April 15, 2007

Today in the history of psychology . . .

One of my all-time favorite psychologists was born this day in 1922. This is, of course, the great Stanley Schachter. Schachter was a prolific social psychologist, who studied a wide range of topics. He investigated such issues as social influence, obesity, situational influences on emotion, and the psychological correlates of birth order. But what I'm most fond of, is his work on the need for affiliation.

Ever hear the phrase, "misery loves company," or even, "misery loves miserable company?" Well, this comes from Schachter's work on the affiliative tendency.

The need for affiliation seems to be a core motive that influences our day to day interactions, and yet not much was known about it. That is, until 1959 when Schachter published his book called, The Psychology of Affiliation. This work described several of his experimental studies conducted on the topic. Most interestingly, he found
that in distressful situations, people tend to seek out others who are under similar circumstances. In other words, an increase of anxiety brings about an increase in the affiliative tendency.

In a creative experiment, he manipulated anxiety in two groups of participants. One group was the high anxiety group, while the other was the low anxiety group. Using deception, he told both groups that the experiment was about the effects of electric shock. Essentially, the high anxiety condition was shown the electrical apparatus and was told that they would receive extremely painful shocks. The low anxiety condition was not shown the electrical apparatus and was told that they would receive shocks, but the shocks would not hurt and instead would be more like a tickle. Then both groups were told that they could either wait in a waiting room by themselves while the experimenters got everything ready, or they could go into another waiting room with other people who were also participating in the experiment. Schachter found that those who were in the high anxiety condition chose to sit with people who were in the same situation as them. They chose this significantly more often than those in the low anxiety condition. These results were important for the field of social psychology, because not much was known, at the time, about the conditions that affected the need for affiliation.

I, myself, have always had an interest in social psychology, but it was coming across Schacter's work on affiliation in general that eventually led to my interest in social rejection and ostracism. It's not really even the "tip of the iceberg," when considering all the other major contributions that he had on the field. This just happens to be my favorite work of his. I mean, I could really write all day about it . . . but I won't. Well, anyways, if you're interested in the topic, pick up the book!


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