A Class Divided Personnel and Industrial Psychology

In the classic film, “A Class Divided”, schoolteacher Mrs. Jane Elliot devised and conducted a lesson plan to show her students exactly how discrimination comes about. Outraged by what she saw occurring in the nation, Mrs. Elliot conducted this lesson with a class of third graders the day following the assassination of Martin Luther King.

Mrs. Elliot set the stage for differentiating between blue eyed and brown-eyed children. Her goal was to have her students experience what it felt like to be discriminated against. She had previously discussed the issue of discrimination with her students and thought the seemed to understand and was in fact upset by Dr. King’s death; they did not recognize the discrimination in her class exercise until it was over and pointed out to them.

Mrs. Elliott’s lesson divided her class by eye color. She had two groups, the brown eyes students and the blue eyed students. She told the students at the start of the day, that the blue eyes group was comprised of the smarter and nice students. She gave them special privileges as a result of their favored designation.
The students in the brown eyed group were treated poorly, with negative comments and unfair rules. She was surprised to see how the children accommodated these roles. The brown eyed students suddenly did poorer on tests and acted differently. The blue eyes group took on a posture of superiority and was mean to the brown eyed students.
In class she purposely commented on the superiority of blue-eyed children in order to set them against the brown-eyed students. She then reversed her statement the following day. When she revered her treatment of the students, the student’s behavior reversed. The brown eyed students became superior and the blue eyed students began doing poorly. It became clear that as an authority figure, what she said was believed. Even parents did not question her statement.
The thesis of this experiment was that people accept and act upon what people of authority or social stature. The film depicting her classroom experiment was mad in 1985 for the PBS show FRONTLINE. The film was entitled A Class Divided. The film included a follow-up on Mr. Elliot’s students, who were young adults at the time the film was made. Thee film was followed by similar stories of experiments in other settings.
The implications of this film on psychology are broad based. It demonstrates the impact of authority and social stature. The lessons learned as a result of this film help us to understand how the influence of authority and socials stature can be used in both positive and negative ways. It helps us to understand why and under what conditions people will blindly follow others.
2. Malcolm Gladwell, New York archives: Personality plus
Overview of the article
This article, written by Malcolm Gladwell, was printed in the September 2004 edition of the New Yorker critiques the use of personality tests. The tests discussed are those largely used in the employment arena. Gladwell gives the history of the development of various tests and then their common uses, his personal experience and his assessment of the test as an employment tool.
The article is extremely easy to read and interesting. Gladwell provides background on some of these commonly used tests, which would be of surprise to employers using them.  The backdrop for the testing assessment is the story of a lieutenant in the US Army, Sandy Nininger.
He explains that Niniger was an unlikely soldier given his calm, thoughtful demeanor. Nininger however, developed into a fierce soldier and was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for his WWII service.  Gladwell goes through the various personality tests and wonders how any of these tests might have noticed the trait in Nininger that made him such a warrior, when he was better known for drinking tea and listening to classical music.
The history of the Myers Briggs is somewhat comical as Gladwell writes. He explains that the test was the brainchild of mother-daughter socialites, seeking to better understand the men in heir life and relationship between men and women. The Myers brigs was developed based on Jung, but according to Gladwell, these woman knew or understood very little about Jung’s theories. In fact, he makes it clear that Jung would have never agreed with the basic tenant of the Myers Briggs.
Gladwell met with a psychologist and underwent the Thematic Apperception Test which required him to compose stories for pictures. The psychologist then looked and themes in Gladwell’s stories and gave him a report. While Gladwll understood the assessment and found the psychologist to be quite perceptive, he expresses concern regarding the amount of subjectivity in this test assessment. A different psychologist could have come to an entirely different conclusion.
Finally, he discusses the services of a company called Developmental Dimensions International (DDI). This company assesses prospective employee’s strengths and weaknesses by spending a day with the person in a simulated workday. There person is given a job for the day and then assessed on a variety of levels. Gladwell spent a day with the company and received an assessment that again, he could understand but questioned the subjective nature of the assessment.
Gladwell, in summary reminds us that while personality tests are frequently used by employers, there is much subjectivity and room for interpretation. He acknowledges the fact that these tests are fun and the results are interesting, he cautions the use of them as meaningful assessments. He concludes by asking if any of the test he reviewed, would have been able to predict Sandy Nininger’s personality traits.

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