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.

Mar 19

The False Confession of Peter Reilly

False confessions are, understandably, of great concern to the American legal system. A false confession can lead to the wrongful imprisonment of an innocent individual, ensure the freedom of the true criminal, and prevent the victims from receiving the justice they deserve. While reading the text’s section on the subject, I was reminded of the case of Peter Reilly, an 18 year old living in a small Connecticut town who, after returning home from the local youth center, found his mother dead on the floor, her throat cut and her legs broken (Barthel, 1976). Reilly, despite initially claiming that he was innocent and that he had no memory of committing the crime, eventually came to believe that he did, in fact, kill his own mother, giving a full confession and even going as far to explicitly detail how he committed the murder (Toglia, Read, Ross, & Lindsay, 2010). Consequently, he was convicted of first-degree manslaughter and sentenced to six to sixteen years in prison (Spelhaug, n.d.). 

From the outside, it seemed like an open and shut case. Just another psycho who snapped and killed someone. However, Reilly later recanted his confession, claiming that it was coerced, and two years later, independent evidence supported his claims, proving that he could not have committed the murder (Toglia et al., 2010). Reilly was eventually exonerated, but there was no way to undo what had already been done to him. This revelation is particularly concerning because not only did Reilly give a false confession which resulted in his conviction, but he also, at the time, truly believed that he had done it. 

How does something like that even happen?

Well, a number of factors went into the making of this particular false confession. First of all, Reilly lived in a small town. He already knew and liked a number of the officers involved in the investigation and had even previously considered a career in law enforcement (O’Donohue & Levensky, 2004). He trusted them to look after his best interests, and the interrogator regularly exploited this trust, claiming that he was trying to help him, even as he railroaded him into a false confession (Berthal, 1976). Reilly was also young. Youth, in particular, are at risk of giving false confessions because they tend to be “immature, naively trusting of authority, acquiescent, and eager to please” (Leo, 2009).

After being taken into custody, Reilly, “was held at the police station overnight, subjected to an interrogation, and took a voluntary polygraph test, all without the presence of an attorney” (Spelhaug, n.d., para. 3) in the hopes that his actions would help demonstrate his innocence. (They did not.) Mirroring Bradley Page’s case, the officer conducting the interrogation used minimization and false incriminating evidence to elicit a confession from Reilly (Berthal, 1976; Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2012). Reilly was told that he had failed the lie detector test — untrue — and was, over the course of six hours, slowly convinced that he had committed the crime (Berthal, 1976). It would take quite a while to detail all of the manipulation and leading statements that went into making Reilly’s eventual confession, so I will let this excerpt from the interrogation (taken from Roesch, Zapf, and Hart’s (2009) discussion of the case) speak for itself:

Peter: The polygraph test is giving me some doubts right now. Disregarding the test, I don’t think I hurt my mother.

Det.: You’re so damned ashamed of last night that you’re trying to just block it out of your mind. […]

Peter:  Would it definitely be me? Could it be someone else? 

Det.: No way, not from these reactions [to the polygraph test].

The officers involved in the case were convinced that Reilly was guilty, and this presumption of guilt lead them to interrogate him in ways that confirmed their suspicions. As Hill, Memon, and McGeorge (2008) showed in their study, the confirmation bias can affect the questioning style of the interviewer, which can then lead to the suspect behaving and responding in ways that confirm their initial beliefs — a self-fulfilling prophecy. Lastly, Reilly was held at the station overnight, and prior to taking the polygraph test, he stated that he “hadn’t been to bed in almost thirty hours” (Barthel, 1976, p. 48). He amended this slightly, stating that he got an hour or two of sleep in the morning, but his later complaints of complete exhaustion emphasize the fact that he was suffering from sleep deprivation (Barthel, 1976; O’Donohue & Levensky, 2004). Physical exhaustion has been found to be a significant risk factor for police-induced false confessions, and sleep deprivation has been found to impair inhibitory control, reduce the individual’s ability to understand the consequence of their actions, and result in an increased susceptibility to coercion and the creation of false memories (Frenda, Berkowitz, Loftus, & Fenn, 2016; O’Donohue & Levensky, 2004). 

It was a nightmare situation. The transcript of Peter Reilly’s interrogation reads like a Kafka novel. A teenager, whose mother has just been brutally murdered, is manipulated into believing that he was one who killed her. We, of course, are able to read about the case with the benefit of hindsight and the knowledge that he is innocent, but the officers involved in this tragedy had no such advantage. They were small town cops conducting a murder investigation — a challenge that they were not quite prepared to face. However, by understanding the circumstances that contributed to Peter Reilly’s false confession, we can improve police procedures in the future. 

