Social Influences on Behavior

Behavioral Psychology: Social Influences on Behavior

Social Influences on Behavior

     The two largest social situations a person is likely to face occur in adolescence and adulthood. Adolescence is a time of many changes, one of the largest being attending high school. High school is a very social experience, where every day one is surrounded by peers. Similarly, adults in the work force may find themselves interacting socially with peers in work groups. The behavior of both adolescents and adults can be shaped and affected by the social interactions that take place within these two distinct groups. Some behaviors may require therapeutic intervention.

      “A high school setting is a place that changes daily, and students vie for acceptance, identity, and survival as they intermix with peer groups” (Hartnett, 2007). High school is a time when adolescents may feel pressured to conform to groups, or form cliques. The situational variables that occur within the high school experience are immense. Situational variables are those parts of a situation that interact with parts of a person and produce behavior (Kowalski & Westen, 2009). One of the largest variables is the social interaction between peers in a group. A peer group in which one feels valued may be a positive influence and source of inspiration in one’s life. “High school students who find themselves in more academically motivated peer groups not only have a higher self-esteem and strong sense of self-concept, but also have a higher regard for academic achievement” (University of Michigan, 2005). Behavior changes when adolescents are in high school can usually be attributed to the pressure of conforming to a peer group. One extreme behavioral change that can occur in high school is aggression. Aggression is when one’s behavior is verbally or physically violent toward another person, or persons (Kowalski & Westen, 2009). An example of aggression would be bullying. According to a national survey, “22% of high schools reported problems with bullying in 2005-06” (Youth Violence Project, 2007).  Peer groups in high school may lash out at other peer groups to establish dominance or divert self conscious emotions. “A substantial number of people will conform when confronted by a group with a consensus opinion, even if the opinion is manifestly wrong” (Kowalski & Westen, 2009). Aggression may also be a behavior that is heavily influenced by the phenomenon of groupthink. One who is part of a group may lose one’s sense of individuality, and the result is a person willing to follow any behavior without questioning it. High school is a time when individual identities are being formed, and so many adolescents may find themselves identifying with the peers in a group rather than forming their own ideals. Therefore, an adolescent socializing with a group of bullies may also become a bully. The consequences of bullying are often negative and include increased aggressive behaviors, violence, and uncontrolled outbursts. Adolescents who are bullies may grow into adults who are also aggressive.

     Work groups are becoming a popular tool used in occupational environments. A work group is usually comprised of a number of people brought together to achieve a specific goal. “Group membership begins with a period of investigation, when the group engages in recruitment, searching for individuals who can contribute to the achievement of group goals, and the individual, as a prospective member, engages in reconnaissance, searching for groups that can contribute to the satisfaction of personal needs” (Moreland & Levine, 2008). Therefore, work groups are very social experiences. The behavior of an adult in a work group may change depending upon what is expected of him or her. Each team member brings a particular personality and identity to the group, however, that identity may interact with the group to produce certain behaviors. For example, a person who is highly productive when working alone may be distracted by other members of a group, and productivity is decreased (Kowalski & Westen, 2009). The most common behavioral phenomenon seen in a group setting, particularly a large group setting, is social loafing. Some members of a large group “may find that they do not have to contribute because of the anonymity provided by the large group size” (Aggarwal & O’Brien, 2008). The size of the group offers one a sense of anonymity, as though it would be difficult for anyone to discern which group member is not doing a fair share of work. The consequence of this type of irresponsible behavior would become extreme if several group members did not perform as expected; nothing would get done. Goals would not be achieved in a timely or precise manner, and other group members would be forced to accept greater responsibilities; in turn, the pressure may inspire resentment within the group (Aggarwal & O’Brien, 2008).

     Both high school aggression and irresponsibility in work groups would benefit from therapeutic interventions. However, the level of intervention would differ greatly. Studies have shown that high school bullying has been greatly reduced through the use of school counselors and individual therapists. Group therapy and school-wide discussion panels have also been shown to be effective (Youth Violence Project, 2007). Irresponsibility and social loafing in work groups, however, may not require such extreme treatment. The most effective interventions that inspire a greater sense of proactive behavior in group members are “reducing the scope of the project, reducing group size, allowing (workers) to self-select group members, and including multiple peer evaluations” (Aggarwal & O’Brien, 2008).

     In conclusion, social influences on behavior can occur in high school adolescents as well as employed adults. Adolescents can become aggressive as a result of groupthink and social pressures, while adults can become irresponsible when working in groups. Both adolescents and adults would benefit from interventions. Adolescents exhibiting aggression benefit greatly from therapeutic measures, while adults benefit from preventative and reflective measures. Both cases are immense examples of the prevailing social influences on behaviors.


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