September 2011 Archives

Racism and Sexism: Alive and well today but wearing a different coat

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I don't recall ever having a prejudiced/sexist bone in my body. I have always lived in Montana or North Dakota (and I am almost 30 years old) which is made of predominantly white folk. Thanks to many vacations I have been exposed to many different cultures, races, etc. and it has always been something I find fascinating about the United States. I remember when I was growing up I had an Uncle who was very prejudice towards African Americans and I assumed it was from growing up in a different time. After his youngest daughter gave birth to an African American child his racism fled and I didn't think I would encounter such senseless hate again. It seems to me that in 2011 we as people who live in a melting pot would be beyond racism and it is clear that while there is no official forms of racism (such as segregation laws) it can be seen all sort of situations .  A couple of things have happened in the last few weeks that have made me realize racism is still very much alive as is the willingness of others to let it go.

                Two weekends ago my fiancé's (John) mom and sister (20 years old) moved up here to Grand Forks from Illinois. On their 2nd day here I drove them around showing them the sites and telling them about the town. The first thing that stuck out in my mind was how racist his sister is. At least 8 times in the 45 minute tour I heard the comment "ooh I am just so glad a certain type of person isn't here" or at least 6 times I heard "Thank god I don't have to deal with that type of person". At first I was unsure as to what she was talking about since "That type of person" could be just about anyone. I let it go because I didn't want to create problems the first couple days they were here but I mentioned to my fiancé how upset I was about the comments. Then two nights ago as we were eating dinner and watching television together the 2nd episode of the new show New Girl came on and we learned the African American character from the first episode had been replaced by a different African American character. My fiancé's sister automatically became angry. She started out saying she didn't like this "black guy" and she wanted the other "black guy back". My fiancé made a deal out of it and called her out on her comments and it ended up with her saying "I don't like any black people you know that. I hate there is any black people in this show but if there had to be one the other one was better". This of course did not go over well in my home and I ended up having to remove myself to keep it from getting any more heated than it already was. The whole situation really got me thinking. I was wrong to assume racism was something of the past or something only uneducated people felt.  John's family grew up in Jacksonville/Springfield IL their whole lives where there were all sorts of culture and races.  His sister is only 20 years old and should have been taught all people are equal. She is a fairly intelligent person. She should know better, yet she doesn't. Furthermore her and John's Mother is not racist. She was raised by a mother who was terribly racist and learned what not to do from that.

                The second thing that happened over the last couple weeks is I saw a news article about a guy in California who made a YouTube video (song) about working at Starbucks which got him fired. I watched the video which was well written and well sung but was filled with negative comments towards all sorts of people including "Rich women" and "Latinos", This song went viral and has to date 755,790 hits. It has also spurred news articles (Abc,huffingtonpost) the song was put on iTunes and t-shirts are being made. After the man got fired he put another song on YouTube continuing on about what each race orders at Starbucks and that song has 192,501 hits. This may not seem to be a big deal but it shows how tolerant we are of people who are racist and how intolerant we are of people of different cultures.

                Finally, I want to talk about my 12 year old brother for a second. We have been fostering him for over a month now and it is becoming increasingly clear how sexist he is. He makes comments all the time about how the girls at school "suck" in gym class and how I should just keep my mouth shut because I am a girl. He seldom believes anything I tell him and whenever John tells him the same things he responds with "Cassie told me that but I didn't believe her" and usually John has to be the one to ask him to do things because he doesn't listen to a word I say. He doesn't believe women should work or get higher degrees and argues about whether or not I am smart just because I am a girl. This is obviously a result of his upbringing. Our mom (who taught me everyone is equal and as a female I can do anything I want and everything a male can do) passed away when he was 5 and his father was very sexist and abusive towards women. He also spent a good portion of his childhood in group homes with older children who grew up in very bad situations including some gang related activities. These experiences have led him to having a negative view of women. It is difficult to teach him differently when he has so little experience in tolerance and is a struggle every day. This could be an example of belief perseverance; this is when a person holds on to original beliefs despite observations that are contradicting (Smith & Weber, 2005).

                What I have learned is telling a person they are wrong for how they believe does not change any situations and in fact can make them more difficult. So what do we do to correct the negative thoughts of others? In my first example contact hypothesis may be the best solution to solving the racist thoughts of my fiancé's sister. Contact hypothesis is "increasing positive contact between members of two groups" (Kwantes, Bergeron, & Kaushal, 2005, p. 351).  Maybe john's sister has only had negative relationships with African Americans and she needs to have positive interactions to counteract her thoughts. In the case of the Starbucks barista, maybe we shouldn't buy his song, or watch it on YouTube. Maybe the lack of attention would show Chris he should be more tolerant and show others not to follow in his prejudice ways. Finally, my little brother needs to see positive modeling so he knows what is appropriate. When dealing with 12 year olds it is imperative to make everything look like their idea and to show what is right not just tell.

                Maybe if we all work a little harder to do what is right others will begin to take notice and learn that tolerance is an important skill to have.



Apple, Inc. (2011, July 20). The Starbucks Rant Song~ Single. Retrieved September 30 , 2011, from Itunes:

Chrissizle. (2011). Christopher Cristwell Shirt Shop. Retrieved September 30, 2011, from Spreadshirt:

Cristwell, C. (2011, July 20). Starbucks Rant Song. (c. (YouTube), Performer)

Cristwell, C. (2011, September 20). The Starbucks Rant Song 2. (c. (YouTube), Performer)

Huffingtonpost. (2011, September 22). Starbucks Rant Song: Employee fired After Making YouTube video. Retrieved September 30, 2011, from Huffpost URLesque:

Kasdan, J. (Director). (2011). New Girl [Motion Picture].

