The Big-Fish-Little-Pond Effect (BFLP)

The concept of BIG-FISH-LITTLE-POND was first observed by Australian educational psychologist Herbert W. Marsh and colleague. The effect was published in an article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 1984. The findings were substantiated in a survey of 4,000 15-year-olds, carried out in 26 countries by Marsh and associate. The findings were published in the Journal of American Psychologist in 2003.

The big-fish-little-pond effect refers to the propensity of equally able schoolchildren to show lower academic self-esteem when attending a school in which the average ability level of other children is high than when it is low. The phenomenon is believed to be the outcome of social comparison processes, and it means that children who attend academically selective schools have a low level of academic self-esteem as compared to when they attend academically non-selective schools.

According to the theory, children who study in higher-achieving schools compare themselves with their peers and consider themselves less capable, while equally performing students in lower-achieving settings have more confidence. The effect is evident across all subjects, be it math or science or history, and at all levels of education. Students from both low-income and high-income background exhibit it. And countries all around the world see it.

Researchers have observed that when you are a “big fish” (high-achieving student) in a “little pond” (lower-achieving school), you have a more positive academic self-concept. Conversely, when equally talented students (little fish) are in high-achieving environments (big pond), they compare themselves with their peers and conclude that they don’t measure up.

The Cocktail Party Effect

The COCKTAIL PARTY EFFECT is the phenomenon of being able to focus one’s auditory attention on a particular stimulus while filtering out other simultaneous stimuli. Due to this effect an individual can concentrate on a single source of auditory stimuli among the multiple sources of noise. The cocktail party effect was defined by Colin Cherry, a British scientist, in 1953. This effect enables people to converse in noisy settings such as in a cocktail party or a musical concert.

The phenomenon is related to our perception, attention, and consciousness and it indicates that there can be different levels of consciousness which makes it possible for an individual to be more or less aware of sensory inputs even when he/she is not paying attention to them.

This is due to cocktail party effect that when someone hears a word or phrase important to him/her, such as one’s name, it immediately catches his/her attention and shifts the focus even when he or she has not been paying attention to that auditory stimuli.

Imposter Phenomenon or Imposter Syndrome

Imposter phenomenon, also known as imposter syndrome, refers to a subjective experience of phoniness in individuals who think that they are not capable, intelligent, or creative despite evidence of high achievement, and who are highly motivated to achieve but live in perpetual fear of being ‘found out’ or exposed as frauds. The sufferer feels that the success is the result of just luck and not because of his/her qualifications or talent. It was first explained in the year 1978 by two US psychologists Pauline Rose Clance and Suzzane A Imes in an article titled ‘The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention.’ According to the article, women were more susceptible to the phenomenon. However, recent researches have shown that it affects both men and women equally. In other words it is a pervasive and persistent feeling of self-doubt, insecurity, or fraudulence inspite of often overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The phenomenon affects people who are smart and intelligent and often at the time of some big achievement. As per the International Journal of Behavioral Science, about 70 % of individuals suffer from this phenomenon at some point in their lives.

Pica (Disorder)

Pica is a term that refers to cravings for substances that are largely non-nutritive or rather non-foods, such as hair, paper, ice, glue soil, stones, drywall or paint, sharp objects, metal, glass, chalk, etc. The word pica is derived from the Latin word for the bird magpie that feeds on whatever it encounters.

According to the current estimate of the Handbook of Clinical Child Psychology the prevalence rates of pica range from 4% to 26% among institutionalized populations. Pica is more common among children and pregnant women. People with certain mental health conditions such as schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder may also develop pica as a coping mechanism. It is usually temporary but is often more severe and long-lasting in people with severe developmental disabilities.

There’s no single cause of this eating disorder. In some cases, it may be related to mental retardation or mental illness, while in others, it may be associated with a deficiency in iron, zinc, or another nutrient resulting from malnutrition. Pica has also been found to be associated with decreased activity of the dopamine system in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that aids relaying the transmission of nerve impulses from one neuron to another. Due to this association, some researchers think that there may be a connection between abnormally low levels of dopamine in the brain and the development of pica. However, no specific underlying biochemical disorders have been identified.

