Theory and Experiment in Social Communication


Attached is Festinger’s book on Social Communication, mostly a summary of the research done at the Research Center for Group Dynamics, with Kurt Back, Stanley Schacter, Harold Kelley, and John Thibaut.

Theory in social dynamics — HERE IS THE PDF 



One thing is I like how simple the table of contents is. and interesting!


This book really set the stage for social psychology, and it is really an interesting demonstration just of how science should be done. Simply, theory driven, with large grants from the navy. 😀


hope you enjoy it, Festinger is one of my favorites, and happy to bring it here.


All Best,



Defining Cognitive Conflict

Conflicts are meaning or expectation violations. These occur when you believe something about the world (broadly construed) and the world tells you that you are potentially wrong or lacking. This is a discomfort, potentially driven by the uncertainty of the outcomes. Uncertainty is bad for life because it is risk, which can mean danger or even potential death.

Expectation violations, or conflicts between yourself and the world, are primarily negative, but can also be positive. An expectation violation is the reason for every disagreement that has ever happened including all of the wars ever. What is a war except two (groups of) people had different understandings of the world and they have decided that the best way to decide who is right is to fight it out. Conflict is also when you are positively surprised, at, for instance doing better than you thought you would on a test or an individual doing something unexpectedly nice for you.

Conflicts can be about huge things like religion or politics, or they can be about small things like our favorite types of soda or music. But the largest and most important topics also elicit the most negative discussion; they are important aspects of how we think about the world. A link between importance of the topic and negativity is supported by situations where people actively avoid discussing religion and politics because they do not want to create conflict.

Most generally speaking, the reason we talk about things is because we disagree about them. More explicitly, if everyone agrees about something, we generally do not discuss it (e.g., the earth is round and goes around the sun). But note that 200 or 300 years ago, when there was much less consensus about these faces, they were much more discussed.

Conflicts are also when you realize that you don’t (or might not) know something, like that the earth is actually flat. This is like getting an answer wrong in class, or being confronted with a task that the individual does not know how to do (e.g., run a statistical model they know nothing about).

The key is that we rely upon meaning in order to move productively through the world (to meet our goals). This necessitates not only useful knowledge, but confidence in that knowledge. (did you see the ‘not’ and ‘but’, it is a lack, one needs both, conflict! :).

When the world tells us that the way we think about the world might be incorrect or incomplete, we don’t like this and it leads to certain predictable responses. If someone told you that Germany actually sucks, it would make it somewhat angry or unsettled somehow. How you react to this depends upon a myriad of things, but that there is a reaction is undoubted, I believe.

Notice that this conflict for you is not the same for everybody, the person who says Germany sucks probably believes it (otherwise why say it?). This is why we go to war. Or your god, or your values or perceived purpose in life, is not good enough. This is where disagreements come from.

The only way that the world changes is through conflict, every bit of change at the aggregate level can only happen at the individual level, by individuals talking and conflicting.

There are linguistic markers of this conflict. Read again this passage and circle the words that indicate conflict. Not, But. First sentence second paragraph the but represents the difficulty and different natures of conflict

Let’s pretend we all agree priming old doesn’t make people walk slower, now what?

The last years there has been an inordinate amount of attention and resources dedicated to examining whether subtly priming people with old concepts can make them walk slower (nocitationneeded). It has gone on for years and taken pages and pages of our limited journal blog and feed space.

Yesterday, I was talking with Brent Donnellan and Uli Schimmack in the Psychological Methods Discussion Group and they suggested that it is important to determine whether old primes make people walk slower. (also look at the way that Donnellan entered his comment with only 1 sentence and then came back later and finished the comment after Uli and I were done talking; this is something I will have to watch out for in the future, especially as the time nuances get lost later)

Anyways, rather than again having some empty argument about replicability, regurgitating all the same old party lines, I simply agreed with them that making people think about old either doesn’t, or only in some contexts, make them walk slower. I’m ok with saying that and I think you should be too (there are at least a few failed replications, so it doesn’t ALWAYS work, even if it does).

