Choosing your tribe – them and us

“In Ireland you must choose your tribe. Reason has nothing to do with it.” 

 

So wrote J.G. Farrell in his 1970 novel Troubles. While much of what has happened politically in 2016 has felt both tribal and irrational to me, psychology suggests that we don’t even need big issues to persuade us to pick our tribe. Developed at much the same time that Farrell published his novel, Henri Tajfel’s minimal group experiments show how easy – how frighteningly easy – it is for us to do this.

Minimal groups can be formed using arbitrary criteria.  A coin toss can be used to divide people randomly into two groups. A simple task, such as distributing small amounts of money, results in people favouring members of their own group. This happens even when there is no objective difference between group members and the distribution is performed anonymously.

This result led Tajfel with others including John Turner, to develop Social Identity Theory (SIT). SIT can be used as a way of explaining the minimal group results, but more importantly, can perhaps shed light on what happens in everyday life outside of laboratory experiments.

SIT argues that we categorise ourselves and others into different groups. A process of social identification occurs over time, where we decide which groups we identify with. Our decisions on group membership are influenced by others already in a particular group whose attitudes and beliefs we wish to emulate. Finally, our self-esteem is boosted by positive comparisons of our own group against others. It can also be damaged if other groups are held in higher regard by society than ours.

The need to pick our tribe, regardless of how rational or irrational that choice may seem to others, would therefore seem to be an inbuilt characteristic of humanity. Which of the tribes that we belong to is most important to us at any point in time depends on how salient the social identity it embodies becomes. If that identity feels threatened, then we often cling to it even harder.

It would seem to me that the events of the last week demonstrate that the most salient political identity in the UK at the moment is how pro-EU (or anti-EU) we feel. How else would you explain the truly wonderful result for Sarah Olney in the Richmond Park by-election if that was not the case? How else would you explain the willingness of many people to work across traditional party political divides to make sure that we don’t drive our economy off a cliff? Or how else would you explain a large slice of the electorate still voting for the ‘independent’ ex-incumbent anyway?

Long may the country’s new-found passion for the EU continue. I have chosen my tribe and for the first time in some years, I feel rather good about being a member.

My response to the recent Post40Bloggers writing prompt number 104: “Them and Us“.

Caterham 7 ownership – 3 months in

Towards the end of August, I realised a long-held ambition of becoming a Caterham 7 owner. Six months earlier, I’d walked into the Bookatrack dealership at Donington Park, specified a yellow 270S (series V, as I’m too big to fit comfortably in an S3), paid my deposit and walked away, hoping to forget all about it until I’d safely completed my MSc. I couldn’t, naturally. Time that I should have devoted to my research was spent clearing out the garage and building a shed.

By the time I take the 7 back for its 3 month checkup this weekend, I will have covered a little over 600 miles, mostly on short trips in and around Derbyshire. It will then stay tucked up in its hutch over the winter as I’m led to believe that road salt and aluminium don’t mix all that well. I’ll be counting the days off on the calendar until it’s safe to emerge again.

After I’d ordered the car, I decided to splash out on a personalised registration for it. This is something I’ve always sworn that I’d never do, primarily because people who buy them and then deliberately misrepresent the mark are one of my pet hates. But, in for a penny, in for a pound I suppose. The C7 part of the registration chose itself, but the letters – GNU – go back to my very first car. A yellow Skoda S110L.

GNU 706N

Gnu I

I’m hoping that the colour will be the only thing they share, as gnu I was temperamental, to say the least. I remember the pain of the breakdowns (usually in really inconvenient places, like the hard shoulder of the M1 at 1am or in the middle of the Severn Bridge), the first time someone ran into me and the police coming to see me when something unsavoury had been stuck onto his rear window. But I also remember him with a great deal of affection – something I’ve not really felt about a car until gnu II arrived.

