Nov 19

Participatory Action Research: Researchers Working With Communities to Bring About Social Change

Participatory Action Research (PAR) involves researchers who apply their skills and training to a particular issue that they personally care about; they are invested in the outcome of the research and their aim is to contribute to creating social change.  PAR focuses on research that enables social action. Mary Brydon–Miller (1997) describes Participatory Action Research as a blend of basic science and applied science—she explains that psychologists can use this approach to social science to contribute to the general field of knowledge in a certain realm while also helping to support some sort of positive social change. This approach, which opponents argue is an inappropriate mix of one’s politics and psychology, is very different from the traditional scientific approach to studying issues using a more detached and objective research design (Brydon–Miller, 1997).
At the root of PAR is the goal of providing a framework where positive social change can come about through a combination of efforts; communities working in tandem with psychologists to share their knowledge, vision, and values can effectively facilitate social change in countless areas, from criminal justice to environmental sustainability to overpopulation to poverty. Knowledge is never fixed, there is always room for more knowledge to be assimilated into our existing schemas and frameworks of how the physical world and social processes within it work.
Educator and author Paulo Freire felt very strongly that community members need to be an integral part of the social change process—he felt that the “researcher and researched” should be “equal and active participants” in any process meant to result in social change that would affect that community (Brydon–Miller, 1997, p. 659). By including community members, researchers can learn more about the real issues that communities are facing, and by employing a more engaged and interpretive subjective perspective, the team members can act and reflect repeatedly until the framework for the desired future changes is laid.
The Participatory Action Research process begins with mutual trust between the researcher and the other participants in the community where change is needed. One example of how participatory action researchers can apply their knowledge and skills to helping members of the community is seen in the efforts of Darius Tandon and his colleagues in Chicago—there they work with local African–American leaders to learn more about how to strengthen leadership and bring about positive change in minority communities (Brydon–Miller, 1997, p. 663). The leaders of the communities are active participants in the process, helping to choose topics to explore, interviewing others, analyzing data, and also deciding what action needs to be taken going forward based on research findings.
Participatory Action Research requires respecting and exploring a new paradigm in the world of social science— one which embraces a collaborative approach between researchers and community members who actively work together to bring about social change. This type of social research can exist along with traditional scientific methodology and add a new dimension of depth to critical inquiry, where the ultimate goal is to create new knowledge while also helping to bring about social change.

Brydon-Miller, M. (1997). Participatory Action Research: Psychology and Social Change. The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, 53(4). 657-666.

Nov 19

Safety in numbers? Think again. The Bystander Effect: a look at the psychology of helping behavior

Which situation gives you a better chance of survival? Having a heart attack in a building with only one person in the next room or having a heart attack in the middle of Central park on a crowded hot summer day in New York City? I’ll take the building with one person please! I think that many of us falsely assume that there is safety in numbers—the more people, the more help we would receive if we had an emergency, right? Maybe not. According to much research that has been done on the psychology of helping by Latane & Nida (1981), Beaman, Barnes, Klentz, & McQuirk (1978), and others, our chances of receiving help in an emergency situation decline as the amount of bystanders increases. Knowing the social psychological processes at work that play a large role in determining whether or not a person will help in an emergency situation can make the difference when deciding between helping or not helping someone who is in need.
The bystander effect is a social phenomenon that explains how and why a person is more likely to be helped in an emergency situation in the presence of less people (Gruman, Schneider, & Coutts, 2017). This may sound counterintuitive as, statistically speaking, we may think that more people equals more people who can actually help. However, there are three social psychological processes that work against the assumption that more people means more help: the audience inhibition, social influence, and diffusion of responsibility (Latane & Nida, 1981, p. 309).
Whether we help others or not in an emergency situation has a lot to do with how we interpret emergency situations, as well as how many other bystanders are present (Beaman, Barnes, Klentz, & Mcquirk, 1978). Audience inhibition occurs when people do not take action to help others in an emergency situation because they are afraid of being embarrassed or criticized by others for failing to act appropriately—for example, acting like it is an emergency when in fact it is not, or by giving a person the wrong type of care or treatment. Another hindering factor to helping behavior is being uncertain if an emergency really exists at all. The more ambiguous the situation is to the bystander, the more likely help will not occur. Social influence plays a large role in the inhibition of helping behavior—bystanders often look to others for informational cues that help them interpret the situation; if others appear not to be alarmed, then others may assume there is nothing to be alarmed about and that no help is needed, therefore no help is offered.
According to the researchers Latane and Darley (1981), it is really surprising that anyone in a crowd ever helps anybody else in an emergency situation at all, especially when when one considers that often there are many more costs incurred by helping others than direct benefits to one’s self. Diffusion of responsibility describes another reason why people in need of help in an emergency situation may not receive help if there is a group of bystanders instead of just one individual bystander—humans often shift responsibility to others so that are not faced with assuming individual responsibility for helping (Gruman et al., 2017). There may be more costs to helping than there are benefits. The more people that are present, the more people may feel that others can just help instead of themselves—in this way, we can now see why it may be safer to have an emergency with one person present. That lone person is much more likely to not be able to pretend they didn’t notice the event or to assume others will help.
Knowing why we act in particular ways can help us become more aware of the social psychological processes at work, especially when it comes to helping behavior. If we understand what may influence us to think, feel, or behave in certain ways towards a situation, then we may be better equipped to handle situations more effectively. In emergency situations, knowledge of how we may be influenced by others to help or not help could bring about positive change related to how we perceive situations and whether we will in fact help others. It appears as though education is the key; through intervention strategies of educating the public about social inhibition, social psychology and applied social psychology can work together to help communities function better. By educating people about the psychology of helping, we can become more aware and make more informed decisions which may lead us to act in ways that keep each other safer and more protected by their fellow human being.



