The fundamental attribution error
Have just read a very interesting and quite frankly disturbing article on the above mentioned hypothesis. No time to edit this tonight but posting it anyway!
Sabini, Siempann and Stein (2001) question three 'taken as given' assumptions of social psychology and question them - in particular the fundamental attribution error (FAE).
The FAE is when a person acts in a certain way and 'you' then attribute this behaviour to an internal disposition, rather than to an external situational factor. In other words we tend to underestimate the effect of the situation and over estimate internal factors.
For example, in the Milgram experiments, people acted against their consciences because they were told to by a person in authority. Despite not wanting to shock someone, they still did so. In the Asch experiments people folded to peer pressure, and lied about how long a line was in order to conform to other group members. And, in the Darley and Latane experiments people would not intervene in a bad situation if more than three bystanders were also not intervening. E.g. a woman is being beaten up by a little guy (so no fear of you being hurt) but 'you' will not stop it as long as at least three people do not move to help. Basically, all this research suggests that we (people) fold waaay quicker than we think we do. The situation dictates not the internal disposition.
Now, if you are like me, you hate the idea of being lumped in with the participants of these experiements. If it was us, we wouldn't have shocked the guy! We would step in and help a person who needed it etc. But, unless you have read Milgram's book this is ignorance. Because every single other person thought the same thing and then FOLDED. Actually, not everyone but way too many for use to be getting cocky about our own behaviour.
But Sabini et al have a different interpretation and one I tend to agree with due to my studies. They suggest that all these behaviours can be explained by internal dispositions. In particular, the need to avoid embarrassment and to avoid losing face. Sabini et al unpack the research and place this internal factor at the centre of each one, and make a case that this internal factor is the real key. The internal factor is - Fear of embarrassment and of losing face.
They conclude that Americans, known as the most non-mitigating people, are in fact more prone to embarrassment and fear of losing face than we have thought.
My thoughts are - heaven help the Kiwis then because we are way down the scale from the Americans.