Towards a balanced social psychology: Causes, consequences, and cures for the problem-seeking approach to social behavior and cognition

Behavioral and Brain Sciences 27 (3):313-327 (2004)
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Abstract

Mainstream social psychology focuses on how people characteristically violate norms of action through social misbehaviors such as conformity with false majority judgments, destructive obedience, and failures to help those in need. Likewise, they are seen to violate norms of reasoning through cognitive errors such as misuse of social information, self-enhancement, and an over-readiness to attribute dispositional characteristics. The causes of this negative research emphasis include the apparent informativeness of norm violation, the status of good behavior and judgment as unconfirmable null hypotheses, and the allure of counter-intuitive findings. The shortcomings of this orientation include frequently erroneous imputations of error, findings of mutually contradictory errors, incoherent interpretations of error, an inability to explain the sources of behavioral or cognitive achievement, and the inhibition of generalized theory. Possible remedies include increased attention to the complete range of behavior and judgmental accomplishment, analytic reforms emphasizing effect sizes and Bayesian inference, and a theoretical paradigm able to account for both the sources of accomplishment and of error. A more balanced social psychology would yield not only a more positive view of human nature, but also an improved understanding of the bases of good behavior and accurate judgment, coherent explanations of occasional lapses, and theoretically grounded suggestions for improvement. Key Words: Bayesian inference; biases; normative models; personality; positive psychology; rationality; reasoning; social behavior; social judgment; social psychology.

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