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Transcript of Social Psychology
Erick David Arguello, M.A., M.Ed., Psy.D. Social Psychology Explains how the thought, feeling and behavior of individuals are influenced by the actual, imagined or implied presence of other human beings"
Gordon Allport (1985). It began in the United States at the dawn of the twentieth century. The first published study in this area was an experiment by Norman Triplett (1898) on the phenomenon of social facilitation. During World War II, social psychologists studied persuasion and propaganda for the U.S. military. After the war, researchers became interested in a variety of social problems, including gender issues and racial prejudice. By the 1970s, however, social psychology in America had reached a crisis. There was heated debate over the ethics of laboratory experimentation, whether or not attitudes really predicted behavior, and how much science could be done in a cultural context (Kenneth Gergen, 1973). Psychologists who study social psychology are interested in such topics as attitudes, social cognition, cognitive dissonance, social influence, and interpersonal behavior. The study of attitudes is a core topic in social psychology. Attitudes are involved in virtually every other area of social psychology, including conformity, interpersonal attraction, social perception, and prejudice. In social psychology, attitudes are defined as learned evaluations of a person, object, place, or issue that influence thought and action (Perloff, 2003). Attitudes are basic expressions of approval or disapproval, favorability or unfavorability, or as Bem (1970) put it, likes and dislikes. Examples would include liking chocolate ice cream, being anti-abortion, or endorsing the values of a particular political party. Social psychologists have studied attitude formation, the structure of attitudes, attitude change, the function of attitudes, and the relationship between attitudes and behavior. Because people are influenced by the situation, general attitudes are not always good predictors of specific behavior. For a variety of reasons, a person may value the environment and not recycle a can on a particular day. Attitudes that are well remembered and central to a self-concept, however, are more likely to lead to behavior, and measures of general attitudes do predict patterns of behavior over time. Persuasion Persuasion is an active method of
influence that attempts to guide
people toward the adoption of an
attitude, idea, or behavior by
rational or emotive means. Persuasion relies on appeals rather than strong pressure or coercion. Numerous variables have been found to influence the persuasion process, and these are normally presented in four major categories: Who said what to whom and how. Numerous variables have been found to influence the persuasion process, and these are normally presented in four major categories: Who said what to whom and how. The Communicator, including credibility, expertise, trustworthiness, and attractiveness The Message, including varying degrees of reason, emotion (such as fear), one-sided or two sided arguments, and other types of informational content The Audience, including a variety of demographics, personality traits, and preferences The Channel, including the printed word, radio, television, the internet, or face-to-face interactions Social cognition Social cognition is a growing area of social psychology that studies how people perceive, think about, and remember information about others. One assumption in social cognition is that reality is too complex to easily discern, and so people see the world according to simplified schemas, or images of reality. Schemas are generalized mental representations that organize knowledge and guide information processing. For example, one's schema for mice might include the expectation that they are small, and furry, and eat cheese. Schemas often operate automatically and unintentionally, and can lead to biases in perception and memory. Schematic expectations may lead people to see something that is not there. One experiment found that white American policemen are more likely to misperceive a weapon in the hands of a black man than a white man (Correll, et al., 2002). This type of schema is actually a stereotype, a generalized set of beliefs about a particular group of people. Stereotypes are often related to negative or preferential attitudes (prejudice) and behavior (discrimination). Another major concept in social cognition is attribution. Attributions are the explanations humans make for people's behavior, either one's own behavior or the behavior of others. An attribution can be either internal or external. Internal or dispositional attributions assign causality to factors within the person, such as ability or personality. External or situational attributions assign causality to an outside factor, such as the weather. Fundamental attribution error—the tendency to make dispositional attributions for behavior.
