Sexual Harassment is not Cool!

In my attitude change project, I will be targeting young boys between the ages of 8-12 to try to alter their attitudes towards sexual harassment.  I will mainly use the central route to persuasion as it has a more lasting effect in terms of attitude and behavioral change. The program includes a lot of different activities, videos and movies that create an engaging setting for children to grasp their attention. Each video and activity is aimed to target a particular set of attitudes, either cognitively based attitudes, affectively based attitudes or cognitively based attitudes. For example, the movie La Mo’akhza will be screened to target the children’s affectively based attitudes as they empathize with the teacher being sexually harassed. Consequently, according to the empathy-altruism hypothesis, they will learn to help women or girls who are being sexually harassed. This particular video is self produced and it focuses on changing children’s cognitively based attitudes towards sexual harassment. It depicts a group of friends in which the “cool” kid sexually harasses, and although his friends think it is wrong, they do nothing about it. However, on a given day, their friend Beethoven is present and he stands up for the girl being harassed, and explains to Chris that what he is doing is wrong. The video ends with Beethoven’s name being chanted, while “Say No to Sexual Harassment” appears on the screen. The video itself is self explanatory but the attitude change is more dependent upon the discussion that ensues. Simplistic explanations of the bystander effect and conformity will follow, guiding the students on how they should act in certain situations where sexual harassment takes place. Furthermore, the video highlights how the children’s descriptive norms are not true. The video is one part of a complex program that will hopefully change children’s cognition and construal of harassment and decrease sexual harassment rates in Egypt in the near future.

But aren’t religious people boring?

            Although I come from a somewhat conservative household, I used to hold a prejudice against religious people. In my mind, I’d stereotyped them as close-minded individuals, whose company is boring and religion-based. I gave no controlled thinking to the idea of individual differences, and instead, I automatically and unconsciously “grouped” being”religious” (whatever that even means) to being isolated, dissatisfied and unmotivated. I guess my attitude of grouping aligned with the Implicit Personality Theory. So anyways, I created several illusory correlations between devout individuals and certain traits. For example, I thought religious people were boring; and so, when I would interact with them, I would remain extremely silent and I would give one word answers. Not only was that a form of discrimination, but it was also a portrayal of the self-fulfilling prophecy: When people act towards others in a way that conforms their expectations of those people. Also, since some of the people were unaware of the existence of a stereotype threat, they would go on and on about God and their beliefs; I would use those conversations to confirm my stereotype.

           Further amplifying my prejudice was perhaps the institutional discrimination that I observed at my school. There wasn’t really any institutional sexism, but it was more of discrimination against religious people. Most of the teachers employed were open-minded, and those who weren’t were either treated poorly and left, or they would give in to normative conformity. Most of them would change the way they dressed a little bit and they would carefully avoid certain topics of discussion. There was actually a religious girl with us who was the students’ scapegoat in a way, since any frustration or anger would be taken out on her, until she too changed her style of clothing, and became very cautious around people. Since I saw the same actions from those I interacted with, I strongly began to believe in out-group homogeneity. Eventually, that led to the ultimate attribution error, which in this case, was prejudice against anyone who publicly discussed religious matters. Despite all of these attitudes, however, I still displayed perfectly modern racism. I had not allowed myself to discriminate in any extreme or harmful way that would disclaim my “I’m unprejudiced” attitude.

               One day however, I experienced mutual interdependence with extremely religious people, and although I was initially unwilling to be myself around them, I did not really have a choice. As our beneficial relationship continued, I was “shocked” at how alike we actually were; people didn’t necessarily have to be part of my in-group for us to share beliefs and ideas. As a result, I began to question my affectively based attitudes and stereotypes about religious people in a cognitive and controlled manner, and I understood how illogical my stereotypes were. Moreover, I realized that my correlations were extremely biased since my schematic definition of religious people was based on their attire, but what about religious individuals who don’t necessarily wear a veil or a abayah? And what about people who are veiled but aren’t religious? And what is “religious” anyway?

