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What is Social Psychology? Social Psychology is the “branch of psychology that seeks a broad understanding of how human beings think, feel and act.” -[1] Wikipedia defines social psychology as, "The study of how groups and people interact." [1] To me, it is the study of human behaviour in the social world. How the social context effects the way we think and feel about ourselves and others, and how we behave in response to others who we relate to. -[2] see this as the A.B.C of social psychology. A=Affect, B=Behaviour, C=Cognition and together the A.B.C triad describes the effect that the social world has on individuals. Social Psychology makes use of the scientific method to elucidate social phenomenon, giving it a strong empirical basis. While reading the text I couldn't help thinking that some of the earlier experiments in social psychology were both innovative and unnecessarily harsh (We can now be thankful for the restrictions placed on experiments by Ethics Committees. Still, they formed the foundation of the body of knowledge we now have describing social processes.

In the introductory tutorial this week, our class participated in an exercise where we were asked to break up into temporary groups according to different physical and personal traits. As well as getting to know each other better, the exercise was also eye-opening to certain aspects of social psychology itself. For instance, the formation of groups and the group process that go along with them, the presence of leaders and followers, in-group-outgroup phenomena,and social inclusion. I, myself, recall feeling a temporary, slight pang of rejection when told that I would not be part of a group because my eyes were not "pure green". I also felt a sense of "us and them" at times, even though the people I was "them-ing" had been my group members that I was "us-ing" just minutes before. The exercise showed me the importance of groups in human life, and how quickly and powerfully, group processes have an effect on individuals.

Culture and Nature[edit]

At the risk of sounding simplistic or unsophisticated, my definition of culture would have, before this week involved something along the lines of, the traditions of language, dress, and customs held by people of a particular country or region. This topic has helped me to extend the idea of culture as an informational storehouse, to which we are all privy to. The traditions, language and customs aforementioned, are then a small part of this storehouse of information that is passed down from generation to generation. In order to survive and thrive, it is essential that we as humans master our sense of culture and act appropriately on our environment. This guarantees that we are able to achieve our needs and goals.

An interesting aspect of this topic is the idea that all animals, including humans, are social animals, but only humans are cultural animals. By this it is meant that all animals need others of their species to survive and reproduce, but humans take it a step further, utilizing the cultural storehouse to provide such things as division of labour within our societies. Because of the evolutionarily-advanced human brain, humans are able to understand and pass on those aspects of culture that are relevant to survival and prosperity.

Another intriguing area of this topic is the idea coined by the authors of the textbook,[3] “Nature says go, culture says stop.” It is interesting that our primal instincts such as aggression, and sex and hunger drives, may tell us that it is appropriate to behave in certain way for survival, however our knowledge of culture allows us to not carry out these actions if the consequences would be inappropriate or detrimental for ourselves, or society.

An interesting, but simplistic cultural observation occurred while I was commuting to university. In the New South Wales working-class town where I reside, it is quite common to greet others using the Australian slang term “mate”, however while travelling around Canberra, I discovered the term may not be as appreciated in the region, and my off-handed friendliness, and expression of the local communication culture of my hometown, led to several confused, almost annoyed expressions from bus drivers and store attendants.

The Social Self[edit]

Some reflections from the readings this week [4]: What is the self?

  • Self-Concept: information about the self including: self-awareness and self-esteem.
  • Agent Self (executive function): decision making, self control, taking charge, active response.
  • Public Self: self-presentation, group membership, relationships, social roles.

I find the idea of self-handicapping interesting. Self-handicapping is the phenomenom whereby individuals deliberately take some deleterious action as a way of explaining an anticipated future failure. For instance a athlete may stay out late prior to a game or meet so then when his or her performance is not up to standard, they have a reason for their performance, that is not related to talent or skill. I am also struck by the importance of self-presentation and self-image - the lengths that individuals all go to in order to project a public image which is positive or acceptable.

