Social Psychology E-portfolio
Week One Reflection
This week’s lecture and readings were predominately based around providing and introduction to the field of social psychology. The most significant ideas that I took away from them were about its overlap with, and application to other social sciences and its place within the broader field of psychology.
In contrast to the psychology of personality, individual differences, and other such perspectives, social psychology examines human behaviour in its social context. My own definition of social psychology which we were asked to put together in our first tutorial defined social psychology as “The study of the psychology of individuals in their social context, and its situational influence”. Despite its contrast with other fields of psychology, social psychology also interlinks with many of them. It shares ideas with and has made contribution to, biological, clinical, cognitive, and developmental psychology which have been outlined by Baumeister and Bushman in the text.
While they all focus on different aspects of human life, the social sciences of anthropology, economics, history, political science, and sociology are also interlinked with social psychology. This is because one cannot fully understand human behaviour in its social context, nor human behaviour on its own, without examining their cultural, economic, historic, or group contexts.
Such overlaps with other psychological and social sciences really emphasised the importance, usefulness and wide applicability of social psychology. Another point that struck me in the lecture and that also emphasized it’s importance and application, was that regarding world population growth and its staggering increase that has been forecast for future years, and it’s implications for the field.
Week Two Reflection
There were three new ideas that stood out to me in this weeks readings and lecture. These were the ideas of “social brains”, the evolutionary adaptive value of culture, and the “social self”. The textbook poses the question of “Why didn’t evolution make all animals much more intelligent than they are?”. The answer to this question is linked to the notion of “social brains”. As humans, we are advantaged with superior intelligence in comparison with the other creatures which inhabit the earth. However, despite this advantage, superior brains are biologically expensive, with the human brain consuming a large portion of daily calorie intake (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008). The fact is that larger brains require larger amounts of food, and unless an animal such as a fox was going to actually going to have an enhanced ability to obtain more food by having a larger brain, then they would be unlikely to develop one (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008). The reason larger brains are more adaptive for humans is due to humans being social animals, as larger brains are linked to species with more complex social structures, hence the notion of “social brains”. As other animals live in smaller groups or in solitude, a larger or social brain would have a lesser adaptive value as it would to humans. One reason these larger social brains are of benefit to humans is the evolutionary value of culture. Culture enables people to gain the advantage of skills and knowledge that many other people have previously learned (Baumeister & Bushman, 2008). This knowledge enables progress through the adaptive behaviours of division of labour and the exchanging of goods and services. The other topic that stood out significantly in the lecture was that of the social self. The social self is made up of three components consisting of “self knowledge” one’s self concept, the “agent self” that is the behavioural component that makes decisions about actions, and the “interpersonal self” that is what you choose to project about yourself to other people. It was interesting to me that the social self was made up of multiple selves rather than a singular one, and that each self possesses different and sometimes contrasting information about the self.
Week Three Reflection
The idea of the cognitive miser was a topic that I found quite interesting in this week’s lecture. The theory underlying this concept is based on the notion that we automatically and unconsciously strive to use as little cognitive effort as possible, so that capacity is freed up for the things that we choose to focus on. Some of the automatic processing tools that are employed in our social cognition include things such as schemas, scripts and stereotyping. What is interesting to me about these processes is that, while for most of the time these are very useful in everyday situations in terms of organising our social information efficiently, sometimes these cognitive shortcuts lead us to make false assumptions and errors. One example that was given in the lecture was of the racial stereotyping that often occurs in the criminal justice system in which people of a particular race are more likely to be suspected than others because of the social stereotype that people in that particular racial group are commonly involved in crime. Verbal and non verbal communication was the topic of one of our group discussions in this week’s tutorial. Something that I had not considered before this tutorial was the major role of the social context or situation in determining the relative usefulness of verbal communication in comparison with non verbal communication. My group discussed how the type of communication most useful is dependent on situational factors such as the type of information needing to be conveyed, or how well the people communicating know each other and their previous relationship(s). We identified abstract information such as scientific or technical information as knowledge that could only be conveyed verbally, while we saw the communication of emotional information as being enhanced by non verbal behaviour.
Week Four Reflection
The documentary Ghosts of Rwanda about the genocide in Rwanda was featured in this week’s lecture. I found this documentary very eye-opening, moving and saddening. Despite the sadness that one feels when watching this documentary I believe that learning about this tragedy is very important. While I still cannot comprehend how so many people could partake in such a horrific level of extreme violence, there are some theories of aggression that I have found useful in framing such behaviour. In particular, Freud’s instinct theory and Bandura’s learning theory stood out to me in the context of the genocide. Freud believed that aggression was instinctual and innate, and proposed the life force of the death instinct, or thanatos, after witnessing the atrocities of WW1. The idea of thanatos stood out to me as it reminded me of a something that was said in the documentary by an American man who stayed behind to help. His words were “we’ve got to recognise in each of us that there is such a potential for good and such a potential for evil”. The sheer number of men and even children who participated in the killings is evidence of the human capacity for aggression and violence. However, while aggression may be instinctual on one level, the fact that this genocide was a freak event shows that it cannot be the sole explanation. More crucial in this tragedy I believe was the role of social learning and modelling. There is no doubt that the violent and aggressive behaviour of the Hutus was strengthened and inflamed by social learning, as Hutus were encouraged through radio propaganda and the modelling of violence and aggression of Hutu extremists. Bandura’s Bobo doll experiment provides a model of how regular Hutu’s inhibitions against aggression could be overridden by the excessive violence modelled by the Hutu extremists.