Below are images of stereotypes and discrimination in different parts of the world.

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            Are we innately good or bad, or do we have a choice?  

           Is every act of kindness actually a selfish act? Advocates of prosocial behavior and altruism would definitely oppose this notion of selfishness; to them, people are willing to do good for no personal benefit, even at a cost to their own well being. For instance, a rich person who gives away a huge portion of his money to an orphanage would certainly lack the norm of reciprocity. Wouldn’t that then, be purely altruistic? After all, he must have empathized with the poor and fulfilled the empathy-altruism hypothesis, where a person who empathizes with others tries to help them for unselfish reasons. Further supporting his cause is his ability to help members of an out-group, the orphans, to whom he cannot identify with. Not only that, but he would also defy the urban overload hypothesis, since he did not give in to the overwhelming stimuli around him. What if, however, these assumptions were incorrect? What if he gave away money in order to raise his self-esteem, or to reduce his cognitive dissonance through self-affirmation?  Would that make him a bad person?

            Let us consider another situation. A group of people watched a rape take place but did nothing to stop it. Wouldn’t those people definitely be bad? No. The bystander effect is perhaps more powerful than their best motives, for the greater the number of bystanders, the more that pluralistic ignorance takes place. In other words, everyone depends on the others to help, so no one actually helps. A huge diffusion of responsibility takes place, where each person’s sense of responsibility decreases.  Consequently, the assumption that those bystanders are innately bad would be a fundamental attribution error. But what about the rapist committing the crime? Such an aggressive act that is aimed to cause physical and psychological pain must truly make a person bad! Rape, in this case, is far from instrumental aggression, but an act that is solely hostile. Perhaps this can be explained by the frustration-aggression theory, where an aggressive response was elicited due to the inability to attain a goal. Regardless of social scripts, emotional catharsis was far more critical. So the question is, was this rapist put in a bad situation, or is he innately bad? Are people born “blank slates” and develop their personalities along the way, or are they born either good or bad?

            I guess we can take a final example. A little child watches his mother use a knife to cut bread, while another one watches his father use it for murder. Couldn’t that single scene permanently alter a child’s understanding of what knives are for? The Social Learning Theory suggests that people learn negative and aggressive social behavior through imitation. Not only that, but phenomena such as operant conditioning and classical conditioning also play a huge role in a child’s behaviors, attitudes and construals. I think it is safe to say then, that we are born not knowing what is good and what is bad, but we learn along the way. Accordingly, it is possible for acts of kindness to be selfless acts, for ignorance to be situational, and for negative acts to stem from personal traits. However, it is ultimately up to each person to decide whether they will overcome the bystander effect, perform philanthropic deeds, or act in ways that are purely selfish.

Below is a video which displays people who chose to stop and help, others who were urbanely overloaded, and those who simply decided to walk away.

Do we truly make our own decisions?

            Conformity is when we change our behavior to align with that of other people, and informative social influence is when we follow those around us when put in an ambiguous situation, because we trust their judgment more than our own. For example, when making a decision in an unclear situation, we’re sometimes 90 percent sure of it, but we need that last 10 percent. However, when we hastily seek advice and a couple of people disagree with us, we might change our decision completely, with no private acceptance. More likely than not, we end up regretting those choices, for they are a direct result of conformity and a lack of controlled thinking.

            Furthermore, when it comes to more socially relevant issues, such as one’s political standing, some people fall victims to normative social influence, where they publicly comply to a group in order to fit in and become accepted. The person socially tunes himself to that group’s social norms, and allows their norms to become the basis of his public decisions. For instance, if a woman wants her Islamist friends to accept her, she will probably start advocating the Muslim Brotherhood, and maybe even accompany her friends to some of their meetings. Although she does not believe in what she is doing, she is guided by her injunctive norms, for she wants to fit in and to have high self-esteem. Moreover, she will gain idiosyncrasy credits as she continues to conform, allowing her occasional deviance from the group to be accepted. To what extent would she continue to conform, though? The Social Impact Theory would explain the strength of the Islamist’s social influence on her in terms of three factors: the group’s importance, how close they are to the woman, and how large the group is.

