Meta Memory


One of the most significant developments in psychology in this new century is the growing interest and research from a metacognitive perspective that emphasizes on people’s memory-based attributions. Several theories have addressed this puzzle of seemingly not knowing and knowing at the same time, that is, how people are able to correctly predict what they will know in the future, when at the moment they are unable to retrieve the correct answer.

Note : Here we are giving comprehensive account of Metamemory, that is to say , it contains content that in parts go beyond UPSC, but at the same time gives aspirant a better understanding by the virtue of reading a topic in its entirety.  Its on the wisdom of the aspirant what he/she can absorb and use in the examination.

Let us try to find some insight to this puzzle through the concept of Metamemory.

In simple terms we can say that:

Metamemory refers to the processes and structures whereby people are able to examine the content of their memories, either prospectively or retrospectively, and make judgments about them. It is thus, people’s knowledge of monitoring and control of their own learning and memory processes.

It is one of the two components of metacognition that include knowledge as well as regulation of one’s cognitions. It encompasses the introspective knowledge of one’s own memory capabilities and strategies that can aid memory, and the processes involved in memory self-monitoring.

There have been theoretical explanations in this regard, which are presented below:

The Cue familiarity hypothesis – by Reder and Ritter.

They proposed that the individuals can evaluate their ability to answer a question before trying to answer it and it is the question (cue) and not the actual memory (target) that is crucial for making metamemory judgments. It implies that judgements regarding metamemory are based on an individual’s level of familiarity with the information provided in the cue

Accessibility hypothesis – by Koriat.

It suggests that participants base their judgments on retrieved information rather than basing them on the sheer familiarity of the cues and that memory will be accurate when there is ease of processing i.e. accessibility.

Researchers showed that individuals in a tip-of-the-tongue (TOT) state were able to retrieve partial knowledge about the unrecalled words, providing strong evidence for the accessibility heuristic. (Vigliocco, Antonini, and Garrett,1997)

Interactive hypothesis

According to this hypothesis, cue familiarity is employed initially, and only once cue familiarity fails to provide enough information to make an inference, the accessibility come into play. Thus, it is a combination of the cue familiarity and accessibility hypothesis.

In a nutshell, some early theories suggested that the person might have direct access to subliminal traces. Whereas the modern explanation of meta memory is basically heuristic in nature i.e. they assume that people have explicit access to some information that notably may be correct or incorrect and that their feeling-of-knowing judgments are based on this information.

After briefly looking into the meaning and the theoretical aspects of Metamemory, let us try to look into its Emergence as a subfield of cognition.

META MEMORY : Exploring its IMPLICIT and EXPLICIT Identity in History.

Memory has been of interest to scholars since time immemorial. The short experimental history of metamemory research per se was evident as early as Simonides’ tale and Aristotle’s theory of memory.

We start with an anecdote not commonly heard of. Cicero narrates the story of Simonides (557–468 BC), who is credited with the discovery of method of loci, which is a powerful mental mnemonic for enhancing one’s memory. Simonides was at a banquet singing a poem. The banquet room collapsed, and all those inside were crushed. To help bereaved families identify the victims, Simonides reportedly was able to name everyone according to the place where they sat at the table, which gave him the idea that order brings strength to our memories.

This example highlights an early discovery that has had important applied implications

for improving the functioning of memory and soon a memory theory followed. And this was the starting point which led the popular and un-popular, intelligent and not so intelligent persons to comment and theorize on the subject of memory. If we take into account all initial theorizing, perhaps we would come up with the volume of text that would be difficult to handle. So in our effort to make it short and crisp ( its an effort and here we know that it will not be so successful) we try to present only important work. Let’s start with a name who command good respect irrespective of the area of his specialization.

Aristotle claimed that memory arises from three processes and Events are associated

(1) through their relative similarity or

(2) relative dissimilarity and

(3) when they co-occur together in space and time.

For Aristotle, recollection involved an investigation of the mind i.e. self-observation and reflection which relied on inferential processes.

Using a mnemonic like the method of loci itself is a metacognitive act because individuals are using the mnemonic to control , and in this case, to improve their memories. Also, Aristotle’s distinction between having passive memories for a past event, versus attempting to recollect the past, has metacognitive implications as well.

Thus, these two historical steps had metacognitive implications, only to be realized later.

Even before metamemory was considered a subfield of cognition, early and groundbreaking work in cognitive psychology during the cognitive renaissance of the late 1950s and early 1960s included processes that are quintessentially metamemorial.

Miller, Galanter, and Pribram (1960), in their classic book, Plans and the Structure of Behavior, they postulated a test-operate-test-exit (TOTE) unit.  If this test reveals a discrepancy between the current state and goal, the individual continues to operate (or work toward) achieving the sought-after goal. If no discrepancy remains, then the individual would terminate that particular goal-oriented behavior. Thus, it shows that while controlling behavior, individuals presumably develop plans to achieve a certain goal and then test their current progress against that goal.

This TOTE mechanism has been foundational to many theories and frameworks of metamemory, which assume that monitoring (analogous to “the tests”) is used to control (analogous to “operate”) memory in service of a learning goal.

It is important to emphasize, however, that metamemory processes were implicated in these and other early theories of memory and cognition but it still remained an abandoned child. Further research paved way for emergence of Metamemory in its present avatar.

Real work on Metamemory started from 1960s:

Further, Atkinson and Shiffrin’s (1968) landmark work on memory proposed that external stimuli, if attended to, are transferred from a sensory store to a short-term memory. At that point, an individual could rely on a number of control processes to maintain the information in the short-term store or to transform the information.

For example, If one were trying to associate two words in a pair (Dog – spoon),  one could repeat the words over and over to oneself (a form of maintenance rehearsal) or one could develop an image of a dog swimming in a large spoon (a form of elaborative rehearsal). In either case, one is taking an active part in learning by manipulating the contents of one’s short-term store. Thus, metamemory processes take center stage even in one of the first modern and computational theories of memory.

