Social Policy and Psychology: Points of collusion

It takes little to realize that every social issue has a psychological dimension rooted to it. Social issues are controversial because they are associated with policies that regulate or influence human behavior. How a state educates, houses and otherwise cares for its citizens is an issue that relates to human needs, wants and capabilities. How one should tax is an issue that relates to questions concerning incentives and their impact on human performance. How one intends to control crime is an issue that relates to theories of aggression, to ideas about socialization and to theories of punishment and deterrence. Although all policy dilemmas entail matters of ethics, values and ideology, it must be realized that the psychological component, in their resolution, cannot be ignored. Keeping in mind that Social policy refers to the welfare paradigm within which the capabilities of humans are to be enhanced in order to contribute to the social and economic structure to their fullest capacity, the papers argues for a greater emphasis to be paid to psychological findings about human behavior that might help policy design and make it more responsive towards desired outcomes.

Social Policy and Psychology: Points of collusion

Social policy primarily refers to guidelines and interventions for the changing, maintenance or creation of living conditions that are conducive to human welfare such as education (debatable), health, housing, employment and food for all people. This paper is a proponent for the cause of psychology being used as a tool to refine policy decision making, this however, does not assume that other factors might not be as (if not more) responsible for the creation, perpetuation and reduction of social problems.

As the president of the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues, Albert Pepitone (1974) has asserted, “It doesn’t take special powers to perceive the economic and political origins of the many social problems that SPSSI members think about and do research on. . . . Who can doubt the plausibility of . . . arguments that the economic system is the root cause of many ‘social issues.’ . . . Nor is it an original insight that political power is the handmaiden of economic interests.” Like Pepitone, I see little that psychologists, as such, can add to “this familiar, ideological line of thinking,” but much that they can do by supplementing it with “fine-grained sociocultural analysis.”

Certainly, economic, political, and ideological analyses of social issues are not hard to find; psychological analyses have been far less common. Much rarer than ideological pronouncements have been efforts to develop empirically based psychological theories concerning sociocultural phenomena. Such efforts comprise the central thrust of this paper. This thrust constitutes an operational definition of “political psychology.” I take that phrase to mean an ongoing enterprise whereby knowledge of human behavior is examined with a view toward its applicability to social policy dilemmas.

While different models for the use of political psychology are in different increments of participation and clout, there is a pressing need for assumptions about human nature to be re-evaluated in order to increase the efficacy of program design in social policy.

Psychology’s real world relevance

By the latter half of the 20th century, psychology did claim to have become a productive science. From meager beginnings to the end of the 19th century, marked by the works and theories of philosophers and physiologists like Wundt, Freud and Jung, a move towards a seemingly scientific study of human behavior is what we have seen incrementally over time. In the course of a 100 years, psychology has become a booming intellectual enterprise involving thousands of researchers and a multitude of centers all over the world, each producing their share of what might seem inconsequential at the micro level, but contributes to a much more meaningful whole at the macro level. The sheer quantity of behavioral facts and varieties of interpretations of the same line shelves of libraries, tangible and virtual, across the globe help one confidently assert that a considerable body of information of a psychological nature has been accumulated in the subject’s first century as a science.

There have been questions about the validity of the findings and assertions made about seeming absolutes about say, human nature. There are many who challenge the very premise that psychology is scientific, it is a question that I have asked myself many a time, for the quantification of the subjectivity of human nature surely seems to be removed from the objectivity that science claims to stand upon, though many might say that science is not objective after all. Skinner, the father of Behaviorism in psychology himself claimed that it is easy for people to conclude that there must be something about human behavior which makes scientific analysis impossible.

People dismissing the premise of the environment having a large claim over how one tends to behave may think this due to the belief that behavior is just the outward manifestation of self-regulating, free willed, autonomous beings, but it is also true that people tend to expose themselves to information that supports the beliefs they hold and shun communications that challenge them. The principle of selective exposure to attitudinally relevant information may be derived from cognitive dissonance theory which has received empirical support from many studies which showed that recent car buyers read more advertisements about cars they had already chosen than cars they had already rejected.

