Privacy of the individual in the global village of the World Wide Web (3rd Post)   no comments

Posted at 2:31 pm in Psychology

Below you may find some notes that I have written, while reading a book entitled

Exploring Social Psychology 4th Edition, by R. A. Baron, D. Byrne and B. T. Johnson

What is Social Psychology about?

Understanding how and why individuals behave, think and feel as they do in situations involving other persons.

-Often, in the offline world, social behaviour can be affected by temporary factors (changing mood, fatigue etc.). In such situations we pay attention to people’s nonverbal behaviour (changes in facial expressions, eye contact, posture, body movement etc.).

However, in the online world such an interpretation is not available as people do not come face to face physically. When our privacy is breached we can never use the nonverbal behaviour of the attacker, as we have no direct contact to him and in many cases we have no idea who the attacker is.

– In the offline world, we usually want to understand what attitudes and traits underlie a person’s behaviour; we want to understand the reasons why that person has acted in a particular way. The process through we seek all this information is known as attribution. How do we accomplish this? We focus our attention on the most likely to be informative behaviours.

In the online world attribution takes place when people search for information about others on the Web. For instance, people quite often search a person’s personal page to learn more about their lives and their personality. In addition to this, people often use social networking sites, in order to retrieve information about others. They search for their profiles and if these are open, they can easily check their information and photos. But is that an example of privacy breach? Apart from individuals, many companies also use this method in the hiring process or when they just want to spy on their employees’ private life.

Of great interest is the fact that attribution is in many cases subject to errors; errors which may lead to wrong assumptions about other people’s behaviour. We have the tendency to put labels on other people, by saying that someone is ‘that kind of person’, rather than try and seek for the external factors that may have affected someone’s behaviour.

On  the Web this happens quite often. People say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but in many cases the picture itself may lead to wrong assumptions, as it only represents only one second from a specific moment. For instance, it may show a person falling of a chair; however we do not know how that person managed to fall of the hill. He may have done intentionally or it might have happened by mistake.

In that sense, information that we often find online can be misleading and we may perceive a person’s action differently than it actually is.

– A study that took place in 1994 revealed that Americans are more keen in generating trust than Japanese.

Japanese have high levels of mutual assurance, i.e. the belief that other people will act in predictable ways, because they have a long-term and stable relationship with each other. On the other hand, Americans assume that even strangers to them are likely to behave in an honest manner and with good intentions.

What is noticeable here, is that this research took place 16 years ago, so the findings are very likely to have changed by now. Furthermore, during the last years the Web has changed significantly the way people trust each other. From the moment that people began posting personal data online, trust and faith in other people’s good intentions is not as it used to be. As people’s trust between one another declines, more things do they consider to be private rather than public.

–  Gender refers to all  the attributes associated with being male or female, whether determined by biology or by culture. As people develop, they acquire gender identity by learning to label themselves as female or male. The gender role that they adopt reflects what they do and how other people respond to them. In many cases gender stereotypes are born and interpersonal behaviours may be influenced.

As there are many gender differences between men and women the same applies to their perception of privacy. Something that a woman may regard as private, a man may regard it as public.

What are attitudes?

Attitudes are defined as evaluations of virtually any aspect of the social world. That means that attitudes refer to how positive or negative we are about some object or entity. Attitudes are very important as they influence the way we think about and process social information and as they influence our behaviour.

Our attitude regarding privacy is not something that we were born with, but something that we obtained while growing up and based on our experiences. The opinion that hold on this subject definitely affects our behaviour.

How do we develop the views we hold?

Attitudes are mostly being developed through our experiences, though some are influenced by genetic factors. One source of our attitudes is the interaction with others (called social learning). Another source is social comparison; comparing ourselves with others in order to determine whether our view of social reality is correct or not.

When do attitudes influence behaviour?

In some case people cannot express their attitudes, because it is against the norms in a given social situation. (Norms are rules indicating the way people are supposed to behave in a given situation.)

A case when people usually express their attitudes is when they are under time pressure, as they have no time to think over the consequences of their behaviour and tend to use their attitudes as an easy solution.

Moreover, people’s attitudes tend to determine whether they are going to enter a certain situation or not. For example, if someone is against posting personal data online, he is more likely to attend a meeting regarding this subject. When someone is very passionate about this matter ( i.e. has very strong attitudes about it) he is more likely to commit himself to this.

How do attitudes influence behaviour?

There are 2 mechanisms through which attitudes shape behaviour. The first takes place in situations where we need to think carefully about our attitudes and their implications for our behaviour. In these situations we tend to think about how others will evaluate our behaviour and whether this behaviour is difficult to accomplish. The second mechanism takes place when we have time pressure and have to be very quick, where our attitudes are instantly activated and influence our behaviour.

What is persuasion?

It is the process of changing attitudes and can be divided in 2 mechanisms. Systematic Processing refers to careful consideration of the message content. People think about the matter, evaluate the strength of the arguments and finally either resist persuasion or not. Heuristic Processing refers to the use of heuristics on the acceptance or denial of persuasion.

When the first blog was created how did people react upon persuasion? Most people were very eager to create and maintain their own blog. When the ‘NewsFeed’ feature in Facebook was created why did people react against it? In this case the process of persuasion inititally did not work successfully, as it was against people’s attitudes.

… to be continued …

Written by az4g09 on March 5th, 2010

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