LINKAGES Biological and Social Psychology

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LINKAGES Biological and Social Psychology
Chapter 14
Social Psychology
(1989) proposed that they can be attributed to a phenomenon called groupthink.
Groupthink occurs, he said, when group members are unable to realistically evaluate
How does stress affect group
decision making? (a link to
Health, Stress, and Coping)
Can we “see” prejudice in the
brain? (a link to Biology and
groupthink A pattern of thinking that
renders group members unable to evaluate realistically the wisdom of various
options and decisions.
social neuroscience A specialty that
focuses on the influence of social
processes on biological processes and
on the influence of biological processes
on social psychological phenomena.
the options available to them or to fully consider the potential negative consequences
of the option they are about to choose.
Groupthink is particularly likely when four conditions exist: (1) the decision is not
based on all the facts at hand, (2) group members all share certain biases, (3) members who express disagreement with the majority view are punished or even ejected
from the group, and (4) the group leader puts pressure on the members to reach agreement. This last condition appeared to play a crucial role in the U.S. government’s decision to support a disastrously unsuccessful invasion of Cuba by anti-Castro Cubans in
1961. Before the final decision was made, several advisers were told that President John
F. Kennedy had made up his mind to support the invasion and that it was time to “close
ranks with the president.” This situation created enormous pressure for conformity
(May & Zelikow, 1997).
Some researchers have questioned the prevalence and dangers of groupthink (e.g.,
Aldag & Fuller, 1993; Park, 2000), but because it does occur, other researchers have worked
on developing techniques to help groups avoid it (Galinsky & Kray, 2004; Kray &
Galinsky, 2003).
One way to avoid groupthink is to teach group members to imagine all the negative
outcomes of each course of action. Another is to designate someone to play the “devil’s
advocate,” a person who constantly challenges the group’s emerging decision and forces
everyone to consider all the facts and other decisions that are possible (Risen, 1998). Yet
another technique is to encourage diverse opinions by allowing people to express them
anonymously. For example, group members might communicate by e-mail on networked computers that hide the sender’s identity. Research suggests that allowing groups
to discuss decision options without knowing who is saying what stimulates logical debate
and makes it easier for people to disagree with the group (O’Brien, 1991).
esearch in social psychology was once
thought to be entirely separate from
Biological and Social
research on the biological processes
that underlie social behavior (Winkielman,
Berntson, & Cacioppo, 2001). Social psychologists believed it was impossible to reduce
complex social psychological processes to the firing of neurons or the secretion of hormones. For their part, biological psychologists, more commonly known as neuroscientists, viewed the study of social psychology as having little, if any, relevance to the
understanding of, say, behavioral genetics or the functioning of the nervous system.
Recently, however, scientists in both subfields have begun to take a closer look at each
other’s research and at how their subfields are linked. The result has been the emergence of a new specialty called social neuroscience or social cognitive neuroscience
(Adolphs, 2003; Heatherton, Macrae, & Kelley, 2004; Ochsner, 2004). This new specialty
focuses on the influence of social processes on biological processes and on the influence of biological processes, including genetics, on social psychological phenomena
(e.g. Bielsky et al., 2005; Thompson et al., 2006).
There are many reasons to believe that this approach will be valuable. For example,
the chapter on health, stress, and coping contains numerous examples of how social
stressors can have health-related biological consequences. Health psychologists have
also found that the availability and quality of a person’s social support network can
affect biological processes ranging from blood pressure to the healing of wounds
(Kiecolt-Glaser et al., 1998; Uchino, Cacioppo, & Kiecolt-Glaser, 1996; Robles & KiecoltGlaser, 2003). In addition, as discussed in the chapter on psychological disorders, some
problems in social behavior can result from the interaction of environmental stressors
with genetic influences. One study compared the amount of antisocial behavior displayed
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