Social psychology understands the way individuals behave in a social context. Baron, Bryne & Suls (1989) define social psychology as “the scientific field that seeks to understand the nature and causes of individual behavior in social institutions” (p. 6). This discipline, therefore, tends to look at human behavior, the way it is influenced by the other individuals, and the social context in which it occurs.
Social psychology is a very wide discipline that looks at various social topics such as group dynamics, judgment, stereotypes, identity, self-concept, conformity, leadership, and social roles among others. It does not only look at the social influence on an individual but also on an individual’s perception as well as interaction with other people that they come in contact with.
According to Feenstra (2011), “Social psychologists investigate how we view ourselves and others, how we interact with others, how we influence others, and how we act when we are part of a group. Given the amount of time each of us spends thinking about and interacting with the people we encounter every day, much of our lives are spent with the subject matter of social psychology” (p. 22).
Social psychology is, therefore, a very diverse yet crucial discipline in the study of a man and the way he relates to society at large. It is noted that even the US government is interested in applying concepts of social psychology in influencing citizens, and it continues to grow in the 21st century since it does not only rely on anecdote observations but uses scientific methods and empirical study of social phenomena to inspire the research in the understanding of the social behavior and experience.
The Key Principles that Govern Social Psychology
Self-Concept, Awareness, and Self-Schemas
Self-concept is the way an individual views and evaluates oneself. It is the way an individual is aware of oneself and his or her attribute. It is believed that self-concept has two aspects to it. The first is the existential self, which is the most primary part of self-concept; it is the fact that an individual sets himself apart from the rest of the people in a group or society setting and is aware that he is his own self (Feenstra, 2011). Secondly, there is the categorical self where an individual realizes that apart from being his own self, he is also a part of an existing world, and he is an object of the world he exists in. Self-concept is believed to have various components, namely self-image, self-awareness, self-schemas, ideal self, and self-worth.
Self-worth is what an individual thinks of himself, and it is mainly developed in childhood mostly from the interaction of a child with his/her mother and father.
Self-image is the way an individual sees herself/himself; it is a vital part of the psychological health of an individual. It first stems from an inner personality. A person can view oneself as good or bad, beautiful or ugly. It is self-image that determines how an individual interacts with the rest of the world and how that individual feels towards the rest of the world.
Self-awareness is the ability of an individual to understand oneself, especially one’s feelings, strengths, and weaknesses. It knows whether one’s actions and beliefs are in conjunction with the principle one possesses. Through self-awareness, one is able to improve his/her weaknesses, control one’s emotions and uphold positive attributes that one possesses.
A self-schema, on the other hand, is the belief that often leads to biasness, which is self-perpetuation mainly based on the role in society. Self-perpetuation mainly occurs when an individual decides to do activities that are based more on what society expects rather than what an individual desire. A self-schema influences the way an individual views herself/himself and, in turn, the way he views the other people in society. If a person believes he is fat, that is the schema he views himself in, and he tends to view others that way. An individual tends to notice people who are as fat as him or even fatter than him.
It is therefore very difficult to influence a person’s self-concept since that is something that has been practiced and revised on a daily basis, and even if we manage to change someone’s self-concept, it needs constant monitoring and reminding the individual about their newfound self-concept (D. G. Myers, 2001)
The Acting Self
The acting self has two branches: self-identity and self-entity. An individual needs a combination of the two for a meaningful action to take place. Perception of one’s own body mostly affects the acting self, body awareness and self-consciousness will control one’s own body movements and the way they act around people. Sometimes the way an individual acts in front of people is different from the way they act themselves or in a certain group in which they are comfortable.
Self-Esteem and Efficacy
Self-esteem is the regard or respect that a person holds of her-/himself; it is mostly how good a person feels about him-/herself. It has been preached and taught that individuals should hold themselves in the highest regard, and teachers and parents always try their best to make sure children have high self-esteem. People with high self-esteem are believed to see themselves in the best light and hold themselves in high respect and regard. Self-esteem could not only refer to general feelings but also to specific areas in life. An individual might have low self-esteem regarding beauty, and another one can have low self-esteem when it comes to work performance
Self-efficacy, on the other hand, is the belief a person has in his own capabilities; it is the level of competence an individual feels, especially in meeting specific tasks or targets. Just as self-esteem, it is important to view self-efficacy in terms of situations rather than general feelings; an individual could have self-efficacy when it comes to sports or public speaking.
