AP Psychology Study Resource: Social Facilitation

AP Psychology Study Resource: Social Facilitation

Social facilitation is the theory that explores how someone’s performance can be improved when others are present.

This theory helps us understand our motivation in front of an audience. We get to say when we’re doing tasks, the more effective and successful we become.

For example, as we’ll find out, cyclists who are competing with others are more likely to perform better than if they’re just racing against the clock.

This also explains how mistakes mean more when people are asked to do unfamiliar tasks in the presence of competitors or an audience. Moreover, this becomes known as social inhibition.

Furthermore, on a driving test with an instructor, an individual gets more prone to errors and being over cautious due to self-doubt and/or nervousness.

Below, we’ll explore how this theory came about. We also learn how it evolved over the years.

The Definition of Social Facilitation

Photo of Women in Business at the White House representing Social Facilitation since they are working together
Image: CC by A-SA 2.0, businessforward, via Flickr

Studies surrounding this theory explore the extent of a person’s behavior. Notwithstanding if the act appears affected by the implied, imagined, or real presence of others.

It occurs when we perform better in a simple task while others get to watch you. However, people less expect for a complex task.

For example, this appears visible once your boss asks you to tidy up the meeting room. This theory suggests that you willfully go an extra mile to ensure tardiness and orderliness.

On the other hand, if you stayed for this task out of hours (when everyone else has left work for the day), the same level of attentiveness happens not to take place.

Yet, if the tasks get more challenging, e.g. decorating the meeting room while people see you, you definitely feel more pressure to do this task making you commit mistakes.

The Origins of Social Facilitation

Military cyclists in pace line as experimented by Norman Triplett on the origin of social facilitation
Image: Public Domain U.S., Airman Nathan Doza, via Wikipedia Commons

Norman Triplett created one of the first experiments into this theory in 1898.

He conducted research on cyclists’ speed records. Notably, he noticed that once the racing happens against each other rather than a timer, their speed increases. To emphasize his findings, he conducted further tests under laboratory conditions.

This involved getting children to use fishing reels.

The two conditions held a child working alone and children working in pairs. The tasks concerns winding up a certain length of fishing line.

Triplett reported that the work gets faster as soon as they partnered with someone else doing the same task.

This demonstrates the co-action effect.

Co-Action Effect

Communication in bulldog ants to represent Co-action effect
Image: CC by 2.0, Sylvain Dubey, via Wikipedia Commons

This phenomenon occurs when someone’s task performance increases. Conclusively, the presence of others doing the same thing affects the mere performance.

For example, relating to this reading material gets easier in a library environment than you do at home, even though the place appears quiet.

Other studies explore the co-action effect through the effort of Chen (1937). When working alongside other ants to dig sand, an ant digs three times as much compared if they do it on their own.

Likewise, Platt, Yaksh, and Darby (1967) discovered that an animal eats more food if there exist other animals (from their same species) there while eating.

Audience Effect

Football Game Players to explain the Audience Effect
Image: CC 0 by Public Domain, KeithJJ, via Pixabay

Social facilitation doesn’t just occur when someone gets co-acting with someone. But, this occurs also when there’s a passive audience/spectator present. Psychologists coin this as the audience effect.

In 1935, Dashiell found that subjects’ multiplication performances increased by the presence of an audience. This happens provided by increasing how many simple multiplications carried out. In 1925, Travis discovered that well-trained subjects perform better at a psychomotor test in front of spectators.

But in 1933, Pessin found the opposite of this. He reveals that subjects required fewer trials to learn a list of gibberish words in front of an audience while they work on their own.

What does this mean?

That social facilitation appears dependent on the nature of the interaction between the performer and task. In some cases, an audience or co-stars help boost the performance quality. As for others, their quality gets impaired.

Thus, according to Cottrell (1968), this theory concerns not all about the presence of people but rather the apprehension of being judged by them. Being aware of others’ evaluations leads to our approval or disapproval.  So, by being in the presence of others we get driven by evaluation anxiety.

Developing the Theory

As well as the aforementioned studies, Robert Zajonc happened also hugely responsible for piecing together the concept of this theory.

In 1956, he carried out studies to try and understand why some performed better or worse when in the presence of others. These experiments define two parts – simple or complex tasks in front of an audience.

His results denoted pretty clear-cut.

When people gain a lot of practice and performing a simple task, they performed better than those who perform more complex tasks. Nonetheless, these people obtain little practice at and some tasks appear unfamiliar.

This spawned the idea of “social inhibition.”

The Activation Theory

In 1956, the generalized drive hypothesis proposed by Zajonc became the backbone of activation theory. Also, this appears why you hear activation theory refers to as the Zajonc theory.

This gets the first theory to address both the decrease and increase in people’s performances in front of others.

