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PSYB10H3 Lecture Notes - Universal Property, Terror Management Theory, The Technique

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Elizabeth Page- Gould

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Social Psychology Sept 18, 2011
Chapter 1
What is Social Psychology?
- we think of social influence as direct attempts at persuasion, whereby one person deliberately
tries to change another person’s behaviour
- direct attempts at persuasion also occur when our friends try to get us to do something we
really don’t want to do
- for psychologist it goes beyond behaviour but influences our thoughts and emotions
- even when we are not in the physical presence of someone we are still influenced by them
- social psychology is therefore the scientific study in which people’s thoughts, feelings, and
behaviours are influenced by the real or imagined presence of other people
The Power of Social Interpretation
- social psychology is distinct because it doesn’t look at social situations in an objective sense but
by their interpretation of the social environment
- ex. You can bring as much evidence into a trial but at the end o fthe day the final verdict lies in
the hands of the jury who’s decision may be based on the events and perceptions that may not
take objective relevance into matter
- social psych is an experimentally based science that tests its assumptions rather then rely on
wisdom, common sense or opinions of philosophers etc
Some Alternative Ways of Understanding Social Influence
- People are not always aware of the origin of their own responses
Folk Wisdom
- Journalist, critics and novelist have things to say about these situations called FOLK WISDOM
- There is a problem with this knowledge: they disagree with each other, and there is not way of
determining who is correct
- Ex. There is no shortage of folk wisdom about why in the Solar Temple, the cult members killed
themselves and their children at the request of their leader may have been drugged or
hypnotized or may have been disturbed in the first place
- People tend not to learn from previous incidents more examples of this on page 8
- A cult can be very powerful in affecting the hearts and minds of normal people the population
is eager to find someone to blame people blame the victims themselves for their stupidity or
being mentally ill
- One of the tasks of a social psych. Is to make educated guesses (hypothesis) about the specific
situation under which one outcome or the other would occur
- They perfom experiments to test these about the nature of the social world
- One of the tasks is also to design experiments sophisticated enough to demonstrate the specific
situation under which one or the other applies
Social Psych Compared with Sociology
- Social psych and sociology both look at the influence of social and societal factors on human

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- The difference however are: social psychology is a branch of psychology and as such, is rooted in
an interest in individual human beings, with an emphasis on the psychological processes going
on in their hearts and minds
- For the social psychologist, the level of analysis is the individual in context of the social situation
- Social Psychologist focuses on the specific psychological processes that trigger aggression in
specific situations
- Sociology is concerned with broad societal factors that influence events in a given society like
social class, structure and institutions
- MAJOR DIFFERENCE: Sociology rather then focusing on the psychology of the individual, tends
toward a more macro focus that of society at large.
- Sociologist are likely to be concerned with why a particular society produces different levels and
types of aggression in its members
- The goal of social psychology is to identify universal properties of human nature that make
everyone susceptible to social influence, regardless of social class or culture
Social Psychology Compared with Personality Psychology
- When people behave in a interesting or unusual way, it is natural to try and pinpoint what
aspects of their personality led them to respond as they did
- When trying to find explanation for behaviours, personality psychologist focus on individual
differences the aspects of an individual’s personality that make him or her different from
other individuals
- Ex. The Solar Temple story personality psychologist would believe that all those people were
weak-willed or even psychotic
- Social psychologists are convinced that explaining behaviour primarily in terms of personality
factors ignores a critical part of the story: the powerful role played by social influence
- It is conceivable that all these people are psychotic that explanation is highly improbable a
deeper, richer more thorough explanation is to understand the power and influence that these
leaders had on the cult, the nature of the impact of living in a closed society
- When trying to account for a person’s behaviour, the majority of people will jump to the
conclusion that the person behaviour was caused by their personality rather then the influence
of the situation
The Power of Social Influence
- Big barrier when trying to convince people that their behaviour is influenced by social
environment because we believe people’s behaviours depend on their personalities this is
known as the fundamental attribution error the tendency to explain people’s behaviour’s in
terms of personality traits, thereby underestimating the power of social influence
Underestimating the Power of Social Influence
- We experience a feeling of false security
- By failing to appreciate fully the power of the situation, we tend to oversimplify complex
situations this decreases the understanding of the cause of human behaviour
The Subjectivity of the Social Situation

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- Behaviourism a school of psychology maintaining that to understand human behaviour one
need only consider the reinforcing properties of the environment how positive and negative
events in the environment are associated with specific behaviours.
- Watson and Skinner suggested that all behaviour could be understood by examining the
rewards and punishments in the organism’s environment and that there was not need to study
such subjective states as thinking and feeling
- Behaviourist chose not to deal with issues such as cognition, thinking and feeling, because they
considered these concepts to be vague and mentalistic and not sufficiently anchored to
observable behaviour
- But social behaviour cannot be fully understood by confining our observations to the physical
properties of a situation half to look at the situation from the viewpoint of the people in it
and how they construe the world around them
- Ex. You wouldn’t give a salesperson a description of pain in your kidney like you would if a close
friend asked you how you were doing?
- Gestalt psychology holds that we should study the subjective way in which an object appears in
people’s minds rather than the way in which the objective physical attributes of the object
- Ex. To understand how people perceive a painting you would look at the all the individual
building blocks like the type of brush strokes, the number of primary colors etc.
- Gestalt psychs believe that it is impossible to understand the way in which an object is perceived
through studying its building blocks .. the whole is different from the sum of its parts
- Kurt Lewin took the bold approach of applying Gestalt principles beyond the perception of
objects to social perception how people perceive other people and their motives, intentions,
and behaviours was the first to realize the important of taking perspective of the people in any
social situation to see how they construe the social environment
Where Construals Come From: Basic Human Motives
- A focus on individual differences in people’s personality, while valuable, misses what is usually
of far greater importance : the effects of the social situation on people
- We as human beings are complex, at any given moment, myriad intersecting motives underlie
our thoughts and behaviours two of these motives are the need to be accurate and the need
to feel good about ourselves
- Leon Festinger was quick to realize that it is precisely when these two motives tug an individual
in opposite directions that we can gain our most valuable insights into the workings of the
human heart and mind READ EXAMPLE PAGE 17
The Self-Esteem Approach: The Need to Feel Good About Ourselves
- We have a need to maintain a high self-esteem that is to see themselves as good, competent,
and decent
Justifying Behaviour
- Ex. A husband and wife get into a divorce and the husband blames it on the wife’s inability to be
responsive or attentive to his needs .. this makes him feel better about himself
- It is difficult to own up to major deficiencies in ourselves .. the consequence is that it decreases
the probability that the individual will learn from experience and will run into the same
problems again
- It is often possible for normal people to put a different spin on existing facts, one that show’s us
in the best light
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