Human Times

The Importance of Social Psychology

foodstuffs    2009-09-19 14:28:45

What is relevant in social psychology? What is useful in social psychology? What is informative in social psychology? In social psychology, there are several informative themes and lessons that I have learned from the course and text of my class. These include how social psychologists do their research, the methods in which we come to understand other people, and the theme of conformity with influencing behavior. These are lessons that I would pass on. These lessons teach valuable themes concerning social psychology. These themes include social psychology and its relevance to other sciences, in terms of studying society and solving complex social problems.

The first theme that I find relevant is the lesson of how social psychologists do research. They do their research by formulating hypotheses and theories. They do this by utilizing the observational and correlational methods of describing and predicting social behavior. The observational method is helpful in describing what a particular group of people or type of behavior is like. This method even extends to the archival analysis of the accumulated documents, or archives, of a culture. The correlational method measures two variables systematically, as well as the relationship between the two variables. The correlational method seems effective in cases where ethics play an important role. The correlational research method is also common in studies of development.

Another important topic is that social psychologists utilize the experimental method by answering causal questions. Key ideas include the dependent variable as an influenced factor of the independent variable. These studies help to understand how witnesses are able to perceive problems, yet unable to act to save these independent victims.

Another interesting tidbit, as well, are the internal validity and external validity in experiments. Randomly assigning participants to different conditions and an independent variable, the experimental method allows causal inferences to be identified through the independent variable. With generalizability across situations and people, social influence is wholly perceived.

Throughout their research, social psychologists explore basic and applied research. They follow guidelines for ethical issues in research for social psychology. Basic research are studies that are designed to find the best answer to the question of why people behave as they do, and are conducted purely for reasons of intellectual curiosity. Applied research, on the other hand, are studies geared to designing a solution to a particular social problem. Basic research seeks to understand human behavior, by understanding the theory and concepts of human nature and social interaction. Applied research seeks to solve complex social problems, such as urban violence, or racial prejudice. These are different, more complex, forms of human nature and social interaction.

This is important in light of the extension of hypotheses and theory. Utilizing observational and correlational methods of describing and predicting social behavior is relevant in that social behavior is an ongoing process. With a proper description of this ongoing process, complex interactions that take time and energy to proceed are usefully categorized. Ideas that are assimilated can be passed on to others.

This is interesting to me because although it allows a greater breadth of research in a more timely and efficient fashion. Many of the controls and variables have been preset by other researchers and allow a more ethical study to be conducted. For instance, instead of having to go through the basic hypotheses and theory of predicting social behavior, a social psychologist can utilize archival analysis. A social psychologist can study past findings of cases that match the specifications of the ongoing study. This could lead to a wide range of answers, including the prevention of mass suicide, the prevention of the killing of innocent civilians, and also the prevention of littering.

The second theme that I find relevant is the lesson of the methods in which we come to understand other people. With the study of social perception, we can begin to learn about nonverbal behavior and nonverbal communication. Included are items like facial expressions of emotion, channels of nonverbal communication within culture, and multichannel nonverbal communication. Mirror neurons also seem quite interesting, as the physiological basis of the ability to feel empathy. The study of facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures, body position and movement, as well as the use of touch and gaze: These all fall within the boundary of understanding human behavior. With a complete understanding of human behavior, we can continue onwards to understand the situations of society, including other animals.

One detail I noticed is that dogs are touted as adept readers of human nonverbal cues, but further study may be necessary to ascertain the correct way to read human nonverbal cues. Obviously, only humans probably read human nonverbal cues, while dogs perhaps interpret human nonverbal cues in terms of dog nonverbal cues. Eventually, with further applied research, both dog and human cues will be fully discovered. If that were to happen, changes could be made to seeing-eye dogs and their blind masters, dogs that work with law enforcement, and perhaps, even, dog trainers!

Does empathy, which forms impressions, or attributions, formed from predictions, serve as a better predictor in other people's behavior? Impressions are sometimes wrong, but is the empathy underlying these impressions also fall into that inaccurate category? Counteracting biases with the knowledge of the correspondence bias, the actor/observer difference, and defensive attributions, is vital. With the counteraction of bias, impressions and attributions will increase in accuracy. With more accurate impressions and attributions, both methods of prediction in other people's behavior will work alongside one another and serve to further explain the study and research that has been conducted within experiments.

Biases removed, situational causes of behavior are more easily identified and studied. With members of collectivist cultures that are more sensitive to situational causes of behavior, as long as the situational variables are important, the members of collectivist cultures will rely on situational explanations. Sometimes a person's behavior has greater perceptual salience than the surrounding situation, but the second step of attribution may be altered by situational information. This is interesting, because most people have been found in studies to rely on the situation, rather than their disposition. This could lead to further development of situations, in which the regulations could be improved by social psychologists, which would eventually cause a great amount of prevention in terms of accidental occurrences, both in theory, and also in society.

