Why do people (them, you, I) behave irrationally?
There are many famous social psychology experiments which demonstrate mob-mindedness, self-delusion, etc.
Psyblog has a post well worth downloading. In it he links to a series he has written on 10 “brilliant social science experiments”:
1. The halo effect – Nisbett
2. Cognitive dissonance – Festinger
3. Robber’s cave – Sherif
4. Stanford prison experiment – Zimbardo
5. Obedience to authority – Milgram
6. False consensus bias – Ross
7. Social identity theory – Tajfel
8. Bargaining – Deustch and Krauss
9. Bystander apathy – Darley & Latane
10. Conforming to the norm – Asch
The imperfection of memory
My own favourite – the police lineup
The nightmare of miscarriage of justice happens. Evidence: currently 206 people have been exonerated by the Innocence Project using DNA evidence. Incorrect identification via lineups often contributes to wrongful judgements. (Who knows how many guilty people escape justice because of lineup muddles.)
In the traditional ‘simultaneous’ lineup method the witness tries to identify the guilty party by looking for him or her in a row of people or agroup of photographs.
A newer method is the ‘sequential’ lineup where the witness sees one face at a time. The idea is that instead of comparing the people in the lineup to each other the witness compares each face to the remembered face.
Makes sense, right? Except it’s been shown to be worse than the traditional method! A comparative study has shown that when using the simultaneous method witnesses made correct decisions in 60 per cent of cases (compared with 45 per cent when the sequential method was used).
Not only that, witnesses using the sequential method made incorrect choices 9 per cent of the time compared with 3 percent in simultaneous lineups. So the sequential method produces more wrong calls and more non-calls (and we know from the simultaneous method that a good proportion of the non-calls would have been good calls).
A fascinating study is being conducted in New Zealand by Rachel Zajac. In a version of the simultaneous lineup, witnesses are presented with several photographs – one of which may be of the guilty party. But there’s one brilliant addition – a blank sillouette of a face with a superimposed question mark. In other words the witness is answering this question: ‘Was the person you saw one of these people or could it have been someone else – that person, perhaps?’
The psychological research behind this experiment comes from work with children whose false identifications decreased substantially when offered the question-marked sillouette.
Could it be that by actually ‘seeing’ the possibility of someone else enables the witness to make better a choice?
Remember, there are two numbers that need improving
~the rate of incorrect identifications needs to be lowered. (I can imagine that the Zajac method will help)
~the rate of non-choices being made needs to be lowered without increasing the rate of wong calls. (It is plausible that the Azajac method may exaccerbate the problem by making non-choice easier).
The mind, hey – what a rat’s nest!