Tagged: Social Influence

Minority Influence and Social Change: Jamie Oliver’s Latest Campaign

About 10 years ago, Chef and TV personality Jamie Oliver led a successful campaign to improve the quality and nutritional value of school dinners. The TV series aired in 2005 (“Jamie’s School Dinners”) played a significant part in changes being made to the policies surrounding the content of school lunches across the country. This campaign coincided in a timely manner with my early teaching of the concept of minority influence and social change (as featured in the now historical AS AQA spec A Social Influence topic) and I used Jamie for many years as a hook on which to hang the concepts of consistency, commitment and other factors that can lead to a change in the majority view point and behaviour. Over the years, however, students became less aware that school dinners had been anything but “healthy” and less familiar with Jamie Oliver, so the relevance of this real life example of minority influence declined. Imagine my delight then when Jamie jumped right back up on his high horse, this time about the amount of sugar we are eating, in his Channel 4 documentary “Jamie’s Sugar Rush(airing at time of posting) which makes a perfect hook for the new specification (AQA).

The new specification

AQA’s new specification for AS and A Level Psychology includes the following in topic 4.1.1 Social Influence:

  • Minority influence including reference to consistency, commitment and flexibility.
  • The role of social influence processes in social change.

Some textbooks break social change into the influence of minorities and majorities separately. Jamie’s campaign at the moment fits the bill for the teaching of minority influence and as an example of social change through minority influence.

Jamie’s new campaign

The majority view point is that sugar is great, in fact a necessity, and we are eating the sweet stuff by the sticky bucket load every day, often without even realising it. Jamie’s aim is to fight obesity by helping us make better choices about our food and drink intake.  The minority – Jamie and non-celebrity nutritional experts who have probably been saying this for years – would like us to see sugar for the baddy it is and reduce our intake dramatically. As this campaign is in its infancy it provides a perfect opportunity for students to imagine they are part of the campaign team and work out how to ensure they are as influential as possible. This could be done by providing students with historical examples such as the Suffragettes and Jamie’s first campaign (other examples are on the AQA scheme of work) and analyse how they were able to be influential. Students could then plan a campaign using these strategies and present to the class teacher – who might like to pretend to be Jamie Oliver if you like a bit of role play (I’m seeing sugar-free snacks playing a part in this lesson too!).

In – and outside – the classroom: flip it!

As part of the planning process students could analyse these campaigns and consider how successful they have really been. Attitudes towards women have changed dramatically as a result of many things including the Suffragettes but although school policies might have changed as a result of Jamie’s first campaign, it is not clear whether people’s attitudes to food have really shifted (follow this link to read an article published in the Guardian which suggests Jamie’s first campaign may not have been that successful after all).

This is the sort of activity that often traditionally might take the following – not very productive – pattern:

  1. Lesson on the research including Moscovici.
  2. Get students into groups and set homework to plan strategies for making Jamie’s new campaign successful. Work in groups for homework (1 person will probably do all the work!).
  3. Lesson for presentations.
  4. Another lesson for the presentations there wasn’t time for (or for those who were absent) and a plenary…

An alternative and more time productive approach would be to introduce a few concepts at the end of the previous lesson to introduce minority influence and social change and clarify any new terms, then set the reading about Moscovici’s research and social change for homework with clear guidance to bring notes to the lesson (you could provide headings to help students avoid copying and provide structure). In the next lesson on this topic (with an appropriate time allowance for the homework) ask students to work in their groups on how they can use what they have learned to help Jamie. Instead of spending a whole lesson on presentations ask each group to record a simple video or audio presentation (this can be done by adding narration to a Power Point presentation for example) of their campaign suggestions which can be handed in and watched/listened to by the teacher outside of the lesson. Choose a small selection of the videos/audios to analyse as a class and ask the groups questions about their strategies and ask them to justify their ideas, commenting on each other’s work. This turns a 4 lesson sequence of learning into a more productive 2 lesson sequence with lots of active reflection rather than passive presentation and will allow you as the teacher to ensure of the concepts students will have acquired from their reading have been revisited and their understanding of them assessed.

Now I’m off the have a cup of tea and a biscuit – sorry Jamie!


