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Chapter 15: Social Psychology


Part One: Social Influence

Part Two: Movements and Membership Organizations

Part Three: Social Cognition


Overview of Chapter 15: Social Psychology

The 20th Century was a time of unusually severe social problems, marked by world wars, social upheaval, violence, religious and political conflict. At mid-century, after World War II, social psychologists felt an urgent need to understand these types of group behavior.

The result was a series of classic studies in social psychology aimed at understanding social influences. They dealt with conformity, obedience, and willingness of bystanders to help people in trouble.

Every classic case has been revisited (most are over 50 years old) and often subjected to new interpretations. The original findings have legendary status by now, which invites skepticism and correction.

One thing unchanged since the 1950s is interest in persuasion and attitude change. Governments use propa­ganda, businesses use advertising, and individuals engage in impression management, all attempting to influence other people.

Media influences are interesting to social psychologists. The effects of TV violence were debated for decades. The primary effect was to initiate a rating system and parental controls.

Concerns over video games echoed the controversy over TV violence but have met skepticism. Social media are now a concern, because they have become such a dominant focus for young people. Some studies find harmful effects, others find benefits.

Social psychology deals with organizations of all types. Some organizations have distinctive ways of initiating and socializing new members. Any organization will work toward certain goals while discouraging dissidents.

Businesses have distinctive forms of organization, and their managerial practices have evolved. The late 20th Century saw many imaginative proposals for loosening up strict hierarchical controls in the workplace.

Social cognition generates the most re­search in present-day social psychology. It focuses on how people process information about social relationships. Tools have been developed to detect prejudices people may not be aware they have.

Psychologists studying social cognition also investigate first impressions, which may be formed in a split second. Research on so­cial priming is about subtle influences on behavior from cues in the environment.

How this chapter is organized

The opening portion of the chapter high­lights research on group influences upon the individual. This research came mostly in a burst of influential studies after World War II.

The second major portion of the chapter is about movements and organizations with well-defined membership requirements and mechanisms to discipline or expel dissi­dents. These range from small clubs to large political parties. We also consider industrial/organizational psychology in this section.

The third and last major portion of the chap­ter concentrates on social cognition, which became a dominant force in social psych­ology after the 1970s. Topics include attribution (interpretations of why people act the way they do), person perception (such as first impressions), prejudice and stereo­typing, and social priming: subtle influences that influence social behavior.

Related topics in other chapters

Classical conditioning of sexual responses was reviewed in Chapter 5 (Conditioning). Social relations between animals are discussed in the Social Ethology section of Chapter 8 (Animal Behavior and Cognition). Sociobiology and evolutionary psychology are described in that section as well.

Chapter 9 (Motivation) discussed cognitive dissonance theory as a form of motivation. It also included topics related to social influ­ences such as reverse psychology, motiv­ational conflict, and analysis of facial ex­pressions. Chapter 10 (Development) discusses some aspects of socialization and development of social competence in childhood.

Chapter 11 (Personality Theories) contains the theories of Adler and Horney, which emphasize social influences on personality. Chapter 16 (Sex, Friendship, and Love) is essentially another chapter on Social Psychology with a special focus on interpersonal relationships.


Write to Dr. Dewey at psywww@gmail.com.


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