The bystander effect

29 Apr

The Bystander effect is social deficit in which a person is less likely to help a person in need, if there is a larger group around, saving themselves from distress.  There are many famous cases which the bystander effect has led to disastrous events, which may have resulted in the death of a person.

Let’s take the case of Kitty Genovese. Kitty was a young woman who was brutally attacked and murdered on the streets of Queens, New York one early morning. From the event, Manning, Levine & Collins (2007) have stated that the assault lasted over an hour, in which Kitty did every thing she could have to gain a person’s attention. Alas, although some neighbours and eye witnesses, seen what was on going, Kitty was never helped.  So why was it that when a person was in desperate need of help in an extremely dangerous situation, nobody helped? One fault which Manning, Levine & Collins failed to mention comes from the idea of Latane and Darley and the idea of pluralistic ignorance. This type of ignorance is a misunderstanding which occurs when members of a group fail to understand that others share the exact same perceptions of a situation, thus leading to nobody helping.  This seems to be plausible in the case of Kitty Genovese.  But what I fail to understand is, how can somebody witness a brutal attack, and not do anything, albeit just calling the police? Diffusion of responsibility applies in these situations as a person believes that if there is a larger group, their responsibility to help is lowered.

 As study conducted helps the understanding of diffusion of responsibility in which participants were asked to join a group discussion about life in college, with either, one, two, three or five people. However each student would be behind their own individual cubicle. In reality there was actually only one student, and the other voices were pre-recorded messages. A discussion would begin with one pre recorded message stating their own personal problems, which included a tendency towards epileptic seizures. When that person began to speak for a second time, it seemed he was having a seizure. The results from the study found that if the participant was in a discussion alone with the person, they would leave their cubicle immediately to help. If they were in a group discussion they failed to leave their own cubicle (Darley & Latane, 1968). Although this study used deception, and unethical as the participant may have been distressed in a situation, it has valuable implications as it shows how being within a group, can cause the bystander effect to take place.

In conclusion, if there is a situation in which a person is in need of help, it is less likely for an individual to help if they are in a large group, as they do not want to face embarrassment or distress. However alone, it is more likely that they will help as no others are there to help the victim.   All in all the bystander effect can lead to serious consequences, as individuals do not want to be put in any form of danger to them selves, and so will pass a situation hoping some one else will help. However in the case of Kitty Genovese,  pluralistic ignorance took place, and so no help from the public, lead to an innocent person’s death.

The effects of alcohol on aggression

25 Mar

It can be argued that alcohol can act to most people as an aggressive stimulant. Although some people may gain some form of pleasure from alcohol, others may receive bursts of aggression. Although this may not apply to most people it alcohol may affect those who suffer from depression, or people who already suffer from some form of aggression, thus provoking there aggressive behaviour.

The hormone androgen has been found to correlate with aggression as suggested by Mazur, 1983. Mazur found that the hormone androgen sky rockets in boys hitting puberty, and thus leads to intermale fighting being more common. This is an example of how androgen relates to aggression, but this does not suggest that women or adults gain aggression from androgen. However studies have been conducted which relate to alcohol increasing androgen levels, and thus aggression.  A study supporting the theory by Mazur was conducted in which alcohol increased intermale aggression in dominant male squirrel monkeys, thus suggesting that alcohol is the reason for the aggressive nature (Winslow & Miczek, 1985). However one fault of this study is that it only found that the fighting seemed most prominent in mating season, when the males testosterone is at an all-time high. Thus this does not suggest that it is alcohol alone which induces aggressive behaviour.  However another study then supported that alcohol does induce aggression. Winslow, Ellingoe & Miczek (1988) further research alcohol in squirrel monkeys in the non-mating season, and they found that alcohol did induce aggressive behaviour, however only did so when injected with testosterone.  Therefore the results seem to lack in validity as the study was not conducted in an alcohol only group, which then shows the results for alcohol being a cause of aggression being low. Also these two studies did not feature human beings and maybe squirrel monkeys are more prone to showing aggressive behaviour when induced with alcohol, and they may also have a higher pre-disposition of androgen, thus leading to aggressive behaviour.

Studies have also been conducted in human beings, in which one study stated that higher levels of alcohol leads to an antecedent of aggressive behaviour (Taylor, Stuart, Chermack, & stephens,. 1983). However this study did not test levels of aggressiveness prior to the experiment, thus leading to unreliable results.  Another study conducted compared 40 intoxicated and toxicated undergraduate students in a reaction time situation against a threatening opponent or a none threatening opponent. The results found that the intoxicated students initiated higher levels of attack than the intoxicated group, only in the threatening group (Taylor, Gammon, Stuart,. 1976). Therefore these results support that alcohol does induce aggressive behaviour. However both studies lack participants, and are not generalised to the further population.