The third theme I find relevant is the lesson of conformity with influencing behavior. This includes informational social influence and normative social influence. Informational social influence is the influence of other people that leads us to conform and the assumption that others' interpretation of an ambiguous situation is more correct than ours, helping us to choose an appropriate course of action. Normative social influence is the influence of other people that leads us to conform, in order to be liked and accepted by them. This type of conformity results in public compliance with the group's beliefs and behaviors, which is similar to peer pressure. This, also, does not include private acceptance of those beliefs and behaviors.

This lesson also includes using social influence to promote beneficial behavior, and obedience to authority. Using social influence to promote beneficial behavior is the development of a way to affect people's behavior for the common good. This utilizes social influence to decrease, increase, or encourage certain types of behavior. Obedience to authority is discussed as a social norm valued in every culture, with orderly behavior held up as a value, and tragic consequences held up as a sign of wrongful obedience. With the support of informational influence as well as normative influence, shooting civilians without questioning or taking personal responsibility for this act was enacted because of the power of these conformity pressures. This wrongful obedience lead to the tragedy of shooting civilians. With increased situational reinforcement, as shown in the addition of traffic lights, society benefits, and good obedience is demonstrated. Obedience to authority is a social norm, and has progressed to the point where the authority figure does not continually need to be present for these fixtures in society, such as traffic lights, to continually be obeyed. With traffic lights as a situational implement, stop signs and other traffic signs are reinforced, without penalty to society, as long as society remains obedient to the traffic as an authority of the correct way to move. If there were signs and lights in My Lai that were authoritative to soldiers, perhaps innocent civilians would not have been massacred.

Obedience and conformity rely on two different counterparts. Obedience relies on authority and judgment, while conformity agrees with regulations and groups. Defining obedience, authority figures are often cited as positive examples, and poor soldiers' behavior, or judgment, cited as negative influences. Few studies exist that involve separate, multiple, authority figures. Obedience is a social norm that is valued in every culture. Conformity is not. Conformity, a change in one's behavior due to the real or imagined influence of other people, reflects a change, with public compliance determining the change. Conformity occurs because of an unusual situation, with behavior of other people around them serving as cues for how to respond. Conformity also occurs because of fear of ridicule or punishment.

Stanley Milgram's studies, which involved a majority of participants who administered what they thought were near-lethal shocks to a fellow human being, demonstrate theoretically high levels of obedience. Within society, obedience has been touted as a good quality, as there is no bias of reward for act, instead relying on the subjects' ability to comprehend the task assigned. In each case of obedience to authority cited within the textbook, Social Psychology, the perturbing item of contention was the ability to have civilians and test subjects injured. Some might say the case relied upon a poor authority figure, and has yet to run experiments with different variables of leadership. Those that paid for this work, as well as conducted the transportation and actual operations, are, in fact, variables for the behavior of those charged with the most duty. Also, both My Lai soldiers and Milgram's men were paid and transported to conduct these activities.

What is relevant in social psychology? The lesson of how social psychologists do research. The social psychologist has both basic and applied research. Basic research finds the best answer as to why people behave as they do. Applied research solves a particular social problem. With Milgram's studies, in terms of basic research this experiment found the best answer as to why test subjects were obedient. The research participants were all conforming to the wishes of inflicting great pain on another human being. Also, the college students, middle-class adults, and psychiatrists were all so wrong in their predictions about what people would do. This is because of the unusual situations that are involved in early cases of social psychology. With more usual situations that could be implemented in future studies, the conformity may lead to more collective behavior.

Perhaps, in the future, applied research will take Milgram's studies, as well as more modern studies, and solve social problems by eliminating wrongful human behavior. Perhaps, with applied research, the research participants will conform more benignly, inflicting great healing power on another human being. Also, the college students, middle-class adults, and psychiatrists would make more accurate predictions, thereby advancing applied research and also shortening the inefficiency of basic research. As long as these findings could be preserved, there would always be a template from which to apply these benign methods on to the masses. Think of a benign riot. These methods of theoretical pacification would be utilized to extinguish mass hysteria, the same way a fire hose is used to extinguish a forest fire.