Thinking About Others – What Judgments Do We Make About Others?
Attributions: Internal, External, and Explanatory Style
In real life, attribution is something an individual does unaware of underlying biasness, for example, if a student scores poorly, he/she might blame the teacher for not teaching well the subject while disregarding the possibility of not studying as the case of a poor grade. In social psychology, it is the process in which an individual explains his/her behavior or of other people. Attribution is concerned with the way ordinary people tend to explain events that occur the way they do (Kelley, H. H. 1967).
There are various styles in which attribution is conducted: internal style, external style, and explanatory style. Internal style is when an individual tends to explain the behavior of another person, and he/she uses internal traits such as personality traits to explain why an individual behaves the way he/she does. External style occurs when an individual is trying to explain his/her own behavior and in most cases tends to pin this behavior on the environment or a situation. Explanatory style is used by individuals when they tend to explain behaviors in the world around them. Individuals can either have a positive or negative explanatory style on how they view the behaviors of the world.
Attitudes and Behavior
Attitudes are psychological tendencies of humans that evaluate entities to some degree that favor or disfavor the entity that is being evaluated. An individual’s attitude has three components. The first is effective that involves feelings that are personal towards an object or another person. Secondly, there is the behavioral component that involves the way attitude that has been formed may influence our behavior. Lastly, there is a cognitive component that entails the personal beliefs of an individual regarding an object. Social psychology believes that even though there is a popular belief that attitude influences behavior, it is not always the case and normally attitude affecting behavior is subject to certain conditions such as:
· when the attitude is as a result of very personal experience;
· when an individual is an expert in that particular field;
· if an individual is expecting a positive outcome;
· when the attitude has been repeatedly expressed.
Prejudice, Stereotypes, and Discriminations
Prejudice is usually a negative unjustified attitude towards another person mostly because that person is a member of a certain social group, race or sex. Prejudice is not just a statement of opinion but rather an attitude where strong feelings such as contempt and loathing are involved. Stereotypes are usually over-generalized beliefs regarding a certain group or individual, they are mental pictures created by individuals and by stereotyping we tend to generalize and judge others without acknowledging the fact that individuals are separate and unique beings. It is believed that stereotyping, discrimination and prejudice are conceived.
Additionally, discrimination is a bit different from prejudice in that rather than attitudes, discrimination involves negative actions that are directed to a specific social group or an individual mostly on the basis of sex, race, and social class.
It is, therefore, safe to say that prejudice, stereotype, and discrimination go hand in hand but there can exist one without the other. Conformity could be the major reason why individuals become prejudices, stereotypes and discriminatory, by copying or conforming to what is considered normal in their society, individuals become sexists, racists, and stereotypes (McLeod, S. A. 2007).
Influencing others: Persuasion? How do we use the Power of Persuasion?
There are persuasion techniques that individuals use to influence others, and they include:
1. Reciprocation. Social psychology has termed humans as having common behaviors such as the need to return favors or to treat others as they treat them. This technique can be used since when one individual is offered a concession, he/she feels indebted and feels the need to reciprocate back (Kelley, 1967).
2. Commitment and Consistency. Humans are inclined to consistency, and when an individual is committed to doing something, he/she will be more than determined to go through with it.
3. Social Proof. This is the principle of safety in numbers. Human beings will tend to do something because many of the people they know are doing it, and this principle can be used by someone to influence other individuals.
4. Liking. This principle is based on the fact that individuals tend to associate with people they like or they are familiar with.
5. Authority. There is a tendency to feel obligated to people in authority; therefore, it is essential when trying to persuade a crowd into doing something, for example, buy a certain type of drug, to use medical professions or to influence the audience’s judgment.
