9.70 | Spring 2013 | Undergraduate

Social Psychology


Required Textbook

[SA] = Aronson, Elliot. The Social Animal. Worth Publishers, 2011. ISBN: 9781429233415.

SA has been the main text for this class for many years. A consistent student favorite and an up-to-date book about the psychology of human interaction, written from the author’s own particular personal and social (e.g. academic and professional) point of view.

He is an acknowledged authority on the experimental study of social psychology and a master at making the relevant substantive and technical complexities of the modern scientific literature in the field intelligible to an undergraduate audience.

Aronson will lead us through the scientific literature relating to the dynamics of social influence in a wide range of both routine and problematical situations. He will also provide us with some theoretically sound and practically useful answers to questions of a kind that most of us will keep on asking about ourselves and other people throughout our lives:

“What makes us who and what we are?” “Why do we like or dislike each other?” “Does watching violence on TV or playing virtually violent video games make children (adults?) more (or less?) overtly aggressive?” “What are “cults?” “What is “terrorism?” “Are there ways to reduce or overcome human aggressiveness, violence, prejudice and discrimination?” “How can basically ordinary people who know right from wrong, blindly follow the commands of someone ostensibly in a position of legitimate authority who directs them to engage in punitive, hurtful, destructive and violent acts aimed at other people and or property, even to the point of committing acts of torture, mass murder and suicide?” “How can basically ordinary people who know right from wrong…collaborate with others in organizing and carrying out such acts?”

In effect, Professor Aronson will introduce us to some key substantive, procedural, and ethical issues in experimental social psychology and take us on an up-to-date tour of its varied literature.

Pertinently, this SA 11th is the latest (2011). It integrates relevant developments since the 10th edition back in 2008, including a discussion of recent fMRI evidence about the effects of social support on brain activity related to fear and references to the 2008 presidential election and its aftermath. It is, of course, silent on some significant events that have occurred since then, and we will surely want to consider some of them.

Much of the material that you will encounter via the text and otherwise in this class is perpetually timely and drawn from classical experiments—some of them decades old. Don’t expect the conclusions to be drawn to be outdated and of merely historical interest. The experiments are “classical” precisely because they speak eloquently on matters highly relevant to understanding current events.

Readings and Viewings

All readings and viewings are best done “solo”. Comprehension is key! Take notes, and try to complete the assignments before you meet with group-mates to discuss the week’s work.

Whether studying materials on line or reading texts or watching films: Please do so closely, carefully, critically, attentively, and conscientiously. Remember, for you this is not mere “entertainment”. Watch with a view to issues previously or concurrently arising in 9.70. The sequencing of assignments has been done advisedly. Generally speaking, the ordering of items in the assignments below has been arranged to facilitate comprehension. Please make an effort to do the assignments in the order that they are listed in this syllabus.

Some of the material is difficult and dense. Some of it is quite harsh and unpalatable. At times, you may find it necessary to take a break, and get away from it. At other times you may need to read, watch and / or listen to a given selection more than once before you can fully take it in. The acquisition of learnable knowledge and skills is a cumulative process. If, after going through the material and giving it the most careful and sustained consideration of which you are capable, you still “don’t get it,” then discuss it with your group-mates and / or bring it to the attention of the class and the instructors in person or via group minutes.

As you do the readings and watch the films, try to adopt and retain a perspective that is true to your role as a beginning student of the subject before us. Be constantly mindful of differences and similarities in the context in which the material you are reading and watching was produced and the one in which you are encountering it. Focus on the social psychological significance of the issues being raised and their meaning in terms of your 9.70 learning experience. Consider both the media and the messages. Keep track of points on which you strongly agree or disagree with the message or the manner in which it is presented. Don’t be unduly surprised or put off by the fact that some of the material is “old,” or that much of the video imagery is dated and many of the videos are of low production value or poor audiovisual quality. Furthermore, the people and situations portrayed may look different than today’s—characters may sport passé haircuts and outmoded dress styles. But don’t let that distract you from your main task.

In years past, many 9.70 students reported finding some of the assigned readings and videos mildly (and sometimes powerfully) disturbing. They complained that the conclusions to be drawn (e.g. about “human nature”) were generally very depressing. In recent years, we’ve aimed to counteract this effect by “deconstructing” the concept of “human nature” and by including some recent findings from the emerging subfield of “positive psychology.” This year we will try to build further on this experience by exploring what it means to be a specifically human being and searching for a humanecologically sustainable definition of the boundaries of human “personhood” in terms of (e.g.) corporate “constitutional rights”.

That being said, it must be added that some important social psychological lessons can be learned from a closer examination of the ways in which disturbing information affects us.

