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Group Perception
Hastorf and Cantril

Albert Hastorf and Hadley Cantril
They Saw a Game: A Case Study

Hastorf and Cantril - in a paper called They Saw a Game: A Case Study (1954) - analyzed what proved to be selective perception of a college football game contested between Dartmouth Indians and Princeton Tigers. The football game the students saw had actually been played in 1951 - Princeton won. It was a rough game, with many penalties, and it had aroused a furore of editorials in the campus newspapers and elsewhere.

The Princeton quarterback, an All-American, in this, his last game for his college, had had to leave the game in the second quarter with a broken nose and a mild concussion. In the third quarter the Dartmouth quarterback's leg was broken when he was tackled in the backfield.

One week after the game, Hastorf and Cantril had Dartmouth and Princeton psychology students fill out a questionnaire, and the authors analyzed the answers of those who had seen either the game or a movie of the game.

Question: "Which team do you feel started the rough play?"
Who started it?  ~  Survey Responses
Percent Dartmouth Students Percent Princeton Students
Princeton started it  2  0
Both started it 53 11
Dartmouth started it  36 86
Neither/no answer 9 3


The data in the above table demonstrates how the Dartmouth and Princeton students gave discrepant responses to the question "Who started it?"
Almost no one said that Princeton started the rough play; thirty-six per cent of the Dartmouth students and eighty-six per cent of the Princeton students said that Dartmouth started it; and fifty-three per cent of the Dartmouth students and eleven per cent of the Princeton students said that both started it.


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Question: "Do you believe the game was clean and fairly played or that it was unnecessarily rough and dirty?"
Clean and Fair?  ~  Survey Responses
Percent Dartmouth Students Percent Princeton Students
Clean & Fair 13  0
Rough & Fair 39 3
Rough & Dirty 42 93
don't know 6 4


The data in the above table again demonstrates how the Dartmouth and Princeton students gave differing responses, this time to the question of "Whether or not the game was clean and fair?"
None of the Princeton said the game was clean and fair, in contrast to thirteen per cent of the Dartmouth students who did.
Ninety-three per cent of the Princeton students actually saw the game as having been "Rough & Dirty", eighty-one per cent of the Dartmouth students saw the game as having been "Rough" but almost half of these saw that "Roughness" as having been "Fair".


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When shown a film of the game later, the Princeton students "saw" the Dartmouth team make over twice as many rule infractions as were seen by Dartmouth students. Hastorf and Cantril interpreted these results overall as indicating that, when encountering a mix of occurrences as complex as a football game, we experience primarily those events that fulfill a familiar pattern and have personal significance.

For these students, the selective perception and recall of what might seem to be "the same event" involved a very active construction of differing realities. Our membership of any group often provides a frame and a filter through which we view social events. This Dartmouth v Princeton game had a particular meaning for students from each school, and a quite different meaning to people who felt no allegiance to either team. And even among those on the same side, the game meant different things to the team members and their fans. This classic case study demonstrates the crucial role of values in shaping perception.

Albert Hastorf and Hadley Cantril - They Saw a Game: A Case Study [Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 1954] interpreted their experiment as evidence that "out of all the occurrences going on in the environment, a person selects those that have some significance for him from his own egocentric position in the total matrix", that the game "actually was many different games" and that each version of the events that transpired was just as "real" to a particular person as other versions were to other people. In this study, the subjects' perceptions were swayed by their motives. It shows how people sometimes see what they want to see.

Hastorf and Cantril conclude :: "In brief, the data here indicate that there is no such 'thing' as a 'game' existing 'out there' in its own right which people merely 'observe.' The game 'exists' for a person and is experienced by him only insofar as certain happenings have significances in terms of his purpose."

Social influence is most profound when it is least evident - when it shapes our most fundamental assumptions and beliefs about the world without our realizing it. The reactions of the Princeton and Dartmouth fans were certainly shaped and biased by their school allegiances, but were the fans aware of that influence? Probably not. We would not expect anyone to be particularly aware of thinking, "I'd better interpret that tackle as vicious because my friends will reject me if I don't." Social influences have surrounded us since infancy, and it is therefore no surprise that we usually are unaware of their impact. Does the fish know it swims in water?