Most research on memory in the late 1960s focused almost exclusively on exploring the structure of the short-term store or the longevity of long-term memories. It over-emphasized the human organism as non reflective and, accordingly, used methods to describe human memory that would short-circuit reflective control of learning and memory.

It led Tulving and Madigan (1970) to make this call for metamemory research, especially given the presence of metacognitive processes in early theories of memory.

Other scientists, such as Ann Brown, Joseph Hart and others joined Tulving and Madigan in recognizing the importance of understanding the nature and influence of self-reflective processes and people’s knowledge about their memory and cognitive processes.

The first empirical work traces to Joseph Hart’s research on feeling-of-knowing (FOK) judgments, reported in 1965. The feeling of knowing refers to predictions about subsequent memory performance on previously non recalled items involving relearning and perceptual identification.

John Flavell (1970) coined the term “metamemory” while highlighting the importance of understanding the role of metacognition in development, in his discussion paper,  “Metacognition and Cognitive Monitoring: A New Area of Cognitive-Developmental Inquiry” . He viewed metamemory as learner’s knowledge of their own cognition, defining it as ‘knowledge and cognition about cognitive phenomena’.

He defined basic concepts and posed questions that ultimately helped define and promote the field.

By the late 1980s and early 1990s, metamemory and metacognitive research had obtained an identity in the field and researches were focusing on how people judged their learning during study and other researchers focusing on how people judged their retrieval.

Thus, metamemory was developing as a discipline in its own right with research work focusing on the integrated nature of Metamemory and Memory.

Flavell , further extended his work and suggested that although metacognition is usually defined as knowledge and cognition about anything cognitive, the concept could reasonably be broadened to include anything psychological, rather than just anything cognitive.

In his attempt to identify where metacognition fits in ‘psychological space’ , Flavell suggested that concepts that may be related to metamemory include:

“Executive processes, formal operations, consciousness, social cognition, self-efficacy, self-regulation, reflective self-awareness, and the concept of psychological self or psychological subject”.

Nelson and Narens (1990) offered first framework for metamemory that unified the field by illustrating how various metamemory judgments and control processes were interrelated.

In the framework there were two levels:

  • The Object level comprising of  cognition and memory.
  • The Meta level consisting of metacognition and metamemory.

Information flow from the meta level to the object level is called Control like allocating study time and selecting search strategies.

Information flow from the object level to the metalevel is called Monitoring like Judgments of how easy to-be-studied items will be to learn.

Diagrammatic presentation can be shown as (Figure 1):


According to them, both monitoring and control processes occur in acquisition, retention, and retrieval. It implied that metamemory and memory were by their very nature integrated.

To Be Continued… with components and application part.

Working Memory

WORKING MEMORY – An Emerging Construct of Conscious Processing.

Good times come and go, but the memories last forever ….

To a lay person this seems to be a perfect description of memory and up to an extent it is also valid but not so for a psychology student as it’s a known fact that memories do fade, sooner or later, and it’s a miniscule and specific memories that remain with us for a long time and some perhaps lifelong. Here comes the concept of ‘flashbulb memories’ and ‘episodic memories’ which don’t require any detailed examination.   To a reader of psychology, memory is a complex entity and it takes good time and energy to understand the topic in its entirety and once understood one has a leverage to use some of practical concepts while preparing for this examination particularly. So the point is that, here in this article what we intent to cover is a recent conceptual understanding of memory based on ongoing research work and that is Working Memory and not the entire Memory per se.

It’s human nature to go deeper and deeper in understanding of things and probe high seas to discover new things which hitherto lies in the ‘black hole’. And we owe a great deal to this trait of humans that now we stand at a better platform be it any aspect of life and understand things in a much more comprehensive manner and not only this, based on this, new theories and medical achievements are made. So now let’s come to the topic directly and try to do as much justice as we can do with it.

Note: We recommend and appreciate that a curious reader of Psychology comes up with more ideas and any gaps that might be left even after no intention of the same. 

So in simple terms Working Memory is about being fully conscious in the present moment. Also, whatever we do, we do it with complete focus and attention to the activity we are actually performing. This deeper dimension of alertness and consciousness, at the psychological level, has been linked to the concept of Working Memory.

As it is art to make things simpler for a reader to understand, by same virtue it’s an art to make things complex. Hence it is important to be good in both the forms and we bring you a formal definition of Working memory (hereafter referred as WM )

Working memory (WM) is a concept widely used in psychology and cognitive neuroscience to describe and refer to a system responsible for temporarily storing and manipulating information in the performance of more complex cognitive tasks (Hulme & Mackenzie, 1992) or as a ‘mental workspace’ for manipulating activated long-term memory representations (Stoltzfus, Hasher, & Zacks, 1996). Baddeley, a name intricately woven with the working memory had himself commented that though the concept was first brought into light by Atkinson and Shiffrin but not being examined in detail. Later, working on the WM model, he said, working memory is viewed as a comprehensive system that unites various short- and long-term memory subsystems and functions (1986).

Growing research in this area has open new avenues and consistently shown that WM has been quite an active player in: (1) encoding functions (2) involvement in effortful retrieval from long-term memory; (3) enactment of strategic processes; and (4) executive and attentional processes etc.

Working memory supports human cognitive processing by providing an interface between perception, short-term memory, long-term memory, and goal-directed actions. Working memory is particularly necessary for conscious cognitive processing because it permits internal representation of information to guide decision making and overt behavior. Fundamentally, working memory is one of the main cognitive processes underlying thinking and learning. By utilizing the contents of various memory-storage systems, working memory enables us to learn and to string together thoughts and ideas (Milton J Dehn).

