Social psychology is the study of the nature and causes of human social behavior. As the
is the axis around which social behavior pivots, social psychologists tend to studythe relationship between mind(s) and social behaviors.
SP's three angles of research
Social psychology attempts to understand the relationship between minds, groups, and behaviors in three general ways.
First, it tries to see how the thoughts, feelings and behaviors of individuals are influenced by theactual, imagined, or implied presence of other(s) (Allport 3). This includes social perception, socialinteraction, and the many kinds of social influence (like trust, power, and persuasion). Gaining insight into the socialpsychology of persons involves looking at the influences that individuals have on the beliefs, attitudes, and behaviorsof other individuals, as well as the influence that groups have on individuals. This aspect of social psychology asksquestions like:
- How do small group dynamics impact cognition and emotional states?
- How do social groups control or contribute to behavior, emotion, or attitudes of the individual members?
- How does the group impact the individual?
- How does the individual operate within the social group?
Second, it tries to understand the influence that individual perceptions and behaviors have upon the behavior ofgroups. This includes looking at things like group productivity in the workplace and group decisionmaking. It looks at questions like:
- How does persuasion work to change group behavior, emotion or attitudes?
- What are the reasons behind conformity, diversity, and deviance?
Third, and finally, social psychology tries to understand groups themselves as behavioral entities, and therelationships and influences that one group has upon another group (Michener 5). It asks questions like:
- What makes some groups hostile to one another, and others neutral or civil?
- Are there group's behaviors, that are different of what would be individual behaviors outside the group?
Relation to other fields
Social psychology has close ties with the other social sciences, especially
- Sociology is the study of group behavior and human societies, with emphasis on the structures of societies and theprocesses of social influence.
- Psychology is the study of individual behavior, like learning, perception, intelligence, memory, andpersonality.
On the one hand, Social psychology can be said to try to bridge the gap between disciplines. It can be said to beco-disciplinary with sociology and psychology, providing overlapping theories and research methods in order to form aclearer picture of social life.
But on the other hand, it can be approached with the interests of each side in mind, and be split in twosubfields of each domain:
- As sociological social psychology, which looks at the social behavior of humans in terms of associations andrelationships that they have. This type leans toward sociology.
- As psychological social psychology, which looks at social behavior of humans in terms of the mental statesof the individuals that comprise the society. This type leans toward psychology.
The concerns of social psychology
Some of the basic topics of interest in social psychology are:
(investigates the learning ofstandards, rules, attitudes, roles, values, and beliefs; and the agents, processes, and outcomes of learning) and
(looks at the native faculties of humansystems, including genetics, and their effect upon temperament, attitudes, learning skills, and so on)
- the effects of role schemas on the perceivedmakeup of gender and the sexes
and life course - thegeneral facets of life in various societies, including personal careers, identities, biological development, and shifts inroles
- delves into the learning andprocessing of verbal and non-verbal language, and the effects of social structures and societies on the use of both
- looks at the characteristics ofsuccessful and unsuccessful
, as well as compliance, obedience, andresistence to authority
- investigates the use of self-presentation, along with tacticalimpression management, deception, and failed identities
- looks at how societies affect language use, and vice-versa (respectively)
- analyzes the rules used when forming meaning within adiscussion
- looks specifically at the types of schemas that people have; the ways theydevelop impressions of one another; and the ways that they attribute the causes of social behavior
- the schemasthat individuals have about themselves and about groups; the impacts that those ideas have on behaviors; the different kinds ofidentities that people tend to have.
- delves into the nature,types, and functions of attitudes, and their effects on behavior
- the ways that people attribute causes andresponsibilities to persons or situations
Social psychology involves the experimental study of
and psychologicalprocesses associated with social cognition, social behavior, and groups.
It can be done using many different sorts of methods, including
, mathematical models, and
Many researchers emphasize the importance of a
approach to social research.
Perspectives in social psychology
- understands social actions to follow largely outof direct rewards and punishments.