The following four criteria have been posited by Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition that must be met to diagnose a person with pica:

1. Person must persist in eating non-nutritive non-foods for at least one month.

2. This eating must be considered abnormal for the person’s stage of development.

3. Eating these substances cannot be associated with a cultural practice that is considered normal in the social context of that person.

4. For people who currently have a medical condition such as pregnancy or a mental disorder like autism spectrum disorder, the action of eating non-nutritive non-foods should only be considered pica if it is dangerous and requires extra medical investigation or treatment on top of what they are already receiving for their pre-existing condition.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Self-fulfilling prophecy refers to a prediction that becomes true as a consequence of having been made. In other words, the expectancy becomes a cause, so that what is expected comes true because it was expected. A self-fulfilling prophecy can be directed at oneself, another person, a group, or even inanimate objects. The process involves three steps:

1. An individual forms an expectation of a situation or target person

2. That individual’s expectations affect how he or she behaves in the situation or treats the target person

3. The situation or the target person is affected by that individual’s behavior in a way that validates the individual’s initial expectation

Therefore, if a teacher of a class predicts a fall in the students’ grades, then the prediction is likely to bring about a fall in the students’ grades irrespective of any other factors, because students will be more likely to perform poorly in the assessments. Hence, expecting a particular outcome from somebody will bring change in the behavior, and this, in turn, will influence other’s response which will ultimately reinforce the former’s behavior and that’s how self-fulfilling prophecy works.

Diogenes Syndrome or Senile Squalor Syndrome

Diogenes syndrome, also known as senile squalor syndrome, is a behavioral disorder that affects older adults. It is characterized by extreme self-neglect, poor personal hygiene, severe domestic squalor, excessive hoarding of trash, and social withdrawal. It occurs in both men and women.

The syndrome is named after Diogenes, the ancient Greek philosopher who showed ‘contempt for social organization’ and ‘lack of shame.’ People with this syndrome also show a lack of shame. They are often unaware that anything is wrong with the conditions they are living in and remain unconscious of their self-neglecting behavior. They usually live alone and may also displays symptoms of catatonia.

Diogenes syndrome is often linked to mental illnesses, such as dementia, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), depression, and addiction. Research suggests that it is most common among people with average intelligence, who are over 60 years, and are living alone.

The Pratfall Effect

Originally defined by Elliot Aronson, the PRATFALL EFFECT is a phenomenon in Social Psychology that states that an individual’s perceived likability increases or decreases after he or she makes a mistake, depending on that individual’s perceived competence. Thus, when brilliant people err, they appear more attractive or likable as compared to those who don’t commit any or are “perfect” in every sense. On the other hand, a person who is perceived average in terms of competencies would be considered less attractive and likable after committing the mistake.

This means that while the likability of an individual whom people admire or really look up to increases after he or she makes a mistake, the reputation or attractiveness of a perceived average individual would be adversely affected by it.

Pratfall effect occurs because perfection appears threatening to most people and they find it hard to associate with others who are highly competent, perhaps more so than themselves. Imperfect or flawed individuals, on the other hand, seem approachable and a lot less intimidating. Since competent people making mistakes appear more human, they seem to be more attractive and likable.

The Zeigarnik Effect

Named after a Russian psychologist, the Zeigarnik effect suggests that incomplete or interrupted tasks are better remembered. The phenomenon was inspired by Gestalt psychologist Kurt Lewin’s observation of waiters who had better recollections of orders that were unpaid. However, the waiters were unable to remember the details of the orders after they were paid. Zeigarnik took interest in the phenomenon and undertook a study to analyze the processes behind. His findings “On Finished and Unfinished Tasks” were published in a journal in 1927. In the experiment, participants were given a series of tasks like puzzles, or flat-pack box to complete. During the task, half of the participants were interrupted subtly by the supervisor, while half of the participants performed the tasks without any interruption. After the experiment was over, Zeigarnik interviewed the participants about the details of the tasks. The findings confirmed the observations of Lewin’s. Participants who were interrupted during the task were better able to recall the details as compared to those who were not interrupted.

