Phenomenological Psychology

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Social Psychology – Questions, Answers and Illustrations – Part II

July 22nd, 2009 by David Kronemyer · No Comments


Self-justification. People are motivated to justify their own actions, beliefs and feelings by convincing themselves (and others) that it was a logical, reasonable thing to do.

Cognitive dissonance. A state of tension that occurs whenever an individual simultaneously holds two cognitions (ideas, attitudes, beliefs, opinions) that are psychologically inconsistent.

Foot-in-the-door technique. The process of using small favors to encourage people to accede to larger requests.

Lowballing. A customer’s commitment to a decision based on one factor (e.g. low price) even after that factor has been changed (e.g. price has increased).

External justification. Expressing an opinion that is different than the opinion one truly holds based on the perception the latter would cause socially undesirable consequences, e.g. hurting someone’s feelings.

Internal justification. In the absence of external justification, changing one’s opinion or attitude to match one’s behavior or conduct.

Counter-attitudinal advocacy. Changing one’s attitude towards a proposition one does not believe by publicly endorsing it.

Justification of effort. A goal or object becomes more attractive if a person goes through a difficult or painful experience in order to attain it.

Dehumanize. Derogating the victim in order to justify one’s complicity in an adverse outcome.

Hypocrisy. Increasing cognitive dissonance by confronting a person with dissonant-enhancing propositions designed to demonstrate the inconsistency of their views; making someone aware that one’s actual behavior is inconsistent with one’s professed beliefs.

How to learn from your mistakes. Insight into the reasons why one has made a mistakes by deploying the following strategies: (a) through a greater understanding of one’s own defensiveness and dissonance-reducing tendencies; (b) through the realization that performing stupid or immoral actions does not necessarily mean one is an irrevocably stupid or immoral person; (c) through the development of enough ego strength to tolerate errors in oneself; (d) through increasing one’s ability to recognize the benefits of admitting one’s errors in terms of one’s own growth and learning as well as one’s ability to form close, meaningful relationships with other people.


As one who has toiled in its vineyard I can knowledgeably state one of the biggest problems in the independent movie business is selling rights to exhibit, distribute and broadcast a film. Rights typically are sold on a territory-by-territory, media-by-media basis. Thus e.g. Bulgarian TV is a separate right than Zimbabwe DVDs. Rights also can be sold on a broader basis to a qualified buyer, e.g. all EU rights. Rights can be sold either before production, in which case they can be used as collateral for a production loan; or after production, in which case they recoup the cost to make the movie (the “negative cost,” referring to the film negative, not the opposite of “positive”).

The premise for selling rights prior to production is here is a script; here is a budget; and here are the actor attachments. The actors will act in the movie based on the script for the amount of the budget. The premise for selling rights after production is here is the movie, either you like it or you don’t (i.e. the buyer believes it is marketable in its territory at a certain cost resulting in a profit margin exceeding the purchase price).

A subtle dynamic is at work here implicating principles of self-justification and the logic of selling. The first principle is to act preemptively. I always preferred to sell rights before the commencement of production. Buyers can be enticed based on the combination of elements and the premise they will congeal to make a commercially-demanded film. Perhaps counter-intuitively this usually leads to a better price for a given panoply of rights because the movie has not yet been made and the buyer can think imaginatively. With a finished result on the other hand there is less room for error. The movie may not have lived up to its potential. The prospective buyer might not consider it viable for any number of different reasons.

This difficulty leads to the second principle, which is that one always should accept the first offer a potential buyer makes. Sure it’s possible to negotiate around it for a little while, but under no circumstances should the seller let it escape. It usually is the best estimate of the market-clearing price. There is surprisingly little room for entropy in selling rights, i.e. a disparity between the perceived value and the actual price. Genres of movies attract a fixed range of prices, as do the actors who play in them. There is surprisingly little flexibility within those ranges.

