Introduction- History, research and culture and nature
I recently undertook the social psychology unit at the University of Canberra. As part of the course I must write the e-portfolio summarising what i have learnt from the course work i have undertaken. To begin with we went through the usual first lecture material, which included assessment items, lecture topics and tutorials. After this we moved onto the topic at hand, social psychology.
The topic was defined as how the thoughts, feelings and behaviours of individuals are influenced by the actual, imagined or implied presence of others. James Neill (JN) the lecturer went on to give an example of the implied presence of a person. He described how when people visit the Australian War Memorial they act in a respectful manner due to the implied presence that the wall of honour creates. I didn't initially give much weight to the impact of the implied presence of others, however as I thought about other situations that have the implied presence of others such as a gravesite, I realised that it may possibly be the most powerful influence of the three. By powerful influence I mean that the implied presence of someone has the ability to illicit a uniform response from a group of people unlike most actual or imagined people can. A famous musician may be able to produce a uniform response from a selected group - however if a random group were selected a uniform response would be much less likely as fame is rarely universal.
JN went on to outline the history of Social Psychology. Its rise was pushed by Gestalt theorists, who split from psychoanalysis and behaviourism. It started to become more prominent after the Second World War to help explain atrocities. From 1970s to the present day social cognition and information processing came to the forefront of social psychology.
The relationship between theory and research is symbiotic in nature. A theory leads to research to test the theory. The research in turn leads to a refinement of the theory, which is, then in itself a new theory which needs more research to test the theory. JN emphasised the importance of the scientific method in research to ensure validity of the results.
The last portion of the content of this topic was culture and nature. The fundamental question involved is nature vs. culture. To what extent does either influence the individual? It is difficult to give a clear cut, black and white answer to this question, however I think it is important to acknowledge that both influence a person to some degree. In addition each person may be more affected by one or the other.
JN gave the psychological definition of self as the collection of cognitively held beliefs that a person possesses about themselves. One theory outlined had the self spilt into three different aspects, self-knowledge, and agent self and interpersonal self. Self can be impacted by many different things, however the most prominent being the culture or environment we belong to and our genetic makeup. Also touched upon was the idea that a persons self is often defined by what the groups you belong to and what you endorse and defend or also what you will not endorse. History most often remembers people for what they believed in and fought for. Ghandi is remembered for his non-violent approach to social change.
In today’s western society self-image is becoming more important particularly with teenage girls. People are driven by how they perceive how other people see them. It is perpetuated by the advertising methods of some products that tap into the feelings of insecurity people might have about themselves. A positive self-image is important for someone to reach their potential. In addition to having a positive self-image, having good self-awareness is important as well for the development of a person. Knowing your own potential can help you achieve your best as well as knowing your limitations can also be beneficial.
The idea of one's self is highly subjective and often we only see pieces of a person and rarely the full picture. It is dynamic, always changing from interaction with the environment. However it can also be incredibly resilient, with a person standing by their morals with a steadfast refusal to settle for less than what they think is right. It is the essence of an individual.
JN described social thinking as social cognition and broke this concept down into a few areas. Thinking, perception, attributions and heuristics, errors and biases. Social perception was the first of these categories to be addressed and was defined as how people form impressions of and make inferences about other people. What helps us determine our perceptions of other people? Our interactions with them would help shape how we perceive them, but also what we see do or what we hear about them from other people. JN moved onto schemas, which is a stored process in our mind, which we use in situations to reduce the cognitive power required. For instance often when driving a car we use a schema and we are able to do other things while driving as if the act of driving was on auto-pilot.
Similar to schemas there are a number of other social thinking processes such as scripts, priming and framing. Scripts are situations, which we know will follow a pattern of some form enabling us to use less cognitive power to move through the situation. Priming is where a processes is triggered such as a schema or script. Framing is where you see someone in just one context and that context influences you. However for many people the only information you have is that one context and you can only use the information that you have.
Attribution is also another important aspect of social psychology. It is how a social perceiver uses information to explain the causation of an event. Attribution theory states that causation of behaviour lies on a scale between internal and external. As individuals we tend to place more of our attribution toward the internal side of the scale. Another theory that goes hand in hand with attribution is correspondence theory, which is where we assume observed behaviours and the intentions that produced it are stable qualities of the person.
JN defined aggression as an intentional behaviour with intend to harm. Aggression is determined by social norms or social conventions. Aggressive behaviour is usually marked by a lack of regard for others. There are different forms of aggression, hostile, instrumental, passive and active. Hostile aggression is intentional use of harmful behaviour to cause injury. Hostile aggression is premeditated with harmful behaviour used to reach another goal. Passive aggression is harming others by withholding a behaviour. Active aggression is harming others by performing a behaviour.
What are the positive aspects of aggression? In an evolutionary perspective it is a necessary part of survival of the fittest. It is necessary in a protective role such as protecting young from predators as well as a fighting role. Aggression also helps to spread out a species so that they don’t compete for the same resources. Aggression also helps to create a structure to a society by creating a pecking order of sorts. However most of this no longer applies to human behaviour just animal behaviour. Freud postulated that aggression is also associated with the more basic instincts.
Bandura and colleges argue that aggression is a learned behaviour models. However both learning and instinct are relevant in aggression, similar to nature and nurture there are multiple influences on a persons behaviour. The inner sources of aggressive behaviour can be frustration, deprivation, personality, excitation-transfer, anger and cognitive. Some external factors can be relative deprivation, aggressive cues, violent media, unpleasant environments and chemical influences.
