Living in a Social World
Psy 324: Advanced Social Psychology
Miami University

News from a Social Psychology Perspective

These materials may be used for research, study, and education, but please credit the authors and source.


"I Always Believed the Press Would Kill Her in the End..." Death of a Princess

princess.jpg (9740 bytes)Princess Diana died on August 31th in a car crash in Paris, along with her companion, Dodi Fayed and their driver.  An immediate and widespread attribution was that her death was the result of  harrassment by photographers ("paparazzi") from whom she was trying to escape, though it was also discovered that the driver was legally drunk.  The quote above was from her brother, Earl Charles Spencer, who noted the continuing and relentless pursuit of Diana from the beginning of her relationship with the royal family.  Of course, some pointed out that the press was rewarded in their efforts by a public that was fascinated with the private details of her life, and without that public interest there would have been no car chase.  Certainly this case raises interesting and important questions about the morality of journalism (for example, about the sale of photos of Diana in the wreckage), but also highlights questions concerning the psychological basis of the attractiveness of celebrities in our everyday lives, and the social phenomenona that surround the tragic death of  someone as prominent as Princess Diana.

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"This is Not an Issue of Adultery..."
      
Sex, Power, and the Military

      Regarding the court martial of Lt. Kelly Flinn, the first female B52 Bomber pilot in the U.S. Air Force, General Ronald Fogleman said, "This is not an issue of adultery...." but rather "...about an officer entrusted to fly nuclear weapons who lied" (CNN 5/21). Indeed, the charges against Flinn are more complicated than simply having an affair with someone who is married, at least in the eyes of the Air Force-- and so are the social questions raised by the case. For example, some raise the possibility that Flinn is being treated more harshly than males in similar circumstance. Others have pointed out the power differential between Flinn and the wife (also in the Air Force) of the man with whom Flinn had the affair, and suggest that the wife is also a victim here, as illustrated in her letter to the authorities. There is also the question of whether the man lied to Flinn about his marital status. At a more general level, the case illustrates issues of increasing importance regarding sexual behavior in the military (e.g. adultery in the Air Force) and understanding the causes and solutions of problems arising from a mixed gender military.

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Cyberspace and Suicide: The Internet, Cults, and Technology

          On March 27, 1997, the bodies of 39 members of the Heaven's Gate cult were discovered in a mansion near San Diego, apparently the "victims" of a mass suicide (see web coverage by PBS, MSNBC, and CNN). This event illustrates, as do other mass suicides, the extreme effects that groups can exert on individual behavior, and raises questions of what attracts people to cults and what psychological mechanisms account for the cults' power. In the case of the Heaven's Gate event, additional questions were highlighted by the group's use of internet technology to promote their philosophy and to recruit new members, as illustrated by PBS interviews with cult experts such as Robert Lifton, Fred Clothy, and Stephen Levy. Analysts also pondered the whether the uncensored nature of the World Wide Web was encouraging the promotion of extreme groups of all sorts, including other cults, and whether internet activity made people somehow more susceptible to cult recruitment. Perhaps of even more interest, though less widely discussed, was the role of the World Wide Web in disseminating news of the event and providing public access to information about the cult with unprecedented speed and thoroughness. For example, public fascination with the case was graphically illustrated by reactions to the announcement of the cult's website. CNN quoted the chief operating officer of the cult's internet service provider as saying that within minutes of the announcement of the cult's website address on t.v., "The general public was flooding our Net with millions of hits and knocking off the rest of our customers. We pulled (the site) off temporarily. " MSNBC reported that at one point the site was receiving 40,000 - 60,000 hits per hour. Without the World Wide Web it is likely that only few people would have had direct access to the cult's materials. However, the same technology also allows direct access to religious material that is generally regarded more positively, for example on the Vatican website, which was one of the first pages on the web (1995).

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JonBenet Ramsey: Murder of a Six-Year-Old Beauty Queen

This American tragedy may tell us more than we care to know about many aspects of living in a social world. For example, the attention given to the case may illustrate our abhorrence of violent crimes against children, but what explains our fascination with this particular incident? Some have argued that media coverage panders to the public appetite for sensational stories: "...if it bleeds, it leads." Others suggest that the JonBenet case raises important questions about the socialization of gender roles, and the importance of physical attractiveness in our society. Of course, the lengthy investigation and slowness in solving the crime has, as in the TWA Flight 800 case, engaged a number of principles of causal attribution. For example, many people have questioned why JonBenet's parents refuse to be interviewed by police if they are innocent? What aspects of correspondence inference theory bear on this? Details of the case, and documentation of public reaction to it, can be found on many sites, including the Denver Post, CNN and MSNBC.


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"Simpson Will Never Be A Murderer:" The O.J. Trials

Two trials, two juries, two verdicts. If the evidence in the O.J. trials was the same, why were the outcomes so radically different? What did USA Today mean by the headline following the guilty verdict in the civil trial that "Simpson will never be a murderer?" There are many principles in social psychology that may be helpful in understanding this truly "social" phenomenon, and also in assessing the reasons for people's interest in the O.J. case and evaluating the impact of the case on American society. For documentation of events surrounding the trials, including transcripts of testimony, see coverage by USA Today, CNN and other websites.


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Social Psychology / Miami University (Ohio USA). Last revised: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at 23:33:11. This document has been accessed 2,793+  8,299 times since 1 June 1996. Comments & Questions to R. Sherman

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