Worse yet if the seller rejects the offer but then doesn’t achieve a better one, the property can turn into “damaged goods.” Few industries are as insular as the independent film business. What is sold and for what price becomes common knowledge within a short time window. I have witnessed the following scenario on many occasions: seller gets offer; seller rejects offer; seller awaits other offers expectantly; seller receives a second offer that is lower than first offer; seller rejects the second offer still hoping to better the first offer; the second offer is withdrawn; then value of property spirals downward to the point where it almost becomes unsalable.

Human Aggression

Aggression. Aggressive action. Intentional behavior aimed at causing another either physical or psychological pain.

Hostile aggression. An act of aggression stemming from a feeling of anger and aimed at inflicting pain or injury.

Instrumental aggression. An intention to hurt another person, but the hurting takes place as a means to some goal other than causing pain.

Is aggression instinctive? Eros. Freud’s theory that human beings are born with an instinct toward life.

Thanatos. Freud’s theory that human beings are born with an instinctual drive towards death, leading to aggressive actions.

Hydraulic theory. Freud’s theory that aggressive energy must be expressed or it will continue to build up and produce illness.

Aggression among the lower animals. Experiments with nonhuman species to gain additional insight into the extent to which aggression may be hardwired.

Is aggression useful? Survival of the fittest. Aggression is of prime evolutionary importance because it allows young animals to have the strongest and smartest mothers and fathers and enabling the group to be led by the best possible leaders.

What is the value of nonaggressive or noncompetitive behavior? Altruistic. Unselfish behavior that benefits others without regard to the consequences for the self.

Catharsis – Does it work? The argument that aggressive behavior can serve a useful and perhaps necessary function by permitting people to express themselves.

Retaliation, overkill and escalation. (a) retaliation – once one has expressed negative feelings towards another person it becomes easier to follow such behavior with consistent statements and actions, particularly if one has retaliated in public. (b) overkill – a means of decreasing dissonance reduction by retaliation that is more severe than the initial insult or attack. (c) escalation – participants progressively increase retaliation by responding with greater force than one initially had received.

Causes of aggression. Neurological and chemical causes. Amygdala. An area in the core of the brain, which is associated with aggressive behaviors in human beings.

Testosterone. A male sex hormone that increases aggression.

Relational aggression. A social form of aggression; engaging in activity aimed at hurting others by sabotaging their relationships with peers, e.g., exclusion, spreading false rumors and malicious gossip.

Alcohol. A disinhibitor that tends to disrupt the way one usually processes information; causes one to respond more violently to provocations rather than interpreting the situation in a less-confrontational manner.

Pain and discomfort. Precursors of aggression.

Frustration and Aggression. If an individual is thwarted on the way to a goal, the resulting frustration will increase the probability of an aggressive response.

Relative deprivation. Frustration is not the result of simple deprivation; it is the result of comparing one’s present state with one’s previous state and concluding the former is inferior to the latter, particularly in relationship to the status of others.

Rejection, exclusion, and taunting. (a) rejection – the feeling that one is being/has been excluded. (b) exclusion – when one is ostracized, or prevented from joining, social and peer groups. (c) taunting – when members of a group ridicule or humiliate non-members.

Social learning and aggression. Acquiring experience of how to respond in social situations; responding aggressively in response to socially-conditioned situations.

Aggressive stimulus. One that precipitates or provokes an aggressive response; acquired through priming and association of aggressive cues.

Deindividuation. The reduced sense of individual identity accompanied by diminished self-regulation that comes over a person when he or she is in a large group.

Social learning, violence and the mass media. (a) social learning – Seeing a person behave aggressively serves as an impetus for others to engage in innovative aggressive behavior. (b) violence and the mass media – the more violence individuals watch on TV as children, the more violence they exhibit years later as teenagers and young adults.

The numbing effect of TV violence and video games. Repeated exposure to painful or unpleasant events tends to have a numbing effect on one’s sensitivity to those events.

