Social psychology = the scientific study of how individuals’ thoughts, feelings, and
behaviors are influenced by other people.
- Four key aspects:
Influence by Other People
- Most important aspect of social psychology
- Usually, the social component is obvious, but sometimes the role of other
people is less obvious. Preparing for a job interview, or a romantic date are
examples of how other people can influence you without having to be
- A specific Canadian example is thinking about the separatist movement in
Quebec: just the thought of Quebec’s leaving the confederation gives people
anxiety without actually interacting with anyone to worry about the
Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviors
- How other people affect every aspect of individuals lives, including
thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
- The ultimate goal of the science is to understand why various kinds of
actions toward other people occur or do not occur, such as conformity,
aggression, helping, and discrimination.
- Social psychologists take the perspective of individuals in a social setting,
rather than focusing only on objective features of the situation.
- To understand behavior, it is necessary to look through the actors eyes.
- It is important to know individual actors subjective perceptions of the
situation to know the settings objective features.
- A term that is used to refer to individual’s perceptions of a situation
is social construals – how they construe (interpret) the situation.
- Social psychologists focus on actors’ construals to understand behavior.
- When studying group processes, social psychologists adopt the perspective
of individual members of the group.
- Group actions are made up of many actions by individuals.
- Social psychologists rely on direct tests of their ideas.
- Scientific evidence is necessary before a proposal will be taken seriously; it
is not enough merely to speculate about an event and generate a plausible
- Like an science, social psychology involves collecting data to test
HOW OTHER PEOPLE AFFECT US
- Most individuals don’t recognize just how much others influence them.
- Although individuals certainly do make personal decisions, most decisions are
either influenced directly or indirectly by other people. - Social psychologists have shown that other people influence virtually every aspect
Other People Affect How We Interpret Events
- Researchers have conducted experiments in which they constructed fake
emergencies and observed how people responded who did not know that the
situation was staged.
- By carefully controlling the situation, the behavior of apparent observers
who were actually working for the experimenter, researchers determined
that one important failed to intervene is that they rely on other people to
interpret the event.
- (Other people can affect how bystanders interpret a potential emergency.)
Other People Affect How We Feel About Ourselves
- We also rely on other people to make judgments about ourselves.
- Deciding whether you are generous, funny, or good at skating usually all involve
thinking about whether you are better or worse than other people.
- Other people can have a dramatic effect on how we feel about ourselves.
- This process of comparing ourselves to other people to make judgments about the
self is called social comparison.
- Social comparison occurs all the time and has many implications for daily
life. Ex. Looking at the effects of very attractive men and women: Do these
men and women affect how we feel about ourselves?
- Research in social psychology tells us that the answer to the above question
is yes. Bill Thornton and Scott Moore (1993) had male and female
undergraduate students complete several questionnaires that assessed a
variety of self-perceptions, including rating of their own physical
attractiveness and social skills. Some participants had to complete the study
while sitting behind a large poster of 20 pictures of attractive people said to
be used for a different study. Participants who were exposed to the photos
rated themselves as less physically attractive and less socially competent
than did participants in a control condition who were not exposed to the
poster board. Seeing very attractive people made participants feel worse
about themselves for both males and females.
Other People Affect How We Behave
- Other people affect not only how we interpret events and how we feel about
ourselves, but also our actions.
- This point was demonstrated indirectly in the bystander intervention studies,
because bystanders’ interpretations of the situation influenced their actions: they
did not intervene.
- The presence of other people can elicit very different behaviors than would have
occurred if individuals were alone.
- Social psychologists have been very interested in how individuals can be
transformed in-group settings, including the tendency for some large groups to
exhibit aggressive behavior. - One explanation for mob aggression focuses on feelings of anonymity. If people feel
unidentifiable when they are immersed in a large group, they may feel “released”
from their normal inhibitions and do things they would not have done alone or in a
- The term deindividuation has been used to refer to this feeling that people
are unaccountable for their actions when in a large group.
- The relation between group size and aggression is perhaps most clearly illustrated
by an analysis of historical events conducted by Brian Mullen.
- Mullen examined 60 newspaper reports of lynching (mob executions) of
Black men by White mobs in the southern USA between 189 and 1946. The
degree of viciousness or atrocity of each lynching was rated as well as the
size of the lynch mob relative to the number of victims.
- Results showed that as the lynchings became more numerous relative to the
victims, the viciousness of the lynching increase. That is, larger mobs were
associated with more savage lynching.
- Mullen hypothezised that people in the large mobs felt relatively
anaoymous, which led to a breakdown of normal inhibitory self- control.
Disadvantages of Social Psychology
- There is a down side to the familiarity of the field’s subject matter; you make think
you know more than you do.
Social Psychology is Not Just Common Sense
- Many think social psychology is just common sense, and in some cases it is, but not
- Ex. Do we like others that are similar to us, or different from us? (do opposites
- Answer: similarity wins
- Common sense tells us that rewards and reinforcements are the way to change
behavior. Give people money and prizes, and you can lead them to do almost
- Social psychology teaches a different lesson: it is sometimes the absence of an
attractive reward that produces the greatest change in attitudes and behavior.
- In fact, if rewards are used too much, they can actually reduce a persons interest in
- Social psychology is more than common sense or folk wisdom. But even when
research findings confirm our intuitions, there is considerable value in knowing for
- One reason is that common sense often allows competing predictions
- Another reason is that because intuitions are not always right, we must
conduct research to find out which ones are valid.
- A final reason is that folk wisdom is often vague and simplistic; rwal life is
usually more complicated.
- So even when there is a kernel of truth, there may be exceptions or
limitations that must be identified via scientific research Hindsight is Not Always Golden
- Predicting the future if often very difficult
- Once we learn about an outcome, however, it often seems that it was obvious.
- We may experience the feeling that “we knew it all along” – but that this is just an
- Things that seem obvious in hindsight may not have been easily predicted in
- The tendency to think that a known outcome was obvious is called hindsight bias.
- We mention the hindsight bias here because it can lead you astray when you are
judging the importance and value of research findings.
Benefits of Studying Social Psychology
Being an Informed Citizen
- If we really want to develop an informed and reasoned approach to dealing with
social problems, we need to understand why people behave the way they do and the
likely effectiveness of different solutions.
Applying Social Psychological Knowledge to Everyday Life
-The principles of social Psychology are relevant to understanding not only broad,
complex social issues, but also more limited, everyday problems th