Zajonc claimed that an organism’s arousal seems heightened when in the presence of others. This increases how well they perform their well-learned/habitual tasks. In contrast, this heightened awareness becomes an impairment when carrying out unfamiliar/more complex tasks.

He based this theory on Yerkes-Dodson’s Law, which stipulates that when it comes to performance levels these work like an inverse “U” function. This means that for easier tasks, we obtain a higher optimal drive level. For complex tasks, this gets lower.

To expand on this, there appears a number of different activation theories:

Alertness Hypothesis

In this theory, a performer occurs not aware of the actions of competitors or observers. This enables them to perform better as it heightens their alertness.

Monitoring Hypothesis

In this theory, social facilitation doesn’t occur because the performer gets familiar with how their audience/observer responds. This means the performer isn’t able to perform as well as they feel more pressure.

Challenge and Threat Hypothesis

This theory expands on the idea that people are better able to perform simple tasks in front of an audience.  Yet, this turns out less once they perform complex tasks in front of others. Mainly, this comes from the cardiovascular response to the activity.

When doing a simple exercise in front of people, the performer’s cardiovascular response gets normal. Indeed, this aids their performance. Hitherto, on complex tasks, this induces a cardiovascular response similar as to being placed under threat. Certainly,  this negatively impacts the performance.

Why Is It Important to Understand this Theory?

Woman Jumping High for European Artistic Gymnastics Championships
Image: CC by A-SA 4.0, Pierre-Yves Beaudouin, via Wikipedia Commons

By familiarizing yourself with this idea, it helps you gain a new perspective on motivation.


Because we often interpret how well someone performs based on their abilities.

For example, this gets visible when someone does a  given a task and fails to perform it well. Probably, this gets potentially assumed that there comes the unwillingness to put the required effort.

While that could be the case, social facilitation allows us to appreciate that how motivated we are toward a task. This comes dependent on whether others seem to evaluate us and how good we think we become at that particular task.

When we perform something easy and others observe, our motivation arrive high. This means we likely to get more positive feedback. However, when we start to worry about making mistakes, we surely receive negative comments from our spectators.

How can you use this concept effectively?

effective meeting and succesful presentation in the office through social facilitation
Image: CC by 2.0, Nguyen Hung Vu, via Flickr

By assigning tasks that not only match the participants’ skills but will also be observed by others.

For example, Sarah’s teacher has asked her to do a 3-minute presentation on her chosen topic. When speaking in front of a group of people, Sarah is confident. This means that she’s highly motivated to do this task. This gets possible since it denoted relatively straightforward for her.

Nonetheless, Sam is incredibly shy. So while he may benefit from learning to speak in front of others, his motivation levels are low. This comes from the fact that the task appears difficult for him. Therefore, he thinks he’ll perform poorly and get negative comments from his classmates.

Putting It into Practice

Overall, it’s clear that social facilitation enables us to understand how those around us are behaving in different surroundings.

This depends on the level of distractions, the task at hand, and the awareness of evaluation. This appears similar to the level of arousal in the subject and the subjects’ perspective on the task.  Whether it seems easy or difficult for you or me, this can be understood in detail by applying these theories.

Featured Image: CC by 2.0, Split the Kipper, via Flickr

AP Psychology Study Resource: Attribution Theory

AP Psychology Study Resource: Attribution Theory

Why is that person angry?

Is it because something awful has happened to them or because they’re bad-tempered?

Attribution theory explores how we give meaning to our own and others’ behavior. It is concerned with why and how we explain events and behaviors in the way we do.

Essentially, we make these attributions in order to understand the things we experience and these attributions have a huge influence on how we interact with others.

Below, we’ll explore the origins of this theory before moving on to look at the different types of attributions.

The Origins of Attribution Theory

Man Reflecting Origins of Attribution Theory through a Photo
Image: CC by 2.0, Michael Beaton, via Flickr

The theory was originally developed by a well-known psychologist, Fritz Heider.

Born in Vienna, Austria, in 1896, his career spanned over 60 years and saw him exploring how people interpret their own behavior and that of others.

Much of this was gathered in his book, The Psychology of Interpersonal Relations, which was published in 1958.

He believed that we attribute how others behave to our own perceptions and that these perceptions can be determined by long-held beliefs or specific situations.

While it isn’t an overly-complicated concept, it has led to many questions about how people relate to one another and why.

The Definition of Attribution Theory

Discussions on the Definition of Attribution Theory
Image: CC by A-SA 4.0, Thelmadatter, via Wikipedia Commons

In layman’s terms, attribution theory explores the means we use to attribute how others behave. Sometimes, it may be attributed to disposition. We can take an example when someone donates money to charity as this attributes to altruism.

In other cases, someone’s behavior may be attributed to a particular situation. So in the above example, perhaps the person donating the money has done so because they feel pressured by society.

