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Why Kristen Stewart Shouldn't be Taking So Much Heat

On Obedience to Authority

I'll admit it, I love celebrity watching. I am fascinated by famous people and love reading celebrity magazines and websites. It's not all that surprising since I am a social psychologist -- I study human social behavior. Celebrities are public figures and therefore interesting to watch. 

I've been very disturbed by the media's reaction to Kristen Stewart's fling with her Director, mostly because of the way the blame has fallen squarely on her shoulders. It's a sad reminder of the sexist world we live in but also a lesson in social psychology. 

Social psychologists seek to answer the question, "What drives human social behavior?" Most social psychologists believe human behavior is a result of the power of the situation interacting with individual personalities. Thus, most of the time, in most situations, people from diverse backgrounds respond similarly to the same thing.

Another principle of social psychology is called the Funadamental Attribution Error which states that we underestimate the power of the siutation on others' behavior but not our own. 

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Thus, we don't believe that soldiers commit atrocities on the command of an authority, yet that is their explanation (anyone remember Private Lynndie Englund?). This has also been demonstrated by Zimbardo's prison demonstration and the famous Milgram experiment in which approximately 66% of ordinary people believed they shocked a person (really a confederate -- a member of the research team) to the point of potential death on the order of an authority.

So, what does all this have to do with Kristen Stewart? A man who was in a position of power over her as her director and was also nearly 20 years her senior is a hard man to turn down. Now, I am not condoning cheating, I am just saying that the blame needs to shifted to the person in power, not the powerless young actress. Yet, owing to the fundamental attribution error and a dose of sexism, Stewart is getting most of the blame. It's just not right. The media needs to change their perspective by learning a little from social psychology.

Rosanna Guadagno, Ph.D., is a social psychologist who studies online behavior at the University of Alabama.

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