase in research and the application of our knowledge, especially with regard to problems such as an ageing population and the needs of elderly people. I am
The Analysis Phase 59
glad about this development. In my opinion basic research alone is too boring (at least for me). Apart from this we have fascinating ideas in basic research that can be excellently applied in natural settings. It would be a waste not to do so.'
Interested in Dieter Frey's work? Then read, for instance:
Frey, D. (1985). Psychological determinants in the convalescence of accident patients. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 6(4), 317-328.
Frey, D. & Brodbeck, F. (2002). Group processes in organizations. In N.J. Smelser & P. Baltes (Eds.), International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioral Sciences (Band 9, pp. 6407-6413). Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Elsevier Science.
REQUIREMENTS FOR THE OUTCOME VARIABLE
In order to be a useful target of influence, an outcome variable must meet the following criteria:
1. it must be relevant to the problem (relevance);
2. it must be described in specific and concrete terms (specificity);
3. it must be described in continuous terms (continuity).
The outcome variable must be relevant to the problem. First, the outcome variable must follow on logically from the problem definition. If the problem analysis suggests, for example, that there is a high turnover among ethnic officers in the police force, then it would make sense to choose as the outcome variable a reduction in the turnover of ethnic officers rather than recruiting more ethnic minority staff. Or, in efforts to promote volunteering activities to help the aged, the outcome variable should be the willingness of people to do volunteer work rather than improving the welfare of the people that are being helped, which is, of course, the ultimate goal. Thus, the outcome variable must closely follow the problem definition and should ideally reflect the desired state (for example, less turnover, more energy conservation).
The variable must be described in specific, concrete terms. In the PATH model, the outcome variable ought to be as concrete as possible. Rather than talking about a need to discourage anti-social behaviours in general, one should target a particular activity. For instance, one should focus instead on concrete behaviours like littering, vandalism,
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graffiti, and so on. Even something like 'household recycling' may not be specific enough for an intervention, and one might need to focus instead on recycling garden waste in particular. Specifying the outcome variable is important because outcome variables that are formulated too broadly make it hard to develop an intervention programme that effectively deals with the problem. An intervention programme based on an outcome variable that is defined too broadly, runs the risk of influencing aspects of the outcome variable that are not problematic at all while they may leave intact the aspect that is. For instance, when the government wants to encourage citizens to recycle paper, an information campaign developed to affect citizens' household recycling' (outcome variable) may affect the recycling of glass (which is not the problem) but not the recycling of paper. Thus, social psychologists must be very specific about which variables they wish to focus on.
The variable must be continuous so that it can be described in quantitative terms (less' or `more'). It is useful to describe the outcome variable in quantitative terms, for example, in terms of frequency (`How often do you go to work by car?') or intensity (1-low much do you enjoy smoking?'). Factors such as 'recruitment policy' or 'choice of travel mode' are inadequate as outcome variables because they cannot be described in terms of 'more' or 'less'. There are two reasons why it is important to choose a continuous outcome variable. First, it makes it easier to generate explanations for the problem, and describe the causal model. For example, one can think of specific explanations for why some people use their car more frequently than others, or why people enjoy exercise more or less. In contrast, finding a satisfactory explanation for an insufficiently quantified outcome variable such as 'choice of travel mode' is almost impossible, because it is unclear what aspect of the outcome variable one aims to influence and how. For instance, does one want to convince travellers to choose a different kind of travel mode from the car, or suggest they travel more frequently by train?
Second, a quantifiable variable helps in evaluating the success of an intervention programme. If interventions to promote fitness and exercise are successful then people should report that they exercise more frequently after the intervention. If an intervention to decrease littering in a neighbourhood is effective this means there should be less litter on the streets after the intervention. In contrast, if an outcome variable cannot be described in quantitative terms, the social psychologist or policy maker will not be able to measure and evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention so easily. The result is that no-one will know for sure whether the intervention has helped or not. For example, it is impossible to evaluate an intervention aimed at influencing the outcome variable `ethnic recruitment policy', simply because it is not possible to measure the variable `recruitment policy' in a quantitative way.
We appreciate that it is not always possible to come up with a quantification of the outcome variable. For obvious reasons, health professionals might be more interested in whether or not teenagers smoke rather than how much they smoke a day. In that case, their outcome variable is binary (namely, smoker vs. non-smoker) and the success of an intervention is measured in terms of the number or percentage of teenagers who give up smoking.
The Analysis Phase 61
THE DIVERGENT PHASE: GENERATING EXPLANATIONS
After specifying the outcome variable, the second task in the Analysis phase is to try to
generate as many explanations as possible and identify the relevant causes of the prob-
lem. This is the divergent phase. There are a number of things to consider in this phase.
generate as many explanations as possible and identify the relevant causes of the prob-
lem. This is the divergent phase. There are a number of things to consider in this phase.
First, the scientific validity of the explanations matters less at this stage. It is more important to be exhaustive to ensure important factors are not being omitted from the analysis at this point. Second, in this stage the social psychologist should focus on possible explanations for differences in the outcome variable. If the outcome variable is condom use among youngsters, focus on why youngsters might or might not use condoms, rather than on why they have sex with strangers or act irresponsibly in terms of their sexual behaviour.
There are various methods available to help social psychologists generate a list of explanations. First, free association techniques can be used to look at a problem, creatively examining it from many different angles. Explanations can also be derived from empirical techniques such as surveys, interviews or observations. Third, one could examine the social psychological literature to find explanations.
To use an association technique for generating explanations, it is important not to be overly critical and selective in the first instance. Much like brainstorming techniques (see Brodbeck & Greitemeyer, 2000; Paulus & Dzindolet, 1993), it is best to first generate many explanations. This is followed by a more systematic analysis, which looks into the validity of each explanation and selects the more promising ones for further inquiry. Furthermore, free association can lead from one explanation to another, possibly better, explanation. In explaining why young male drivers are more likely to be involved in traffic accidents, a social psychologist might initially conclude that these drivers simply do not have the money to buy a new and safer car, until one realizes that this then should also apply to young female drivers. Yet female drivers are much less accident prone (Elander, West & French, 1993). This leads to a new explanation that young males take more risks when they are driving, and are therefore more likely to be involved in traffic accidents (which is true, just ask the car insurance industry). Thus, building on other ideas via association can be fruitful.