Heider’s belief was that people often gave more attribution to personality than they should, meaning they placed less emphasis on situations. This means that when it comes to behavior, personality as an indicator isn’t as consistent as people may believe.

Through his philosophies, Heider developed certain themes that other psychologist explored in more detail. And there were two key ideas that became influential:

1. Internal Attribution

Whereby someone assigns the action of a behavior to an internal characteristic, rather than an outer factor. So when we are looking to justify the behavior of someone, we’re looking for internal attributions.

It comes in form through personality traits like altruism. In essence, we’re attributing how they are behaving to their motives, personality, or beliefs.

2. External Attribution

This occurs when we assign the cause of someone’s behavior to an event or situation that’s out of their control, rather than to their own internal traits.

When we’re trying to justify our own behavior, we’ll often make external attributions, such as environmental or situational factors.

For example, Jesse’s car breaks down. She suggests that it’s happened because she knows nothing about cars. This comes as a proof for internal attribution. But if she suggests that it’s because her car is old, this is classed as an external attribution.

The Correspondent Interference Theory – Jones & Davies

Proof of Correspondent Interference Theory on a lady getting a bottled water
Image: Public Domain, Shane T. McCoy, via Wikipedia Commons

Jones and Davis (1965) believed that people were particularly focused on intentional behavior, as opposed to unthinking or accidental behavior.

This theory helps us make more sense of how we make an internal attribution to someone’s behavior. They suggest that our tendencies to do this are higher when someone’s motive and behavior corresponds.

For example, when we see someone behaving in an ill-mannered way when they’re an ill-mannered person, this creates a correspondence between the two.

These internal attributions allow us to make assumptions about someone’s future behavior because they give us more information. This theory is what leads to us making these dispositional attributes toward this “intentional” behavior.

Davis used this term to refer to a time when someone suggests a person’s behavior corresponds with or matches their personality.

Correspondent inference methods

Jones and Davis suggest we draw upon 5 different information sources:

  • Choice: This internal factor appears as something freely chosen by someone without being forced by someone else.
  • Accidental or Intentional Behavior: If someone’s behavior appears to be intentional, we’re likely to attribute this to their personality, but if it seems accidental, we’re more likely to suggest an external cause has led to this behavior.
  • Social Desirability: If someone behaves in a non-conforming manner, this often leads to us making internal inferences. For example, if you saw someone in a fine-dining restaurant eating with their fingers, this is non-conforming behavior that’s likely to correspond with the individual’s personality.
  • Hedonistic Relevance: The intention of harm or benefit refers to the specific behavior.
  • Personalism: If someone’s behavior seems to intentionally have an impact on us, we assume this isn’t a cause of the situation we’re in but that it is “personal.”

Kelley’s Covariation Model

Classroom Set-up Proof for Kelley’s Covariation Model
Image: CC by A-SA 3.0, David Shankbone, via Wikipedia Commons

Introduced in 1967, this model is one of the most well-known attribution theories. Kelley developed a logical model that helped us judge whether a specific action should be attributed to an external or internal factor. –

What does covariation mean? It means that the person making the judgment has made multiple observations in different situations and at different times to garner their information.

They are able to identify the covariation of an effect they’ve observed and its causes. Kelley argued that we’re acting like scientists when we try to uncover what causes people to behave in certain ways.

Evidence for the Use of Model

The usage of three different types of evidence makes this assumption relevant to the Attribution Theory:

  • Consensus: To what extent someone else would behave in this same way if they were in a similar situation. For example, Judy drinks wine when she goes out for lunch with her friend. If her friend drinks wine too, this is highly consensus behavior – but if Judy’s the only one drinking wine, it’s low.
  • Distinctiveness: To what extent this person will behave in this way in similar situations. For example, if Judy only drinks wine when she’s out with her friends, this is a highly distinctive behavior. If she drinks wine anywhere and at any time, it’s low.
  • Consistency: To what extent the person acts like this each time a situation occurs. For example, if Judy only drinks wine when she’s out with her friends, this is highly consistent. But if she only drinks on a singular special occasion, it’s low.
Woman Multitasking as an Example of Kelley’s Covariation Model
Image: CC 0 by Public Domain, geralt, via Pixabay

Examples for Model Use

So how does this work? Let’s take a look at an example.

Meet Sally – she’s laughing at a comedian, which means her behavior is laughter.

  1. Consensus – If everyone else who’s watching the comedian is laughing, there’s a high consensus. If Sally’s the only one laughing, it’s low.
  2. Distinctiveness – If Sally only ever laughs at this comedian, there’s high distinctiveness. If Sally laughs at everyone and everything, it’s low.
  3. Consistency – If Sally always laughs when she sees this comedian, there’s high consistency. Lower chances happen when she has seen it before.

So, if everyone’s laughing at this comedian but they’re not laughing at the warm-up act, and if this particular comedian always gets his crowd laughing, then we’re going to make an external attribution. Sally is laughing at this comedian because they’re very amusing.