What is useful in social psychology? The lesson of the methods in which we come to understand other people. With nonverbal behavior and nonverbal communication, impressions and attributions serve as indicators of human behavior, with effort to remove hidden bias. Although mental shortcuts can sometimes lead us to the wrong conclusions, learning methods in which to understand other people is quite useful. There are so many different channels of nonverbal communication, and so many different personality theories. Sometimes, it is difficult to measure the internal and external attributions against each other. Internal attributions are the inference that a person is behaving in a certain way. This is because of the attitude, character, or personality of the person. External attributions are the inference that a person is behaving a certain way. This is because of something about the situation that he or she is behaving in. This is the assumption that most people would respond the same way in that situation. An internal attribution, in a situation where a car salesperson just yelled at a customer, is made to decide that the cause of the car salesperson's behavior was something about them - their disposition, personality, attitude, or character. As an explanation, this internal attribution cites the cause of the car salesperson's behavior in that inside, the car salesperson was quite upset and, therefore, their behavior reflected this anger. We might decide that the car salesperson was under a tremendous amount of stress, and yelled at the customer inappropriately, out of anger. There is also the external attribution, that something in the situation, not in the car salesperson's disposition or character, had caused this behavior. If the conclusion is reached that the car salesperson yelled because the customer had forgotten to buckle their seat belt when test driving a car, than this would be an external attribution for the car salesperson's behavior.

With focus on observations of behavior across time and place, as seen in the covariation model, actors and targets of the behavior are observed. The perceiver is examined as they choose either an internal or external attribution. Such choices are made by using consensus, distinctiveness, and consistency information.

What is informative in social psychology? The lesson of conformity with influencing behavior. With so many different influences, and experiments on conformity with influencing behavior, many different variables and people are called upon to allow the most information to be deduced from these research opportunities. In society, people do not always automatically know what is the correct, or best, thing to do or say. They look to the behaviors of others, around them, as important and needed sources of information. Once people understand this information, they can then choose appropriate courses of action for themselves, and receive private acceptance.

With the knowledge of social influence techniques, socially beneficial behavior can be promoted in others. This touches upon the ideas of injunctive norms and descriptive norms. Injunctive norms are indicators of our thoughts, concerning what other people approve of or disapprove of. Injunctive norms motivate behavior by promising rewards or punishments for normative, or non-normative, behavior. For example, an injunctive norm in our culture is that violence, or bloodshed, is wrong, in the public environment. As littering is frowned upon, so is the act of violence and bloodshed. We all know that bloodshed, which may cause accidents and is a negative result of violence, is wrong. Violence is wrong and that is an injunctive norm. The descriptive norm is that we all know that there are times and situations when people are likely to commit to acts of violence. In the injunctive norm condition, after a fit of violence between several strangers at the blood donation drive, the confederate draws blood from the blood donor. This subtly communicates to the participant that violence is wrong. Descriptive norms motivate behavior, by informing people about what is effective or adaptive behavior. These are actual norms that happen as opposed to injunctive norms, which are behaviors that are approved of or disapproved of by other people. Descriptive norms include horseplay, and accidents, which results in violence. Violence, or bloodshed, within the context of a descriptive norm, is like a fistfight, or a traffic accident. The actual role of injunctive and descriptive norms is made apparent when injunctive and descriptive norms are made salient. For instance, because of the boxing ring, the coliseum, and other organized events which increase the salience of violence or conflict, violence decreases per person, among the audience. A clear case is the difference in the evolution from the demolition derby to the formula one race track. As fans increase, and the cars evolve, violence decreases, as speed, output, and performance increase. When injunctive and descriptive norms are made salient, in places like the blood donation area, and boxing rings, violence decreases significantly. This may be because of a decrease in accidents and violence, attributed to an increase in safety, awareness, and blood donors.

Another topic are the missile tests in North Korea, and how they may be impacted by social psychology. Are these tests another village of My Lai? Or an experiment of the government, like Eichmann? In foresight, these tests are, perhaps, a modern combination of both situations. In which these acts, which have been condemned by many different organizations and countries, the government and military of North Korea are following orders, similar to Eichmann, on a level that does not require bloodshed. If these tests were successful, they may well parallel or even usurp Milgram, in terms of the suffering actually caused. So far, none have been injured in these studies. The force of the studies, however, is a different story. From a socio-psychological perspective, this set of tests, in this current stage, should have these results expressed as landmarks for achieving a certain state of mind. No ovens, no masses of dead nor groups of frustrated antagonists. If some sort of massacre were to happen, it would then become a tragedy. Social psychology may prevent that, by curbing North Korea's aggression and frustration.

These are all lessons that I would pass on to those wishing to learn about society, research, and behavior. These lessons teach valuable themes concerning social psychology, its relevance to other sciences such as sociology and psychology, and its application, in terms of studying society. These themes and lessons convey that what is relevant in social psychology is how social psychologists do research. What is useful in social psychology are the methods in which we come to understand other people. What is informative in social psychology is conformity with influencing behavior.

BACK   PRINT IT NOW