Gnu II has so far proved to be reliable, even if I’ve been slow in learning to use a clutch properly again, causing much hilarity at traffic lights. The lack of driver aids and the occasional feeling of being ever so slightly out of control at times definitely adds to the fun – and reminds me, in a good way, of gnu I. Anyway, I’m sure you’re more likely to be interested in pictures of gnu II than gnu I, so here are some from our recent adventures

Gnu II - Ashbourne, November 2016

On the road between Leek and Ashbourne last weekend

At Mercia Marina

At Mercia Marina

Looking through the windscreen (complete with dead fly) over Kedleston Hall's parkland

Looking through the windscreen (complete with dead fly) over Kedleston Hall’s parkland

Gnu II has been a great introduction to Caterham 7 ownership. I grin stupidly every time I get behind the wheel and start him up. I’m looking forward to continuing our adventures in 2017 – which will hopefully include the North Coast 500.

I believe that the devil is ready to repent

I haven’t really felt like writing much about politics since June 24th gave a narrow, but important victory to those who believe our future is better outside of the European Union. Well, either that, or they wanted to give the mythical ‘liberal elite’ a good kicking. There’s increasing evidence to suggest that some who voted to leave regret their decision. I’m pleased that some people feel like that, but as time travel is impractical, regrets without action seem rather pointless. However, the general increase in support for the Liberal Democrats (in real polls rather than opinion polls, fortunately) continues and membership numbers appear to be healthy too. I suspect that some of those who now regret their decision on June 23rd and want to move beyond such feelings and into constructive action have joined the party – welcome!

And then November 9th arrived. After the initial shock I felt, I’ve been avoiding the news like the plague. Classic fm (at least, for 55 minutes every hour) has got a new devotee. News programmes are too depressing, particularly when they endlessly turn to Farage and others of his ilk for their opinions. I’m genuinely concerned for my many colleagues, friends and acquaintances in the US who have already been affected by Trump’s rhetoric. I hope his success doesn’t inspire his followers to turn hateful words into hateful actions(*). Like Brexit, the narrowness of Trump’s victory makes it all the more frustrating for those of us who believe that misogyny, racism, homophobia and xenophobia have no place in this world.

But that’s where the similarities in the triumph of the new right on both sides of the Atlantic stop. The American electorate can throw Trump out in 2020 (or chose to keep him on until 2024 of course) – assuming that he doesn’t do something really stupid and dangerous in the meantime. Indeed, the one piece of news I did watch this morning was Christopher Meyer, a former UK ambassador to the US, talking about how the UK government should approach a Trump presidency. He was quite clear about the importance of our political leaders and diplomats ensuring that they get to know the Trump camp really well now, without delay. May has been rather slow off the mark with a call due sometime today, 10th in the queue, well behind other world leaders. The UK needs to retain as much influence with the US as possible to dissuade him from turning what I hope was campaign bombast into, well, bombs.

The problem with Brexit is that it is very likely to be permanent. Once we’re out of the EU, it will become impossible to return with anything like as good a deal (no contributions rebate, for example) as we have now. That’s assuming that the rest of the EU would have us back on any terms, anyway. But return we will want to. The loss of freedom of movement and the resulting economic decline will eventually be too much for us all.

Since the US election results came in, I’ve been humming the tune to ‘I believe’. This song featured on an episode of Not the Nine O’Clock News some 37 years ago, after the election of Ronald Reagan. If you’ve not heard it before, the YouTube link is below. Some of the references are a little out of date – “I believe that JR really loves Sue Ellen” may not mean much to some, but the sentiments of the song still hold. Especially if you substitute Ronald Reagan for Donald Trump in the last line.

I’m proud to be a citizen of Britain, Europe and the world. These things were never contradictory and they never will be. Patriotism is not the same as petty nationalism. I’m convinced that finding ways to win the arguments for Liberalism with good grace and humour is the best way to defeat the demagogues.

 

(*) The discursive psychologist inside me knows that words accomplish social action, and so such distinctions are moot.

(Probably) the end

Hello! *Blows away the cobwebs and dusts furiously* I bet you thought that I’d forgotten about you all as I haven’t written anything here since May. Well, after my excellent attempts at procrastination earlier on in the year, I finally decided to buckle down and sort my dissertation out. It’s been quite a journey, which is why I’ve been so uncharacteristically quiet – both here, and on my own blog.

I’m glad to report that after many, many more hours of work than I’d originally estimated, resulting in the production of 22 drafts for the research paper and 7 for the executive summary, I successfully submitted the dissertation last month. I’m now basking in the knowledge that I’ve passed not only the dissertation component of the MSc, but the MSc itself.

