Printable View of: Chapter 1
Print Save to File
Welcome to Psychology 2720, Introduction to Social Psychology, by online/distance education! We hope
that you will find this course interesting and stimulating. The bulk of the material that you are responsible
for is in the textbook, Social Psychology Alive, First Canadian Edition, by James Olson, Steven Breckler,
and Elizabeth Wiggins.
We will go through the textbook chapters in the same order that they appear in the book, but we will NOT
cover Chapter 2 or Chapter 14. You should be progressing at the rate of approximately one chapter per
week. The midterm exam will cover Chapter 1 and Chapters 3-7. The final exam, which is not cumulative,
will cover Chapters 8-13 (but not the earlier chapters).
These online notes are required supplementary information. For each chapter in the text, we have prepared a
set of notes that you can read online or download and print. You can think of these notes as an alternative
form of classroom lectures and labs, because the notes supplement the text by providing new information
and by describing interesting applications of the ideas. You will be responsible for the content of these notes
on exams, as well as material from the text.
These online notes are designed to serve several specific functions. (1) First, they clarify difficult concepts
from the textbook. For example, they may provide a simplified definition of a concept or an alternative
perspective on a complex idea. (2) Second, they extend or expand principles in the text. For example, they
may describe interesting concepts that are not covered at all in the textbook. Or they may explain why a
principle in the textbook is important and why it has generated a lot of research. (3) Third, they describe
additional studies on an important topic, especially experiments that we consider to be very interesting or
relevant to students but are not in the textbook. (4) Fourth, the notes provide additional, “real-life” (non-
laboratory) examples of the concepts and findings. (5) Finally, the notes provide links to related external
web sites. These sites have been selected because they are interesting, contain information about a topic that
is not covered in the text, and/or apply a concept to an important domain of life. Please note that you will
not be tested on information or materials that are presented in the external web sites. We provide the links
only for interest and further exploration. But part of the fun of taking an online course is that you have the
opportunity to surf some websites, so we hope that you will do so.
The organization of the online notes parallels the organization of the textbook. Specifically, the principal
headings in the text are reproduced in the online notes, so you will know which part of the chapter is
relevant to the material in these notes. We do not repeat things verbatim from the text (except a few
definitions of concepts or statements of principles); the supplementary materials are designed to provide
new information. We also do not try to comment on all of the ideas in the text; we are selective in the topics
that we address. We focus on topics that are especially: difficult, important, interesting, and/or relevant to
Are you ready to go? Let’s begin our comments on Chapter 1.
File: What Is Social Psychology
What Is Social Psychology?
Social psychology is defined in the text as “the scientific study of how individuals’ thoughts, feelings,
and behaviours are influenced by other people.” Another (simpler) way of stating this is that social
psychology is the science of human social behaviour. Any situation that involves other people, even if the
others are only imagined or implied, qualifies for inclusion in social psychology. Obviously, the field has an
enormous range of possible topics. This diversity is both good and bad for students of social psychology. It
is good because it makes the field fascinating to study: there are lots of interesting topics and many important applications of the findings. But the diversity of the field also makes it a challenge to study: there
is a lot of material to absorb, and there sometimes seem to be specialized principles and theories for every
different domain of life. We hope that the positive consequences of the diversity of the field will outweigh
the negative ones for you. Whatever your final evaluation of this course, we think you will agree that the
field of social psychology is, at the very least, ambitious—it aims to study a wide range of settings and
Social psychology is the scientific study of human social behaviour. It is a science, which means that
it bases its theories and ideas on empirical evidence. Social psychologists do not simply introspect or
speculate about when certain events and behaviours will occur. Social psychologists develop specific
hypotheses and predictions about human social behaviour, and then test their predictions empirically.
We can guarantee that you will learn about yourself in this course. There will be topics covered that
will strike you as very relevant to your own life. You may recognize experiences that you have had when
you read about biases in judgments in Chapter 3, or when you read about persuasion in response to
advertisements in Chapter 7, or when you read about factors that influence close relationships in Chapter 13.
These insights into your own life will give you greater appreciation for the subtleties of social behaviour
and may also lead you to change some things in your life (e.g., to reduce errors in judgment or to increase
resistance to advertisements). Of course, you will also learn about other people as you study social
psychology. You will learn in Chapter 11 why aggression often follows frustration, and in Chapter 12 why
bystanders may fail to intervene in emergencies.
The textbook discusses the connections between social psychology and other areas of psychology
(e.g., personality psychology, developmental psychology) and between social psychology and other
disciplines (e.g., sociology, anthropology). Because the range of topics in social psychology is so broad, it is
not surprising that social psychologists study some of the same issues as researchers in other fields.
Nevertheless, the perspective of social psychology is unique. Social psychologists focus on processes within
the individual (thoughts and feelings) that influence behaviour in settings where other people are either
present or imagined. We believe that social psychology addresses many of the most critical problems facing
mankind, including prejudice, resource management, intergroup conflict, and health promotion.
So come on aboard for our exploration of social psychology. We are confident that you will find the
If you want to do some preliminary exploration of web sites related to social psychology, we provide
two suggestions below. These sites are broad and general ones, which include many links to more specific
sites. You do not need to examine these sites in detail—they are listed here to give you an opportunity to
appreciate the diversity of social psychology.
(1) The Social Psychology Network provides links to a wide variety of sites related to social
psychology. You can look up social psychologists and visit their home pages (try the authors of the text!);
you can search for