It was also demonstrated that an implication of the selective exposure process by showing that warning people that they would be subjected to some attitudinally discrepant information increased their resistance to an attitude change attempt.

Dissonance Theory predicts a combination of seeking and avoiding attitudinally discrepant information. One study revealed a complex pattern of selection of political pamphlets by Johnson and Gold water supporters during the 1964 U.S. presidential election, which resembled the process that the theory predicted . Another study showed that smokers expressed more interest in information linking smoking and lung-cancer than did non-smokers . This is another kind of selective exposure process.

Although dissonance theory may not fit the real world perfectly, the hypothesis of selective exposure is tenable. Under many conditions, people do shun attitudinally discrepant communications. The point being, while there may be many who shun psychology in its emulation of science, it has definitely seen a move towards positivism with the advent of behaviorism and has made great strides in its understanding of how the human mind operates, if not why it operates in certain circumstances.

There might be no absolute truth after all, but if there is a certain something one can turn to, in order to better understand the processes of human behavior, it is the positivism in psychology. But this positivism in psychology that tries very hard, in its fundamental nature, to be value free in order to be as objective in the creation of the hypothesis, has its limitations if one is to take a developmental agenda which is essentially value laden, into consideration as an ideal to move towards in the public domain, while taking the socio-psychological angle into consideration as a target demographic.

Psychology asserts that human behavior is properly, and with probable success, subject to scientific inquiry. We do know something about human behavior and we are capable of learning much more. Having asserted this, we must now consider the other part of the question asked at the start of this chapter: what difference would it make if more of us knew what psychologists have learned? As was said earlier, the point of view from which this book is written holds that psychological knowledge has important implications for public policy. This assertion is also subject to challenge. Many people do challenge it and, again, the challenge rests on more than one ground. First, there are those who say that psychology can’t be applied to the solution of real-world problems; second, there are those who insist that it shouldn’t.

This is because through the centuries, up to the late 20th century, theories of human nature have been spawned by succeeding waves of theorists, each with personal axes to grind, either a particular status quo to be maintained or a singular version of revolution to be advocated. As an attempt to correct such armchair psychologizing, ‘objective research’ became the means and for some, the end, in modern psychology. A disinterested enquiry, a pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. Many considered the potential applicability of their research to real world issues not as a matter of pride, but almost as a matter of shame.

Challenges to disinterested inquiry

A dramatic example of challenges to psychology’s newfound tradition of disinterested, value free, enquiry was made by philosopher Bernard Baumrin at the 1969 meeting of the American Psychological Association when he stated that “for the sake of science is likely to be immoral, and that justifying that activity in terms of its benefit to mankind, or some portion of it, is immoral” It was his contention that the conduct of disinterested research diverts scare manpower from sorely needed attempts to solve real world-pressing-problems. Studies designed not to prove a socially meaningful point but merely to find out how someone functions, in essence, should not be left as is, and must be used as a pedestal for research in relevant directions. This is where the value laden development agenda comes into the picture.

Yet another call for the relevance of research to real world problems came from the president of the American Psychological Association in 1969, George Miller, who addressed the audience to communicate and interpret what their research had already uncovered. He stressed that psychologists must learn to give away their knowledge and that psychological facts must be disseminated amongst all who might need them. This, in his opinion, was because the most urgent problems faced by society are rooted to the psychology of human behavior. At the same Washington meeting, the former science advisor to the late President Kennedy called for participation by psychologists in an enterprise labeled “social engineering” Significantly, he also called for more federal funding for socially relevant psychological research by citing Weisner’s work on America’s race problems and the long standing inadequacy in efforts over a thirty year period to solve them. Weisner accordingly suggested “that we must develop a mechanism for fostering reasoned and continued examination of these social problems and controlled experimentation,so as to prevent the present almost totally blind and almost completely random decision-making process from ultimately leading to our destruction”

Thus, the purposive avoidance of applied research in favor of “pure” research was itself an act with social consequences.

Calls for relevance, not just restricted to psychology, reflected widely felt frustrations stemming from society’s apparent inability to end obviously fruitless wars, or to solve problems of poverty and discrimination, or to create a lifestyle that would satisfy more legitimate urges than merely the desire to possess and consume.