The benefits of interruption can be explained by Lewin’s field theory, which states that a task that has already been started creates a task-specific tension; this tension, in turn, improves cognitive accessibility of content that is relevant. This tension, however, is relieved when the task is completed. In this way, when a task is interrupted, mind is unable to relieve the task-specific tension. This constant tension makes the content more readily accessible and easily remembered. This phenomenon has an application with students who are studying. It has been found that students who perform unrelated or irrelevant activities (studying different subject or playing sports) during studies, remember the content better than students who continue studying one subject without any interruption.

Delusional Parasitosis or Ekbom Syndrome

Delusional parasitosis, also known as Ekbom syndrome, is a delusional disorder which causes an individual to believe that he or she is infested with parasites or bugs without any infestation in real. The other name, Ekbom syndrome, came from Swedish neurologist Karl-Axel Ekbom, who wrote seminal accounts of the disease during late 1930s. Contrary to the cases of actual parasitosis, such as scabies etc., in which a skin infestation is present and identifiable through physical examination or laboratory tests, patients with this rare mental disorder have the delusional conviction that small organisms such as mites or insects have infested their skin. Individuals suffering from this condition report a sensation similar to insects crawling on or under their skin. Sufferers may injure themselves in attempts to be rid of the “parasites.” Delusional parasitosis is observed more commonly in women, and the prevalence is much more past the age of 40.

The Pygmalion Effect

The Pygmalion effect refers to the phenomenon in which a person’s performance is enhanced when greater expectation is placed on him.  The phenomenon is mostly seen in children, students or employees. It is a form of self-fulfilling prophecy, whereby an individual behaves the way others expect him or her to and thereby making the prediction to become true. Robert Rosenthal and Lenore F. Jacobson conducted the famous experiment on this phenomenon and published it in a book entitled Pygmalion in the Classroom (1986). In the experiment, experimenters conducted standard IQ test on children of an elementary school at the beginning of an academic year, and selected 20 per cent (about five children per class) at random, and told their teachers that the tests suggested that these children were potential academic ‘spurters’ who could be expected to show unusual intellectual gains in the year ahead. When the children were retested at the end of academic year, the ‘spurters’ showed massive IQ gains relative to the other children, especially in the first and second grades (6-7-year-old children). These gains were presumably due to subtle effects of the teachers’ expectations on the way they handled the children.

Foreign Accent Syndrome

Foreign accent syndrome (FAS) is a medical condition as a result of which the patient suddenly develops such speech patterns that he or she is perceived to speak with a “foreign” accent without having acquired it in the perceived accent’s place of origin. FAS is most often caused by a stroke or traumatic brain injury. It may also be caused by migraines, multiple sclerosis, or developmental problems though in some cases no clear cause can be identified. This is a rare syndrome and therefore, it takes a multidisciplinary team of experts including neurologists, radiologists, neuropsychologists, clinical psychologist, and speech-language pathologists to evaluate and diagnose the syndrome.

The syndrome has been documented in cases across the world including accent changes from British English to French, American-English to British English, Spanish to Hungarian, and Japanese to Korean.

The speech changes related to FAS are characterized by fairly predictable errors; “uh” inserted into words; unusual prosody, including equal and excess stress (especially in multi-syllabic words); voicing errors (i.e., bike for pike); consonant substitution, deletion, or distortion; vowel distortions, prolongations, substitutions (i.e. “yeah” pronounced as “yah”); trouble with consonant clusters.

Door-in-the-Face Technique

Door-in-the-Face technique is a sequential request strategy often used for eliciting compliance by making a very large initial request, which the recipient is sure to turn down, followed by a smaller request. In other words at the start a big request is made which a person is expected to decline. Then a smaller request is made which the person finds difficult to refuse because they think they shouldn’t say “NO” again. The theory is that the initial rejection puts the other person in the mood to be more agreeable. Door in the face is an analogy to a customer slamming a door in the face of a salesperson after an unreasonable offer.