Then the question is.. now what?

So we said that, but what did we gain? very little in my opinion.

There are almost no contexts in which this old-slow link matters, I mean, when does it matter whether this link exists or not? Never! 😀 The point of the experiment (as also said by Bargh, Chen, and Burrows) is to say something about how our thoughts and behaviors depend upon factors such as what is salient in our mind at the time.

And this I would say is fairly well established, from the exogenous emotions literature, to stereotype threat, to the IAT, all depend some sort of stimuli priming a certain behavior (which, in the case of the IAT then makes it harder for them to do the opposite).

What would it mean for (Social) Priming Theory to throw out this experiment/ paradigm?

..almost nothing as far as I can tell.

Even the original Doyen et al (2012) failure to replicate says nothing about the theory for which Bargh et al utilize the study to provide evidence for. The whole discussion is about how poor the methods are and how we need to do better. Saying the methods can be better is something I am totally ok with, and I would even suggest that this may be why it is presented in a chapter, rather than in its own paper.

The idea they are suggesting stands with or without this paper. Or does it? This is what I would like to ask and this is the point of the blog post. I see little value in endlessly debating the (un)reality of the ability for old primes to make people walk slower, unless it says something for the theory, but it doesn’t (as far as I can tell).

What part of the theory is at risk here?

What makes this study matter? So far as I can see, it says nothing novel and has relatively little value, theoretically speaking (and even those decrying the study have said little about its theoretical implications). Hold it up as an example of bad methods, that is fine with me, but we are not forwarding ourselves by saying that this effect does not replicate or exist (as far as I can tell). It has no implications (or please point them out!).

Let us define which aspect of the theory (of which this is just an example) is vulnerable and then examine the literature to see if the notion is supported elsewhere. My guess is that it will be.

  • Would we say it calls into question that unconscious stimuli can affect our later behavior? that seems..

    Would it actually matter at all? it doesn’t seem like it.

    far. Certainly I would not feel comfortable saying that there are no examples where stimuli we don’t ‘consciously’ experience change our behaviors. What about nudges, or the IAT, these are essentially demonstrations of a stimuli making a certain response more likely (which also makes it harder to do the opposite, in the case of the IAT).

  • Is it that the stimuli is social? It does not seem absurd to say that our behavior can be unconsciously changed by the people that we (expect to) interact with. After all, I suspect that (at least sometimes) you change the clothes that you will wear based upon who you expect to interact with throughout that day. Even the IAT is social and about prejudices.
  • Is it that the people are not actually there? Neither is santa or ghosts, but they change some people’s behavior! 😀

Once we know which part of the theory behind the potentially false study is being questioned, we will be on our way to making real progress in determining whether there is truth there or not.

Until then, let’s just agree to do better in the future, and we can even pretend that the prime is false, because it will have no substantial effects upon the broader theory (of which this study is only an example).

In sum

I am not so much interested as Brent or Uli in determining whether old primes make people walk slower. To me, this is not an important question, unless it says something about the theory, but nobody seems to be arguing that (social) priming doesn’t exist. So I wonder how much it actually matters. 😀 Maybe instead we should move on to something more interesting, like how we can use science to improve science or understanding why many of the female pronouns are longer than the male pronouns (except in the family setting). 

me priming you to like this post, or does it not work?! we’ll never know if we keep up like this.

My favorite page of Nietzsche – Flies in the Marketplace

If you read any Nietzsche, this is the piece to read. 🙂 Definitely one of my favorites.

He was a genius and WAYYY ahead of his time.


Nietzsche the Thinker

The Flies in the Market-Place

Flee, my friend, into your solitude! I see you deafened with the noise of the great men, and stung all over with the stings of the little ones. Forest and rock know how to be silent with you. Be like the tree which you love, the broad-branched one — silently and attentively it overhangs the sea.