Social Thinking[edit]

So much of what human beings perceive comes from the human mind, and not what we actually sense. This being the case it is possible to see why particular biases and errors in perception occur. Human beings are described as ‘cognitive misers’ because we tend to us our brains in limited ways, thinking unconsciously instead of consciously. This is because conscious thought uses much energy and therefore needs to be used sparingly. People uses schemas and scripts to conceptualise objects and events. Schemas are stored ideas about a particular object or concept and its relationship to other concepts. Scripts are schemas which are related to a particular event. For instance, if one was going to the movies, the script might involve, arriving at cinema, purchasing ticket, purchasing popcorn, finding theatre or seats, watching film, and giving feedback to a friend after the movie.

I am finding the topic of persuasion interesting, and in fact it is the topic of my essay: "What social psychological processes can cause the social influence of group norms and powerful others to be resisted?" Well, it's about the persuasive power of the group, and group processes, but is worth mentioning here.


Aggression can be defined as:

  • An intentional behaviour...
  • where there is intent to harm...
  • and where the victim wants to avoid the harm.

Types of aggression include:

  • hostile aggression: which is usually impulsive and has the goal of causing injury to the victim.
  • instrumental aggression:pre-meditated agression to achieve a goal other than harm to a person, for instance this type of aggression might be seen in an incident of mugging.

The idea of passive-aggression is of interest to me...the idea of harming others by NOT carrying out a behaviour. eg the 'silent treatment'

The most impactful part of this topic by far has been the viewing of the documentary, "The Ghosts of Rwanda[5]. This film depicts prejudice and aggression at it's worst. I am amazed and perplexed how the rest of the world could stand by while hundreds of thousands of human beings were needlessly murdered in this African genocide.


If the A.B.C triad of affect, behaviour and cognition is applied to prejudice, the A would indicate attitudes, the B discrimination, and the C, stereotypes. [6], define prejudice as an evaluation, usually negative, of a social group and depicts the group as “good or bad, positive or negative, an object to be approached or avoided.”

The experiment depicted in the Australian Eye program[7], highlights, in a very poignant and direct manner, the everyday implicit prejudice that exists in Australian society. What was eye-opening to me was that not only did all of the “brown-eyed” participants talk of experiencing prejudice in their lives, it seemed to be a very common experience, and one that has deeply affected who they are as individuals.

While using public transport to travel to university, I found myself surrounded by a large group of individuals who spoke in a European language. Half way through the trip, I noticed several of them looking at me and laughing. After my initial reaction of paranoia and insecurity, I wondered about possibility of the basis of prejudicial attitudes being around the fear of that which seems different or foreign to ourselves. I furthered imagined what it would be like for an immigrant to a foreign country, who doesn’t speak the native language. Wouldn’t their fear and uncertainty be so much greater. I wondered why high levels of prejudice wouldn’t be seen in such individuals entering or newly arrived in a foreign country.


Love and Attraction

There is a distinction between:

  • passionate love: which involves physiological arousal and
  • companionate love: which develops over time and involves emotional intimacy and affection.

Propinquity is the idea that we are more attracted to those who are closer in proximity to us - this can also be the case for forming enemies.

Mere-exposure effect:idea that the more familiar we are with something or someone, the more we like it...includes people, music (to a point).

Social Exclusion

The experiment depicted in the video on social rejection, showed the impact of participants being perceived as not being picked by their peers. This had the interesting result of increased ability to withstand pain in rejected peers, than in non-rejected peers. Interesting that such a slight social rebuff can lead to internal (physical and psychological) states. Although it is difficult to imagine the reasoning behind students shooting peers in high school shootings, one can imagine how, social rejection on a larger scale, over a longer period, can lead to the kind of dissociation from feelings that would lead a person to be capable of such atrocities.

The Need to Belong

As I've commuted to Canberra for classes, I've noticed that I'm incredibly open to meeting new people, much friendlier, and gregarious than I necessarily would be in my home town. Because of this changed behaviour, I tend to meet many more people than I would in my town. This led me to wonder if the human "need to belong", in an unfamiliar place, when we have less social support and resources, causes us to act in ways that will draw the support and resources we need to us.


At first glance, one may not see the connection between the environment and social psychology, however with deeper exploration it becomes clearer that there are many ways in which social psychologists can intervene to improve environmental conditions. Not only can social psychologists educate people on the impact of the environment on our lives and vice versa, they can also assist individuals to cope with such things as: overpopulation (crowding), climate change, and natural disasters.