Beaman, A. L., Barnes, P. J., Klentz, B., & McQuirk, B. (1978). Increasing Helping Rates Through Information Dissemination: Teaching Pays. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 4(3), 406–411. doi: 10.1177/014616727800400309

Gruman, J. A., Schneider, F. W., & Coutts, L. M. (Eds.). (2017). Applied Social Psychology:
Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA:Sage. ISBN 9781483369730

Latané, B., & Nida, S. (1981). Ten years of research on group size and helping. Psychological Bulletin, 89(2), 308-324. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.89.2.308

Nov 19

Improving Academic Self–Concept: Opening the Door to a Brighter Future

The mind is a powerful thing…I was never a good student back in high school. No, let me rephrase that—I never thought I had what it took to be a good student, so at some point I just stopped trying, and then I really became not a good student. I never had much academic success, so I developed a pretty bad academic self–concept of myself as a result. Today, I know I could have been a good student if many things had been different—namely, my attitude.
Being a “good student” isn’t simply being intelligent. Being a good student involves a mindset which includes having a positive attitude towards learning, with beliefs that learning is important, that you have the ability to do everything it will take to achieve your academic goals, and that the outcome is worth it and within your control. Ajzen’s Theory of Planned Behavior helps explain how attitudes relate to behavior, which can predict intention, which then predicts behavior (Gruman, Schneider, and Coutts, 2017). This constant loop of a relationship can be a powerfully positive one or a powerfully destructive one.
Academic self–concept has been shown to be strongly correlated with academic success, and is influenced by many factors. Complicating this whole process are many intervening variables as well, which can either work for or against someone’s academic self–concept. Subjective norms can be powerful influences on beliefs, intentions, behavior, and motivation—what others think can matter a great deal. Often, we meet the level of success that others around us expect of us, and a supportive environment can work wonders for behavioral change. Additionally, intention and motivation can be diminished if one perceives that they have a low level of behavioral control over the outcome—in this way, self–fulfilling prophecies about one’s own abilities to achieve success take root.
The process of achieving a positive academic self–concept includes not only attitudes, perceptions, motivation, and behavior, it also includes good experiences that will reinforce one’s evolving overall perceptions, intentions, and behavior. Negative experiences, resulting from actions such as repeatedly failing classes due to one’s behavior, such as cutting school or not studying, can have a strong negative impact on one’s academic self–concept. On the other hand, the skill development affect explains how positive experiences, such as receiving positive feedback from professors or getting a good grade on a midterm you studied hard for, can motivate us even more to continue this positive trajectory of our lives (Gruman et al., 2017, p. 224).
There are great rewards to positive behavioral changes. A positive academic self–concept can come anytime in life, people have it within their grasp to turn it around. For me, it has been developed and positively reinforced over the last four years at Penn State’s World Campus. Every new theory I learned or good grade I got after working hard on a paper was a building block for an improved academic self–concept. In addition, knowing that other students have the same motivation to perform well academically, despite many challenges, and receiving positive support from teachers and administrators, contributes to high positive outcome expectations (e.g. completing a difficult task, graduating) which then predict academic attitudes and academic performance (Gruman et al., 2017). I believe change can happen as soon as you open your mind to change, but it’s not that easy—as Ajzen’s theory explains, it takes a lot of planning as well.