            As opposed to one person conforming to a group, there is also minority influence, where a small group of people (good or bad) change the majority’s actions or beliefs. So let’s say, two out of ten people in a group smoke. While each person’s injunctive norm towards smoking is that it’s wrong, the descriptive norm is that everyone smokes anyways. Such a descriptive norm, along with persuasive communication can cause the minority (the non-smokers) to begin smoking. Thus, the observed behavior becomes a habit.

            Some people may internally justify those habits by owning up to their decisions despite their cognitive dissonance, while others might externally justify their behavior by blaming it on those around them. Regardless of each person’s method of self-persuasion, the existence of these new habits, actions, beliefs or decisions highlights the effect of conformity. It also poses  extremely thought-provoking questions: Do we truly make our own decisions? How much of our lives do we actually control?

Below are some images of conformity.


Children Harass Too!

            For my attitude analysis paper I will discuss the theme “Gender Issues in Egypt,” with a particular focus on sexual harassment performed by children from low socioeconomic levels. I chose sexual harassment because it is one of the most dehumanizing and degrading acts and it has become increasingly evident in Egypt; according to a recent report by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, 99.3% of Egyptian women have been previously harassed. Below are a few pictures of sexual harassment.

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 Sexual harassment is also an issue that can be perfectly explored through Social Psychology, as it emphasizes the formation and maintenance of negative attitudes and behaviors (two extremely relevant topics to Social Psychology); accordingly, I will begin by addressing the attitudes which I find sexual harassment most rooted in.

            The cognitively based attitudes are primarily based on the children’s beliefs and construals about how a woman should look like, whether they think her “properties” are good or bad. Of course, good and bad are extremely relative terms that depend on individual differences, and so several children may react very differently to the same woman; however, they all use their cognitive attitudes to decide which kinds of women they are most attracted to and which ones they should sexually harass. Moreover, the children’s affective attitudes stem from their feelings and moral beliefs about the nature of women. Those who sexually harass adopt a value system that there is nothing wrong with such an act; in fact, it is completely fine to do so as long as it elicits positive emotions and raises their self-esteem. A huge factor that contributes to the formation of these attitudes is operant conditioning: the idea that our behaviors depend on the reward or punishment that follows. For instance, the children who are actually praised by friends or relatives for their actions will develop the affective attitude that sexual harassment is a good thing. Also relevant, are  behaviorally based attitudes, in which one’s attitudes are based on one’s observation of his actions. In this case, when a child realizes they sexually harass women a lot, they automatically develops a positive attitude towards sexual harassment. Therefore, behaviorally based attitudes would go hand-in-hand with the self-perception theory, as it explains that the children only know how they feel, after they see how they behave. But is one aware of all their attitudes and mental schemas? While some attitudes are explicit (yes, there is nothing wrong with sexual harassment), others are extremely implicit. Implicit attitudes are both unconscious and involuntary, yet they highly impact our behavior. For example, a child may claim that sexual harassment is wrong while adopting the implicit attitude that there is nothing wrong with sexual harassment, and vice versa. Due to the formations of these negative attitudes towards women and their bodies, children the associated negative behaviors. They then use self-serving attributions and external justification, such as blaming the woman for her clothes or her perfume, to explain their actions to others.

            I have chosen to target children between the ages of 8-12 who live in poor districts and low-socio economic levels in Egypt. These children, who constitute a huge percentage of the Egyptian population, develop positive attitudes towards sexual harassment at a very young age. Helping to maintain those attitudes are factors such as operant conditioning, self persuasion and the over-justification effect. Consequently, I aim to use various methods of persuasive communication to try to change these schemas and affective attitudes. I want to alter the attitude and not the behavior because attempting to change the behavior is ineffective if the actual driving force (the attitude) is still present.