Kwantes, C. T., Bergeron, S., & Kaushal, R. (2005). Applying Social Psychology to Diversity. In F. W. Schneider, J. A. Gruman, & L. M. Coutts, Applie Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems (pp. 331-354). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

LITTLE, L. (2011, September 22). Starbucks Employee Fired for Satirical Song. Retrieved September 30, 2011, from ABC News:

Smith, R. A., & Weber, A. L. (2005). Applying Social Pychology in Everyday Life. In F. W. Schneider, J. A. Gruman, & L. M. Coutts, Applying Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems (pp. 75-99). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Decreasing Intergroup Tension through Organized Intergroup Contact

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While racial segregation has long since passed, it is not uncommon to see groups of college students in clusters seeming to be separated by race or ethnicity.  In this cultural melting pot which is the United States, college is an opportunity for young people to intermingle with a diverse population of cultural backgrounds; so why is it that people seem to join and create in-groups based on classifications comparable to their own personal identities?

It is the comfort level of familiarity and knowledge of similar histories, interests and direction, which leads people to gravitate towards individuals who are alike in various aspects.  This type of unfortunate isolation by cultural or racial background limits college students from gaining knowledge of the similarities they may share with perceived out-group members, and ends up secluding groupings of ethnically similar individuals from each other sort of like segregation were still a common practice. Applied social psychology can be used to evaluate the occurrence of such diversity disconnection and offer theories suggestive of effective intervention.

Basing associations and acquaintanceships on personal and social identity can limit college students' exposure to cultural diversity and strengthen biases towards perceived out-group members.  When people create and maintain in-groups, biases or justifications for excluding others are created through the use of out-groups.  The more social dominance an in-group develops through majority membership or obvious power and resource advantages, the less likely it is that out-group members will either seek to join the in-group, or be welcomed to join the in-group by in-group members (PSU World Campus, 2011).  This type of interaction between minority and majority ethnicities often leads to the separation of college students grouped by cultural or racial backgrounds.  By creating an intervention that could unify diverse college students based on their common membership to the college, one large in-group may result, diminishing the use of out-groups based on cultural variability.

Going by the premises assumed by Allport's contact hypothesis, increasing constructive intergroup interactions between diverse college students would have a positive effect on intergroup relations (PSU World Campus, 2010).  While often difficult to manage equal status contact in pursuit of common goals and institutional sanction, theories set forth by contact hypothesis may make it possible to diminish intergroup tension in educational settings.  In order for prejudice between in-groups and out-groups to be reduced, the intergroup contact should meet those specifications indicated by contact hypothesis in addition to structuring the interaction and fostering an environment where friendships may develop (Nagda and Zuniga, 2003; Pettigrew, 2008). 

Biases between minority and majority students affect the interactions and interplay between diverse college populations.  Unifying perceived in and out-groups by supporting organized intergroup contact could absolve and prevent the isolation that occurs between cultural varieties on college campuses.  Nagda and Zuniga (2003) found that when White and Non-white college students were encouraged to be equally engaged in intergroup dialogs over a seven week time span, and the dialogs concerned cultural diversity and equity, there were improved intergroup perceptions of each other as well as the occurrence of more positive relations between groups (p. 123-124).  Pettigrew (2007) adds that effective intergroup contact should provide new knowledge about the perceived out-group, reduce anxiety levels towards associations with the out-group, and provide for development of empathy with the out-group (p. 189).  Allowing for organized contact between in and out-groups that fosters the expression of personal and social identity while encouraging communication and commonality between diverse individuals, could have positive effects towards unification of diverse groups on college campuses. 

There's no need for it to seem like college campuses are segregated by ethnic or racial classifications, and such occurrences limit college students' exposure to others.  It may be possible to use theories grounded in contact hypothesis in order to broaden intergroup relations among college students and create a more culturally unified appearance.  By organizing intergroup contact that meets the directives of contact hypothesis as well as the implications set forth by Pettigrew (2007), it is hoped that out-groups which are based on cultural diversity will diminish and a unified in-group of college students will develop. 


Nagda, B.A., and Zuniga, X., (2003). Fostering Meaningful Racial Engagement through Intergroup Dialogues. Group processes & intergroup relations (1368-4302), 6 (1) 111-128.

Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2011). Applied Social Psychology (PSYCH 424)

Lesson 6: Intergroup Relations. Retrieved from:

Pettigrew, T.F., (2008). Future directions for intergroup contact theory and research. International journal of intercultural relations (0147-1767), 32 (3) 187-196.

Fear Appeals

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I can remember back to driver's education in high school. It wasn't a particularly exciting class. It was taught by an ex gym teacher who became too out of shape to actual teach high school gym. (Yeah, that actually is possible.) But the light at the end of the tunnel was actually getting that license. We spent all semester learning the basics, both in the classroom and behind the wheel. Finally on the second to last day we got the form that said we passed (except for the kid who managed to take down a telephone pole practicing a y-turn) and we were promised something special for the last day of the class. We could all bring soda and snacks and we were going to watch a video. Since it was the last day of class anyway we were all pretty excited. Yeah, we ended up with Blood on the Asphalt or some other government produced video meant to scare high-schoolers or bad drivers into never going above the speed limit or trying to apply makeup doing 70mph on the interstate and balancing your checkbook at the same time. We saw video of horrific car crashes and accidents that were meant to keep us on the straight and narrow (although they never told us the accidents were caused by irresponsible teenagers. For all I know Bigfoot ran out into traffic).  It was really the first time I was introduced to a fear appeal in an attempt to change my attitudes toward a subject.