Where solitude ends, there begins the market-place; and where the market-place begins, there begins also the noise of the great actors, and the buzzing of the poison-flies. In the world even the best things are worthless without those who make a side-show of them: these showmen, the people call great men.

Little do the people understand what is great — that is to say, the creator. But they have a taste for all showmen and actors of great things. Around the creators of new values revolves the world: — invisibly it revolves. But around the actors revolve the people and the glory: such is the course of things. The actor has spirit, but little conscience of the spirit. He always believes in that with which he most strongly inspires belief — in himself!

Tomorrow he has a new belief, and the day after, one still newer. Like the people, he has quick perceptions and fickle moods. To defeat — that means for him: to prove. To drive to frenzy — that means for him: to convince. And blood is to him the best of all arguments. A truth which glides only into refined ears, he calls falsehood and nothing.

He believes only in gods that make a big noise in the world! Full of clattering fools is the market-place, — and the people glory in their great men! These are for them the masters of the hour. But the hour presses them; so they press you. And also from you they want Yes or No. Alas! would you set your chair between Pro and Con?

Do not be jealous of those unyielding and impatient men, you lover of truth! Never yet did truth cling to the arm of the unyielding. On account of those abrupt ones, return into your security: only in the market-place is one assailed by Yes? or No?

Slow is the experience of all deep fountains: long have they to wait until they know what has fallen into their depths. Far away from the market-place and from fame happens all that is great: far away from the market-place and from fame have always dwelt the creators of new values.

Flee, my friend, into your solitude: I see you stung all over by the poisonous flies. Flee to where a rough, strong breeze blows! Flee into your solitude! you have lived too closely to the small and the pitiful. Flee from their invisible vengeance! For you they have nothing but vengeance. No longer raise your arm against them! They are innumerable, and it is not your job to be a flyswatter.

Innumerable are the small and pitiful ones; and rain-drops and weeds have been the ruin of many a proud structure.You are not stone; but already have you become hollow from many drops. You will yet break and burst from the many drops.

I see you exhausted by poisonous flies; I see you bleeding and torn at a hundred spots; and your pride refuses even to be angry. They would have blood from you in all innocence; blood is what bloodless souls crave — and therefore they sting in all Innocence. But you, profound one, you suffer too profoundly even from small wounds; and before you have healed, the same poison-worm crawls over your hand.

You are too proud to kill these gluttons. But take care lest it be your fate to suffer all their poisonous injustice! They buzz around you also with their praise: obtrusiveness is their praise. They want to be close to your skin and your blood.

They flatter you, as one flatters a God or devil; they whimper before you, as before a God or devil; What does it come to! They are flatterers and whimperers, and nothing more. Often, also, do they show themselves to you as friendly ones. But that has always been the prudence of cowards. Yes! cowards are wise! They think much about you with their petty souls — you are always suspect to them! Whatever is much thought about is at last thought suspicious.

They punish you for all your virtues. They pardon you entirely — for your errors. Because you are gentle and of honest character, you say: “Guiltless are they for their small existence.” But their petty souls think: “Guilty is every great existence.” Even when you are gentle towards them, they still feel themselves despised by you; and they repay your beneficence with secret maleficence. Your silent pride is always counter to their taste; they rejoice if once you are humble enough to be vain. What we recognize in a man, we also irritate in him. Therefore be on your guard against the small ones!

In your presence they feel themselves small, and their baseness gleams and glows against you in invisible vengeance. You did not see how often they became silent when you approached them, and how their energy left them like the smoke of a waning fire? Yes, my friend, you are the bad conscience of your neighbors, for they are unworthy of you. Therefore they hate you, and would rather suck your blood. Your neighbors will always be poisonous flies; what is great in you — that itself must make them more poisonous, and always more fly-like. Flee, my friend, into your solitude — and there, where a rough strong breeze blows. It is not your job to be a flyswatter.