Why does media violence affect viewers’ aggression? There are four distinct reasons that exposure to violence via the media might increase aggression. (a) “If they can do it, so can I.” When people watch characters on TV expressing violence, it might simply weaken their previously learned inhibition against violent behavior. (b) “Oh, so that’s how you do it!” When people watch characters on TV expressing violence, it might trigger imitation, providing ideas as to how they might go about it. (c) “I think it must be aggressive feelings that I’m experiencing.” There is a sense in which watching violence makes the feeling of anger more easily available and makes an aggressive response more likely simply through priming. Thus, an individual might erroneously construe his or her own feeling of mild irritation as anger and might be more likely to lash out. (d) “Ho-hum, another brutal beating; what’s on the other channel?” Watching a lot of mayhem seems to reduce both our sense of horror about violence and our sympathy for the victims, thereby making it easier for us to live with violence and perhaps easier for us to act aggressively.

The media, pornography, and violence against women. Media and pornography (e.g. that disseminated on the Internet) tend to increase the incidence of rape or assault against women, particularly by close acquaintances versus strangers (“date rape”).

Does violence sell? TV producers and advertising agencies believe the depiction of violence sells products; this might not actually be the case.

Aggression to attract public attention. Aggressive behavior may be the most dramatic way for an oppressed minority to attract the attention of the powerful majority; e.g. the Watts Riots in Los Angeles during the 1960s.

Toward the reduction of violence. The social goal of reducing social propensity toward aggression by deploying primarily psychological resources.

Pure reason versus Punishment. (a) pure reason – a logical, reasonable set of arguments depicting the dangers of aggression and the misery produced (not only in victims but also in aggressors) by aggressive acts. (b) punishment – a way of reducing aggression by imposing social sanctions such as incarceration.

Punishment of aggressive models. A theory that it might be possible to reduce aggression by presentation of aggressive models who come to a bad end, e.g. public hangings and floggings. Data tend not to support this theory.

Rewarding alternative behavior patterns. Positively reinforcing more socially-desirable outcomes, e.g. ignoring a child when she or he behaves aggressively and rewarding it for nonaggressive behavior.

The presence of nonaggressive models. Presentation of social models demonstrative that aggressive behavior is inappropriate, e.g. the presence of other people in the same circumstances who are restrained and relatively unaggressive.

Building empathy toward others. Humanizing one’s responses to aggressive behavior so as to reduce the risk of retaliation and escalation.


It was 2001 and I was President of a movie production company called Gold Circle Films. It was owned by a gentleman named Norm Waitt. Norm’s boyfriend was this guy named Kerry Li. Li was a karate instructor and Waitt was one of his clients. Li claimed to be the karate champion of the world although I think this was more metaphorical than actual. Li used to brag how Waitt loved succumbing to his discipline at the dojo. In fact Waitt later invested in Li’s karate business, which no longer is in operation.

Li wanted to be a screenwriter and an actor. One of the reasons why Waitt started Gold Circle was to promote Li’s career. Despite his lack of credits Waitt insisted Li be in every movie the company made.

Li had written a script called the “Eighth Immortal,” which was some kind of a karate flick to be set in San Francisco. Li would be the star of the movie. The budget was to be approximately $15 million. For several reasons I thought making this movie was a terrible idea and I so advised Waitt. Waitt eventually concurred but said I would have to be the one to tell Li.

One of the important events for independent film companies is the Sundance Film Festival held each year in Park City, Utah. Gold Circle was premiering a wonderful movie by Tom DiCillo called “Double Whammy” starring Denis Leary and Elizabeth Hurley. It was well received and we had a big party afterwards. As I recall the way events unfolded sometime during the course of the event Li confronted me and said (to the effect that) he understood I had killed the “Eighth Immortal” project. I said yes that was true in fact I had done so. At this Li became enraged, assumed a karate-like stance, and flipped me over onto the ground. Waitt’s jaw dropped as he watched on in awe.

Although at the time I correctly was able to identify Li’s behavior as an act of aggression I did not yet have the sophistication to diagnose it further. I now understand that from a neurochemical standpoint aggression may result from lack of serotonin, or testosterone flooding. From the standpoint of brain anatomy it may involve damage to the prefrontal cortex, hypothalamus or amygdale (perhaps caused by too many karate chops?). From the standpoint of social psychology it also involves an inability to regulate behavior in response to social cues.

At this point I just view the incident as supporting evidence that studying clinical psychology with an emphasis on severe adult psychopathology is a good segue from the entertainment business.


