Social psychology is the understanding of an individual’s behavior in a social context. It is the scientific field that focuses on the nature and causes of that individual’s behavior in social situations. It looks at the human behavior that has been influenced by others and in the social context with which it occurred. Social psychology pays attention to how feelings, thoughts, beliefs, intentions, and goals are constructed and how these factors influence our behavior and interactions with others. This paper will examine the principles of social psychology and help us to understand how these factors lead us to behave a certain way in the presence others (McCleod, 2007). Discovering the Self
How do we perceive ourselves and our interactions with others? Knowing how we view ourselves and other people is necessary in being able to understand how people behave in social situations. From a psychological point of view, there are two components when we talk about social situations. The first component is the way we view ourselves and our beliefs. It is important to understand how we act in social situations. The second component is how we perceive and form opinions about those around us (Saylor.org, n.d.).
Who am I? Self-concept is what you know about yourself. It is your overall mental understanding of who you are. It is formed through many different viewpoints. The main way it is formed is through your own behavior. A person may alter their self-concept around different actions they take. An example might be if you have just helped an elderly person with their grocery bags, you may think of yourself as a kind and helpful person. Another example could be that you saw the elderly person struggling with their groceries and you did not step in to help. Your perception of yourself has now changed to being a uncaring and selfish person. Your self-concept can continually change and mold around your daily actions (Catley, 2009).
Along with self-concept, we have self-schemas. Self-schemas are the structured knowledge of yourself. It organizes our self-concept or what we know about our self. Sometimes the term self-concept and self-schema are viewed as the same, but self-schemas help us to organize and use all the information we have about our self. An example of self-schema might be if you like to play instruments and sing, you would have a musical self-schema. If you had absolutely no interest in music, you would have a non-musical self-schema. If you had no preference towards music, this would be called aschematic which means without schema (Feenstra, 2011, p. 2.1).
While figuring out “who we are”, we develop self-esteem and self-efficacy. Self-esteem is the overall evaluation of your qualities and how you feel about yourself. Self-esteem can range from very high to very low. Your self-esteem has a huge influence on your confidence level and your happiness. People with high self-esteem feel better about themselves and are more likely to take more risks and make more friends. They report to be smarter and better looking. They also tend to have more friends and more life opportunities. Those with low self-esteem are more vulnerable to suffering from depression. They are likely to not have as many friends ort take as many risks (Feenstra, 2011, p. 2.2). According the sociometer theory, our self- esteem is based on our social standing.
We evaluate our own ability. What we believe in our ability to do particular things is what makes up our self-efficacy. It is the evaluation of the qualities you possess. Having the belief that you can do something is typically good for us. People with higher self-efficacy tend to be more persistent and productive. An example of high self-efficacy might be if you believe you are a good runner, then you will be more likely to participate in running activities. A low self-efficacy might be if you believe you are a bad cook, then you might shy away from cooking (Feenstra, 2011, p. 2.2).
Self-awareness is another part of how we perceive ourselves. The degree to which we are aware of ourselves vary. There are two different types of self-awareness, your private self-awareness and your public self-awareness. Your private self-awareness is the awareness of your internal state such as your thoughts, feelings, or desires. It can make us more aware of our attitudes and values. When our behavior doesn’t match our values, a discrepancy is made. Because discrepancies are viewed as negative, we will usually seek to change our behavior. Your public self-awareness is your awareness of how you appear to others. It is often higher when we believe that others are observing us. Public self-awareness will generally cause people to act in more satisfactory ways (Feenstra, 2011, p. 2.2).
The last factor we will discuss in regards to discovering the self is the acting self. Our acting self is our attempt to present certain images of ourselves to others. We usually present a more positive side of ourselves, which affects how others view us. When we engage in activities that hinder our success, we call this self-handicapping. Self-handicapping gives us an excuse when things don’t turn out well for us. Thinking About Others
What judgments do we make about others? Everyday we make judgments in our social interactions about why others act the way they do, which is known as attributions. Attributions are the explanations we make of the behavior of not only ourselves but of others as well. We describe these behaviors as something internal or external. When we make an internal attribution we are blaming personality, attitudes, or other temperamental factors for the action. An example of this might be that your boss gave out yearly bonuses and you did not get one. You believe this is because your boss does not appreciate you. When we make an external attribution we are blaming situational factors for the action. An example of this might be instead of assuming your boss doesn’t appreciate you, you believe he has just forgotten in error or hasn’t had a chance to get yours to you yet (Feenstra, 2011, p. 3.1). Our explanatory style is the pattern we use in making these judgments. These patterns vary in terms of whether we make and internal versus external attribution, a stable versus unstable attribution, or a global versus specific attribution. The patterns we use are known as optimistic or pessimistic. Optimistic explanatory style is to make an attribution that is internal, stable, and global for positive things and external, unstable, and specific for negative things. Pessimistic explanatory style is to make an attribution that is exactly opposite of optimism (p. 3.2).