Gruman, J. A., Schneider, F. W., & Coutts, L. M. (Eds.). (2017). Applied Social Psychology:
Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA:Sage. ISBN 9781483369730

Oct 19

Applied social psychology in the criminal justice system: improving eyewitness identification accuracy in police lineups



There are many steps and factors in a criminal case that all come together to ultimately produce a verdict of guilt of innocence for the accused. There are several stakeholders in a criminal trial, though the defendant probably has the most at stake, as a verdict can mean the difference between freedom and prison time, which can have lasting negative effects for a lifetime. Social psychology principles and research findings can be effectively applied to the criminal justice system, specifically to help improve how law enforcement officers conduct criminal investigations. A crucial part of the investigation that police strive to achieve is an eyewitness identification of a suspect; however, eyewitness bias and poor procedural steps can taint this process, resulting in false eyewitness identifications of suspects. By studying what procedures influence witness error and bias, eyewitness accuracy can be improved, which can lead to less false positive identifications.
In a criminal case, the prosecutor works closely with law enforcement to build their case; they try to prove the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and the defense does all that it can to plant reasonable doubt into the minds of the jury. The case begins after a crime has been committed, and the steps that take place from there can all impact the final verdict of the accused. One of the most important pieces of evidence for the prosecution’s case against the defendant is a positive eyewitness identification, often done in police lineups. Unfortunately, false positive identifications do happen, and the repercussions of these errors can be devastating to those who are wrongfully identified. In 2016, the Innocence Project reported that of the 325 cases in which convicts have been exonerated by DNA evidence, 72% of those cases involved false positive eyewitness identifications; it is plain to see how much rests on the accurate identification of suspects by witnesses (Gruman, Schneider, & Coutts, 2017).
Many factors can affect the accuracy of a eyewitness’s identification, such as stress of witness at the time of witnessing the crime, the involvement of weapons in the crime, the timing of the identification of a suspect after the crime occurred, and the ability to see the suspect’s entire face at the time of the crime. Another factor that affect eyewitness accuracy is the “cross–race effect”, which describes the ability to recognize faces of people of one’s own race better than the faces of other races (Gruman et al., p. 304).
In addition to these factors, lineup procedures can have an enormous impact on eyewitness identification. The book of lineup guidelines which is widely used by law enforcement agencies in America, Eyewitness Evidence: A Guide for Law Enforcement, outlines specific procedures that, if followed, would greatly reduce witness identification errors. The guidebook recommends that all lineups should be sequential lineups, where individuals are shown to the eyewitness one a time, versus a simultaneous lineup, which is what we commonly see in movies—where the suspects are lined up all together in a row in one room. Of confronted with all suspects at once, the eyewitness may feel pressure to choose one, even in the face of uncertainty. Foils, or people whom the police know are innocent, should also be used—this reduces the risk of a false identification by the eyewitness. Eyewitnesses may be swayed by the input of others after they identify someone in a lineup, so their confidence level in their decision should be recorded immediately by law enforcement. Police officers sometimes knowingly bias eyewitnesses so that they may have a positively identified suspect; by putting a suspect in the room who is the only individual that matches the eyewitness’s physical description of the suspect, the chances of a positive identification are greatly increased.
Knowledge gained through social psychology research can be applied to the investigative processes in the criminal justice system in many ways. False eyewitness identifications of suspects can result in devastating outcomes, and also leaves the real criminals at large. Errors in lineups can be greatly reduced by following guidelines and procedures that minimize bias and maximize eyewitness accuracy.



Gruman, J. A., Schneider, F. W., & Coutts, L. M. (2017). Applied Social Psychology:
Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA:Sage. ISBN 9781483369730

Oct 19

Remembering the Development of the Titans

I was an athlete for all of my elementary and high school years of school. During that time, I played with various coaches and teammates. Although the members were always changing, one thing that our coaches always would have us do was watch the movie Remember The Titans by Boaz Yakin. As I think back to that film, I remember times when I believed I would never have team cohesion with a new group of individuals. When I would go home and complain about a teammate or coach, my dad would remind me about Remember the Titans as an example of the development of groups and team cohesion.

Cohesion is defined as “a dynamic process which is reflected in the tendency for a group to stick together and remain united in the pursuit of its instrumental objectives and/or for the satisfaction of member affective needs” (Coutts, Gruman, & Schneider, 2017). At the beginning of the film two high schools are integrated during a time of high racial tension. Since the schools are integrated, the football team has an African American head coach (Denzel Washington) and a Caucasian coach (Will Patton). During the first interactions between the newly integrated team members, there was a lack of team cohesion. The players make it known to the team that they do not want to play with the members of the opposite race. With a lack of team cohesion, the coaches were aware that they would struggle to succeed because “research evidence that teams high in cohesion perform better than do teams low in cohesion” (Coutts & et al., 2017). To increase team cohesion, Washington and Patton used goal setting, team building activities, and through modeling leadership. Through the use of these various interventions, the team was able to come together through the process of group development.

