Human Nature in Social Psychology


What is social psychology? Gordon Allport (1985) described social psychology as using scientific methodology to understand how the feelings, thoughts, and behaviors of individuals are influenced by the actual or imagined presence and actions of others.  Social psychology considers group behavior, perception, and prejudice among other topics. A basic tenet of the discipline is that social perception and social interaction must be understood in order to understand behavior. 


Social psychology views human nature innately social. Our perceptions of ourselves in relation to our “worlds” influence our choices, behaviors, and beliefs. Further, social psychology posits that social behavior is goal-oriented to fill a need. The needs include need for social connection, the need to understand ourselves and others, and the desire to gain or maintain status or protection. 

Social psychology proposes that the nature of the interaction between the individual and the situation produces behaviors. Social interactions contribute to the development of self-concept and perception. Self-concept is a combination of perceptions partly comprised of how we perceive that others view us and how we view ourselves in comparison to others. 

Worldview is an important component of social psychology. A worldview is the combination of beliefs and presuppositions a person uses in interpreting life. Social psychology proposes that people practice “expectation confirmation” or they tend to look only for evidence in the social environment that confirms what they have already determined to be true. Expectation confirmation streamlines our worldviews but can contribute to stereotyping.

The “theory of correspondent inferences” suggests that people tend to infer or presuppose that the behaviors of others confirm their intentions. The quick assessment of the quality or character of others based upon their actions enhances the speed in processing information received through social interactions, but the quality of the interpretations may be lacking. Behaviors could be due to the gravity of the situation. 


1. Attribution theory.

Attribution theory studies how people explain the behaviors of others. External attributions are external factors that “cause” behaviors. Internal attributions base the cause of behaviors on disposition factors like personality.

2. Drive theory.

Drive theory supports that the presence of an audience stimulates dominant or typical responses to the situation. 

3. Evolutionary psychology.

Human behavior is partially inherited and is influenced through natural selection.

4. Social learning theory.

Behavior is learned by watching or through the modeling of others.

5. Social exchange theory.

Behavior is based upon an estimation of the benefits to be gained through a behavior versus the costs or consequences. Relationships with a high cost to benefit ratio typically experience a reduction in commitment just as behaviors deemed to be “costly” tend to become extinct.

6. Social identity theory.

The natural tendency is to categorize others as being in-group or out-group in relation to us. The category influences perceptions, attitudes, and behaviors towards those in both categories.

Allport, G. W. (1985). The historical background of social psychology. In G. Lindzey, and E. Aronson, (Eds.), Handbook of Social Psychology, 1(3), 1-46.