WM is thought to be involved in most of our everyday activities, such as preparing one’s own contribution to a debate while following the other participants and incorporating their arguments. Thus, WM corresponds well to our everyday phenomenon of ‘keeping in mind’ some information to deal effectively with our environment. So does it mean that WM is an integral part of all our cognitive activities/operation that we undertake day in day out?  Fortunately, the active participation of the working memory system is not needed for all cognitive operations or behaviour.  Some Cognitive operations or behaviours, practiced overtime, and attained the level of ‘automaticity’ can be carried out in a fairly automatic fashion with almost independent of working memory  (Unsworth & Engle, 2007). However, it is clear that WM is fairly important for the acquisition of skill mastery that leads to “automatized processing”. It is also necessary when dealing with novel information, problems, or situations; trying to inhibit irrelevant information; maintaining new information; and consciously retrieving information from long-term memory.

From this, it seems clear that WM is intricately interwoven with conscious awareness. It is difficult to imagine a situation in which we are not consciously aware of the stimuli that enter WM. Indeed, prominent conceptions of WM and consciousness propose that all WM operations, from input to recall, are conscious (Baars and Franklin, 2003), and that WM provides the ‘global workspace’ for conscious awareness (Baddeley, 2003).

After pondering over the above lines, it is but obvious that some questions do arise in our consciousness at present, such as:

Were the existing explanations and theoretical base not enough to answer some aspects of memory?
Is working memory present in all beings?
Can we imagine our day to day activities without WM?
Are there Individual differences with respect to its capacity?
Is there any correlation between WM and concepts like Attention, Learning, Intelligence, emotions etc?

To begin with, let’s start with a brief historical walk.

First, let’s compare WM with its parental lineage i.e. Short Term Memory to give you a better picture.

Working Memory versus Short-Term Memory

Many cognitive psychologists and memory experts view short-term and working memory as interchangeable or consider one to be a subtype of the other. Other theorists and researchers hold the view that working memory and short-term memory are distinguishable constructs. Regardless of which view the reader adopts, it is important for assessment and intervention purposes to recognize the contrasts between short-term memory (STM) and working memory (WM). The main differences are:

  • STM passively holds information; WM actively processes it.
  • STM capacity is domain specific (verbal and visual); WM capacity is less domain specific.
  • WM has stronger relationships with academic learning and with higher-level cognitive functions.
  • STM automatically activates information stored in long-term memory; WM consciously directs retrieval of desired information from long-term memory.
  • STM has no management functions; WM has some executive functions.
  • STM can operate independently of long-term memory; WM operations rely heavily on long-term memory structures.
  • STM retains information coming from the environment; WM retains products of various cognitive processes.

Hence, as the evidence, understanding  and research work grows two different views can be seen. One, wherein the majority of empirical investigations have included short term memory, with many non-discriminating features. Other view holds that Short-term memory and working memory are separable, and short-term memory can function without working memory.

To Be Continued …

The Psychology of Gender – Part II

Gender Identity and Gender Expression

Gender expression refers to the ways in which each individual manifests masculinity or femininity. It is usually an extension of ones Gender identity i.e. our innate sense of being male or female. Each of us expresses a particular gender every day – by the way we style our hair, select our clothing, or even the way we stand. Our appearance, speech, behaviour, movement, and other factors signal that we feel – and wish to be understood – as masculine or feminine, or as a man or a woman.

It is important to note that for some, their gender expression may not match their biological sex. That is, while other people see them as being male or female, they may or may not fit the expectations of masculinity or femininity.

In the contemporary times, the line that once was like the iron curtain in regard to gender expression is getting blurred. One may not have to stress much to bring it to the mind the ways it is happening. Today there is a notion that men and women lead strikingly similar lives, cohabiting, receiving same education, having equal legal rights and also same employment opportunities. But the irony is that, despite the intermixing of gender roles and similarities in gender expression, still the psycho-social realities around the world in general and in India in particular are on opposite ends of the spectrum. We must realise that the core reasons for unequal status of the two genders are more due to psychological characteristics which have been passed on, generation after generation, thus becoming deep rooted in the societies.

Despite the echoes of equality and women empowerment being heard all over, we are facing so many gender specific issues arising in such complex forms that they have the potential of creating waves of upheaval to shake the basic foundations of society’s views on gender. But equally astonishing is the fact that, even in modern Morocco, women are not concerned with equality. The distinct roles of men and women are not questioned in Morocco (Hessini, 1994). The man is the leader of the family and works outside the home to provide for the family; the woman is responsible for the household, which includes the education and religious training of children.

Although the cultural code (in Morocco) for men is to support the family financially, economic necessity has led to an increase in the number of women working outside the home. This is creating some tension because both women and men believe that women’s primary responsibility lies inside the home and that women should not work outside the home. So there are differences that occur world over with respect to gender roles and the expectancies, but for now let us see some of the manifestations generally encountered in our own society and culture.

To analyse female identity in India, let us first start by enlisting some  contemporary manifestations of gender discrimination observed in various spheres of life.

 Manifestations in social sphere

  • Little or no role of women in religious rituals.
  • Restricted entry of women in sanctum sanctorum of temples and mosques.
  • Medieval age practices of triple talaq and polygamy.
  • Existence of practices like dowry, child marriage.
  • Eve teasing, sexual harassment , rape, acid attack, delayed justice.
  • Selective abortion of female foetus and female infanticide.

Manifestations in professional sphere

  • Existence of glass ceiling
  • Wage disparity
  • Subtle sexism at work place.
  • Maternity leave and child rearing are important markers for hiring a woman employee.
  • Patriarchal societal framework which restricts personal, social and occupational advancement of women.

Does all these external manifestations somehow lead to inequality in status between women and men? The obvious answer is ‘Yes’. Let’s have a brief look on it: There are a number of indices of gender inequality. The higher illiteracy rates of women, less access to medical care for women, a lower earnings ratio of women compared to men, and the legitimization of physical abuse of women in some countries are all manifestations of men’s higher status relative to women’s. In India and China, some female fetuses are aborted because they are less valued than males. The one-child policy in China has led to the abortion of female fetuses even though sex-selective abortion is prohibited by the government. These are only few examples to point towards the inequality as far as status is concerned.

All these manifestations lead to male dominance and make them as a ” Privilege group“. We say privileged because, historically, women were not allowed to vote or own property. At one time, only men were allowed to serve in the military. Today, men have greater access than women to certain jobs and to political office.