Week Five Reflection
This week’s topic centred around a discussion of prejudice and racism. Prejudice can be defined as a negative feeling toward an individual based solely on their membership of a particular group, where as racism is distinct to this as it refers to prejudiced attitude and behaviour towards a particular race. While it has been shown in research that prejudice can develop at a very early age partly due to the automatic cognitive processing of differences, socialisation plays a much more significant role in the development of negative attitudes through the way in which children are taught to connect additional disparaging labels to this perception of difference. The tutorial this week featured a documentary of a social experiment by controversial figure Jane Elliot, called the Australian Eye. In the experiment volunteers of either Anglo/ European and Indigenous decent were split into two groups based on race, and put into a situation opposite to their perceived social status in real life. In this case the whites were made to feel as though they were second class citizens, and the Indigenous and coloured people were put in a position in which they were made to feel superior. The session was run by Jane Elliot who aggressively tried to flatten the esteem and confidence of the whites by treating them like they were inferior and giving them impossible tasks. I think the experiment was very effective in creating awareness and understanding in the whites as to the discrimination and injustice that most indigenous people face daily by giving them a “walk I mile in my shoes” experience. However, I did wonder whether this aggressive and harsh form of education may actually create some further tension between groups, as I also noticed that some people from the black group seemed to embrace their position of power and enjoy giving the whites a “taste of their own medicine” a little too much. Despite these problems I still think the program is a very valuable educational too, as long as a proper de-briefing is included and the purpose of the exercise made very clear.
Week Ten Reflection
The topics explored in this weeks lecture and readings were very interesting and dealt with subjects ranging from the need to belong, interpersonal attraction, relationships and love. The theory that stood out to me the most in terms of interpersonal attraction and relationships in general was that of exchange theory. I noticed that throughout the lecture ran a theme of the need for balance and equity in relationships. Particularly interesting was the notion that one can be satisfied in a relationship as long as one gets out as much as they put in, even if the other partner gives less than they receive. Even more intriguing was the comparison of relationships with monetary investments as offered in exchange theory. Exchange theory states that from the start we seek to obtain a partner of the highest status who will except us but may gradually become less ambitious when faced with reality. The main idea underpinning this theory is that like a financial investment, we are likely to put our efforts into social situations in which we are likely to get the most return through the maximisation of benefits and the minimisation of costs. Examples of benefits may include things such as companionship, sex, status, and romance, while costs may include time, the loss of alternative partners, money, or arguments.
Week Eleven Reflection
The discussion of social facilitation theory in this weeks lecture reminded me of a recent example of this phenomenon in my life. Social facilitation theory holds that individual performance has the potential to either be enhanced or worsened by the presence of a group of observers. Central to this theory is the idea that people become more aroused in the presence of others. It is said that such arousal is beneficial for performance on easy and well practiced tasks, but that for complex tasks that are less familiar, the arousal caused presence of others may serve as an hindrance to task performance. I was reminded my experiences of driving when learning about this theory. I have recently purchased a new car and am currently in the process of learning how to drive it, as it is a manual, and my old car was an automatic. I’ve been driving for three years or so and up until recently I would have put driving in the group of tasks that probably would have been enhanced, or at least not negatively effected, by the presence of others. However, changing to a manual car I find the task of driving a lot more difficult and less familiar, and I have definitely found that having people with me while I’m driving in my new car a major hindrance, even when they are trying to help me learn, where as if I had been driving my old car their presence would not be such a distraction.
Week Twelve Reflection
The definition of prosocial behaviour in the text book is a much broader, and I think more useful, than those I have previously encountered. This was because it included things like conforming to social rules, cooperation, reciprocity, fairness and obedience, in addition to helping behaviour that is normally the primary focus of definitions of prosocial behaviour. This definition is extended from individual helping acts between people to behaviour that is productive to society as a whole. Another interesting idea that resonated throughout the chapter that I had not heard before was about the purpose of prosocial behaviour. The text states that one purpose of prosocial behaviour is to aid the acceptance of oneself into a group, which highlights some of the points made in a previous lecture about the need to belong. It has been well documented that prosocial and helping behaviour are tied to evolutionary benefits. This is especially so in terms of helping those who are related to us. In accordance with kin selection theory we are more likely to help those who poses our genes because this improves the chances that our gene’s will be passed on to the next generation. It is said that our likelihood of helping a person increases and decreases with how closely related they are, meaning that you are more likely to help your own child or sibling over your aunt, but more likely to help your aunt than your second cousin.
Week Thirteen Reflection
Environmental Psychology was a field of psychology I had never heard of before, but am now very interested in. While it may seem obvious, the effect of one’s physical environment on human psychology was something I had never thought of before, but upon hearing about clicked as something of real significance. In terms of psychological well being, environment is of great importance because one’s environment is often related to the level of stresses one faces in daily life which have major implications for mental health. One example of psychological processes interacting with the environment that was given in the lecture was the heat - violence hypothesis, derived from findings showing greater incidences of violence during times of great heat in some places like California. The human preference for natural environments was another idea that was new and intriguing to me. The evidence for this notion is convincing when you think of the places people choose to spend their holidays, where the most expensive real-estate is located, or pass time activities such as gardening or outdoor sports. A study was also mentioned that found that patients in hospital recovered quicker if they had windows or pictures of nature in their rooms. It was stated in the lecture that while the field of environmental psychology started off only looking at the environment’s effect on humans, that it now is beginning to examine the reverse relationship of human psychology on the environment. I think this really highlights the significance of this new field as it becomes increasingly important to understand the psychology of how we live with the environment in order to progress towards environmental sustainability.