We should distinguish between different association techniques, problem associa-
tion, concept association, and perspective taking. I. Problem association
The most straightforward form of association is to start with the problem itself, for example, traffic accidents caused by young male drivers. The social psychologist could begin with generating five or more explanations for the problem by asking himself why the problem is a problem. Again, it does not matter at this stage whether the explanations are valid or not. For example, the social psychologist could come up with the following explanations:
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· Young men cannot afford to buy safe cars.
· Young men are worse drivers.
· Young men take more risks while driving their car.
· Young men believe they get more status from their peers by driving riskily.
· Young male drivers think they are less likely to be involved in an accident or suffer death or injury.
By adopting a problem-focused approach, the social psychologist generates a number
of promising explanations which could be looked at more closely using the scientific literature. There is a risk, however, in focusing too narrowly on the problem — accident proneness among young male drivers — while ignoring other relevant explanations. Therefore, it is also important to search for explanations through a conceptual and more abstract approach.
2. Concept association
Another way to generate explanations is to move beyond the problem and look for phenomena that might be conceptually similar to the problem under investigation. For example, car accidents among young male drivers can be viewed in terms of risk-taking which poses the question whether young men are generally more risk-taking (which they are; see, for example, Daly & Wilson, 2001). Similarly, male driving behaviour could be looked at by invoking explanations based on status (driving riskily gives more status), optimism (young men are too optimistic about the risks of fast driving), responsibility (young men have a lack of responsibility), and social norms (norms in their peer group encourage risky driving). By introducing these concepts, the social psychologist has translated the problem into a more abstract, scientific problem, which facilitates further analysis.
As another example, if one wants to explain why smiling waiters receive more tips (Van Baaren, Holland, Steenaert & Van Knippenberg, 2003), one could, among others, focus on concepts such as sympathy (people give more to others they like), positive mood (seeing another person smile enhances one's mood), and exchange (people feel more obliged to give a tip to someone who has just 'given' them a smile). Each of these concepts can then be used to fonnulate a preliminary explanatory model which can be tested in subsequent research.
3. Perspective taking
Perspective taking might also be useful as an association technique. Here one looks at the problem through the eyes of different actors. First, one defines which individuals are possibly involved in the problem, and next one puts oneself in the shoes of each of them. For example, do young male drivers actually perceive that they take more risks than others? How would I feel about myself as a young man when I drove very carefully? How would women view risky or careful drivers? How would I react to an unfriendly waiter? What type of feeling does it give me when someone smiles at me? How would I feel as an ethnic minority member in an overwhelmingly white police force? How would I feel if ethnic minority people were my colleagues? Various concepts might be invoked through perspective-taking techniques, which could be useful in generating explanations. For instance, imagine yourself as a young man with
The Analysis Phase 63
a car — you may come up with such concepts as 'adventure', 'excitement', 'adrenaline', or 'girls', which offer potentially useful avenues for further inquiry.
Interviews and Observations
We suggested that interviews and observations could be useful tools in the Problem stage (Chapter 2) when it is important to find out more about the problem. Interview and observation techniques are also useful in the Analysis phase when social psychologists must generate explanations. Here interviews and observations are of a slightly different nature than in the Problem phase, because they are conducted in light of the chosen outcome variables (for example, giving up smoking, donating money for victims of HIV/AIDS, degree of tolerance towards ethnic police officers). Hence, they will be more specific than in the previous stage.
For example, suppose a social psychologist is asked by a large company to examine why so few women in that company are being promoted to higher level management functions. While interviewing female employees to formulate the problem (see Chapter 2), he discovers that many of them are simply not attracted to a job in management. He therefore defines as the outcome variable the lack of interest among women in management positions. As part of the Analysis phase, the next wave of interviews could focus on why there is a lack of interest in these jobs among women. Perhaps he finds that many women believe they cannot really do the job well or that they lack support from male managers (Lyness & Thompson, 2000). In addition, the social psychologist might decide to sit in at various job interviews to observe the interactions between men and women in the company.
A specific interview tool to help generate explanations is the 'why interview'. This could be a genuine interview with relevant parties, but it could also be an imaginary exercise to force the social psychologist to think about potential causes for the problem. Such interviews are very suitable to look at the processes underlying the problem, and are therefore more detailed than the exploratory interviews that we discussed in the Problem phase (Chapter 2). It is important in these interviews to consider which outcome variables must ultimately be influenced through intervention.
With social psychological problems, the most likely questions concern why people behave the way they behave, and why they think or feel the way they do. It is important in such interviews to vary the questions. Constantly repeating the 'why' question might annoy the interviewees, and such questions might put them on the defensive. Instead, try asking questions like 'What makes you think that?', 'What is it about that that ... `Why do you think that?', that might be more fruitful. Here is an example of a social psychologist interviewing a female employee who has refused to accept a management position at her company:
Female employee: 'I didn't want the job.'
Social psychologist 'Why not?'
Female employee: 'I didn't feel it was the right job for me.'
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Social psychologist 'Why wasn't it right for you?'
Female employee: 'I don't like to tell other people what to do.'
Social psychologist What is it about that that you don't like?'
Female employee: 'I don't think they would listen to me.'
Social psychologist Why do you think that?'
Female employee: 'Maybe because most of them are men and they don't take women
managers very seriously.'
Social psychologist 'What makes you think that? Can you give examples?'
Female employee: There haven't been any female managers and the one who was briefly here left the job after less than a year.'
Social psychologist 'Why do you think that is'?'
Female employee: 'Because she couldn't get along with her staff.'
Social psychologist What type of problems did she have with the staff?'
Female employee: 'Her staff thought that the only reason she got the job was because
of an affirmative action programme.'
Social psychologist 'And was this true, do you think?'
Female employee: 'No, but I don't think the top management in the company did
enough to support her.'
Social psychologist 'What makes you think that?'
Female employee: 'Hm ... maybe they thought that helping her would give out the
Social psychologist What kind of wrong signal?'
Female employee: 'Perhaps they were afraid that it would undermine her authority if
they offered help.'
Admittedly, the questions posed by the social psychologist are a bit unimaginative. But the example shows that by systematically asking a series of 'why' type questions, the social psychologist gets a feeling for the underlying processes that might explain why women are not so keen to take on management jobs in this particular company. Through the interview, a picture emerges in which the lack of interest in management positions among women might have something to do with the (lack of) support they get from subordinates and superiors in the company. This might be reinforced by the affirmative action programme within the company that sends out the wrong message about the quality of female managers.
We can present this explanatory model in a figure (see Figure 3.1), whereby we move back in the causal chain, bottom-up, from the outcome variable (the lack of interest among women in management positions) to a potential obstacle for achieving this (the performance expectations of female managers as influenced by affirmative action plans).