Pay close attention to the way you respond when some item of information (e.g. something in this syllabus or the material it refers to) disturbs your sense of what is true and important. Try to figure out precisely what it is about the information (message and / or medium) that makes you feel uncomfortable. Take a few minutes to observe your way of handling the situation (laughter, dismissal, denial, defection, etc.?). As you encounter such material and endeavor to come mentally and behaviorally “to grips with it”, lots of things may happen. You may experience feelings of disbelief, revulsion, or alienation that make it difficult for you to “take in” the information. If this happens, please understand that your strong affective (fight / flight) reactions are entirely natural and normal. All of us are inclined to defend ourselves against or distance ourselves from unpleasant information and generally tend to prefer to avoid situations in which we find the behavior (and thoughts and feelings) of others to be intellectually and emotionally disturbing. But for present purposes it would be best to endeavor to overcome this tendency, lest it impede your understanding of the material.

Viewing Films and Videos

Some of the videos that have to be viewed (and subsequently discussed in study groups and class) may be accessible via the course Web site.

Feel free to watch videos alone or better yet, with groupmates / classmates. In the latter case, you will be able to share your immediate impressions with others. However, the time spent viewing–like the time spent reading—should be allocated to “homework” and may not be used to even partially fulfill the weekly study group meeting requirement).

Phase 1. Didactic Orientation
1  Welcome

Preliminary Information Form and Benchmark Questionnaire

Syllabus–Why such a gigantic Document?

Working Groups

Human Systems: Aspects and Levels of Organization and Development

Human Systems: A Selection of Developmental Schemes


Study Group Roster

Draft formative and summative evaluation form


The Science of Social Psychology and Vice-versa I

1.2-1 Syllabus

1.2-2 [SA] Front Matter, Back Matter, and Chapter 1.

1.2-3 Milgram, S. “The Perils of Obedience.” Harper’s Magazine, December 1973.

1.2-4 Baumrind, Diana. “Some Thoughts on Ethics of Research: After Reading Milgram’s” “Behavioral Study of Obedience.” American Psychologist 19, no. 6 (1964): 421–23.

1.2-5 Milgram, Stanley. “Issues in the Study of Obedience: A Reply to Baumrind.” American Psychologist 19, no. 11 (1964): 848–52.

1.2-6 [SA] Chapter 9.

1.2-7 The Human Behavior Experiments. Directed by Alex Gibney. Color, 58 min. 2006. [Fearless symmetry production company, USA, digital production.]

1.2-8 Aronson, Elliot, and Diane Bridgeman. “Jigsaw Groups and the Desegregated Classroom: In Pursuit of Common Goals.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 5, no. 4 (1979): 430–46. (Readings on the social animal.)


The Science of Social Psychology and Vice-versa II

1.3-1 Mindwalk. Directed by Bernt Capra. Color, 112 min. 1990. [Distributed by Triton Pictures, USA, digital production.]

1.3-2 Chorover, Stephan L. “Paradigms Lost and Regained: Changing Beliefs, Values, and Practices in Neuropsychology.” In Theories of the Evolution of Knowing. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1990, pp. 87–106. ISBN: 9780805807554.

1.3-3 ———. Version 1.5. Front Matter, and Chapters 1–3 in HomeWork: An Environmental Literacy Primer. Collaborative Learning Systems, Cambridge, MA, 1995, pp.vii–xx.

1.3-4 Melucci, Alberto, and Stephan L. Chorover. “Knowledge and Wonder: Beyond the Crisis of Modern Science.” In Overcoming the Language Barrier: Problems of Interdisciplinary Dialogue: proceedings of an international roundtable meeting, sponsored by the Center … Sciences at Temple University May 14–17, 1997. Edited by G. Robert Flower. Center for Frontier Sciences at Temple University, 1998. ISBN: 9780963327215.

Phase 2. Collaborative Inquiry

Persons-In-Contexts I

2.1-1 Human systems: A selection of development schemes (PDF)

2.1-2 Jackson, Don D. “The Individual and the Larger Contexts.” Family Process 6, no. 2 (1967): 139–47.

2.1-3 Minuchin, Salvador, Bernice L. Rosman, et al. Psychosomatic Families: Anorexia Nervosa in Context. Harvard University Press, 1978. ISBN: 9780674722200. [Preview with Google Books]


Persons-In-Contexts II

2.2-1 [SA] Chapter 2.

2.2-2 Asch, Solomon E. “Opinions and Social Pressure.” Scientific American 193, no. 5 (1955): 17–26. (Readings About the Social Animal)

2.2-3 The Wave. Directed by Alexander Grasshoff. Color, 44 min. 1981.

2.2-4 Jones, S. “You Will Do As Directed.” In Facing History and Ourselves: Holocaust and Human Behavior. Edited by Margot Stern Strom, and William S. Parsons. Facing History and Ourselves National Foundation, 1994. ISBN: 970961584146.