             I will essentially use the peripheral route to persuasion, for although it is not as long-lasting as the central route to persuasion, it will be more effective with children. I will make my argument personally relevant to them and I will try to increase their internal motivation towards avoiding sexual harassment. Moreover, I will follow the heuristic-systematic model of persuasion, where there will be a strong emphasis on creating certain heuristics that are against sexual harassment. I will also adhere to fear-arousing communication, where the feeling of fear will be strongly associated with the targeted behavior; as a result, the children will be able to empathize with the victims of sexual harassment. Here is an example of a video that could possibly change the children’s attitudes.

            I am expecting to be opposed by counter-arguments and replies due to the idea of attitude inoculation: When one’s attitudes become immune to change due to one’s exposure, in small doses, of attempts to change those attitudes. Having said that, I am sure that these children receive an excessive amount of comments from the women they harass, and so, over time, they have developed a fixed mindset that leaves their attitudes immune to change. In this respect, resistance to persuasive messages is a drawback to my goal, however, I can make use of other methods of resistance. For example, I can raise the children’s awareness of peer pressure and social tuning, and then teach them ways to oppose it. So if a child’s friend tries to persuade him to harass a lady passing by, the child would know how to oppose him. This concept is very much related to counter-attitudinal advocacy, for if the children are taught to oppose the attitudes that they personally have, their behavior will begin to change; their actions conform with what they say, even if they initially did not believe in it.  Furthermore, I will give the children the freedom to do what they want to do and I will not try to control them, for according to the reactance theory, when one feels that his freedom to perform a certain actions is threatened, one is internally motivated to perform that behavior.  I may also use subliminal messages as a way of unconsciously persuading the children.

La Mo’akhza

The movie La Mo’akhza perfectly tackles the idea of religious differences as well as variations in socio-economic levels, both of which are extremely relevant topics to Social Psychology. Through a young Copt’s transition from an elite society to a public school, the extent of social influence and social perception is highlighted. After his father’s death, Hany had to go to a public school due to financial constraints; there, he faces the challenge of adjusting his mental schemas to fit in. For instance, instead of listening to English songs and taking notes in class, he begins listening to “sha3by” and focuses less on his academics. He becomes more aware, and definitely a little shocked, at the degree of individual differences between himself and his peers; their choice of diction, their actions and their backgrounds. Hany’s further socialization with the students revealed how the future roles that were expected of them were very different than what he was used to. Also, the growth mindset that he was taught to adopt was now being opposed by a fixed mindset and a destruction of self-esteem; unlike the usual appreciation of student creativity, there was very little support and funding for innovations.
Another critical aspect of the movie, is the effect of social influence on Hany’s social cognition and construal of religion. Not only did his behavior change ( memorizing a Muslim-related song and publicly chanting it), but a huge inner-conflict arose; what had once only needed automatic thinking, now necessitated a lot of deliberation and controlled thinking that was to be externally justified. For example, telling people his full name became a matter of conflict, whether to remove the cross from his room or not, declaring his religious identity…
Overall, La Mo’akhza sends out a crucial message, but one that can only be deciphered through holistic thinking and by looking at the big picture.

Below are a few pictures from the movie.



We are in a parallel universe. There is neither an evolutionary approach to explain sex differences, nor does psychological essentialism exist. In this universe, our universe, gender roles are reversed; gendered division of labour is in favor of women, where they are more dominant and hold most positions of power. They have an immense social influence on men’s construal and on all societal structures in general. In fact, the president and her secretariats were just discussing yesterday the possibility of enlisting men in the army! They believe that it is a decision that will raise men’s self-esteem and one that will not limit gender stereotypes to personality traits; in other words, a decision that will encourage elaboration. But can you imagine! Men in the army!!! I also heard the other day, that some factories have started manufacturing trucks for boys to replace their barbies! How ludicrous! Is someone trying to change our gender schemas here?