This model is by no means complete and it raises many new why questions. For example, what is the relationship between affirmative action policies and the performance expectations of female managers? Do different departments respond differently to female managers, for example, depending upon whether they are male or female dominated? Are there other reasons why women are not interested in taking up management positions in the company? These questions might lead to a whole set of new explanations, which could be captured in a process model like the one in Figure 3.1. At this stage it is important to be exhaustive, so one should not yet focus too much on one set of explanations, for example, the low performance expectations of female managers.
Figure 3.1 A Process Model to Explain the Deficiency of Female Managers
Cutting down the number of explanations and concentrating on the most relevant ones is something that will not happen until the convergent phase.
Observational data are also useful for generating explanations. In the Problem phase (Chapter 2), observations were unsystematic. They were used to get a better understanding of the problem. Observational research in the Analysis phase is more structured and social psychologists may use standard observation instruments in order to illuminate the causes and consequences of a particular social problem. We can distinguish between the observations of others and self-observation (introspection).
In the case of observation the social psychologists and/or their assistants observe a process in a group or organization. Take, for example, a social psychologist who
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has been asked to aid a large hospital in solving decision-making problems in a management team which is concerned with patient waiting lists. Some team members have complained about the poor decision-making processes and the constant conflicts between representatives of the hospital management and medical staff. After several interviews with key members of the staff, the social psychologist defines the problem in terms of trying to improve the consensus and decision-making quality in this team with regard to the waiting lists for patients. He now wants to find out why there are problems in the decision-making processes and decides to systematically observe the team meetings.
He uses SYMLOG, a group observation instrument (Bales & Cohen, 1979), which he is trained in. The SYMLOG instrument consists of 26 ratings that are given to each group member. (The full list of items is displayed in Box 3.2.) Examples are items such as 'Active, dominant, talks a lot', 'Unfriendly, negativistic', and 'Analytical, task oriented, problem solving' that the social psychologist has to score on a three-point scale (1 = rarely, 2 = sometimes, 3 = often). These 26 categories are then combined to yield scores for each team member on three main dimensions: (a) dominant—submissive, (b) friendly—unfriendly, (c) instrumentally controlled—emotionally expressive. With these data observers can create a graphic representation-of a group.
For example, SYMLOG could reveal that one or two members are clearly dominating the team discussion. Furthermore, the analysis might reveal that there is a conflict between more analytical and more emotional team members. This might help the social psychologist to understand the poor quality of team decision making.
Box 3.2 The Items of the SYMLOG Group Observation Instrument
1. Active, dominant, talks a lot.
2. Extroverted, outgoing, positive.
3. A purposeful, democratic task leader. 4, An assertive business-like leader.
5. Authoritarian, controlling, disapproving.
6. Domineering, tough-minded, powerful.
7. Provocative, egocentric, shows off.
8. Jokes around, expressive, dramatic.
9. Entertaining, sociable, smiling, warm.
10. Friendly, equalitarian.
11. Works cooperatively with others.
12. Analytical, task-oriented, problem solving.
13. Legalistic, has to be right.
14. Unfriendly, negativistic.
15. Irritable, cynical, won't cooperate.
16. Shows feelings and emotions.
17. Affectionate, likeable, fun to be with.
The Analysis Phase 67
In the case of introspective methods people are enabled to examine their own behaviour within a certain time interval. Rather than through external, expert observation, the social psychologist might ask the actors to rate themselves as they interact with others. One of the authors of this book used this technique in a study among police officers (Buunk & Verhoeven, 1991). This research examined the causes of stress among police officers in the Netherlands. Each working day within a five day period, officers were asked to write down every stressful experience they had using a diary method. The researchers were able to distinguish between five stress categories based on these self-observations:
1. emergency situations, for example, a serious car accident;
2. collaboration problems with other officers, for example, about the share of duties;
3. conflicts with the public, for example, in making arrests;
4. work overload, for example, in doing administration;
5. work underload, for example, a night shift without much work to do.
Because each stress incident was described in detail, it was possible to create a rich database of different stressors. The researchers then focused on the greatest stressors among police officers. Interestingly, the most stressful category was collaboration with colleagues. Hence, the process model and the subsequent intervention plan focused on this particular stressor. This example shows how a carefully conducted diary study can help explain a particular problem and set up an intervention plan.
Social Psychological Theories
A third method for generating explanations is through the use of the social psychological literature. Social psychological theories, which are usually based on a large number of studies, specify the potential causes underlying social behaviours as diverse as aggression, altruism, leadership, status, conformity and prejudice. For example, bystander intervention theory (Fischer, Greitemeyer, Pollozek & Frey, 2006; Latane & Darley, 1970) explains why people often fail to assist people in an emergency like a
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road accident. Researchers observed that some people are reluctant to help because they don't know exactly how to help or don't feel personally responsible. When a social psychologist is asked to develop an educational campaign to promote emergency helping, he could use this theory to generate explanations for why such helping is not more widespread. There are many other social psychological theories and they each focus on a specific social phenomenon or behaviour. A list of the major theories, phenomena, and concepts in social psychology is given in the Glossary which includes a short description of each. A more complete list can be found in any major text in social psychology.
The two methods for generating explanations — association and perspective taking —will often give a clue as to what social psychological theories are relevant. For example, bullying can be seen as a form of aggression (free association) that may be triggered by an incident that lowers the bully's self-esteem, such as receiving criticism or a low grade (perspective taking). This suggests that a social psychologist should look into the literature on aggression and self-esteem for possible explanations. Likewise, an unhealthy diet may be seen as a bad habit (free association), but might also be a way to deal with relationship stress (perspective taking). In that case, a social psychologist should look into the literature on learning, automatic behaviours, and relationship problems for possible explanations. Note that in the Analysis phase, these theories are still primarily used for heuristic purposes to develop an exploratory causal model. In the next stage of the PATH model, the Test phase (Chapter 4), each of these theories will be considered in depth.
There are three different strategies to use from the social psychological literature for generating explanations, namely the topical strategy, the conceptual strategy, and the general theory strategy.