The best advice I can give to you personally, however, is to always, always get an attorney.


Barthel, J. (1976). A Death in Canaan. New York, NY: E.P. Dutton.

Frenda, S. J., Berkowitz, S. R., Loftus, E. F., & Fenn, K. M. (2016). Sleep deprivation and false confessions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,113(8), 2047-2050. doi:10.1073/pnas.1521518113

Hill, C., Memon, A., & McGeorge, P. (2008). The role of confirmation bias in suspect interviews: A systematic evaluation. Legal and Criminological Psychology,13(2), 357-371. doi:https://doi.org/10.1348/135532507X238682

Leo, R. A. (2009). False confessions: Causes, consequences, and implications. Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law,37(3), 332-343.

O’Donohue, W., & Levensky, E. R. (2004). Handbook of forensic psychology: Resource for mental health and legal professionals. San Diego, CA: Elsevier.

Roesch, R., Zapf, P. A., & Hart, S. D. (2009). Forensic Psychology and Law. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (2012). Applied social psychology:  Understanding and addressing social and practical problems. Thousand Oaks, CA:  SAGE.

Spelhaug, C. (n.d.). Peter Reilly. Retrieved from https://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Pages/casedetailpre1989.aspx?caseid=268

Toglia, M. P., Read, J. D., Ross, D. F., & Lindsay, R. (2010). The Handbook of Eyewitness Psychology(Vol. 1). New York, NY: Routledge.

Feb 19

Groupthink & Normative Influence: Gucci Edition

Gucci Sweater, 2019

This week in Applied Social Psychology, I became particularly interested in interpersonal processes in organizations. Within interpersonal processes in organizations, Chapter 10 in Applied Social Psychology, Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems, by Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, discusses group decision making. While learning about the consequences regarding group decision making, I immediately made a connection between a current event and the theories of groupthink and normative influence. Unfortunately, many poor decisions that can genuinely offend and hurt people can be a result of groupthink and normative influence.

Almost everyone with access to social media has heard about the latest controversy revolving around the popular luxury brand, Gucci. For those who do not know, in the beginning of February, Gucci released a sweater that many claim resembles blackface. The origin of blackface goes all the way back to the 1830s, when white theater performers would paint their faces black and portray black people through negative stereotypes (“Blackface”, n.d.). Earlier this month, when a twitter user posted a screenshot of the sweater from Gucci’s website, thousands of people retweeted the post, causing an outrage all over the internet. Understandably so, people all over the world are offended by Gucci’s black face sweater, and even boycotting the company. Since the sweater went viral over the internet, Gucci has issued an apology and removed the sweater from their stores (Held, 2019).

Many people are wondering how a company like Gucci, the best-selling Italian brand in the world (“World’s Top Dollar Fashion Brands”, 2016), with hundreds of designers and marketing employees, could actually create and execute a sweater that resembles blackface. How is it possible that various people working for a $12.4 billion company could make such a big mistake? Did all those people really look at the sweater and think it was a good idea? I want it to be clear that I believe a blatant disrespect for black people and black history was a huge factor that contributed to the design being made and sold. But is every single person that was involved with the creation of the sweater racist? I am under the impression that groupthink and normative influence helped contribute to the design being approved, physically made, and put on sale as opposed to being thrown in the trash like it should have been.

Groupthink is defined as a poor decision-making process that can occur when members of a group feel strong pressures to reach high-group adhesiveness (Schneider et al., 2012). According to Schneider et al. (2012), there are various conditions that can yield groupthink, including:

  1. High stress
  2. Directive leadership
  3. Over-confidence brought on by amplified sense of collective efficacy
  4. Lack of outside opinions
  5. Over-valuing group cohesion and solidarity