Alternatively, if Sally is the only one laughing but she laughs at other comedians yet always laughs when she sees this comedian, we’d make an internal attribution. Sally is the type of person who laughs at everything.


This leads to people making their assumptions based on correlation – they’ve seen two things together and assume one’s causing the other.

But what if we haven’t got enough information to make this kind of assumption? What if we don’t know Sally very well and we don’t know how she acts on a day-to-day basis?

According to Kelley, we revert back to past experience, looking for:

  • Multiple necessary causes: The win of a driver in a race founts from the high motivation to do so. We can also say an incredibly adept driver at driving and have trained hard to get to where they are. They must have all of these qualities in order to win.
  • Multiple sufficient causes: The driver’s vehicle fail the test prior to the race because of the modification. We also assume that they’re trying to cheat. Probably, the sponsors modify the car may for a special trick. Likewise, some other people ordered these sponsors. Any of these reasons would suffice.

The Fundamental Attribution Error

Fundamental Attribution Error through Pacific Partnership among Instructor and Students
Image: Public Domain, Petty Officer 1st Class Elizabeth Merriam, via Wikipedia Commons

This relatively straightforward idea is something that many attribution theorists have observed over time.

Essentially, it means that, when you’re successful, you attribute this success to dispositional factors. You’ve worked hard and you’re talented, which is why you got the promotion.

But when you fail, you relate this to situational factors. Your opposition got lucky or you weren’t feeling well during your interview.

What’s more, we tend to attribute the exact opposite cause when other people are successful. So if your colleague gets a pay rise, it’s because they’ve been brown-nosing. If they miss out, it’s because they’re not good enough for the job.

Applying the Attribution Theory to Everyday Life

These are just some of the many different interpretations of Heider’s attribution theory. You’ll no doubt observe these behaviors and attributions all around you.

For example, when it comes to the fundamental attribution error, one needs to only look at a group of sports fans when they’re watching their team play. If they win, it’s because they’ve been working hard all season. Also, they’ve got the best players around. But if they lose, it’s because the referee is an idiot and completely biased.

10 of The Most Influential 20th Century Psychologists

As we merge ever more into society as we age, we are constantly learning new ideas and ideals such as ​assimilation psychology.

In doing this, we experience things that either change or confirm our current state of mind.  This is why we are often drawn to people that have new perspectives or ideas that we can draw from.

We Are All Just Trying to Make Sense of the World- It’s the Nature of the Beast



Think about a newborn baby. Babies are the cleanest slate possible When it comes to their psychology. They have not experienced anything thus far, so they are free to learn anything without any kind of interference from previous thought.

Babies often bond with their mothers within the first weeks of life. At this point, they have learned that mothers are the most important people in the world. As they get older, they often separate from their mothers to form attachments with dad, siblings, or other caregivers.

At this point, they learn that there are more people that can be trusted, also.

From these people that they grow to trust, they will learn other things by observing, such as how to hold silverware, proper manners, and toilet training.

Another phenomena of human psychology, especially assimilation psychology is that we are always trying to be like the people we are surrounded by. We tend to dress to fit in with our peers, we sometimes pick up similar musical tastes, and we might even pick up dialects and accents based on the people we work with or live near.

Why does this happen, though?

Why Question Mark Represents Confusion Questions And Aim; assimilation psychology

​Jean Piaget initially proposed the idea of ​assimilation psychology. Piaget claimed that assimilation is a part of human psychology that is particularly important during the formative years of childhood. This is how children learn to react to social queues and how certain aspects of the world work.

How Does Assimilation Psychology Work?

Assimilation psychology, according to Piaget, is the easiest way that people adapt to new experiences.

The reason assimilation is believed to be the easiest is because it requires very little adjustment. In this method of adaptation, we simply apply new knowledge to that which is already known. Because it has to fit with what is currently known, though, how we adapt is based entirely upon our current state of mind.

For example, let’s say that your co-worker has a son who seems well adjusted and kind. One day, though, you see the boy at a local park throwing rocks at a bird’s nest.

To you, this behavior seems very out of character. Your co-worker has always bragged about their child’s sensitivity and and care and concern for animals and other people, but today he seems to be trying to harm animals.

Assimilation psychology takes place in how we process this information.

If you already have doubts about your co-worker’s honesty, you might determine that they have overinflated the good merits of the child. If you trust your co-worker, you might determine that the child is simply having a bad day or has picked up a bad habit by observing another child.

You might even work out that the child is still very kind and well-mannered, but simply has a mischievous aspect of his personality. In this case, you could find the behavior funny because it is so out of character that it is almost endearing.

This is how adaptation works based on our previous knowledge or experiences.