1. The topical strategy
This approach finds out what is written in the literature on this particular topic. In many cases, there are studies in the psychological literature that will be directly relevant for the problem. For example, if absenteeism in the workplace is the problem of interest, a social psychologist can try to find out what has been published about absenteeism in the workplace in the social, industrial, and organizational literatures. He might find, for example, that perceptions of conflict between work and family are an important cause of job absenteeism, especially among women (Boyar, Maertz & Pearson, 2005). As another example, if smoking cessation is the outcome variable, then the social psychologist will discover that there are numerous studies that examine factors involved in stopping smoking, and that social support from peers plays an important role (DiClemente, Prochaska, Fairhurst and Velicer, 1991).
2. Conceptual strategy
This approach reformulates the problem on a conceptually higher level to find links with
relevant social psychological phenomena and theories (see the Glossary). For example,
absenteeism can be seen as a stress response, which might encourage the social
relevant social psychological phenomena and theories (see the Glossary). For example,
absenteeism can be seen as a stress response, which might encourage the social
It is not always immediately clear what these theories contribute to understanding the social problem, but they have a wide range of implications across a broad domain of problems and especially when it is difficult to use a topical or conceptual strategy, for example, because the focal problem is relatively new (for example, attitudes toward genetically modified food or a new disease), a general theory search might be very helpful. Furthermore, these general theories are often easy to find in textbooks on social psychology. Most social psychologists have their 'favourite' theories which they apply to a range of social psychological problems. For example, an evolutionary social psychologist might view absenteeism as a flight response to a potentially threatening situation. A cultural social psychologist may interpret it as resulting from a 'culture of absence' in which it is normal or even encouraged to be absent from work. An exchange social psychologist might view this behaviour in terms of a mismatch between what people put into the organization and what they get out of it.
The Analysis Phase 69
3. General theory strategy
The topical and conceptual approaches can be characterized as inductive in that one moves `bottom-up', from problem to explanation. The general theory strategy is deductive. It moves 'top-down', from a generic theory that at first sight may not seem directly relevant for the problem to potential explanations. Such general theories about human behaviour (see the Glossary) include attitude-behaviour theories (Ajzen, 1991; Ajzen & Fishbein, 2000), social exchange theories (Thibaut & Kelley, 1959), learning theories (Bandura, 1986; Skinner, 1956), cultural theories (Markus & Kitayama, 2003), and evolutionary psychology theories (Schaller, Simpson & Kenrick, 2006; Van Vugt, 2006).
In the Glossary we present an overview of the main social psychological theories. This list gives a global idea of the literature, but is by no means exhaustive. For further information about social psychological theories, we would refer to introductory textbooks on social psychology (for example, Aronson, Wilson & Akert, 2005; Brehm et al., 2005; Hewstone, Stroebe & Jonas, 2005; Kenrick et al., 2005; Meyers, 2005). We particularly recommend The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social Psychology, edited by Manstead and Hewstone (1995), which provides a concise summary of all major theories and concepts in social psychology.
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THEORETICAL APPROACHES UNDER INVESTIGATION: THE CASE OF SAFE SEX PROMOTION
We illustrate the divergent phase of the Analysis step by means of a case about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). We will start our case with the problem and its definition (the Problem phase; see Chapter 2). Health education authorities have noted a sharp rise in the prevalence of STDs particularly among teenagers. Research has found that this problem is largely due to an increase in unsafe sex practices, especially among teenagers and where they have sex without using condoms. In combination with the very real threats of contracting HIV/AIDS and unwanted pregnancy, they decide to ask a team of social psychologists to develop interventions to promote safe sex practices among schools (this example is adapted from Kok et al., 1996).
The social psychologists first develop a problem definition, which is stated as follows:
There is an increase in the prevalence of STDs among teenagers in Britain, which poses various serious health risks (such as infections leading to infertility) for people who have an STD and those who have sexual contact with them. STDs are costly to treat and impose a burden on the budgets of clinics and hospitals. STDs can be influenced by the promotion of safe-sex practices, in particular the use of condoms. This programme aims to increase the knowledge about condom use in relation to STDs and increase condom use.
Thus, the social psychologists initially focus on outcome variables that are cognitive (knowledge about STDs) and behavioural (using condoms).
Box 3.3 A Case Study. Feedback to Eyewitnesses'
Identification of a Suspect
Imagine the following situation.
An eyewitness, Sarah, is asked to identify her attacker on viewing a line-up: 'Oh, my God, ... I don't know ... It's one of those two but I don't know which one.' Thirty minutes later Sarah is still viewing the line-up and having difficulty making a decision: 'I don't know ... number two?'. The officer administering the line-up says: 'Okay, you identified the subject', and writes down number two. Three months later, at the trial, the judge asks Sarah: 'You were positive that, at the line-up, it was number two? It wasn't a maybe?'. Sarah: There was no maybe about it, I was absolutely positive.'
A false identification may have enormous consequences. In the case of wrongful imprisonment the innocent person is punished for a crime he/she did not commit, while the real criminal is still on the loose and may strike again. In addition, the government and taxpayer suffer financially: one year of imprisonment costs about 33,000
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dollars per prisoner. In general, judges and/or jurors value a witness testimony more, as the eyewitness is more certain of his/her identification. There is, however, only a very modest relation between eyewitness confidence and eyewitness accuracy.
Psychologists Wells and Bradfield* from the Iowa State University examined a potentially important factor that may affect eye witness certainty, namely feedback from a police officer following identification in a line-up. In their experiment participants viewed a security video in which a gunman walked in front of the camera. Participants were subsequently asked to identify the gunman from a photo-spread. The actual gunman was, however, not in the photo-spread and all of the eyewitnesses made false identifications. Following the identification, witnesses were given confirming feedback ('Good, you identified the actual suspect in the case'►, disconfirming feedback ('Oh. You identified X. Actually, the suspect is Y'►, or no feedback. Participants were then asked questions about the video and to give a written description of the gunman.
Compared to participants who had received no feedback, participants who had received disconfirming feedback reported less certainty about the identification, having had a lower clarity of memory and a worse view, and estimated they needed more time to arrive at an identification. On the contrary, despite the fact that they had made false identifications as well, participants who had received confirming feedback reported more certainty about the identification, having had a better view and a higher clarity of memory, and estimated they needed less time to arrive at an identification. On the basis of their study, Wells and Bradfield strongly recommend that the police officer who administers the line-up or photo-spread should be someone who does not know which person is the real suspect and that he/she should secure a confidence statement from the eyewitness at the time of the identification.
*Wells, G.L. & Bradfield, A.L. (1998►. 'Good, you identified the suspect': Feedback to eyewitnesses distorts their reports of the witnessing experience. Journal of Applied Psychology, 83(3), 360-376.
