Social Psychology And What Does It Aim Essay

Length: 7 pages Sources: 1 Subject: Psychology Type: Essay Paper: #73298341 Related Topics: Band Of Brothers, Social Aspects, Social Identity, Social Influences On Behavior

Excerpt from Essay :

¶ … SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY AND WHAT DOES IT AIM TO STUDY? Inspired by Kurt Lewin (1951), social psychology adopted the experimental method to study human behavior (Wood & Kroger, 1998). In this regard, Wood and Kroger (1998) report that, "Lewin's experiments in leadership style (autocratic, democratic, laissez-faire) became classics in the new experimental social psychology" (p. 267). Lewins' early work was carried on by Festinger and others who explored cognitive dissonance for the next 20 years at MIT and subsequently at the Universities of Michigan and Minnesota, making this one of the foundations of social psychology (Wood & Kroger, 1998).

Simply stated, social psychology uses the scientific method to study human social behavior (Rogers, 2003). According to Rogers, psychological social psychology "studies how social events and phenomena influence the ways in which individual people feel, think and act. It is concerned with the psychological processes (such as social perception and cognition) that go on within individual minds" (p. 322). By contrast, sociological social psychologists seek to study "how people act together and interact to produce social phenomena (such as crowd behaviour). It is concerned with how social processes (such as group cohesion and social identity) arise from social forces (such as the influence of group norms)" (Rogers, 2003, p. 326). Finally, critical social psychology argues that the scientific method is not the approach that can be used to achieve an improved understanding of the social aspects of behavior based on their complexity and fluidity (Rogers, 2003).


Despite a growing body of research in this area, there remains a lack of consensus among researchers concerning precisely how learning takes place in humans. In this regard, Hayes (2004) emphasizes that, "Theories there are in plenty, some of them over 2,000 years old, some a few hundred years and some quite recent, but they are inconsistent and often incompatible with each other. Some, which have been discredited, are still held by teachers and policy makers" (p. 219). What is known is that adult humans and even children are capable of recognizing when something has been learned and they can also identify when the "ah-ha" moment of learning has taken place in younger people. Some researchers believe that learning and development cannot be differentiated entirely since both processes involve many of the same processes (Smith & Pourchot, 1998). Based on a nurture vs. nature perspective, the sociocultural school of thought holds that people's cognitive development and learning is shaped by the interaction of their social and cultural histories (Smith & Pourchot, 1998). Indeed, Moskowitz (2001) argues that, "The single most important lesson of social psychology is the degree to which individual thought and behavior is determined by the immediate situation" (p. 11). Other researchers have conceptualized learning as simply being something that occurs when people want to know how to do something they do not know how to do. For instance, Hayes (2004) maintains that, "Learning takes place when we find we do not know or cannot do something and set out to discover how to know or do it. Children do this spontaneously long before they go to school. Most of the things they learn then, especially critical things like walking and talking, they do without being taught or tested" (p. 219).


Although everyone experiences it from time to time and over time, when it is allowed to interfere with normal activities, stress can have serious psycho-physiological outcomes. The word stress as used in psychological settings is derived from the term used in physics which is used to describe exterior pressures, tensions, or loads on any type of object (Treven, 2005). First used in medicine in 1949, the definition stress provided by Treven states that it "is a way of physically adapting to new circumstances or a reply to the irritations that disturb the individual balance" (2005, p. 46). In reality, though, such transitory "disturbances" can be healthy and appropriate responses to environmental conditions such as a centerfielder trying to catch a high fly ball hit to center field which can create negative stress (the uncompleted response) and positive stress (the act of successfully making the play). One of the defining characteristics of unhealthy stress levels, though, is the relentlessness of the stressors involved. In this regard, Negga, Applewhite and Livington (2007) report that, "Stress is an interaction of the individual to his or her environment [and] a response of a person as a reflection of their diversity...


46). Social support systems (including to degree to which people feel a part of the activities around them and to extent to which they have people they are close to), though, have been shown to reduce stress levels (Negga et al., 2007).

The social psychological perspective holds that psychological self development takes place gradually, over time, as people learn how to satisfy their existing wants and needs at which point new goals are formulated and new behavioral processes that can achieve them are cultivated in an iterative fashion (Kunkel, 1997). In other words, despite achieving their wants and needs over and over, humans are never truly satisfied with what they have and psychological self development occurs as people gain experience through trial and error based on their external environment and the processes they use to respond to them. In this regard, Kunkel advises that, "Although many rule-governed activities in daily life involve rules presented by other people (e.g., following instructions, obeying laws), numerous rules followed by individuals are formulated by themselves" (1997, p. 699). Based on the results of these previous experiences, psychological self development allows people to formulate better responses to external circumstances in ways that maximize their outcomes. In this regard, Kunkel adds that, "An individual's past experiences with behavior-consequence linkages are the major determinants of present and future activities" (p. 700). It is important to point out, though, that psychological self development is a life-long process and does not end when one set of wants and needs are satisfied, but rather involves an ongoing process of evaluation and reevaluation (Wilson, 1996).


Newspaper headlines are replete with instances of single individuals rushing into fires at great personal risk in order to save the lives of others, but such heroic actions may not be as commonplace when there are many people present at an emergency or other life-threatening situation because of the so-called "bystander effect." In this regard, Karakashian, Walter, Christopher and Lucas (2006) cite "the widely-known bystander effect, where people in the presence of others are less likely to help due to diffusion of responsibility than when one is alone and all of the responsibility to help lies only upon him or her" (p. 13). Likewise, according to Roeckelein (1998), the bystander effect is "where the actions of others in the situation (such as passivity vs. activity on the part of other onlookers) may serve as cues to the bystander's involvement. The bystander effect concerning altruism, prosocial behavior, or helping behavior refers to the finding that the more people who are present when help is needed, the less likely any one of them is to provide assistance" (p. 86). Researchers have speculated that there are several causes for the bystander effect, including the fact that the more people there are present at an emergency situation, there more likely that the sense of individual responsibility will be sufficiently diluted to preclude action (Roeckelein, 1998). In this regard, Roeckelein points out that, "Even when a bystander interprets the event to be an emergency, the presence of other people may help to diffuse responsibility for taking any action" (p. 86).


Stereotypes are simply beliefs that are shared by a group, but it also involves other, less discernible features (McGarty, Yzerbyt & Spears, 2002). The definition provided by McGarty and his associates indicates that the definition of the stereotype is "a set of constraints between knowledge about a group, the explicit use of labels about group members, and perceived equivalence of group members. Stereotype formation is therefore the process by which the constraints between these elements develop" (p. 36). Stereotypes can be perpetuated when people witness stereotyped group members behaving in a stereotypical fashion in a process that further reinforces these beliefs, while behaviors that are contrary to the stereotype are discounted as anomalous (McGarty et al., 2002).

By contrast, a self-fulfilling prophecy is when people believe something is going to happen and unconsciously take steps to help the prophecy become reality (Zanna, 2005). For example, if educators expect their students to perform poorly and communicate this expectation on a regular basis, these young learners will…

Sources Used in Documents:


Hayes, D. (2004). RoutledgeFalmer guide to key debates in education. New York:


Karakashian, L.M., Walter, M.I., Christopher, A.N. & Lucas, T. (2006). Fear of negative evaluation affects helping behavior: The bystander effect revisited. North American

Journal of Psychology, 8(1), 13.

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