The prejudice lecture was given by guest lecturer Melisah Feeney who defined prejudice as a negative feeling toward an individual based solely on his or her membership in a particular group. I found adverse racism a hard concept to grasp, being egalitarian and still hold negative feelings toward a particular group seems to be an oxymoron. On some level of consciousness the negative feelings will affect your behaviour towards that group, even if it is only on a sub-conscious. Prejudice is often based upon stereotyping, where beliefs are associated with a group and a person is placed in a group and then the feelings toward that particular group become associated with that person. This tendency to group people is called categorization.
A lot of prejudice arises from external characteristics such as skin colour (racismism) or gender (sexism). However prejudice can be based upon things other than external characteristics such as a belief system. An example of this could be in northern ireland with protestants and Catholics. Another example of prejudice based upon internal beliefs could be homophobia.
So what are some of the possible reasons that prejudice exists? One explanation is that prejudice is innate, and we learn stereotypes through socialization, and have to work to override them. Another possibility is in-group favouritism, and further on that a point the us versus them mentality, which can often be seen at sporting events and a possible cause of crowd riots. Prejudice can also be self-affirming, as in if the other group are inferior then my group must be better. Some motives for overcoming prejudice are an internal belief that is it wrong or that it is seen to be politically incorrect.
JN started by pointing out some of the reasons we form relationships. The first was that people have a need to belong. People try to form relationships and have a balance between social interaction and solitude. Belongingness consists of regular social contact and close stable mutually intimate contact. JN went on to explain that once people form relationships they tend to stop forming more. Typically people seek between 4 and 6 close relationships. Marriage was the next sub topic and for the most part i agreed with the generalisations that people who marry live longer healthier lives and people who stay married live longer and better than those who divorce. Of course this isn't true of everyone that gets married. In today’s society people are starting to move away from marriage as the cultural norm, although it still is, it is less than what it was 20 years ago and in 20 years time it will likely be less again.
Similarity is a significant part of relationships. People tend to like other people who are similar to them. Couples more similar in attractiveness are more likely to progress to a committed relationship. JN then introduced the idea of self-monitoring, which is people change to become more similar to those with whom they interact. This is true to an extent, people will become interested in things their friends are, however not everything will be impacted. Some people will have different interests and not share them with other people in a social group. I think that a number of similarities are required in a social group however there is room for differences.
Reciprocity is another significant part of relationships. People tend to like those who like them. We also tend to be attracted to those who are moderately selective. We are turned off by those who are too readily available and those who reject us. Relationships seem to be a balancing act between the right variables and the x factor. People need things in common to have shared experiences, however not too much so that they have other things to share and do, while they have to like each other, but not show too much too soon because that will turn off the other person and sometimes there is an attractive quality that is difficult to pinpoint.
Groups and Leadership
The first point JN raised was how are groups different to individuals? What is the difference in behaviour and decision-making? Finally why do groups conflict? Groups are made up of members that feel similar, share a common identity or ideal, work towards a common goal and depend on each other. Another important point is that the members usually have a shared or similar fate. We form groups for a number of reasons, some of which have evolutionary beginnings. We form groups for protection; also a group can helps with collective tasks and increases the skill pool so if you can't perform a task perhaps someone else in the group can. Groups also are essential for culture.
There are disadvantages to groups. One disadvantage is social loathing or the decrease of an individual’s productivity because they are part of the group. An individual can lose motivation for a task, particularly if it is one the group must do but does not benefit the individual. Also in a group a person can lose some of their individual expression, having to go along with the group on a few things they disagree with, because of the benefits they gain and the areas they do agree with.
Leadership was defined as the ability to a group towards the achievement of goals. Leadership requires non-coercive influence that is goal directed and it requires followers. A person can be a leader in one situation and not another. Often this is due to knowledge of the scenario the group is involved in. A group of friends may play football, for which one member is best suited to lead the group and then go play paintball for which a different member is best suited to lead the group. Some other qualities in leadership apart from relevant expertise are drive, ambition, energy, honesty, integrity, self-confidence and intelligence.
Prosocial behaviour is actions that are intended to help other people. Doing something good for someone or society, building relationships, adding to social capital. Prosocial behaviour helps to build relationships and culture. Some reasons why people engage in prosocial behaviour are self-interest, social status, reciprocity, conformity and altruism. Part of prosocial behaviour is base upon cooperation. When people help each other they build up trust however it is easy for cooperation to breakdown and it usually only takes a small error to undo the created trust.
A level of obedience is required for prosocial behaviour and a functional society. It helps to foster group life and social acceptance. In addition conformity can effect our behaviour, which is sometimes towards the social norm and sometimes away. Conformity towards prosocial behaviour can be good, while it can be just bad if people are conforming to anti-social behaviour.
Our prosocial tendencies are also influenced by our previous experiences with a person or group. The longer we have been friends with someone will increase the likelihood of helping them when they require it. Also if we are related to the person we are more likely to help. The closer the relation the greater the chance that we would assist the person. Some of the reasons why people help other people are egoism, altruism, collectivism and principalism.
Environmental psychology is the study of interactions between people and their environment. This is how the environment affects humans and how humans effect the environment. Some environmental stressors are crowding, life events, noise and temperature. Humans tend to avoid situations where there are stressors, however stressors become less of a problem if we feel we have some control of the stressor.
Nature has a high value in our society. People hang pictures and paintings of nature in their houses, as well as houses with nature views such as the ocean are more valued than homes that do not. Nature can also have positive effects such as owning a pet or going camping. The environment faces its own threats from human interaction. Over population, population and sustainability issues are just a couple of environmental issues raised by human interaction. There is a role for psychology to play in the management of environmental issues. A quarter of westerners think that environmental concerns are exaggerated. Psychology can assist in behavioural changes that are required to better manage our environment, such as recycling and energy use around the home and office.