Although not apparent here in Australia, due to a relatively low population density, the earth is progressively becoming overpopulated, particularly in third world countries. The burden that this overpopulation places in the Earth’s resources will be massive over the next half a century. Unless the move is made to more sustainable energy sources, such as sunlight, the supplies of some non-sustainable resources such as oil and other fuels will dwindle, causing a necessary adaptation in lifestyle and culture. Overcrowding and competition for limited resources will also lead to higher crime rates, which will in turn have a detrimental affect on lives.

Climate change is a hot topic at the moment: global warming, higher temperatures, melting glaciers, rising sea levels. The impact on coastal areas over the next century is predicted to be devastating. Heat has the effect of increasing stress levels of individuals and reducing effective functioning. As the earth as a whole becomes progressively warmer, environmental stressors including unpredictable weather patterns will have a greater impact on our lives. With climate change comes an increased risk of natural disasters such as: tornadoes, earthquakes and cyclones, which each year take many lives, and impact on countless others [8]

The Australian Zeitgeist[edit]

Zeitgeist is defined by wikipedia as the “spirit of the age and it’s society.” [9]. It is a terms that describes the social milieu of a place at an one point in time, or any particular era.

This is my favourite tutorial so far. The almost cynical rhetoric of Hugh Mackay [10] painting a somewhat bleak picture of the Australian social landscape, was a highlight. Mackay discussed the divorce rate in Australia now being up to 45%, while the birthrate is as low as 1.7 births/woman. Young people are also waiting until their thirties to marry. The population is aging so that in thirty to forty years, 25% of the population will be elderly. Mackay talks about a society which is out-of-control, and filled with anxiety and uncertainty. He gives the figure of 3 times the amount of anti-depressants being taken as there were thirty years ago. Mackay concludes by pondering if a return to fundamentalist attitudes might be on the agenda.

One observation I have made about the Australian Zeitgeist is that more and more, people are spending time indoors, and building bigger homes to house their indoor activities. Gone are the days of humble weatherboard homes, now bigger is better as folks seem to build the biggest structure they can on their lot, and to enclose their lives.

During the tutorial, we discussed three major social issues that the disengagement of society has bred, and how we would seek to alleviate these issues. One item on our social agenda wish list included:

  • increasing the level of political interest and knowledge in society by having short news flashes of a political nature during prime-time television viewing. eg. ‘Issues discussed in parliament today’. This would be done in layperson’s language so that people would not be put of by political jargon and complex discussion. This was on our agenda to encourage a society who takes an interest in decision-making and our country’s future, and who can make an informed decision themselves come election time.


  1. Baumeister, R.F., and Bushman, B.J.(2008) Social Psychology and Human Nature. Belmont, CA: Thomson-Wadsworth, p8
  2. Baumeister, R.F., and Bushman, B.J.(2008) Social Psychology and Human Nature. Belmont, CA: Thomson-Wadsworth, p8
  3. Baumeister, R.F., and Bushman, B.J.(2008) Social Psychology and Human Nature. Belmont, CA: Thomson-Wadsworth, p59.
  4. Baumeister, R.F., and Bushman, B.J.(2008) Social Psychology and Human Nature. Belmont, CA: Thomson-Wadsworth, p71
  5. Barker, G (Writer, producer, director) (2004). Ghosts of Rwanda.[Alexandria, Va.] : Distributed by PBS Video
  6. Augoustinos, M. and Walker, I (1995) Social Cognition: An Integrated Approach. London: Sage Publications, p 230
  7. Elliot, J., Robins, P., Talmadge, W., and Golenbock, S.A. (Authors) and Cullen, P. (Director) (2002). Australian Eye (DVD). SBS Independent, Anna Max Media and Angry Eye Production.
  8. Baumeister, R.F., and Bushman, B.J.(2008) Social Psychology and Human Nature. Belmont, CA: Thomson-Wadsworth, pD1-D17
  10. Mackay, H (2005). Social disengagement: a breeding ground for fundamentalism. Address to 6th Annual Manning Clark Lecture (3 March 2005). Transcript available from