Social exchange theory
- emphasizes the idea that,in relatively free societies, social action is the result of personal choice between optimal benefits and costs. Seealso
rational choice theory
Social learning theory
- in contrast toreinforcement theory, social learning theory emphasizes the place of observation and mimicry in learning.
- places the thoughts, choices,and mental events at the core of human social action, emphasizing in particular the impact of schemas on personalbehavior and worldviews.
- a version of cognitivetheory that demands that mental events be put in the context of social interaction.
- considers most social action in everyday life to be thefulfillment of a certain kind of schema called roles.
- explores andemphasizes the role of unconscious mental events on human social thought and behavior. Its psychological foundationis
- attempts to explain all of the theories mentioned interms of biology and physiology.
- attempts to explain the biology andphysiology of persons, as well as their effects on social action, in the context of gene transmission acrossgenerations.
Models of social behavior
Hedonistic theory of action
Finding its roots explicitly from the
, followed by philosophers like
Ludwig von Mises
(among many others). The hedonistic theory ofaction (or
) states that humanaction occurs when:
- The actor is compelled to increase their pleasure by achieving a goal, or
- The actor is compelled to relieve the burden of uneasiness by achieving a goal.
- Psychological hedonism has a fundamental place in most theories of action, most noteably
, and psychosocial theory.
- Psychological hedonism helps to explain the motivations behind all social action.
created the notion of sociodynamics from the tradition ofFreudian psychodynamics. The model is meant to be used to explain the most important variables in bodily development, and howthey might relate to socialization. It includes:
- The erogenous zones on the body which provide stimulation. For example, the oral, anal, and phallic zones.Can also be expanded to non-erogenous zones of the body, including cerebral-cortical, loco-motor, sensory-motor, respiratory,muscular, and kinesthetic
- The psychosexual mode, or the actions associated with each zone. For example, retention and elimination forthe anal zone
- The psychosocial modality, or the social analogy that can be associated with each respective mode. Forexample, "anal-retentiveness"
- The meaning, or preferred external objects associated with each mode and zone
- Psychosocial theory helps to explain what kinds of goals the social actor may develop.
The "unit act"
The American sociologist
created a model of humansocial action which stressed that the most basic interesting event to recognize is goal-directed social action. It wasfurther refined by his student
Robert K. Merton
. In this model,social actions are made up of and involve:
- The actor or agent performing an action
- The (immediate) goal, or a future state of affairs that is desired
- The situation in which action is located, including both:
- The conditions of action (the things about a situation that the actor cannot influence or change). This includessuch things as the normative background (or the relevant norms), and the
of the setting
- The means of action (which the actor has some degree of control over)
- And to this, we can also include:
- the actual consequences of the action
- the motives of the actor
- the end-goal, or the broader state of affairs that the actor is trying to reach by means of the immediate goal
- This model can be used as a basis for the explanations of anomie theory and realistic groupconflict theory. It also overlaps significantly with the semantic tool of
Theories of context
1. Objective Factors in Context
In attempting to understand the objective factors that are in play when people influence one another, thecommunication-persuasion paradigm begins with this model.
- The source is the person who is trying to influence another person. What makes a good persuader are howcredible, trustworthy, attractive, and competent they are
- The message is what the source is trying to convince the target of. Relevant factors include how far themessage departs from the target's ideas, whether or not there is an appeal to emotion, and whether or not there is a balance ofperspectives
- The target is the person who the source is trying to convince of something. Important to them are therelevance of message to person, their personal desire for cognition, and amount of distractions present
- The channel is the venu that the message is delivered
- The impact is the reaction from the target. This may include an attitude change, a rejection of the message,a counterargument, a suspense of judgment, and/or an attack on the source
Trying to explain the conditions where any particular message will have social influence, Latane, Jackson, and Sedikidesemphasized the importance of three characteristics of the sources in their social impact theory.