6. Scarcity. This principle works on the basis that individuals tend to see items more attractive if they are told that they stand to lose the opportunity to get the item on favorable terms.
Characteristics of the Persuader, Message, Audience
The persuader has to be knowledgeable about the current needs of the audience which he/she intends to influence. The credibility of the persuader is of much importance since it will be a symbol of expertise, dynamism, and trustworthiness.
The message must have staying power so that it can be remembered by the audience and have a major impact on it.
The audience must be able to accept the arguments and conclusions made by the persuader. They must also be able to understand what the persuader is talking about and be very attentive.
Influencing others: Obedience and Conformity: What Factors Lead us to Conform and become Obedient?
Conformity pertains to a change in belief or thinking so as to fit in a particular group apart from changes in beliefs. Conformity can also mean that individuals yield to social pressures on the way they do activities or what they believe in. Obedience, on the other hand, is a social influence, whereby there is a direct order from another individual, usually an authority and without that directive, the individual would not have acted the way they did. As opposed to conformity, which is due to peer pressure, obedience occurs when high authority rather than an individual is in place.
Aggressive Behavior and Aggression Cues
Aggressive behaviors are actions that are intended to harm another person either physically or verbally. Aggression cues are factors that influence aggressive behaviors, cues such as socially learned cues and situations regarding the environment, which make aggression behaviors rampant. Social psychology base aggression on either perception senses or they are biologically embedded in a person.
These are good-intent behaviors; they are characterized by a concern for other people’s feelings and their welfare. It could be empathizing with them, behaving in such a manner that would benefit another party and also show concern for other individuals.
Relationship Building, Love and Attraction
Social psychology claims that love and attraction play a major role in relationship building and should not be ignored as they are the groundwork for any strong and lasting relationships. Love and attraction tend to bring in a sense of belonging, and this promotes a healthy relationship (McLeod, 2007).
Group Dynamics: What are the Elements of a Group?
A group is a collective form of individuals who have common interests and a very important part of social interactions. There are three elements of a group, namely connection, a social relationship, and common interest.
Types of Groups
Groups can be classified in different ways according to their purpose or in terms of structure. There are primary and secondary groups. Primary groups are when the members are very close, such as family members or close friends. In this kind of a group, there is high interdependence among the members. On the other hand, secondary groups are groups that the members are rarely in any contact and they are formed in a formal way. They include examples such as trade unions. There is also another broad category of defining types of groups, and these are emergent and planned groups. Planned groups are groups formed because of a particular purpose, while emergent groups are formed without any major planning as people might find themselves in the same place at the same time or strangers in a certain place through conversation begin to know each other (McLeod, S. A. 2007).
A consequence of Group Thinking
Group thinking occurs when a group makes a collective decision due to group pressures and mental deficiency. Groups that are vulnerable are those that consist of members that have a similar background. Group thinking has various consequences, such as the high probability that the outcome will fail, there is a failure to consider alternatives, information processing is biased, contingency plans are not worked out, and there is poor or little information search (McLeod, 2007).
Social dilemmas occur when an individual’s thinking is contrary to the way a group thinks. Individuals who belong to a group are mostly faced with this challenge, and it is wise to view the options of individual interest vs. the collective interest and come up with a solution that is overall best.
The Future of Social Psychology
Social psychology is mostly driven by daily happenings all around the world and due to the immense changes in society; social psychology is headed to new levels. There will be a perceived need to link traditional topics, such as attribution to interpersonal and other intergroup processes. With the advent of technology and complex communication, channels may lead to what social psychology can term as saturated self and these new technologies and new communication systems will provide a basis for new kinds of “self” and new group dynamics.
Social psychology is, therefore, a very diverse yet crucial discipline in the study of man and the way he relates to society at large. It is noted that even the US government is interested in applying concepts of social psychology in influencing citizens, and it continues to grow in the 21st century since does is not only rely on anecdote observations but uses scientific methods and empirical study of social phenomena to inspire research in the understanding of social behavior and experience. With the advent of new technologies and new ways of socializing, social psychology is in for a long ride and new discoveries (Feenstra, 2011).