Thus spoke Zarathustra.

What do you think? what is your favorite Nietzsche (or other bit of philosophy)?

The essentials of Bertalanffy’s General Systems Theory.

Here I relate what I perceive to be the most important points of Bertalanffy’s General Systems Theory, a copy of which I was given by a professor in the department when he moved to a smaller office and had to purge his bookshelves. Most generally, the idea behind General System Theory is that there are (or at least appear to be) mathematical rules which are stable and can be applied across many levels of organization (e.g., cell, organism, society).

For instance, the second law of thermodynamics (diffusion) makes reasonably accurate predictions of both people and animals in space and the diffusion of ideas throughout a population. The similarities between different levels (e.g., cellular, organismic, societal) are called isomorphisms, and the entirety of the theory is an attempt to combine different fields of science into a more coherent whole. Throughout Bertalanffy’s own intellectual development, he reports noticing the striking similarities (which are now common knowledge, this was published in 1968) between differential fields such as Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and other fields like Psychology, Sociology, and Economics.

The essense is that many of the ideas in these fields rely upon similar mathematical underpinnings. General Systems Theory is then an attempt to apply mathematics across fields like Chemistry, Biology, Psychology, and Sociology in order to create a more unified science.

An example of this sort of thinking is the, ‘law of natural growth’ which is basically a mathematical statement about exponential growth. This law can be applied, at the same time, to the growth of capital through compound interest, the growth of baceria, the growth of peoples and ideas, and even the growth of scientific theories. Conversely, the same law in reverse can be applied to radioactive decay, the decomposition of some chemicals, the destruction of bacteria by poisin, loss of weight through hunger in multicellular organisms and the of decrease of populations.

The law of exponential growth, which can be utilized to explain diverse phenomenon.

This is but one example, others deal with competition, for instance within the individual in the weight of their organs or their percieved value of ideas. Eithin sociology, this equation is generally referred to as Pareto’s law, which describes the distribution of income relative to the overall growth of the system. Competition between individuals in all aspects of life, and even competition between species can be described using this general formulation.

The essential of systems theory, many levels of organization, building upon eachother, across which similar mathematical models can be utilized for explanation.

The essential of systems theory, many levels of organization, building upon eachother, across which similar mathematical models can be utilized for explanation.

The final major concept we will cover here is that of unity, or those cases where the total is more than the sum of its parts. Specifically, it is a process of specialization that allows this. The more complex the system, the less replaceable each part becomes as each piece becomes less general in its function. Thus, the stomach cannot be replaced with an extra lung. This is the cell, with its individual parts, the organism of many cells, the group of many organisms. This levels thinking is the real value in General Systems Theory and has led to a greater integration between the different sciences. As Bertalanffy said, “Modern science is characterized by its ever-increasing specialization, necessitated by the enormous amount of data, the complexity of techniques and of theoretical structures within every field. Thus science is split into innumerable disciplines continually generating new subdisciplines. In consequence, the physicist, the biologist, the psychologist and the social scientist are, so to speak, encapusulated in their private universes, and it is difficult to get word from one cocoon to the other…”

The key to General Systems Theory is to look across fields to examine the isomorphisms, how they are similar, in order to arrive at a more cogent understanding of reality.

This has been a brief introduction to the essentials of systems theory, leave your comment below and suggest the next theory to be summarized. 🙂

As simple as possible ANOVA

Ok, here we will explain, as simply as possible, what an ANOVA is and how to do it. We explain it using a simplified 2 group example, which means it is basically the same as the t-test.

This is ANOVA You're going to use it for the rest of your life - This is ANOVA You're going to use it for the rest of your life Scumbag Teacher

The whole point of the ANOVA is to test, generally, whether two groups are different from each other or not. The way this is done is called an ANalyses Of VAriance.

Basically, we are testing the amount of variation that is between the groups vs. the amount of variation that is within each group. If there is more variation between groups than within the groups, then we say there is a ‘statistically significant’ difference.