Would you rather…? Six more starters for AS Psychology and an end of term activity

Some more ideas for “would you rather…?” discussion activity

In my most recent post (see post 9/10/12) I explained how a simple decision making game could have the potential to make an effective lesson starter/plenary or revision activity for developing thinking skills in the context of A Level Psychology.

Evaluation skills

In the game, a choice is made between 2 options where there is an element of difficulty in making the choice and where there is likely to be a difference of opinion, the question simply starts with “Would you rather…?” and can end with anything you like (e.g. “would you rather be the most attractive person in the world or the richest person in the world?”). These questions are great for practising evaluation skills as the pros and cons of the options need to be weighed up before a conclusion, or in this case a choice, can be made and justified. In my previous post I shared one Psychology-related “would you rather” question for each of the AS topic areas in Unit 1 and 2. As I managed to think of some more I thought I’d blog these too. I have included some comments on the discussion that might arise where the direction might not be immediately obvious.

AS Unit 1: Memory

Here are two ideas for memory:

Would you rather have a better recall of the past or be able to predict the future?

The inspiration for this question was a New Scientist special feature on memory (October 2012). The online summary included reference to the idea that memory may have evolved to enable us to predict the future rather than simply recall the past. Students do not need to know this but it interested me so might interest A Level students too and allow a brief discussion of evolutionary ideas as an introduction for later study.

Would you rather the only eye witness to see your car being stolen was an elderly woman or a teenager who was threatened by the perpetrator?

This one is more topic relevant than the first. The threat should make students draw on their knowledge of anxiety and age their impact on EWT. The mixed evidence (e.g. anxiety; it may depend on whether the threat to the teenager was with a weapon) in this area should make for an interesting discussion.

AS Unit 1: Attachments

Would you rather have a single parent who was a Developmental Psychologist or a Paediatrician?

This question might get students thinking about whether knowledge of attachment theory makes for better parenting and initiate a discussion about the importance of physical versus psychological development.

AS Unit 2: Psychopathology

Would you rather be clinically depressed for a year or have schizophrenia for a month?

This question should force students to evaluate the severity of the disorder (if it can be judged) against the duration. Students will need to think about the disorders and their impact on individuals to make their choice. Discussion in this area will obviously need to be handled sensitively.

AS Unit 2: Social influence

Would you rather be a naïve participant in a remake of Zimbardo’s prison simulation experiment or Milgram’s electric shock study?

AS Unit 2: Stress

Would you rather have high stress at work but few stressful life events or low stress at work and many stressful life events?

End of term activity

Collating the questions from this and the last post relevant to AS unit’s you are teaching this term (Autumn, at time of posting) and adding a few of your own could make a fun discussion based end of term activity. Set up “option A” and “option B” stations either side of the room and ask students to move to their preferred choice, then ask students standing in opposite positions to try to convince their partner that their choice is the “correct” one. Alternatively ask students to vote for their choice without seeing each others choices, to avoid conformity, and then ask students to justify their choices. Ask students to come up with their own topic relevant “would you rather…?” questions and pose them to one another.

This would make a fun, active lesson, perhaps prior to Christmas, that requires little preparation but could create opportunities to teach a number of broad Psychology-wide concepts whilst deepening students understanding of the topics and exercising their thinking skills.

A thinking starter for each AS topic: “would you rather…?”

Evaluation with a twist

“Would you rather…?” is a game played in social and educational settings. It involves having to choose between 2 options where there is an element of difficulty in making the choice and where there is likely to be a difference of opinion (for example: would you rather be the most attractive person in the world or the richest person in the world?). These questions often require students to reflect on their values and think through the consequences of their choices.

This is a good activity for developing “thinking skills” as it requires evaluation (weighing up the pros and cons of each option), justification of choices and reflection. It works well when students are encouraged to challenge each other and someone plays devil’s advocate. This is very similar to a “thunk” style activity but each question shares the same starter (see earlier posts for more on these).