What is prejudice? A hostile or negative attitude toward a distinguishable group on the basis of generalizations derived from faulty or incomplete information.

Direct and subtle forms of prejudice. (a) direct – overt acts of prejudicial behavior. (b) subtle – indirect forms of prejudice despite one’s best efforts to be open-minded.

Hostile sexism. An active dislike of women.

Benevolent sexism. One’s attitude appears favorable to women but actually is patronizing.

Feelings versus expressing prejudice. Suppressing what one really feels; avoiding doing or saying things that would appear biased.

Stereotypes and prejudice. (a) stereotype – schemas that we have for people of various kinds that can be applied and misapplied so as to facilitate, and sometimes derail, the course of interaction. These include beliefs about attributes that are thought to be characteristic of members of particular groups. (b) prejudice – a negative attitude or affective response toward a certain group and its individual members.

Stereotypes and attributions. Linking a cause to an instance of behavior – one’s own or that of other people; our need to find a cause for another person’s behavior is part of the human tendency to go beyond the information given.

The ultimate attribution error. In an ambiguous situation people tend to make attributions consistent with their prejudices.

Self-fulfilling prophecies. Acting on a belief in a way that tends to support the original belief, as when we act toward members of certain groups in ways that encourage the very behavior we expect from them.

Stereotype threat. The fear that one will confirm the stereotypes others have regarding some salient group of which one is a member.

Blaming the victim. The tendency for secure members of a dominant majority to blame victims for their victimization by attributing their predicaments to their own personalities and disabilities.

Causes of prejudice. The reasons why people are prejudiced, particularly the search for evolutionary or biological tendencies that predispose us toward prejudicial behavior.

Economic and political competition. The theory that prejudice can result from economic and political forces. Given that resources are limited, the dominant group might attempt to exploit or derogate a minority group to gain a material advantage.

Displaced aggression: the scapegoat theory. The process of blaming a relatively powerless innocent person for something that is not his or her fault.

The maintenance of self-image and status. A cause of prejudice is embedded in our need to justify our behavior and sense of self.

Dispositional prejudice. Individual differences determine one’s general tendency to adopt or reject a discriminatory style. Some people are predisposed toward being prejudiced not solely because of immediate external influences but also because of the kind of people they are.

Authoritarian personalities. People who tend to be rigid in their beliefs; they tend to possess conventional values; they are intolerant of weakness in themselves, as well as in others; they tend to be highly punitive; they are suspicious; and they are respectful of authority to an unusual degree.

Prejudice through conformity. People learn a wide array of prejudices by conforming to lessons personally learned or based on the norms of their subculture.

Reducing prejudice. Social experiments designed to decrease the incidence of racial prejudice by e.g. integrating schools

The effects of equal-status contact. If members of opposing groups were brought into direct contact with equal status, then prejudiced individual would come into contact with the reality of their own experience, not simply a stereotype; eventually, this would lead to greater understanding.

The vicarious effects of desegregation. Desegregation can affect the values of people who do not even have the opportunity to have direct contact with minority groups, for example, by reducing cognitive dissonance.

But all other things are not always equal. Complex subjects like desegregation can proceed theoretically under ideal conditions. But conditions are seldom ideal; there are almost always some complicating circumstances. An example is a strongly held belief that introduces economic conflict and competition, which militate against the reduction of prejudiced attitudes.

Interdependence – A possible solution. Potential competitors can be placed in situations in which they are mutually interdependent – situations in which they must cooperate with each other to accomplish a goal.

Underlying mechanisms. Cooperative strategies place people in favor-granting and favor-accruing situations.

Empathy. The process of cooperation lowers barriers between groups by changing the cognitive categories people use. Empathy is the ability to experience what other group members are experiencing.

Jigsaw technique. A heuristic method emphasizing mutual cooperation in order to achieve a desired outcome by assigning different sub-groups tasks that in turn must be combined into a composite whole.

The challenge of diversity. Changing people’s attitudes as well as their behavior in order to achieve racial and ethnic harmony.


