Hate being in the spotlight? Relax, no one is watching.
We are talking anxiety disorders. People with a social phobia tend to fret about being noticed by others. It is not actually being noticed that leads to stress and anxiety, it is the fear of being judged by others that can cause the onset of a panic attack.
The most interesting IB Psychology option available to us is our Abnormal Option (not doing this one? berate your terrible Psychology teacher!). And within Abnormal, we can study anxiety disorders as one of our three groups of disorders: anxiety, affective and eating disorders. Again, a pretty interesting route to explore. For example, I'm sure you are all high achieving IB Psychology students and as such could have a degree of atychiphobia - the fear of failure!
Social phobias are our most prevalent anxiety disorders. Who out there is not just a little bit anxious about getting up on a stage and addressing an audience - having the spotlight shone upon us to be judged? A teacher might just be immune perhaps? ...
Discussing the 'Spotlight Effect'
We tend to vastly overestimate how much attention other people are paying to us. This snippet of a Freakanomics podcast below is an entertaining discussion about the spotlight effect. Honestly, we''re only the centre of our own universes, not everyone elses'.
Psychology in everyday life. One of the things about devoting a rather large proportion of my life to the study and teaching of Psychology is that I'm very much aware of the many, many cognitive biases that we have. Sometimes I find myself in the midst of a particular situation where I'll suddenly think, "hang on! didn't I read a study about this somewhere?"
As if being a teacher doesn't put me out in front of literally hundreds of people each day, the classroom I teach in tends to accentuate the fact I'm up in front of my students, ahem, performing. My classroom used to be the old music room and I have this little stage to teach from, hopping up and down as the lesson dictates; down to students, up to the whiteboard, computer and projector.
Today in class, in front of my lovely, lovely Year 11s I took a dive off my 'stage' . Hilarious! Much, much better than the time I tripped over my laptop chord and brought everything crashing down around me. This was all fine, after a number of near mishaps I had resigned myself to the fact that this was an inevitability. I've been preparing for this for the last two years and as a teacher I'm used to my students laughing at (surely with?) me, so finding myself the sudden and undignified centre of attention wasn't what interested me. I picked myself up, shrugged off the laughter of twenty giggling school girls and went to help answer a student's question, admittedly, a little redder than usual.
What piqued my psychological interest wasn't the glare of unwanted attention from my stage dive, it was the fact that I now had a rather large rip across one knee of my trousers. Which, I might add, I had only just got back from the drycleaners having spent $15. What suddenly gave me pause for thought was this: Am I suddenly in the middle of the Barry Manilow t-shirt experiment?
In Gilovich et al.'s (2000) classic experiment ''Barry Manilow t-shirt experiment', participants were misinformed that they were in an experiment which aimed to examine memory. Memory for details about other people. First, picture this. Assume you are not a 12 year old girl and someone has asked you to put on a t-shirt with a big Justin Bieber face on it, walk through a door and briefly face a room full of complete strangers before exiting the room. The spotlight was on them, they were probably self-conscious enough already and now they had to wear this ridiculous t-shirt in front of a group of peers without being able to explain themselves. Fantastic! You have to love Psychology experiments.
The Spotlight Effect
The original journal article on the spotlight effect on social judgement - Gilovich et al. (2000).
The experimenters were interested in comparing two things. Firstly, an estimate from participant as to how many of the other participants would have noticed they were actually wearing an embarrassing Barry Manilow t-shirt. Gilovich wanted to then compare this estimate to the number of observing participants who had actually noticed the t-shirt.
By now, you will be able to take a pretty good stab at the results. Wearing an embarrassing t-shirt made participants very self-conscious, and being self-conscious vastly inflated overestimations of other people being aware of the ridiculous t-shirt. The assumption was that almost all of the observing participants would have noticed. The reality was that when questioned, hardly any of these observing participants could recall the t-shirt when prompted. No one notices the embarrassing stuff. I'll repeat that, because it is enormously liberating ... No. One. Notices. The. Embarrassing. Stuff.
Humans are highly, highly social beings. Evolution has shaped us to be able to think about what other people are thinking about us. This ability to 'read minds' helps us function is social situations. We know it is not OK to eat with our mouths open because other people will think badly of us. We know it is good to make others laugh, we will be socially accepted and more readily able to belong to our ingroups. And we know, for sure, that it is not OK to wear a Justin Bieber t-shirt, because we will be shunned by others if we do. It turns out that we are terrible mind readers, at least in situations where we think we have made fools of ourselves.
Anyway, back to the classroom. Ripped trousers a bit embarrassing, yes. After all, have you ever had the pleasure of being taught by a teacher wearing nice shiny shoes, a crisp shirt (this was only second period), nice tie ... and a massive big rip across the knee of his nice dress trousers? No? I didn't really think so.
However, armed with my Psychology, I knew that, apart from significant numbers of students in my initial stage-diving class, almost no one else I encountered that day would notice that I was dressed like a fool. Knowledge is power, as the saying goes. With this knowledge I was free to roam the corridors, teach my classes and sit down and chat naturally with my colleagues in the teachers' lounge.
Yeah, you might think. First chance I got, I gapped it home to change ...
Every normal person, in fact, is only normal on the average. His ego approximates to that of the psychotic in some part or other and to a greater or lesser extent. - Sigmund Freud
Author: Derek Burton – Passionate about IB Psychology