There is a story entitled “Seven Floors” in which we can see many principles of social psychology displayed. In the story, a man named Giovanni is diagnosed with a mild illness. He admits himself into a highly rated sanatorium so that he can quickly get well. He starts off on the seventh and uppermost floor, where the healthiest people stay. During the story, Giovanni is gradually moved down through the floors to the first floor where he fades away into darkness. Amidst this battle, we see evidence of false uniqueness, optimism bias, fundamental attribution error and other psychological theories.
One part of social psychology I noticed a lot toward the beginning of the story was optimism bias. On page two, Giovanni is described as speaking, “with the light-heartedness one might adopt when speaking of tragic matters which don’t concern one.” Later on this same page, Giovanni is thinking of the first floor and states internally, “…he felt relieved that he was so far away.” Both of these statements from the story show that he felt he was in much better shape than the others in the building that made their way to the first floor. He seems to think that other people may find themselves getting sicker and sicker, even ailing enough to go to the floor where people die. However, he believes that won’t happen to him. This is a definite case of optimism bias, he is thinking himself exempt from negative events and assuming others are more susceptible to death and illness.
In this same area of the story, we see evidence of a completely opposite notion. At the beginning of Giovanni’s stay, he seems to display defensive pessimism. He shows a little self-doubt in the midst of his positive attitude. He mentions, “He was already secretly prepared for an unfavorable verdict and wouldn’t be surprised if the doctor had sent him down to the next floor.” He seems to be doubting the state of his health at this point. When the doctor comes in he asks anxiously if the can stay on the seventh floor. The doctor jovially dismisses his fears. Giovanni promptly goes back to his optimistic attitude that he had upon arrival at the sanatorium.
Toward the beginning of “Seven Floors”, Giovanni maintains an internal locus of control. On page three, it states, “He followed the treatment scrupulously, concentrated his whole attention on making a rapid recovery.” This shows internal locus of control because he believed if he tried hard enough to get better, he would. He felt he had control over his situation. Later on that same page, Giovanni is moved down a floor, but his thoughts are that the move has nothing to do with his condition. Though he is moving down, he still feels that he has control, that he is just doing a nice thing to help out a family. Through the next part of the story, Giovanni starts to feel like he is losing control, but he still remains under the belief that he has some control. When he gets eczema, at first he refuses the treatment when he finds out he would have to change floors. Later on, “of his own accord,” he moves down a floor to get the treatment on the third floor. He still maintains some shard of control over his own destiny.
Throughout the story, Giovanni changes to an external locus of control instead of internal. As previously stated, his loss of control is gradual, so some of the external and internal locus of control overlaps. On page five, before the eczema hits, Giovanni moves to the floor where the eczema appears. This move he does not choose. He finds that, “…he had neither the strength nor the desire to resist this unfair removal anymore.” He allowed himself to be taken one floor down. This is where he seems to begin to lose his power over the situation, and feel like he no longer has control of his own life. As we move on, internal locus of control disappears completely. As Giovanni starts fading away on the third floor, he feels like he no longer has control. On page nine, his temperature is rising, his weakness is growing and he becomes depressed. He is no longer the master of his own destiny, no matter what he tries, he can’t make himself better. It’s up to the medical staff now.
Due to the changing from internal to external locus of control, Giovanni develops an attitude of learned helplessness. On pages six and seven, Giovanni is talking to the doctor about life outside the hospital. He tries to stay on the subject, but he finds himself helpless to avoid speaking of his illness. The story states, “The conversation invariably came round…to the subject of his illness.” This seems to show that he feels like he no longer qualifies as a member of society, he is stuck in the sanatorium at the doctors’ mercy. On page ten, near the end of the story, Giovanni has to call the nurse for his glasses instead of getting them himself. He is, “paralyzed by a strange lethargy.” At this point, he is completely helpless to take care of himself, mostly because he has convinced himself that it is out of his hands.
Though we have covered the story from beginning to end from a control standpoint, there are other psychological theories displayed in “Seven Floors.” One of these concepts is false uniqueness. We find this first on page three and into page four. Giovanni is telling the others on the floor that he is only there temporarily unlike the rest of them. The other residents go along with it, but they, “listened without interest…unconvinced.” They know that his idea of his uniqueness is not valid, but they don’t argue. Later, on page six, the story states that, “He…could afford the luxury of walking from his bedroom to the room where the rays were.” He says this while comparing himself to the other residents. Once again he seems to believe he doesn’t belong on the same category as others nearby, even though they officially have the same classification. These are two explicit examples, but throughout the whole story it seems that Giovanni believes himself better than every other patient on his current floor. He seems to live in a constant state of false uniqueness during his whole stay at the sanatorium. He seems to believe that his health is more unusual than the health of others.
Another thing displayed by Giovanni is overconfidence bias. This is an overconfidence in one’s beliefs. The first place this is shown is on page one as Giovanni is looking out the windows after he arrives at the sanatorium. He is trying to see someone down on the first floor, but it seems so far away and hidden. It’s almost like a mystical place to him, because he is confident in the belief that the first floor has nothing to do with him. He knows he will be better and discharged in no time. Another example of overconfidence bias is on page six. Giovanni believes that he is someone who, “should have been on the seventh floor, but was in fact on the fourth.” He is completely sure that he is in good enough health to belong in a much different category. It doesn’t matter what doctors or nurses have to say, he knows where he stands.