A Topical Strategy
In generating theory-based explanations for the problem of STDs and condom use failure, the most straightforward approach is to find examples in the literature of research programmes on STDs and condom use. There might not be much on condom use in relation to STDs, but there is presumably a lot of research on determinants of condom use, for example, in relation to HIV/AIDS and pregnancy. Searches on PsycINFO, the electronic database for the psychological literature, reveal no fewer than 2075 hits with 'condom use' as key words and 1512 with 'STD' as a key word (at the time of writing). The combination of 'condom use and STD' reveals a more manageable number of 312 hits, and their abstracts can be inspected in terms of their relevance
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for this problem. Articles that review a large part of the literature — so-called 'reviews' and 'meta-analyses' — are particularly useful. This literature might reveal a number of interesting conclusions which could be used to generate explanations for why teenagers fail to use condoms in relation to STDs. For example:
· Condom use in relation to avoiding STDs is regarded by teenagers as a sensible strategy.
· Most teenagers believe they have a less than average risk of contracting an STD.
· Condom use is regarded as unpleasant, particularly among sexually active teenagers.
· Condom use among peers is not perceived to be widespread by teenagers.
· Some teenagers are embarrassed to purchase condoms or go to their doctor for help.
· Teenagers report difficulties with carrying a condom around.
· Teenagers find it difficult to negotiate condom use with a sexual partner.
It is generally recommended to start with a topical approach, first, because it allows social psychologists to use the knowledge of previous research to distinguish between likely and unlikely explanations for problems. For example, research shows that most teenagers perceive condom use as a sensible strategy. This suggests that knowledge about the benefits of condom use is perhaps not the main obstacle, which could help social psychologists in developing a process model. The second reason why it is recommended to begin with this strategy is that one immediately obtains a valid insight into a problem. Indeed, if several studies show that knowledge about the benefits of condom use is widespread among teenagers then social psychologists may safely assume that this is the case. A third advantage is that often there will be examples of intervention programmes reported in the literature. This enables social psychologists to make a judgement at an early stage about the intervention potential of particular explanations.
There are also disadvantages with this approach. First, the generalization of the research might be a problem. Suppose most of the research on condom use has been done in Western Europe. One cannot simply assume that the same findings will also be found among teenage populations in North America or Africa. Second, there is always a risk of changing the problem into one that is already in the literature. By doing this, social psychologists could lose sight of the specific problem that they were asked to investigate. For example, research might suggest that teenagers are more likely to use condoms to avoid pregnancy. Yet the social psychologists were being asked to examine strategies to foster condom use in relation to the threat of STDs. A third problem is that by looking in detail at other programmes, social psychologists could become a bit complacent and not think actively and creatively about a problem. There is, for example, the risk of uncritically adopting programmes that are not properly evaluated or do not incorporate recent scientific insights.
A Conceptual Strategy
The conceptual problem analysis enables social psychologists to look for theories that could be fruitfully applied to the problem. Through association techniques the problem is translated into another set of more abstract and generic problems which may have been reported in the social psychological literature (see the Glossary). These problems can be used as key words in an electronic database search, like PsycINFO, PsychARTICLES, or Web of Science. Also, one could look at relevant social psychology textbooks for information about
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these topics. In the case of so-called emergency helping, through association with key terms such as 'altruism' and 'prosocial behaviour', we found bystander intervention theory and social dilemmas. In the STD example, one could look for associated words such as 'health', `risk', 'vulnerability', 'optimism', and 'peer pressure'.
The difference between a topical and a conceptual strategy is sometimes minor. A social psychologist taking a topical perspective to explore how victims of accidents cope in the aftermath of the event will quickly discover that one of the more commonly used social psy chological models to explain coping with accidents is attribution theory (Weiner, 1990), a theory that he might also come across with the conceptual strategy. Attribution research into coping with accidents shows that victims cope better with the consequences if they perceive themselves at least in part to blame for their misfortune. As another example of this overlap, in trying to explain the lack of enthusiasm for sustainable transport use, researchers will quickly find in the literature a reference to theories about social dilemmas (Van Vugt et al., 1995; 2000).
In the STD example, a conceptual strategy might result in a list of social psychological terms such as `risk', 'risk perception', 'cognition', 'optimism', 'health promoting behaviours', 'habit', 'negotiation and power', and 'self-efficacy'. Once such a list has been prepared, one could then examine the social psychological literature for further information about these concepts. We will give just two examples of how a conceptual approach might inform the search for explanations of inconsistent condom use.
First, research on cognitive biases shows that people generally underestimate the chance that something bad will happen to them, like an illness, while overestimating the chance that something good will happen to them like winning the lottery. This is called 'unrealistic optimism' (Weinstein & Klein, 1996) and it may apply to the way teenagers think about contracting STD. Although this phenomenon might not have been studied in relation to STD, it has been studied for a range of other health-related behaviours and so it is plausible that the same mechanism might be at work in our example. Further reading on unrealistic optimism suggests that: (a) young people are more likely to hold such beliefs than old people, (b) optimism is generally higher with regard to bad things than good things, and (c) optimism is higher with behaviours that are controllable than uncontrollable (Rutter, Quine & Albery, 1998; Sparks, Shepherd, Wieringa & Zimmerman, 1995). These results suggest that this theory may be meaningfully applied to the safe sex example.
Second, the literature on negotiation and bargaining (Bazerman, Curhan, Moore & Valley, 2000; Thompson, 2006) suggests that individuals with less power in a relationship have more difficulties in negotiating a good deal. Power is related to how much people depend upon a relationship, both materially and psychologically. Having many opportunities to fulfil needs outside a relationship increases people's power position. Based on this research, social psychologists would expect that condom use might be affected by the power position that teenagers have in their relationship. People who feel less powerful might not want to discuss condom use with their partner although they might be aware of the benefits of it.
There are many other examples of how the conceptual approach might lead to explanations of inconsistent condom use. The risk perception literature suggests, for example, that people underestimate risks that are statistically small, and which involve a one-time activity, such as sexual intercourse (Linville, Fischer & Fischhoff, 1993). This implies that, although the chances of contracting STD are small without a condom, people tend to believe they are invulnerable. Alternatively, research suggests that habits are difficult to
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change, in part, because people do not attend to information criticizing the habit (Verplanken & Aarts, 1999). This suggests that once people have established a habit of not using condoms, changing this habit through intervention might be very difficult indeed.