A fear appeal relies on the underlying feeling in all of us that a disease or death are intrinsically fear inducing. Creators of those movies and other depictions of violent images are counting on the fact that people will be more likely to pay attention to a message like that and to subsequently act to change their health behavior if their related fears are activated (Schneider, Gruman, and Coutts, 2005). They tend to be images or video depictions of one of those scared straight reality shows that are meant to scare troubled teenagers into fixing their lives.

The United States government and the Food and Drug Administration have decided that the public hasn't been paying enough attention to the old warnings on cigarette packages. It isn't enough that read that smoking and tobacco use can lead to serious health problems and death: now we will get to see it. Starting in September of 2012 the FDA will force cigarette makers to display more prominent warnings on all of their packaging and advertisements. According to the FDA's website it will be the first time in 25 years that there will be any changes to the cigarette warnings and are meant to create awareness of the health risks involved and to encourage people to either quit or to never actually start ("Cigarette health warnings," 2011).

But what are we going to see. Will it be the picture of an old man, presumably shriveled and crusty (but still alive) from smoking. Nope. We're going to see dead guys! Pictures will include a man smoking through a throat stoma (presumably after throat, esophageal, or lung cancer has led to major surgery), pictures of body parts ravage by nicotine, a depiction of a smoking-damaged neonate, and a post-autopsy dead guy. Fantastic. Nothing like seeing that on a 150 foot billboard. Cigarette 3.gifCigarette 2.gif

But do these images actually work? I doubt there are a lot of people out there, smokers and non-smokers, which want non-functional lungs, their voice boxes removed, or want to harm their children. I think the "cigarettes don't cause any health problems" ship has sailed a long time ago. But is showing us the results of cigarette smoking the best method to discourage or eliminate use?  A 2010 study published in the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media showed a 2 X 2 Anova study looking at fear appeals in anti-tobacco television ads. They found that when a disgusting image was added to a traditional fear appeal message (like the old cigarette ads) the advantage of the message deteriorated (Leshner, Vultee, Bolls & Moore, 2010).

I'm not saying that these images won't persuade kids form ever trying a cigarette or that people will throw down their pack of cigarettes in disgust and never pick one up again. But we've had warnings and public interest stories for years and people, despite ridiculously high taxes on tobacco products, still will stop at the gas station for their brand. Cognitive dissonance seems to have gotten us about as far as it can. It may be time for a new approach.

Leshner, G., Vultee, F., Bolls, P., & Moore, J. (2010). When a fear appeal isn't just a fear appeal: the effects of graphic anti-tobacco messages. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 54(3), 485-507. DOI: 10.1080/08838151.2010.495580

Schneider, F. W. S., Gruman, J. A. G., & Coutts, L. M. C. (2005). Applied social psychology, understanding and addressing social and practical problems. (p. 56). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.


U.S. Food and Drug Administration, (2011). Cigarette health warnings Retrieved from

Environment-A Golden Opportunity

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"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."  Most of us have been raised with a version of the Golden Rule that we tend to live by. We try not to steal, cheat, lie, or do things that would be harmful to others. Yet, the introspective self is rarely tapped into enough.  Without more than a superficial knowledge of our personal likes and dislikes, so many of us are happy with mundane courtesies.  Further, the entertainment world bombards us with plots and characters more caught in their selfish desires, never giving another person a chance because they disliked a simple idiosyncrasy.  Seeing this day-in and day-out, a recent catastrophe made me think, "Do we apply the Golden Rule when it comes to our environment?"  I am not a "tree-hugger," but I do appreciate my surroundings.  I feel that I am in one of the best locations in Texas.  So, I reminisced on social and environmental psychology.  Are these two genres of psychology evident in the recent tragedies?

The recent forest fires near Austin, in Bastrop, Texas, have opened my eyes to how, even inadvertently, we have been disobeying such cultural norms as the "Golden Rule."  This fire was not a product of arson. Contradicting statements have ensued, but the real culprit in each discussion has been the extremely dry, drought conditions. While the East coast is getting pelted with rain, Texas has suffered one of the worst droughts on record.  We have had the hottest summer ever recorded; that means, the hottest since the mid 1800's.  It was this extreme drought that played a part sparking many raging infernos, some of which began to grow together. Whereas, perhaps in less of a drought condition, the spark may have been extinguished rather quickly, today, the fires in Bastrop, TX have burned an estimated 34, 000 acres and over 1400 homes (Gabbert, 2011).  Due to scarce resources and changing weather conditions, these influences have had a major impact on our environment, and our society.  Texas may be only one small part of this world, but can we really say this is the only area suffering environmental danger?  In short, the answer is no.  