The problem doesn’t stop here, its a reaction which ones initiated gets new forms, and in consistency with this, these outward and external discriminations lead to internal manifestations i.e. internalization of these discriminatory behaviors into a woman’s psyche. This is the time when fragmentation of psyche begins which has a strong bearing on her adjustment in the society. This fragmentation leads to imbibing some of the negative aspects in her self concept such as :


Hence, it is clear that the cumulative impact can be muti -dimentional, depending on personality characteristics of a female, ranging from inter personal mal-adjustment to mental health problems to role confusion to lower achievement drive to identity crisis and also to seeing discrimination as legitimate. In low self efficacy females this gets manifested in social isolation and unmitigated communion, which has a ripple effect and can be seen and understood from the below diagrammatic representation:

 Model of the relation between unmitigated communion and depression. 


                      Source: Adapted from Fritz and Helgeson (1998).     

So coming back from where we started, ” The Psychology of Gender” is more about the context, social and cultural forces that influences men and women in the society. This leaves us with the message that primary focus, when dealing with the psychology of gender, should not be on biology alone, although their contributions are accepted and registered.

This is all for Now ! 

The Psychology of Gender – Part I

The Psychology of Gender

Albert Einstein once said , ‘Women always worry about the things that men forget and men always worry about the things that women remember!’.

Even in prevalent times, youngsters say things like, ‘Men are from mars and Women are from Venus’.  It takes head over heels to find, why is it so?  Why are we different from one another?  Was it the same since ages?

This write up is to provide some insights on gender psychology, as the heading of the article makes it aptly clear.  The article has been named as “The Psychology of Gender”  and not “The Psychology of Sex” for the known and established fact that more than the biology it is the socio-cultural factors that shape the expectations and the reactions of our society towards men and women. Nature has its role but its nurture that assumes more significance in our society and culture when it comes to gender psychology.

So, having set out the expectations of a reader from the article lets go step by step and explore the topic. Let’s for a moment pause and visualize:

  • A mountaineer who just scaled the Mt Everest.
  • A country’s president- strong, powerful, dynamic – making a speech.
  • A CEO of a Techno-giant addressing the public on a launch of a new Mac model.
  • A business tycoon owning a business worth millions and expanding it veraciously.

It would not be an exaggeration to say, that for 99% of population, the visualisation would be of a Male. What is astonishing is the fact that the statistics hold the same when these questions were asked from women belonging to different strata of the society.

The gender preferences and priorities are so hardwired that it is not uncommon to observe it in the use of language (or Sexiest language, if it may be said so) where we see consistently the use of phrases like “men and women” , “he and she” and not “women and men”, “her and hisand so on. So what actually conspires is what we are trying to find and if we are able to answer ‘The What’, probably we can look for ‘The Why’.

Gender, as a subject of scientific research had been there with us for more than a century. Scientists have debated and discussed at length the similarities and the differences between women and men. Are men better at Science than women? Are men more aggressive than women? Do women pose some specific traits that make them good in soft skills? Are women better in expressing emotions than men? Are men less willing to seek help from others as compared to their female counterpart? These are some of the obvious and most discussed questions among the scientific community when studying gender psychology.

So, is there any evidence that the differences exist because of biological factors. The answer would be No. A better term to describe these differences is ‘sex-related behaviour’. This term implies the behaviour corresponds to sex, but it does not say anything about the cause or the etiology of the difference.

Though the theme has been set and the topic has just started to gain momentum, but what should have been done at the earliest, as a matter of slip of a memory and not as a part of shirking work, is being done now. For the benefit of our readers, we are bound to define the terms Sex and Gender as that would help in understanding and comprehending the further discussion. So here goes a brief explanation.

Sex refers to the biological categories of female and male, categories distinguished by genes, chromosomes, and hormones. Culture has no influence on one’s sex. Sex is a relatively ‘stable category’ that is not easily changed, although recent technology has allowed people to change their biological sex.

Gender, by contrast, is a much more ‘fluid category’. It refers to the social categories of male and female. These categories are distinguished from one another by a set of psychological features and role attributes that society has assigned to the biological category of sex. For example, it’s common to hear that women are more emotional and sensitive, while when it comes to competitiveness and hardiness, men are believed to be endowed in plenty with such traits. What needs to be understood that these traits are ascribed because of the gender and not the Sex.

Whereas sex is defined in the same way across cultures, but gender differs. For example, In our country if you encounter someone wearing a skirt, you can assume the person is psychologically female as well as biologically female. However, in other countries, such as Scotland, wearing a skirt or a kilt is quite normal for a person of the biological male sex; thus we would not want to use wearing a skirt as a feature of the female or male gender category in Scotland. This is because each society has its own prescriptions for how women and men ought to behave.

Thus, with the clarity of these two dichotomous terms, let us now try to deeply analyse the different facets of Psychology of gender.

Gender is pertinent to many disciplines, such as literary theory, drama studies, film theory, performance theory, contemporary art history, anthropology, sociology, sociolinguistics and psychology. However, these disciplines sometimes differ in their approaches to how and why gender is studied. Gender studies are also a discipline in itself, incorporating methods and approaches from a wide range of disciplines.

Restricting ourselves to psychological circles, we start with  gender differences, gender role development, gender identity and gender expression.

Gender differences and Gender-role development

Simone de Beauvoir once said, “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman” This statement makes us think, what more than biology is there that shapes men and women. To answer this, we have different viewpoints and theories some of which are discussed below.

Evolutionary theory

Evolutionary psychologists have developed a theory to explain the ‘origins of differences’ between men and women.  It is believed that each sex faced different pressures and that the differing reproductive status was the key feature in life at that time. This resulted in sex-specific evolved mechanisms which became the basis of sex-differentiated behaviour. The two sexes developed different strategies to ensure their survival and reproductive success and therefore occupied different social roles. This explains why men and women differ psychologically.

