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Michael Vlcek
Creating Sustainable Social Change: Final Exam
1. My first psychological principle for creating sustainable social change is that for social
psychologists to remember, in most societies, the different genders will have differentiating responses to
social interventions, from the interventions having dissimilar degrees of impact to completely opposing
reactions, so adjust interventions accordingly. To put it simply, men and women will often respond
differently to interventions, often to the degree that it may be beneficial for an intervention to make
gender specific changes in order to get the desired result. It has become evident to me that in most
interventions, regardless of the population, men and women don’t have the same degree of
responsiveness to interventions.
This principle holds especially true in Africa, where gender roles are strongly defined in
communities. A great example of this principle is the intervention which provided reproductive health
and sexual advice to Ugandans via text message. The intervention’s intention was to provide sexual
health information to Ugandan villagers, teaching them the value of healthier and safer sexual practices
in hopes of reducing the rate of STIs. The intervention didn’t tailor its approach to the gender of the
population and it showed in the results; overall STI rates did not change and a high percentage of
women ended up practicing abstinence while men became more promiscuous, likely offsetting any gains
made by women trying to practice safer sex. For the intervention to have worked more successfully,
they should have tailored aspects of the intervention’s approach towards men. An example of how some
social psychologists understand the gender divide is in Oxfam’s Saving for Change program in Mali.
For the intervention, social psychologists specifically targeted women in attempts to boost savings of the
village as a whole and lead to better food security. The social psychologists knew the results would be
drastically different if they incorporated men into the intervention, as men in Mali are more prone to
recklessly spend their money than women, and knew it would be better to design a gender specific
intervention that would have a higher likelihood of success and at the same time empower an oppressed
group than waste resources on an intervention that attempted to ignore distinct gender differences.
This psychological principle is distinct from many of the psychological principles directly examined
in class. The articulated principle most similar to it is the moderator variable, which is used to establish
boundary conditions of an intervention or an experiment. In other words, the moderator variable will
affect what the experiment’s outcome is, such as educational background, the environment, or gender
disparity of the participants. The psychological principle I suggest, however, states that since in many
interventions there is a clear gender divide on the statistical outcome, interventions need to make
adjustments in regards to gender in order to get the desired affects. My psychological principal is
unique compared to the other psychological principles articulated by making a case for social
psychologists to tailor interventions in order to account for discrepancy in results in regards to gender.
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2. The second psychological basic principle for creating sustainable social change that I propose is
social proof, which Cialdini defines as “the greater the number of people who find any idea true, the
more a given individual will believe the idea to be true”. Another way of explaining this concept is that
a person is more likely to believe in an idea given the number of other individuals who believe in that
idea. As Cialdini writes in another passage, “we view a behavior as correct in a given situation to the
degree in which we see others performing it.”
There are numerous examples of the principle of social proof in action. In an experiment
performed by psychologist Robert O’Connor, several socially recluse children were shown a twenty
three minute long video of eleven other socially isolated children at a nursery school overcoming their
shyness to participate to the enjoyment of their classmates. The children who participated in the
experiment almost immediately felt the desire to conform to the group as the other shy children in the
video. Even weeks after the intervention was implemented, the previously recluse kids were
participating at a high level of social activity. A famous example of social proof that Cialdini describes
was when Sylvan Goldman became a multimillionaire through his shopping cart product. Though he
established a convenient way for people to move their groceries around, nobody used his product.
However, that changed when he capitalized on the social proof principle and hired shoppers to use the
shopping cart. This led to real customers actually using the shopping carts, ultimately resulting in
Goldman making a fortune. This example shows that even when the benefits of a product are clear,
most people won’t feel comfortable using a product unless others are.
Social proof differentiates itself from many of the social principles established in class due to its
ability to be quantifiable. Social proof shares some similarities to the psychological principle of the
need to belong, which states that people don’t wish to be isolated from society and desire association.
Though the need to belong can lead an individual to give in to social pressure and take up beliefs or
actions of a large majority as social proof suggests, the need to belong just requires the individual to take
up viewpoints others possess, regardless of if a much larger group has rival beliefs. Due to our basic
dependence on other humans, social proof may sound similar to how social norms influence behavior.
While the similarities do exist, social proof contains a quantitative element; the more people that engage
in a belief or practice, the more likely an individual will believe or perform it. So while the principles of
social norms suggests that people adopt practices others around them have, social proof looks into how
the likelihood of people adopting beliefs of others is determinate on the number of people who practice
those beliefs, with a higher number resulting in a higher likelihood of conformity.
497 words
On my honor, I have completed this exam without any discussion with or assistance from others. This work is
entirely my own.
-Michael Vlcek