This tells us that we are faced with social dilemmas, and these issues are shaping the world in which we live.  Furthermore, our environment shapes who we are. According to Schneider, Gruman & Coutts (2005), environment affects our "behavior, thinking, and well-being" (p.308).  We have to stop and think about, not just what we are doing to our natural resources (trees, oceans, water, air), but also, how these changes to the environment are affecting us as a society. How many times do we hear the politicians bring these concerns in their campaigns, and try to pull on our heartstrings by saying, "Think how this will affect our grandchildren."  They speak this way, since there is a direct correlation between the environment and our mental well-being.  More than rhetorically, we have to ask the hard questions.  We have to look at more than the superficial.  Can we continue on the same course we are going?  If our environment can influence how we socially interact, and impact our internal happiness, should we not take the time to treat it the way we would want to be treated?  Doesn't the Golden Rule apply in this aspect, too?

I know that everyone is faced with dilemmas.  However, the resource dilemma should concern all of us, individually, and as a society.  What is resource dilemma?  This is the dilemma, in which, a person must choose between what is good for them, and what is good for all (Schneider, Gruman & Coutts, 2005).  No matter what country, state, or even city we live within, resources are limited. In fact, there is a small town that has bottled water brought in, paid for by the city, because the city water supply is completely dry.  In Robert Lee, Texas, their water source is a single lake that is turning into mud from the drought.  Near Dallas, Kemp, Texas has had to shut the water off for two days, as the hard, dry land is causing water mains to burst from the cracking ground (Associated Press).  It is imperative to look around.  How we use, and for that matter not use, our resources affects not only our own self-interest but also that of everyone around us. Schneider et al. states that a resource dilemma occurs each time we make a decision to use a limited natural resource in order to make life more convenient (p.311).  The unfortunate side effects of putting ourselves first are evident in everyday life. Water shortages, famine, toxic pollution, and global warming are all signs of resource dilemmas gone astray. The line between one's needs and one's desires are growing thin. For example, where once we thought of having electricity as a futuristic idea; today, we cannot imagine the inability not to access power with the simple flip of a switch.  My father had an uncle, who on their farm, electricity was first routed to the barn.  There was no need to have electricity in the house.  Electricity was to help a person survive, to work, to be up early to take care of livestock.  Even so, his uncle, when he finally decided to let electricity into the house, only possessed one light bulb.  He would go from room to room with that light bulb.  He never felt it was necessary to leave a bulb in each outlet.  He felt if he wasn't in the room, that room didn't need a light bulb.  It is interesting how we have changed over a generation or two.  The point is this, with the modern conveniences comes a price: resource depletion.

            We have choices to make, and it is time to start making choices that will be good for all. Unfortunately, it takes more than one person. Thankfully, we see the hard work of environmental psychologists and social psychologists, as they take on an active approach to make things different. With the use of intervention strategies designed to make positive changes, these fields of behavioral scientists are out to change the world, and to change it, literally one person at a time.  We may never have looked at the planet as a living creature.  However, every time we mow our lawn, does not the grass grow any different than a creature, animal or human?  Why do we not look at it in the same light?  Why does the planet need suffrage rights?  Just because the sequoia tree comes from one of the tiniest seeds, and takes years to grow to maturity, is that tree not growing? As psychologists, we have a responsibility to care for the mental health of all living entities, people and our environment.  After all, the environment is very in tune to our needs.  Think of that every time you eat a salad.







Gabbert, B.,(2011). Bastrop fire in Texas: updated maps, 1,386 homes destroyed. Retrieved online from


Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (Eds.). (2005). Applied social psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problems. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications


Associated Press (2011). West Texas town teeters on drying up in drought. Retrieved from



Social Design

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Applying psychology to solve or improve environmental issues need not be limited to standard issues. Although it is important and necessary to undertake these issues, they require high compliance of a large number of people to be effective. This can be difficult and there are environmental issues on a smaller scale in need of attending as well. The "environment" can also refer to ones surroundings, which can be anything from landscape to a room. The layout of these surroundings has a much larger impact on our everyday lives than we realize. It can elicit different moods, interactions, and behaviors. Many of us have experienced a time when we are in a building or place and we noticed that the design of the space made no sense at all. In these places, the architect or designer most likely did not make use of social design. Social design occurs when the architect designs a space with the help of people who will use it. The goals of social design are to create space that supports what people will use it for, able users to manage their surroundings and have freedom, allow for ease of getting around, modify behavior, and promote social interaction (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2005). I have some examples of space use and their positive and negative implications; as will be noticed, placing even a little bit of emphasis on social design can improve functioning greatly.

The design of an educational environment fosters different relationship and learning dynamics. As I experienced, a semi-circular seating arrangement in class makes students more comfortable and achieves social design's goal of interaction. Everyone is able to see others' faces as they talk. The ability to attribute a voice and ideas to a face is present, whereas otherwise only a voice is heard. Students can also look to everyone as they speak and identify with them rather than only speaking to the professor. This is especially important in discussion based classes where one student's ideas sparks another's and so forth. I have a much fonder memory of a class I took with a semi-circular seating arrangement than another class with normal seating even though I enjoyed the content of the latter class more. It has been found that when one feels they belong in a social setting they remember more of the interaction (Gardner, Pickett, & Brewer, 2000). In my opinion, since this type of seating arrangement allows for greater memorization, it should be applied more often.

An example of failed design is my sister's newly developed apartment complex. The entrance looks great and has modern furniture, a stone fire place with seating around it, and restored barn doors. Although small, it undoubtedly promotes interaction. Once you walk through the doors there is a long, white hallway with unusually high ceilings and visible metal air ducts. It is reminiscent of a prison and immediately makes you want to go into a room and not ever come out. Suddenly, the pleasant entrance is forgotten and overshadowed by the looming hallway. After being in the hallway the desire of warm interactions is replaced with a longing to be far away. I realize this sounds exaggerated, but these are the emotions and thoughts I had when I first entered it. The thought process of the designers makes sense, theoretically, since studies have shown that first impressions are important (Ambady & Rosenthal, 1993). The employment of marketing strategies rather than placemaking in this design make people more likely to rent an apartment, but less likely to enjoy the space as they are living there. In placemaking the designer envisions people actually using the space (Schneider et al., 2005), and if these designers would have, the hallway may have received some more devotion and made more inviting.

