PSYC 215 Chapter Notes - Chapter 1: Physical Attractiveness, Behavioural Genetics, Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging
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What is social psychology?
A few years from now, you may receive a letter in the mail inviting you to a high school or university reunion. What thoughts
will come to mind first? The thoughts that will probably dominate your mind are the people you knew in school and the
interaction you had with them (ex: the loves you had or lost, the time you made a fool of yourself at a party etc)
We focus on these social situations because we are social beings. We forge our individual identities not alone but in the
context of other people. We don’t fall passively into social interactions, we actively seek them. We watch others, speculate
about them and predict who will wind up with whom, whether in real life or reality (ex bac1helor this reality show illustrates
part of the appeal of social psy: people are fascinated with how we relate to one another) and we spend a lot of time on
social networking like Facebook.
The social relationships are basic and profoundly important for human animal. And research continues to find new
implications of our social nature:
•Whether hurting from a physical pain, or from an emotional one, the same areas of the brain are activated.
Therefore, social loss, such romantic breakup may actually be experienced as physical pain (Kross, Berman,
Mischel, Smith & Wager 2011)
•People who have experience with other cultures demonstrate more creative tendencies. Suggest that multicultural
experiences help to keep us more open-minded and enable us to be more flexible thinkers ( Maddux & Galinsky
•Having closes friends is associated with health benefits. Researchers have found that children and teens with fewer
friends are more likely to experience depression, and be sick more often than others (Bukowski, Laursen, & Hoza,
2010; Haas, Schaefer & Kornienko, 2010)
Precisely because we need and care so much about social interactions and relationships, the social contexts in which we find
ourselves can influence us profoundly. Ex: laugh at a joke you didn’t get because others are laughing.
The relevance of social psy is evident in everyday life. We seek answers to the kinds of questions that social psychologist
study (ex: violence, heroism, cooperation, understanding cultures) and we are reminded of the need for a better
understanding of social psychological issues as we read the news about death, destruction, etc. And we appreciate the
majesty and power of social connections as we recognize and read about the charity of a donor (ex: Canadian Red Cross).
Our social relationships and interactions are extremely important to us. Most people seed out and are profoundly affected by
other people. This social nature of the human animal is what social psychology is all about.
Definition: scientific study of how individuals think, feel and behave in a social context. Let’s look at each part of the definition.
Scientific study: there are many approaches to understand how people think, feel and behave but what makes social
psychology different from the others approaches is that social psychology is a science. It applies a scientific method of
systematic observation, description and measurement to the study of the human condition.
How individuals think, feel and behave: social psychologist investigate a variety of attitudes and contexts (broad scope),
such as individual’s attitudes toward particular groups of people or haw their attitudes are affected by their peers or their
mood. So social psychologist strive to establish general principles of attitude formation and change that apply in a variety of
situations, rather than exclusively to particular domains. Ex: economist are interested only in economic attitudes
Individuals: sociology for ex classifies people in terms of their nationality, race, socioeconomic class and other group factors.
In contrast social psychology typically focuses on the psychology of the individual. Even when social psychologist study
groups, they usually emphasize the behavior of the individual in the group context.
A social context
What makes social psychology unique is its emphasis on the social nature of individuals. However the «socialness» of social
psychology varies. Attempting to establish general principles of human behaviour, social psychologist sometimes examine
non-social factors that affect people thoughts, emotions motives and actions. Ex: study of whether hot weather causes
people to behave more aggressively (Anderson, 2001; Anderson & Huesmann,2003) the social about this behaviours is the
people hurting each other.
In addition, social psychologist sometimes study people’s thoughts or feelings about non-social things, such as people’s
attitudes toward Nike versus New Balance basketball shoes. How can attitudes toward shoes be of interest to social psy?
One way is that these attitudes are influenced by something social, such as having Steve Nash endorsement of Nike makes
people like Nike and ultimately buy nike shoes. Both examples are social psychological pursuits because the thoughts,
feelings, or behaviours either (a) concern other people or (b) are influenced by other people.
The «social context» referred to in the definition of social psychology does not have to be real or present. Even the implied or
imagined presence of others can have important effects on individuals (Allport, 1985). For example, if people imagine
receiving positive or negative reactions from others, their self-esteem can be affected significantly (Smart Richman & Leary,
2009). And if young people are asked to imagine living a day in the life of a professor, they are likely to perform better later on
an analytic test, however if they instead imagine being a cheerleader, they perform worst (Galinsky et al, 2008)
Social psychological questions and applications (p. 6)
The social nature of the human animal is what social psychology is all about. Learning about social psy is learning about
ourselves and our social worlds. And because social psy is scientific rather than anecdotal, systematic rather than
haphazard, it provides insights that would be impossible to gain through intuition or experience alone. Social psychology is
the field of study that offers expertise that is more clearly relevant to many carrer paths (ex: judges use it to render landmark
decisions, lawyers to select juries and support evidence and healthcare professionals use it in the prevention and treatment
The power of the social context: an example of a social psychology experiment. (p. 7)
Our own senses of identity, of how we value ourselves can be influenced subtly but significantly by merely being reminded
about what is considered normative when it comes to judging our own appearance. This point is illustrated in research done
by Erin Strahan and her colleagues ( 2008) at Wilfred Laurier University, where they explored the impact of media images on
body satisfaction ratings by female undergraduate students (see fig 1.1 p. 8). They wanted to see if they could change
whether a participant was feeling bad or good about her body by manipulating how aware she was of the cultural norms.
Its well-known that many images portrayed in the media promote an unrealistic and unattainable goal for normal, healthy
women. Previous research has found that those types of unrealistic images can lead some women to feel worse about their
own bodies however understanding why that happens or under what conditions is not well understood. Strahan and her
colleagues (2008) proposed that by viewing these images, women are reminded that other people are judging them based on
their appearance, and so their own sense of self-worth suffers when they determine that they cannot live up to these
So female were exposed to either thin commercials (Victoria secret) or neutral commercials and then were asked about their
overall body satisfaction and to what extent they were concerned with the opinions of others. The results show that if a
woman had seen a thin model, she was more likely to have lower body satisfaction, lower feelings of self-worth and report
being more concerned with how other people might see her (it seems that simply being reminded of what is expected, or
considered normal, within a particular social context can impact our feelings of self- worth when we worry that we do not live
up to those ideals and that other people might evaluate us negatively). In the other hand, if a woman had seen only neutral
media images, however, her overall feelings of self-worth were not affected. These results suggest that when unrealistic
cultural norms around body image are made salient, women become more concerned with how others might judge them.
Because the norms are unattainable, and they can’t live up to this image, they judge themselves more negatively.
However promoting positive rather than negative expectancies about an individual or group can have powerfully positive
Social psychology and related field: distinctions and intersection (p. 8)
It is important to clarify how social psychology is distinct from the other fields.
•Social psychology and sociology
Sociologist and social psychologist share an interest in many issues, such as violence, prejudice, cultural
differences and marriage. However sociology tends to focus on the group level, whereas social psychology tends to
focus on the individual level.