In the A Level Psychology classroom

I have put together a “would you rather…?” question for each of the AS (AQA A) topics in Unit 1 and 2. These make perfect lesson starters, plenaries, an interlude between activities or can even be used as a full set for revision at the end of the course. Clearly there are no right answers to these questions and students should be encouraged to think deeply rather than giving a gut reaction answer.

AS Unit 1: Memory

Would you rather be able to remember everything without trying or forget at will?

This might make a nice ice-breaking starter or a stretching plenary as it will inevitably go beyond the specification content. Concepts that may arise for discussion include:

  • The capacity and duration of LTM
  • A Channel 4 documentary recently covered the phenomenon of people who remember an extraordinary amount about the things that happen to them. Students who saw this might draw on this to inform their choice.
  • Repression, unwittingly forgetting anxiety provoking events
  • Free will versus determinism
  • When we “forget” things are they really gone?
  • The organisation of memory

AS Unit 1: Early social development (Attachments)

Would you rather be one of Lorenz’s goslings or Harlow and Harlow’s monkeys?

This might be a good way to introduce the issues surrounding the use of animals which will be useful for A2.

AS Unit 2: Psychopathology

Would you rather have ECT or Psychosurgery?

This would work best after students have studied the biological therapies. Ask students if their answer would depend on whether they were asked this question now or in the 1940’s, when these treatments were a bit more risky. If you’ve told them about the “ice pick” lobotomies (although psychosurgery is not named in the specification, I love the shock factor of this treatment and I find it really engages students) they may prefer ECT!

AS Unit 2: Social influence

Would you rather have a strong external locus of control or a strong internal locus of control?

Students might discuss this in the context of whether being independent (possibly associated with being more internal) is desirable and the pros and cons of each end of the scale.

AS Unit 2: Stress

Would you rather be responsible for discovering a cure for stress or a cure for cancer?

Students might consider the concept of cure and its implications for stress as a Psychological phenomenon. Stress has been linked to a variety of health problems including development and recovery from some types of cancers which may influence student’s decisions.


Use a listening game to improve discussion and debating skills

Listening skills

After watching sound engineer, and all round sound expert, Julian Treasure’s TED Talk entitled “5 ways to listen better” I came across a game called Sound Ball that he featured in a post on his blog (August 2011). The post included a description of 5 games, sent to Julian by musician and music teacher Huw Lloyd, who primarily uses the games to improve the listening skills of his music students.

Sound Ball is a simple game that could be an effective way to improve the listening skills that Psychology students need to engage meaningfully in discussion and debate. The game also has the potential to increase the likelihood a student will make a verbal contribution in a lesson.

Sound Ball

To play the game, I would recommend that you join your students and sit in a circle facing each other. One student starts with an imaginary ball and makes a sound with their voice. They then throw the “ball” to another student of their choice. This second student mimes catching the ball then has to copy the sound they heard. They then make a new sound before miming throwing the ball to another student. This continues until the game has run its course.

Benefits of the game for Psychology students

This game is a classic ice breaker and should leave students feeling less self-conscious with each other (and you). Verbal contributions are vital in a Psychology lessons and enabling students to feel more willing to speak out in class will improve the quality of discussion. The task also has the potential to improve group dynamics and cohesion.

The game is designed to improve listening which is vital in class discussion that is student-led. If most of your dialogue with students involves teacher-student-teacher exchange, getting your students used to talking to each other (at a whole class level) can in turn increase the chance of exchanges more of the teacher-student-student.. variety. Students who are listening to each other are more likely to have something to say in response to verbal contributions made by their peers, which all too often are left hanging or only followed by teacher praise.

After the game, ask students to reflect on how much concentration was required for the game to ensure they didn’t miss a throw or a sound. Being hyper-vigilant (helped by the imaginary nature of the ball) involves active listening and hearing what the other person has said (not what you think they said, or in this case possibly squawked). Ask students to reflect on whether they feel this same sort of satisfied fatigue after a class discussion or debate and if not, ask them to consider what can they do differently. The link between the game and the benefits to students as learners must be made explicit for this game to be worthwhile and the skills to be transferable.