A political Psychology or an Apolitical Psychology?

It will be argued in detail below that although psychological facts cannot by themselves, determine public policy choices, they can be made more rationally if psychological facts, fairly and cautiously interpreted, are employed as inputs to the decision making process. This procedure, in this context will henceforth be referred to as political psychology.

For the moment, however, one can state merely that the existence of so many facts that competing policy advocates can claim psychological “proof” is hardly good ground for arguing that psychology can’t be relevant. Quite the opposite. What we need to do, of course, is to sharpen our critical skills so that all these bits of fact might be properly sifted. Then psychology could be honestly used, rather than ignored—or worse, abused—by policy makers

Three models of Political Psychology

This component is devoted to a discussion of the various models for the application of psychology to social policy analysis. This allows us to confront some sticky questions about the implications of the use of the very same as a tool. Few people are happy about notions such as behavioral technology, social engineering, experimental societies and other rubrics that appear in discussions within the ambit of political psychology. These questions reflect ethical and ideological questions about the advocacy of applying psychological techniques to control human behavior. Three models of political psychology in the analysis of social policy dilemmas shall be elaborated on below. It must be taken into consideration that they can be thought of as independent alternatives but they also comprise of complimentary approaches to the same.

Model One: The Expert Witness

This is a simple model within which the psychologist offers what he knows to those who can apply that knowledge. People elected to office, or bureaucrats responsible for formulating policies could be encouraged to seek interpretations of existing psychological facts from psychologists. There will, of course, be instances within which expert testimonials are mutually contradictory, under such circumstances, model one leaves the responsibility of solving them to the policy maker who could, again, press the psychologists to clarify matters for their expertise in determining the circumstances within which one principle applies rather than a contradictory one. Finally, it is the policy maker who has the right and responsibility to select from expert testimony and to choose policy on a combination of arguments espoused and whatever moral, ethical or ideological values she considers pertinent.

There is no shift in power since society’s usual agents remain free to use or reject whatever psychological information is made available to them. Some compelling examples of psychological facts, implications on social policy and social welfare program administrators include one such as the finding that to be a helper is to be prone to some pertinent perceptual distortions concerning the targets that need helping, one such distortion is the tendency to see the helped as people responsible for their own plight. The basis for this generalization rests on several pieces of research by psychologists.

To the degree that this perceptual distortion exists, social welfare agents are susceptible to hostile attitudes and behaviors towards those they’re mandated to help. At the very least, the people in this position could be informed about the likelihood of this tendency and to guard against it. Another policy recommendation could be in consideration of the helper-distortion principle, which would be the removal of the helper from the social welfare scene, this could be accomplished by minimizing the directness with which assistance is given only in contexts not detrimental to actual delivery. For example, a system that requires a case worker to dispense aid in specific amounts to a person in response to specific documented needs could be replaced with a negative income tax program.

Even where it exists, the role of psychology has been minimal and restricted to notable instances such as psychological evidence as on legal precedent. For example, the 1954 US Supreme Court decision that racial segregation in public schooling was unconstitutional. With this action, the court reversed the Plessy vs Ferguson decision of 1896 which had sanctioned segregation. This was done largely on the basis of studies that looked at the psychological impacts of prejudice and discrimination on American Negro Children On the basis of these, the court dismissed the long standing concept of separate-but-equal by asserting the psychological contradiction inherent in that concept.

Model Two: The psychologist as a policy evaluator

Imagine, if you can, “an honest society, committed to reality testing, to self-criticism, to avoiding self-deception. . . . It will be a scientific society in the fullest sense of the word ‘scientific.’ The scientific values of honesty, open criticism, experimentation, willingness to change once-advocated theories in the face of experimental and other evidence will be exemplified.”

This noble vision was the creation of Donald T. Campbell, eminent psychological methodologist and recipient in 1970 of the Distinguished Scientist Award of the American Psychological Association and in 1975, the president of the Association. Campbell’s words serve well to introduce our second model, which advocates that psychologists contribute their research tools to help policy makers determine the effectiveness of their social programs.

In contrast to model one, model two places the psychologist in a position that relies on her methodological expertise, her ability to ask answerable questions about variables which might influence human behavior, the conclusion for decision making and relative weighting of conflicting indications is left up to the political process.