The technique was introduced in the year 1975 by a US social psychologist Robert B Cialdini and several colleagues who performed a field experiment in which students were approached on campus and requested to volunteer to spend two hours a week, for two or more years, as unpaid counselors at a local juvenile detention center. No one agreed to this, but when they were then asked whether they would be willing on just one occasion to escort a group of juveniles from the detention center on a two-hour trip to the zoos, 50 per cent agreed, compared with 17 per cent in the control group who received only the second smaller request.

Foot-in-the-Door Phenomenon

During the Korean War, many captured American soldiers were imprisoned in war camps run by Chinese communists. Without using violence, the captors secured their prisoners’ collaboration in activities ranging from running errands and accepting favors to making radio appeals and false confessions to informing on fellow prisoners and divulging military information. When the war ended, 21 prisoners chose to stay with the communists. Many others returned home “brainwashed,” convinced that communism was a good thing for Asia.

A key component of the Chinese “thought-control” program was their effective use of foot-in-the-door phenomenon, a tendency for people who agree to a small request to comply later with a larger one. It is a technique for eliciting compliance by preceding a request for a large commitment with a request for a small one, the initial small request serving the function of softening up the target person.

The Chinese exploited this phenomenon by gradually escalating their demands on the prisoners, beginning with harmless requests (Shein, 1956).

The technique was introduced and named by the US social psychologists Jonathan L. Freedman and Scott C Fraser in 1966. Research studies show that the foot-in-the-door tactic also helps boost charitable contributions, blood donations, and product sales.

The moral is simple, says Robert Cialdini (1993). To get people to agree to something big, “Start small and build.” And be wary of those who would exploit you with the tactic. This chicken-and-egg spiral of actions feeding attitudes feeding actions enables behavior to escalate. A trifling act makes the next act easier. Succumb to a temptation and you will find the next temptation harder to resist.

Reference: Myers, D. G. (1995). Psychology (4th ed.). Worth Publishers: New York.

Riley – Day Syndrome or Familial Dysautonomia

Riley – Day Syndrome, also known as familial dysautonomia, is an inherited disorder that affects autonomous nervous system of the body resulting in multisystem dysfunction. The symptoms of this condition however show when the related gene is passed on to the child by both the parents. The syndrome is named after American pediatricians Conrad Milton Riley and Richard Lawrence Day, who first described it in 1949.

The syndrome is strikingly characterized by lack of tears with emotional crying. In response to emotional stress or pain, patients rather experience episodic hypertension but no tears. Some other signs like decreased perception of pain and temperature changes and excessive sweating and blotchiness of the skin during excitement and eating are also associated with it.

Since body functions controlled by autonomous nervous system—blood pressure, heart rate, sweating, bowel and bladder emptying, digestion, and the senses, are affected, breath-holding spells, vomiting, constipation, reduced sense of taste, diarrhea, and feeding problems appear as other symptoms.

Social Loafing

Social loafing is social psychology phenomenon where individuals tend to exert less effort on a task when they are working as a part of a group than when working on one’s own. The term was coined by US psychologist Bibb Latané in 1979. However evidence has shown that the phenomenon greatly reduced when individual contributions are made identifiable within the group.

Evidence suggests that social loafing tends to occur when individuals contribute to a group product, whereas, coaction effects (the effect on an individual’s task performance of the presence of other individuals engaged in the same activity) tend to occur when individuals work in groups to produce individual products.

Maximilien Ringelmann, a French agricultural engineer first investigated the phenomenon during 1913. In one of his experiments, students pulled as hard as they could on a rope, alone and in groups of two, three, and eight; the results showed that, on average, groups of three exerted only two and a half times as much force as an individual working alone, and groups of eight exerted less than four times the force of a single person.