                The company my father worked for used social design to improve the layout of their warehouse after realizing that it was ineffective. The machines that the company built had an extensive testing period. Engineers were situated throughout the building and not near each other. Inefficient placement decreased productivity since an engineer would need to be located and waited for if there was a problem with a machine. A part of the warehouse was not being used, so they put the testing lab in the middle with all of the engineer's offices around it. They were then able to attend to any design issues quickly, and the new layout facilitated interaction and pooling of ideas for better problem-solving methods (A. Wade, personal communication, September 14, 2011).  This demonstrates how social design changes behavior, more specifically in this case increases productivity.

A waiting room for urgent care that I was in is a great example of how a slightly different design would have made a big difference. It was very crowded and every chair was occupied. The room was set up so that when all chairs are used you can barely walk. Their goal in designing the room was most likely to maximize the space. However, it was an unsuccessful method for this particular situation because crowded spaces cause people to feel as if they do not have personal space (Schneider et al., 2005), and become frustrated as a result. The patients get frustrated with the administration workers who in turn get frustrated with other workers and patients. This creates a hostile environment and results in a negative experience for everyone. Next time the patient may opt out of seeking help for their medical issue thus diminishing their health. A study showed that children are more likely to be underimmunized if their parent previously had a negative immunization experience at the medical facility (Stockwell, Irigoyen, Martinez, & Findley, 2011).  This is an important issue considering the possible repercussions of children not being immunized. What makes the design of the urgent care waiting room even more illogical is that there was a hallway and entrance running parallel to the waiting room that is exceptionally large. They could easily have take some of the space currently used only for walking and make it into a bigger waiting area, allowing people the freedom to move.

The examples I have given highlight proper use of social design and spaces which are in need of social design. Social design is a small way to improve the environment and day-to-day activities, but it is also important. If architects are able to think of themselves less as engineers placing importance on building materials and using technical design or artists focusing on aesthetics in formal design (Schneider et al., 2005), they will better be able to cater to the needs of the users and improve functioning.  



Ambady, N., & Rosenthal, R. (1993). Half a minute: Predicting teacher evaluations from thin

slices of nonverbal behavior and physical attractiveness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 64(3). 431-441. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.64.3.431

Gardner, W. L., Pickett, C. L., & Brewer, M. B. (2000). Social Exclusion and Selective

Memory: How the Need to belong Influences Memory for Social Events. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26(4), 486-496. doi: 10.1177/0146167200266007

Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (Eds.) (2005). Applied Social Psychology:

Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Stockwell, M. S., Irigoyen, M., Martinez, R. A., & Findley, S. (2011). How Parents' Negative

Experiences at Immunization Visits Affect Child Immunization Status in a Community in New York City. Public Health Reports 126(2). 24-32.

What have you been doing?

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Everybody knows or at least is aware of the environmental damages that Earth has been facing lately. Virtually everybody has a minimum notion of the current problems, and some of the solutions for them. The subject is a common theme of documentaries on TV, research and newspaper articles, political debates, and many conversations taken day by day at school or happy hours with friends. Simply stated, environmental issues are an overrated part of our lives, and people's reaction vary from indifferent to very concerned. So, my first question is: how are your concerns transformed into actions?

If "we" as a group is inserted in the context of the entire population, and considering us ordinary people, the answer to this question is indicated by the research conducted by psychologists Robb Willer and Matthew Feinberg.  It found out that when people are shown scientific evidence or news stories on climate change emphasizing its most negative aspects (extinguishing species, melting ice caps, serial natural disasters, among others), people are actually more likely to dismiss the information or even deny what they are seeing (Walsh, 2010). An educational warning turns into denial, and probably people do nothing in order to be coherent with their dissonance. Besides that, people will always justify their actions under the prerogative of social dilemmas, in which individuals must choose between self-interest and the interests of the community or environment (Gifford, 2005).

If "we" as a group is the public composed by Psychology professionals, the responsibility of acting becomes more relevant and urgent. We have access to one of the most important and precious assets in modern society  - information that can promote change of behavior and attitudes.  We are aware of concepts; we are taught how theory and practice are put together. Then, my initial questioning returns a bit changed: being a Psychology professional (or future professional), have you used your knowledge wisely? For instance, have you chosen not to buy a new piece of shoes or clothes just because you have enough? Or, have you decided to use public transportation at least once a week to decrease your carbon footprint? Or have you taken a shorter shower in order to save water (Javna, 2009)?  

The most likely answer is that even though you know you should do all these things, your participation in environmental causes has not been an example. Do we need to justify ourselves? I don't think so. Above all, we are humans that are not perfect. We are humans that are subject to the same emotions that sometimes rule a rationalization toward the hedonistic pleasure of the present, diverging us from future implications. But as Psychology professionals, we are the humans that can start promoting change before the others. The clock for Earth is ticking. My final question is: either as a common citizen or as a Psychology professional, when are you willing to start?