We take what we already know and add new information to the mix. It becomes a clue, rather than a whole new perspective. If we determine that the child is mean and that he is conning everyone including his mom, though, we are creating a completely new idea. This is a process known as accommodation.

Examples of Assimilation in Society

To further explore assimilation psychology, we need to look at a few more examples. They are as follows:

A baby tries lemons for the first time.


Imagine it’s a baby’s first birthday. They have previously tried all kinds of fruit- watermelon, strawberries, grapes, and bananas are their favorite. They have learned by trying these fruits that fruit is sweet and delicious.

Then, Uncle Mike shows up at the party. Uncle Mike has no children and makes a habit of using his nieces and nephews for a chuckle. He decides to pull a lemon slice from the pitcher of lemonade and let baby have a try, knowing the sour flavor of the fruit will give them an adorable pucker. Naturally, the ploy is successful.

The baby has now learned that not all fruits are sweet. They might also have learned to never trust food from Uncle Mike.

A child meets an angry dog.

Angry dog

Now imagine a little girl named Sophie. She has always been around dogs. Her parents have two large German Shepherds who do very well with her. Her grandpa has a Chihuahua who is also very mellow and child- friendly and Aunt Ellen has a cocker spaniel.

She’s learned from her exposure to these dogs that sometimes dogs bark a lot and sometimes they don’t bark at all. She’s also learned that they can come in a variety of sizes, colors, shapes, and coat lengths.

One day, Sophie is playing outside when a man walks his dog past. The dog begins snarling and growling and attacks the fence. He is very scary.

Sophie has now learned that some dogs are not friendly.

A woman discovers a country music CD in her rocker husband’s car.


This is a tricky one. One day, Karen gets into her husband’s car because hers is not running properly. As she pulls out of the driveway, she decides to turn on the radio and is instantly met with the sound of country music.

She checks the radio station, but discovers that she is actually listening to a CD. She is somewhat baffled. She has always known her husband to enjoy heavy metal and rock music. In fact, she met him in a mosh pit. It is out of his usual character to enjoy country music.

This can go one of two ways, depending on the history of the marital couple. If her husband has previously been unfaithful, she might immediately assume that he has been driving around a secret partner in his car.

If they have never encountered any issues before, she will probably just assume that he has learned to like a new kind of music or that he has always been a secret country music fan.

​These Are Both Examples of Assimilation Psychology


Everyday Assimilation Psychology

Piaget described processes where we learn and grow, adapting to our environment, socially and physically. He names these processes assimilation. In this process, the experience is brought in from the outside into the inside without interrupting our pre-existing ideas. This works especially well when the new item is an additional item of something we are familiar with. The process can be useful but sometimes it results in squeezing reality to fit.

The internal world has to change in response to new factors that are introduced.  This can be harder, especially in adults because it may mean changing something vital about something someone has always taken for granted. An example of this is the belief in the sanctity of marriage and moving toward divorce. The term for this is cognitive dissonance. He stated that it is not doable to hold two incompatible ideas in your head at the same time. A great way we see this carried out in real life is by having a firm belief that it is wicked to kill, yet being forced to become a soldier.

Assimilating the Internet

For anyone below midlife age, the use of the World Wide Web as the definition for all things both essential and trivial is taken for granted. The interwebs sit waiting for us to consult its seemingly-endless, virtual pages on all things from lists. to serious help to understand anything history to science. Social media allows us to connect with our family and what we now call “friends” and buying sites allow the whole world purchasing to be closer to us than our nearest mall.

For those over middle age, we have had to assimilate the internet into our lives as a tool for everyday activities: research, social interaction, and shopping.  Before it existed, we had to ask encyclopedias, annual collections of trivia, and the television for information to study. For reaching out to friends and family, we would use the house phone or wrote a letter. Shopping was done in person, always.  There will be very few people who will regret the passing of snail mail) or the limited options of strip mall shopping. The introduction of the internet has been one assimilation that has been easy and enjoyable.

This is an illustration of assimilation because though while the way we use the internet to carry out these parts of our lives, the basic concepts of studying, interacting, and shopping have not changed.

Final Thoughts on Assimilation Psychology

Understanding assimilation psychology is vital in realizing why we do the things we do as a culture. Assimilation is the reason for so much of the everyday pushback we naturally have to changes.

The Dangers of Self-Diagnosing Personality

Thanks to self-help books, and increasing open discussions revolving around mental health and personality disorders, many people fall into the trap of self-diagnosis. Although there is nothing wrong with being curious about self-exploration, and looking for answers online, it doesn’t make one an instant expert on personality disorders.

The human mind is a continuing subject of focus, intently studied by medical professionals and scientists. Despite the plethora of information online, there is still limited and ongoing studies about the causes and available treatments for various mental disorders.

