Tag Archives: social psychology

Parenting Advice and Child Safety

Something I’ve learned over the last six months is that people will say some pretty strange things to new parents — even people who have no children of their own — and they really don’t mind getting up in your business to say them. Typically, these nuggets of “wisdom” appear either under the guise of offering unnecessary (and, more often than not, unasked-for) advice or by comparing some current child-rearing experience of the moment to the way they themselves grew up. You learn pretty quickly, of course, how to filter everything through a weave of self-education and rational thought, and how to apply copious quantities of salt  to everything.

Something I’ve heard often lately occurs after I’ve spent a few minutes expounding on the virtues of the latest development in child safety technology. Usually, it’s something that I think is really cool and that I’m excited about because it makes my job as an admittedly over-protective parent a little bit easier. It could be the newest innovation in car seat technology, or those color-changing, rubber-coated spoons that let you know when the baby food is too hot, or the five-point harnesses that keep your active and energetic infant from flinging herself out of her seat. Whatever the innovation, it’s typically not long before I hear, “We never had that when I was growing up, and I turned out alright.”

And that’s where my brain trips a circuit somewhere.

It’s not the statement itself that brings me up short. It’s true. A lot of the child safety technologies we have today either didn’t exist when I was my daughter’s age or have been vastly improved upon since then, making them much safer than they were 30 years. And it’s also true that, for the most part, my generation did turn out alright, otherwise we wouldn’t be here to talk about this.

No, what puzzles me a bit is the psychology behind statements like this. The implication is that, because technology worked more or less well enough to keep my generation safe, there’s no need to innovate and make it even better — or to invent new technologies that help provide protection where none existed 30 years ago. I mean, why the heck wouldn’t you want to do everything possible to keep your child safe and protect them as much as you can? Why wouldn’t you want new tools and better technology designed with your child’s well-being in mind? It is possible that the driving philosophy here is some sort of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality, that being concerned and cautious about your child’s safety is tantamount to paranoia, but it could also just be that some people simply haven’t thought much about the need for this kind of innovation.

Of course, I could just be over-thinking this. It’s what I do. And ultimately, statements like this don’t really bother me that much, other than to serve as passing curiosities and blog fodder. It’s just that the social psychologist in me often wonders about the way people think and why they think the way they do. Being a relatively new parent, I find myself analyzing the social behavior of people around me as it relates to my child. That’s normal, right?

Superfluity in Capitalism

I will never cease to be amazed by the amount of crap goods out there for sale, as for example, this “mustache comb necklace”:http://store.makoollovesyou.com/products/148-Mustache-Comb-Necklace. In sterling silver. For $120. And that people will actually waste their money and _buy_ these things. We truly live in a luxurious economy where 1) someone would even conceive of a concept like this as a viable product, and 2) where consumers could look at that product and say to themselves, “Hey, I really want that. In fact, I think I _need_ it. And hey, look! Here’s a fat wad of cash I don’t need for, say, food or utilities or whatever. Must. Buy. Stupid, ridiculous. Lip-ferret comb.” And they then adopt that thousand-yard zombie stare of the hopeless consumer slave.

I hope I’m not the only person who’s disgusted by the wastefulness of this growing trend in American consumerism.

Assuming Hat

It must be the “hat”:http://open-dialogue.com/blog/2007/04/16/equine-affaire-finds/. I stepped into the Union Newsstand this morning to grab a bottle of water and checked out with the lady who manages the place. I’ve talked to her a few times before but today she asked me, “Horses? Or cattle?” Mind you, I’m wearing business casual with my Purdue fleece and my barmah hat. Apparently, the presence of such a hat causes people to immediately assume ‘livestock.’ And not just _any_ livestock but a specific subset of livestock. There followed a conversation about horses, as her family works with paints, but I was amused at the instant assumption. Fortunately for her, I didn’t buy the hat just because I liked it and her assumption played out correctly. It certainly would have been embarrassing for her, otherwise.

More Than a Rote Greeting

And one more with a graphical aid.