Given the problems that arise in the evaluation of the effectiveness of welfare programs, such as limiting evidence to aspects that can be controlled by the researcher which introduces a bias or the bigger problem of prevailing conditions of surrounding program evaluation since there is hardly ever more than one program in a given area to be evaluated hence comparison is seldom possible. To deal with these difficult issues, model two could be carried to its logical solution in the propagation of an ‘experimenting society’ which would, according to Campbell, have a set of policy makers that would seek funds to establish several alternative pilot projects, which could be conducted either simultaneously or in programmed sequence. Their relative effectiveness would be assessed and the best features retained. A pre-tested programme, hence, could emerge. When research is done outside the laboratory, with the assumption that numerous influences have been left to vary, threats to validity of conclusions drawn can be more intense. These threats could be internal in nature such as history, maturation and regression artefact, they could also have an impact on the results of the test such as pre-test sensitization or the usage of a biased sample that might be more responsive to the tool and/or the generalizability of findings in conditions that are not exactly the same.

Most often, in fact, the effectiveness of a social program is gauged by a one-group, pre-test post-test design, that Campbell has referred to as “a casual version of a very weak quasi-experimental design”

With H.L. Ross, Campbell has illustrated the ways in which threats to invalidity plague such a study In these papers they examined a program enacted in Connecticut in 1955 under the leadership of then Governor Ribicoff in an effort to reduce the number of fatal accidents on the highways of that state. In the initial evaluation of the program, the pre-test measure was the 1955 traffic fatality figure of 324 persons; the treatment was a new law which established unusually severe sanctions against speeding (e.g., revocation of drivers’ licenses); and the post-test measure was a traffic fatality figure in 1956 of “only” 284. The temptation to credit the law with the saving of 40 lives was great; not surprisingly, the governor could not resist the temptation.8 It was easily shown, however, that the decline of 40 persons in the traffic fatality statistics could not, in the absence of additional information, confidently be attributed solely to the new law. The evaluation as originally carried out was subject to several of Campbell’s sources of invalidity, both internal and external. More important, Campbell also showed how some very slight variations in the evaluative research could have eliminated those threats to validity, thereby approaching the possibility of drawing a valid conclusion about the effectiveness of the speeding law. For example, merely by transforming the study of the Connecticut speeding law from a pre-test post-test study to an “interrupted time series design” , in which fatality figures were examined for several years both before and after the law was introduced, it became possible to determine whether the 1955-1956 change was at least significantly different from the changes that occurred in other years.

Model Three: The psychologist as a social engineer

This model states that there should be a new way of understanding human behavior which should be applied towards the maximization of the occurance of bahevior that is deemed to be socially desirable. This boils down to the intentional use of techniques of behavioral control, this power though, should also come with a regulatory regime to keep balance in order and must be done rationally and for good ends.

The most well known effort to deal with questions about the sorts of people that get to decide what sort of behavior is socially acceptable and whether or not such a function might lead to a totalitarian society have been dealt with by B.F Skinner in his book Beyond Freedom and Dignity(1971). His book summarizes basic principles that have a bearing on human behavior from the environment (natural and man made) and argues for the usage of this knowledge to produce planned social change.

Skinner proposes the use by our society of “a technology of behavior . . . which would . . . reduce the aversive consequences of behavior . . . and maximize the achievements of which the human organism is capable”

The probability of a future occurrence of a given response is strengthened if it is followed by positive consequences and weakened if no positive (or aversive) consequences occur. Thus, behavioral dispositions are modified by behavioral consequences.

As Skinner states it, “Behavior is shaped and maintained by its consequences” From this principle, the following line of argument emerges: If the contingent consequences of behavior shape behavior, then the ability to influence behavior intentionally is available to anyone who has the power to control environmental consequences. And, as Skinner admonishes us, whether we like to admit it or not, we must face up to the fact that “the environment can be manipulated” (p. 18).