One thing that makes self-diagnosing personality so dangerous is that people armed with little to no working knowledge of psychology and mental disorders, can and do quickly conclude the state of their mental health or others. Pointing out oneself or others as being OCD, bipolar, or manic without a certified diagnosis by a professional, can be very damaging.

At times, some people may feel that they do have a mental or physical illness which needs a professional diagnosis. If a person chooses to self-diagnose their believed condition, they might end up self-medicating, misdiagnosing themselves, or go untreated for whatever illness they may have.

Although there is helpful information online to guide seekers in the right direction, a self-diagnosing personality left unchecked can be a source of problems.

Some common symptoms that may be a sign of a mental or physical illness, which can lead to a misdiagnosis without professional assessment include:

  • Feeling fatigued most of the time
  • Plagued by headaches
  • Difficulty being around loud noises or bright lights
  • Auditory or physical hallucinations

At first glance, these symptoms could be the result of mental illness. But they could also be brought about by stress, exhaustion, or another valid reason.

However, only a trained and certified medical professional can accurately assess what a patient’s problem may be.

What Are The Dangers of Self-Diagnosing Personality?

Dangers of Self-Diagnosing Personality
Photo credit to The Pitt News

Although the internet is a fascinating place filled with information on everything possible, not all sites can be trusted. Some websites can misinform, or prey on people’s fears for clicks. Anyone who solely trusts whatever information they discover online, without taking it with a grain of salt, may end up believing that are fully capable of self-diagnosing without error.

When browsing the web for answers, it is important to find sources which use information sourced from journals, medical schools, or professional organizations. Ultimately, it is crucial that professional assessments are used to uncover whether there is indeed a mental or physical illness present.

According to various studies, only about 50% of people discuss their online search findings with their doctor. Many people are willing to believe what they learn from their search results and are not often willing to consult another source to fact-check.

When people have a self-diagnosing personality, they may take specific actions that can prove risky. After making a self-assessment and declaration of a perceived specific medical or mental condition, it can lead to the following.

  • An attempt may be made to cure the problem of dietary changes or taking medication
  • The self-diagnosing person may follow a treatment plan that is not needed or helpful
  • Self-diagnosing personality can lead to seeking unorthodox treatments to cure their believed problem
  • Avoidance of medical professional guidance and treatment may follow
  • Untreated and undiagnosed mental or physical problems can lead to other related health ailments, or become worse
  • A firm belief that the self-diagnosis is infallible and no second opinion is needed may occur. For instance, someone experiencing chronic coughing might seek out symptoms online and conclude they’re suffering from a common cold or allergies while overlooking more serious underlying conditions. This kind of situation highlights the danger of ignoring potential symptoms of cardiac cough, which could indicate heart failure instead of a simple respiratory issue. It’s critical to remember that the internet cannot provide the detailed context and nuanced understanding a healthcare professional can offer after a thorough examination.

Self-diagnosing personality can prove hazardous because it leads to an assumption that enough information is known to declare a status. Having a limited amount of information, and overconfidence about the level of knowledge needed to diagnose correctly can lead to ignoring, or completely passing over nuances of certain mental or physical conditions.

It can become easy for self-diagnosing personality types to incorrectly asses specific medical ailments as a psychiatric problem. As an example, cardiovascular system problems that lead to irregular heartbeats might be self-diagnosed as a panic attack disorder.

Sometimes tumors can lead to personality changes, which may lead to self-medication with over-the-counter drugs, or other temporary solutions.

So Why Are People Prone To Self-Diagnosing Personality?

Borderline Personality Disorder
Photo credit to Optimum Performance Institute

Conversations about mental health and physical ailments can be quite the hot topic. However, due to stigma, or reliance on the internet, many people turn to self-diagnosing.

According to sources like Wikipedia, the term cyberchondria, or ‘compucondria’ has developed in today’s modern society. This term is used to define deeply unfounded concerns about symptoms, after a review of internet searches and literature has been read online.

Many healthcare professionals have become leery of patients who feel that they are expert enough to self-diagnose any perceived illness or disease. And these patients may often exhibit anxiety over their conclusions. According to CBS, over a third of Americans choose to go online to uncover the cause of their health condition, versus seeking the advice of a medical professional first.

Sometimes, after receiving a negative diagnosis from a medical professional, patients may feel anxious, devastated, or desperate for a second opinion. Negative experiences with medical professionals can also contribute to self-diagnosis personality. After all, some people feel like only they can know themselves best.

On further diagnosis, many patients may find that their self-diagnosis completely missed the mark, or was not as bad as previously thought.

Undermining The Authority of Medical Professionals

Undermining The Authority of Medical Professionals
Photo credit to Medscape

Doctors take an oath to look out for the well-being of their patients with a commitment to ethics within their practice. After spending so many years learning the ins-and-outs of their profession, it can be more than challenging interacting with a self-diagnosing personality.