Am I strange in thinking that if someone asks you how you are doing, the least you can do is give them an honest answer back? Or in thinking that if you ask someone else how they are doing, you anticipate a genuine answer and listen to it with genuine interest? Or have we become so cold and unfeeling that we ask and respond simply out of habit with no expectation that personal lives might actually interact?

People often seem surprised to get a real answer out of me when they ask me how I’m doing. It doesn’t mean I’m going to lay out the book of my life in their laps, but I do feel like the standard, “I’m fine” is a bit too rote and mundane. When I ask how someone is doing, I expect a genuine answer, so I tend to give genuine answers to people who ask the question of me. And it becomes pretty clear pretty quick whether or not they actually meant the question. For those who actually care enough to listen, this can be the start of a good discussion. For those who don’t, well, they get the brush-off in relatively short order.

It’s a strange culture we live in when we can ask how someone is doing and expect a lie – and be ok with that. Seems to me that something needs to change.

The Slangification of Culture

Loller

Source: Ctrl-Alt-Del

I have something against the prevalence of slang in American dialogue. The way today’s youth talks – or at least _types_ – especially bugs me. This comic from Ctrl-Alt-Del very adequately demonstrates my annoyance with this growing trend and my opinion of those forum junkies and text messagers who resort to such sloppy and shoddy forms of communication. Granted, most of these abbreviations have arisen as shortcuts for frequently used phrases. Heck, I use a handful of them myself, albeit sparingly.

You see it most frequently on discussion forums, where entire threads devolve into a series of acronymistic call-and-response discussions. You start with “LOL!” Someone else responds with “FTW,” which is then followed up by a third response of “WTF.” Entire pages of discussion are lost to this bestial, primitive, mind-melting communication. Strangely, it is the younglings of our species who seem to be most prone to this form of dialogue. It’s almost a code to those of us in the older generation. We can scan down these pages and have zero clue as to what’s being said, let alone what the topic is, if there even is one.

As Ctrl-Alt-Del so satirically points out, as soon as someone tries to introduce _real_ dialogue and discussion, using _real_ words that _actually_ exist, the LOLlers are soon revealed as the slavering, drooling morons that they truly are, and the discussion thread implodes upon its own shallowness.

And is it any wonder why the youth of America find it so very difficult to communicate in a mature, coherent manner or why so many of them suffer from stunted social skills? I weep for our future.

“Generally Speaking…”

bq. Don’t tell us over and over again how something’s a generalization and doesn’t apply to everyone. Duh. Some use of generalities are necessary with these topics. “#”:http://scatteredwords.com/meta/faq.php#q000379

Generalizations. We all use them. They’re a necessity inherent to the world of interpersonal communication. They facilitate conversation by allowing people to make their points easily and quickly by pointing to observable trends. Whole sections of social psychology textbooks (and others) are devoted to the concept of generalizations and stereotypes and their uses. It is probably impossible to get through an entire conversation without at some point using at least one generalization. It is simply the most efficient way to handle the vast amount of information at our disposal. We have to categorize it, mentally placing each bit into groupings with other bits of information that are very similar. We make mental estimates of behavioral trends based on our own experiences, knowledge, and observations. I doubt that there is anyone who readily has actual quantitative data on hand for every subject under the sun, who can point to such statistics and say definitively, “This is the way things are.” So, we generalize, a habit that is obviously limited by the availability of relevant data.

In theory, it is understood that generalizations do not speak to every person in every situation under every circumstance. Statistics themselves are only probabilities, based on past behavior, predicting what is most likely to occur in the future under similar circumstances. In actual practice, however, we find that the problem with the human makeup is that we often forget this margin of error. On the one hand, we make generalizations and begin to think that this applies to a far larger segment of the population than it actually does. This is, of course, somewhat necessary, as stated previously because if we were to point out every possible exception to the ‘rule’ all the time, no productive communication would ever occur. In many cases a compromise is reached by pointing out only those exceptions that are most relevant to the discussion at hand. But even then it is sometimes all too easy to dismiss them perfunctorily, whether because they don’t fit our generalized model or because we don’t like the implications or because they are too difficult to deal with or for some other reason.