For whatever reason my sister was unable to conceive a child, which she wanted dearly. She had tried every method of in vitro fertilization then known to medical science. Exacerbating the situation she was single, having just gone through a contentious divorce. One of the pathways to adoption at the time was through the State of Hawaii. After much effort she succeeded in adopting a beautiful baby boy. I think there is a special place in heaven for those who adopt other people’s unwanted children. From an evolutionary standpoint nothing could be more counter-intuitive. One seeks to propagate one’s own genes, not those of others. In many primate species a newly-dominant male systematically murders all of his immediate predecessor’s offspring. For this and other reasons adoption is the high water-mark of altruism.

This child’s race happened to be 50% Afro-American and 50% Asian (Chinese). This would be unremarkable except for the fact many people in La Jolla (where my sister lives) happen to be prejudiced against people of other races. I would not necessarily characterize this as overt or active prejudice. If queried they would deny it. Rather it simply is a matter of inadvertence or preference based primarily on living in an insular, closed society.

She went on to adopt two more children: one 50% Afro-American and 50% Asian (Japanese) and the other 100% Afro-American. Her children now are ages 10, eight and five. Prejudice exposes itself in a myriad number of ways. At their ages it can be as subtle as cues picked up on the playground or not being invited to other childrens’ birthday parties. I have no doubt it will become more explicit as they get older.

There is some irony in all this as my sister is well-connected socially in the very milieu where prejudice fosters. She has been and will be inserted into situations where she is and will be on the front lines of combating the very type of prejudice inimical to this environment. I want to, and will, do everything I possibly can to help her in this endeavor.


Liking, loving, and interpersonal sensitivity. The effects of praise and favors. Praise – in general, we like people who evaluate us positively far more than those who evaluate us negatively. Favors – preferential treatment that acts like a reward to the recipient, sometimes with strings attached (motives are not completely altruistic).

Personal attributes. Competence. The ability to do something successfully or efficiently.

Pratfall effect. Evidence of fallibility that tends to increase one’s attractiveness.

Physical attractiveness. How somebody looks; a profound influencer of one’s attitude towards another; frequently a cultural construct.

Similarity and attraction. Persons who share one’s attitudes and opinions on important issues are perceived as being intelligent and thoughtful; they provide a kind of social validation for one’s beliefs. Similar outlooks regarding seemingly minor, irrelevant points can be extrapolated into an assumption that parties agree on important issues as well.

Liking, being liked and self-esteem. When one learns that someone shares one’s opinions, one is inclined to believe she or he really will like her/him, if and when that person gets to know her/him better. Self esteem – the positive or negative overall evaluation you have of yourself.

The gain and loss of esteem. An integrated sequence of positive or negative statements that constitute an increase or decrease in self-esteem, accompanied by evidence that it is truly meant. A change of heart must be explicit and gradual (not abrupt, which can cause confusion and suspicion).

The quest for communal relationships. Exchange relationships. The people involved are concerned about making sure that some sort of equity is achieved, that there is fairness in the distribution of the rewards and costs to each of the partners.

Communal relationships. Neither of the partners is keeping score. Rather, a person will be inclined to give of herself or himself in response to the other’s need and will readily receive the same kind of care when he or she is feeling needy.

Love and intimacy. What do we know about love? The romantic but irrational notion that there is one and only one true love with whom one was meant to spend one’s life within passionate, romantic bliss.

Proximity. People are more likely to fall in love with others who are physically nearby; propinquity.

Similarity. People are more likely to fall in love with others who look like us and who have similar values, attitudes, beliefs and personalities.

Defining love. Passionate love. Characterized by strong emotions, sexual desire and intense preoccupation with the beloved.

Companionate love. A milder, more stable experience marked by feelings of mutual trust, dependability, and warmth.

Triangle of love. The three ingredients of love are passion (euphoria and sexual excitement), intimacy (feeling free to talk about anything, feeling close to and understood by the loved one), and commitment (needing to be with the other person, feeling loyal). Love can consist of one component alone or of any combination of these three parts.

Romantic love. The successor in a relationship to pure passion; a combination of passion and intimacy.

Consummate love. A successful blending of all three components comprising the triangle of love.