When a person feels that they have enough understanding to diagnose their health after browsing the web, it can create unbalance and distrust within a doctor and patient relationship. Trust is essential to deriving an accurate diagnosis of an ailment.

It is vital that a doctor respect the patient’s opinion, and be open to a discussion surrounding the facts of a mental and physical health diagnosis and treatment plan.

There are many occasions where the symptoms of one health condition, such as anxiety, may be present alongside another condition like depression. Someone with a self-diagnosing personality is usually unable to discern accurately what a patient is dealing with or may think that there is a problem that in fact doesn’t exist.

Worrying about a health condition that doesn’t even exist, at times may be even worse than a misdiagnosis.

Seeking out a knowledgeable professional that can be trusted, and is willing to assess and treat both mental and physical health problems respectfully is valuable. The internet may be a significant source of information, but a one-on-one interaction between a doctor and patient can better surmise a proper diagnosis.

Embracing Positive Steps And Getting Professional Help

Embracing Positive Steps And Getting Professional Help
Photo credit to Healthline

People may choose to self-diagnose because of embarrassment about their symptoms, they don’t want to spend on medical expenses, or they are in denial. No matter the reason, self-diagnosis may lead to more harm than good.

Choosing to get a second opinion from a trusted medical professional is the only way to gain more clarity on one’s mental and physical health.

An incorrect diagnosis can lead to taking the wrong form of treatment, development of anxiety or depression over a believed condition which may not even exist, and avoidance of necessary treatment.

All sites do not provide the most accurate information on human health, and questionable websites that lack affiliation with a medical or healthcare institution should undergo some scrutiny.

There is nothing wrong with being curious and having a desire to learn more about the health symptoms that may cause some alarm. However, immediately applying whatever little information learned online, as a succinct and complete diagnosis is problematic.

When receiving a professional assessment for diagnosis, patients should look for their health care provider to commit to doing a few key things.

Any relevant information regarding a patient’s lifestyle, significant changes, and other pertinent details may be needed.

Standard tests used to measure the quality and impact that specific symptoms may have, and overall mental and or physical health.

Upon diagnosis, the patient should receive comprehensive information regarding treatment options, and conclusive findings.

An opportunity to discuss any information found online should be made available, to clarify any misinformation, and to acknowledge proactivity of patient for greater self-awareness.

The medical professional should set a tone that seeks to establish a relationship built on trust, mutual respect, and open discussion.

Leave The Final Diagnosis To The Professionals

People who have self-diagnosis personality are more likely to self-medicate, and obsess over the anxieties of their perceived health condition. Sometimes self-diagnosing types can develop the symptoms of their believed state, leading to even more problems when a professional finally gets involved.

When in doubt, it is best to get a second opinion from a valid certifiable source and let the medical professionals do their job. Self-diagnosis personality can lead to risky behavior, damaging name-calling, and rampant misinformation.

AP Psychology Study Resource: Cognitive Learning

Cognitive learning theory can be broken down into two specific branches: social cognitive theory and cognitive behavioral theory.

Both concepts consider the brain to be an information processor and concentrate on how we learn and the specific processes that are going on in the brain when we learn.

What Is Cognitive Learning Theory?

cognitive theory

In psychology, cognitive learning involves studying perception, memory, attention and focus, language, problem-solving and learning. Its focus is thinking.

In 1948, an American Psychologist, Edward Tolman challenged the behaviorist theories that were dominant at the time that stated our thought processes were governed by our environment.

Tolman believed that the brains of people, and animals, worked as information processors much like our present-day computers. He gave us the term cognitive map to describe the process of taking external stimuli and internalizing it to form a mental image in our minds.

He also further developed the theory of latent learning, which is learning that is not displayed at the time of teaching but is visible at a later point.

Tolman’s Work with C.H. Honzik

Tolman and Honzik conducted experiments with rats placed in mazes to prove Tolman’s theory of latent learning. They created three groups with the rats and gave one group a reward (food) when the rats reached the end of the maze.

The rats in the second group were given delayed rewards: for the first 10 days when they reached the end of the maze, they were taken out. From day 11 through to day 17, when they reached the end of the maze, they were given a reward.

The rats in the third group were never given rewards but were taken out of the maze when they reached the end.

Their results found that the second group of rats – those that received delayed rewards – formed a cognitive map of the maze from day 11 through to 17, because they had a goal (reward) to aim for. During days one to ten, they took longer to reach the end of the maze.

This proved that during the second part of the experiment, the rats were actively processing the information they had gathered during the first part of the experiment to get to the end of the maze, and receive the reward, quicker.

The Brain as a Computer

Brain as a Computer

The computer analogy is the term the cognitive psychologists use to compare the human brain to a computer’s processing system. This information processing approach works with the following assumptions.

