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Social Psychology Case Study 

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When John Buckingham moved across the country to take a new job, he didn’t expect to run into much difficulty. He would be doing the same kind of work he was used to doing, just for a new company. But when he arrived on his first day, he realized there was more for him to adjust to than he had realized.

Clearly, John had moved to a region where the culture was much more laid back and casual than he was used to. He showed up for his first day in his usual business suit only to find that almost all the other employees wore jeans, Western shirts, and cowboy boots. Many of them merely stared awkwardly when they first saw John, and then hurriedly tried to look busy while avoiding eye contact.

John got the message. On his second day at work John also wore jeans and a casual shirt, although he didn’t yet own a pair own cowboy boots. He found that people seemed more relaxed around him, but that they continued to treat him warily. It would be several weeks—after he’d gone out and bought boots and started wearing them to work—before certain people warmed up to John enough to even talk to him.

1. What does the behavior of John’s coworkers toward John suggest about their attributions for his initial manner of dress?

2. Describe the kinds of biases that might have affected John’s coworkers as they formed impressions of him on his first day. Could they have been using a faulty schema to understand him? Is there evidence of the halo effect (or its opposite)?

3. Explain why John changed his manner of dress so soon after starting his new job. What processes were likely involved in his decision to do so?

4. John’s coworkers seemed very hesitant to “warm up” to John. How would you explain to John their initial reluctance to like him very much?

5. If you were the human resources director for this company, what strategies could you employ to prevent experiences like John’s? How would you justify the implementation of these strategies to the company president?



464 12 chapter ±chapter±outline± m o d u l e 3 9 Attitudes and Social Cognition ±Persuasion:±Changing±Attitudes± ±Social±Cognition:±Understanding±Others± ±Exploring±Diversity:± Attributions in a Cultural Context: How Fundamental Is the Fundamental Attribution Error? m o d u l e 4 0 Social Inf uence and Groups Conformity: Following What Others Do Compliance: Submitting to Direct Social Pressure O b e d i e n c e : F o l l o w i n g D i r e c t O r d e r s m o d u l e 4 1 Prejudice and Discrimination ±The±Foundations±of±Prejudice± Measuring Prejudice and Discrimination: The Implicit Personality Test Reducing the Consequences of Prejudice and Discrimination m o d u l e 4 2 Positive and Negative Social Behavior Liking and Loving: Interpersonal Attraction and the Development of Relationships± Aggression and Prosocial Behavior: Hurting and Helping Others ±Try±It!± Understand Your Relationship Style m o d u l e 4 3 Stress and Coping Stress: Reacting to Threat and Challenge The Nature of Stressors: My Stress Is Your Pleasure ±Coping±with±Stress± Becoming an Informed Consumer of Psychology: Effective Coping±Strategies± ±Psychology±on±the±Web± The Case of . . . John Buckingham, the New Guy on the Job Full Circle: Social Psychology
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465 John Kluth approached people outside banks, churches, casinos, libraries, and the federal courthouse. He’d walk up with a look of sur- prised recognition and greet people as if he knew them. “You know me!” he’d say. “I’m the guy who drives around the neighborhood in the white truck.” Or: “You know my mother. She lives up the hill and walks the dog on your street.” Then Kluth would lay out his story, police say. He was driving to Boston on Interstate 95 with hundreds of pounds of lobsters when his truck broke down. He needs several hundred dollars to get it fixed. He has a check, but it hasn’t cleared yet. If he doesn’t get the cash, the lobsters will die and spoil. He’ll pay you back tomorrow at your home. And, to show his appreciation, he’ll drop off a few lobsters, too. Asked for $70, Bob Fricker, a hard-eyed antiques auctioneer, gave Kluth $80. “It was like we’d known each other sometime, some- place. I was just very comfortable with him. It’s hard to express. I’d probably do it again tomorrow. He was that good.” (Hampson, 2007, p. 2A) A Gift of Life John Kluth’s story was just that: a story. Kluth was a successful con artist who made his living duping innocent victims. What made John Kluth such a successful con artist? Why would anyone at all fall for his ploy, much less the prominent public figures and business leaders he generally targeted? The answer is that Kluth made use of a number of psychological principles: He presented himself in a familiar, likable way that made people feel as if they knew him. He took advantage of biases in the way that people make decisions about others’ behavior that led him to be viewed favorably. He used effective compliance tactics to get people to do his bidding willingly. And he capitalized on people’s willingness to help out a friend in distress. What made Kluth a successful con artist, then, was his uncanny instinctive knowledge of social psychology. Social psychology is the scientific study of how people’s thoughts, feelings, and actions are affected by others. Social psychologists consider the kinds and causes of the behavior of the individual in social situations. They examine how the nature of situations in which we find ourselves influences our behavior in important ways. The broad scope of social psychology is conveyed by the kinds of questions social psychologists ask, such as: How can we convince people to change their attitudes or adopt new ideas and values? In what ways do we come to understand what others are like? How are we influenced by what others do and think? Why do some people display so much violence, aggression, and cruelty toward others that people throughout the world live in fear of annihi- lation at their hands? And why, in comparison, do some people place their own lives at risk to help others? We begin with a look at how our attitudes shape our behavior and how we form judgments about others. We discuss how we are influenced by others, and we consider prejudice and discrimination, focusing on their roots and the ways in which we can reduce them. After examining what social psychol- ogists have learned about how people form friendships and relationships, we look at the determinants of aggression and helping—two opposing sides of human behavior. Finally, we conclude by addressing stress and the ways that we can cope with it. Social psychology The scientific study of how people’s thoughts, feelings, and actions are affected by others. Social psychology The scientific study of how people’s thoughts, feelings, and actions are affected by others. ahead l o o k i n g social psychology
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Social Psychology Case Study Questions and Answers
1. What does the behavior of John’s coworkers toward John suggest about their attributions for
his initial manner of dress?
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