These examples show that the essence of the conceptual approach is to use the problem defmition to find concepts that are related to the problem. These concepts can then be used to find relevant theories that make predictions about the social psychological processes underlying a particular problem. The main advantage is that it can lead to a rich pattern of explanations, each of which can be elaborated further using appropriate theories and research. Furthermore, from the relevant theories, it is much easier to think of a set of interventions to tackle the problem. The main disadvantage is, of course, that it is easy to get overwhelmed by a multitude of theories. A social psychologist must therefore make an important decision about what he will focus on in the subsequent steps of the PATH model.
A General Theory Strategy
The general theory strategy analyses the problem through the lens of some very generic psychological theories. A model that, perhaps due to its simplicity, is often used in applied research is the theory of reasoned action (Ajzen, 1991; Ajzen & Fishbein, 2000). This attitude theory primarily focuses on behaviour that is under people's volitional control. The theory assumes that people's actions are shaped by their intentions. The intention to behave in a certain way is a product of people's attitudes and the social norms associated with the behaviour. Attitudes are a function of both the beliefs about the consequences of the action and also the subjective evaluation of these consequences. Social norms refer to the importance of the social environment and in particular what relevant people think of a person behaving in a certain way. The social norm is a product of the beliefs that relevant others have about the behaviour (normative beliefs) and people's motivation to comply with the beliefs of relevant others.
Applied to the safe sex example, a social psychologist could try to establish whether condom use is under volitional control, and, if so, what are the relevant attitudes and social norms. For example, they might hypothesize that many teenagers have a belief that condoms reduce the pleasure of sex (belief) and that they highly value pleasurable sexual intercourse (evaluation). Furthermore, they might predict that many teenagers find it important what their peers think about condom use (motivation to comply) and that they believe their peers do not value condom use much (normative belief). This should then result in a negative intention towards condom use, which could explain the failure to use them. A social psychologist could try to back this up with pilot research to find out whether this is true or not. They could also look at a range of other consequences of condom use (for example, the risk of contracting an STD) to find out what teenagers think of these consequences and how they value them.
There are many other general theoretical models that could be fruitfully applied to generate explanations (see the Glossary). For example, in studying anti-social behaviour, social psychologists could rely on rational choice theories to examine the cost and reward structure of a particular anti-social behaviour such as creating graffiti (Becker & Mehlkop, 2006). They might find that youngsters believe that they are not going to get caught by the police because they create graffiti at night. Also, if they are caught they
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may think they will get away with a warning. Another general entry can be found in applying principles from evolutionary theory, which assumes that people are engaging in actions that maximize their survival and reproductive opportunities (Darwin, 1871). From this point of view, vandalism and hooliganism may be seen as so-called low status strategies', that is strategies for individuals who have lost in social competition and find themselves at the bottom of the societal hierarchy. For these individuals vandalism may be a form of aggression directed at more powerful others — authorities, the police — against whom they have no chance of winning.
In a similar vein, evolutionary psychology theory can be fruitfully applied to a host of different problems in society such as bad leadership, male violence, intergroup prejudice, sexual jealousy, organ donation, and environmental pollution (see for example, Buunk, Dijkstra & Massar, 2007; Schaller, Simpson & Kenrick, 2006; Van Vugt, 2006; Van Vugt, De Cremer & Janssen, 2007). Evolutionary psychology may be relevant for the analysis of so many problems because it uses a fundamentally different perspective than other theories. Evolutionary theory tries to uncover the ultimate reasons behind phenomena (that is, what their function is in human survival and reproduction), whereas other theories present explanations at a more proximate level of analysis. For instance, rational choice theory explains vandalism by referring to the belief that it is easy to avoid punishment, without explaining why someone endorses this belief or what they (unconsciously) gain from it. An evolutionary-minded social psychologist may `dig' a little deeper and find out why the problem of vandalism is so persistent. This may then offer an important starting point for an intervention. For instance, attempts to influence anti-social activities may not be effective if youngsters feel they can impress their mates and potential sexual partners by engaging in such activities.
General theories of human social behaviour like attitude models, rational choice and evolutionary theories do not always lead to specific explanations for a problem. Their primary use is heuristic in the sense that they offer a new way of thinking about the causes of a problem. They need to be complemented with insights from other strategies and, where possible, with data from observations and interviews. Nevertheless, they offer some structure in analysing a particular problem and in understanding where the gaps in knowledge lie. For instance, when using evolutionary psychology to come up with possible causes for a problem, a social psychologist should ask himself what the function of a specific behaviour may be in the context of human survival and reproduction. Although he may conclude that hooliganism is a way to vent aggression, he may not yet know why, for instance, youngsters do not use other tactics like participating in martial arts. Through association, interviews and observations the social psychologist may fill in these knowledge gaps.
Sometimes it does not really matter which theoretical framework is selected as long as there is a framework to hang on to. This theory will then generate new clues about what to do next. For instance, despite their different perspectives, both social stress theories and evolutionary psychology theories may lead a social psychologist to look into the literature on aggression and/or self-esteem.
The previous examples show that there is a range of theoretical perspectives that can be
thought of in analysing the causes of a particular problem. It may sometimes look like
thought of in analysing the causes of a particular problem. It may sometimes look like
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a random search process but this is not the case. On the basis of the problem definition a social psychologist will at least have a hunch in which directions he or she must look for relevant theories. However, at this stage the search for explanations needs to be open, without confining oneself too quickly to certain concepts or theories.
THE CONVERGENT PHASE: REDUCING THE NUMBER OF EXPLANATIONS
The aim of the divergent phase is to produce as many explanations as possible. In contrast, in the convergent phase the number of explanations is drastically reduced so that only the most plausible explanations remain. There are three different stages in the convergent phase. First, the number of explanations is reduced by getting rid of irrelevant and redundant explanations. Second, the theoretical validity of each of the remaining explanations is tested. Third, the remaining explanations are checked for their plausibility to account for the problem. This results in a smaller set of explanations that can be used in the next two phases of the PATH model — developing and testing a process model (Chapter 4) and setting up a help programme (Chapter 5). It is important to end up with a set of explanations that describe the social psychological processes leading to a problem in sufficient detail. One should avoid ending up with a set of 'dead end' explanations like 'teenagers who fail to use contraceptives are less intelligent'.
