About the SA Blog Network



Blogging At The Intersection Of Psych and Pop Culture
PsySociety Home

Pop Culture? There’s an Effect for That.

Email   PrintPrint

Hello, my name is Melanie, and I’m addicted to horrible television.

Well, I’m also addicted to social media. And politics. And The Daily Show. And Jennifer Lawrence interviews…

Okay, it’s probably fair to skip to the end of this list and admit that really, I’m just plain addicted to pop culture.

It also seems fair to admit that I’m pretty darn lucky. Because when you conduct research in social psychology for a living, believe me — pop culture suddenly gets so much more interesting.

Like when you suddenly notice how Snooki provides the perfect example for thinking about how we compare (and contrast) ourselves with others. Or how our assumptions about Korean pop sensation Psy perfectly demonstrate how we fall victim to the Fundamental Attribution Error.

The truth is, no matter what we’re looking at in the world around us — be it trends, television, current events, or celebrities — psychology is right there, smack dab in the middle of it.

Apple might have built its brand by telling you that there’s an app for everything, but me? I’m here to tell you that there’s an effect for everything.

Did you ever wonder why Ray and Debra Barone seem so unhappy, while Phil and Claire Dunphy are blissfully in love? Why Todd Akin has such misguided beliefs about how the female body works? Why McKayla Maroney looked so unimpressed with her silver medal? Why so many contestants on reality shows seem to end up hooking up? Why we accuse some record-breaking athletes of doping while we give others the benefit of the doubt? Why Love In The Wild was actually a pretty brilliant idea for a reality dating show?

Yes, there’s an effect for that. There’s an effect for all of that.

So I’m here to tell you more about what those effects actually are, and where we can inevitably see them popping up in the world around us. I’m here because I love social psych so much, I can casually refer to my “favorite papers” in normal conversation without the slightest hint of facetiousness. I’m here because I love shamelessly applying everything that I’ve been studying for the past eight years to everyday events and pop culture phenomena that don’t have anything to do with science on the surface. I’m here because when I stand up at the front of the classroom to teach 100 students about Intro Social Psychology twice a week, I get so excited about being the first one to tell them about all of these awesome things that I can hardly get my words out fast enough. I’m here because I can’t even sit down to watch the Olympics or go see a superhero movie without thinking about how what I’m watching relates to empirical research in my field.

Clearly, I get *very* excited when talking about social psychology.

I want you to trust me on this for now, although it’s my hope that you’ll understand it for yourself soon enough: Once you know about this stuff, there’s no turning back. Let this introductory post serve as your warning that being a social psychologist is a blessing and a curse. Anything you could ever want to know about relationships, persuasion, aggression, cooperation, social influence, conformity, group behavior, power, attitudes, love…it’s all right here in our arsenals. I get to wake up every morning and learn a little bit more about the very foundation of why people do all of the weird things that we do, with some of the coolest findings in all of science (not that I’m biased) as weapons in my back pocket to help me out. It’s a great gig, but I’ll admit – it’s exhausting. After all, most people get to leave their work behind in the office at the end of the day. That’s not exactly possible when you turn on the TV and Kim Kardashian is perfectly demonstrating the main finding from your best friend’s Masters thesis. Even if I were to leave this field tomorrow, it’s already too late. The damage is done. I will never again be able to return to a life where I don’t see the fundamental principles of psychological science unfolding all around me on TV shows, during political debates, and buried in celebrity gossip.

So readers, I invite you to join me here at PsySociety. With any luck, you’ll soon be as cursed as I am.

Melanie Tannenbaum About the Author: Melanie Tannenbaum is a doctoral candidate in social psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she received an M.A. in social psychology in 2011. Her research focuses on the science of persuasion & motivation regarding political, health-related, and environmental behavior. You can add her on Twitter or visit her personal webpage. Follow on Twitter @melanietbaum.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Rights & Permissions

Comments 8 Comments

Add Comment
  1. 1. Bora Zivkovic 1:44 pm 03/13/2013

    Welcome to the family!

    Link to this
  2. 2. syzygyygyzys 5:48 pm 04/10/2013

    So, the first taste was free?

    Link to this
  3. 3. Melanie Tannenbaum in reply to Melanie Tannenbaum 9:14 pm 04/10/2013


    Link to this
  4. 4. syzygyygyzys 10:00 pm 04/10/2013

    It’s from an old Over the Hedge comic strip. I looked for it without success. They had a running storyline for a few weeks with enterprising bees trying to get the characters “hooked” on honey by offering a spoonful and saying, “The first taste is free.”

    When you wrote about being hooked on Pop Culture along with the pictures, the sequence of strips with the bees came up from several years ago. Have to remember not everyone has the same frame of reference. Sorry.

    Link to this
  5. 5. syzygyygyzys 1:18 pm 04/14/2013

    I’m putting this post on your last entry so he is less likely to find it and have it set him off again.

    I first came across Koratsky on the global warming/environment blogs. Something about his post struck me as a bit off from the beginning, but since I was new to reading blog comments, I had no baseline for what to expect. I replied to one of his posts with a nonaggressive question about his logic. That set off a long tirade, probably not 4,000 words, that basically said I was an uneducated idiot who flings his own waste. My wife is still willing to be seen in public with me, so I have some hope that not all of that characterization may be true.

    If you follow the global warming topics, I believe you will agree that many of the comments are from people shouting slogans and ad hominem attacks. I still read them, but rarely comment. If you sort through them, you can find an occasional interesting post.

    Anyway, I did a quick search for Koratsky and Scientific American. The frequency and volume of his comments on the SciAm blogs indicates he must spend most of his waking hours composing comments. I don’t know if it is worth having one of your colleagues on the clinical side look at his posts, but I have to wonder if he has a disorder of some sort.

    I’m not suggesting you respond differently. That is for you to decide. I just wonder if every tortured soul deserves your time. There seem to be many of the unfortunates commenting on these blogs. More may find their way over here.

    Link to this
  6. 6. syzygyygyzys 1:18 pm 04/14/2013

    I meant oldest entry.

    Link to this
  7. 7. Mariam FM 4:32 pm 04/16/2013

    I’m currently a junior and I’ve became a bit infatuated with social psychology. Going through each chapter a light bulb turns on because the theories, principles, and etc; make sense. Regardless of the industry one is in, the dynamic between people outside the work force, and even the influence of media. It’s become very enlightening coming across scientific american that has a component to social psychology.

    Let’s give raise it to social psyc!

    Link to this
  8. 8. Mariam FM 4:32 pm 04/16/2013

    I’ve became a bit infatuated with social psychology. Going through each chapter a light bulb turns on because the theories, principles, and etc; make sense. Regardless of the industry one is in, the dynamic between people outside the work force, and even the influence of media. It’s become very enlightening coming across scientific american that has a component to social psychology.

    Link to this

Add a Comment
You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.

More from Scientific American

Scientific American MIND iPad

Give a Gift & Get a Gift - Free!

Give a 1 year subscription as low as $14.99

Subscribe Now >>


Email this Article