Whats going on? Hasn’t there always been high consensus towards a social hierarchy with women superior to men? Maybe it’s this new movement known as the male rights movements. I know, I thought it was strange too! I mean, doesn’t the stereotype emphasize that men should only be househusbands? They need to be home to take care of the kids and to do the cooking! Nevertheless, menists are using the most absurd defensive attributions like, “But the only reason we are househusbands is because of the self-fulfilling prophecy! Its not our fault!”  Huh? If thats actually true, shouldn’t they try to prove “us” wrong? Assuming of course that there’s an us and a them here. Even if they tried to prove us wrong though, what good could they be in the “outside world”? They’re all the same, anyway!

Oh wait, that’s the out-group homogeneity effect! Well, maybe they’re a little diverse; after all, some men do curl their hair better than others and they kind of get creative with nail polish! Yet, I still can’t help but conform to gender classifications, for when I automatically think of men, I think….househusband! There is even cross-cultural agreement on that. I have a thought, though. If categorization is based on roles and functions, which are affected by the self-fulfilling prophecy, then that means that by creating gender clusters, subtypes, and schemas we cause people to act in a way that coincides with our original categorization. It is all a cycle then, where our actions and beliefs of a certain person cause him to act the way we think he will, therefore, reinforcing the original stereotype. I guess that is the basis of the social role theory, which suggests that characteristics pertaining to gender, are rooted in social roles and occupations. Nonetheless, there are definitely some cases of gender deviance, such as the man who tried to run for president before! That was surely odd; however, we’re very unlikely to disconfirm our idea of gender roles based on a few exceptions.

On the contrary, some Psychologists have been trying to prove that instead of the two fundamental modalities (where men must have extremely high communal competence and women are high on agentic competence), men are now increasingly more competitive and independent, while women are developing emotional and interdependent qualities. What’s up with these Psychologists? I swear, its like the second we get all our heuristics in order, they have to come up with a new study! They’re trying to hint that we should be gender blind, you know, promoting equality and supporting the male rights movement and all. They should know that being gender blind is impossible! We’ve already been conditioned and primed to believe in stereotypes. The furthest we can go is perhaps encapsulation and evaluation, where we learn to create and perceive subtypes that contain “exceptions to the rule.” But who sets the rules, and what are considered exceptions?

According to the cultural approach and social learning theory, gender is the byproduct of a social structure that encourages a specific way of gender socialization; children observe specific gender expectations and begin to fulfill them. For instance,  daughters accompany their mother’s to football matches, and so, they grow up with the notion that girls must watch football. Similarly, boys who watch their father’s cook, do the laundry and dishes, learn by default that they should grow up and do the same. As a result of years of this kind of observational learning, no controlled thinking is really required when we later “perform gender.” Not only that, but the way we perceive ourselves is also affected. Girls will usually develop a growth mindset and a strong self-serving bias, because of the positive external stimuli that they are receiving. On the other hand, due to society’s constant pressures, boys are very likely to have extremely low self-esteem. The fact that boys are expected to starve themselves to be “perfect” and how they are considered “objects” to be used, are factors that contribute to their fixed mindset; they believe that their qualities cannot be cultivated.

Before we go back to reality, here are some pictures of our parallel universe.

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Now, lets go to a different kind of reality, or perhaps a parallel universe in our own world: Blood Indians who reside in Alberta, Calgary.

They are a people whose culture has adopted very similar gender socialization to our parallel universe; their women are the primary providers for the family, while their men stay at home to take care of the kids. About eighty percent of Blood men are unemployed and when asked who the provider is, they agree that it is the woman. However, it would be a major fundamental attribution error to assume that Blood Indians are intrinsically motivated to lead this kind of lifestyle, for it is the situation that is in control. The reversal of gender roles is due to the high education rates of Blood women that allow them to obtain jobs, and it is not because of a particular social structure. It is not a surprise then, to learn that women still stick to “feminine” activities such as knitting and cooking, while men lose their self-esteem and resort to alcohol and physical abuse. It is here that the evolutionary approach provides the most sufficient explanation, as it claims that sex differences are biologically based. Accordingly, when Blood Indians were given the chance to reverse roles and ignore any kind of gender schemas, both men and women still went back to their “natural” preferences.

