Psychology Dictionary of Arguments


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Experiment: artificial bringing about of an event or artificial creation of a state for testing a hypothesis. Experiments can lead to the reformulation of the initial hypotheses and the reformulation of theories. See also theories, measuring, science, hypotheses, Bayesianism, confirmation, events, paradigm change, reference systems.

Annotation: The above characterizations of concepts are neither definitions nor exhausting presentations of problems related to them. Instead, they are intended to give a short introduction to the contributions below. – Lexicon of Arguments.

Author Item Summary Meta data
Haslam I 233
Experiment/Gifford/Hamilton: Hamilton and Gifford (1976)(1) reported two experiments that used a common method. In the first of these, participants were presented with 39 statements that described either positive or negative behaviors undertaken by a member of one of two (unnamed) groups: Group A or Group B. These statements were of the form: ‘John, a member of Group A, is not always honest about small sums of money.’ See also McConnell et al. 1994(2).
Haslam I 234
The experiment’s cover story informed participants that ‘in the real world population, Group B is smaller than Group A. Consequently statements about Group B occur less frequently’. In line with this, of the 39 statements, 26 were about Group A and 13 were about Group B. Similarly, 27 statements described behaviours that had previously been judged to be positive and 12 described behaviours that had previously been judged to be negative. Positive and negative behaviours were ascribed to members of both the large group (A) and the small group (B).
Results: The important feature of this set of stimulus statements is that the ratio of positive to negative statements is the same for both groups (i.e., 9:4).
Because the groups are unnamed (and there are therefore no cues about the groups they might correspond to in society) there is no reason for the participants to have expectations about one group or the other. The key empirical question, then, was whether participants would see the two groups to be equally good, or whether they would judge one more positively than the other.
1) Assignment measure: examined participant’s recognition of the statements. participants were presented with the 39 behaviours and asked to remember the group membership of the person who had exhibited each of the behaviours. Here, if the doubly distinctive behaviours (negative behaviours performed by Group B) were overrepresented in memory then one would expect negative behaviours attributed to the small group to be less likely to be forgotten and hence to be overestimated.
2) Frequency estimation: participants were asked to indicate the number of negative behaviours performed by members of the two groups. Again one would expect that if doubly distinctive behaviours are more likely to attract attention and be stored in memory, then participants would tend to overestimate the negative behaviours performed by the minority group.
Haslam I 235
Results: Participants overestimated the number of undesirable behaviours performed by members of the minority group (B).
Problems: Paired distinctiveness implies improved memory rather than the creation of false or distorted memories, and we would therefore expect that any effect on measures of memory would be rather muted.
Solution/Gifford/Hamilton: introduction of a third measure:
3) Trait ratings: this was introduced instead of a memory task: it involved rating the two groups on a range of evaluative dimensions (e.g., indicating how popular, sociable, industrious and intelligent they were). This measure involves responses that are close to the everyday conception of stereotypes. It could show that paired distinctiveness impacts on actual judgments of groups – and indeed this is precisely what happened, with participants here rating Group A much more positively than Group B.
A second study in which the majority of behaviours were negative rather than positive. This second study was important because it appears to rule out the possibility that the effect could be caused by a bias against small groups or something as simple as a preference for the label ‘Group A’ vs. ‘Group B’.
Haslam I 236
For comments on the studies of Gifford and Hamilton see Richard Eiser’s Cognitive Social Psychology(3), the 3rd edition of Eliot Smith and Diane Mackie’s Social Psychology (2007)(4), Smith, 1991(5); Spears et al., 1985(6), 1986(7).

1. Hamilton, D.L. and Gifford, R.K. (1976) ‘Illusory correlation in intergroup perception: A cognitive basis of stereotypic judgments’, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 12: 392–407.
2. McConnell, A.R., Sherman, S.J. and Hamilton, D.L. (1994) ‘Illusory correlation in the perception of groups: An extension of the distinctiveness-based account’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 67: 414–29.
3. Eiser, J.R. (1980) Cognitive Social Psychology. London: McGraw-Hill.
4. Smith, E.R. and Mackie, D. (2007) Social Psychology, 3rd edn. Philadelphia, PA: Psychology Press.
5. Smith, E.R. (1991) ‘Illusory correlation in a simulated exemplar-based memory’, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 27: 107–23.
6. Spears, R., van der Pligt, J. and Eiser, J.R. (1985) ‘Illusory correlation in the perception of group attitudes’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48: 863–75.
7. Spears, R., van der Pligt, J. and Eiser, J.R. (1986) ‘Generalizing the illusory correlation effect’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51: 1127–34.

Craig McGarty, „Stereotype Formation. Revisiting Hamilton and Gifford’s illusory correlation studies“, in: Joanne R. Smith and S. Alexander Haslam (eds.) 2017. Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic studies. London: Sage Publications

Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution.
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Hamilton, David
Haslam I
S. Alexander Haslam
Joanne R. Smith
Social Psychology. Revisiting the Classic Studies London 2017

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