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According to the sociocultural level of analysis, much importance is placed on how the individual’s thinking and behavior is influenced by social factors, involving culture, social norms, values and even stereotypes. Human beings can be seen as social animals that have an innate need to belong to a social group and to have a social identify, besides the individual one. This field entails the study of phenomena such as conformity, compliance, attributions, and cultural norms.
As with the other levels of analysis, this level makes use of several research methods. In recent years, the majority of research is qualitative in nature, because more emphasis is placed on the participants behaving as realistically as possible. Research is done in the “natural environment” of the various behaviors, so it is referred to as naturalistic. Modern sociocultural researchers tend to use interviews -many of which are focus groups- and observations (both overt and covert). Correlational studies are also used and a great deal of research involves triangulation. Although methods that lack ecological validity are often avoided, many studies have addressed causal hypotheses and so the experimental method has often been employed. There is a considerable number of field experiments.
Social psychologists often want to “see the world through the eyes of those being studied” and so participant observation is a common method. The aim of observations is to gather first-hand information in a naturally-occurring situation and in participant observations the researcher becomes part of the group he/she studies. This allows them to gain a close and intimate familiarity with a given area of interest, through personal involvement with people in their natural environment. The researcher observer, listens, participates and produces field notes, so such method is very demanding. The aim is to develop a scientific understanding of the universe of participants. Participant observations have proved very useful for gaining insight into the lives and beliefs of subcultures. Although one advantage is that the researcher does not impose their own reality on the phenomenon, it is also true that objectivity can be lost. Thus, reflexivity should always be part of the interpretation of the data.
Participant observation was used in the well-known study of Festinger et al. (1956) and it was covert, so participants were not aware of being studied. The researchers wanted to see how members of a cult would cope with the situation when their prophecies failed. They joined a cult that believed the world would end on a specific date and investigated how their beliefs changed. The members had publicized their prophecies and believed that flying saucers would rescue them. The theory of cognitive dissonance predicted that they would either modify their beliefs to restore balance in their cognitions, or change their behavior so that it would fit their beliefs. When the date arrived, some of the cult members coped with situation by saying their prayers had saved the world. In this way, they created meaning. Others simply left the cult. This indicated that they had changed their beliefs and thus the study confirmed the predictions of the cognitive dissonance theory.
This covert participant observation was the only possible method to access and investigate a religious cult. It would be extremely difficult to make use of other research methods for an exclusive group like this one. The researchers had the chance to view the world of its members without preconceived ideas. In a covert observation, however, participants have not given consent to being studied and thus ethical issues arise. Festinger et al. employed deception, because otherwise their presence would most likely be unjustifiable. Another important ethical issue is that of confidentiality. Disclosure of the identity of participants would probably affect them negatively, considering the mainstream view of sects. Overall, the study was high on ecological validity, but since the cult members were all from Chicago, generalization to other populations and cultures is questionable.
Social psychologists have often used field experiments to test hypotheses. The goal of an experiment is to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between two variables (the IV & the DV). Contrary to laboratory experiments, where there is strict regulation of the IV and control of confounding variables, field experiments are less artificial because they take place in the participants’ natural environment (street, school, workplace). This indicates less internal validity, but researchers still manipulate variables. They are operationalized and the results are most likely quantitative.
Freedman and Fraser conducted a field experiment in 1966 to test the factor of consistency in compliance employed in the “foot-in-the-door” technique. This compliance technique is entailed in the area of social influence. These researchers arranged a researcher, posing as a volunteer worker, to ask a number of householders in California to allow a big ugly public-service sign reading “Drive Carefully” to be placed in their front yard. Only 17% of the householders complied with this request. A different group of homeowners was asked whether they would display a small “Be a Safe Driver” sign. Nearly all agreed. 2 weeks later these same homeowners were asked, by a “volunteer worker”, whether they would display the much bigger “Drive Carefully” sign in their front yards. 76% complied with this second request, a far higher percentage than the 17% of the homeowners in the other condition. In a second study, Freedman and Fraser (1966) first asked a number of householders to sign a petition in favor of keeping California beautiful, something nearly everybody agreed to do. After 2 weeks, they sent a new “volunteer worker” who asked them whether they would allow the big “Drive Carefully” sign to be displayed in their gardens. Interestingly, the two requests relate to completely different topics. One is about road safety and the other about keeping it cool down in Cali. However, nearly half of them agreed to the second request. Again, this is significantly higher than the first condition of the first field experiment.
Signing the petition changed the view the homeowners had about themselves. They saw themselves as concerned citizens with a well-developed sense of civic responsibility. Agreeing to the big sign two weeks later reflected their need to comply with their newly-formed self-image. The field experiment was suitable in order to test a compliance technique in naturally-occuring situations, as part of everyday life. It would not be possible for participants to form this new self-image under laboratory conditions. Furthermore, the control of variables and the existence of different experimental conditions was also necessary to identify a cause-and-effect relationship. It would not be easy to test the foot-in-the-door technique through an interview, for example. It can be argued that there was ecological validity, but one limitation could be that personality factors were not taken into account.
To conclude, it appears that the sociocultural researchers make use of a variety of methods, both quantitative and qualitative. An important advantage is that triangulation is common at this level, increasing the credibility of findings.see more
The biological level of analysis studies human beings as biological systems, meaning that many behaviors are attributed to physiological origins. Thus, our cognitions and emotions are believed to be products of the anatomy and physiology of the nervous and endocrine systems. This is not to say that behavior is the result of biological factors alone, but that we should also consider the bidirectional relationship between cognition and biology. A great deal of research at this level of analysis has focused on the role of hormones in human behavior. Hormones are chemical messengers that are secreted by the glands of the endocrine system and can have a widespread effect on both physiology and psychology. This essay will explain the functions of oxytocin and adrenaline.