In conclusion evidence supports the theory that alcohol can induce aggressive behaviour as it suggests that it raises androgen in the blood, leading to an aggressive nature.

The importance of the hpyothalmus

11 Mar

When our body gets too hot, we begin to sweat to cool down.  When we feel hungry we feel the need to eat. It is these forms of signals that are caused via the hypothalamus, which controls the autonomic nervous system and the endocrine system. Without the hypothalamus, we will not be able to live in this world as we would not know when to eat, when to respond to a stimulus, or even more importantly, we will not mate.

The hypothalamus is the body’s regulator for many arousal things.  For feeding it is believed the hypothalamus is split into two parts, the lateral region, which tells the body when to eat, and the ventromedial region known as the stop region, telling the body to stop eating. However research suggests that lesions in these areas of the hypothalamus can lead to eating disorders such as obesity. An example study by Hoebel & teitelbaum, 1976 suggested that a tumour in the hypothalamic region has led to extreme obesity. Thus suggesting lesions in the ventromedial region leads to an excessive amount of eating. However this evidence fails to suggest that emotions such as stress or anxiety due to the tumour may lead to a person over eating in concordance with the effect of the tumour. In addition to this, it only states that a person will not find the need to stop eating due to the lesion, however physiology will show that a person cannot not continuously eat, as they will not be able to contain such amount of food leading to vomiting. Although the evidence suggests it leads for obesity for all people with lesions here, it does not take into account the individual itself, and maybe it is possible for a person to use their own free will and motivation and ignore the hunger signals, and eat at appropriate times.

The hypothalamus is also involved in homeostasis (containing the conditions of the internal environment via regulation) and is heavily involved in body temperature.  The autonomic nervous system is made up of the sympathetic pathway which speeds up regulation e.g increase heart rate, and the parasympathetic pathway which does the opposite e.g. slows down heart rate and these work together to maintain the internal body’s temperature. A study which provides evidence for this was conducted in which researchers planted electrodes in the anterior hypothalamus in cats. The researchers would heat up the electrode, leading to the cats panting and vasodilation as though they were overheating, even though the external temperature was normal (Magoun, Harrison, Brobeck & Ranson, 1938). Although this evidence is much credit worthy, it neglects the posterior hypocampus and its role on thermoregulation, and did not do the opposite effect by cooling the electrode to see if the cats would show signs of being too cold. Additionally it has not been replicated in humans thus leading that the findings cannot be generalised for humans.

All in all the hypothalamus is crucial in the bodies’ autonomic nervous system as it keeps our internal temperature constant, it tells us when to fight or flight or even mate. Without it animals and humans would not be able to survive, thus it is a crucial feature of the human brain.

The importance of laboratory studies

19 Feb

Laboratory studies. What would we do without them?? They seem to be one of the easiest data collecting method in which can be argued produces the most valid type of data. Although some people may argue against them and believe other types of studies are more reliable in collecting data, e.g. a naturalistic observational study; most psychological data has been found via lab studies, and many famous studies such as Milgrams obedience study have provided crucial data.

 The reason i favour lab studies is the fact that it is the easiest method in which independant variables can be controlled, which leads to a more reliable and valid results. Most extraneous variables can be eliminated such as background noise and so the participant can fully focus on the study. Lets take the famous zimbardo’s Stanford prison study as an example (Zimbardo et al, 1971). Zimbardo’s study consisted of members of the public living in a ‘mock’ prison acting as the given role as a guard or a prisoner. Through the use of his mock prison, and the labrotory method, Zimbardo contolled the characteristics of each person such as the prisoners name now being a number, and it was found that the prisoners became deinvidualized in comaprison to the dominant guards and both roles shown high social identity. Therefore this example shows that lab studies provide detailed information from a controlled aspect. However one thing that can be argued against this study was ethics as the prisoners were tortured by the guards, leading to the study lasting 6 days compared to the two week time period. Also the fact the prison was the basement of stanford university, it lacked ecological validity as it did not resemble a real life prison to perfection.