A moment’s reflection is all that is needed to recognize that, in any society, massive control over the world in which we live has always been exercised by someone or other. Mankind must have, since ages past, understood what Skinner has merely made explicit

That behavior is shaped and maintained by its consequences is the explanatory keystone of Skinnerian psychology- the study of operant behavior. This “environmentalist” view displaces the mentalistic tradition wherein reasons for behaviors is attributed to human nature and to inner forces. While there is a lot of merit to the mentalistic view which attributes behavioral action not a combination of internal predispositions with external environmental circumstance, extremes on both ends, mentalistic which discounts the existence of the external and the environmentalist which discounts the existence of the internal would be detrimental to our understanding of how human behavior manifests in order to get to creating regulatory regimes.

Referring to the exponentially increasing literature on conformity, compliance and attitude change, Zimbardo states that “Research from many disparate areas clearly reveals how easy it is to bring behavior under situational control. Hovland (1959) has noted that it is almost impossible not to get positive attitude change in a laboratory study of attitude change. For, as Zimbardo has indicated, it is not attempts at persuasion that we typically resist; rather, it is the recognition of the fact that we have been persuaded. In Zimbardo’s opinion, and in mine, we are persuaded far more often than not. “We comply, conform, become committed, are persuaded daily in the endless procession of influence situations that we enter, yet each of us continues to maintain an illusion of personal invulnerability” . Might not this stubborness, then, be related to our need to maintain a sense of personal freedom and dignity?

Skinner certainly thinks so. Skinner argues that both the “literature of freedom” and the “literature of dignity” (by which phrases he means the rhetoric surrounding the concepts) have outlived their usefulness and by now serve mainly to impede essential new developments in human society. The impedance results mainly from the fact that these literatures help to mask the facts of behavioral control. The literature of freedom, according to Skinner, encourages us to lose sight of the fact that we often “choose” to behave in ways which allow us merely to avoid undesirable consequences placed in front of us by other people. The literature of dignity encourages us to feel that we deserve credit for behaving in socially acceptable ways when, in fact, such behavior leads to contingent positive consequences which, again, are controlled by others. The literature of freedom, Skinner maintains, deals, mostly with avoidance of aversive stimuli imposed by other people.

“For a long time men have introduced new practices which serve as cultural innovations [innovations in government, education, psychotherapy, etc.] and they have changed the conditions under which practices [i.e., behaviors] are selected. They may now begin to do [so] with a clearer eye to the consequences”

This social engineering, in principle, sounds like an activity that immensely powerful people would engage in, since they would be the ones to select values, shape the environment and control it. Very much like Plato’s concept of philosopher kings, this would be along the lines of psychologist kings that would have tendencies towards authoritarianism in practice. This however, is subject to scrutiny since it was Skinner himself who acknowledged the dangers of this position and asserted that the controllers’ behavior itself would be controlled because everyone’s behavior, including societies’ leaders, is subject to contingent consequences. Which leads one to question the people that are responsible for arranging the mechanism to control the controllers. He deals with it by asserting what he calls, the reciprocity of control, noting that it is inevitably true that “the child [controls] the parent, the patient the therapist, the citizen the government”

Again, with an optimism bordering on faith, Skinner opines that “the ultimate improvement [in culture] comes from the environment which makes them [the controllers] wise and compassionate”

One of the central criticisms of the behavioristic conception of how humans learn and thus modify their behavior is that this conception probably exaggerates the degree to which external consequences per se are responsible for behavior change.

Albert Bandura was a critique and a proponent of behaviorism as he believed that an observer could profit by merely observing consequences accruing to other people’s behavior, storing the information gained in the observation and applying it to his own behavior on some subsequent, apparently appropriate, occasion. And, the human being has high capacity to produce his own reinforcements to his own actions, as well as engage in a dazzling variety of perceptual distortions that may obscure relationships involving his own behavior and the effects it produces. For these and other reasons, Bandura warns that a behavioral technology based on a mechanistic form of behaviorism will either not work or, as was the case in early behavior modification efforts, have as net effect “a tedious shaping process that produced, at best, mediocre results in an ethically questionable manner.”