Oxytocin is often referred to as the “love hormone” or “trust hormone”, which stems from the fact that it is released when one hugs, kisses and touches. The hormone is produced by the hypothalamus, after being stimulated by the pituitary gland.
A notable research study was conducted by Morhenn et. al (2008), who randomly assigned 96 students to a massage-and-trust, rest-and-trust or massage-only group. The massage conditions consisted of 15-minute Swedish massages (a light massage which was shown to increase oxytocin levels in many people by Turner et al., 1999), while the rest condition required participants to rest for the same amount of time in the same room. Then, participants in the first two conditions mentioned played a trust game that required them to make a decision about how much money they would give to another participant, knowing that this money would be tripled and that the other participant might share the profit. Sending a large amount of money was taken to indicate a high level of trust. Blood samples were taken twice, once at the beginning of their participation and once again close to their decision in the trust game, so that oxytocin levels could be measured.
The group that received only the massage were tested immediately after following it. There was no significant change in their levels of oxytocin overall. Participants in the massage-and-trust group who made the decision about sending money to another participant sent 6.30$ on average, only slightly more than the group who had simply rested without massage. In addition, a positive correlation was found in participants who were sent money and the change in their oxytocin level, according to whether they had received a massage or simply rested.
The researchers concluded that while one episode of touch in the form of massage was not enough to raise oxytocin levels, the act seemed to prime participants to sacrifice money when a stranger displayed trust towards them by sending them an amount of money. In this sense, oxytocin levels are able to predict the amount of sacrifice the participants made in the trust game, suggesting that oxytocin’s effect on behavior is to increase generosity and cooperation among adults.
Although the use of the experimental method with 3 distinct conditions increases the study’s internal validity, further research or relevant findings may be needed to validate the results. This is because concepts like trust are not easy to operationalize and the link between a hormone and social behaviors may not be accurate. As the study involved only students, there is sampling bias which may be said to limit generalizations to different populations. Furthermore, the setting was somewhat artificial, as it is likely that it led to demand characteristics. The correlations were suitable for the purpose of the study and did indicate one, but it does not necessarily establish a causation too.
Another hormone that has a number of effects on the human body is adrenaline, secreted by the adrenal medulla of the adrenal gland. A general description of its effects is the “fight or flight” response. Adrenaline prepares the body for action to help the organism deal with a threat, either by fighting it or by running away from it. The hormone increases the flow of oxygen and blood to the brain by increasing the heart rate and dilating blood vessels. Key resources like oxygen and glucose are transferred away from internal organs towards the extremities of the body (muscles), as functions like digestion are less important in a stressful situation. Although we associate adrenaline mostly with negative emotions, such as fear, those who take part in extreme sports know that exposing themselves to danger is thrilling and the release of adrenaline in such cases is associated with positive feelings. Various studies have attempted to investigate its role in the creation of emotion.
To test this hypothesis, they recruited volunteers to receive a vitamin injection and informed them that they would be participating in vision experiments. None of the 184 male participants received the injection they believed they were getting, as 3 groups received an adrenaline injection and a 4th group received a placebo injection of saline solution. The 3 groups receiving adrenaline were given different types of information about possible side-effects. One group was told that they might experience an increased heart rate and shaky hands (the actual effects of an adrenaline injection). The second group did not receive any information and the third group was told that some people experienced a headache and numbness or itchiness in the feet. Thus, the first adrenaline group understood how their body would react and had an explanation of its cause, while the other two groups would inevitably experience the same physiological changes but without explanation.
To manipulate the nature of emotion, Schachter and Singer constructed two contexts: euphoria, in which a confederate encouraged the participant to join games with office equipment in a waiting room, and anger: in which a confederate filled out a mock questionnaire at the same pace as the participant, but getting increasingly outraged by the increasingly personal nature of the questions. The researchers used observational data based on structured observation in each condition and then asked them to complete a self-report form that assessed their mood in terms of anger and happiness when they were finished. In the euphoria condition, it was clear that the groups who had received an adrenaline injection without the correct information showed more of the euphoric behaviors and also reported more happiness. Although the anger context did not elicit the corresponding pattern of reporting, the researchers suggested that this might have resulted from discomfort in reporting anger compared to happiness. They relied instead on behavioral data, which did show that participants who were aware of the real expected physiological changes performed less of the angry behaviors than the groups who had no explanation.
It was concluded that emotion occurs by a process of cognitive labelling -that is, the interpretation of physiological cues is combined with contextual cues to construct a person’s subjective feeling of an emotion. The use of a structured observation and different conditions increased internal validity, but one possible limitation is that no assessment of the participants’ mood was made prior to the study. Also, the sample consisted only of males so caution should be used when generalizing to other populations. The study involved important ethical considerations, as those in the group who had not received information about side effects, were exposed to an anxiety-provoking situation. Researchers should ensure that participants leave the study in the same mental state as before and that physical discomfort is minimized. Also, deception was employed as it was necessary to test the assumptions, but in such cases it is particularly important to fully debrief participants at the end of the study and clarify any aspects that confused them.
To conclude, according to the research mentioned above hormones have a very direct effect on physiology but their role in emotion and cognition can be complex, involving more than one factors.see more