 Other studies such as Milgrams obedience study (Milgram, S,. 1963) can be said to have gathered useful data. Milgram controlled all aspects of his study, so manipulating the independant variable in which did effect the dependant variable. Examples of control were the grey lab coat the ‘observer’ wore, so participants felt the need to carry on with the study; telling the participants that the stooge had heart problems, and the prods and promps by the observer allowed Milgram to find that a person (26/40) will be fully obedient when prompted by authority. However with Milgrams study and in fact most lab studies, it fell into account that demand characteristics may have taken control. Maybe the participants acted as they did, because thats what they thought the observer wanted, and this can relate to zimbardo’s study. Also ethics lacked in this study as the participants experienced much nervousness and anxiety from administering shocks to another human being.

 Laboratory studies can also be a hinderence in psychology as they lack the ecological validity for participants, so results are harder to generalize.  Also they can be unethical, and unreliable as participants can show demand characteristics. Peopleay say observations are just as reliable in results as for example piliavin et al’s helping behaviour train study found that the bystander effect can cake place within a group of people. However this type of research method lacks any control and so can affect results.

In conclusion it can be argued that labrotory studies are very important in collecting data for both humans and animals (seligman’s theory of learned helplessness, administerin electric shocks on dogs) as much control can be taken over the experiment. However to much control leads to low ecological validity and harder to generalize the results. But all types of data collection has its flaws, case studies are time consuming and focus on one individul, observations have no control, and from this i believe that although they can be awed, labrotory studies are the most reliable way to produce findings.

The reliability of dissociative identity disorder (DID) as a mental illness

4 Feb

The reliability of dissociative identity disorder  (DID) as a mental illness


We all have that moment where we wish we could be someone else. Someone who we aspire or someone who is more confident than one’s self.  But has it ever occurred to you that maybe, just maybe there is a mental illness which allows you to take form of a different personality?

Dissociative identity disorder (also known as Multiple personality disorder) is a mental disorder which results in a person developing two or more different personalities .However its reliability is in question as it used to be a rare disorder which has now become more popular (Kluft, 1987) and so psychologists believe that people fake the disorder for some form of attention. Lilienfield et al mentioned that the increase is due to a fad among therapists who inadvertently lead the patients to develop the signs and symptoms of the disorder, thus lowering the reliability of the disorder.  A good example to show this was research from Davis & Osherson, 1977 in which a patient named Julie during therapy told the therapist she had someone who the therapist should meet. Upon closing her eyes she claimed that she was now jerrie and not Julie. During the one hour period it was reported that another personality was brought out named Jenny.  Julie claimed that these three personalities were all completely different as Julie and Jenny were both heterosexual and jerrie was a lesbian. Although the case seems plausible, it can be argued that it is possible that the Julie was in fact faking the whole scene, and doing it for attention as there is no biological evidence to support DID, thus reducing the reliability in the disorder. Having said that, it is hard to believe that a person would go through so much effort to get this form of attention.

DID is believed to be caused by a negative past experience which leads to the individual wanting to be someone else. The most famous case of DID was in 1954 when a woman known as Christine sizemore (Thigpen & Cleckley , 1957) in which she reported in having many blackouts in which she can’t remember a period of time. Through hypnosis Thigpen & Cleckley found that she witnessed at a young age a worker at her uncle’s factory get brutally savaged and killed by a factory machine which may have led to the disorder. Her life account was documented in the film three faces of Eve. The film shows how Eve White (Christine Sizemore) during a therapy session putting her head in her hand and then when she looked up she was a completely different person. This person being Eve Black, a brutal aggressive woman who loved to drink and leave Eve White with the hangovers. After numerous sessions another personality emerged known as Jane who seemed to be the cross between Eve white and Blacks personality. Through Therapy Thigpen and Cleckley managed to treat the disorder and leave Jane as the prominent personality. Although at first it was believed Eve was faking the disorder, her actions proved different as whilst in the form of Eve Black she attempted to murder her own child. It is evidence such as this which increases the reliability of the disorder being a true disorder as it is unlikely that a loving mother such as eve white would attempt to murder her own son.

All in all it can be said that the reliability for DID is clustered as there is no actual form of biological evidence to prove the disorder and it is a disorder which can be easily faked. Having said that it seems irrational for a person to go through so much effort to fake such a disorder suggesting that DID is in fact a true disorder.

Biological components of sex differences in colour preference

16 Dec

Biological components of sex differences in colour preference.


It can be argued that the study conducted by Anya C. Hurlbert and Yazhu Ling does give accurate findings in relation to the title, to an extent. The paper consists of the study itself, in which 208 participants were, 171 being Caucasian white, and a sub group of 39 Hans Chinese. The study measured the preference of colour via, saturation, lightness and varying hue, in which participants had to click on a colour in which they preferred when given two colours. Now I say that the findings are accurate to a certain degree. First of all the results did find that women were favoured towards the purple/reddish colours, in comparison to men who seemed to prefer the bluish/ green colours. However the difference between the hans Chinese people was not significant between sexes as red is seen as a lucky symbol within their culture.


