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Lecture 2......
Jeremy Jackson
|     May 5, 2014
NW 3431
|     New Westminster
Carl Sagan: "Science is a way of thinking much more than a body of knowledge"

Key concepts - you will be responsible for knowing a number of definitions of key concepts. You may be asked to give an accurate definition and example of any of the key concepts. Key concepts are in italics, bolded and colored red throughout the notes.

Discussion exercises and class activities - the lecture notes contain a number of discussion questions and class activities. You should conduct these exercises as soon as they are introduced in the notes. Exercises are in italics, bolded and green throughout the notes.

Critical points - there are some points that require extra emphasis because they are fundamental to the example or concept being discussed. Critical points are bolded, in italics and colored orange.

Movies - throughout the notes I have made short videos explaining various ideas.

Stanley Milgram

Earlier, we talked about the ability to develop your own beliefs based upon your own independent evaluation of a situation.  We recognized that according to the social psychologist, very little of what you believe can be said to be your own. As we saw, the social psychologist argues that there are so many social influences on your life that you have almost no opportunity to develop your own personal or individual attitudes.

Let's look at some of these factors:

1) Parents

2) Media: Television, news, papers, magazines, Internet, etc.

3) Business: Advertising, marketing, etc.

4) School system: Teacher, bureaucrat, school administration

5) Friends

Now, I'd like you to think of a single thing that you believe that was not influenced almost entirely by one or more of these factors.

It's important to understand that, to some degree, all of these groups have some interest in controlling your behavior/beliefs.

For instance, when an advertiser says; "Everything we do, we do it for you", this is an attempt to control or manipulate you. In fact, the opposite of this tag line is actually true. What a business does is done to ensure the competitive success of that business.

But if the business can make the consumer believe that they are not motivated by self interest, then the consumer is more likely to purchase products from that business.

Now, of course, if we have control over behavior, it follows that we can make you obedient to our wishes. The question is, how obedient can we make you?

Think about this....were the Nazi's different than us? Were they evil to behave in the way they did in Auschwitz? Are North Americans somehow more morally developed than the German's were during the second world war?

Some social psychologists would say that the horrible atrocities of the second world war were not particularly unusual. In fact, we can expect that members of any culture could be made to commit human atrocities under the right conditions.

Shortly after the end of the second world war, a psychologist called Stanley Milgram tested this idea. Milgram`s studies are described in the text. There have been replications of his work. The following videos document one of those replications. Watch them carefully....perhaps even twice.

NOTE: Sometimes clicking on a link to a movie does not work in Blackboard 9. If it does not work for you, copy the link (highlight it and copy it), then paste it in to the link field of a new browser window.

Watch the Milgram Study in three parts: Part1, Part2, Part 3

Now, what was so surprising about these studies was that ordinary people were willing to give such high levels of shock. This experiment showed the levels of obedience that could be created even with very little coercion or pressure.

This result is so critical to the very basic premise of social psychology because it illustrated the importance of social context, as opposed to individual factors such as moral character, personality, freedom of will, etc.


Asch Study

Another critical study in the history of psych was a study by Solomon Asch. Again, the point of the study is to demonstrate the level of conformity/obedience that we can create.

Watch this video that documents the Asch studies: Asch Video

Now, psychologists have learned about the conditions one must create in order to maximize obedience and conformity.

The most important are:

1) The subject is made to feel: a) Inadequate, b) inferior or c) insecure.

Let me give you some examples that you can watch out for:

Inadequate - Your boss says "Normally, we would require someone for this job that has a university degree. In your case, we overlooked that requirement to give you the job. By the way, is there any chance you can work late tonight to finish the proposal"?

Inferior - A husband looks at other attractive women in public and comments on features of the woman that his wife lacks. For example, if he is out for dinner with his wife and if his wife is overweight he might comment on how slim the waitress is. If he continues to do this, he makes his wife feel inferior. This will significantly increase the likelihood that his wife will do what he asks around the house and/or give him freedoms and privileges he might not otherwise get. This is a common factor in women that take their husbands back after they have been unfaithful.

Insecure - The boss says "I don't know what this company would do without you. It's only your passion and hard work that is keeping this company going." Although this seems like a compliment, it may actually be a way to make the employee feel insecure about the long-term viability of the company. Once insecure, it will be easier to get the employee to do things that go beyond normal expectations.

Consider the workers of Chrysler. For the first time ever they took a large pay cut in 2009. Why? Their jobs were made to appear at risk. But in 2009 Chrysler was the number one seller of minivans in the North American market. Chrysler sells a lot of cars. So why are the workers asked to work for less? Chrysler may have used the economic downturn as an opportunity to create insecurity and break the union.