Away from the football field American Ivy League students of that era may perhaps be held to have largely shared a common cultural background in terms of the "American" way of life. We may wonder about the difficulties that States and Historic Communities experience in maintaining harmonious relations. What role might selective perception be said to have in these serious matters? Could one state or community act "quite reasonably" in terms of its own shared view of reality and yet seem, to other states or communities, to act "quite unreasonably"?

The impetus we need to become aware of the impact of such social influence may perhaps be held to take the form of a shift in perspective. If we sometimes try to put ourselves into someone else's shoes we can perhaps see situations more comprehensively and more justly.


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Ralph Waldo Emerson

RALPH WALDO EMERSON (1803-1882) was, in his time, the leading voice of intellectual culture in the United States. He remains widely influential to this day through his essays, lectures, poems, and philosophical writings.

In the later eighteen-twenties Ralph Waldo Emerson read, and was very significantly influenced by, a work by a French philosopher named Victor Cousin.

A key section of Cousin's work reads as follows:
"What is the business of history? What is the stuff of which it is made? Who is the personage of history? Man : evidently man and human nature. There are many different elements in history. What are they? Evidently again, the elements of human nature. History is therefore the development of humanity, and of humanity only; for nothing else but humanity develops itself, for nothing else than humanity is free. …
… Moreover, when we have all the elements, I mean all the essential elements, their mutual relations do, as it were, discover themselves. We draw from the nature of these different elements, if not all their possible relations, at least their general and fundamental relations."
Introduction to the History of Philosophy (1829)

Even before he had first read Cousin, (in 1829), Emerson had expressed views in his private Journals which suggest that he accepted that Human Nature, and Human Beings, tend to display three identifiable aspects and orientations:
Imagine hope to be removed from the human breast & see how Society will sink, how the strong bands of order & improvement will be relaxed & what a deathlike stillness would take the place of the restless energies that now move the world. The scholar will extinguish his midnight lamp, the merchant will furl his white sails & bid them seek the deep no more. The anxious patriot who stood out for his country to the last & devised in the last beleagured citadel, profound schemes for its deliverance and aggrandizement, will sheathe his sword and blot his fame. Remove hope, & the world becomes a blank and rottenness. (Journal entry made between October and December, 1823)

In all districts of all lands, in all the classes of communities thousands of minds are intently occupied, the merchant in his compting house, the mechanist over his plans, the statesman at his map, his treaty, & his tariff, the scholar in the skilful history & eloquence of antiquity, each stung to the quick with the desire of exalting himself to a hasty & yet unfound height above the level of his peers. Each is absorbed in the prospect of good accruing to himself but each is no less contributing to the utmost of his ability to fix & adorn human civilization. (Journal entry of December, 1824)

Our neighbours are occupied with employments of infinite diversity. Some are intent on commercial speculations; some engage warmly in political contention; some are found all day long at their books … (This dates from January - February, 1828)

The quotes from Emerson are reminiscent of a line from another "leading voice of intellectual culture" - William Shakespeare.
There's neither honesty, manhood, nor good fellowship in thee.
William Shakespeare: Henry IV (Pt 1), Act I, Scene II

We can recommend a page which effectively combines Cousin's assertion that "the elements of Humanity" are linked to Historical Developments with Emerson and Shakespeare's identification of an - honesty, manhood and good fellowship - "Tripartism" in Human Nature.


Tripartite Human Nature and
the Flows of History



It is widely known that Plato, pupil of and close friend to Socrates, accepted that Human Beings have a " Tripartite Soul " where individual Human Psychology is composed of three aspects - Wisdom-Rationality, Spirited-Will and Appetite-Desire.

Plato, Socrates and Shakespeare endorse
a Tripartite Soul view of Human Nature. Platos' Republic