Naturally, I have a number of pieces of advice to pass onto future part-time, distance learners undertaking the Occupational Psychology MSc at Leicester in future. The most important of these naturally relate to the dissertation.

Firstly, don’t undertake a piece of qualitative research simply because you’re not keen on statistics. Only do it if you’re really committed to your research question and a qualitative methodology is the only way you’ll be able to answer it. Qualitative research is definitely not an easy option, particularly if you’re looking to demonstrate it’s been performed rigorously and transparently. And you should be, of course.

Secondly, make good use of your dissertation supervisor. Keep them updated with your progress, tell them what you’re thinking about doing … and when they question you, listen to their advice and act on it. They know what they’re talking about! For example, I would have had a much worse question schedule had I not listened carefully to my supervisor’s advice at the start of the process. The quality of the questions that I eventually came up with resulted (I believe) in a far more coherent set of data when it came to analysis than I otherwise would have had. Good data certainly makes analysis more enjoyable, and it made generating evidence-based conclusions easier too.

Thirdly, find ways to enjoy the process. If you’re a distance learner, feelings of isolation and self-doubt seem to haunt most of us at some stage. Talk about your concerns to others – a Facebook group of fellow students in my first year and an email list in my delayed second year certainly helped me when I needed to sound off. The other way I found to enjoy myself was to deliberately argue for controversial positions that I didn’t necessarily hold (backed by evidence, naturally) in the assessments we were set. I seem to remember the ergonomics module being a particularly fruitful one for this approach. In occupational psychology, as in life, there are no completely right or wrong answers – simply positions you can justify based on evidence.

This is probably the end of my academic adventures at Leicester (or anywhere else for that matter). I’m looking forward to presenting my dissertation findings at the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology conference as well as my graduation ceremony in January. I certainly hope to stay in touch with many of my fellow students and the academic staff who have encouraged me over the last three years. Your efforts have been hugely appreciated.

 

This article was originally published at the University of Leicester Student Blogs, 30th October 2016.

Post-40 Bloggers

Why surveys should always be piloted

This morning I completed an almost incomprehensible marketing survey. Here’s an example of one of the questions.

Marketing survey

Like all of the other questions in the survey, you have to answer it to proceed to the next question. There’s a fixed range of answers that can be selected, with nowhere for me to indicate that I didn’t understand the question. Most of the questions were like this, so my best guess is that YouGov’s client will end up with statistical noise and a sprinkling of confirmation bias.

My suspicion is that the survey wasn’t piloted before release with its target audience. If it had been, simple ambiguities (does 2030 mean half past eight tonight or is it something due to happen in 14 years?) would have been picked up, questions would have been rephrased to make them comprehensible to the lay-person and the ability to answer ‘don’t know/don’t understand’ would have been provided.

But even if such changes had been made, it’s doubtful that anything insightful will result from the survey. The client would have been far better to employ a qualitative research method to explore such hypothetical questions. A good first question would be to ask for a definition of a luxury brand, rather than making the assumption that the client, YouGov and the survey’s audience all share the same perspective. As it stands they’re likely to get some nice charts with average scores to a couple of decimal places, but little insight into what consumers really think.

Discursive strategies used by sales leaders in value co-creation

Today, this amazing thing happened.
DOP Conference 2017 Programme

A short paper based on my MSc research into the discursive strategies used by sales leaders has been included in the programme for the 2017 BPS division of occupational psychology conference. It’s being held in Liverpool between 4th – 6th January. I have a 9am slot on the morning after the gala dinner. I can see that I may need to find innovative ways of encouraging people to attend …

Anyway, I’m absolutely thrilled, excited, chuffed … you get the picture … to be able to speak at the conference. I really hope to see some of you who have read this blog over the years there too.

10,000 steps a day – days 28, 29 & 30 – the end

Thank you to everyone who sponsored my 10,000 steps a day challenge for Cancer Research UK. It’s hugely appreciated and the £305 raised will really help. I completed the challenge successfully yesterday by adding another 10,127 steps – my lowest daily total of the month. I confess that I was getting rather tired of the constant nagging from the app, so my Fitbit is definitely going nowhere near my wrist in October!

The end

Thank you all again.

Tim.

1 2 3 82