1. Introducing Social Psychology

Chapter Summary

The science of social psychology began when scientists first started to systematically and formally measure the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of human beings. Social psychology was energized by a number of researchers who sought to better understand how the Nazis perpetrated the Holocaust against the Jews of Europe. The 1950s and 1960s saw an expansion of social psychology into the field of attitudes and group processes. In the 1970s and 1980s, the discipline became more cognitive in orientation. Today, the field of social psychology is expanding into still other areas, such as evolutionary psychology, the study of culture, and social neuroscience.

Social psychology is the scientific study of how we think about, feel about, and behave toward the people in our lives and how our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by those people. The goal of this book is to help you learn to think like a social psychologist to enable you to use social psychological principles to better understand social relationships.

Social psychology concerns the interplay between the individual person and the social situation. The social situation refers to the other people we interact with every day. The key aspect of the social situation is that the people around us produce social influence, or the processes through which other people change our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and through which we change theirs. Social influence operates largely through social norms.

The most basic tendency of all living organisms is the desire to protect and enhance their own life and the lives of important others—self-concern. People also desire to affiliate with others, a motive known as other-concern, and doing so is an important part of human behavior.

An important source of our common human experiences is our culture—a group of people, normally living within a given geographical region, who share a common set of social norms. Norms in Western cultures are primarily oriented toward individualism and self-concern, whereas norms in East Asian cultures are more focused on collectivism and other-concern.

Three fundamental capacities of human beings are affect, behavior, and cognition—the ABCs of social psychology. Affect refers to the feelings we experience as part of our everyday lives. The basic component of affect is mood—the positive or negative feelings that are in the background of our everyday experiences. Emotions are mental states like moods, but they are shorter-lived, stronger, more intense, and more specific forms of affect.

Human beings exchange goods, services, and other benefits with other people in the process of social exchange. The mutual, and generally equitable, exchange of benefits is known as reciprocal altruism.

Social cognition relates to social activities and helps us understand and predict the behavior of ourselves and others. Two types of knowledge particularly important in social psychology are schemas and attitudes.

Although common sense is useful for getting ideas, and although our intuitions are sometimes correct, they are not perfect. Thus social psychologists conduct empirical research to test their ideas. The concepts of interest must be measured using operational definitions. Both self-report and behavioral measures can be used.

One approach to learning about social psychology involves using observational research to make observations of behavior. In some cases, this approach is the only way to learn about and study social events.

Because social psychologists are generally interested in looking at relationships between variables, they begin by stating their predictions in the form of a precise statement known as a research hypothesis.

The goal of correlational research is to search for and test hypotheses about the relationships between two or more variables. In these studies, a statistic known as the Pearson correlation coefficient is used to summarize the association, or correlation, between the variables.

Because scientists are interested in determining the causal relationships among variables, they frequently use experimental research designs. In experiments, the variables of interest are called the independent variable and the dependent variable. The most common method of creating equivalence among the experimental conditions, and thus increasing internal validity, is through random assignment to conditions.

External validity refers to the extent to which relationships can be expected to hold up when they are tested again in different ways and for different people. Meta-analyses can be used to assess the observed relationships among variables across many studies.

See Table 1.5, “Is Social Psychology Just Common Sense? Answers and Explanations,” for the answers and for explanations to the questions raised in Table 1.1, “Is Social Psychology Just Common Sense?”.

Table 1.5 Is Social Psychology Just Common Sense? Answers and Explanations

Opposites attract. False.The opposite is more the case. Similarity, particularly in values and beliefs, is an important determinant of liking.
An athlete who wins the bronze medal (third place) in an event is happier about his or her performance than the athlete who won the silver medal (second place). True. We frequently compare our actual outcomes with what “might have been.” This leads the silver medalist to compare the possibility of having won the gold, whereas the bronze medalist compares the possibility of having won no medal at all.
Having good friends you can count on can keep you from catching colds. True. Social support—the perception that we have people we can count on and talk to—provides many positive benefits to our mental and physical health.
Subliminal advertising (i.e., persuasive messages that are presented out of our awareness on TV or movie screens) is very effective in getting us to buy products. False. Although there is evidence that events that occur out of our awareness can influence our behavior, there is little evidence that subliminal advertising is effective.
The greater the reward promised for an activity, the more one will come to enjoy engaging in that activity. False. In fact, providing a reward for an activity that is already enjoyed (such as paying a child to get good grades) can undermine a person’s enjoyment of the activity.
Physically attractive people are seen as less intelligent than less attractive people. False. You of course know that this must be false. Why else would you look your very best when you go for a job interview?
Punching a pillow or screaming out loud is a good way to reduce frustration and aggressive tendencies. False. There is no evidence that engaging in violent behavior can ever reduce the desire to be aggressive. The opposite is much more common. Engaging in aggression leads to more aggression.
People pull harder in a tug-of-war when they’re pulling alone than when pulling in a group. True. Social loafing (reducing our effort because we think that others in the group will make up for us) is more likely.


Creative Commons License
This is a derivative of Principle of Social Psychology by Charles Stangor used under CC BY-NC-SA. This work, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.