Social psychology is a relatively new field of study in modern science. Its focus is on the identity of the "Self" -- the sense of individuality: the component parts that make up who one "is" and the meaning of the "whole" Self. This paper acts as a referenced for individuals unfamiliar with the general principles of social psychology. It aims to provide the reader with a basic overview of the field and to define key principles often used by social psychologists.
Discovering the Self
Self-Concept, Awareness, and Self-Schemas
Discovering the Self in social psychology can seem as simple as posing the question, "Who am I?" (Myers, 2010, p. 13). But answering the question is where the discovery of Self really begins. One's sense of identity, sense of self, sense of gender, race, categorical social grouping all factor into the answer. "Who am I?" raises the issue of self-concept, the totality of self-schemas -- individual facets of an individual's projection of self. For example, a student might project a "student" schema. An actor might project an "actor" schema. A politician might project a "politician" schema. Self-schemas act as basic normative or "type" roles. Most people have more than one self-schema, which allows them to perform various roles throughout the day: for example, one may be a student by night and a teacher by day. Overall one's self-concept is determined by how one perceives oneself based on externalities.
One's self-concept/self-schema is different from one's self-awareness. Self-awareness is based on the ability of the individual to be introspective. Self-awareness is the opposite of self-concept in that it is based on internalities. Introspection is the action of looking inward, of analyzing one's self, one's attitudes, beliefs, actions, etc. While one might adopt various self-schemas throughout the day, contributing to a total self-concept, one may or may not be self-aware. Self-awareness is something quite independent of self-concept. The most famously self-aware individual in literature is Shakespeare's Hamlet, who is intensely introspective: he is conscious of an inner self, which he can reveal and/or hide at will; yet he is conscious of an inner self which he also does not entirely know or understand -- as though his "self" consisted of competing wills or urges.
The Acting Self
One's self-awareness and self-concept contribute to one's "acting self" -- but so, too, does one's body (Tsakiris, Haggard, 2005, p. 387). The acting self is part of a response to various factors, both conscious and sensory. In other words, one "acts" on various levels, which may be understood as "automatic" in a sense and as "pre-arranged." The acting self is a composite of one's intellectual beliefs, physical attributes, and will to power.
Self-Esteem and Self-efficacy
If one's self-concept is how one views oneself on an intellectual/role-playing plane, and self-awareness is how one interprets one's self (actions, beliefs, etc.), self-esteem is how one views one's emotional self -- whether one feels positive or negative about one's self. In simple terms, one who has good self-esteem generally feels "good" about oneself: he or she is confident and secure. One who has low self-esteem generally feels less confident and more insecure. Self-esteem generally generates such feelings as pride or shame, exultation or despair (Hewitt, 2009, p. 217).
Self-efficacy is determined by analyzing how well one is able to achieve one's objectives. If one has high self-efficacy in a particular subject of study or area of activity, he is likely to perform well. If one's self-efficacy is low, one's desire to tend to a particular subject's demands will also likely be low and the outcome negative overall. Various factors affect one's self-efficacy, ranging from past events to positive role models and the obstacles in one's environment and in one's own psyche.
Thinking about Others
How we think about others also affects and is a consequence of how we think about ourselves. Fritz Heider in the early 20th century helped to develop the theory of attribution, or how we perceive others, based on our subjective sensory perceptions rather than on the objective person. Heider focused on individual motives as factors in explaining behavior.
Heider held that individuals will attempt to "explain" others' behavior by using "common sense." He further broke down common sense psychology into two main explanatory categories of attribution: "internal" and "external." Internal attribution relates to personal attributes, such as an individual's character, habits, mood, etc. External attribution relates to an individual's situation, such as the person's environment, job, surroundings (those around him), circumstances, etc. Both categories of attribution lead to differing explanations of behavior (Aronson, Wilson, Akert, 2012, p. 106).
Attitudes and Behavior
Attitude contributes to the way individuals think about one another: attitude may be comprised of one's past and present, one's personal emotions and beliefs, and one's behavior and disposition. Carl Jung (1921) defined attitude as the "readiness of the psyche to act or react in a certain way" (par. 687). Thus, attitude is intimately linked to behavior, which is the overall, fundamental pattern of one's actions.
Prejudice, Stereotypes and Discrimination
One's sense of "Self" may also be informed by prejudice, stereotyping and discrimination. Each of these may be instilled in an individual's psyche without any conscious effort on the part of the individual. What is required is a passive participation on the individual's behalf when prejudicial ideas are expressed. Prejudice is any set of pre-determined negative beliefs about a certain group of people often informed and reinforced by negative stereotypes. Prejudice often goes hand in hand with discrimination -- prejudice being the intellectual or psychological basis for the behavioral treatment of others, which results in discrimination.
Individuals often harbor some forms of prejudice, even if they do not know it. Prejudice allows one to measure himself against a preconceived notion of others and can be used as a way of distinguishing oneself from popular stereotypes. A Self which embraces prejudice rather than attempting to root it out often subscribes to a particular subset of beliefs within a cultural system -- such as a religion, a political party, or an ideological movement. Prejudice and discrimination are ways to separate and/or elevate the Self above Others, who are believed to be of inferior moral or mental or physical quality.
Stereotype is the application to the whole of general characteristics of individuals within a group. For instance, a racial stereotype may apply general, observable characteristics of individuals of a specific race or ethnicity to the whole race or ethnicity. An age stereotype works the same way. An individual who stereotypes elderly persons may assume that all old people are hard of hearing. A gender stereotype might be used to denote women as weaker than men. An individual who stereotypes women might say that they are all bad drivers. The usage of stereotypes may be done in jest or seriously -- but in either case it is a way by which one may distinguish his Self from the popular assessment of a group of individuals.
The Power of Persuasion -- How do we use it?
The Self is rarely content to operate independently of others as though it existed in a vacuum; instead, it tries to convey a sense of its Self in the social sphere called society. In order to express the Self and assist others in perceiving the Self as it would like to be perceived, it becomes necessary for the individual to use the power of persuasion. However, the power of persuasion may also be used by the Self in order to restore a sense of harmony in one's outlook. This happens when one experiences a feeling of "cognitive dissonance" as Leon Festinger called it in 1956.
The power of persuasion is used in various ways both with oneself and with others. Persuasive techniques have been in existence for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks practiced the persuasive technique of rhetoric, a speaking skill which allowed speakers to persuade listeners to adopt their particular position, whether it was philosophical, social, political, etc. Rhetoric is still used today as a persuasive technique in debates. Other persuasive techniques used today are subliminal -- often used in advertising -- a technique in which the individual uses subtle and suggestive images, thoughts, songs or ideas to persuade the audience to purchase whatever commodity is being sold. Persuasive techniques can range in subtlety from the movement of an eye, facial expressions, rhetoric and attractive behavior or dress, to tyrannical, physical persuasion, which is often related to oppressive tactics of State dictators.
In the case of individuals who persuade themselves to adopt a new outlook, as when cognitive dissonance occurs, the Persuader and the Audience are roles both assumed by the Self. The Self-realizes that it cannot harmonize a particular action with a particular belief -- and thus must either change the action to fit the belief or change the belief to fit the action (or change the perception of one or the other). The message is utilized to persuade the Self and…