Guifford, R. (2005). Applying Social Psychology to the Environment. In Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (Eds.). Applied social psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problem (pp. 307-330).  Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.


Javna, J. (2009). The new 50 simple things kids can do to save the Earth. Kansas City: The Earthworks Group.


Walsh, B. (2010). Climate-Change Strategy: be afraid - but only a little. Time. Retrieved from:,8599,2032405,00.html


The Environment

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            Many of us would like to think we live in a perfect world with a perfect environment. However, as we all know, this is not the case. There are many environmental issues that scientists are dealing with every minute, hour, day, and year. Global warming is an environmental issue that is currently progressing. Global warming is the rising of temperature in the Earth's atmosphere and oceans. Scientists are 90% certain that global warming is caused mostly by human activities that increase concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, such as the burning of fossil fuels (Global warming, 2011). Oil depletion is another environmental issue that we should all be concerned with. Oil depletion refers to the production of oil at a faster rate than it can be replenished. Scientists are estimating that the world oil depletion is at 85 million barrels per day. Pollution is an environmental that is affecting the world around us. It is estimated that 40% of America's rivers and 46% of America's lakes are too polluted for fishing, swimming, or aquatic life. It is also estimated that factories in the United States spew three million tons of toxic chemicals into the air, land, and water each year. All of these environmental issues, plus many more, are taking a toll on the planet in which we inhabit.

            Most, if not all, of the environmental issues we face today are caused by human activities. In the field of psychology, scientists and psychologists are examining the critical issue of the relationship between human behavior and natural/built environments. As the threats of global warming, oil depletion and water and food shortages make headline news, an understanding of social psychological mechanisms underlying these problems may help to change relevant behaviors and reduce harmful environmental impacts (Scheider, Gruman & Coutts, 2005).

            According to social psychology and scientists, human activity is a major factor that contributes to most environment problems. To be more specific, at the heart of all the issues is the size of the human population. Today, there are more than six billion people living in the world. By the end of 2011, it is estimated that the world population is going to surpass seven billion. Even though the Earth is a big place, seven billion people is a lot of people living on the same planet. With that being said, biologists have long recognized that ecosystems have limited "carrying capacities," meaning that the number of organisms that can be supported by the resources available in an ecosystem is finite (Schneider, Gruman & Coutts, 2005). Some scientists and experts estimate that the Earth's carrying capacity is only three billion while others argue the carrying capacity is only a few hundred million. If that is the case, then the human population is double the capacity. The increase in the human population poses many dangers not only to humans but also to other forms on life. The more people there are, the more natural resources will be consumed and the greater the pollution and destruction of Earth. Even though population cannot be minimized, social psychologists and scientists have to think of ways to get people to conserve energy and resources.

            In social psychology, many psychologists have already proposed solutions in order to help the environment around us. The cognitive dissonance theory is one theory that would possibly be used in order to promote healthy environmental behaviors. Cognitive dissonance states that people try to maintain consistency and steadiness in cognitions and behaviors in order to avoid discomfort caused by dissonance (Schneider, Gruman & Coutts, 2005). With this being said, psychologists could use the cognitive dissonance theory to their advantage in order persuade people to use healthy behaviors. Dickerson, a social psychologist, and his colleagues performed an experience on water conservation. In the Dickerson et al. Study (1992), Dickerson used cognitive dissonance in order to change water conservation behaviors. Dickerson found that his treated participants took shorter showers when compared to the non-treated participants, hence illustrating water conservation. Even though this seems like something minor on the problem list, if all seven billion people in the world conserved water then this would have a big impact. In order to tackle today's environment problems, I believe you have to start small and dream big. Hopefully in the future social psychologists and scientists will come up with ways in order to help minimize and stop environmental problems.




Facts about pollution. (2011, August). about-pollution


Global warming. (2011, September 17). New York Times.


Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (Eds.). (2005). Applied social psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problems. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications

The World We Live In

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A pressing issue in our society today is the slow and steady depletion of our natural resources. As inhabitants of the earth it is our job to protect our planet and keep it safe for generations to come or we, as a species face the ultimate punishment. With nowhere to live, we have nowhere to strive and therefore, cease to exist. How do we stop ourselves from being our own worst enemy? In order to understand how to save ourselves, we first need to understand why we continue to take from the earth with seemingly, no remorse. It is only after we understand our own actions that we can truly help ourselves through intervention.
    One major setback of our generation and previous generations is that we are under the assumption that we are one person in a big world and we cannot make that much of a difference. We, as individuals, choose between self-interest and the interests of the community or the environment (Schneider, Gruman, Coutts, 2005, p.308). For example, we all brush our teeth. Do we leave the water running while we brush because it is convenient and we are almost done? Or do we turn the water off and on every time we spit in the sink? We all know how valuable the water is, but we may choose to keep the water running because at the moment, it works for us. Resource dilemmas occur each time we do something that uses a limited natural resource that would make our lives easier or more comfortable (Schneider et al., 2005, p. 311). William Lloyd's example of "the commons" paints a good picture for this concept. Lloyd uses the commons, a central open space in the middle of a village, to demonstrate what happens in a typical resource dilemma. Each village has its own common area and each villager is allowed to use this common area and the grass in the area to feed their animals. Each citizen is allowed one cow. When one villager tries to get ahead by buying another cow and bringing that cow to the commons to feed, that person is thinking in their own self-interest and not the interest of the village. If one person gets an extra cow, then his neighbor may get another cow and before you know it, everyone has multiple cows feeding from the grass in the commons. The grass cannot grow fast enough to feed all the cows and therefore, they have depleted their resource and the cows die leaving them with nothing (Schneider et al, 2005, p.311). We are a very selfish society and we have a tendency to act on impulse and then think about the consequences later if we think about the consequences at all.
    Another aspect of environment that pertains to social psychology is social design.  Social design refers to constructing a building in collaboration with those who will be using the building so that they are more user-friendly (Schneider et al., 2005 p.308). Robert Summer (2005) characterizes social design as working with people not for them. He proposes that by involving people in managing their spaces and educating them to use the environment wisely, they can achieve balance between the social, physical, and natural environment, therefore building an awareness of beauty and sense of responsibility to the earth's environment and all creatures living in it (Schneider et al., 2005, p. 318). This is a great concept! We can relate this to our own lives and think about it from a different perspective. If we spend hours, weeks, months working on a project...say building a house, we understand everything it takes to build a house and all of the details, hard work, and dedication it took to actually make it a house. It is not just a piece of property, it becomes sentimental and gives us a sense of pride. We are more likely to take good care of this house because we put a lot of effort into creating it and making it a home.
    Creating the perfect space in the environment goes further than constructing user-friendly buildings. Crime is ever-prevalent in our society today. The defensible space theory addresses crime and the fear of crime (Schneider et al, 2005, p.326). This is an interesting theory that proposes that increasing sense of security can decrease crime in a territory (Schneider et al., 2005, p. 326). We should make it a point to think about this the next time we are out in our communities. What are the most frequent targets of robbery? We all see examples of this on television: the convenience store hold up. Convenience stores are known for small, dark parking lots. They are often open 24 hours and in those late/early hours have minimum staffing. These buildings may be targets because these characteristics decrease the surveillability of the stores (Schneider et al., 2005, p.326). In other words, there will be less witnesses. In residences, according to the defensible space theory, symbolic barriers or extra decorations or fancy bushes, should keep burglaries at a minimum (Schneider et al., 2005, p. 326). While reading this, the movie Home Alone comes to mind. Assuming everyone has seen this movie, when the burglars see all the decorations and lights in the McCallister's lawn, they are attracted to it like magnets. Studies show that the symbolic barriers in this example are actually interpreted as a sign that the residence contains more than the usual amount of valuables (Schneider et al., 2005, p.326). When it comes to communities, gated communities have become very popular in that they make their residents feel safer. While this may be the case, there is less surveillance which makes them more susceptible to crime.     
    In conclusion, there is a lot more to the environment than meets the eye. Social design and defensible space seem to be slightly off topic from resource dilemma, but each effects the environment. Think about this: resource dilemma involves exhausting our natural resources before they can regenerate while if we think about the design of our social areas and environment, we gain more appreciation for that environment therefore taking care of it and the natural resources that surround it. In defending our space, we are taking pride in our space and therefore taking pride in our environment. In appreciating our surroundings and environment, we make the promise and commitment to care for them and the natural resources that build them and surround them.


Schneider, F.W., Gruman, J.A., and Coutts, L.M (Eds.)(2005). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

The Environment

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Today all of us are aware and hear about environmental issues and concerns such as climate change, global warming, pollution, resource depletion, environmental degradation and many others. Environmental issues are derived primarily as a result of human activities and statistical information supports this. The effects of global warming can be seen from the fact that the average temperatures have climbed 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degree Celsius) around the world since 1880, much of this in recent decades, according to NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies (National Geographic, 2007). The sea level is rising due to the melting of the Polar ice cap and thermal expansion (Natural resources defense council [NRCC], 2008). Higher levels of carbon dioxide and other air pollutants have caused an increase in allergies and other respiratory conditions which has affected millions of American's health (NRDC, 2008). U.S. residences, businesses, and institutions produced more than 251 million tons of municipal solid waste, which is approximately 4.6 pounds of waste per person per day, and only approximately 32.5 percent is currently recycled (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency[U.S. EPA], 2011;NRDC, 2008). On average, each one of us produces 4.4 pounds of solid waste each day. This adds up to almost a ton of trash per person, per year (U.S EPA, 2011). There are many more facts available which demonstrate that human actions have cause serious problems to our environment. Additionally biologists have long recognized that our ecosystem has limited carrying capacities and many resources are finite and limited (Pennsylvania State University World Campus, 2011). The best solution to improve and resolve this situation is sustainability and the adoption of environmentally responsible behavior. It is crucial to implement timely interventions that will benefit this cause.

However it is first important to examine why people behave the way they do regarding the environment, and why don't people try to act more responsible towards the environment. To answer these questions one should consider the broad concept of social dilemmas which are conflicts in which the most beneficial action for an individual will, if chosen by most people, have harmful effects on everyone (Aronson, Wilson & Akert, 2010, p.341). People's self-interest and desire for personal gain may influence their choices and behaviors as they may consider the rewards of their actions noteworthy, no matter what consequences these actions have on everyone. For example trying to use less energy at home, using your car less, collecting and recycling  household waste, and using reusable shopping bags instead of plastic or paper ones may not seem personally convenient. Therefore instead of sacrificing some small conveniences people chose to behave in a way that negatively impacts everyone. Regarding environmental conservation the relevant type of social dilemma is resource dilemma or commons dilemma. The resource dilemma arises in a situation where everyone takes from a common pool of goods such, as the limited natural resources, and an individual harvests these resources faster than they can be generated due to personal profits (Schneider, Gruman & Coutts, 2005). An individual must make a decision and choose between self-interest and the interest of the community and environment. Therefore analyzing and understanding what factors affect an individual's decision making is a crucial aspect before designing and implementing interventions to promote environmentally responsible behavior.

