Social Psychology (PSY403)
INTRODUCTION TO SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY
Introduction of social psychology is a very important discipline of psychology.
1. Defining social psychology.
2. Introduce main content and subject matter of social psychology in relations to different questions of
interest in this discipline.
General Introduction of the Course
Social psychology is the scientific study of how people think, influence, and relate to one another. It is a
comparatively young discipline. The broad theme of this course will be how individuals' thoughts, feelings,
and behaviors are influenced by other people -- the SOCIAL influences. Social Psychology is a surprisingly
broad field that overlaps with other sub-disciplines of psychology like personality and cognition, and various
other human disciplines like anthropology, sociology, and communication.
Learning Objectives of this course
acquaint the students with the field of social psychology. When we say "the field of psychology, we
mean a broad range of topics relevant to social psychology, general scientific approach of the discipline, and
various concepts, principles, and theories pertaining to this discipline.
To provide many insights into our own and others' behavior.
Benefiting one's own relationships and services as a friend, relative,
roommate, neighbour, and co-worker
Practical application of this course
Through journal writing and Applied social psychology Lab students will be able to experience the personal
relevance of social psychology. The introduction of these two procedures is as under:
Journal: One means of enhancing the course's personal relevance is an assignment called a "Journal",
which students will accomplish as the course will proceed.
Applied Social Psychology Lab: Different classroom activities will be conducted to give students a
practical overview and knowledge about the application of Social Psychology by case reports, small
activities, and current research
By the End of this course students will be able to:
Demonstrate foundational knowledge in social psychology
Apply social psychological phenomena to one's own thinking, behavior, and relationships
Recognize the extent to which social behaviors are influenced by situational and interpretive
Franzoi, S.L. (2006). Social Psychology. New York: McGraw Hill.
David G. Myers, D. G. (2003). Social Psychology (7th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Lord, C.G. (1997). Social Psychology. Orlando: Harcourt Brace and Company.
Lippa, R.A. (1994). Introduction to Social Psychology... Belmont: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.
Social Psychology (PSY403)
What is Social Psychology?
In the following two definitions of social psychology have been described, the first of these has been quoted
in majority of the textbooks on social psychology.
Social psychology is a discipline that uses scientific methods in "an attempt to understand and explain
how the thought, feeling and behaviour of individuals are influenced by the actual, imagined or implied
presence of others" (Gordon Allport, 1985, p. 3).
Social psychology is the scientific study of how individuals think. Feel, and behave toward other people
and how individual's thoughts, feelings, & behaviours are affected by other people (Brehm, Kassin, & Fein,
2002, p. 5).
Main Elements of Definitions
Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviours of individual
Influence of other people
How these influences will be studied? It will be done
by the use of Scientific Method.
The definitions suggest a cause and effect equation people influencing individual's thoughts, feelings and
Main Questions of Interest in Social Psychology
The topics of social psychology--attitudes, person perception, interpersonal attraction, conformity, etc. are
among the most personal but largely unexamined parts of ourselves. Questions of interest in social
psychology can be divided into 3 categories: these 3 categories correspond to thoughts, feelings and
behaviour components of definition of social psy. However, this is merely a convenient way of organization,
one overlaps with other part.
The main questions/ topics of interest in social psychology are as given below:
Thinking about the self and others
Evaluating persons and relationships
Interacting with others
Ist Question: Thinking about the self & others
Each question of interest can be further divided into different categories. For example, different questions
can be asked under this first question of interest. The following 4 questions seem diverse but they refer to
the thought process.
Social cognition is thought process in general; however, other questions given below investigate one specific
kind of thinking.
Social cognition: Researchers who are working on social cognition can ask the following question in their
investigation: "How do jury decide guilt or innocence"
Person perception: People working on person perception can be curious to know: "How do we know
when someone is lying or telling truth"
Attribution: It refers to thought process that occur when we decide what caused another person's behavior
The self: We ask specific questions about ourselves, for example one may be inquisitive that "when does a
thin body image promotes eating disorders"
2nd Question: Evaluating people & relationships
The following 5 questions also seem diverse but they all involve people's feelings. Attitude is the most basic
type of field - about feeling in general.
Attitude: feelings lie at the core of + and neg. attitudes; how feelings, thoughts and behaviour relate to
each other: why people feel one way and yet behave in exactly the opposite way
Attitude change: This question of social psychology is concerned with when and why people alter their
attitude over time. For example, "how can we instill positive attitude in children toward school".
Social Psychology (PSY403)
People interested in research on prejudice, etc. may also be interested in investigating that "how
can society reduce stereotyping and discrimination"
Interpersonal attractions: These issues may question, "why do people desire to make friends with one
and not the others", or "why people feel romantic attraction for one and not for other person".
Close relationships: Researchers working in this area may be inquisitive that "how our feelings toward
significant others change over time", for example, how happy marriages end into bitter divorces.
3rd Question: Interacting with Others
Human beings interact through many different behaviours, some of them are given below:
Social Influence: studies how one person's behaviour/ presence influences another person's behaviour.
Helping: "How can we convince more people to help disabled"
Aggression: "Does media violence promotes violence in real life" why people assault, hit, and kill each
Interpersonal Power: why ordinary citizens sometime engage in torture, ethnic cleansing, or genocide
Groups: "Why can't one religious group agree with the other"... whether people behave differently while
The above mentioned 14 questions, which correspond to three main questions of interest as indicated in the
definition of psychology, have been the content of majority of the text books on social psychology in the
form of different chapters of the text. This suggests that the subject matter of social psychology is different
components of thoughts, feelings, and behaviours of individuals.