  • Environmental information is processed in the brain by a series of processing systems. We know these systems as attention and focus, perception, and short-term memory.
  • The brain’s processing systems alter the environmental information.
  • Cognitive learning research is conducted to better understand the processes that drive our cognitive performance.
  • Our brain’s information processing systems work in the same way as a computer’s processing systems. Studying how a computer works will help us to understand how our brains work.

Social Cognitive Theory

Social Cognitive Theory

Social cognitive theory is comprised of three variables: behavioral, environmental or extrinsic, and personal or intrinsic factors. Learning occurs when these three factors interact with each other in certain ways.

  • Personal-environmental – our beliefs, ideas and thought processes can be modified by our parents’ influence, stressful environments, and even the climate we live in.
  • Personal-behavioral – our thought processes affect our behavior and our behavior can affect the way we think.
  • Environmental-behavioral – the way we display our behavior can be affected by our environment and our behavior can alter our environment.

The above model emphasizes that if we are to learn we need positive personal traits, a supportive environment and we need to display appropriate behavior. It also suggests that our learning occurs when we compare past experiences with our current situation.

The Basic Concepts of Social Cognitive Theory

These basic concepts apply to adults, infants, children, and adolescents.

    • Observational learning – we learn by watching others and mimicking their behavior.
    • Reproduction – putting people in a comfortable environment, with all the tools and materials they need, will help them to retain, recall, and reproduce behavior.
    • Self-efficacy – the learner takes what he has learned and then improves it by practicing and using the learned the information.
    • Emotional coping mechanisms – people who can manage negative emotions well and deal effectively with stress are in the best position to learn new information.
  • Behavior regulation – learning is affected by a person’s ability to control their own behavior, particularly in a stressful environment.

Cognitive Behavioral Theory

Cognitive Behavioral Theory

Cognitive Behavioral Theory, developed by Aaron Beck, states that a person’s behavior is determined by their thoughts and that their thoughts can be affected by their environment. Beck used the cognitive triad to explain his theory.

Beck termed the Cognitive Triad, also known as the negative triad, to describe the interaction between negative thoughts about the self, the world, and the future. These elements are commonly found in people experiencing depression and are often considered to be automatic responses for sufferers.

Beck believed that the interaction of these three components, alter a person’s cognitive processing to the point that memory, problem-solving, and perception become obsessively negative.

Negative Self-schemas and Cognitive Distortions

According to Beck, negative self-schemas develop when a child is exposed to traumatic experiences such as the death of a parent or sibling, parental neglect, abuse, criticism, and/or overprotection, and bullying or exclusion from peer groups. These experiences lead the brain to form a schema that is negative and pessimistic which is carried into adulthood.

Cognitive distortions develop because of negative self-schemas and Beck believed that people suffering from depression had adopted the following illogical thinking processes.

  • Arbitrary interference – this is the process of drawing conclusions without evidence. For example, a person may think they are worthless if an outdoor event they were going to was cancelled due to bad weather.
  • Selective abstraction – this can be described as a person focusing on one aspect of a situation and not seeing the bigger picture. An example of this would be a person blaming themselves for the failure of a team effort.
  • Magnification or catastrophizing – making a mountain out of a molehill. If a person makes a small mistake in performing a task, they assume they are completely useless at all related tasks.
  • Minimization – a person may be praised for something but shrugs it off as nothing. It’s an inability to see your own skills and talents.
  • Personalization – this is when a person assumes that the negative feelings of others are their fault, despite having no evidence that points to this.

The Strengths and Weaknesses of Cognitive Behavior and Learning

The Strengths and Weaknesses of Cognitive Behavior and Learning

Cognitive learning theories are easy for us to understand. We know that our cognitive abilities make things happen such as advances in science and technology, therefore it makes sense that negative cognitive learning will increase negative situations.

Cognitive theories can be tested with appropriately designed experiments with real human participants although the ethics of these experiments need to be closely monitored. Cognitive behavioral therapy is an effective treatment for depression as it involves challenging negative self-schemas. It has also been effective for helping people with mild to moderate anxiety.

Further study needs to be conducted to determine whether cognitive distortions cause psychopathology or if they are a result of it. Cognitive theories are also limited in what they cover as there is much more to a person than just their thoughts.

Cognitive psychologists are often focused on research to find cures for such conditions as Alzheimer’s disease, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and Depression. Other psychologists treat patients directly with cognitive behavioral therapy that focuses on changing the self-schemas that people have developed, often from childhood.

As technology continues to develop and computers become more advanced than we ever imagined, it’s reasonable to assume that our understanding of our brain’s informational processes will advance in tandem.

When you consider how much we have learned since 1948, when Edward Tolman challenged the behaviorists belief that we are the passive receivers of outside information, the future of cognitive learning research looks brighter.

We now know that we use far more than 10% of our brain, but there are still more secrets of cognitive learning and our brains informational processes that we haven’t uncovered yet.