Getting Rid of Redundant and Irrelevant Explanations Redundant Explanations
After the divergent phase, it will appear that there are various redundant or overlapping explanations for the problem. For example, through association and interviewing, a social psychologist may find that members of a production team feel their complaints are not taken seriously by the management, unlike complaints from other divisions. An inspection of the social psychological literature, using the topical and conceptual approaches, reveals a relation between procedural justice and employee satisfaction (Brennan & Kline, 2000; Martin & Brennett, 1996). These two explanations can then be combined into one, a concern about fair treatment among employees. Or alternatively, applying the theory of reasoned action to the problem of recruiting organ donors has identified that people might find it problematic to carry the donor registration form with them at all times (Brug, Van Vugt, Van den Borne, Brouwers & Van Hooff, 2000). This very problem might have also been brought up through examining the costs and benefits of donor registration via social exchange theory (see the Glossary).
While in the divergent stage one may freely generate explanations, on further examination,
some of these may appear to be irrelevant. In explaining why jurors in a particular trial
appeared to be biased toward the defendant, a social psychologist may have assumed that
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pre-trial publicity might have played a role. If subsequent research shows that there were no media reports about the case prior to it then this explanation can be dismissed, even though the effects of pre-trial publicity are well documented (Kramer & Kerr, 1989)
Although reducing the number of explanations is important, one needs to be careful not to dismiss explanations that affect the outcome variable indirectly. Such explanations may provide important background information on the causes of the problem, and are important for building a process model. For example, in understanding an upsurge in male-to-male homicide in the UK, the social psychologist might come up with explanations having to do with frustration, poverty, relative deprivation, and gun and knife possession. A factor that might affect these more proximate explanations is that men are very status conscious, and willing to take fairly large risks in order to get what they want, even if that involves killing someone (Daly & Wilson, 2001). Because these types of account affects the problem — homicide — via their influence on other factors, like gun possession, they are particularly useful for developing a process model (see Chapter 4).
Getting Rid of Invalid Explanations
Theoretical explanations are only usefully applicable to a problem if the theory is valid under the conditions of the problem. For example, to apply social dilemma theory (Van Vugt, 1998) to a particular social problem, it must be shown that the characteristics of the problem are, in fact, a social dilemma. A social dilemma refers to a situation in which the rational pursuit of self-interest can lead to collective disaster (Komorita & Parks, 1994). According to social dilemma theory, a problem is only a social dilemma when two conditions are met, namely, with regard to the particular situation that, firstly selfishness has to be more attractive than cooperation, and secondly, that selfishness by all has to make everyone worse off in the long run (Dawes & Messick, 2000). Framed in this way, it seems inappropriate to use a social dilemma framework to explain why some drug addicts continue to commit street robberies even though they know that they will be caught and put in prison. The benefits of the selfish act (committing a robbery) do not outweigh the cost (that selfishness is more attractive than cooperation) and so a social dilemma explanation cannot easily be invoked.
It should be kept in mind that many social psychological theories are described in very generic terms, but really only apply to specific situations. A review of the scientific literature tells you under what conditions the theory has been tested and proven to work. Cognitive dissonance theory (Festinger, 1957; see the Glossary), for example, assumes that when people experience dissonance between their beliefs (for example, 'I want to be a reliable worker') and their behaviour (for example, 'I am often late for work') they will try to reduce this dissonance by changing their beliefs. The theory, however, states quite clearly that this will only happen if people think that they are personally responsible for their action (Cooper & Fazio, 1984). If they don't believe they are responsible, then they should not experience dissonance (for instance, you arrive late for work because of traffic congestion).
Another classic example is social comparison theory (Festinger, 1954; see the Glossary). This generic social psychological theory states that people, when comparing themselves to their peers in terms of their abilities, frequently make upward social comparisons, that is, they compare themselves to people slightly better than them. Research has overwhelmingly
supported this prediction, but many results were obtained in one experimental setting only (Wheeler & Suls, 2005). In this setting, a number of participants took an ability test and then received feedback about their test score. False feedback ensures that they always occupy the middle position in their group. The scores of the other group members were not given. The participants then got a chance to look at the score of one other member of their group. Participants usually chose the group member with the next-best score, lending support to the upward comparison tendency, as predicted by social comparison theory.
Given the restrictions of the research paradigm, to what situations could this theory be meaningfully applied? Suppose a company asks a social psychologist about the implications of making public what managers in the company earn. The social psychologist turns to social comparison theory and predicts that employees will be primarily concerned about the earnings of staff members that are one level higher up the echelon and that they are relatively less concerned about the salaries of the board of directors. This may be what the theory predicts, but given that in experiments on this theory people have only been allowed to look at the salary of one other person (or group), this conclusion might be slightly premature. It is very well possible that, when given the opportunity, employees will also compare their salary with that of the directors. Translating the results of internally valid experiments into applicable knowledge about real-world problems is a recurrent concern of any applied social psychologist (see for example, Aronson et al., 2002; Brehm et al., 2005; Kenrick et al., 2005).
Finding the conditions under which a particular theory is applicable is an important task because it helps social psychologists decide on whether the theory can be fruitfully applied to a particular problem. In general, it is not enough to simply read the theory. Recent review articles can be helpful because they may give an updated summary of the state of a particular theory. However, usually one must look into how the experiments were conducted to find out about the theory's boundaries. Applying social psychological theories requires a basic knowledge about the research literature on a particular theory.
Getting Rid of Implausible Explanations
Finally, the plausibility of each of the explanations must be assessed. A particular explanation might be adequate in theory, but if it is not a likely cause of a problem then it can be dismissed. An example is neighbourhood recycling. Suppose a study reveals that only about 20 per cent of the residents in a neighbourhood regularly participate in the recycling of paper, glass and batteries. The applied psychologist could use the theory of reasoned action to find out why many are not taking part, for example, by focusing on anti-social norms in the neighbourhood (Cialdini & Trost, 1998). Interviews might reveal, however, that many residents simply do not know what they can and cannot recycle. This seemingly small obstacle could be a substantial barrier towards people participating so a social psychologist would do better to develop an information campaign (Guagnano, Stern & Dietz, 1995; Lyas, Shaw & Van Vugt, 2002). Note that such explanations might not need to be totally irrelevant to the problem (see 'Getting rid of redundant and irrelevant explanations' on pp. 76-77), but if they are unlikely to be substantial contributing factors, they can be dismissed easily.
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The plausibility of an explanation can be established by carrying out a thought experiment. The aim of a thought experiment is to imagine what might happen if the particular condition that might cause the problem is either present or absent. Would there be a change in the outcome variable? If there is an outcome variable Z, a process variable Y, and a context variable X, then the reasoning is as follows: 'If this explanation is plausible, then in context X with process Y the result should be Z'. If the result is not Z, there are concerns about the plausibility of this explanation. Or an alternative reasoning is: this explanation is plausible then, in the absence of Y, Z should not emerge in situation X'. Finding Z in that situation raises doubts about the plausibility of an explanation.