When and how to use this game

You could use this game as a lesson starter, or prior to a discussion, debate or seminar style activity. I like to set up a debate in Early Social Development (Attachments) to round off study of the impact of day care on social development and also for exploring the differing viewpoints regarding the ethics of social influence research (e.g. the ends justify the means: discuss) in AS Psychology (AQA A). This game would make a suitable starter to a lesson where the main body of the lesson featured the debate itself (debate preparation having been done outside the lesson or in a previous lesson). As a plenary I usually ask students to collectively reflect on the main points of the argument and make a record of the most persuasive and innovative points made by the other side. If students have been using their listening skills effectively this task should be simple, this therefore allows assessment of both the skills and knowledge objectives of this type of lesson.

Social Influence: Zimbardo talks toTED

Zimbardo video highly recommended

Philip Zimbardo shares his ideas about why good people do bad things and how we can all be heroes in his TED talk filmed in 2008 on the Psychology of evil.

TED Talks for inspiration

The organisation TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) hold two annual knowledge sharing events featuring international speakers from a wide range of disciplines. These talks are shared online at www.ted.com/talks. TED 2012 is currently in progress (at time of post).

Philip Zimbardo on monsters and heroes

As part of TED 2008, Philip Zimbardo was invited to talk about his research.  Zimbardo talks for 23 minutes about the Lucifer Effect, his experience as an expert witness in the Abu Ghraib trial, his ideas about where “evil” behaviour comes from (the influence of disposition, situation and the system/institution) and, of course, his famous Stanford Prison experiment (with some interesting footage of a participant talking about the initial suppose arrest phase of the study). Zimbardo also talks about Milgram’s research (AS Unit 2, Social Influence) and the power of deindividuation and anonymity (useful for A2 Aggression in Unit 3). The video contains some powerful, yet distressing, footage from the Abu Ghraib trial which may or may not be appropriate for the classroom but is certainly thought provoking.

Beyond the specification: enriching ideas

After all the focus on negativity Zimbardo turns to a more positive outcome of understanding the impact of the situation and the system on the individual. In his closing argument he proposes that we should all see ourselves as “heroes in waiting”, as he puts it, because just as the situation can create the power that makes us to do something “bad” it can also give us the opportunity to do something “good” if we take the opportunity presented to us. He goes on to argue that heroes are ordinary people and outlines some interesting examples of ordinary heroes.

AS Unit 2: Social Influence

This may provoke an interesting discussion in the rather vague “social change” part of the AS spec for Social Influence (Unit 2). Zimbardo’s ideas about being a hero and speaking out suggest that social change can occur when individuals or groups see others given “power without oversight”, as Zimbardo describes it in his video. When an individual or group speak out against atrocious behaviour and expose the wrongdoings of a system, social change can occur.

In the classroom

Here are some possible uses of the video as a learning resource:

  • Zimbardo’s TED Talks video could be shown as part of a Psychology Society/club as an “after hours” screening  and hold a seminar style discussion afterward to talk about the ideas presented (or put a link on your VLE)
  • Use parts of the video in class to compliment teaching of Milgram and Zimbardo’s studies as part of AS Psychology and/or study of Aggression at A2
  • Recommend this a video for all Sixth Formers to see in your Sixth Form (as part of an PSHE or Personal Development style programme) to explore the idea of the “ordinary hero” and being aware of the damage done when power is given without responsibility or transparency

The Psychologist (June 2012): Milgram and Ethics

Whilst on the subject of social influence, it’s worth pointing out that June’s The Psychologist (BPS, vol. 2, no 6) included an article on a replication of Milgram’s electric shock obedience study carried out in France in 2010, in the context of a game show. This study was reported in the media (e.g. BBC news online) back in 2010 but has just been published in the European Review of Applied Psychology (“The prescriptive power of the television host”; Beauvois, Courbet and Oberlé, 2012). The study is most noteworthy for yielding an 81% obedience rate (450 volts applied to the “other contestant”) compared with Milgram’s – already alarming – 62.5%.

I remember when I was studying my A Level Psychology being told that studies such as Milgram’s and Zimbardo’s would never happen again due to the ethical issues. According to the BPS article (The Psychologist) the researchers in the French study did not feel that the procedure was unethical, hence their replication. The article provides a useful stimulus for studying obedience and ethical issues in Psychology.