 Now these results do relate to the title in the sense that it shows sex differences in colour preference, so I cannot argue with this. However the study seemed to lack a biological explanation for why this occurred, but instead gave an evolutionary explanation stating that women prefer the reddish colours as our ancestors, the hunter gatherers used to pick edible red berries, and so this trait seemed to have sticken to women as the results suggest.  This can also explain that the results/explanations are not justified to a biological degree as it only comments on the evolutionary of trichromacy, but does not explain why it could be down to something such as our genes to why there is a sex difference in colour preference. In addition to this it seems reductionist in its explanation as it doesn’t consider other factors to why this difference may occur, such as a behavioural account in which a child see’s its same sex parent, be it mother or father favour a colour.


As we all know, tabloid newspapers such as the times, like to twist around research and attempt to make it stand out by going over the top with findings from a study. The article ‘At last, science discovers why blue is for boys, but girls really do prefer pink’ by the times over exaggerates the findings from these results from the study, and so use a headline which is very misleading. The headline itself does not relate to the study what so ever as it merely states what most people see as the obvious, boys like blue, girls like pink. Yes they explain that woman were seen as hunters of fruits such as red berries in the hunter gatherer period, but the title itself does not include the correct results. The results found that a preference was found in the reddish/purple area on the visual hue chart and the males preferred the blue/green colours. The title of the article does not mention this, but instead mentions blue and pink as they will believe this will regulate more readers, as the common knowledge is that boys like blue and girls like pink.


All in all, the research paper gives a plausible account for why there is a sex difference in colour preference, however lacks any empirical evidence to suggest this is a biological trait. The newspaper article just represents the study in a shorter context, but lacks the explanation of the preference towards the purple/reddish preference for women, and the blue/green preference for males, and insists that women prefer pink, and males prefer blue, although this is not what the research paper actually suggests.

Genetically predisposition towards obesity

30 Nov

Genetics and Obesity

 When I was a young child/teen growing up I have to admit. I was obese. Not overweight, but obese. I had a BMI of around 35. I ate more than what I should have. But I wouldn’t say I was lazy. I played out with friends and rarely sat at home watching television. When I look back I think to myself. What caused me to eat so much. Why was I so overweight. Was it all down to self-indulgence?  However it came to mind, maybe it was down to my genes that made me the weight and size I was.

One idea that obesity is down to genes is through natural selection. During pre-historic times it was thought that storing fat was a positive seeing as food was scarce (Gleitman, Gross & Reisberg). However as this was seen as a positive, is it possible that those who had the genes to store fat and draw on these fat deposits when food was scarce, passed on these genes via natural selection to us individuals? Nowadays especially in the western world, food is plentiful and maybe due to the genetically inherited genes, we are able to store fat easily like our ancestors, however some take advantage of this leading to obesity.  However this idea can easily be argued against, as people would naturally disagree and rule obesity down to the individual and self-indulgence.

Evidence for a genetically predisposition towards obesity can come from a longitudinal study consisting of 12 pairs of monozygotic twins (Bouchard, Lykken, McGue, Segal & Tellegen, 1990). Each participant was forced to eat 1,000 calories in excess with little exercise over a 100 day regime.  Predictably all 24 men gained weight but the amounts varied form 10 pounds to 30 pounds, but also differed to where the weight was deposited.  However the amount each person gained was statistically related to their twin, and was found that the weight was deposited in the same area for the identical twin. This evidence suggests that turning excess calories into fat has a genetic basis and leads to several mechanisms involved. One of these being that some people may be genetically predisposed to a leptin deficiency (leptin- chemical which signals that plenty of fat is stored, so reduces eating) and so they are more likely to eat more. However can this be proved? Couldn’t it be argued that it is a cognitive issue and the person just chooses to eat more for their own pleasure?

People also differ in their overall metabolic rate and so as a result, less nutrients are burned and so fat is stored (Astrup, 2000). This can be seen as a genetically predisposed deficit. But once again it is possible that a person can lower or higher their metabolism through basis exercises and diet, thus showing that behaviour can be an approach in explaining obesity.

All in all I believe that some people are genetically predisposed to obesity as research suggests. However I also believe that it is down to a person’s free will and determinism to lose or gain weight. Food is plentiful in western society, and we choose to buy that food. Therefore it can be said that it is also down to our behaviour as well as genetics which lead to obesity.