Psychoanalytical perspective

Sigmund Freud was the first to develop a psychodynamic theory of gender development at the turn of the century when it was a given that men and woman were unlike one another. He believed that gender identity develops as a result of strong but unconscious sexual urges an individual possess as a child. Between the ages of three and five, a child goes through the phallic stage, in which he/she will develop strong sexual urges towards the parent of the opposite sex and therefore great jealously towards the parent of the same sex. A normally developing child will resolve this conflict by identifying with the parent of the same sex and copying her/his behaviour.

The social role theory

Alice Eagly’s social role theory of gender differences explains that the inherent physical differences between men and women led to a division of labour in society. Simply stated, gender roles are societal and cultural differences between what behaviours we expect to see from men and from women.  Thus, the critical cause is societal expectation embedded in social structure. This explains the notion of gender stereotypes about male-specific careers and female-specific careers.

For example, the fields of nursing and teaching usually have more women than men. Construction and engineering are male-dominated industries. Eagly’s theory puts forth the idea that these gender specific careers evolved from inborn proficiencies in these areas. Women are better nurturers so they thrive in the nursing industry. Males are physically stronger so naturally make better construction workers.

Cognitive Developmental View Point

According to Kohlberg, gender identity is postulated as the basic organizer and regulator of children’s gender learning. Children develop the stereotypic conceptions of gender from what they see and hear around them. Once they achieve gender constancy –the belief that their own gender is fixed and irreversible — they positively value their gender identity and seek to behave only in ways that are congruent with that conception. Cognitive consistency is gratifying, so individuals attempt to behave in ways that are consistent with their self-conception.

Social learning perspective

It regards gender identity and role as a set of behaviours that are learned from the environment. For Albert Bandura , gender behaviours are learned through the process of observational learning, vicarious reinforcement and punishment. Children observe the people around them behaving in various ways, some of which relate to gender.

Fagot ,1978 found that boys and girls were reinforced and punished for different behaviours. Boys were reinforced for playing with gender appropriate toys ,like cars, and punished for playing with dolls. Girls were reinforced for staying close to the parent and punished for rough and tumble play. Thus, they pay attention to these models and encode their behaviour. They also learn vicariously from the outcomes of behaviours of other individuals. At a later time, they may imitate what they have observed.

 Gender schema theory

Sandra Bem suggests that cultural influences largely impacts how children develop their ideas and schemas (mental codification of experiences) about what it means to be a man or woman. A child’s cognitive development combined with societal influences was what led to the development of gender schema.

Society’s beliefs about what constitutes “male traits” and “female traits” influence this development of gender schema.These gender schemas then have an impact not only on how a child processes social information, but also on his attitudes, beliefs, and behaviour. Thus they engage in behaviour (Gender role) that is consistent with their gender appropriate schema.

Gender role refers to the expectations that go along with being male versus female. We typically expect men to be strong, independent, and competitive, and to keep their emotions hidden. These are features of the male gender role.

By contrast, we typically expect women to be caring, emotionally expressive, polite, and helpful: features of  the female gender role. In other words, we expect men to be masculine and we expect women to be feminine. Masculinity includes the traits, behaviours, and interests that society has assigned to the male gender role. A masculine trait is self-confidence; a masculine behaviour is aggression; and a masculine interest is watching sports. Femininity includes the traits, behaviours, and interests assigned to the female gender role. A feminine trait is emotional; a feminine behaviour is helping someone; and a feminine interest is cooking.


Crowd Psychology – Part 3

Having listed the related concepts on Crowd – its time to bring it to logical end.

What Game Theory has to say about – Crowding !

It’s an attempt to explain crowds in individualistic terms. Olson (1965 ) in his classic, “The Logic of Collective Action”, argued, that crowd members act as Classic utility Maximizers seeking to increase benefits over costs to the individual self but under conditions of altered contingencies. The most consistent champion of this approach has been Richard Berk.

His ‘ Rational Calculus Model ‘ of Crowd Action involved Five Steps.

crHence, we can say that the probability of an act is a joint function of payoff and perceived probability of support. So, where one perceives mass support, one will be more likely to carry out actions/ behavioural choices which one would not have dared to act alone. The effect of crowd is therefore to transform behaviour while maintaining the individual standards and tendencies on which behaviour is based.

Now lets see few concrete terms ( focussing more on Indian Context ):


1. MOB – Active crowd is called mob.

It is further divided into:

a. Aggressive mob: It is violent in nature and focused outwardly.

b. Escapist mob: When a gathering ( large ) is panicked and tries to escape the threatening situation.

2. AUDIENCE – Passive crowd is generally termed as Audience.

In Indian context, the underlying theme behind conflict and violence is social change. India is undergoing adaptive changes which aim at restructuring the society at structural and functional level. It involves changes in existing equations between different social groups as well as changes in behaviour patterns, value systems and attitudinal positions.

However, our cultural continuity with the past is very strong and any progressive ideology usually does not bring about basic transformation. It occurs through selective adaptation.

In a multicultural, multi-religious and multi-ethnic society like India, there are various markers of social identity like caste, class, language, region, religion which all serve to provide multiple identities to groups and individuals. Often it works at cross purposes with each other and also with common identity.

This brings about selectivity in perception and lack of perspective taking which paves way for intolerance and it finds expression in aggression and violence. It is further fuelled by relative deprivation, resource competition and power differentials.

With this, let us now try to find out “Psychological Explanations” to recent happenings, rather unfortunate mis-happenings, of mob violence in India.

1. POLICE VERSUS THE CROWD IN KASHMIR The Elaborated Social Identity Model by Reicher (1999)

Public disorder is described in terms of asymmetric relationships between groups, implying that differing perceptions of the same social context are held by the two groups, which can lead to an increased negative tension between ” us versus them “.  Thus, intervention by the police is regarded as inappropriate by the public and violent behaviour is the outcome.