Tuckman (1965), stages of development theory, describes a process of four steps forming, storming, norming, and performing. In the film, the integrated members of the team meet in the gymnasium and are somewhat reserved at first in the presence of their new coaches. Washington explains that the team will all be heading to a training camp as a way to help increase team cohesion. On the way to camp, Washington separates two groups and partners up to each team member with a member of the opposite race. He promotes team building at this time by having them sit together, room together, and they are required to learn more about their partner. The storming stage begins when there are conflicts within the team. The storming stage is most clearly noted when the two head captains, one African American, and one Caucasian player, have a confrontation regarding leadership skills and not looking out for the team as a whole. Through this conflict, the players learned to understand one another and were able to become better leaders for the team.


Following various conflicts between members of the team, the norming stage emerges. The norming stage begins as the team works together to fight against racism. The teammates start to trust one another and have come to an understanding of their membership in the group. They build bonds and communicate effectively and work together through warmups and, specifically, a team dance. Moving on to the last stage of Tuckman’s (1965) theory, the performing stage is noted when the team begins to work together efficiently and succeed in their goal of winning. By the end of the film, the football players are best friends and stand up against racism in their community. Through the stages of development and the help of the supportive coaches, this team was able to work together to increase cohesion. With the bonds they built, they were able to defy the odds and achieve the unachievable.


Coutts, L. M., Gruman, J. A., & Schneider, F. W. (2017). Applied social psychology understanding and addressing social and practical problems (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Tuckman, B. (1965). Developmental sequence in small groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63 (6). 384–399. doi:10.1037/h0022100

Oct 19

Intergroup Relations On The Big Screen

Remember that movie Grease?  Yes, the one from 41 years ago when John Travolta was young and thin?  The one that cast physically–developed 30-year-olds to play seniors in high school?  The one that glamorized unprotected sex and juvenile delinquency?  Yeah, that one!  Okay, I LOVE that movie!  It is actually one of my favorites, and has been required movie–watching for all of my kids.  I don’t only love it because I was a scrawny 8–year–old when I saw it and walked out of the theatre wishing I was Olivia Newton John and also married to John Travolta.  It is not only because the singing and dancing were amazing, or that they never did homework, or that they all lived in sunny California and it seemed like they had no parents—in fact, I don’t think any parents were ever seen once in that film.  I think the mass appeal of that movie comes down to the intrigue and complexity of intergroup relations.  

Sandy (played by Olivia Newton John) was a young, naive “good girl”, an Australian transplant who had to suddenly switch to a California high school where she knew only one friend.  However, before school started, she managed to have a summer fling and fall in love with the popular and charismatic leader (played by John Travolta) of the social group (a gang, really) called the “T–Birds”—a group of fairly harmless, somewhat misogynous young derelicts that break the rules and don’t seem to consider their futures beyond high school.  Danny also fell in love, but he knows that Sandy would never be accepted by his group because she was a member of the “nerdy” group, so he just tries his best to forget about her.  In contrast to their rival gang group, the out–group called the “Scorpions”, the T-Birds seem mild in comparison—the T-Birds are obviously meant to be the desirable in-group of the movie, and the group that many other students wished they were a part of.  Girls fawn over them, social outcasts want to be friends with them, and even the teachers act favorably toward them and grant them special privileges.  This shows the power that in-groups can have.

According to the Tajfel’s Social Identity Theory (1981), people are influenced by different aspects of themselves at various times, which can affect their behavior (Penn State, 2019).  One’s personal identity is comprised of one’s conscience, or moral beliefs, their experiences, and one’s objective individual characteristics, such as sex or age.  One’s social identity is very different, however—it is comprised of how one feels and believes about who they are in a given situation, and this is highly influenced by one’s group membership.

While personal identity and social identity overlap one another, Tajfel outlined three components of social identity: feeling a sense of belonging to a group, feeling that the membership in that group is important, and feeling committed to that group (Penn State, 2019).  The social identity theory posits that when in their group, people are more likely to be influenced by social identity than by personal identity, and people also may consider others who are not in their group as belonging to an “out–group”.  In a group threat situation, one’s behavior would be determined by their social identity, whereas in a personal threat situation, one’s behavior would be determined by their personal identity.  This is the case in Grease—the scene where Danny pretends like he doesn’t know the overexcited and lovestruck Sandy when they finally come face–to–face while surrounded by Danny’s in–group members, is a perfect example of one’s social identity kicking in when there is a possible threat to the group (in this case, the threat would be to Danny’s status as the leader and, by extension, to the group’s hierarchy and status).

