139 posts categorized "Social Psychology"

April 17, 2017

Learning Sociology through Collaboration

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

If sociology teaches us that we learn about our social world, others, and ourselves through social interaction, it stands to reason that a great way to learn about sociology is through interacting with others.

On the most basic level, interactive learning takes the form of class discussions. Many courses require students to conduct research, often through observation, interviews, or surveys, and this is also a good way to learn some of the tools of sociology.

But collaborative learning is more than just talking and conducting research. Collaborative learning involves problem solving with others, where students brainstorm, come up with research questions, seek answers, or work on large projects together.

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March 08, 2017

Thinking Beyond the Case Study

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Case studies are singular examples that seem to illustrate a phenomenon. Textbooks would be dull without them, and journalists often use interviews to add color to their stories. But case studies can become so alluring, and seem to illustrate interesting patterns so well that they can encourage us to draw conclusions without further investigation.

Take the case of Kitty Genovese, a 28-year-old woman who was stabbed to death in Queens, New York, in 1964. Her case gained notoriety because there were purportedly dozens of witnesses to the attack who did not call the police. This led researchers to study something they called the bystander effect, positing that the more people who observe an event take place, the less likely they are to take action because they presume that someone else will.

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January 19, 2017

When Words Lose Meaning

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

We use a number of expressions with one another that serve as shortcuts. Some are as basic as “hello” and “how are you?” Others are seasonal or situational, like, “Happy New Year,” “have a good weekend,” or “I’m sorry for your loss.” These phrases are like ready-made greeting cards that we employ in social situations, often when we don’t know what else to say. Sometimes, like holiday greetings, they are a way of sending good wishes to people that we may or may not know.

But sometimes these words take on different meanings than the speakers intended, and might be received far differently that we might imagine. Conflicts around saying “happy holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas” are one example. A stranger actually answering the “how are you question” is another—we’re not really being asked to disclose personal information, particularly if it is simply meant as a casual greeting.

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December 16, 2016

Donald Trump and the F-Word: The Growing Elephant in the Room

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

When most of us think of the F-word the first thing that comes to mind is probably the vulgar term for sex that rhymes with duck. Adding Donald Trump to the mix probably just reinforces this thought because we know that the president-elect has used this expletive in his outbursts and exhortations. However, the F-word that I am referring to here is not the four-letter obscenity but the seven letter description of one of the most frightening political ideologies: Fascism.

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September 26, 2016

Are Social Scientists Anti-Social? How to Test Hypotheses

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

A colleague recently posed this question while we chatted after a social event. She thought it was particularly interesting that sociologists, of all people, might not be the most social bunch at a gathering.

Of the small group engaged in this informal discussion, we considered this idea and searched for examples in support. We each agreed that we tended to be more on the introverted side, needing downtime to recharge after having lots of social interactions. I mentioned that one of my favorite activities is taking a walk while listening to a book (listening to books is the primary way I use my smart phone—not for texting, talking, using social media or otherwise interacting with others).

Another colleague agreed and said that he would spend every day reading if he could, and we agreed that we wouldn’t be in academia if we didn’t all like to read, an activity that requires someone to be comfortable withdrawing from social interactions for at least a little while. Others in the conversation thought about their other friends in academia and thought they would probably also be less social.

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June 09, 2016

Air Travel, Class, and Relative Deprivation

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Air travel is one of the only places where class distinctions are made starkly apparent: whether you are sitting in first class or in coach (although some airlines also have "business class" or "economy plus") serves as a visible reminder that there are class differences in America.

A study of "air rage" incidents recently made the news, finding that "disruptive passenger incidents" were about four times as likely to happen when there was a first class cabin. When everyone had to walk through the first class cabin to board, the outbursts were especially likely to occur.

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March 04, 2016

Our Subcultures: Making the Familiar Strange

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Are you part of a subculture, or a group that is a subset of the larger culture that has distinct values, norms, and practices? Chances are good you are and might not even be aware of it, because we become adept at switching between different groups and behaving accordingly, similar to what linguists call "code switching."

Sometimes the norms, values, and practices of a subculture become very apparent when we are new to a group; some people have a difficult time adjusting to a new group, sometimes experiencing culture shock when moving to a new region, attending college far from home, or even beginning a new job in an unfamiliar field.

Author Wednesday Martin describes the process of acclimating to a new subculture in her memoir, The Primates of Park Avenue, about her move from Manhattan's West Village to the Upper East Side, a journey of just a few miles but what she describes as inhabited by a significantly different subculture.

Continue reading "Our Subcultures: Making the Familiar Strange" »

February 10, 2016

Love is Sociological

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman    

When I was a kid, my parents had a book that I used to flip through called Love Is Walking Hand in Hand. The book was written by Peanuts illustrator Charles Schulz, and each page had a picture of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, and the gang explaining what love is: Love is hating to say good-bye; Love is walking in the rain together; Love is letting him win even though you know you could slaughter him; Love is the whole world (this was written in the 60s, after all!). Although it's been quite a few years since I've looked at this little book, I'm pretty sure there is no page that said: Love is sociological.

To say that love is sociological may sound strange and even somewhat sacrilegious. Most of us think of love as something that we feel naturally. It's a spiritual, even cosmic, connection that brings forth an array of reactions such as butterflies in our stomachs, sweaty palms, weak knees, or just warmth and happiness. What could possibly be sociological about these physiological responses and heartfelt emotions?

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February 03, 2016

Happiness as Social Control

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

The pursuit of happiness is so central to what it means to be American that it is part of one of our founding documents, the Declaration of Independence. It is a topic that I pursued informally for many years myself, having read a library's worth of self-help books trying to unlock the mystery of personal fulfillment. I came to some simple conclusions: that to be happy means to enjoy the little things in life, to appreciate the people in our lives, to focus on the present, and to take action steps towards our goals and consider action itself a mark of success, and also to do things that improve our health because feeling good, well, feels good.

I had not considered happiness as a scientific field of study until hearing about social psychologist Daniel Gilbert's work on happiness. Gilbert was inspired by events in his own life—things were not going particularly well for him at one point, and yet he did not feel unhappy. This led to a number of experiments about how well (or as it turns out, how poorly) people predict what makes them happy, which he describes in his bestselling book, Stumbling on Happiness.

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November 04, 2015

Racial (In)Equality in the U.S.

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

Aside from my Netflix marathons, there are only a handful of network television shows that I make time to actually watch. And the new Fox prime time show Empire is one of them. Like so many great shows, it includes moments of fantasy, joy, and struggle that oftentimes mirror very real social issues that are on the forefront of their viewers’ minds.

For instance, the season two premiere opened with a #FreeLucious concert that paid homage to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and highlighted the overrepresented numbers of African-American men in our prison systems and their mistreatment by police. The imagery (particularly that of Cookie Lyon in a Gorilla suit and caged) and discourse used within that opening scene speaks to broader national issues. As highlighted by Gene Demby at NPR, however, these narratives are not common within prime time television.

Continue reading "Racial (In)Equality in the U.S." »

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