As such, Bandura is more a reinterpreter of Skinner than an opponent. Like Skinner, he doubts the efficacy of restraints of conscience as a controlling force to ensure moral conduct. He perceives, with approval, that “reinforcement practices are being increasingly used to cultivate personal potentialities and humanistic qualities” (p. 863). And he notes, again approvingly, that psychologists are increasingly coming to realize that “they must apply their corrective measures to detrimental societal practices rather than limit themselves to treating the causalities of these practices” (p. 863)

It is Bandura who stands for a version of behavioral control that the external agent creates via social contracting within which the learners arrange their own environmental inducements for performance which they themselves evaluate and reward when they see fit. Bandura’s ideas also exemplify model three, wherein the role of the psychologist is not in telling people how they ought to live their lives but by providing them the means for effecting personal and social change.

Social Policy Dilemmas and Psychology

Two obvious and linked problems in current social policy-making are resources and public acceptability. Glennerster points out that, in the longer term, demand for social spending will substantially outstrip revenues, primarily as a result of population ageing The determination of the current government to impose savage cut-backs is justified by a partial and pessimistic presentation of such data. The problem is sharpened by the failure of successive governments to improve cost-efficiency in the public sector, despite use of a wide variety of methods. This remains true even when indicators are refined to include measures of subjective and objective quality of output through user attitude survey and assessment by national standards in the UK

The urgency of the government’s commitment to spending cuts highlights the second problem. This concerns not so much the legitimacy of political institutions (which appears to remain relatively high: Norris 1999) but the acceptability of specific reforms in the field of welfare. New policies are likely to involve shifting responsibilities away from government and requiring individuals to take on more of the burden of providing for themselves and family needs. The growth of market inequalities and the failure to demonstrate real improvements in equality of opportunity in recent years both exacerbate the difficulty of ensuring the acceptability of reforms in social programmes, which generally remain highly popular

Psychology as an area attracts quite a bit of attention in the developed world, much more so than the Indian context. Examples include a move to make Cognitive Behavioral Therapy more widely available to workless benefit claimants , the interest in psychological influences to human behavior , the prominence given to counselling in provision for disaster victims. Some claim to say that since since the role of class, state and nation decline , in the post-industrialized world, the role of the individual becomes paramount in a world of privatization, consumer choice and work for pay incentive programs . Psychological approaches differ from those stemming from neo-classical economics in the greater weight they give to empirical evidence rather than axiomatic frameworks.

The ‘nudge’ approach has attracted attention because it offers cheap, simple and unobtrusive ways of getting people to do what policy-makers want. Nudge is based on observation of how people actually make choices (to save for old age or to spend now; to recycle or not; to care for their frail relatives; to eat healthier diets and so on) rather than on the model of individual rational action. It is of particular interest to those who believe that the sphere of direct government intervention should shrink but that the objectives of policy are still valuable and should be pursued by influencing how people make choices in their lives. Much of the theoretical background rests on the enormously influential work of Tversky and Kahnemann (1974, 1981). These psychologists explained the way in which people value options and make choices by positing heuristics (rules of thumb) analogous to the well-known heuristics (relative size, perspective, parallax) used in the perception of physical objects. The cognitive heuristics include ‘anchoring’ (the tendency to estimate an unknown quantity as of the same order as a known quantity), ‘representativeness’ (the tendency to assume that something is close in unmeasured qualities to something it resembles in measured qualities) and ‘availability’ (or closely-related, ‘recency’) the tendency to use what can be conveniently accessed as the yardstick for comparison. These heuristics lead to ‘loss aversion’, the tendency to over-value what one has relative to what one does not, even when they are clearly equivalent; this leads to ‘prospect theory’, the ‘bird-in-the-hand’ tendency to prefer one’s present status compared with possible future gains. This tendency stifles investment: you need to be that much more confident of a large future gain if there is an in-built tendency to stick to what you have got

Policy-makers from pensions to education find that many people fail to save or invest the hours of study necessary for what all agree is in their best interests (adequate pensions and good grades). Heuristics such as availability and loss aversion may explain why people tend to inflate the value of cash or free time now against potential future benefits. They also suggest tactics to tackle the problems. Automatic enrolment in a ‘voluntary’ pension schemes (as in current proposals, PPI 2010) transforms pension rights from something which requires a current decision to make a voluntary pay-out to a perceived entitlement you stand to lose by voluntarily cancelling membership. School-home contracts pre-commit individuals, so that the dissonance involved if one ignores homework is greater than simply contravening some general assumption.