Locus of Control: Rotter reflects on his work on Radio 4’s Mind Changers

Mind Changers

The excellent Radio 4 Mind Changers series explored, earlier this year, the impact of Julian Rotter’s (surprisingly pronounced Roter) concept of Locus of Control.  In the programme (made available online from 30th April 2012) Rotter, now in his 90’s, talks with great modesty about the origins and impact of his work. Presenter Claudia Hammond interviews Rotter and others in this entertaining and accessible broadcast uncovering the origins of the concept, its widespread application, the misuse of the concept in some cases and its continued influence in therapeutic settings. For me, hearing first hand from Rotter about his work and his feelings about the impact of his research, is the particular appeal of using this audio resource in the classroom.

AS AQA A Unit 2:  Social Influence

Locus of control remains part of the AS AQA A specification in Unit 2 (PSYA2 Biological Psychology, Social Psychology and Individual Differences) in the context of independent behaviour. The AS textbooks contain research that suggests that those who are more external are more likely to be influenced by others and less likely to remain independent. This is currently in the spec as part of explanations of independent behaviour. The argument being that some people show independent behaviour, rather than conformist or obedient behaviour, because they have a stable personality characteristic that prevents them from being swayed by the influence of others. This is a small part of the spec but an important one, often glossed over to an extent by textbooks. This Radio programme sets the scene perfectly for an informed discussion about whether the application of Locus of Control to predict conforming or obedient behaviour is appropriate.

Locus of Control

Rotter, a Clinical Psychologist, theorised that there was a stable personality characteristic that determined whether we perceived internal or external factors to be responsible for the outcomes of events in our lives. Rotter describes a patient of his who believed in luck and the influence of factors beyond his control. What surprised Rotter was that this perception didn’t change when the patient got better. This led him to propose that this was a stable characteristic. Rotter went on to devise a test to provide an empirical measure of this characteristic. The programme reveals that Rotter’s scientific approach to his research – his drive to make this characteristic measurable – was seen as unusual but refreshing in the clinical field at this time.

5 reasons to use this in the Psychology classroom

There are many reasons to use this audio resource in or outside the classroom with AS Psychology students but here are 5.

  1. Not only does this audio explain eloquently what is meant by the concept of Locus of Control but the insight into where it came from is engaging and it is refreshing to hear from a Psychologist first hand (especially as we tend to assume influential Psychologists cited in textbooks are dead!).
  2. The programme discusses the pros and cons of the scale and the concept itself as well as the inappropriate application of the concept to predict behaviour. Rotter points out that where you score on the scale, between highly internal and highly external, will only be relevant in novel situations. According to Rotter, experience will always prevail if you have been in that situation before.
  3. Rotter is described as taking a highly scientific approach to his work; an approach that was relatively unusual at the time in the clinical field. This allows discussion for focus on why a scientific approach is important.
  4. Rotter’s humble and modest response to Claudia Hammond’s question about his feelings about the huge impact of his work is refreshing in a society dominated by the pursuit of fame and fortune. He describes being motivated by wanting to know the answer to questions. A nice way to link to learning and thinking skills and back to the scientific approach.
  5. Rotter raises the issue that his own tendency towards being, according to him, more internal than is ideal, biases his perceptions of the concept when asked about how easy it would be to make yourself more internal or more external.

Some practical ideas

This programme is definitely worth listening to prior to teaching this part of the spec but also worth asking students to listen to. At 29 minutes students could listen to this before they look at applying the concept to conformity/obedience as a “homework” task as he programme is available online.  Students could be asked 2 questions:

  1. Given what you have learned about Locus of Control from this programme, is it appropriate to use Locus of Control to predict independence in Milgram’s study or Asch’s study? What about outside of the lab?
  2. Is it better to be more internal or more external?

The first question should allow students to focus on the idea that situations need to be novel, according to Rotter, for Locus of Control to come into play. In experiments into conformity and obedience the situations are often novel so it seems an appropriate application. Whether this generalises beyond the studies is more questionable. How novel would a situation involving pressure from other people be in the “real world”?

A really interesting listen with lots of scope – highly recommended!