Normative influence is defined as pressure to act or think a certain way to achieve social approval and prevent negative social consequences (Schneider et al., 2012). Keeping the definitions of groupthink and normative influence in mind, we can imagine how these theories could have caused the blackface sweater design to be approved. For example, it is highly possibly that there is a group of people who work for Gucci who look at designs and give them the “okay” to be physically made and then sold either in stores or online. We can imagine a room of 30 people hastily looking through sketches of designs because a deadline for a new collection is the following day (high stress). When the sketch for the sweater comes up, 25 out of the 30 people in the room immediately make the connection between the design and blackface and know that the design should not be approved. However, out of the 5 people with various situational variables that cause them to not feel negatively about the design (racism, ignorance, apathy, distraction), 4 of them have considerably higher control in the company than everyone else in the room, including the person who is the leader of the group: the creative director. In line with groupthink, the creative director expresses his approval for the sweater right away (directive leadership). Following the creative director’s lead, 14 more people approve the sweater. However, the 15 people left are trying to decide if they are going to speak up or not. When one person expresses their concerns, the creative director makes a negative, embarrassing comment towards the person (negative social consequence) and moves on with the discussion. The remaining 14 people saw how the creative director treated the person with an opposing opinion and did not want the same consequence (normative influence) and wanted to maintain cohesion within the group (groupthink), so they decided to approve the design even though they truly felt like it was not the right decision.

When companies as popular as Gucci make extremely poor choices like they did with the blackface sweater, people question how it is even possible. While the obvious disrespect for black people is an explanation, this situation also displays the problems of group decision making. Specifically, it shows how groupthink and normative influence can result in poor decisions that insult and hurt others.



Blackface: The Birth of an American Stereotype. (n.d). Retrieved from https://nmaahc.si.edu/blog-post/blackface-birth-american-stereotype

Gucci Sweater. (2019). [image]. Image retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2019/02/07/692314950/gucci-apologizes-and-removes-sweater-following-blackface-backlash

Held, A. (2019). Gucci Apologizes And Removes Sweater Following ‘Blackface’ Backlash. npr. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/2019/02/07/692314950/gucci-apologizes-and-removes-sweater-following-blackface-backlash

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.

World’s Top Billion Dollar Fashion Brands. (2016). Retrieved from https://www.fashion-schools.org/articles/world%E2%80%99s-top-billion-dollar-fashion-brands

Feb 19

Quitting When the Going Gets Tough

My friend recently quit her job. It wasn’t exactly a “big deal” in the grand scheme of things — she worked there part-time, using the money to help pay for school — but she probably would have continued working at the restaurant until she graduated if it hadn’t been for the new owner. Now, I won’t say that she ever really enjoyed working there, but the old owners were nice and gave her a consistent schedule, so she seemed to think that it was alright. Unfortunately, about a year ago, they ended up selling, and the restaurant got a new owner. He was young and used curse words at work, which apparently meant that he was supposed to be “cool.” Too bad it didn’t mean that he could run a business. 

The changes came slowly, and looking back, it’s almost like he was trying to sneak it past them. He began with occasionally understaffing them and not ordering enough supplies, and soon that became the new norm. The plants on the patio died around a month after he took over, and their dead carcasses stuck around for the next six months. At first, she thought that everything would get better with time. There is a learning curve to any new endeavor. However, around the time they started to consistently run out of things like napkins and bleach, she’d lost all hope. I mean, a customer would ask for some napkins, and she’d have to apologize and offer them some paper towels that were meant for the restroom. The restroom. That’s an indignity no customer service employee should have to suffer. 

It was all downhill from there. More and more people began to quit, call off work, show up late, and display other withdrawal behaviors (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2012). Eventually, she ended up quitting as well. Not only was this a pain for her, since she had to find a new job and become acclimated to a new environment, but it’s also bad for the business itself. As Schneider et al. (2012) point out, increased turnover leads to an increase in expenses. Not only has the organization lost the time they invested in the employee who quit, but they must now reinvest in a new individual who may or may not work out (Schneider et al., 2012). 

Withdrawal behaviors can stem from a number of interconnected influences. For example, Darr and Johns’ (2008) meta-analysis postulates that work strain is, indirectly, one of the major contributors to absenteeism. While job satisfaction does not strongly correlate with an individual’s likelihood to miss work, illness does, and work strain is a big contributor to illness (Darr & Johns, 2008). This understanding of absenteeism — that it is more likely to be an involuntary reaction to stress rather than laziness or rebellion — is important to note. If a business notices that they have suddenly an increase in absenteeism, they should consider whether or not their employees have been under an unusually high level of stress and act accordingly. A company who takes care of their employees will be more likely to retain them. 