- Social Strength of the actors involved, for example power and social status
- Immediacy, or the physical / psychological distance between actors
- Number of Sources Present
For functionalism, the achievement of goals relative to the normative background is important. To the extentthat a) an action is beneficial towards the achievement of a goal, and b) the goal and/or means fit the normative background ofsome group or society, the act is considered functional in that respect / relative to that goal. Conversely, to theextent that a) the act is an obstacle to achieving a desired goal, and b) the goal fits the normative background of some group orsociety, the the act is considered dysfunctional in that respect.
2. Subjective Factors in Context
Symbolic interactionism stresses the importance of the way the actor subjectively perceives personsin the world.
- the actor's notionof the normal expectations of others
- the opinions of
- theactor's idea of the expectations of special persons; ie, parents, children, spouse, friends
- Theories of context help to explain the normative and situational backgrounds within asocial action.
Other models and explanations
- Psychological social psychology
implicit personality theory
- the idea the actor has of their selves, as seen through the judgments of others (impacts self-esteem and theself-concept)
- the person thatan actor aspires to be (sometimes influenced by role models)
- the effects thatnorms, motives, situations, and psychology of actors have on helping and altruism
Arousal/cost reward model
- an explanation of helping behavior that claims a decision to aid isbased on a weighing of the costs and rewards involved, both for oneself and others
- explains helping behavior through the emotions of distress and empathy
- investigates the way that norms, proximity, familiarity, availability, sameness,attractiveness, trust, and dependence have on friendly relationships.
- the reasons and motives behind acts of hostilityinitiated by one person on another
- a highly controversial hypothesis that states thatall aggression stems from frustration and vice-versa
- the ability to cause a person to behaveor think in a way despite resistance
- perceived or actual social dependency of person(s) upon other(s)
- a belief in the competenceand/or benevolence of another actor. In social cognition, it is important to understand how trust impacts how actors behave andthink based on the behaviors and words of others.
- to change one's thoughts or behaviors based on thecharismatic and/or reasoned input of others
elaboration likelihood model
-apathy, especially to the suffering of oneself and others, or to norms
- Sociological social psychology
- looks at the use of roles, an understanding of groupstructure, and the expectations of all actors involved.
- looks at the effects of leadership styles, group size, group goals, communicative interaction, rewarddistributions, and decision making on the stability or polarization of groups
Expectation states theory
- proposes that status characteristics cause group members to formexpectations over the expected results of a group task
- the causes, meanings, functions, types, and structures of societies
Social identity theory of intergroup behavior
- theco-influence of health, alienation, status, and values on one's position in various group structures
and reactionsto deviance - the role of habitual mindsets and social functions on the existence of norms, as well as the impact oflabelling and social controls on deviance
- considerssome deviance to be a result of persons trying to achieve a cultural goal but lacking the appropriate resources or means
Differential association theory
- understands deviance to occur when the definitions andmeanings that support deviant acts are learned
Control theory (sociology)
- explains deviant behavior as influenced by ties to otherpersons
- predictssocial revolutionary change to occur when an intolerable gap develops between people's expected satisfaction of needsand their actual satisfaction of needs
-believes that the reaction that people have to rule violations can have a compelling effect on deviants
Routine activities perspective
- considers how deviance occurs out of the routines ofeveryday life
- the reasons and motives behind hostility between groups
Realistic group conflict theory
- sees group conflict as a conflict of goals
Intergroup contact hypothesis
- stresses the notion that group conflict could be defused ifboth groups had more contact with one another
Well-known cases, studies, and related works
Famous experiments in social psychology include:
The Authoritarian Personality
- looked at the attitudes, values, and mental habits of authoritarian personalities
The Openand Closed Mind
- a followupon the authoritarian personality that clarified cognitive differences
case - looks at aggregate group behavior in atime of crisis
- Allport 1968, p. 3 [orig. 1954]
- Michener, H. Andrew. (2004). Social Psychology. Wadsworth: Toronto.
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