conformity

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.

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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.