Gain-loss theory: implications for close relationships. We find it more rewarding when someone’s initially negative feelings toward us gradually become positive than if that person’s feelings for us were entirely positive all along. Conversely, we tend to find it more noxious when a person who once evaluated us positively slowly comes to view us in a negative light than if he or she expressed uniformly negative feelings toward us.

Intimacy, authenticity and communication. Straight talk. A person’s clear statement of his or her feelings and concerns without accusing, blaming, judging or ridiculing the other person; creates an environment in which the recipient can listen nondefensively.

Characteristics of effective communication. The Importance of Immediacy. For communication to be effective in a close relationship, feelings must be expressed directly and openly.

Feelings versus judgment. Providing constructive feedback in a way that does not anger or upset the recipient, which can lead to escalation and causing more problems.

Communication and consummate love. Effective communication between partners maximizes the likelihood of consummate love. Escalation rarely follows when partners express their feelings without judging the other person as being wrong, insensitive, or uncaring.


One of the more interesting positions I’ve held in my checkered professional career is when I worked at RAND Corporation based in Santa Monica. Many of the projects I worked on were classified, such as devising interrogation strategies for political prisoners using game theory and reality simulation techniques. While not working on these I became interested in the ways people create alternative identities using the (then-nascent) Internet. One of the underlying narratives of media culture in the early 21st century is the Internet has precipitated a fracturing of the sense of community. Families no longer create a sense of values as they dine together at a communal meal. Social institutions such as school and church lack purposeful direction. Governmental agencies are bureaucratic and inefficient, cold and uncaring.

There is a counterpart to this however, which is the rise of virtual communities based on shared affinities. With the Internet, physical proximity and geographic location are less relevant. There is a profound sense in which e.g. the “heavy metal” music fan in Encino is closer to his counterpart in Tokyo than he is to his next-door neighbor. This de-territorialization facilitates the creation of ever-smaller niches, e.g. one can if one so desires associate with people who are partial to Bavarian polka music, or even emo or goth rock played in the style of Bavarian polka music. Although not infinite, a wide variety of permutations are possible, based primarily on the desire of people to aggregate into socially meaningful groups and their willingness to be instigated to do so. It also is far less expensive to market goods and services to such an audience because they have pre-selected themselves as the most likely constituents who might be receptive to an advertiser’s message.

Does it make sense to speak of intimacy in this context? Here are two interesting recent illustrations. The first is the case of Eliot Spitzer, formerly governor of New York. In March 2008 he was implicated in a high-end Internet-based prostitution ring (the “Emperor’s VIP Club”). It arranged for liaisons between high-priced “escorts” and their clientele. A woman named Ashley Alexandre Dupre was one of Spitzer’s paramours. She used the pseudonym “Kristen.” In revealing interviews she spoke of the tension between intimacy and anonymity, which formed the parameters of her personal (and professional) life. Intimacy (however feigned) is a necessary element in such a transaction. How is it possible for a woman (who essentially is a prostitute) to accomplish this sleight-of-hand?

The second case is that of Lori Drew, convicted in November 2008 of impersonating a teenage boy named “Josh Evans” to communicate with her daughter’s nemesis, Megan Meier. Meier, who had a history of depression, committed suicide after “Josh” broke up with her on-line. In this case intimacy was feigned with disastrous consequences.

Both Ms. Dupre and Ms. Drew had assumed alternative identities in order to construct personal narratives that were dramatically different than their real selves. Does the facility with which they did so promote or discourage the formation of intimate relationships? Given the adverse outcomes of both of these illustrations, it would be easy to conclude the latter. However in the vast majority of instances the Internet has resulted in the creation of relationships that are real and genuine even though the avatars may not be real or genuine. These relationships have all of the qualities of real-world relationships, such as the psychological benefits, inspiration and solace a real relationship implies. Entire worlds (e.g. “Second Life”) have been constructed on this premise. Despite their lack of reality these worlds closely resemble our shared world in that they are populated with objects, people who inhabit roles, social constructs, etc. Understanding the psychopathology of these links will be one of the key challenges for individual development and social psychology over the next decade.