Consider 911. The insecurity created by the attacks gave Bush a perfect opportunity to limit social freedoms. The less freedom to act, the more conformity.

2) The group size is 3 or larger. The more people that are conforming, the more likely it is that an individual will conform.

A good example of this case can be seen in the popular show "American Hot Rod". The boss never asked an individual to work over the weekend. He always called all the employees together in a group and asked "Who will work this weekend"?

3) All members of the group hold similar opinions.

Now, it is a common view that executives are selected because they are intelligent, creative, imaginative people that are capable of developing new business ideas. This may be true to some degree, but there is also a very strong tendency to select executives that will agree with the objectives of the CEO and board. 

There is a very well known case of obedience and conformity that has been studied widely to identify how they cause problems in the work-place. It has to do with a number of issues but one main theme is the pressure to conform to a group of people that hold similar views about how problems should be handled. It is the case of the space shuttle Challenger disaster. Watch the following videos and then read the comments from Roger Boisjoly below.

Part 1: Part 1

Part 2: Part 2

Part 3: Part 3

Part 4: Part 4

Part 5: Part 5

Part 6: Part 6

Part 7: Part 7

Part 8: Part 8

Part 9: Part 9

Part 10: Part 10


Consider the following from Roger Boisjoly:

The evening telecon meeting between MTI, MSFC and KSC on January 27,1986, was the final event preceding the Challenger disaster. The major activity that day focused upon the predicted 18 °F (-8 °C) overnight low and meetings with Engineering Management to persuade them not to launch below 53 °F (12 °C). My whole being was driven to action for this cause because of my memory of my January, 1985, participation in the inspection of the hardware from the previous coldest launch which had massive hot gas blow-by. The discussion activity concluded with the hurried preparation of fourteen Viewgraphs by various engineering groups which had less then an hour to respond for the scheduled evening telecon.

[After the presentation by MTI engineers]... Joe Kilminster of MTI was asked by Larry Mulloy of NASA for his launch decision. Joe responded the he did not recommend launching based upon the engineering position just presented. Then Larry Mulloy asked George Hardy of NASA for his launch decision. George responded that he was appalled at Thiokol's recommendation but said he would not launch over the contractor's objection. Then Larry Mulloy spent some time giving his views and interpretation of the data that was presented with his conclusion that the data presented was inconclusive.

Now I must make a very important point. NASA'S very nature since early space flight was to force contractors and themselves to prove that it was safe to fly. The statement by Larry Mulloy about our data being inconclusive should have been enough all by itself to stop the launch according to NASA'S own rules, but we all know that was not the case. Just as Larry Mulloy gave his conclusion, Joe Kilminster asked for a five-minute, off-line caucus to re-evaluate the data and as soon as the mute button was pushed, our General Manager, Jerry Mason, said in a soft voice, "We have to make a management decision." I became furious when I heard this, because I sensed that an attempt would be made by executive-level management to reverse the no-launch decision.

What followed made me both sad and angry. The managers were struggling to make a list of data that would support a launch decision, but unfortunately for them, the data actually supported a no-launch decision. During the closed manager's discussion, Jerry Mason asked the other managers in a low voice if he was the only one who wanted to fly and no one answered him. At the end of the discussion, Mason turned to Bob Lund, Vice President of Engineering at MTI, and told him to take off his engineering hat and to put on his management hat. The vote poll was taken by only the four senior executives present since the engineers were excluded from both the final discussion with management and the vote poll. The telecon resumed and Joe Kilminster read the launch support rationale from a handwritten list and recommended that the launch proceed as scheduled. NASA promptly accepted the launch recommendation without any discussion or any probing questions as they had done previously. NASA then asked for a signed copy of the launch rationale chart.

Once again, I must make a strong comment about the turn of events. I must emphasize that MTI Management fully supported the original decision to not launch below 53 °F ( 12 °C) prior to the caucus. The caucus constituted the unethical decision-making forum resulting from intense customer intimidation. NASA placed MTI in the position of proving that it was not safe to fly instead of proving that it was safe to fly. Also, note that NASA immediately accepted the new decision to launch because it was consistent with their desires and please note that no probing questions were asked.

The change in the launch decision upset me so much that I left the room immediately after the telecon was disconnected and felt badly defeated and angry when I wrote the following entry in my notebook. "I sincerely hope that this launch does not result in a catastrophe. I personally do not agree with some of the statements made in Joe Kilminster's summary stating that SRM- 25 (Challenger) is okay to fly."

MTI senior management reversed a sound technical recommendation without one shred of supporting data and without any re-evaluation of the data they had promised when they requested the caucus.

