Case Examples in Social Psychology Part I

Photo Credit: Udemy

Photo Credit: Udemy

By Dr. Monique M. Chouraeshkenazi

(1) Elliot Aronson and O’Leary conducted a research experiment in the early 1980s to determine how male, college students conserved water at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Researchers examined that with a sign in the bathroom, requesting to turn off water while students lathered, most did not follow the instructions. A participant (student) of the study was embedded within the experiment to shower and follow instructions placed in the shower room. Results showed when a sign was present, less than 10 percent followed the instructions. However, when a student followed the instructions, nearly half the population observed the behavior and followed suit (Aronson & O’Leary, 1983). Aronson and O’Leary added another participant within the study, which showed with two participants following instructions, others did so by nearly 70 percent. Thus, students were more likely to conserve water when others followed the directions. 

(2) Stanley Milgram’s purpose for researching obedience was to examine individuals’ behavior towards authoritative figures. His fascination (of authoritarianism and behavior) of how German Nazis “blindly” followed Adolf Hitler’s heinous, inhumane, and inconceivable orders to control, torture, and kill a large population of the Jewish community somewhat provoked his decision to conduct experiments on obedience. Aronson and Aronson (2012) argued that obedience is a necessity for a collective population and it is a key element of amalgamating individualism, societal structure, and sociopolitical ideologies. Assimilating individual behavior to the application of controlled, disciplined social environments while imposing political reverence is one of the characteristic elements of social psychology. Some features that accounted for high levels of obedience from the study was individuals in authoritative positions giving instructions, participants obeying such instructions, and special instructions (“the prods”) that were synchronized to be used if deemed unsuccessful. It is alarming how participants sacrificed their values of letting an individual suffer to follow instructions from a stranger that did not have authoritative control. The experiment showed if an individual serves an authoritative position, participants followed, even without consequences. 

(3) Compliance is the concept of obeying a request, whether authoritative or informal. Example: The researcher adhered to the compliance standards of APUS’s policy on using human subjects in research studies by completing the CITI training and the Institutional Review Board application. Identification is proving an individual’s identity through documentation. Example: Identification is required for students to participate in University activities on campus, which validates their enrollment. Internalization is a term that has various meanings dependent upon the field. In psychology, internalization is associating behaviors, morals/principles, and societal norms/influence with one’s individuality. Example: Internalization is a primary component of individualistic physiognomies, which is studied in psychoanalytic theory. I was in the U.S. Air Force for over 13 years and my job duties and responsibilities were based on compliance with branch, wing, and organization-wide regulations. If military service members do not comply with regulations and policies, it is considered a dereliction of duty. Such repercussions for not complying are administrative action (which can negatively impact one’s career for promotion/advancement) and depending on severity, discharge from military service. My grandparents told me to respect and listen to authority, only if orders were respectful, legal, and just. Because of my upbringing, I complied with the orders and requirements of the Air Force. However, when I was a young Airman, there was an instance when I did not comply; however, my integrity made me tell the truth, even when my silence would have kept my leadership from knowing what I did wrong. I swore to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Air Force’s first core value is “integrity.” My leadership was appreciative of my honesty because they would not have known if I kept quiet; as a result, I was not administratively punished and received a Letter of Admonishment (which is the lowest form of administrative action). Nonetheless, I did something wrong, so there had to be consequences; because my leadership knew my character and work ethic, the Commander removed the letter from my personal file and threw it away. It did not affect my permanent record and it re-validated my stance on integrity and being a forthcoming individual. 

(4) Bystanders ignore crimes and injury of others for a few reasons: they do not want to be involved, looking for others to intervene, think others have intervened (i.e. pluralistic ignorance), and fear. Sword and Zimbardo (2015) state that indistinguishable situations or waiting for others’ reaction/action can be a reason for not helping an individual in need. Bystanders do assist because it is due diligence as a human being to help others in need and it is also sense of citizenship. Individuals perceive helping others as a civic responsibility, which provokes those to automatically respond to crises. 



Aronson, J. & Aronson, E. (2012). Readings about the social animal. Worth Publishers. 

New York: NY. 

Aronson, E. Dr. & O’Leary, M. (1983). The relative effectiveness of models and prompts 

on energy conservation: A field experiment in a shower room. Journal of 

Environmental Systems, 12(3), pp. 219-224.  

Sword, R. K. M. & Zimbardo, P. PhD. (2015). The bystander effect: The antidote: Be a hero. 

      Psychology Today. Retrieved from

cure/201502/the-bystander-effect (accessed on 5 September 2018).