Social psychology is a branch of psychology based on how the social settings affect one’s thinking, attitudes, behaviour, ideas and overall personality. The concepts of social psychology are based on the various social psychology theories developed by social psychologists like Donald Camplbell, Norman Triplett, Leon Festinger, Fritz Heider and many more.
The significant social psychology concepts based theories developed by social psychologists are mentioned below.
Humans are born into a world filled with other humans. The interactions between the adults and the infants provides ample opportunity to directly and indirectly impact the actions, personality, behaviour, beliefs and growth of the infant. This process of impacting an individual is known as social influence.
Social influence being a major concept has sub-concepts to it, them being,
- Conformity is changing one’s behaviour to match that of those around them. Solomon Asch conducted his classic study on conformity in 1951. The conclusion of the study being the level of conformity increased with the number of influencing participants.
- Compliance is when an individual changes their behaviour in response to another individual or group asking them to change. The ones asking for the change in behaviour are not an authority figure. It is the agreement of the individual based on someone’s suggestion.
Methods to gain compliance include foot-in-the-door technique, door-in-the-face- technique, lowball technique and that-is-not-all technique.
- Obedience is the response one gives to the direct command from an authoritative figure. This figure could be a teacher, a supervisor, a police officer, etc.
After the atrocities committed by Nazi soldiers under the command of Adolf Hitler, many psychologists and psychiatrists have raised a question as to how far can a human go to obey commands. Social psychologist Stanley Milgram’s Shock Experiment attempted to answer the above question.
Social influence affects one’s failure of success at a given task. The presence of others, along with the difficulty of the task determine if the person will perform well or poorly in the presence of others.
The positive effect of others on the performance is called social facilitation. The opposite being social impairment where the presence of others causes a negative effect and the performance worsens. In both the cases, the presence of someone else acts as an arousal, just enough to improve or worsen the performance .
This concept was first identified by NormanTriplett (1898) during his research with cyclists and psychologist Floyd Allport coined the term in 1920.
Attitude is the tendency to respond positively or negatively towards a certain idea, person, object or situation. This tendency is developed in a person as they experience with others, through situations and personal ideas and biases. Attitudes are inborn, they are formed throughout life throughout self experience or instructions from others; hence, attitudes can change after certain experiences too.
- Attitude formation is the result of a number of different influences regarding one thing. It is learnt through direct contact of a person, idea or situation that is the focus of the attitude, for instance a child who dislikes all green food after he tastes broccoli. Through direct instructions from parents or others, for instance someone who abhors smoking because he has been taught it is dangerous to health.
- Attitude change is subject to new learning. The art of changing one’s beliefs, opinions is called persuasion. Attitudes are sometimes changed even through explanations or arguments. Although, changing attitudes is not facile, there are many factors deciding the success or failure of persuasion. Factors such as:
- If the person persuading is trustworthy, respected or even attractive, the listener agrees sooner.
- If the message is organized or even instigates fear, the persuasion is more permanent.
- The characteristics of the listener, young adults are more susceptible to persuasion than older adults.
Each human grows up with a certain set of beliefs. Although, at times actions contradict the beliefs or there may be two conflicting beliefs. This discrepancy leads to a level of discomfort. The discomfort being an indication of cognitive dissonance may differ according to the level of tolerance of the individual. Some have a higher tolerance which causes a low level of discomfort. Often personal beliefs cause higher dissonance.
Leon Festinger published his theory of cognitive dissonance in his 1957 book ‘A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance’ which states that once the effects of cognitive dissonance begins, humans either add suitable beliefs or eradicate existing beliefs to reduce the dissonance.
For instance; believing that the upcoming exam is important but binge watching Netflix for pleasure causes guilt and discomfort. So one convinces himself that the exam is not important and acing the next exam will compensate for the low marks of this one. Therefore, reducing the importance of the exam helps gain consistency in our beliefs and actions.
The quote “First impression is the last impression” is quite frequently followed in society. The first meeting with a person is an opportunity to evaluate, judge and categorize that person. It also causes us to reach conclusions about them. This process is known as impression formation. Being a social cognition, first impressions can even alter pre-known information about somebody.
One more thing we do during the first meeting is social categorizing where we categorize the new person into groups of people based on their similarities. This may often lead to stereotypes or prejudices and have negative effects on the new relationship.
The attempt to make sense out of actions, behaviours or events is known as attribution. It is a daily underlying process that everyone practices. People find the need to explain their own behaviours as well, this requires attribution. If the reasoning during the attribution process is discrepant from their beliefs, it causes cognitive dissonance.
Attribution theory was developed by social psychologist Fritz Heider in 1958 where he explained why and how people choose justification for their own actions. He stated two explanations for it- one an external factor and other being an internal cause.
- When the cause of behaviour is stated to be external such as traffic, environment, weather known as situational cause.
- When the cause of behaviour is assumed to come from within the individual such as their personality or suppressed trauma known as dispositional cause.
Human tendency is to credit good behaviour to internal causes and bad behaviour to external causes.
Prejudice and Discrimination
An unsupported and often negative attitude about a member of or the complete social group is called prejudice.
When prejudices lead to differential treatment of a social group in situations of equality, it is known as discrimination.
Prejudice is the belief which causes the act of discrimination. It is in the form of in-group (the group one identifies with) and out-group (the group one does not identify with).
Officially developed by Donald Campbell, the realistic conflict theory of prejudice describes the formation of prejudice and the onset of discrimination.
Theory of Social Identity
The theory of social identity was proposed by Henri Tajfrl & colleagues in the 1970s. It was derived from the minimal group studies and aimed at interpreting the discrepancy and determinants of behaviour of an individual while in group and being alone.
The theory states that an individual is most likely to show a change in his behavioural patterns and thoughts in order to fit in the group. The social circle will be influencing, motivating and enhancing the individual’s approach.
Social groups contribute in forming a person’s self concept and self image. An individual changes himself according to the social environment and tries to relate with the people around.
Social Psychology vs Sociology
Social Psychology and Sociology are based on the same theme and are usually incorrectly used interchangeably. Social psychology is a branch of psychology that studies the influence a society has on an individual, while sociology is a branch of social sciences that focus on the human interactions, community differences, social structures and systems. Social psychology focuses on the individuals while sociology focuses on the society. Social psychology covers the concepts of social identity, motivations and mass influence on the personality of an individual.
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