The next morning I paused outside Arnie Thompson's office and told him and my boss that I hoped the launch was safe, but I also hoped that when the booster joints were inspected that we would find all the seals burned almost all the way through the joint, and then maybe we could get someone with authority to take a stand and stop the flights until we fixed the joints.

Later, I was walking past the room normally used to watch the launches when Bob Ebeling stepped out to invite me to watch the launch. At first I refused because I didn't want to watch the launch, but he encouraged me to enter. The room was filled so I seated myself on the floor close to the screen and leaned against Bob's legs as he was seated in a chair. The boosters ignited and as the vehicle cleared the support tower, Bob whispered to me that we had just dodged a bullet. The reason Bob made this statement was that the propellant experts had told us that the boosters would explode at ignition if we developed a leak in the case. At approximately T+60 seconds, Bob again whispered to me that he had just completed a prayer of thanks to the Lord for a successful launch. Just 13 seconds later we both saw the horror of destruction as the vehicle exploded. We all sat in stunned silence for a short time; then I left the room and went directly to my office where I remained in shock for the remainder of the day. Two of my seal task team colleagues inquired about my condition at my office, but I was unable to speak to them and hold back my emotions, so I just nodded yes I was okay and they left after a short silent stay.

Roger M. Boisjoly, Former Morton Thiokol Engineer, Willard, Utah

The problem here results, in part, from the cultural division between management and worker. Management has a different set of priorities, objectives and values. They are specifically selected this way. Senior managers are selected if it is believed that they will "fit-in" with this management culture. So, in the end the managers stuck together and conformed with the business decision to launch.

Oh, and who got promoted and who had to leave the organization?

George Lund, the manager who pushed for the launch even though he had the engineering background to understand the problem got PROMOTED! WHY? Because he showed by his actions he was willing to make "management/business decisions". He showed he was willing to conform to management ideology and objectives.

Roger Boisjoly was forced out and had to leave. WHY? Because he showed by testifying against his own organization that he could not be trusted to conform.

Conformity is a powerful force.

The remaining factors were also present in the Challenger disaster. Go through them and see if you can see how they played a role.

4) One wishes to identify with the group - executives want to "be like" or "identify with" other executives. The more you are like someone, the more you fit in and the more likely you will be promoted. Sadly, even in the most sophisticated and successful organizations, it is still true that the kind of suit you wear has a great deal to do with your promotion potential.

5) Behavior is not anonymous - when others know what our opinion is, we want our opinion to conform to the majority view.

6) There is a culture of "respect" for the opinions of others in the group - we are constantly told to be a "team-player". In part, this means that we must agree with the views of other team members even if we think they are wrong.

7) Cultural/ideological upbringing/standing of the person - as I said above, executives are specifically selected so that they are ideologically similar to other executives. We want people that will "play-ball". People that co-operate make it easier for us to achieve our objectives. Obama even mentioned this problem in his inaugural address. He actually said that he was going to select people as advisors that he knew DISAGREED with him so as not to create a culture of conformity and obedience. Whether he did actually do this our not is another question.

Now let's go through some other major concepts that played a role in the Challenger disaster.

Group Interaction

Group Polarization - Attitudes of individuals within a given social, cultural, or ideological group tend towards attitudes of the group. The attitudes of the managers tended towards launching and the attitudes of the engineers tended towards not launching.

Group Think - Desire for harmony in a group minimizes chances that individual's will express their own views.

Let's look at some closing remarks from Roger Boisjoly about the effect of group think in the Challenger case. Speaking to engineers around the world he said:

All of you must now evaluate your careers and emerge with the knowledge and conviction that you have a professional and moral responsibility to yourselves and to your fellow man to defend the truth and expose any questionable practices that will lead to an unsafe product. Don't just sit passively in meetings when you know in your heart that you can make a constructive contribution and also be prepared to share your ideas with others and to compliment others for their ideas, especially when their idea is better and may even replace yours. After all, you have a responsibility to promote the best product for a company and put personal pride aside. This is the best way to cultivate colleague respect and friendship, which in industry always results in a positive long-term benefit for you, the company and its product line.

I wish that the Challenger disaster had never happened and since I cannot turn the clock back, I hope that if anything good can result from this tragedy, then I desire that all academic institutions and professional societies will recognize the importance of teaching ethical behavior in decision-making situations by using actual case histories like this one to demonstrate what was wrong so everyone is aware and prepared for what to expect when confronting a similar situation requiring an ethical decision.

I have been asked by some if I would testify again if I knew in advance of the potential consequences to me, my family and my career. My answer is always an immediate yes. I couldn't live with any self-respect or expect any respect from others if I tailored my actions based upon potential personal consequences resulting from my honorable actions. As a result of this paper and other exposures to real case histories, I hope that your answer will also be yes.