The processes of social identity and self-categorisation explain how a person will perceive reality and act. Schreiber (2010)

2. MOB LYNCHING IN DADRI, DAIMABAD AND JHARKHAND – The Initiation-Escalation Model of Collective Violence by Adang (2010)

The escalation of collective violence, i.e. more people getting involved, is explained by a combination of two different mechanisms:

a. “Risk perception” involves a mechanism that describes potential escalation based on the perceived risk or opportunity . Especially young adult males have the tendency to take more risks and to be violent, an expression of ‘the young male syndrome’. These young males actively seek out opportunities to confront rival groups and they reduce their perception of risks by being together and acting with their mates (Wilson & Daly, 1985).

b. The “Us versus Them” antagonism involves the perception of one’s own group (the in-group) relative to another group (the out-group).

These observations provided evidence for the absence of irrationality in the behaviour individuals show. Rather, people behave in a way that is meaningful for themselves.


1. DEINDIVIDUATION: People distance themselves from their personal identities which reduces their concern for social evaluation. Lack of restraint increases individual’s sensitivity to the environment and lessens rational thought processes, which can lead to antisocial behaviour.

2. DIFFUSION OF RESPONSIBILITY: It is a phenomenon wherein in the presence of others a person is less likely to take responsibility for action or inaction i.e. the responsibility is diffused within the group.

3. CONFORMITY PRESSURE: The followers form the majority of the mob. Sherif and Asch in their studies have found that these people tend to be creatures of conformity that are heavily influenced by the opinions of others. The herd mentality prevails and collective action is blindly followed.

4. ANONYMITY: The crowd does not have a face or a name. Anonymity, group unity, and arousal can weaken the feeling of guilt and shame.

5. PURSUATION: Crowd members are further convinced by the persuasive tendency that if everyone in the mob is acting in such-and-such a manner, then it cannot be wrong. This sustains group action.

6. SOCIAL IDENTITY: holds that the crowd is a product of the coming together of like-minded individuals all of whom belong to various conflicting groups. The values of that group dictate crowd action. The individuals assume a new social identity as a member of the crowd.

7. SCAPEGOATING: A scapegoat is person or group that is forced to take the blame for happenings that are not their fault. People may be prejudiced towards the group they dislike and set them as their target for venting out anger.

8. STEREOTYPING: A stereotype is a preconceived notion, especially about a group of people. These thoughts or beliefs may or may not accurately reflect reality but negative stereotype predisposes an individual or group to violent action.

9. INGROUP BIAS: It is the tendency to favour one’s own group. Each perceive their own group(In-group)as being the “right” and “good” group, while the other group (Out-group) as “bad” and “evil’ . The out group is perceived negatively and given worse treatment.

10. JUST WORLD FALLACY: It is a cognitive bias and a belief that a person or group’s actions are inherently inclined to bring morally fair consequences to the evil actions of the other person or group.


After analysing the dynamics of crowd psychology, we can now connect the threads and create a well knitted picture of the ongoing societal happenings.

It is essential that various social groups constituting the society are able to develop a set of common attitudes, aspirations and belief system along with shared and mutually agreed upon goals and also the manner in which these goals can be pursued. Emotional and psychological integration is the underlying key which can help groups retain their respective identity and bind them together with a common identity. Responsible and equitable action of state machinery and impartial dispute resolution by judiciary would increase the legitimacy of these institutions and promote social integration. Only Then the collective intellect and collective energy of the crowd can be put to constructive use.

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Crowd Psychology – Part 2

In the backdrop of basic understanding of what a crowd is and the historical antecedents attached to it, let’s now look on some other dimensions and perspectives. It is seen that crowd members, taking part in violent action against the social order might be expected to be individuals who lose all sense of SELF and all sense of responsibility. Yet, at the same time, they gain a sentiment of invincible power due to their numbers.

In traditional crowd research, crowd behaviour was regarded as completely different from any non-crowd situation1. At the base of these myths lie two types of theories: transformation theories and predisposition theories (McPhail, 1991).



Pioneered by Le Bon, it is built on the idea of “group mind” which states that every individual in a large gathering is transformed into a crowd member. The crowd puts them in the possession of a collective mind, which makes them feel, think, and act quite differently from a situation in which each individual would feel, think, and act, were he in a state of isolation. The loss of self, formed the basis that led to transformation of individuals into a crowd.



According to Allport and Miller & Dollard , the steering force in a crowd lies at the individual level. The predispositions i.e. similar innate drives that individuals supposedly share,  give rise to similar crowd behaviour. Therefore, the power of control was transferred from a collective property (group mind) to a “similar property” for all individuals.

The growing body of evidence has shown results that goes against the popular traditional notion regarding crowd.

It is generally believed that certain myths grip our understanding regarding crowd, and these can be summarized as:

(adopted from Schweingruber (2005) which is in its turn based on the identification made by McPhail (1991) and Couch (1968):

NewBriefly introducing them:

Myth of Irrationality : the idea that individuals in a crowd lose rational thought

Myth of Emotionality : the idea that individuals in a crowd become more emotional

Myth of Suggestibility : the idea that individuals in a crowd are more likely to obey or imitate

Myth of Destructiveness : the idea that individuals in a crowd are more likely to act violently

Myth of Spontaneity : the idea that in a crowd violence occurs more suddenly

Myth of Anonymity : the idea that individuals in a crowd feel more anonymous

Myth of Uniformity : the idea that all individuals in a crowd act in the same way

Eventually modern research on Crowd has thrown some insightful results and has helped in bursting some popular notions in the field. This led to three important insights on crowd behaviour:

• Crowd behaviour is generated by individuals

The behavioural patterns that arise at a group level cannot be explained solely in terms of group level descriptions. Each individual is unique and thus responds differently, resulting in a heterogeneous crowd.

• Crowd behaviour is context dependent

Every situation is unique and affects individual choices in any given context. Behaviour is perceptions of external stimuli in interaction with internal factors. Behaviour in a crowd is not a simple social reflex, it is an active product of the interaction of an individual with its social environment (Couch, 1968).

• Crowd behaviour is dynamic

Behaviour in a crowd continuously changes as a consequence of the role of situational influences over time.

