Edited by Matthew A. McIntosh / 03.03.2018
Defining Social Psychology: History and Principles
The field of social psychology is growing rapidly and is having an increasingly important influence on how we think about human behavior. Newspapers, websites, and other media frequently report the findings of social psychologists, and the results of social psychological research are influencing decisions in a wide variety of areas. Let’s begin with a short history of the field of social psychology and then turn to a review of the basic principles of the science of social psychology.
The History of Social Psychology
The Person and the Social Situation
Social psychology is the study of the dynamic relationship between individuals and the people around them (see Figure 1.1 “The Person-Situation Interaction”). Each of us is different, and our individual characteristics, including our personality traits, desires, motivations, and emotions, have an important impact on our social behavior. But our behavior is also profoundly influenced by the social situation—the people with whom we interact every day. These people include our friends and family, our fraternity brothers or sorority sisters, our religious groups, the people we see on TV or read about or interact with on the web, as well as people we think about, remember, or even imagine.
Figure 1.1: Social psychologists believe that human behavior is determined by both a person’s characteristics and the social situation. They also believe that the social situation is frequently a stronger influence on behavior than are a person’s characteristics.
Behavior = f (person, social situation).
|Answer each of the following questions, using your own initution, as either true or false.|
|An athlete who wins the bronze medal (third place) in an event is happier about his or her performance than the athlete who wins the silver medal (second place).|
|Having good friends you can count on can keep you from catching colds.|
|Subliminal advertising (i.e., persuasive messages that are displayed out of our awareness on TV or movie screens) is very effective in getting us to buy products.|
|The greater the reward promised for an activity, the more one will come to enjoy engaging in that activity.|
|Physically attractive people are seen as less intelligent than less attractive people.|
|Punching a pillow or screaming out loud is a good way to reduce frustration and aggressive tendencies.|
|People pull harder in a tug-of-war when they’re pulling alone than when pulling in a group.|
Table 1.1 Is Social Psychology Just Common Sense?
|Journal of Personality and Social Psychology|
|Journal of Experimental Social Psychology|
|Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin|
|Social Psychology and Personality Science|
|European Journal of Social Psychology|
|Social Psychology Quarterly|
|Basic and Applied Social Psychology|
|Journal of Applied Social Psychology|
|Note. The research articles in these journals are likely to be available in your college library. A fuller list can be found here: http://www.socialpsychology.org/journals.htm#social|
Table 1.2 Social Psychology Journals
|Conceptual variable||Operational definitions|
|Aggression||• Number of presses of a button that administers shock to another student|
|• Number of seconds taken to honk the horn at the car ahead after a stoplight turns green|
|Interpersonal attraction||• Number of times that a person looks at another person|
|• Number of millimeters of pupil dilation when one person looks at another|
|Altruism||• Number of pieces of paper a person helps another pick up|
|• Number of hours of volunteering per week that a person engages in|
|Group decision-making skills||• Number of groups able to correctly solve a group performance task|
|• Number of seconds in which a group correctly solves a problem|
|Prejudice||• Number of negative words used in a creative story about another person|
|• Number of inches that a person places their chair away from another person|
Table 1.3 Examples of Operational Definitions of Conceptual Variables That Have Been Used in Social Psychological Research
Social Neuroscience: Measuring Social Responses in the Brain
This woman is wearing an EEG cap. / goocy – Research
Figure 1.5 Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). The fMRI creates images of brain structure and activity. In this image, the red and yellow areas represent increased blood flow and thus increased activity. / Reigh LeBlanc – Reigh’s Brain rlwat; Wikimedia Commons
|Observational||To create a snapshot of the current state of affairs||Provides a relatively complete picture of what is occurring at a given time. Allows the development of questions for further study.||Does not assess relationships between variables.|
|Correlational||To assess the relationships between two or more variables||Allows the testing of expected relationships between variables and the making of predictions. Can assess these relationships in everyday life events.||Cannot be used to draw inferences about the causal relationships between the variables.|
|Experimental||To assess the causal impact of one or more experimental manipulations on a dependent variable||Allows the drawing of conclusions about the causal relationships among variables.||Cannot experimentally manipulate many important variables. May be expensive and take much time to conduct.|
Table 1.4 Three Major Research Designs Used by Social Psychologists
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.|
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From Principles of Social Psychology, originally published by the University of Minnesota Libraries under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International license.