Our attitude and behavior can also affect our judgment of other people. Our attitude involves the evaluation of other people, behaviors, and objects. These evaluations should affect our behavior toward these attitude objects. An example might be if you have a favorable attitude toward basketball, you would be more likely to participate in playing or watching the game. If you had a negative attitude toward basketball, then you would more likely avoid playing or watching the game (Feenstra, 2011, p.4.3).
Another way we make judgments about others is by prejudice, stereotyping, and discriminating. Prejudice is the negative attitude we have toward a person based on their membership of a particular group. Stereotyping are the beliefs we have about the characteristic of particular groups or members of that group. Discriminating is having a negative behavior toward people or groups based on beliefs or feelings you have about those groups (Feenstra, 2011, p. 6.1). Influencing Others: Persuasion
How do we use the power of persuasion? We daily face people trying to persuade us into doing something or buying something. Sometimes we are able to quickly dismiss these attempts at persuasion, but other times we are persuaded to buy the item or do the task. Persuasive communication can be divided into three parts: the communicator, the message, and the audience (Feenstra, 2011, p.7.1).
The communicator, or the “who”, needs to be persuasive. In order to be persuasive you need to be credible. There are two aspects to credibility. One is expertise and the other is trustworthiness. An expertise would be one who appears to have knowledge on the subject and is able to communicate that knowledge. A trustworthy communicator is believable. We tend to believe what this person has to say. The argument of the communicator needs to be strong in order for it to be persuasive. A weak argument from an expert tends to be less persuasive than a strong argument from a non-expert (Feenstra, 2011, p. 7.2).
The characteristics of the message or the “what” include emotion, framing, narratives, and rational appeals in the messaging we receive. Emotions contain physiological and cognitive elements. We can feel emotions and also display our emotions. Our society teaches us how to appropriately display our emotions. This is one way that persuasive communicators try to convince us to do something. They use emotions. They elicit specific emotions that will motivate people to act such as; guilt, pleasure, happiness, or even fear (Feenstra, 2011, p. 7.3).
The last part of persuasion is the audience or “to whom” the speaker is trying to persuade. When it comes to the audience, culture, self-esteem, and gender all affect persuasion. In the U.S. we focus more on the uniqueness and individual preferences, but in Korea they are more likely to focus on harmony with others. When it comes to gender, researchers have found that, in some situations, women are more likely to be persuaded than men. Based on situations where a gender has traditionally been less informed, the lesser informed tends to be easier to persuade. An individual’s self-esteem can also affect how well they can be persuaded. When determining the effect of self-esteem on persuasion, receptivity and yielding are important. Receptivity means that one has the ability and willingness to pay attention to a message and understand it. Yielding means that one changes their mind as a result of the message. For a message to be persuasive, one must have both receptivity and yielding (Feenstra, 2011, p. 7.4).
When it comes to persuading someone to buy or do something different techniques can be used. Here are a list of some of those techniques and how they are used. Foot in the Door – this technique starts with a small requests and then a larger, target request. When the small request is accepted it is more likely that the person will agree to the larger request. Low Ball – this technique starts with a small or low cost request and then grows. Once the small request is accepted it is hard to turn down the added requests. Legitimization of Paltry Favors – this technique is achieved by asking for a small request, like a penny, in hopes for a larger favor, which is the true target. Reciprocity – this technique is used by giving a gift in hopes of getting something in return. Door in the Face – A large request is made with the intentions of being refused so that a smaller request can be made, which is the actual target. That’s Not All – with this technique a large request is made and additional things keep getting added in hopes that the target request will be accepted. And last is Scarcity – this technique tries to make you believe that there are limited quantities in hopes that you will accept before they run out (Feenstra, 2011, p. 8.9). Influencing Other: Obedience and Conformity
What factors lead us to conform and become obedient? Aggressive behavior is one factor that causes us to conform. Aggression is the intent to harm. There is hostile aggression and instrumental aggression. Hostile aggression is that we may harm because the harm itself is the goal and instrumental aggression is that we may harm in order to reach another goal. When severe harm is caused we call it violence. Aggression can originate within the person as well as within the environment (Feenstra, 2011, p.11.5).
Evolutionary psychologists claim that we evolved a tendency to be aggressive because it was beneficial. Being aggressive was a way to gain territory or a mate which is why we now use it to some degree in our relationships. Men and women show different types of aggression depending on the type of aggression. Because women are expected to be less aggressive than men, they tend to stay within that line of expectation. Men have been brought up to be tough and act macho. Being aggressive helps them to live up to that otherwise they may be viewed as a wimp. Aggression also varies with age. The most aggressive age group is that of toddlers (Feenstra, 2001, p. 11.2).