On page five, we find two instances of false consensus. These are times when Giovanni misjudges the extent to which the others around him share his beliefs. The first was when Giovanni states that, “in the opinion of doctors, nurses and patients alike, he was the least seriously ill of anyone on the whole floor.” It is doubtful that Giovanni consulted every single person for their opinion, in fact he probably didn’t ask anyone. He simply assumed that they found him the most healthful person. The second time false consensus appears is when Giovanni develops eczema. The doctor treating him tells him that it is no big deal, anyone can get eczema. He seems to think that Giovanni and any other sensible person in the world will believe this, displaying false consensus. However, it becomes a concern that leads to Giovanni transferring down another floor. The doctor remains cheerful, and assumes that others will share his interpretation of this new symptom as unrelated to the disease and not really that important at all.
One thing that seems prevalent throughout the story is attribution bias. Giovanni is in the constant opinion that he is in the right, and others in the wrong. He blames the staff for all of his downfalls, and credits successes to himself. One place this is shown is on page three, during Giovanni’s first move from floor seven to six. He is, “convinced that this move did not correspond to any worsening in his condition.” He seems to think that he is doing everything right and staying healthy. However, later on this same page, he talks about how difficult it will be to beat out the system the hospital has in place to move back to the seventh floor. It has nothing to do with him that he was moved, it is all their fault. When he is moved to the fifth floor, he shouts that they are cheating him of his rights, that he doesn’t deserve to be moved. He once again blames the staff for his own problems. In the last few paragraphs, this attribution bias is shown again. He states that his last move was an “execrable mistake.” He still believes that he is healthy and competent enough to be on the sixth or seventh floor. He states that he is on the first, “only because of a bureaucratic mistake.” Once again, it is all the fault of the hospital staff that he is on the floor where people go to die. Giovanni doesn’t take into account his failing health, he simply faults the staff for his failure and credits himself as blameless.
Another related subject that is in the story is the fundamental attribution bias. Fundamental attribution bias is when an observer discounts the situation that another person is in, basically underestimating the situational impact and blaming reactions instead on internal characteristics. There are two examples of this on page eight. When the third floor nurse is explaining procedure for her vacation, she tells Giovanni that he will move down to the second. She tells him when they return, he will come back to his same room. She finds it odd that he is frightened by this small inconvenience. However, she does not realize that Giovanni has heard this same sort of thing before. All of his moves so far have been originally put to him as temporary, but became permanent. She does not realize how the situation is frightening to Giovanni because of past experience. Another spot this bias is shown in when Giovanni insists that his door label says, “third floor temporary.” The staff find this insistence eccentric and useless, but don’t protest because they don’t want to shock a patient that is as “highly strung” as Giovanni. They don’t realize the terrifying situation that he is in as he is forced to move even closer to the first floor.
In the story, Giovanni displays confirmation bias. This is when people seek out information that confirms their beliefs and disregard information that is contrary to their views. Confirmation bias is shown on page four. Giovanni is discussing with the doctor what floor he should really be on. The doctor felt that Giovanni would be okay on the seventh floor, but he would receive better care on the sixth. Giovanni brushes aside the part about the sixth floor and states, “you say I should be on the seventh floor, and that’s where I want to be.” He only focuses on the part of the explanation that supports his beliefs. Later, on page seven, Giovanni is grilling another doctor for an update on his condition. He poses questions in ways that show he is looking for good news. He uses extremely horrid phrases so that the doctor will contradict, he asks about improvement and refers to his condition as chronic. He is fishing for the answer he wants, and persists until the doctor speaks candidly about Giovanni’s health.
One thing that is prevalent in “Seven Floors” is self-perception theory. This is when a person is unsure of how they really feel, so they infer their attitudes from how they are behaving at a given moment in time. On page six, Giovanni still feels as though he is not really ill at all. He is up, walking around with a positive attitude. Because his eczema is not horribly severe and he doesn’t have symptoms, he assumes that he is fine and acts this way. After speaking to the doctor, and finding out that he doesn’t really belong on the seventh floor after all, he spikes a fever and his eczema will not go away. At this point, Giovanni is realizing his symptoms are worse than he had thought. He becomes obsessed with getting better and more anxious with his health inquiries. Because he has noticed his symptoms more at this point and they are getting worse, his attitude has been intensely impacted.
One of the most blatant psychological principles shown in the story is self-fulfilling prophecy. A self-fulfilling prophecy is a belief that leads to its own fulfillment. The views of both the staff and Giovanni help lead to his downfall. Throughout the story, as Giovanni moves down each floor, he gets what the staff refers to as better care. This would mean they do more for him, things like bringing him food, taking care of his needs more frequently. Because of this extra care, Giovanni would become more fitting as a patient on this floor as his weakness would grow. From Giovanni’s point of view, his move to each lower floor makes him nervous that he really belongs there. Each time, he grows more agitated, his temperature rises, and his illness worsens because of this. When he is on the fifth floor, he describes the first floor as much nearer. He gets worried the first floor is where he ends up and his body responds to the worry. Even his very first move, from seven to six, he states that it “bodes ill” to him. During the whole story, Giovanni worries so much about the bad things that could come that he ends up meeting the criteria for a patient on his current floor.
As you can see, there are many different things that we have been learning about in social psychology displayed by Giovanni Corte and other characters in “Seven Floors.” It is not difficult to find different aspects of social psychology in most parts of life, both fiction and nonfiction. “Seven Floors” is just one story that shows portions of this subject. Social psychology is a topic that is important and applicable in many different situations.