This relies on two concepts. The first is variance, which is the spread of the scores, in general (i.e., all of the scores you have). The second is the distinction between what is called ‘within’ group variance and ‘between’ group variance. In Figure 1 the within group variance is how much the number of books varies within each group, those who read the blog and those who don’t. The between group variance is how much the two group averages differ. We essentially examine if the averages of the two groups are sufficiently different, given how much variation there is within each group. 🙂

For instance, let’s pretend we have some data on the number of books read by two different types of people; those people who follow this blog vs those who do not. We have asked 100 people in each group and have the results in table 1. The means are the blue diamonds and the standard deviations [how we quantify the variation] for each group is the green or orange colored bars around the diamonds.

Now, here is where the ANOVA comes in. The critical question is whether the two groups are different, on average (note that we can rarely say anything about the individual level).

If there are no group differences between the two groups, then the mean number of books read should be close to equal. If they are very different, then there might be reason to say that those who follow are somehow different from those who do not. We use the ANalyses Of VAriance to tell us.

Specifically, we look at the averages of the groups and how much the scores vary around those averages.

In figure 1, you can see three potential outcomes of our book study which easily demonstrates the ANOVA.

In the first two potential outcomes, the averages are the same, 36 and 58. In the third potential outcome, the group means are about 25 and 75.  The question in all three potential situations is whether these averages are different; and whether they are depends upon how much variation there is within each group (the orange and green ‘error’ bars). In the first potential outcome, there is much variation within each group and it is hard to tell is a person in the middle follows the blog or not. In the second potential outcome, there is less variation between the groups, and we can more confidently predict whether a person is in the blog or not based upon how many books they read.


Notice that there does not necessarily need to be ‘a lot’ of distance between the groups, if the variation within the groups is small (Potential outcome 2). Also recognize that even if there is a Lot of variation between the groups, if the group differences are large enough, it still may be considered ‘statistically significantly’ different (Potential outcome 3).



The keys in ANOVA are how much the two groups differ, and how much the individuals within each group differ. If there are large differences within each group, it makes it harder to say that the groups are ‘statistically’ different because there is more overlap between groups (given the same mean difference; see Figure 1).



For an excellent mathematical treatment of the ANOVA, please see here.

And that is how we can explain ANOVA as simply as possible.

Effectively preventing PTSD (with dogs)

It is estimated that the number of people suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is greater than the number of people who live in Texas, costing the government (the taxpayer) literally billions.

Many solutions have been proposed, mostly looking how to cure an individual of it once an individual has it. Far less frequent are solutions that look at keeping individuals from developing PTSD in the first place. This is where we are going to focus.

One way to avoid PTSD is to avoid getting into wars, but this seems unfeasible for our government. :p Another way is to lower the number of instances of individuals who develop PTSD after experiencing the horrors of war. For instance, research is beginning to examine the efficacy of distracting trauma victims, which keeps them from remembering the events and developing PTSD. But the President’s Council on Bioethics decided that changing people’s memories is ethically unsound and other solutions need to be found.

And this is where dogs come in. Kind, loving, sweet dogs. All one needs to do is a simple youtube or google search for ‘dog soldier reunite’ for evidence of this special bond. If we can better incorporate dogs into the armed forces, they can provide the distraction and positive affect needed to keep soldiers from consolidating those traumatic memories without the need of medications.

Now, dogs are already used for a variety of tasks, for instance to sniff out landmines and find people, but these dogs can also provide an important source of strength and love for soldiers as they are far from home, especially after they have witnessed something traumatic.

It is actually relatively simple. Dogs, especially shelter dogs, can be transported, raised, and maintained on base, part of whose job it is to play with soldiers and cheer them up (like the children in the hospitals). To distract them and make them smile, especially just after returning from traumatic situations.

