December 10, 2008

more on Zajonc . . .

Just in case you don't already know, the New York Times did release a nice piece on the life and death of Robert Zajonc. In it you'll see a more extensive coverage of his research, than just the mere exposure effect and social facilitation. It's pretty good, plus there's a lot of interesting facts about Zajonc that I did not know. For instance, here's a little snippet on his life during WWII:

"Robert Boleslaw Zajonc, an only child, was born in Lodz, Poland, on Nov. 23, 1923. In 1939, after the Nazis invaded Poland and headed toward Lodz, he and his parents fled to Warsaw. There, the building in which they were staying was bombed, and Robert’s parents were killed. Robert woke up in a hospital, seriously injured.

He attended an underground university in Warsaw before being dispatched to a labor camp in Germany. He escaped and, recaptured, was sent to a political prison in France. Escaping again, he joined the French Resistance and studied at the University of Paris. Reaching England in 1944, he worked as a translator for American forces in the European campaign."
Wow. If you have time, you should really read the full article. It's good. Zajonc was a remarkable man.

December 5, 2008

Robert Zajonc (1923 - 2008)

This is unfortunate news for social psychologists. I just found out that Robert Zajonc, an early contributor to social psychology and simply a superstar of the field, died Wednesday (Dec. 3rd).

Amazingly, I still haven't found an obituary for him. Actually, I was searching for a paper of his and went to the Social Psychology Network profile previously linked, and that's how I found out. Not something that I was expecting.

Robert Zajonc was (and still is) an important figure in the field of social psychology. He held positions at the University of Michigan as the director to both, the Institute for Social Research and the Research Center for Group Dynamics. He later joined Stanford University, eventually becoming Professor Emeritus of Psychology.

He is known for his research in a myriad of areas, but what I perhaps know best is his work on the mere exposure effect (the tendency to like something more after being repeatedly exposed to it). In 1968, Zajonc conducted 3 studies showing that the more people were exposed to stimuli, such as Turkish words, Chinese characters and yearbook photographs, the more they liked them. This effect even occurs in animals, like chickens (Zajonc et al., 1973).

Another area that Zajonc was an early contributor to was social facilitation theory. At the time (1960's), research was showing that people performed better on certain tasks if they were in the presence of others. Yet, at the same time, research also showed that people performed worse on tasks if in the presence of others (known as social loafing). Zajonc offered an explanation for these seemingly contradictory findings, proposing a "dominant response" theory of social facilitation. He explained that being in the presence of others causes physiological arousal. For instance, imagine giving a lecture in front of 100 people. You'll probably breathe faster, have a faster heart beat, sweat, etc. Zajonc believed that this arousal causes people to react in situations with their most dominant response. In other words, when we are in the presence of others, we'll feel heightened arousal, and this arousal will provoke behaviors that we most commonly elicit or display in the given situation. Take the following example, say you usually choose to drink coke over sweet tea, even though sometimes you do in fact enjoy a glass of tea. Then choosing coke is your dominant response. So when others are present, you will be even more likely to choose coke over sweet tea.

Zajonc's theory helps explain why the presence of others can help or hinder your performance on certain tasks. With tasks that seem simple or familiar, your dominant response is to perform well. On the other hand, with unfamiliar or difficult tasks your dominant response is to perform more poorly. So when you are around people while carrying out familiar tasks, you'll perform even better. And when you are performing on more complex tasks, you'll make more mistakes when others are watching you. The dominant response effect is so robust that it even occurs in cockroaches! Zajonc and his colleagues (1969) found that cockroaches completed simple mazes quicker when they performed with four other cockroaches present than when alone. Yet they were slower on difficult mazes when other cockroaches were present, rather than alone. Pretty cool eh?

Well, to sum up, this is just a sampling of the great ideas that Robert Zajonc contributed to the field. Social psychology definitely suffered a loss this week.

If you are interested, below are some citations that cover the mere exposure effect and social facilitation . . . enjoy!

Zajonc, R. B. (1968). Attitudinal effects of mere exposure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Monograph Supplement, 9, 1 - 27.

Zajonc, R. B., Reimer, D. J., & Hausser, D. (1973). Imprinting and the development of object preference in chicks by mere exposure. Journal of Comparative Physiological Psychology, 83, 434 - 440.

Zajonc, R.B., Heingartner, A., & Herman, E.M. (1969). Social enhancement and impairment of performance in the cockroach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 13, 83-92.

December 4, 2008

New Journal in Evolutionary Neuroscience

Hello there ladies and gents. It appears that there is a new online journal out there. It's called, Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience. It's a sub-genre of the more general Frontiers of Neuroscience.

There's yet to be an article published in the new journal, but it looks like some really cool stuff will be represented. Here's the mission statement of FEN:

"Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience is a first-tier electronic journal devoted to understanding the evolution of neural processes, neuroanatomical structure, neural structure - function relationships, and cognition and behavior. Brains regulate behavior and as such have been designed by evolution to solve specific adaptive problems faced by organisms during evolutionary history. Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience is dedicated to publishing papers that lead the field in discovering mechanisms that have undergone selection pressures resulting in evolution (divergent or convergent) of structure or function that leads to a greater understanding of 1) the neural processes of animals and humans; 2) neuropsychiatric disease states and the paths in which normal neural processes have gone off course; 3) the genetics underlying variations across species in neurocomputational hardware and behavior; and 4) evolutionary underpinnings that gave rise to advanced social and cognitive capacities. Evolutionary neuroscience is the discipline poised to answer fundamental questions about the nature of the nervous system such as the degree to which behavioral, cognitive, and neural modularity exists (e.g., domain specificity versus domain general processing); heritability and variations (species, regional, cultural, ethnic, and individual) in intellectual, social, and personality characteristics; make predictions about ancestral neural states (paleoneurology); and inform behavior and clinical modification programs from an evolutionary perspective. The journal welcomes submissions that tackle questions from a broad spectrum of disciplines and use myriad methodologies including, but not limited to: comparative genetics and genomics; investigations of allelic variations of behavior, cognition, and neural structure and function; comparative investigations of animal and human behavior that address the underlying cognitive and neural architecture; and functional neuroimaging studies that have been guided by an evolutionary framework."
I'm excited to see how this journal will turn out.