Consider this example. Friendly waiters receive larger tips from customers than unfriendly waiters (Lynn & Mynier, 1993; Van Baaren et al., 2003). A first explanation is that friendly waiters induce a good mood in diners, resulting in greater tipping. To determine the plausibility of this argument, it helps to think of analogous situations in which friendliness from one person increases a positive mood in another person, resulting in greater altruism towards the first person. For example, friendly teachers elicit positive emotions in students, which might make it more likely that they will try to maintain a good atmosphere in the classroom. In contrast, it is easy to think of situations in which an unfriendly face reduces the willingness to give. One only has to think of charity collectors who are a bit too pushy in asking for money. Could there be other ways to put people in a good mood and make them tip more, for example, by playing relaxing music in a restaurant or offering pleasant food? If so, there is another reason to support the mood hypothesis.
A third explanation is that customers perceive a smile or a friendly face as a gift, and they therefore feel obliged to reciprocate this favour. This reciprocity hypothesis is plausible if we can find other situations in which people feel they must return a favour by giving money when someone is friendly to them. There might be such situations, for example, when we donate to charity collectors who approach us with a friendly face. However, often we simply return a smile with a smile and there is no obligation to give money for a smile. It could be, of course, that friendliness is reciprocated with a tip only in restaurant settings. To test this hypothesis, a thought experiment can be carried out in which a customer returns a smile with a smile or in which the customer is the first to smile. In those cases, there should be less need to give a tip according to the obligation hypothesis. As this appears to be rather implausible, this explanation can be effectively ignored.
Of course, thought experiments such as these do not produce any hard evidence. Therefore it is unwise to rely solely upon them. However, thought experiments do make it easier to select the most relevant causes for a problem. They may also serve as a basis for conducting further interviews or observations that reveal the most likely causes for the
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problem. In addition, it must be noted that most social psychological phenomena are based on a rather complex interaction between various different factors. Thus, it is important to concentrate on several plausible explanations in developing and testing a process model (Chapter 4) and setting up an intervention programme (Chapter 5).
1. Specify the outcome variable in terms of a behaviour, attitude, or emotion (or a combination of them). Then pick an outcome variable which is relevant, sufficiently specific, concrete, and which can be described in continuous terms. Focus on one outcome variable at a time.
2. Try to generate explanations through association techniques. Don't be too critical at this stage. Try to come up with at least five different explanations for the problem.
3. Conduct real or hypothetical 'why' interviews to find the causes for the problem. By asking such questions as 'Why does this happen?', What do you think causes this?' and 'Who is responsible?', the processes underlying the problem might become clearer. When possible, conduct observations.
4. Try to come up with theory-based explanations for the problem. Use both a topical approach as well as a conceptual, and general theory, approach by looking at relevant social psychological theories.
5 Reduce the number of explanations through:
— combining redundant explanations and eliminating irrelevant explanations;
— inspecting the validity of theory-based explanations;
— checking the plausibility of the explanations (through real or 'thought' experiments).
SUGGESTED FURTHER READING
Brug, J., Van Vugt, M., Van den Borne, B., Brouwers, A. & Van Hooff, H. (2000). Predictors of willingness to register as an organ donor among Dutch adolescents. Psychology & Health, 15(3), 357-368.
Gardner, G T. & Stem, P. C. (1996). Environmental Problems and Human Behaviour. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Manstead, A. J. & Hewstone, M. (1996). The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social Psychology. London: Blackwell.
Schaller, M., Simpson, J. & Kenrick, D. (2006). Evolution and Social Psychology. New York: Psychology Press.
The Analysis Phase 81
A team of marital therapists asks you, as a social psychologist, for advice. In general, the team is confronted with couples with numerous marital problems, such as a lack of emotional intimacy, jealousy and physical or verbal aggression. Most of these problems can be effectively dealt with in couple therapy. However, the team has observed that there is also a large group of couples who share a similar communication problem that often results in relationship dissatisfaction and that may ultimately lead to divorce. One of the marital therapists reports an example of a recent couple therapy session that illustrates this problem (example taken from Kline, Pleasant, Whitton & Markman, 2006).
The wife, Sally (42), describes what happened over the weekend when she tried to talk to her husband, Scott (45), about landscaping their yard. She said that she asked Scott (while he was reading the newspaper) how much money he thought they could spend and whether he was leaning toward rose bushes or rhododendrons atthe front. She apparently then replied in a somewhat agitated voice: 'Well, I need your input because we have to talk about how much we can spend'. Scott continued reading his newspaper. He reported during the session that he could tell his wife had become angry and that he did not want to make things worse by talking. He reported that he felt that anything he said would have made her more mad, so he chose to be silent and let her have time to calm herself down. What Sally did, though, was become even angrier, saying: 'Why don't you ever listen to me".i! Scott reported that he then told her he was going for a walk alone because their conversation was going nowhere. The issue then switched from being one about money to communication and caring. Sally was clearly pursuing Scott and demanding that they discuss an issue which was important to her and Scott was withdrawing, later explaining in the session that he did so because he did not know how to react to Sally in a way that would not make her angrier. Sally told the therapist that Scott's silence about things was exactly what made her most angry in their relationship.
This type of communication is called the demand-withdraw pattern and refers to a pattern of communication in which one spouse nags or complains while the other spouse avoids or withdraws from the conflict discussion. Because so many couples that seek help seem to suffer from this problem, the therapists wondered whether it is possible to help these couples by means of a different intervention than couple therapy. They now ask the social psychologist involved to develop an alternative means of helping these couples.
(a) Formulate a problem definition according to Chapter 2's criteria (see Box 2.4, pp. 52-53).
(b) Specify the outcome variable in terms of behaviour, attitude and/or emotions. The outcome variable must be relevant to the problem as well as specific, concrete and continuous.
(c) Try to generate as many explanations as possible (at least five!) for the problem by means of problem and concept association and perspective taking. Don't be too critical and selective in the first instance.
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(e) Generate as many theoretical explanations as you can on the basis of:
— attribution theory;
— social exchange theory; learning theory;
— stress theory.
(f) Reduce the number of explanations by:
— getting rid of irrelevant and redundant explanations;
— testing the theoretical validity of each of the remaining explanations;
— checking the remaining explanations for their plausibility in accounting for the problem by using thought experiments.