How Others' Presence Affect an individual?
The definition of social psychology suggests that it is the scientific study of how individual's thoughts,
feelings, and behaviours are influenced by the actual, imagined or implied presence of other people. To
better understand this definition, let's take a few examples.
Actual Presence of people affecting the individual:
First take an example, how might the actual presence of others influence one's thoughts, feelings and
behaviour. Response of cricket players may become different when fans of some opposing team shout and
make loud noises to divert attention of the players. Similarly, your behaviour will be changed if you notice
that someone is watching you.
Imagined Presence of people affecting the individual:
Regarding how the imagined presence of others might influence thoughts, feelings, and behaviour, think
about past incidents when you were considering doing something that ran counter to your parents' wishes.
Although they may not have been actually present, did their imagined presence influence your behaviour?
For example, if your parents have prohibited you from smoking, and you start smoking in a party on peer
pressure, does their imagined presence affect your behaviour? Imagined presence in certain cases can be
quite strong, as indicated by Shaw (2003), "Imagined figures can guide our actions by shaping our
interpretation of events just as surely as do those who are physically present". In a few conditions, imagined
presence can also help us fight negative emotions. For example, McGowan (2002) pointed out that in
anxiety imagined presence of others can serve as emotional security blanket. Similarly, daughter of one
renowned social psychologist confided to her father that she wants to be as brave as two young wizards,
Harmione & Harry in Harry Potter books.
Implied Presence of people affecting the individual:
Finally, how the implied presence of others influence an individual? If you have an experience of driving on
the motorway, you would have noticed that signs of specific speed limit make you conscious. Similarly, in
Social Psychology (PSY403)
shopping stores sometime posters indicate that "You are being watched"... All of this makes you self ware
and brings a change in your behaviour.
Other Factors affecting the individual
Social psychologists also believe that it is not only the presence of other people that influences a person's
thoughts, feelings and behaviour, but some other factors are also contributing to that. In this reference, three
kinds of explanations of social behaviour can be presented. Figure1.1 presents the factors that a social
scientist might use to explain human behaviour.
This diagram shows that three explanations can affect human social behaviour in following ways:
Social Psychology (PSY403)
group level explanations, i.e., evolutionary and cultural factors
explanations: such as childhood experiences, and family history
variables: internal factors such as personality traits, and attitudes.
1. Broad Group-level Explanations: Evolutionary and Cultural Factors
Animals show different pattern of aggression than human beings, These are biological based. e.g., organized
warfare seems to be a uniquely human activity. Similarly, people living in different countries demonstrate
differences in exhibition of aggression. Evolutionary factors indicate that people living at particular places/
locations have evolved with a tendency to become more or less aggressive to outsiders than to their own
kind? For example, tension and resulting aggression in Yugoslavia and other countries like Israel and
Palestine could be due to evolutionary and cultural factors both. To explain cultural differences in aggressive
behaviour, Margaret Mead (1935) reported that some societies are peaceful (e.g., Arapesh of New Guinea)
while others, although living in the same geographical region) are dominating and aggressive (e.g.,
Mundugumor of New Guinea)
Differences have also been reported in world-wide Violence rates, for example, in 1980s, violence rates of
8.5%/100, 1000 were reported in the USA as compared to 1.9% in Canada, and 0.6% in the UK. These
different statistics indicate effects of culture and evolutionary factors on social behaviour.
2. Individual-level Explanations
& physiology: Genetic and biological factors also influence human social behaviour. For
example, males have been found more aggressive than women due to a male hormone testosterone (Eagly &
Steffan, 1986). Moreover, men with higher levels of testosterone have been reported as more aggressive than
those with lower levels (Dabbs & Morris, 1990).
Past experiences: Early learning and child rearing practices also contribute to differences in people's social
behaviour. For example, girls are taught not to be aggressive by their parents from their childhood.
Moreover, expression of anger is not appreciated in girls and women. This gender difference is also very
pronounced in some cultures, so culture also plays a dominant role in these associations. This also suggests
that these group or individual level explanations are not mutually exclusive; they all seem to interact with
each other. Another example can be how aggression would have been created and shaped in Kashmiris and
Palestinians by the teachings of their parents in the process of growing up.
Current situational factors could also influence a person's behaviour. The classic study of Hovel and Sears
(1940) could be illustrative in this case. They found a significant correlation between economic frustration
and lynching of black by white people in Old South. Media violence is an ever-present influence as far as
situational factors are concerned. Another example is conformity research, where results showed that how
group pressure can induce people shift their beliefs
3. Mediating Variables
Mediating variables create a link between situational, cultural, and individual level explanations. These are
related with the person concerned and can not be directly observed, so they must be inferred from a person's
behavior. The effect of mediating variables indicate that for understanding a person's thoughts, feelings and
behaviour, one must slip inside the skin of the individual. The following refer to different mediating
Beliefs: compromise the cognitive information.
Attitudes are evaluative responses.
Schemas: a kind of mental model that people hold
Emotions: transient states of arousal that direct our behavior
Personality traits are stable dispositions influencing broad domains of behavior
Social Psychology (PSY403)
Current Responses of the individual
Figure 1.1 indicates that all of these evolutionary, cultural, individual, situational, and mediating variables
determine a person's social thoughts, feelings and behaviour.
Franzoi, S.L. (2006). Social Psychology. New York: McGraw Hill. Chapter 1.
Lord, C.G. (1997). Social Psychology. Orlando: Harcourt Brace and Company. Chapter 1.
Lippa, R.A. (1994). Introduction to Social Psychology... Belmont: Brooks/Cole Publishing
Company. Chapter 1.
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