Many films of the 1970s and 80s dealt with intergroup behavior, such as The Outsiders, West Side Story, and the Breakfast Club— the in–group vs. the out–group theme is usually a big moneymaker theme for the movie industry.  Ultimately, and I think this is why people love this movie, Danny  allows his personal identity rather than his social identity determine his behavior and decides that, in the name of love, he will sacrifice his positive social value—his status, power, and resources that being a member of the dominant group offered him.  He is willing to trade it all in for a regular life with Sandy.  However, at the same time that Danny is planning on making this monumental and life–changing shift in his behavior, Sandy is planning on the exact same type of behavioral change and for the same reason—love, even if it means becoming a member of a group who displayed out–group discrimination towards her.  She is willing to become a member of a dominant social in–group she never really aspired to join.  However, social dominance theory indicates that subordinate group members (such as Sandy) may want to maintain the status quo in hopes that one day they may be a part of the dominant group and reap the benefits of positive social values that in–group membership can provide.

Intergroup relations can be seen all around us, at work, in the playground, within institutions, and also at the movie theatre.  For those of you who have never seen Grease, don’t walk—run to your screen of choice and watch it!  It is fun, musical, intriguing, happy, exciting, romantic, but more importantly, it offers a deep dive into the world of high school intergroup  relations. 


Gruman, J. A., Schneider, F. W., & Coutts, L. M. (2017). Applied Social Psychology:Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA:Sage. ISBN 9781483369730

Penn State. (2019) Lesson 6: Intergroup relations/diversity. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/2008549/modules/items/27030727

Sep 19

Health and Vaping

As many people commonly know, smoking cigarettes can lead to severe illnesses and death. Although there has been a decrease in the number of cigarette users, there has been a new device on the market in the past fifteen or so years that has become extremely popular. This device is called an electronic cigarette, and it recently has been a hot topic in the media due to the harmful effects that it has had on individuals who use them. Regular and electronic cigarettes have many similarities and are now a subject for health promotion.

For many years’ cigarettes were not deemed as harmful. It wasn’t until 1964 that a report from the Surgeon General’s Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health was released stating otherwise (Centers for Disease Control and Promotion [CDC], 2018). According to the CDC (2018), the report said “that cigarette smoking is a cause of lung cancer, laryngeal cancer, and chronic bronchitis. Since that time, citizens and organizations have implemented interventions to help reduce and prevent cigarette use. This type of work is known as health promotion. Health promotion is defined as efforts that are made to encourage people to engage in healthy behaviors, such as eating a healthy and balanced diet, exercising regularly, getting enough rest, and refraining from smoking and abusing alcohol. Health promotion is a philosophy that guides action to achieve good health.

When electronic cigarettes (vapes) came to the market, they were deemed as less harmful than cigarettes and as a way to help individuals quit smoking cigarettes (CDC, 2018). Vapes have become extremely popular for children and less popular with adults. The CDC (2018) explained that 3.6 million United States students used vapes in the past 30 days. The reasoning behind why children make up the majority of vape users is “because adolescents are especially vulnerable to peer pressure, many adolescents begin smoking by experimenting with their friends and then gradually become addicted” (Coutts, Gruman, & Schneider, 2017). On September 12, 2019, the CDC released information regarding an outbreak of lung disease associated with vaping (2019). Now a study like that quite similarly resembles those from cigarettes warnings from the 1960s. These newly released reports have put people in a fear that is similar to that of cigarettes and a motivation for laws to prohibit vape use. As our society moves forward, individuals may choose to change behaviors due to fear appeal. Fear appeal is the idea that people will be more likely to pay attention to a message, and to subsequently act to improve their health behavior if their related fears are activated (Coutts et al., 2017). In addition to the fear appeal, there are other ways that professionals can provide health promotion.

Moving forward with the present information on the harmful effects, organizations, citizens, and health professionals can help to educate and implement prevention efforts. To do this, we must use primary prevention and secondary prevention. Primary prevention is “aimed toward healthy individuals to keep them healthy and avoid their risk of contracting diseases” (Coutts et al., 2017). To do this, schools can educate students through teachers and educational events as a way to help individuals who have not used vapes. These programs will help to spread awareness regarding the adverse effects of e-cigarette use and how to withstand peer pressure to smoke. Secondary prevention is a form of prevention that helps individuals who are already affected, to prevent the worsening of an illness (Coutts et al., 2017). To help those who already smoke vapes and/or who have contracted diseases, health professionals can educate through social media, schools, and on TV. Organizations can provide discounted health checks and support programs to guide individuals to leave the devices behind in search of a healthier life.