On the other hand, voluntary turnover has been moderately linked to job satisfaction. Mobley’s (1977) intermediate linkages turnover model supports this correlation and details the seven potential stages an employee might go through when considering whether or not they are going to quit. This includes considering the pros and cons of quitting and looking for and comparing job alternatives (Mobley, 1977). Wittmer, Shepard, and Martin (2014) tested Mobley’s model and found that their research largely supported it. However, they did find that other factors, like organizational commitment, age group, relationship status, and mobility, also contributed to whether or not an employee who intends to quit actually goes through with it. This could help explain why job satisfaction is only moderately correlated with voluntary turnover. Many people want to quit but have other commitments or factors that prevent them from doing so. Therefore, preventing job dissatisfaction should be an important goal for organizations. While Big Business may not care about an individual employee’s feelings, they do care about their bottom line. Engaging in strategies aimed at increasing job satisfaction is mutually beneficial and helps alleviate stress both on the employees and the organization’s wallet.


Darr, W., & Johns, G. (2008).  Work strain, health, and absenteeism:  A meta-analysis.  Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 13, 293-318.

Mobley, R. (1977). Intermediate linkages in the relation between job satisfaction and employee turnover. Journal of Applied Psychology, 62(2), 237-240.

Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J.A., & Coutts, L.M. (2012). Applied social psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problems. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.

Wittmer, J. L., Shepard, A., & Martin, J. E. (2014). An application of Mobleys intermediate linkages turnover model to a full-time employee group typology. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology,87(4), 806-812. doi:10.1111/joop.12080

Feb 19

What constitutes a “jerk”?

“It’s happening at 8:30 tomorrow morning” my husband told me without preamble when we called me on his way home from work last night. He did not even have to explain the “it” he was referring to; I knew immediately that the “jerk” he works with was finally being fired. I felt a sense of relief that my husband would no longer have to deal with this person who had made his work so much more frustrating, but I also felt sad. Sad for the individual being let go as well as the person tasked with doing the firing. It was a difficult situation.

As I lay in bed last night wishing I could just fall asleep instead of dreading what was going to happen in the morning I found dozens of question swirling around my head. There was one in particular that I kept coming back to. Does behaving like a jerk translate into someone actually being a jerk? No, I concluded. Just because someone acts like a jerk it does not automatically make them a jerk. But then how do you decide when you need to separate yourself from someone versus try to help them deal with a difficult situation in a better way?

When I listened to the interview of Dr. Bob Sutton at Stanford University, I was absolutely in agreement with his ideas of dealing with and reducing our contact with “jerks” in the workplace. This morning though, I find myself still wondering how we get to the point of slapping the label of “jerk” on someone.

It seems like a prime example of the fundamental attribution error to label someone as a “jerk” instead of attempting to understand what caused them to react in a negative way. But perhaps it’s not that simple either; I do believe that some people are predisposed to be mean no matter the situation they find themselves in.

To gain better clarity I took a deeper look at the attribution process and in particular at Kelley’s (1973) covariation model. According to Kelley, we can estimate whether the root cause for someone’s behavior is internal or external by determining levels of the following (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2012):

  • Distinctiveness – Is this behavior unique to this situation?
  • Consensus – Are others behaving in this same way in this situation?
  • Consistency – Is this typical behavior for this situation and person?

This method can help us determine if the behavior stems from an out-of-character reaction to an external situation or if the behavior should be attributed to internal personality/character factors.

So then, should we default to labeling someone a jerk if it turns out that the behavior stems from internal factors? I think not, and I think it can even be detrimental to the individual being labeled. I believe that the average person who is labeled a jerk is aware of the stigma they carry. They usually know that they rub people the wrong way and that others don’t like them. While some may seem to be jerks down to their souls, could this be a self-fulfilling prophecy in others? The jerk knows they are disliked but perhaps they don’t think they have the power to change who they are. As a result, they don’t attempt to better themselves and instead write off their membership in the jerk club to innate and unchangeable personality deficits; the “jerk” lives up to the label.

Instead of labeling people we should focus on describing their behavior. Rather than calling someone a jerk, we could say that they responded inappropriately. Thus, it would be easier to detach the behavior from the character of the person. It would allow the person to still see themselves as “good” and choose to view their bad behavior as an exception rather than defining them.

In the workplace, perhaps we could identify the behaviors that we are wishing to encourage instead of focusing on the behaviors that we want to abolish. Instead of saying “no jerks allowed” we could institute a mandate that requires that employees always respond with kindness. The emphasis would be on promoting positive behaviors instead of labeling people by their behaviors, good or bad. I propose that by discouraging bad behaviors, instead of condemning individuals, we could have success changing the way people handle difficult situations.



Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (2012). Applied social psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problems (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Bob Sutton (Stanford University) – The No Jerk Rule | Stanford eCorner. (2007). Retrieved from https://ecorner.stanford.edu/podcast/the-no-jerk-rule/

Feb 19

Ageism in the Workplace

I am going to start this out with a personal story: the setting is a corporate office. I am sitting across the table from my manager and longtime friend. It is time for my yearly review. I have worked for the company for nearly four years.

I am a 28 year old woman and sitting across from me is a man approaching his 67th birthday.

He begins by paying me many compliments, and gushes about what a great employee I have been. I thank him and say what a pleasure it has been working here. He continues by telling me how critical I am to the team and reminds me of all of the policy and operational changes I have implemented over the years and how those changes have really helped the company. I thank him again and begin to state that I love working here and see myself moving up within the company, hopefully one day soon. He looks a bit troubled by my comment and then gets up to close the door. After the door is closed, he looks me in the eye and says that he would like to “level with” me. He then tells me that while he thinks that I have done an incredible job, there are others within the agency, such as his boss (whom I also do quite a bit of work for) that have actually advocated against me to a certain degree. I asked what he meant, and he stated that they “see me as a child, and that is all they will ever see me as”.

This was a devastating blow, as I had just let him know that I was looking for advancing my career within the company. His boss, is a 78 year old woman. Her and my boss have both stated in multiple meetings that “millennials are all idiots who don’t know anything about real world experience or how to actually put in a hard day’s work”. I have butted in on occasion, as one of two under 40 year old employees in our department to state that that is simply not true, however they respond with “we weren’t talking about you, no need to be defensive”; but now it seems that this is exactly what they were talking about. Those in power in my department happen to be two generations ahead of me, and now I am told that it does not matter how hard I work or how much qualifying experience I have—I will never be able to move up at this company because of my age.

“Age discrimination involves treating an applicant or employee less favorably because of his or her age” (U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2019). There are some laws that have been put into effect that are meant to keep discrimination out of the workplace. “The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) forbids age discrimination against people who are age 40 or older. It does not protect workers under the age of 40, although some states have laws that protect younger workers from age discrimination. It is not illegal for an employer or other covered entity to favor an older worker over a younger one, even if both workers are age 40 or older” (U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 2019). However, this does not protect those who are discriminated against for being too young. “The Supreme Court has established that an employer does not violate the ADEA by providing preferential treatment to older worker over younger ones, even where the younger workers are over the age of 40” (Midwest New Media, 2019).

Social dominance theory indicates that all individuals belong to groups and each group provides resources, both physical and cognitive, for the people that belong to the group; therefore people are motivated to protect the group, so that it in turn can protect them. In this theory, people are believed to be always motivated to protect the group(Schneider, Gruman & Coutts, 2012). This theory also indicates that society is arranged by systems of group-based hierarchies and the persons within those groups are typically motivated to behave in ways that perpetuate and continue those established hierarchies. Age demographic is an easily discernable factor in identifying an individual belonging to one group or another.

Discrimination is not always black and white and thus our laws regarding it should perhaps not be so black and white.“In the recent discrimination case, General Dynamics Land Systems, Inc v. Cline, No. 02-1080, 540 U.S. (2004) the company and its union negotiated a collective bargaining agreement that offered retirees health benefits only to those employees who were at least 50 years of age at the time of the agreement. A group of employees who were in their forties sued, claiming that the age requirement constituted illegal age discrimination in violation of the ADEA. The Supreme Court held that the ADEA only prohibits discrimination in favor of younger employees and does not address discrimination that favors older workers” (Midwest New Media, 2019). Meaning that the ADEA does not protect anyone of being discriminated against for being too young, even the person is over 40.

“As of 2017 –56 million Millennials (those ages 21 to 36 in 2017) were working or looking for work. That was more than the 53 million Generation Xers, who accounted for a third of the labor force. And it was well ahead of the 41 million Baby Boomers, who represented a quarter of the total. Millennials surpassed Gen Xers in 2016” (Fry, 2018). This is the largest demographic who is entering or has entered the workforce and there are no protections for anyone in this age group in reference to policies concerning age discrimination. “More than one-in-three American labor force participants (35%) are Millennials, making them the largest generation in the U.S. labor force, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data” (Fry, 2018). I personally have been effected by the lack of protections for those who the older generation might consider as “under-aged”. It is sad to me that there is nothing I can do at this point besides look for other employment if I would like to move up in my career, but it seems under the current protections that is all I can do.



