Social Psychology (Objectives)

14-1: What do social psychologists study? How do we tend to explain others’ behavior and our own?
Social psychologists focus on how we think about, influence, and relate to one another. They study the social influences that explain why the same person will act differently in different situations. When explaining others’ behavior, we may commit the fundamental attribution error (underestimating the influence of the situation and overestimating the effects of personality). When explaining our own behavior, we more readily attribute it to the influence of the situation.

14-2: Does what we think affect what we do, or does what we do affect what we think?
Attitudes are feelings, often influenced by our beliefs, that predispose us to respond in certain ways. Peripheral route persuasion uses incidental cues (such as celebrity endorsement) to try to produce fast but relatively thoughtless changes in attitudes. Central route persuasion offers evidence and arguments to trigger thoughtful responses. When other influences are minimal, attitudes that are stable, specific, and easily recalled can affect our actions. Actions can modify attitudes, as in the foot-in-the-door phenomenon (complying with a large request after having agreed to a small request) and role playing (acting a social part by following guidelines for expected behavior). When our attitudes don’t fit with our actions, cognitive dissonance theory suggests that we will reduce tension by changing our attitudes to match our actions.

14-3: What is automatic mimicry, and how do conformity experiments reveal the power of social influence?
Automatic mimicry (the chameleon effect), our tendency to unconsciously imitate others’ expressions, postures, and voice tones, is a form of conformity. Solomon Asch and others have found that we are most likely to adjust our behavior or thinking to coincide with a group standard when (a) we feel incompetent or insecure, (b) our group has at least three people, (c) everyone else agrees, (d) we admire the group’s status and attractiveness, (e) we have not already committed to another response, (f) we know we are being observed, and (g) our culture encourages respect for social standards. We may conform to gain approval (normative social influence) or because we are willing to accept others’ opinions as new information (informational social influence).

14-4: What did Milgram’s obedience experiments teach us about the power of social influence?
Stanley Milgram’s experiments—in which people obeyed orders even when they thought they were harming another person—demonstrated that strong social influences can make ordinary people conform to falsehoods or give in to cruelty. Obedience was highest when (a) the person giving orders was nearby and was perceived as a legitimate authority figure; (b) the research was supported by a prestigious institution; (c) the victim was depersonalized or at a distance; and (d) there were no role models for defiance.

14-5: How is our behavior affected by the presence of others?
In social facilitation, the mere presence of others arouses us, improving our performance on easy or well-learned tasks but decreasing it on difficult ones. In social loafing, participating in a group project makes us feel less responsible, and we may free-ride on others’ efforts. When the presence of others both arouses us and makes us feel anonymous, we may experience deindividuation—loss of self-awareness and self-restraint.

14-6: What are group polarization and groupthink, and how much power do we have as individuals?
In group polarization, group discussions with like-minded others strengthens members’ prevailing beliefs and attitudes. Internet communication magnifies this effect, for better and for worse. Groupthink is driven by a desire for harmony within a decision-making group, overriding realistic appraisal of alternatives. The power of the individual and the power of the situation interact. A small minority that consistently expresses its views may sway the majority.

14-7: What is prejudice? What are its social and emotional roots?
Prejudice is an unjustifiable, usually negative attitude toward a group and its members. Prejudice’s three components are beliefs (often stereotypes), emotions, and predispositions to action (discrimination). Overt prejudice in North America has decreased over time, but implicit prejudice—an automatic, unthinking attitude—continues. The social roots of prejudice include social inequalities and divisions. Higher-status groups often justify their privileged position with the just-world phenomenon. We tend to favor our own group (ingroup bias) as we divide ourselves into “us” (the ingroup) and “them” (the outgroup). Prejudice can also be a tool for protecting our emotional well-being, as when we focus our anger by blaming events on a scapegoat.

14-8: What are the cognitive roots of prejudice?
The cognitive roots of prejudice grow from our natural ways of processing information: forming categories, remembering vivid cases, and believing that the world is just and our own and our culture’s ways of doing things are the right ways.

14-9: How does psychology’s definition of aggression differ from everyday usage? What biological factors make us more prone to hurt one another?
In psychology, aggression is any physical or verbal behavior intended to hurt or destroy. Biology influences our threshold for aggressive behaviors at three levels: genetic (inherited traits), neural (activity in key brain areas), and biochemical (such as alcohol or excess testosterone in the bloodstream). Aggression is a complex behavior resulting from the interaction of biology and experience.

14-10: What psychological and social-cultural factors may trigger aggressive behavior?
Frustration (frustration-aggression principle), previous reinforcement for aggressive behavior, and observing an aggressive role model can all contribute to aggression. Media portrayals of violence provide social scripts that children learn to follow. Viewing sexual violence contributes to greater aggression toward women. Playing violent video games increases aggressive thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

14-11: Why do we befriend or fall in love with some people but not with others?
Proximity (geographical nearness) increases liking, in part because of the mere exposure effect—exposure to novel stimuli increases liking of those stimuli. Physical attractiveness increases social opportunities and improves the way we are perceived. Similarity of attitudes and interests greatly increases liking, especially as relationships develop. We also like those who like us.

14-12: How does romantic love typically change as time passes?
Intimate love relationships start with passionate love—an intensely aroused state. Over time, the strong affection of companionate love may develop, especially if enhanced by an equitable relationship and by intimate self-disclosure.

14-13: When are people most—and least—likely to help?
Altruism is unselfish regard for the well-being of others. We are most likely to help when we (a) notice an incident, (b) interpret it as an emergency, and (c) assume responsibility for helping. Other factors, including our mood and our similarity to the victim, also affect our willingness to help. We are least likely to help if other bystanders are present (the bystander effect).

14-14: How do social exchange theory and social norms explain helping behavior?
Social exchange theory is the view that we help others because it is in our own self-interest; in this view, the goal of social behavior is maximizing personal benefits and minimizing costs. Others believe that helping results from socialization, in which we are taught guidelines for expected behaviors in social situations, such as the reciprocity norm and the social-responsibility norm.

14-15: How do social traps and mirror-image perceptions fuel social conflict?
A conflict is a perceived incompatibility of actions, goals, or ideas. Social traps are situations in which people in conflict pursue their own individual self-interest, harming the collective well-being. Individuals and cultures in conflict also tend to form mirror-image perceptions: Each party views the opponent as untrustworthy and evil-intentioned, and itself as an ethical, peaceful victim.

14-16: How can we transform feelings of prejudice, aggression, and conflict into attitudes that promote peace?
Peace can result when individuals or groups work together to achieve superordinate (shared) goals. Research indicates that four processes—contact, cooperation, communication, and conciliation—help promote peace.