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PSYC 241 (105)
Chapter 1

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Department
Psychology
Course
PSYC 241
Professor
Roderick C L Lindsay
Semester
Winter

Description
Page 1 of5 Chapter 1: What Is Social Psychology? WHAT IS SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY? Defining Social Psychology • Social psychology is the scientific study of how individuals’ thoughts, feelings and behaviours are affected by other people (the social context). o Scientific study: Scientific method of systematic observation, description and measurement o How individuals think, feel and behave: Investigating a wide variety of as beliefs, attitudes, emotions and behaviours towards certain topics in order to establish general principles of attitude formation and change that apply to multiple domains. Focus on the psychology of the individual instead of groups of people. o Social context: The thoughts, feelings, or behaviours that either a) concern other people, e.g. does heat increase aggression; or b) are influenced by other people, e.g. endorsements by celebrities o The social context does not have to be real or present – even the implied or imagined presence of others can have important effects. • Social psychology is the branch of psychology that treats people as both stimuli and respondents: on how people influence people. Social Psychological Questions and Applications • Learning about social psychology is learning about ourselves and our social worlds, with the scientific method providing insights that would be impossible to gain through intuition or experience alone. • Social perception: what affects the way we perceive ourselves and others? Social influence: how do we influence each other? Social interaction: what causes us to like, love, help, and hurt others? Applications: how does social psychology help us understand questions about law, business, and health? The Power of the Social Context: An Example of an Experiment • Our perceptions of something can be influenced more by the reactions of others than by the thing itself. • CNN coverage of 2008 presidential debate between Obama and McCain showed a graph depicting second-by-second opinions of a small group of undecided voters from Ohio. Did the reactions of these couple dozen individuals influence millions of viewers at home? • Fein et al (2007): Students watched video of 1984 presidential candidates’ debate between Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale. Did Reagan’s one-liners, which elicited much laughter from audience, help him win the election despite being a tiny part of the 90 minute debate? • 3 conditions: 1) Debate as is; 2) Debate without one-liners or laughter; and 3) Debate with one-liners but without laughter. Can analyze impact of both presence of jokes and presence of audience response to jokes. • Students judged performance of candidates on scale: the presence of the jokes themselves did not cause much change in the rating for Reagan (between conditions 1 and 2), but condition 3 had a much lower rating than the other two groups. • This negativity may be caused by the editing-out of the laughter indicating that Reagan’s attempts at wit were inept, thus causing them to see Reagan in a much less positive light. • Conclusion: reactions were more influenced by other people’s reactions to what Reagan said (whether the audience laughed or not) than by the content of what he said (whether the one-liners were present or not). Furthermore, these “other people” were not really present with the students, only sounds on an old video. Page 2 of5 Social Psychology and Related Fields: Distinctions and Intersections • Sociology: Sociology tends to focus on the group level, while social psychology focuses on the individual, e.g. racial attitudes of the middle class vs. factors that make individuals more or less likely to behave in a racist way. • Sociology often studies the relation between people’s behaviours and societal variables, like social class; social psychology studies the relation between people’s behaviours and more specific, immediate variables (e.g. manipulations of mood) by performing experiments in which they manipulate these variables and precisely measure the quantitative effects. • An intersection can lead to a more complete understanding of important issues: combining role of both societal and immediate factors on attitudes and behaviours. • Clinical Psychology: Clinical (abnormal) psychology seeks to understand and treat people with psychological difficulties or disorders, while social psychology focuses on the more typical ways in which individuals think, feel, behave and influence each other. • An intersection can lead to insight in, for example, how people cope with anxiety in social situations, how depressed individuals differ in the way they perceive and act towards others, etc. • Personality Psychology: Personality psychology is concerned with differences between individuals that remain relatively stable over different situations, whereas social psychology is concerned with how social factors affect most individuals regardless of their different personalities. E.g. “Is this person outgoing and friendly almost all the time, in just about any setting?” vs. “Are people in general more likely to seek out companionship when they are made anxious by a situation than when they are relaxed?” • The two areas complement each other very well, with studying how certain situational and often social factors (e.g. receiving negative feedback) can affect people depending individual-difference factors (e.g. high or low self-esteem). • Cognitive Psychology: Cognitive psychology studies mental processes like thinking, learning, remembering and reasoning. Social psychologists are interested in these same processes, but with respect to social information and their relevance to social behaviour. Social Psychology and Common Sense • Common sense may explain many social psychological findings, but it is hard to distinguish common- sense fact from myth since there are often equally sensible-sounding opposite notions (“birds of a feather flock together” vs. “opposites attract”). • Social psychology uses the scientific method to put its theories to the test, while common sense can be wildly inaccurate and misleading in its simplicity. FROM PAST TO PRESENT: A BRIEF HISTORY OF SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY The Birth and Infancy: 1880s – 1920s • Norman Triplett in 1897-1898 is credited with publishing the first research article in social psychology, with his scientific approach to studying how cyclists race faster in the presence of others than against the clock. • Max Ringelmann conducted research in the 1880s but did not publish until 1913, also studying the effects of the presence of others on performance, but looked at how performance at simple tasks often decreased. • McDougall, Ross and Floyd Allport wrote the first 3 textbooks in social psychology, helping establish it as a distinct field of study. Allport’s book in particular helped establish social psychology as the discipline it is today. A Call to Action: 1920s – 1950s Page 3 of 5 • Adolf Hitler’s rise to power and the ensuing turmoil caused people worldwide to look desperately for answers to social psychological questions about what causes violence, prejudice and genocide, conformity and obedience, and many other social problems and behaviours. • Many soc
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