Often people do not realize, or do not want to accept, that their behaviors and actions have an effect and influence their physical environment. People need to make choices and often fall into social traps which are another form of social dilemmas. Social traps involve a short-term pleasure or gain that over time leads to negative consequences such as loss or pain (Schneider, Gruman & Coutts, 2005, p.310). For instance one could choose to over-consume energy and not bother to recycle as it is more convenient.  The individual perceives that his behavior does not cause any immediate negative outcomes and fails to realize the long term consequences. Additionally there is the case where one reduces the negative impact of their behavior with the excuse that their actions do not have any great overall impact on the environment. For instance one could say that recycling their plastic bottles and aluminum cans would actually not make any difference. This type of decision making displays how relevant the concept of the social trap is in our everyday life. Statistical facts are also able to demonstrate this, and regarding recycling it has been estimated that Americans use 2,500,000 plastic bottles every hour and unfortunately most of them are thrown away (U.S. EPA, 2011). Furthermore another form of social dilemma which conflicts with the adoption of environmental responsible behavior is the public goods problem. This form of dilemma involves the decision one needs to make about whether to contribute to a common pool in order to benefit everyone (Schneider, Gruman & Coutts, 2005). One needs to decide and weigh the cost and benefits for helping and contributing their time, money and effort for the public good. One primary reason restraining an individual to help is that they perceive that many others will pitch in, and therefore their help is not really needed. Another reason is the thought that their effort may be wasted as not enough people will participate anyway in supporting the cause. Considering the case of recycling one may think in one of these ways and therefore decide not to recycle.

One crucial thing for an individual to recognize and realize is the impact of their decisions on our environment. As mentioned above it is well established that many natural resources are finite and limited and when people act based on their self interest it might lead to a process known as tragedy of the commons (Schneider, Gruman & Coutts, 2005). When the limited resources are overused they will be difficult or impossible to be replaced which will lead to serious problems for all of us. Therefore people need to realize and decide that it is wise and beneficial to themselves, and everyone else, to consider the long term affects of their actions and adapt more sustainable behaviors regarding natural resources and other environmental issues. To succeed one could focus on changing people's beliefs regarding natural resources and the environment and at the same time focus on increasing pro-environmental behavior. These interventions could be universal and target the entire population of an area or selected intervention and target specific groups of people within a population such as students of different schools, company employees and residents of a neighborhood. One method to design a successful intervention relating to environmental concerns is to base it on the social norms theory and focus on norms manipulation in order change people's behaviors and promote environmental issues. Norms are shared beliefs about acceptable or not behaviors and attitudes that members of a group could engage in (Schneider, Gruman & Coutts, 2005). Therefore an intervention should focus to correct and enhance the beliefs about environmental issues.

Additionally the cognitive dissonance theory could be applied to increase and promote environmental behaviors. Several studies have proven that the cognitive dissonance theory is successfully able to intervene and change a behavior. For instance the study conducted by Dickerson et al. (1992) was able to reduce the time of showers among college students and consequently reduce the consumption of water. Competitive feedback could also have beneficial results in increasing pro-environmental behaviors as well. For instance an intervention could focus on different schools within an area or different comminutes. The target could be the reduction in energy use and an increase in recycling. Each group would receive feedback about their performance as well as about the performance of the other groups. This could increase competition and consequently increase pro-environmental behavior. The reciprocal determinism theory could also be helpful in creating successful interventions. This theory developed by Albert Bandura states that human functioning and personality is influenced by the interaction of behavioral, cognitive and environmental factors (Hockenbury & Hockenbury, 2006). For example an intervention that targets the increase of recycling should first focus on changing people's beliefs about recycling such as recycling in more expensive or to recycle materials consumes more energy than burning them. Then after replacing the cognitive factors with ones that promote recycling the behavioral factors would be influenced, which would eventually in turn affect the environmental factors. 

 In conclusion all these behavioral change programs could successfully promote pro-environmental behaviors. The main focus is for all to realize that sustainability is the best solution to improve and preserve natural resources. Targeting to change short-term self-interest behaviors is crucial as well as challenging.  From my personal experience I have witnessed people excuse their behavior by claiming that their contribution will not have any effect on the environment. The most popular excuse is that one person cannot make a difference. However this is not true and is an example of how common social dilemmas exist in our lives. Therefore to combat these behaviors interventions derived from the social psychology theory and other related fields are important and promising in enhancing pro-environmental behaviors.





Aronson, E., Wilson, T.D. & Akert, R.M. (2011). Social Psychology (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall/Pearson.


Dickerson, C.A., Thibodeau, R., Aronson, E., & Miller, D. (1992). Using cognitive dissonance to encourage water conservation. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 22. 841-854.


Hochenbury, D.H., & Hockenbury S.E. (2006). Psychology (4th ed.). New York, NY: Worth Publishers.


National Geographic News. (2007). Global worming fast facts. Retrieve from:


Natural Resources Defense Council. (2008). The consequences of global warning. Retrieve from:


Pennsylvania State University World Campus. (2011). Applied Social Psychology: Theory and research methods. Retrieved online at:


Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (Eds.). (2005). Applied social psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problems. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications


U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2011). Recycling. Retrieved from:



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