U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (2019). Age Discrimination. Retrieved February 14, 2019, from https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/age.cfm


Fry, R. (2018, April 11). Millennials are largest generation in the U.S. labor force. Retrieved February 14, 2019, from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/04/11/millennials-largest-generation-us-labor-force/


Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (2012). Applied social psychology: Understanding and addressing social and practical problems. Los Angeles: Sage.


Midwest New Media. (2019). Workplace Fairness. Retrieved February 14, 2019, from https://www.workplacefairness.org/age-discrimination#7

Feb 19

Is Hopelessness Depression Hopeless?

This week’s assigned readings included chapter 5 in Applied Social Psychology, Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems, by Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts. After reading the assigned chapter called “Applying Social Psychology to Clinical and Counseling Psychology”, I became interested in Abramson, Metalky, and Alloy’s hopelessness theory of depression. Specifically, I wanted to understand the hopelessness theory of depression, what could cause hopelessness depression, and what kind of treatment could be affective for a person with hopelessness depression.

The hopelessness theory of depression states that depressive symptoms are most likely to occur when a vulnerable person experiences negative environmental circumstances (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2012). This being said, it is important to note that the hopelessness theory of depression specifies that these two factors (vulnerability and negative environmental circumstance) occur simultaneously (Schneider et al., 2012). Schneider et al. (2012) state that a person is deemed vulnerable if they interpret the cause of negative events as something that cannot be changed (stable attribution) and affecting their whole life (global attribution), otherwise known as the pessimistic explanatory style. According to Schneider et al. (2012), a person with these specific traits could be described as having a specific type of depression, called hopelessness depression.

Just while reading the definition of the hopelessness theory of depression it became clear to me that a cause of hopelessness depression could be cognitive distortions, which are defined as thinking errors that are negatively bias that can increase one’s vulnerability to depression (Rnic, Dozois, & Martin, 2016). I am under the impression that someone with hopelessness depression suffers from the following cognitive distortions:

  • All-or-nothing thinking: “If a situation falls short of perfect, you see it as a total failure” (Burns, 1989)
  • Over generalization: “You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat” (Burns, 1989)
  • Mental filter: “You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively, so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened” (Burns, 1989)
  • Discounting the positive: “If you do a good job, you may tell yourself that it wasn’t good enough or that anyone could have done as well” (Burns, 1989)
  • Jumping to conclusions: “You interpret things negatively when there are no facts to support your conclusion” (Burns, 1989)
  • Magnification: “You exaggerate the importance of your problems and shortcomings, or you minimize the importance of your desirable qualities” (Burns, 1989)

Hopelessness depression seems, well…hopeless, doesn’t it? Is it hopeless to think a person with hopelessness depression could find relief? My answer is no, it is not hopeless. Fixing cognitive distortions like the ones I listed above is a key to treating hopelessness depression. But how does one change distorted thinking? My answer: Cognitive behavioral therapy, which the National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists defines as a therapy that stresses the importance of thinking about what we do and how we feel (“What is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy”, 2016).

With the application of the hopelessness theory of depression, a counseling psychologist could practice cognitive behavioral therapy with a patient who has hopelessness depression stemming from cognitive distortions. A counseling psychologist could help their patient recognize their patterns of distorted thinking (vulnerabilities, per the hopelessness theory of depression), show them how they are not valid, and how to work through them when they come up. A counseling psychologist could also help their patient look at a specific negative event (a factor of the hopelessness theory of depression) in a healthy, realistic way.

Through my interest of the hopelessness theory of depression, I not only learned what the hopelessness theory of depression entails, but what could cause hopelessness depression, and what kind of treatment could be affective for a person with hopelessness depression. The hopelessness theory of depression relies on the idea that together, vulnerability and negative environmental circumstances can lead to hopelessness depression. From my research, I am under the impression that cognitive distortions are a cause of hopelessness depression but can be treated through cognitive behavioral therapy. Simply stated, hopelessness depression is not hopeless.



Burns, David. (1989). Patterns of Cognitive Distortions. Retrieved from:  http://www.pacwrc.pitt.edu/curriculum/313_MngngImpctTrmtcStrssChldWlfrPrfssnl/hnd

Rnic, K., Dozois, D. J., & Martin, R. A. (2016). Cognitive Distortions, Humor Styles, and Depression. Europe’s journal of psychology12(3), 348-62. doi:10.5964/ejop.v12i3.1118

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.

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. (2016). Retrieved from:  http://www.nacbt.org/whatiscbt-htm/


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