Time pressure and social norms

Source: CC0 by Wouterhagens via Wikimedia Commons

In life there is what you are supposed to do and what you actually do. Sometimes it’s the same things. You know you’re supposed to study hard in school, donate money to charity, help others, and stay informed on key political issues. You might do some (like studying or donating to charity) but not others (like volunteering your time to help others or following political events).

If other people ask you what activities you engage in, you also feel prompted to respond in a way that makes you seem more virtuous than you actually are. To the extent that you present yourself in a more favorable manner than you deserve, you are engaging in what psychologists call a socially desirable response.

One of the reasons this trend matters is that it affects the answers people give to survey questions. To the extent that a person is inclined to give a socially desirable response, the data they provide in a survey will be biased against their actual behavior. As a result, interviewers often include a “lie scale” in which they ask multiple questions with a socially desirable answer (such as “I’m always willing to admit when I make a mistake”) to weed out people who give the socially desirable answer. . desirable response rather than one that reflects their actual beliefs and behavior. Someone who gives too many socially desirable answers is probably not telling the truth about themselves in the survey.

Psychologists have also been interested in the factors that cause people to make socially desirable responses. An article by John Protzko, Claire Zedelius and Jonathan Schooler in the November 2019 issue of Psychological sciences explores the relationship between time pressure and giving the socially desirable response to a survey.

In one study, they asked 1,500 participants to complete a survey with 10 questions that had clear and socially desirable answers. Each question called for a yes or no answer. Participants had to either respond quickly (within 11 seconds for each response) or slowly (take more than 11 seconds for each response). Overall, participants who were asked to respond quickly gave significantly more “yes” responses to the questions than those who could respond slowly.

Why does speed increase socially desirable response?

In another study, participants responded to this scale with or without time pressure. Additionally, they completed a scale that measures whether they believe they should live according to their own values ​​and beliefs. Evidence suggests that most people see themselves as inherently good (self-concept) people, so when people believe they should live right with themselves, they are more likely to give socially desirable responses than when they don’t.

This study replicated the finding that time pressure increases socially desirable responses. The interesting finding is that when people react quickly, they are inclined to give the socially desirable response, regardless of their score on the scale measuring whether they should live authentically. When responding slowly, however, they are more likely to give socially desirable responses only if they believe they should be living authentically.

This trend suggests an interesting interpretation of the results.

Basically, everyone knows what society expects of them. When you respond quickly, you default to doing what others expect of you. When you have time to reflect, you can choose to respond in a way that fits who you are.

The reason this model is interesting is that we often have to react quickly in social situations. To help us get along with others, these quick reactions focus on saying and doing the things that will make it easier for us to be liked by others. It’s only when we have time to react slowly that we like to go against what others expect.

This work suggests that if you are part of a social group that does something you would like to avoid, then you need to find a way to slow down your actions to say and do things that are desirable for you, even if they go wrong. against the grain of the rest of society.

About Marjorie C. Hudson

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