1 Introducing Social Psychology

Introducing Social
PSY 750
Advanced Social Psychology
Is it possible for people to live
together peacefully?
Violence erupts at 2004 peace rally
11 days of world peace since the end of
World War II
• What does Lynndie England’s
behavior at the Abu Ghraib
prison tell us about human
Something about her?
Something about the situation?
Some combination of the two?
What is Social Psychology?
The scientific study of how people think about,
influence, and relate to one another
Focus is on the individual within their social
environments (e.g., groups of people or social
Other definitions
An attempt to understand and explain how the
thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of individuals are
influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied
presence of others (Allport)
Whatever a social psychologist wants to study
Interaction of the Person
and the Situation
Our inner motivations interact with the
outside situation
We respond to our contexts
The Holocaust
German people are not inherently evil
These regular people followed orders to
slaughter millions of innocents
Would you be cruel if ordered?
The events of 9/11
New Yorkers are sometimes characterized as
rude and uncaring
Displayed an abundance of helpfulness and
When are you willing to help others?
Themes for the Course
Power of the situation: We often fail to
appreciate the power of situations in shaping
Subjective construction of reality: Our beliefs
and expectations determine much of what we
People can be irrational: We do not always
choose actions that are beneficial
Group dynamics: Being around other people (or
even imagining other people) often changes our
Social psychology is practical: The study of
social behavior can be relevant to our daily lives
How Should Social Psychology
Be Characterized?
The topics it studies
The assumptions that are often
The methods that are commonly
Topics of Social Psychology
Social Cognition
How do we think about ourselves, other people, and our social world?
What do we believe? Why? How do our beliefs change over time?
Why do we possess certain attitudes? How do our attitudes influence our behavior?
Social Influence
How do we think and feel about ourselves?
How do we regulate our behavior?
How do differing cultural and ethnic groups coexist?
What are some of the causes of aggression?
What makes us obey authority?
Why do we conform?
How can we persuade others? How do others persuade us?
How do groups function?
Social Relations
Why do we form relationships?
Why are we attracted to certain people but not others?
When do we help others and when do we fail to help?
Culture and Biology
How does culture influence our behavior?
How do neural mechanisms relate to behavior?
What role does evolution play in psychological processes?
Assumptions of Social Psychology
People often interact with each other to achieve
some goal or satisfy some inner motivation
Social behavior is often goal-oriented
Common Motives
Establish social ties
Understand ourselves and others in order to
increase predictability and mastery
Gain and maintain status
Defend ourselves and those we value
Attract and retain mates
The person and the situation are both important
Inner processes are important for understanding
We are not always aware of the reasons for our
Methods of Social Psychology
Experimentation is the primary method
Quasi-experiments and correlational research
are also commonly used
Common procedures
Behavioral observation and coding
Small groups
Experience sampling (e.g., daily measures)
Semi-structured interviews
Major Theoretical Perspectives
Why are there so many perspectives?
Complexity of social behavior
Cultural environment
Social norms
Social learning
Social cognition
Natural selection
Rewards and punishments
Links culture and individual
Attend to, process, store, and recall information
Subjective interpretation
Basic principle of social psychology—we do not respond to the
world as it actually is but as we perceive it to be
Combined perspectives
Basic Mechanisms of
Social Psychology
Interaction between person and situation
Kurt Lewin’s Equation: B = f (p, e) which means that
Behavior is a function of the Person and the Environment
Different situations activate different aspects of
the self
Each situation has different facets and the social
motives that are active in a particular situation
will depend on which facet is salient
Not everyone responds in the same way to the
same situation
People choose their situations
People change their situations
Situations choose people
Situations change people
A Brief History of Social Psychology
Social Psychology
Norman Triplett in 1898
Noticed that cyclists who were competing
performed better than those who were not
Decided to test hypothesis that the presence of
others would enhance performance
Tested idea using a “Competition Machine”
Children wound fishing reel alone or side-by-side
They worked faster when working alongside other
The presence of others enhanced performance
(i.e., social facilitation)
A Brief History of Social Psychology
Max Ringelmann in the 1880s
Conducted rope-pulling
Men pulled alone or as part of
a group
Measured amount of effort
As group size increased, individual effort decreased
The presence of others hurt performance (i.e.,
social loafing)
Which is it? Do others help or hurt performance?
Social psychology is full of these apparent
A Brief History of Social Psychology
Introduction of Social Psychology
Textbooks in 1908
Edward Ross (sociologist)
William McDougall (psychologist)
Influences in Early 20th Century
Gordon Allport
It’s all about attitudes
Kurt Lewin
Behavior represents an interaction of the
person with the situation
A Brief History of Social Psychology
Influences in 1950s and 1960s
Focus on learning
No study of inner states
Rigorous scientific methods
Freudian psychoanalysis
Cognitive psychology
Focus on inner processes
The way we process information
Social Psychology combined scientific methods
with study of learning, inner processes, and
information processing
Research Reflects the Times
1940s: Fascism in Europe led to prejudice
1950s: Intolerance of differing views led to
conformity research
1960s: Riots and crime increase led to
aggression research
1970s: Feminist movement led to gender and
sexism research
1980s: Arms race led to conflict and
peacekeeping research
1990s: Multiculturalism led to study of diversity
in culture, race, and sexual orientation
2000s: Concerns about self-regulation failures
have led to renewed interest in processes
concerning the self
Quote by Stanley Milgram
“The social psychology of this century
reveals a major lesson: Often it is not
so much the kind of person a man is
as the kind of situation in which he
finds himself that determines how he
will act”