Aggression can be brought on by aggression cues. These cues can be frustration, the media, presence of weapons, consumption of alcohol, and environmental factors such as crowds, noise, and heat (Feenstra, 2011, p. 11.5). By knowing what provokes aggression, you can work on avoiding those cues.
Another way we are influenced by others is through love and attraction. As human beings we all want to be loved. In order to be loved, we need to build bonds and relationships with other people. Bonds and relationship usually begin with some sort of attraction to the other. There are a variety of factors related to attraction (Feenstra, 2011, p. 13.1).
The mere-exposure effect, attractiveness, matching hypothesis, similarity, equity, and hard to get are the factors in attraction. The mere-exposure effect is the tendency to have a greater liking for things we see often. The repeated exposure is the most important factor when it comes to us liking those we are close to (Feenstra, 2011, p. 13.1). Another factor is attractiveness. People are naturally drawn to attractive people. Although we would prefer to interact with attractive people, we tend to end up with people who are similar or equal to us in attractiveness (p. 13.3). In the matching hypothesis, we tend to end up with those who match us. Although we would prefer to be with an attractive person, the feelings of the attractive person may not be mutual toward us (p. 13.1). We also tend to like those who are similar to us. Those who have similar interests and values are the ones who interest us the most and we end up liking (p. 13.1). Equity is when you receive equitable benefits from what you provide. When one gives more than they receive, they are under-benefited. When one receives more than they give they are over-benefited. The overall amount one receives is not important, but whether or not what one gives and receives is equal to the other is what matters (p. 13.1). The last factor is known as hard to get. We tend to like those who are hard to get. People who play hard to get are very selective in their choices (p. 13.1). Group Dynamics
What are elements of a group? A group is at least two people interacting in some way. This group can affect individual performance in a positive or negative way depending on the task (Feenstra, 2011, p. 15.5). There are many different types of groups. One group could be an intimacy group. This is a group of people who are related to one another or who enjoy each other’s company. Groups that engage in the same tasks are known as task groups (p. 15.2). Groups can be categorized as formal or informal. You can also have a friendship group. Friendship groups are people who enjoy similar social activities, share the same political beliefs, religious values, or other things they may have in common (McMillan, n.d.). There is an endless list of types of groups. They type is just how you categorize the group with its common interest.
Groupthink is a decision making process that occurs when a group’s goal to seek harmony and consensus within that group interferes with appropriate actions and leads to bad decision making. In order for group think to occur, certain conditions must be in place. These conditions of groupthink are: The group is highly united; insulated from others viewpoints; has a leader; has poor procedures for finding alternatives; and is under high stress (Feenstra, 2011, p. 15.3).
Consequences of groupthink can be devastating. The group may be unable to fully consider the true objectives; alternatives are not considered; the risks are not fully examined; the decision has not been fully researched; and the group does not have appropriate plan in place in case of an accident (Feenstra, 2011, p. 15.3).
Social dilemmas can upset the group. A social dilemma occurs when someone has to face a decision in which the outcome will create tension between what is best for that person and what is best for the group. Dilemmas can be categorized as tragedy of the commons, resource dilemma, and prisoner’s dilemma (Feenstra, 2011, p. 15.5). In tragedy of the commons, a person can gain the best outcome by taking advantage of a collective resource, but when others begin taking advantage of that resource it may no longer be sustainable (p. 15.4). Resource dilemma is where people contribute to a resource that all may benefit from. Even those who do not contribute can still benefit (p. 15.4). The prisoner’s dilemma can only involve two people. It involves a situation where cooperating will give the best collective outcome but competing would provide the individual with a better outcome, providing that the other person remained cooperative (p. 15.5).
The understanding of an individual’s behavior in a social context is social psychology. It focuses on how we perceive ourselves and how we interact with others. It teaches us about others and why we make the judgments on them that we do. Social psychology explores the power of persuasion and the factors that lead to obedience and conformity. By understanding social psychology and learning its factors, we can better understand why we act the way we do and also work on improving our actions and behaviors.
Catley, Michael. (Sept. 9, 2009). Suite 101. The Self-Developing the Self Concept. Retrieved from: http://suite101.com/article/the-self-developing-the-selfconcept-a146764 Feenstra, J. (2011). Introduction to social psychology. Bridgepoint Education, Inc.
McCleod, S. (2007). Simply Psychology. Social Psychology. Retrieved from: http://www.simplypsychology.org/social-psychology.html McMillan, A. (n.d.). Reference for Business. Group Dynamics. Retrieved from:
Saylor.org. (n.d.). Social Psychology. Retrieved from: http://www.saylor.org/courses/psych301/