So, will people stop smoking vapes? Similar to regular cigarettes, there will always be vape users. Our society needs to provide proper intervention programs as a way to educate people. It seems as though vapes and cigarettes will never be banned, but we must try out best to promote health and wellness by discouraging the use of these harmful devices.



Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). History of the surgeon general’s reports on smoking and health. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/sgr/history/index.htm.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). About electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/about-e-cigarettes.html

Coutts, L. M., Gruman, J. A., & Schneider, F. W. (2017). Applied social psychology understanding and addressing social and practical problems (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Mar 19

Bystander Effect at PSU Frat Emergency

During this week’s assigned readings in Applied Social Psychology, Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems, by Schneider, Gruman, and Coutts, we learned about the bystander effect. The bystander effect is defined as a phenomenon that occurs when multiple witnesses of an emergency fail to get involved (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts). There are three triggers related to the bystander effect: Audience inhibition, social influence, and diffusion of responsibility (Latane & Nida, 1981).

  • Audience inhibition: A bystander may choose not to intervene in an emergency because they are afraid of embarrassing themselves in front of other people (Latane & Nida, 1981).
  • Social influence: When bystanders do not know how to act in an emergency situation, they will look to other bystanders for cues on how to act in the ambiguous situation. Unfortunately, in an ambiguous situation, most of the bystanders will not know how to act and everyone will be looking for cues from each other. This results in none of the bystanders getting involved (Latane & Nida, 1981).
  • Diffusion of responsibility: Bystanders believe they do not need to help in an emergency because someone else will (Latane & Nida, 1981).

Since I have learned about the bystander effect, I have been thinking of tragedies that could have been prevented if proper help was initiated. One tragedy that sticks out to me is the incident that occurred on February 2, 2017 at The Pennsylvania State University. Unfortunately, it is possible that the bystander effect influenced events that led up to the death of Tim Piazza.


For those who do not know, Tim Piazza was a sophomore at Penn State University who died from a collapsed lung, lacerated spleen, and a fractured skull after a bid-acceptance night at Beta Theta Pi (Pallotto, 2019). Below, I will address the incidents that occurred (reported by Benjamin Wallace of Vanity Fair) and how they could have been influenced by the bystander effect:

Tim was extremely intoxicated and fell down the basement stairs. After some time, a few of his fraternity brothers carried him back upstairs. Tim was obviously unconscious and had multiple visible injuries, but they set him on the couch and carried on with the night. Every single person at the fraternity house physically saw Tim and the condition he was in, yet no one did anything. Finally, one of the fraternity brothers argued with another that they needed to call 911 and got shoved. 911 was not called and the party continued. The party eventually ended and everyone left, leaving Tim alone for the remainder of the night. Two fraternity brothers found Tim the next morning and did not call 911 for almost an hour after (Wallace, 2017).

  • Audience inhibition: It is possible that the bystanders (fraternity brothers, other party-goers) did not call 911 or try to help Tim in any other ways because they were afraid they would be ostracized for it. In fact, this actually occurred when a fraternity brother wanted to call 911 and got pushed across the room for it.
  • Social influence: It is possible that the emergency that occurred was ambiguous. Some of the fraternity brothers and other people at the party may not have understood what exactly was going on with Tim. It is also possible they thought he was just black-out drunk like they have seen hundreds of other college students. It is also possible that the bystanders were too intoxicated to fully understand the circumstances of the situation. With this being said, the bystanders most likely looked to other bystanders to know how to react to the situation, and everyone was responding by ignoring the emergency and going on with the party.
  • Diffusion of responsibility: It is possible that the bystanders of the emergency thought that there were so many other people at the party, someone must have had called 911. Bystanders also may have assumed it was the president of the fraternity or the upperclassmen’s responsibility to get help.

Tragedies can be avoided if the proper help is initiated. However, due to the bystander effect, witnesses of an emergency often fail to get involved or get help because of audience inhibition, social influence, and/or diffusion of responsibility. Unfortunately, it is possible that the bystander effect contributed to the wrongful and premature death of Tim Piazza. As college students, it is important that we keep the bystander effect in mind if we are ever in an emergency situation like the one Tim and his fraternity brothers were in. Remembering the bystander effect could actually save a life.