Thus, the overview of literature and current crowd research has done away with many myths that simply by being part of the crowd, individuals lose rational thought(Couch, 1968; Adang, 1998).

The fact is that people in crowds do not behave irrationally, i.e. do not encounter a cognitive shut-down. Actually, the available evidence supports the opposite: individuals behave rationally given the information they have and they pursue goals effectively

Thus modern foundation disregards the view of traditional perspective of ‘absence of cognitive activity’. When public self-awareness is blocked, people ignore what others think and hence exhibit anti-normative behaviours. When private self-awareness is blocked, people lose access to their own internal standards and fall under external control.

Thus we can say that, to understand why and how behaviour patterns arise, a description of the internal world of an individual and his thought processes along with situational demands provides a key to decode crowd psychology!

Having given a bird’s eye view on the Crowd, there remain few more aspects to be told. To avoid the danger of making it too long and also to let you think over it – we will come with an additional note on the topic so that CROWD can rest in peace.

Crowd Psychology – Part 1


“It’s easier to be wrong with everyone than be right and alone” speaks volumes in itself about the recent cases of mob lynching and violence in Dadri, Daimabad, Jharkhand and the recent chaos in Kashmir. No individual was left unaffected at the plight of the victims.  The values, based on multicultural perspective of diversity, tolerance and plurality, that have kept India united for centuries were taken aback. With every passing minute, the debates and discussions on right to freedom and right to life grew intense. As the saying goes Law will take its own course and hope perpetrators and hate mongers would be brought to book later or sooner.

But, issues that need to be understood and looked upon from the psychological point of view is/are:

• Why do people behave in such a manner?
• Are they not fearful of the Consequences?
• What do they get by hurting others?
• Can anything be done?

In this scenario , social psychology comes to rescue and throws light on how people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviours that are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others. Under it’s umbrella comes the explanation to psychology of crowds which relates to the behaviours and thought processes of both the individual crowd members and the crowd as an entity.

Now with this background, let us try to understand and analyse various aspects and dimensions of crowd.


In the field of crowd research there is no consensus on the definition of  crowd. The definitions evolve around the concept of a gathering (Challenger &Robinson, 2009) accompanied by a description of what binds the individuals in the crowd.

To give some examples  “A crowd is a temporary gathering of individuals who share a common focus of interest” (Forsyth, 2006). For Reicher (2001) on the other hand, a crowd is only a crowd when “individuals share a social identity”. Regardless of the differences in the core of these definitions, they all share the notion of a number of people in the same place at the same time, i.e. a gathering.

So for the sake of having a definition, let’s have one for the moment:

“A crowd is a sizeable gathering of people in a given area, who have come together for a specific purpose over a measurable period of time and who, despite being strangers or in an unfamiliar situation, feel united by a common identity and are therefore able to act in a coherent manner”.

Without going into much details about the origin of the concept of crowd or it’s similarity with contemporary times, let’s just flip through the history briefly.


It was believed that ‘The crowd’ is the instrument through which anarchy would replace order. Nowhere did that threat seem more real than in the French Third Republic, the birthplace of crowd psychology. It was then that the foundation of crowd psychology was laid, though in a very narrow narrative. In fact, the first debate in crowd psychology was actually between two criminologists, concerning how to determine “criminal responsibility” in the crowd and hence “who to arrest” !

When the founders of crowd science wrote about crowds it was primarily such working class action they had in mind. These founders were outsiders to the crowd, their presiding sentiment was that of fear and their principal purpose was less to understand than to repress the crowd.

The failure of early crowd psychology was that it bemoaned the threat without being able to harness the promise.

It was, perhaps, because he dealt with both sides of popular concerns that the work of Gustave le Bon, a French social psychologist, stood out from that of his contemporaries and that, of all of them, his work alone continues to have influence.

Considered to be the founder of crowd psychology, he explained why people do the things they do in groups. His book, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, attributed crowd behaviour to the ‘collective racial unconscious’ of the mob overtaking individuals’ sense of self and personality and personal responsibility.

He further threw light on the mechanisms that predispose a crowd to action. He suggested that the psychological principles of anonymity, suggestibility and contagion transform an assembly into a “Psychological Crowd”.In the crowd the collective mind takes possession of the individual. As a consequence, it won’t be an exaggeration to say that a crowd member gets reduced to an inferior form of evolution: irrational, emotional and suggestible with no reasoning whatsoever. The individual loses self-control and become a puppet, possibly controlled by the crowd’s leader.

Mechanism of Crowd as per Le Bon:

Crowd pic

According to Le Bon, relieved of individual responsibility, individuals will behave in a more primal fashion. He asserts, ‘by the mere fact that he forms part of an organized crowd, a man descends several rungs on the ladder of civilization.’ In very basis terms, it is the diffusion of responsibility and the basic argument in support is that everyone was doing it so did I.

Sigmund Freud expanded the work of Le Bon and suggested that, in groups, individuals display certain behavioural characteristics that include:

•The lessening of a conscious personality.
•Emotions and unconscious drives displacing reason and rationality.
•The propensity to immediately carry out intentions as they develop.

Steve Reicher is another name who gave path breaking analysis of crowd in his Social Identity theorising. In his view the normative conduct of the crowd is an expression of the shared collective identity.

More so, C.P. Snow observed that, “ When you think of the long and gloomy history of man, you will find more hideous crimes have been committed in the name of obedience than have ever been committed in the name of rebellion”.

So, in the continuation of above theorizing, it is equally important to understand that crowd essentially does not have negative connotations attached to it. An antisocial leader can incite violent action, but an influential voice of non-violence in a crowd can lead to positive social energy.

Hence it is important to look at it with a different perspective as well, that is, whether factors like emotionality, suggestibility, anonymity, spontaneity and uniformity are so over powering that an individual ( otherwise rational and logical ) crosses the bar !

To Be Continued !



Psychology Behind Hits and Misses of sports | Sports Psychology

  Psychology behind Hits and Misses of Sports !