In this way, soldiers are prevented from forming memories about the terrible things that happen in war (again, let’s not get into wars in the first place! 😀 ). This solution  can stem the tide of PTSD while avoiding the ethically unsound of biologically changing the way an individual’s brain works AND helping shelter dogs not be put down (just ship them off to war instead!).

But really, it seems to be good on both ends. Also, as soldiers develop relationships with these dogs, the dogs are likely to find good homes after they have served their tour of duty (perhaps soldiers will even help pay for the dogs?).

Obviously, research would have to be done concerning how effective the program is, but if it could prevent even 10% of soldiers from contracting PTSD it would save the government and taxpayers millions, as PTSD is currently estimated to cost society 42.3 Billion each year


What do you think? is it feasible? I need some business people to go over it. 



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On nudging the nudgers.

Nudge. :p

Science and Psychology are being used more and more the design ‘nudges’ which influence people’s decisions for their own or the group’s good . Unfortunately, the work of these scientists is oftentimes underutilized because the policy makers, for whatever reason, do not act on it. These people can be the CEO’s of companies, teachers in classrooms, or our elected officials in the official government.

The key then, is to understand what factors motivate these individuals (the decision makers), and nudge them into doing the right thing. For instance, efficacy (thinking that the intervention will actually work) is one of the strongest predictors of engaging with the desired behavior (someone who thinks they can quit smoking, can).

Are the same things that guide individuals guiding policy makers? If policy makers feel like it will work (they have our data, afterall), will it? If so, why are our messages, based upon empirical science and published in reputable journals, not enough? Work can be done (has probably been done) to examine what motivates the decisions of leaders, and this work should be utilized to inform our correspondence with them for success.

Basically, scientists who focus on desiring to nudge the public into better decisions also need to focus on making sure that the interventions are implemented. Work gathering knowledge about how leaders make decisions could be useful in filling this need.

The best and most empirically founded nudges are worthless if they are not implemented, let’s make sure they get implemented.

What is your favorite nudge?  Also, do you have any good pictures of nudges? They are difficult to find. 😦


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Would you have passed the literacy test?

Below is a literacy test that has been handed out to voters in Louisiana.

Could you pass it?


Is this fair to give when determining whether an individual is fit to vote?

On the one hand, it does seem that individuals should have a certain amount of competence in order to vote. On the other, I’m not sure that knowing how to read is important in determining which of two individuals you can see speak has your interests.

Do you think it is fair? Tell us below. 😀


Let’s stop talking about this kid.

When we pay attention to these people, we idolize them, and we make it more likely to happen again. This copycat phenomenon is called “the Werther effect,” after Geothe’s first major work elicited many copycat suicides of young men suffering the same woes as Werther.

He just wants your attention.

He just wants your attention.

Especially for these young men who want the attention and desire to have their story heard (think Sandyhook or Christopher Dorner; all three wrote ‘manifestos’), publicizing these stories only makes it more likely that individuals aiming at the same goals will employ the same techniques again, it worked last time.

How do we stop these from happening?

We can stop talking about it, or stop idolizing it when we do speak about it. These individuals get sooo much attention, every detail of their lives is delved into. Their story gets told, which is what they want. So, we stop telling their story. Yes, the news can talk about it if they desire, but we don’t have to watch their channels. We can *not* click that link, we can *not* talk about it on facebook, it is our choice, after all.

By clicking on the link, by watching the video, we indicate to the media and to others that that is the appropriate thing to do. That paying attention to this is correct, that we want more of it.

If you stop paying attention to it, then we signal to others that this is the proper thing to do. We are examples of the correct way to live for those around us.

Perhaps a better solution is to make sure that these people don’t end up like this by paying attention to and legitimizing them before they turn to these sorts of things, though there was something obviously disagreeable about this individual..

This is not a perfect solution, and I would be interested in hearing your thoughts about how we can keep these things from happening more often in the comments section. 🙂


And yes, I do recognize the irony in writing a blog post / encouraging others to read a blog post telling others not to write blog posts. :p


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