Latané, B., & Nida, S. (1981). Ten years of research on group size and helping. Psychological Bulletin, 89(2), 308-324. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.89.2.308

Pallotto, Bret. (2019). It’s Been 2 Years Since Tim Piazza’s Death at Penn State. Here’s What’s Happened Since. Retrieved from: https://www.centredaily.com/news/local/community/state-college/article225340915.html

Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., and Coutts, L. M. (Eds.). (2012). Applied Social Psychology. Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems. CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

Wallace, Benjamin. (2017). How a Fatal Frat Hazing Became Penn State’s Latest Campus Crisis. Retrieved from: https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2017/10/penn-state-fraternity-hazing-death

Mar 19

Smartphones in the Classroom

I’m certainly not anti-technology. My laptop, which has outlasted two different best friends, is one of my most stalwart companions and has, therefore, secured its place as one of my most beloved possessions. I hate writing by hand, always preferring to type, and I pity the poor saps who had to write entire novels in such a plebeian fashion. Playing video games is one of my favorite pastimes, and someday, I hope that AI technology becomes advanced enough for me to have a robot dog and a robot butler, who — if we’re talking about sentience level advancement — I pledge to pay a fair wage. At this point, some might question the purpose of a robot butler, to which I would respond, “You just don’t get it. It’s a robot butler. It’s the best thing ever.”

Moving on. 

Given my personal preferences, it might seem strange that I can’t stand smartphones, but it’s true. They’re the worst. Sure, I use my laptop every day and feel somewhat hobbled when Apple’s terrible power cord gives out once a year, but you don’t see me plunking it down on the dinner table or pulling it out of my backpack to browse Instagram while in line for coffee. (Also, I don’t get Instagram, but that’s off topic.) The fact is, I don’t enjoy being sucked into the smartphone’s seductive vortex of constant connection, 24/7 entertainment, and instant gratification. Laptops, computers, and cellphones all have limitations for when or how you can use them, but smartphones, as the name suggests, are highly sophisticated devices that have the ability to perform most, if not all, of the previous devices’ capabilities —anytime, anywhere. For one thing, this feeling of being constantly reachable is exhausting. (Please leave me alone.) Furthermore, studies performed by Ward, Duke, Gneezy, and Bos (2017) have found that the mere presence of an individual’s smartphone has a negative impact on their cognitive capacity, impacting the “the attentional resources that reside at the core of both working memory capacity and fluid intelligence” (p. 150). This effect is positively correlated with smartphone dependence, indicating that the negative impact of smartphone usage continues even when we abstain from checking our messages or scrolling through social media (Ward et al., 2017).

There used to be one place where you were, relatively, safe from your pocket overlords — the classroom. That, sadly, is no longer the case. My sister is currently in high school, and she, like the rest of my family, does not have a smartphone. Unfortunately, more and more of her teachers seem to be relying on them in the classroom, a fact which is sometimes problematic for her. To be fair, the teachers always come up with an alternative solution, but they are not always very elegant and usually entail making her share with another student. (I had to share computers with another student for the first half of my Computers/Careers class in high school, and I still only type with four fingers.) Instead of using graphing calculators, they use an app called Desmos. Instead of normal test prep activities, they use their phones to access a website called Cahoots, which is just an electronic quiz game. In what I think is the weirdest example, her history teacher had them make Tik Tok videos as an assignment and then made fun of her when she said she didn’t have a smartphone. None of these activities or tasks are drastically improved by the involvement of smartphones and only serves to further increase smartphone dependence and penalize students whose parents are making a stand against it. 

Furst, Evans, and Roderick (2018) found that, on average, students who checked their phones more than 39 times per day were significantly more likely to state that they interfered with their ability to complete their homework. Similar to Ward et al.’s (2017) findings, those who were more dependent on their phones found them to be a greater distraction (Furst et al., 2018). While the intentions behind smartphone use in the classroom are, undoubtedly, good, it still habituates students to smartphone use, and that’s if you assume that every single student is using their phone exactly as they’ve been instructed. (I’ll give you a hint, they’re not.) 

As my sister can attest to, students often use their smartphones to text, watch YouTube videos, and, somehow, get away with playing Fortnite in class. When I was in high school, texting in class was a cardinal sin. Today, more and more teachers have embraced the use of smartphones, and this, unfortunately, has the side effect of increasing the number of distractions that go unchecked in the classroom. As Grinols and Rajesh (2014) point out “students alternating their attention between the reading material and their texting [are] likely [to] impede their comprehension of the material” (p. 94). One obvious solution to these distractions is to not allow students to use smartphones in class and to avoid relying on them for things that can be easily achieved through normal means. Ultimately, technology is not something that I wish to demonize. I do think there are ways that technology can assist learning in the classroom, but at this time, smartphones are not the answer.


