What Is Social Psychology?
Social psychology is defined as "the scientific study of how people's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others." In the realm of social psychology, individual mental states and social situations involving other human beings are regarded as critical factors. In a nutshell, social psychology is a crossover between psychology and sociology; it regards and studies the individual just as much as groups of people.
Recurring themes in social psychology
In any broad field of study, there are generally recurring themes that exist and take place. Social psychology is no exception. The recurring themes associated with social psychology provide insight into this scientific study and its impact on the world. Consider the following:
The observation and study of behavior patterns
Studying and observing the behavior patterns of individuals is a common and recurring theme within the realm of social psychology. In many cases, behavior patterns are thought of as indicative of personality traits and character. For instance, someone who regularly comes to the aid of a friend may be regarded as a helpful and caring person. Likewise, someone else who is regularly grumpy and tends to keep other people at a distance might be considered standoffish or unfriendly.
There is no doubt that behavior patterns can often serve as indicators of a person's character or personality. However, there are certain situations where this is not always the case. Someone who regularly comes to the aid of a friend may be doing so for ulterior motives or because they expect something in return. Likewise, individuals who are detached and removed from others may behave this way due to difficult experiences in the past.
Human beings are innately complicated. There are so many reasons why people behave in certain ways. While kindness, generosity, and goodness can serve as motivating factors, there can also be nefarious reasons beneath the surface. It is not uncommon for individuals to alter their behavior patterns to be perceived in a certain manner by various onlookers. This is why it can take lots of time before one gets to understand the personality and character of another individual.
The existence of the expectation confirmation
Another element of social psychology is its unearthing of the expected confirmation. Put simply; human beings tend to seek out information that affirms already existing notions about a person, event, or situation.
How many times have people of various political affiliations ignored the wrongdoings within their parties while vigorously noting the issues on the "other" side of the aisle? This is quite common because many individuals believe that their side is right while the other side is wrong. Therefore, this belief often prompts people to overlook existing evidence that conflicts with their current notions, while directly seeking out supportive confirmation.
The expectation confirmation can be particularly dangerous in certain settings and situations. For instance, a woman who enters a relationship may believe their partner to be kind, loving, and loyal. However, if the partner becomes abusive or neglectful and the woman overlooks these things, that can put their well-being in danger.
When taken to extremes, expectation confirmation can become a type of delusion. No matter how painful it may be, people are not always who we believe them to be. Situations and circumstances are not always as they appear. The ability to objectively observe the evidence and make logical, rational determinations can be paramount. Social psychology has shed light on the existence of expectation confirmation. The knowledge of its existence may encourage individuals to proceed with caution when necessary.
Comparing and contrasting
Comparing and contrasting is a recurring theme in social psychology. In many cases, individuals elect to determine their perceptions and views of themselves based on the feedback from others or the observations they make of others.
For instance, an individual who is frequently lauded as mature, intelligent, and well-spoken is likely to believe themselves to be in possession of these traits. Likewise, a person who is regularly criticized as weak or stupid may eventually grow to view themselves accordingly. Of course, the outside commentary is not always indicative of a person's true inner capabilities or qualities, but it can impact how an individual sees themselves.
Comparing and contrasting also take place in the observations made of other people. Human beings tend to look at others around them or in the world and measure themselves up against their observations. This is common when it comes to socioeconomic backgrounds, talents, abilities, social status, and more. Social psychology directly ties into the individual and how they come about making certain determinations and arriving at various conclusions.
Theories of social psychology
As one might imagine, there are a plethora of theories that stem from social psychology. Some theories are more accepted, while others have more holes or room for people to contest or disagree. Regardless, understanding some of the theories of social psychology can provide great insight into scientific study.
The social exchange theory
In a nutshell, the social exchange theory maintains that human beings tend to view relationships with others in a manner of cost versus benefit. If the benefits of a relationship outweigh the costs, the relationship is likely to remain ongoing. However, if the costs outweigh the benefits, then the relationship might cease to exist with time.
Of course, there are always a variety of factors and dynamics which are involved in relationships. The social exchange theory does not necessarily only pertain to romantic relationships either; it can apply to friendships, ties between family, coworkers, and more.
The self-verification theory
The self-verification theory states that people wish to be seen by others in the same ways they see themselves. This particular social psychology theory has been criticized, especially since it's more likely to apply to people with confidence, high self-esteem, and other types of positive self-perceptions. For instance, an individual who views themselves as hard-working, talented, and motivated is likely to want others to see them in this manner.
Conversely, other people who see themselves as weak, timid, and unskilled will probably not want the world to also view them in this manner. It is not uncommon for people who feel poorly about themselves to go to extremes for the sake of overcompensating for perceived shortcomings. In situations like this, the self-verification theory could fall short.
The observational learning theory
According to the observational learning theory, human beings often rely upon the observation of others to select certain behavioral patterns. There is a fair amount of evidence to support this theory, particularly regarding young children. Kids tend to model the behaviors to which they are frequently exposed. This can be a positive or unhelpful thing, depending on the conduct of their peers or the adults who care for them.
As children grow into adults, they may continue to model their behavior after others around them or they may not. There are countless factors that affect the quality of a person's behavior.
Benefits of social psychology
As one might imagine, social psychology plays a large role in understanding ourselves as human beings and groups of people. There are many developments that have come about as a result of social psychology. Furthermore, the many existing theories allow people to step back, think, and consider whether they have participated in any of the behaviors associated with social psychology whether knowingly or unknowingly.
There will be certain things that apply to us, while other things do not. The beauty of this type of study is that the world is ever-changing, and no two people are precisely the same.
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The efficacy of online counseling
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How does social psychology influence human behavior?
Social psychologists focus not on influencing human behavior as much as on understanding both individual and social group behavior.
How does social psychology play a role in the concept of personality?
Any social psychologist will likely tell you that personality is complex and cannot be defined through just one lens. Aspects of social psychology can help explain components of personality development. Because social psychology studies the ways in which group dynamics and social obligations can influence an individual, studying personality formation and social psychology can sometimes go hand in hand.
Does social psychology study individuals in society and the ways they interact?
Yes. Social psychology research studies social influence, social identity theory, social groups, social perception, social interactions, social cognition, and other concepts related to both individual and group dynamics.
How does social psychology relate to mental health?
Social psychology relates to mental health in a number of ways. One central aspect of social psychology is the idea of a self-concept, which is a person’s view of themselves. People with negative self-concepts - who see themselves as weak, stupid, or unlovable - may be more likely to experience mental health concerns than people with more positive self-concepts. Social psychology and mental health conditions can be so closely related that the preeminent academic journal in the mental health research field used to be called the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology (it has since been renamed to the Journal of Psychopathology and Clinical Science).
Can social psychology be applied to both individuals and groups?
Social psychological research can be applied to both individuals and groups.
What are the limitations of social psychology?
Experimental social psychology has its roots in some problematic concepts. During World War II, social psychology began to be used to try to better understand how to influence people and society using wartime propaganda. Some social psychological research methods have also come under scrutiny for potential ethical violations, although ethical standards around research are much stronger today.
Does social psychology deal with the individual or the group?
Social psychology seeks to understand both individual and group behavior.
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