2.2-5 Part 1: The Challenger Disaster. Directed by Charles Wiener. [Videorecording.]


Meaning and Power I

2.3-1 [SA] Chapter 3.

2.3-2 The Corporation. Directed by Mark Achbar, and Jennifer Abbott. Color, 145 min. 2004. [Big Picture Media Corporation, digital production.]


Meaning and Power II

2.4-1 [SA] Chapter 4.

2.4-2 Ash, C. et al. “Living in Societies.” Science 317, no. 5843 (2007): 1337. (optional reading - entire Social Cognition section.)

2.4-3 Hardin, G. “The Tragedy of the Commons with Commentary by Crowe, B. and 1969.” The tragedy of the commons revisited, 1968.

2.4-4 Rowe, J., and Worldwatch Institute. “The Parallel Economy of the Commons.” In State of the World 2008_: Ideas and Opportunities for Sustainable Economies_. Earthscan, 2007, pp. 138–50. ISBN: 9781844074983. [Preview with Google Books]

2.4-5 Assadourian, E., and Worldwatch Institute. “Engaging Communities for a Sustainable World.” In State of the World 2008_:_ Ideas and Opportunities for Sustainable Economies. Earthscan, 2007, pp. 151–65. ISBN: 9781844074983. [Preview with Google Books]

2.4-6 Calder, J. S., and Worldwatch Institute. “Mobilizing Human Energy.” In State of the World 2008_:_ Ideas and Opportunities for Sustainable Economies. Earthscan, 2007, pp. 166–79. ISBN: 9781844074983.

2.4-7 Macy, J. R. Despair and Personal Power in the Nuclear Age. New Society Pubulication, 1983. ISBN: 9780865710313.


Us and Them I

2.5-1 [SA] Chapter 5.

2.5-2 Haney, Craig, W. Curtis Banks, et al. “Study of Prisoners and Guards in a Simulated Prison.” (PDF) Naval Research Reviews 9, no. 1–17 (1973).

2.5-3 Quiet Rage: The Stanford Prison Study. Directed by K. Musen, and P. G. Zimbardo. 1991. [Stanford, CA: Psychology Dept., Stanford University, videorecording.]

2.5-4 Osherow, Neal. “Making Sense of the Nonsensical: An Analysis of Jonestown.” Readings about the social animal (1988): 68-86.


Us and Them II

2.6-1 [SA] Chapter 6.

2.6-2 American academy of pediatrics, Committee on public education. “Media Violence.” Pediatrics 108, no. 5 (2001): 1222–6.

2.6-3 “Grand Theft Auto.” Rockstar Games, Inc., accessed March 4, 2014, video game. http://www.rockstargames.com/gta/

2.6-4 Wilson, Edward O. Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1976. [Preview with Google Books]

2.6-5 Sociobiology: Doing what comes naturally. Published by Document Associates Inc., New York, NY 1976. [videorecording.]

2.6-6 Sociobiology: Doing what comes naturally transcript of the soundtrack.

2.6-7 Buy at MIT Press Chorover, Stephan L. Chapters 1, 5, and 7 in From Genesis to Genocide: The Meaning of Human Nature and the Power of Behavior Control. MIT Press, 1979. ISBN: 9780262030687.

2.6-8 Lewontin, Richard C., Arthur J. Schwartz, et al. Biology as a Social Weapon. Burgess Publication Company, 1977. ISBN: 9780808745341.


Who is/are “We” I

2.7-1 [SA] Chapter 7.

2.7-2 A Class Divided. Produced and directed by William Peters. Color, 60 min. 1985. [Broadcast on Frontline March 26, 1985, digital production.]

2.7-3 Crash. Produced and Directed by Paul Haggis. Color, 112 min. 2005 [Distributed by Lions Gate Entertainment Corporation, digital production.]


Who is/are “We” II

2.8-1 [SA] Chapter 8.

2.8-2 Aronson, Elliot, and Diane Bridgeman. “Jigsaw Groups and the Desegregated Classroom: In Pursuit of Common Goals.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 5, no. 4 (1979): 430–46. (Units 1.2–1.8.)

2.8-3 Assadourian, E., and Worldwatch Institute. “Engaging Communities for a Sustainable World.” In State of the World 2008: Ideas and Opportunities for Sustainable Economies. Earthscan, 2007, pp. 151–65. ISBN: 9781844074983. [Preview with Google Books]

2.8-4 Calder, J. S., and Worldwatch Institute. “Mobilizing Human Energy.” In State of the World 2008: Ideas and Opportunities for Sustainable Economies. Earthscan, 2007, pp. 166–79. ISBN: 9781844074983. 

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