PSYB10H3 Chapter Notes - Chapter 1: Fundamental Attribution Error, Personality Psychology, Construals

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4 Oct 2011

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Chapter One: Intro to Social Psychology
What is Social Psychology?
At the heart of social psychology is the phenomenon of social influence: everyone is influenced
by other people
To the social psychologist social influence is broader than attempts by one person to change
another person’s behaviour
For one thing, social influence extends beyond behaviour- it includes our thoughts & feelings, as
well as our overt acts
We are often influenced merely by the presence of other people
Each of us is immersed in a social & cultural context
Social psychologists are interested in studying how & why our thoughts, feelings, & behaviours
are shaped by the entire social environment
The Power of Social Interpretation
Social psychology is distinct, however, primarily b/c it is concerned not so much with social
situations in any objective sense, but rather with how people are influenced by their interpretation,
or construal, of their social environment
Social psychologists believe, it is more important to understand how they perceive, comprehend,
& interpret the social world than it is to understand the objective properties of the social world
Construal processes can produce very different outcomes
Social psychology is that it is an experimentally based science that tests its assumptions, guesses,
& ideas about human social behaviour empirically & systemically
Doing systemic experiments in social psychology presents a great many challenges, primarily b/c
we are attempting to predict the behaviour of highly sophisticated organisms in a variety of
complex situations
As scientists, our goal is to find objective answers to a wide array of important questions
Some Alternative Ways of Understanding Social Influence
The problem with this approach is that people are not always aware of the origins of their own
responses (asking them)
Folk Wisdom
A great deal can be learned about social behaviour from journalists, social critics, & novelists
More often than not, they disagree with one another, & there is no easy way of determining which
of them is correct
When cult members kill themselves & their children at the request of their leader, explanations
range from the view that the leader must have employed hypnotism & drugs to weaken the
resistance of his followers, to suspicion that the people who were attracted to this cult must have
been disturbed, self-destructive individuals in the first place. Such speculations, b/c they
underestimate the power the situation, are almost certainly incorrect- or at the very least
So-called common sense frequently turns out to be wrong or oversimplified, people tend not to
learn from previous incidents
Subsequent doomsday cults capitalized on fears that the millennium would bring about the end of
the world, & managed to persuade their followers to take their lives & those of their children
Fixing blame may make us feel better by resolving our confusion, but it is no substitute for
understanding the complexities of the situations that produced those events
The social psychologist performs experiments to test hypotheses about the nature of the social
One of the tasks of the social psychologist is to design experiments sophisticated enough to
demonstrate the specific situations under which one or the other applies
Social Psychology Compared with Sociology
Both disciplines are concerned with the influence of social & societal factors on human behaviour
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Social psychology is a branch of psychology &, as such, is rooted in an interest in individual
human beings, with an emphasis on the psychological processes going on in their hearts & minds.
For the social psychologist, the level of analysis is the individual in the context of a social
Sociology is more concerned with broad societal factors that influence events in a given society
The focus is on such topics as social class, social structure, & social institutions
Sociology tends towards a more macro focus- that of society at large
Sociologists are more likely to be concerned with why a particular society produces different
levels & 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 trying to find explanations of social behaviour, personality psychologists generally focus
their attention on individual differences- the aspects of an individual’s personality that make him
or her different from other individuals
An understanding of personality psychology increases our understanding of human behaviour
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 influenced
When trying to account for a person’s behaviour in a complex situation, the overwhelming
majority of people will jump to the conclusion that the behaviour was caused by the personality of
the individual involved rather than consider the influence of the situation
We often fail to take the situation into account- is important to a social psychologist, for it has a
profound impact on how human beings relate to one another
Social psychology shares with sociology an interest in situational & societal influences on
behaviour, but focuses more on the psychological makeup of individuals that render them
susceptible to social influence
Social psychology shares with personality psychology an emphasis on the psychology of the
individual, but rather than focusing on what makes people different from one another, it
emphasizes the psychological processes shared by most people that make them susceptible to
social influence
The Power of Social Influence
The social psychologist is up against a formidable barrier: the inclination we all have for
explaining people’s behaviour in terms of their personalities. This barrier is known as the
fundamental attribution error
Underestimating the Power of Social Influence
When we underestimate 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; oversimplification decreases our understanding of the causes of a great deal of human
behaviour. Among other things, this oversimplification can lead us to blame the victim in
situations where the individual was overpowered by social forces too difficult for most of us to
People think of their friends’ personalities & answer accordingly. They usually do not think much
about the nature of the social situation when making their predictions
When it is called the Wall Street Game, only 1/3 of the people responded cooperatively, whereas
when it was called the Community Game, approximately 2/3 of the people responded
We have learned the social & environmental situations are so powerful that they have dramatic
effects on almost everyone
The Subjectivity of the Social Situation
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, & then to document the behaviours that follow
from these objective properties
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