I hope and expect a drastic improvement in ethical decision-making practices and employee treatment for promoting ethical conduct as a result of my law suits, talks and this paper. Maybe together as colleagues we can all accomplish the second goal in my law suits and eliminate or at least significantly reduce unethical decision-making practices within our industrial and government communities.

I will never forget and I hope this nation will never forget, especially the engineering community, the supreme sacrifice that the seven Challenger astronauts paid by forfeiting their lives for such an irresponsible launch decision. May we always remember astronauts Jarvis, McAuliffe, McNair, Onizuka, Resnik, Scobee and Smith for their courage and dedication to this nation's space program.


Self-Serving Bias

This is a little out of place here. Ordinarily we would deal with this issue in the personality chapter. But it is also relevant here so we will deal with this now.

Now, write down on a piece of paper your answer to this question:

How good are you at your job?


Much worse than average                                               Average                                             Much Better than Average

                    1                         2                         3                       4                       5                        6                     7


What did you put down? Usually less than 5% of people put down 3 or less. The vast majority of people will say that they are better than average. But, by definition, the majority are not better than average. In fact, MOST people should say they are about average!

This little experiment illustrates the self-serving bias. This is the tendency for people to:

a) Accept more responsibility for good deeds than bad deeds.

b) Accept more responsibility for successes than failure

c) See themselves as better than others.

Here is a comment about Roger Boisjoly from a person watching the you tube video I cited above:

"That cowardly sob that bitched so much about the launch didn't say shit when it was on the line. Everything he said before that was for nothing. Every Morgan Thiokal person in that room should still be in prison today. These bastards still don't take the blame. When it was all on the line when the question to launch was posed they all failed as human beings. They should still be paying for that mistake. No one should ever play with life, especially over something as sick as money."

This comment represents the self-serving bias in action. People don't normally understand that they may very well do the same thing as a person they criticize. That is, that they aren't as free from the powers of conformity as they might think they are. As a psychologist I see this comment as a failure of this person to understand the nature of people and the power of conformity and obedience in our lives.

The fact is that economic gain is a massive part of life. There is enormous pressure on the people to conform to management directives. Even the managers are under massive pressure to conform to the requirements of the CEO of Morton Thiokol. It's very easy to sit back and talk about what you would have done or what you think is right when you are not involved.

It's an important lesson to learn about human psychology that we are disposed to judging others more negatively than we would judge ourselves. To the extent that you can recognize this bias in yourself and work to minimize it, you will become a better, more understanding, empathetic person. Later will shall look at the therapeutic school of HUMANISM. This idea plays a major role in this school of thinking.

Remember this:

I met a man walking, on a long dusty road; he seemed to be burdened, with life's heavy load.

His hair was kind of shaggy, he'd been sleeping in his clothes; his shoes were old and weathered, not pretty, heaven knows.

I said, "hello Sir, how do you do"; he looked at me and said, "how'd do".

I said, "Where are you going, on this hot sunny day"; he said, "I'm looking for heaven, and leave here I pray".

I said, "Come on now, don't be a fool"; he said, "This world is just too cruel".

I said, "Please explain your reasons to die; before you leave this world and say good-by".

Then he said, "I'll tell you and maybe you'll see; but promise me that you won't judge me".

Promise me that you won't condemn; cause you just don't know, the condition I'm in.

You won't know me, or understand my blues; until you have walked awhile in my shoes.

Until you have read every line in my face; until you have stood awhile in my place.

You won't know me, until you have carried my load; and struggled along this old dusty road.

I've been cheated out of money, by everyone I've known; I've been hated and despised, down to the bone.

I've felt hatred as cold, as an ice house floor; from total strangers, that never met me before.

Don't misunderstand me, I've done wrong too; I'm not perfect, but neither are you.

People have tricked me, and slandered my name; and talked behind my back, then smiled just the same.

I'm weary and tired, of life's heavy load; not too many more days, will I walk this old road.

If I were rich, and had plenty of money; everyone would adore me, and call me honey.

But I am quite poor, from my presence they flee; I've heard their cruel whispers, and slanders of me.

He now had stopped speaking, and he looked at my face; I saw a tear on his cheek, leaving it's trace.

I was speechless and astounded, I spoke not a word; he slowly turned, and walked down that old road.

I stood there just thinking, of the man I had met; and suddenly I loved him, my eyes were then wet.

Another human being, I'll never judge nor condemn; cause he may have walked, where I've never been.

How can I judge or condemn any man?; until in his shoes, I walk and I stand.


A good psychologist learns to understand what OTHERS are feeling and WHY they feel it. This is the heart and soul of good psychology. The good psychologist puts judgment and blame aside in favor of understanding, self-analysis and healing.


That`s it for lecture 2 material.


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