Chapter 1 Social Study Guide
What is Social Psychology?
When we think of social influence, we think of direct attempts at persuasion, whereby one
person deliberately tries to change another person’s behaviour. These attempts at direct social
influence form a major part of social psychology.
Social influence extends beyond behaviour—it includes our thoughts and feelings, as well as our
overt acts. Social influence can take on many forms other than deliberate attempts at
persuasion. We are often influenced by the mere presence of someone.
Social Psychology: the scientific study of the ways in which people’s thoughts, feelings, and
behaviours are influenced by the real or imagined presence of other people—and other
The Power of Social Interpretation
Social psychology is distinct because it is concerned not so much with social situations in any
objective sense, but rather with how people are influenced by their interpretations of their
Construal: the way in which people perceive, comprehend, and interpret the social world.
For example, in a murder trial, a person might have SO much evidence proving that he’s guilty,
but the final verdict will always depend on how each member of the jury construes that
evidence—these construals may rest on a variety of events and perceptions that may or may
not bear objective relevance to that matter.
Social psychology is an experimentally based science that tests its assumptions, guesses, and
idea about human social behaviour empirically and systematically.
Some alternative ways of understanding social influence:
Folk wisdom- Journalism, social critics, and novelists have many things to say about the
behaviours of individuals, and such commentary is generally referred to as folk wisdom, or
common sense. More often than not, these sources disagree with each other.
Some folk wisdom says “birds of a feather flock together” and some says “opposites attract”.
There is no easy way to find out which is correct.
We social psychologists address many of the same questions, but we attempt to look at these
questions scientifically. One of the tasks is to make educated guesses (a hypothesis). We design
experiments sophisticated enough to demonstrate the specific situations under which one or
the other applies.
Social Psychology Compared with Sociology:
Social psychology is rooted in an interest in individual human beings, with an emphasis on the
psychological process going on in their hearts and minds. The level of analysis is the individual in
the context of a social situation. Sociology is more concerned with broad societal factors that influence events in a given society.
The focus is on topics such as social class, social structure, and social institutions. Sociology
tends to focus on a society at large.
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:
Personality Psychologists try to focus their attention on individual differences—the aspects of
people’s personalities that make them different from other people.
Social Psychology is worried that studying just a person’s individual behaviour and differences
leaves out an important part of the story—the powerful role played by social influence.
The Power of Social Influence:
Fundamental Attribution Error: the tendency to overestimate the extent to which people’s
behaviour stems from internal, dispositional factors and to underestimate the role of situational
factors. People explain people’s behaviours in terms of personality traits, thereby
underestimating the power of social influence.
Underestimating the Power of Social Influence:
We tend to write people off—such as murderers—as being flawed individuals. Doing so helps
the rest of us believe that it could never happen to us. By failing to appreciate the power of the
situation, we tend to oversimplify complex situations. Oversimplification decreases our
understanding of the causes of a great deal of human behaviour.
Lee Ross and Steven Samuels conducted a study. First they chose a group of students who were
considered to be either relatively cooperative or competitive. The researchers did this by
describing the game to the resident assistants and asked them to think of students in their
dorms that would fit either of the two. They then invited the students to play the game, and
added a twist—the researchers varied one aspect of the social situation—what the game was
called. They told half it was the “Wall Street Game” and the other Half it was the “Community
Game”. Everything else about the game was the same. Experiments resulted in four conditions.
-Results: when it was called “Wall Street” only 1/3 of the individuals acted cooperatively, and
when it was “Cooperative Game” 2/3 of the individuals acted cooperatively. The name of the
game conveyed strong social norms about what kind of behaviour was appropriate in this
The Subjectivity of the Social Situation:
One strategy for defining it would be to specify the objective properties of the situation, such as
how rewarding it is to people, and then documenting the behaviours that follow from these
objective properties. Behaviourism: a school of psychology maintaining that to understand human behaviour one
need only consider the reinforcing properties of the environment—that is, how positive and
negative events in the environment are associated with specific behaviours.
Behaviourists chose not to deal with issues such as cognition, thinking and feeling, because they
considered these concepts too vague and mentalistic, and not sufficiently anchored to
The emphasis on construal, the way people interpret social situation, has its roots in an
approach called Gestalt Psychology—a school of psychology stressing the importance of
studying the subjective way in which an object appears in people’s minds, rather than the
objective physical attributes of the object.
According to Gestalt psychologists it is impossible to understand the way in which an object is
perceived simply by studying these building blocks of perception. The whole is different from
the sum of its parts. One must focus on the phenomenology of the perceiver—that is, on how an
object appears to people—instead of the individual elements of the objective stimulus.