Introduction to Social Psychology

It is defined as a scientific study of how humans think about others, influence others and relate themselves to others. It is the study of how behaviour, thoughts, feelings are influenced by others around us in the society. According to Baron, Byrne & Suls (1989), it is the scientific field that seeks to understand the nature and causes of individual behaviour in social situations. To describe it in the simplest way, it is the study of human behaviour in the social context. Social perceptions, social influence, group influence, aggression and helping behavior are all the areas of study in the field of Social Psychology.

According to the social thinking human behaviour is affected by inner attitudes as well as external social influences. The internal attitude refers to our own dispositions while the external influences are situations around us.

Cognitive Dissonance Theory
When human behaviour and beliefs and values are inconsistent, then an experience of guilt, discomfort or anxiety may occur. This is called Dissonance. How do we reduce this conflict? We do it either by changing our beliefs to conform to our actions or we change our behaviour to conform to our beliefs.

Major Social Influences

  • Parents
  • Peers
  • Beliefs
  • Values
  • Culture

Key Theories

1. Social Facilitation
Allport (1920) presented the theory of social facilitation. According to this concept that the presence of others, that is, the social group facilitates certain behaviour.

2. Social Learning Theory
Bandura (1963) presented the theory behaviour can be shaped by aggressive behaviour shown. He experimented by showing three groups of children a video where an adult shows an aggressive behaviour towards a doll. The adult is either rewarded or punished. Children were more influenced or modelled by the rewarding the adult.

3. Cognitive Dissonance
Festinger, Schacter and Black (1950) presented the theory of being in discomfort when confronted with a situaltion where it is difficult to make choices because of the choices being in conflict without our beliefs, values etc.

4. Social Identity Theory
Tajfel and Turner (1971) found that individual maintains a positive sense of the social and personal identity. They conducted an experiment where boys were asked to reward groups. They rewarded more points to the groups which they believed were part of the group themselves.

5. Attribution Theory

Weiner (1986) propounded that success and failure are attributed to certain explanations which are based on three areas: locus, stability and controllability.

6. Shock Experiment
Milgram (1963) conducted an experiment wherein participants were told to be delivered an electric shock in case of wrong answer. Sixty five percent reached the highest level of shock. Milgram concluded that obedience increases in an unfamiliar environment especially when covert pressure is imposed on people.

7. Prison Study
Zimbardo, Haney & Banks (1973 conducted an experiment in which volunteers took part in prison set up for the purpose at Stanford University. The volunteers were assigned the role of guards and prisoners. It was found that that conformity to social roles happened as a part of social interaction.

8. Altruism
It means do things selflessly for the benefit of others without expecting anything in return.

9. Cultural Psychology
This is the assumption that people in the same culture have similar psychological processes. This branch of psychology is concerned with how culture influences  a person’s mental representations and psychological processes and how they vary depending upon culture.
A culture is a system of shared beliefs, values, customs, behaviours, and traditions that members of society or a group use to cope with their world and with one another. The social culture is transmitted from generation through generation. Cultures evolve overtime and include religious and spiritual traditions. The role of culture is mainly to organise our daily behaviour and determine how we interact with the world around us. It also determines what behaviours are appropriate and what are not.

10.Types of culture
i. Material
These are traditions and beliefs about material things such as food preferences, architecture, clothing etc.
ii. Non-Material
These are beliefs or traditions about non-material things. These include religious beliefs, morals and ethics.
iii.Organisation culture
This refers to the systems and beliefs within an organisation. This is also called corporate culture.

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