An Introduction to Social Psychology
Social psychology examines the nature of interactions that occur in groups and social structures. Gordon Allport was one of the pioneers in the field of social psychology. Allport proposed that social psychology wanted to understand the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of individuals in social contexts and how other influence those cognitions, feelings, and actions. Allport offered that social influence affects individuals even when the social influences were absent.
Social psychology came of age following World War II. Interactional horror over the Holocaust led many of the field of psychology to explore group processes and how people could be persuaded to engage in such horrendous behavior.
Social psychology branched into two subfields. The sociological dimension of social psychology focuses on the social behaviors of individuals and the influence of their behavior on others within the group. The psychological dimension of social psychology focuses on the mental and affective states of individuals within groups.
Social psychology explores numerous themes. In addition to cognitions, actions, and affect social psychology considers:
Perceptions are shaped by the information held about others that may be factual or imagined. Attitudes are the ways people respond to the influence of others. Persuasion is the ability of the individual to influence behavior in others or to be influenced to conform to certain behaviors by others. Socialization explores the various ways that social influences contribute to the development of identity, gender, and moral judgment. Group Processes recognizes that groups become an entity apart from the individuals in the group and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Impression formation and management involves the techniques that people use to project a positive image of confidence and competence in social situations.
Social psychology consists of several theoretical perspectives. The sociocultural perspective emphasizes social norms and the different dimensions of culture. The evolutionary perspective views social behavior as a product of genetics and biological forces. The social learning perspective stresses the importance of the influence of parents, teachers, etc. The social-cognitive perspective emphasizes the information processing function of attaching meaning to social information and then engaging in social behavior based on those meanings.
Social psychology engages in research in various areas. Social cognition explores how information is processed and used to respond to our worlds (schemas). Attitude research focuses on how attitudes develop and change. Violence and aggression research explores possible links between violent and aggressive behavior and social influence. Prosocial behavior research explores possible reasons for benevolent behavior. Prejudice and social injustice research examines the origins of stereotypical beliefs about others. Social identity research explores the role of social influence in the development of self-esteem and other aspects of identity development. Group research examines the multiple areas of group dynamics such as leadership, decision-making, and cooperation.
Social psychology is a diverse field that explores the nature of human interactions in social context. Social groups are composed of individuals who bring unique thoughts and beliefs. Social groups create their own dynamics and including norms, roles, and values.