Perhaps the evolutionary approach gives a valid explanation, but it would make no major difference to understand why we live in a patriarchal society if there was no chance for that to change. Shouldn’t the question then be, whether it is possible for our parallel universe to one day be a reality? Could the Blood Indians be the initiators of that world, or are they merely the last people to adjust to the gender-based hierarchy that is in favor of men?

Here are a few images of the Blood Indians.

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Protected: I am not the words my mother used to call me

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Do homosexuals perceive straight people as abnormal? (In class – Karma and Salma)

Hypothesis:-Whether homosexuals perceive straight people as abnormal or not

Experiment:-There will be two groups, a control group (Group1) and an experimental group (Group2). All subjects will be homosexuals along with people (we know) who will pose as homosexuals. The subjects of each group will be placed in a separate room and they won’t be aware of the purpose of the experiment. They will be under the pretence that they are coming to discuss some social norms, and so, they should interact with the people in the room and try to be as honest as possible. Group 1 will be asked various irrelevant questions before and after the main question which is, “Do you perceive straight people as abnormal?” Group 2 will also be asked irrelevant questions before and after BUT they must be asked whether they are homosexual or not before being asked if they perceive straight people as abnormal. The people posing as subjects will try to create a comfortable atmosphere in order to receive as honest responses as possible from the participants. Independent Variable:- Order of questions to be asked  Dependent variable:- The perceptions of each subject   

Limitation:- Artificial setting that can alter the results of the experiment  Internal Validity:- Internal validity is fine since we will only change the independent variable.  External Validity:- Not so high as it would be difficult to bring in a large group of gay people who are open about their homosexuality, and also representative of their population.

This video is a bit long, but it does say a lot. “Imagine a world where being “gay” the norm and being “straight” the minority.”

“The Monster Study”

“The Monster Study,” is a basic research experiment that was initiated by Speech Pathologist Wendell Johnson in 1939. Although it is an old experiment, it reflects on the importance of ethical guidelines, and the effects of breaking them on the participant’s social perception and self-esteem. 

A group of orphans were randomly selected, and the main aim of the experiment was to prove that stuttering is not a biological phenomenon. The children were deceived about the purpose of the experiment and the cover story that they were told was that they were going to receive speech therapy. They were divided into two experimental groups and two control groups, where the independent variable was the way the children were treated; they were either de-motivated and told that they had a stuttering problem or encouraged to improve their speech. Consequently, the dependent variable was the reaction of the children to the experimenter’s comments. For six months the children in two groups were told that their speech was fine, while those in the other groups were repeatedly informed that their speech was abnormal and that they were beginning to stutter. It was found that the children in the second group actually developed speech problems and were emotionally traumatized by the experiment. Some kept their hands over their mouths when asked to speak while others refused to speak all together. Their self-esteem was completely shattered, for they learned to believe the experimenters’ negative comments.

Children from The Monster Study
Children from The Monster Study

Overtime, the experiment showed how stuttering could be induced, and that it was not biological; however, the study had been low on internal validity as there were many confounding variables that were not considered (for example, each orphan’s suggestibility). Moreover, external validity was extremely low, for the randomly selected sample of orphans was not at all representative of a certain population and the results of the study could not be generalized. Most importantly, however, the study broke a major “modern” ethical principle: informed consent; the children had agreed to participate but they were unaware of any possible negative consequences. The experiment was also far from applied research, as it was purely conducted to satisfy Johnson’s curiosity. Additionally, debriefing took place only after the children’s social cognition had been negatively altered: they fell back on school work, and interpreted everything in terms of the insecurities that had been induced.

There have been no replications of The Monster Study, and nowadays, no Institutional Review Board would allow such a study to take place. But who sets these guidelines? Isn’t it possible that what we view as ethical today will be considered unethical thirty years from now? Just like the Monster Study, there are a lot of other experiments with unpredictable negative results, so is it worth risking the psychological well being of people? It is a weird thought that most of the information that psychologists rely on today to help their patients was actually obtained in an unethical manner that harmed others.

A few pictures of other highly unethical Psychological Experiments.

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