Furst, R. T., Evans, D. N., & Roderick, N. M. (2018). Frequency of college student smartphone use: Impact on classroom homework assignments. Journal of Technology in Behavioral Science, 3(2), 49-57. doi:10.1007/s41347-017-0034-2

Grinols, A. B., & Rajesh, R. (2014). Multitasking with smartphones in the college classroom. Business and Professional Communication Quarterly, 77(1), 89–95. https://doi.org/10.1177/2329490613515300

Ward, A. F., Duke, K., Gneezy, A., & Bos, M. W. (2017). Brain drain: The mere presence of one’s own smartphone reduces availability in cognitive capacity. Journal of the Association for Consumer Research,2(2), 140-154. doi:10.1086/691462

Mar 19

Pornography & Juvenile Sex Offenders

Pornography is defined as sexually explicit material meant to sexually arouse the viewer via the media (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2012). During this week’s assigned readings in Applied Social Psychology, Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems, by Schneider, Gruman, and Coutts, we learned about the effects of long-term exposure of nonviolent pornography (nonaggressive, casual, nonromantic) and the effects of any exposure of violent pornography (male-dominated, degrading). According to Schneider et al. (2012), research studies have shown that the long-term exposure of nonviolent pornography can increase negative attitudes towards women, can influence changes in family values, increases interests in other types of pornography, and can occasionally result in sexual callousness. Furthermore, research studies regarding any amount of exposure of violent pornography in men have shown an increase in sexual arousal, an increase of rape fantasies, desensitization of embedded sexual violence, acceptance of violence towards women, and desensitization towards rape and rapists (Schneider et al., 2012). Applied Social Psychology, Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems, by Schneider, Gruman, and Coutts dabbles in the effects of different types of pornography, but I wanted to know how pornography effects the population I am most interested in: adolescents. After applying knowledge from my personal experience and the information I found through research, I have come to the conclusion that pornography can influence adolescents to sexually offend others.

Personal experience: During the summer I was lucky enough to have an internship at an adolescent residential treatment facility. The facility was comprised of boys and girls from the ages 12 to17 on three different floors:

  • First floor: Boys with severe behavioral and psychological disorders.
  • Second floor: Girls with severe behavioral and psychological disorders.
  • Third floor: Juvenile sex offenders (boys).

Many people read “juvenile sex offenders” and think “CRIMINALS! SEND THEM TO JAIL!” I was actually one of those people before I began my internship. However, I quickly learned that adolescents do not randomly become sexually aggressive. During my internship I took a training class regarding the treatment of adolescent sex offenders and learned a few factors that can contribute to a child becoming a sex offender:

  1. They have been sexually abused themselves
  2. They have been exposed to sexual content at a young age: pornography and/or parents are not maintaining age-appropriate boundaries

It makes sense to me that exposure to pornography could be a factor that influences juvenile sex offending because of social learning theory. For example, a ten-year-old boy sees a man receiving oral sex in a nonviolent pornography video and in turn, this ten-year-old boy wants to give or receive oral sex.

Research: Even though I was taught by clinicians that pornography can contribute to adolescents sexually offending other children, and I can make connections between theories from my psychology courses, I have never done outside research regarding pornography and juvenile sex offenders. According to Dr. Sharron Cooper, pornography makes adolescents believe the sexual situations (violent, nonconsensual, unprotected, emotionless) they are watching are normal and acceptable in their own lives (Baxter, 2018). Dr. Cooper also believes that adolescents are more likely to replicate the explicit sexual acts they are watching via pornography because they feel like they are experiencing what they are watching due to mirror neurons (Baxter, 2018). Another study on juvenile sex offenders yielded significant results that watching pornography before and after the age of 10 was correlated with sexual offending in adolescents, compared to nonoffender adolescents who had not watched pornography before the age of 10 (Burton, Leibowitz, Booxbaum, & Howard, 2011).

After reading Applied Social Psychology, Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems, by Schneider, Gruman, and Coutts, it is obvious that long-term exposure to nonviolent pornography and any amount of exposure to violent pornography has negative effects to the viewer. However, because the effects of pornography on adolescents were not explored, I examined my personal experience at my internship and did outside research to conclude that pornography can influence adolescents to sexually offend others.


Baxter, A. (2018). How Pornography Harms Children: The Advocate’s Role. ABA. Retrieved from: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/child_law/resources/child_law_practiceonline/child_law_practice/vol-33/may-2014/how-pornography-harms-children–the-advocate-s-role/

Burton, D. L., Leibowitz, G. S., Booxbaum, A., & Howard, A. (2011). Comparison by crime type of juvenile delinquents on pornography exposure: The absence of relationships between exposure to pornography and sexual offense characteristics. Journal of Forensic Nursing, 7(1), 54. Retrieved from http://ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/docview/867317020?accountid=13158

Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., and Coutts, L. M. (Eds.). (2012). Applied Social Psychology. Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems. CA: SAGE Publications, Inc.

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