On the other hand, some people hear generalizations that other people make and will either accept them as being all-encompassing or will quickly criticize it for not acknowledging all the exceptions. The former group may quickly grasp the point being made but then generalize said point too far, falling prey to their own naiveté. The latter group all too often _misses_ the point being made in their critical frenzy, falling prey to their own cynical rationality. A balance of both approaches is, as usual, to be found somewhere in the middle — recognizing the point of the generalization while acknowledging the fact that it does not speak to all people everywhere in all circumstances. The generalization is a shortcut of sorts, facilitating the cataloguing of societal trends. The naysayers are the ones who are either insecure or who merely like to argue with any philosophy not their own, or both. (Whether their points are valid or not is often irrelevant, as their approach to criticizing the generalization usually stonewalls further discussion.)

Finding this balance is a continual effort, requiring the mind to always be engaged at all times, sifting and filtering, striving to find the truth of the matter through open discourse and rigorous study. Critical thinking is a strong skill to possess because it allows us to first be able to make better and more accurate generalizations and then to be able to reason through other generalizations and critique them for their accuracy. It is a difficult task, to be sure, but one well worth undertaking.

Attitude Change At the Flip of a Switch

Ever feel like you’re trapped in a particular mood or attitude and can’t get out of it? Well, sometimes I think it’s all in your head. Literally. For instance, this evening I found myself feeling irritable and cranky (still do, in fact). It was getting to the point where I was starting to get snippy with my wife, and I knew I didn’t want to do that. I walked out of the room for a moment to get a grip over myself before coming back and trying to act civilly. I even forced myself to make a joke. And the funniest thing happened — I found myself mood actually changing for the better. I had made the decision to behave better, I forced myself to actually do so (even though I didn’t feel like it), and ultimately I found my mood shifting to match the behavior.

And of course, now I’m reminded of the social psychology principle that states that people’s attitudes tend to actually shift toward their behaviors and not the other way around. In my own Christian walk, I have often forced myself to do those things that I knew I was supposed to do, even when I didn’t feel like it. And 99% of the time, I quickly found my attitude shifting to match. (That last 1% of the time was when I was just bound and determined to
rebel.)

Moral of the story: If you want to get out of that slump, try doing what you’re supposed to do anyway. I’ll bet you’ll be surprised at the result.

Sifting

I love psychology. It is, after all, my chosen field. And I must say that getting my master’s degree from a secular institution has been interesting, to say the least. I always have to include a personal mental disclaimer to every lecture. For example, in my Social Cognitions class last night, we discussed briefly a classic psychological “chicken-or-the-egg” phenomenon — which affects which first? Physiology or affect (moods/emotions/etc.)? (See? Chicken. Egg.) Does physiology initiate an action and thus mood is interpreted from the aroused physiological state? Or does affect/cognition initiate the arousal and thus the physiological reaction.

Enter disclaimer — “Note to self: present company has little to no notion of the spirit/soul, and few theories even mention the topic, let alone discuss it. Be sure to account for that in your own personal practice.

That’s a continued problem I run into (and probably will for the rest of my professional life) – most of these theories are so frustratingly unilateral and unimodal. The theories attempt to fit all the facets and nuances of human behavior into a nice, tight little package of cause-and-effect (impossible!). And while some theories are better than others, none is perfect (or necessarily even great) at doing the job. So, I sift, sift, sift through the theories and take out the useful stuff (using a biblical, as well as a practical, foundation)and, with a VERY critical eye, blend it with what the Bible says about the human condition and the human relationship to one another and to God. Very tedious, yet at the same time, really quite fun. Especially when application can be made — and one can watch it work!

So, I sift the theories, but mentally add the element that nearly every theory neglects — the spiritual side of humanity. If you can’t identify ALL the pieces of Man, then you can’t properly address all the NEEDS of Man.