The actor-observer effect is a refinement of this bias, the tendency to make dispositional attributions for other people's behavior and situational attributions for our own. Just world effect—the tendency to blame victims (a dispositional attribution) for their suffering. This is believed to be motivated by people's anxiety that good people, including themselves, could be victimized in an unjust world. Self-serving bias—the tendency to take credit for successes, and blame others for failure. Researchers have found that depressed individuals often lack this bias and actually have more realistic perceptions of reality. Heuristics are cognitive short cuts. Instead of weighing all the evidence when making a decision, people rely on heuristics to save time and energy. The availability heuristic is used when people estimate the probability of an outcome based on how easy that outcome is to imagine. As such, vivid or highly memorable possibilities will be perceived as more likely than those that are harder to picture or are difficult to understand, resulting in a corresponding cognitive bias. There are a number of other biases that have been found by social cognition researchers. The hindsight bias is a false memory of having predicted events, or an exaggeration of actual predictions, after becoming aware of the outcome. The confirmation bias is a type of bias leading to the tendency to search for, or interpret information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions. Self-concept The fields of social psychology and personality have merged over the years, and social psychologists have developed an interest in a variety of self-related phenomena. In contrast with traditional personality theory, however, social psychologists place a greater emphasis on cognitions than on traits. Much research focuses on the self-concept, which is a person's understanding of his or her self. The self-concept can be divided into a cognitive component, known as the self-schema, and an evaluative component, the self-esteem. Self-esteem is the subjective measure of a person's value—the worth that one believes one has as an individual. Psychologists since William James have attempted to define this self-appraisal in such as way as to measure it objectively, but with only mixed results. Low self-esteem has been implicated in bullying, although research suggests that people are more likely to use violence when they possess an unrealistically high self-esteem. There is an apparent similarity between self-esteem and narcissism. However, there are a number of important differences between true self-esteem and narcissism. Narcissism is characterized by self-centeredness, constantly sought attention, excessive admiration of self, and socialization only with high status people (Davison, Neale, and Kring 2003). Kernis and Goldman (2001) described some commonly considered characteristics of self-esteem that do not help in one's adaptation and achievement. Seven of these characteristics are
1) excessive pride
2) feeling of superiority to most
3) willingness to defend against any perceived threats to self-esteem
4) self promotion
5) behavior that hides any sign of weakness
6) tendency to undermine the legitimacy of any perceived threat to self esteem
7) extraordinary measures to protect, maintain, and enhance positive feelings.
People develop their self-concepts by a variety of means, including introspection, feedback from others, self-perception, and social comparison. Cognitive dissonance Cognitive dissonance is a feeling of unpleasant arousal caused by noticing an inconsistency among one's cognitions (Festinger, 1957). Cognitive dissonance was originally developed as a theory of attitude change, but it is now considered to be a self theory by most social psychologists. Dissonance is strongest when a discrepancy has been noticed between one's self-concept and one's behavior; for example, doing something that makes one ashamed. This can result in self-justification as the individual attempts to deal with the threat. Cognitive dissonance typically leads to a change in attitude, a change in behavior, a self-affirmation, or a rationalization of the behavior. An example of cognitive dissonance is smoking. Smoking cigarettes increases the risk of cancer, which is threatening to the self-concept of the individual who smokes. Most people believe themselves to be intelligent and rational, and the idea of doing something foolish and self-destructive causes dissonance. To reduce this uncomfortable tension, smokers tend to make excuses for themselves, such as "I'm going to die anyway, so it doesn't matter." Social influence Social influence refers to the way people affect the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of others. Like the study of attitudes, it is a traditional, core topic in social psychology. In fact, research on social influence overlaps considerably with research on attitudes and persuasion. Social influence is also closely related to the study of group dynamics, as most of the principles of influence are strongest when they take place in social groups. Conformity is the most common and pervasive form of social influence. It is generally defined as the tendency to act or think like other members of a group. Solomon Asch developed the paradigm for measuring conformity in the 1950s. In his groundbreaking studies Asch (1955) found that a surprisingly large number of people would conform to the majority opinion and give an obviously incorrect response to a simple visual task. Group size, unanimity, cohesion, status, and prior commitment all help to determine the level of conformity in an individual. The two major motives in conformity are: 1) Normative influence, the tendency to conform in order to gain social acceptance, and avoid social rejection or conflict, as in peer pressure and 2) informational influence, which is based on the desire to obtain useful information through conformity, and thereby achieve a correct or appropriate result. Minority influence is the degree to which a smaller faction within the group influences the group during decision making. Note that this refers to a minority position on some issue, not an ethnic minority. Their influence is primarily informational and depends on consistent adherence to a position, degree of defection from the majority, and the status and self-confidence of the minority members. Reactance is a tendency to assert oneself by doing the opposite of what is expected. This phenomenon is also known as anticonformity and it appears to be more common in men than in women. There are two other major areas of social influence research. Compliance refers to any change in behavior that is due to a request or suggestion from another person. "The Foot-in-the-door technique" is a compliance method in which the persuader requests a small favor and then follows up with a larger favor; for example, asking for the time, and then asking for ten dollars. A related trick is the "bait and switch" (Cialdini, 2000) wherein an individual commits to purchasing one item only to have it replaced by another more expensive item.
The third major form of social influence is obedience. This is a change in behavior that is the result of a direct order or command from another person. A different kind of social influence is the "self-fulfilling prophecy." This is a prediction that, in being made, actually causes itself to become true. For example, in the stock market, if it is widely believed that a "stock market crash" is imminent, investors may lose confidence, sell most of their stock, and actually cause the crash. Likewise, people may expect hostility in others and actually induce this hostility by their own behavior.