There is an old adage, “You’ve lost the plot”. Going by its literal meaning and looking  at India’s dismal performance in International events (one does not have to search memory and force it to recall recently concluded Olympic), would it be correct to say that we have lost the plot as far as such high performance and large scale events are concerned.

Let’s not ponder over it, which the time anyways will answer. But one thing is for sure. The plot has been set for this article.

Sports psychology is all about addressing the issues concerned with optimal performance under extreme pressure and stress. Not only this it concerns with well being of athletes and other systemic issues associated with sporting.

Sport’s today are instrumental in developing sense of patriotism and nationalism in one’s mind and heart. More so, with the playing of National Anthem in most of the sporting events kindles feeling of patriotism and the National identity takes over. This also becomes a point of National Integrity among citizens from different part and regions of the country; along with fostering tolerance and respect, which is very important for promoting international peace.

All said and done, We need to search an answer for a question which is not tough to quote but certainly is not easy to answer and that’s something we have been hearing for almost decades after any International event and the beauty is that the speed with which it takes the central stage in Indian media and common discussions, it disappears with the same or perhaps in a breakneck speed.

As a practice, we leave it to our readers to answer it and think over it, What is preventing India from doing at par with other Nations in International events like Olympics???

Let’s analyse it from psychological viewpoint (Indian Context):

Sports, in the collective psyche of Indians doesn’t feature in any significant place but is perceived more as a means for amusement.

Some reasons to which it can be attributed to:

1.Need for Power being more than need for Achievement(nAch) in an average Indian:

Due to widespread hierarchical mindset engrained in the cultural psyche of an individual, he or she tends to be motivated more for accumulating power thus landing higher in the hierarchy or being affiliated to those in power, rather than toil for personal achievement which is seen as something that goes unnoticed or not “rewarding enough”.

And this is the reason, profession which has got power attached to them are highly revered in power driven society like ours. Power is more attached with authority and money and both are being largely absent for an average sport person. Achievement and internal motivation, which should be the main guiding force pushing sport person to achieve great feats are generally driven to the back seat. Hence, large section or even those who have sporting aptitude are generally not interested in pursuing it.

2.Sports not promoted as an integral part of life:

Less significance of sports in the life of people is reflected in government policies. Sports is hardly recognised as a nation building, character developing element which has the potential to uplift India’s standing in the world forum.

Achievement, which according to the Theory of Achievement Motivation is the outcome of the conflict between two tendencies as studied by Atkinson.

a) Tendency to approach success:

Given by [Ts= Ms * Ps * Is]

 Where, T = Tendency

 M= Motivation

 P = Probability of success

 I = Incentive

 S = Success 

In the Indian scenario, both ‘Ps’ as well as ‘Is’ are low.

Probability of success is not an stand alone entity, it is related to good sporting infrastructure, high level of training and right opportunities which is generally unavailable to an average Indian, due to lack of national focus on sports and a huge population combined with a rat race for survival.

Incentives (Is) are abysmally low for any budding sports person who can hope for any recognition or monetary reward only after winning big medals but not at his/her grassroots stage where s/he requires it most for honing his/her talents.

This makes overall tendency to approach success very low.

b) Tendency to avoid failure:

 [Tf = Maf * Pf * If]

Motivation to avoid failure (Maf) is high in general among large section of population as survival and basic needs what rules the mind of an average Indian and fulfilling it is high on agenda.

The tendency to avoid failure is much higher, thus making the person less likely to even try and work towards sports or challenging tasks, thus giving rise to high Probability of Failure. ( That’s why it is said, No Pain, No Gain).

The recent dismal performance of the Indian contingent at Rio Olympics could be a reminder of our lackadaisical approach towards sports attributed to  psychological reasons described above.

Generalist Perspective

Abhinav Bindra– Only Indian individual gold medallist in Olympics (10 mts Air Rifle Shooting) , draws a comparison between Indian government spending on sports v/s other medal winning countries;

He says: each medal costs the UK 5.5million pounds, which helped UK rise in medal tally from 2004 Athens Olympics.

That is the scale of investment needed per medal if any outcome could be expected.

Calculating by number of medals by strength of population, China being most populated ranks top of charts whereas India, counting the recent 3 (2004 Athens, 2008 Beijing, 2012 London) Olympics, if medals were to be distributed equally to whole population, India ranks last.

Large gap between rich and poor making it hard for the poor and lower castes to obtain sufficient nutrition, education, and making a living all in all inhibits the country’s mammoth potential for a glowing sporting presence. Psychologically sports achievement being a meta need can come only once basic needs have been fulfilled.

Awareness : Information about Olympics in rural and semi-urban areas of India is unimaginably low.

Researchers conducted a study in rural areas of Karnataka and Rajasthan and investigated further:

They asked villagers about the best job that they had ever heard about. In Rajasthan most villagers said- software engineers, architecture, doctor, lawyer. Some said teachers or soldiers. There was not much difference in Karnataka which had a better economy. There was neither mention of sports nor any knowledge of Olympics.

There is seemingly absenteeism of so called “ Culture of Sports“. Not to mention, there are No or at best very few role models who can inspire the young generation to pick Sport as a profession and a career. Few role models that exist are inclined to a particular game and hence we see all investment and focus being made towards betterment of it. This needs to be changed if we want young generation to pick diverse sports.

A major hurdle is non-availability of good sporting infrastructure and governmental support to the athletes – which completes the circle and whatsoever interest a minority has is lost.

So, its not some fix is required here and there, its a comprehensive policy and multi-pronged approach required to build upon India’s shortcomings in this particular field. Not to forget the cohesive role sport plays not only in our society but world over. Cricket has played an important role in binding our diversity rich country. But other sports need to be brought at par. Mahatma Gandhi founded three football clubs named ‘Passive Resistors Soccer Clubs’ in the 1900’s during his stay in South Africa to fight against racial discrimination.  He realised the “cohesive power of sports” in bringing all strata of people together. We need to take this approach further.