One variant exploits loss aversion by persuading the individual to commit to a small initial payment, to be returned with a bonus, or lost if one fails to deliver . Further possibilities concern simply making the behaviour that policy-makers wish to encourage easier than 5 alternatives, for example by insisting that smokers leave public places, using the availability heuristic . A further variant of nudge moves from the heuristics affecting individual choice to consider social factors, and here social and group psychology makes a contribution. Conformity exerts a powerful influence on judgement. Well-known experiments by Asch and Sherif established that, when people deal with simple perceptual tasks (judging the relative length of a stick or the movement of spotlight) they are influenced by a tendency to conform to the views of other group-members. More recent work generalises the phenomenon to behavioural choices. Feedback on individual behaviour in relation to a group norm affects behaviour in such areas as rubbish sorting and energy conservation. Conformity techniques are widely used in advertising and may be especially useful to policy-makers because there is strong evidence that people are unconscious of the conformity bias in their behaviour. All these examples rest on the capacity of government to present (‘frame’) particular behaviours so that people are more likely to pursue them: as the existing standard from which loss is estimated, as the most convenient choice, as a core value from which dissonance is measured or as the norm across most members of society

The study of groups and intergroup dynamics has a bearing on how policies could be designed .Possibly the most important contribution to the theory of groups is that of Tajfel .

Tajfel was originally interested in psychological processes associated with racism and prejudice. With his associates, he developed Festinger’s original social comparison theory and in-group/out-group analyses to analyse the impact of group membership and identity on behaviour.

Categorisation is basic to conceptualising the world at any level above pure nominalism. ‘Categorisation [lies] at the heart of the modern social psychology of intergroup relationships’ as a standard textbook states . Tajfel claims people categorise themselves as individuals through group membership and through differentiation from those categorised as members of other groups: ‘self-definition in a social context’ (1978, 61). Social identity is bound up with a distinction between group members and non-members. This approach, which has proved fruitful in the analysis of a whole range of social phenomena, including aggression, prejudice, identification and motivation, brings together three processes. The starting point is the conceptual need for social categorisation. Group identity contributes to one’s evaluation of oneself. This then facilitates and requires inter-group comparisons which value one’s own group against others. Other members of one’s group are similarly valued and this facilitates the construction of pro-social norms within the group. This analysis provides a convenient explanation for the psychological processes that underpin the success of individuals with conflicting interests arriving at pro-social solutions in relation to the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ or in Gintis’ stylised collective choice games. In managing common-pool resources or in the interactions of games, individuals self-categorise as a group. Their common identity reinforces the otherwise puzzling capacity to generate and maintain a solution across members.

A number of commentators have analysed the history of attempts to establish more diverse and decentralised schooling systems in order to mobilise parental and community engagement and achieve greater public acceptability. The outcomes has been social sorting between schools irrespective of regulation of selection, equality of opportunity and equality of funding policies. This applies to recent research on academy and faith school policies ( ), broader discussion of mechanisms of open enrolment , analyses of area-based and open-catchment systems, broader systems of competition , assisted places in private schools and Nordic free schooling . Conversely policies targeting resources according to deprivation measures by area or school have achieved real but still modest improvements in outcomes . This calls for a need of further research looking at the impact of psycho-social variables concerning the parental engagement, or the School Management Committees, as Mandated by the Right to Education Act of 2010 in the Indian context and possible reasons for why we see failures in delivery in terms of grade level performances across the nation.


While different models for the use of political psychology are in different increments of participation and clout, there is a pressing need for assumptions about human nature to be re-evaluated in order to increase the efficacy of program design. The Indian context is plagued by legal documents that create a distinction between psychology and psychiatry but do not look beyond the redressal factor , there is very little, if any research on the role of academic psychology in aiding policy design. All knowledge deemed to be of a psychological bent, is largely anecdotal and relies on qualitative layman understandings due to the lack of a well developed cohesion in scientism to precede the beginnings of quasi-experimental design and the attention given to the same. This is a gap that needs to be acknowledged and filled in the future.

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