WHAT IS SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY?
What is social psychology? There are as many definitions of social
psychology as there are social psychologists. Instead of listing some of
these definitions, it might be more informative to let the subject matter
define the field. The examples presented are all illustrations of sociopsychological
situations. As diverse as these situations may be, they do
contain one common factor: social influence.
The key phrase in the preceding paragraph is .social influence..
And this becomes our working definition of social psychology: the
influences that people have upon the beliefs or behavior of others. Using
this as our definition, we will attempt to understand many of the
phenomena described in the preceding illustrations. How is a person
influenced? Why does he accept influence . or, put another way, what.s
in it for him? What are the variables that increase or decrease the
effectiveness of social influence? Does such influence have a permanent
effect, or is it merely transitory? What are the variables that increase or
decrease the permanence of the effects of social influence? Can the
same principles be applied equally to the attitudes of the high-school
teacher in Kent, Ohio, and to the toy preferences of young children?
How does one person come to like another person? Is it through these
same processes that he comes to like his new sports car or his box of
Wheaties? How does a person develop prejudices against an ethnic or
racial group? Is it akin to liking . but in reverse . or does it involve an
entirely different set of psychological processes?
Most people are interested in questions of this sort; in a sense,
therefore, most people are social psychologists. Because most of us
spend a good deal of our time interacting with other people . being
influenced by them, influencing them, being delighted, amused, and
angered by them . it is natural that most of us develop hypotheses
about social behavior.
In his attempt to understand human social behavior, the professional
social psychologist has a great advantage over most amateur social
psychologists. Although, like the amateur, he usually begins with careful
observation, he can go far beyond that. He does not need to wait for
things to happen so that he can observe how people respond; he can,
in fact, make things happen. That is, he can conduct an experiment in
which scores of people are subjected to particular conditions (for
example, a severe threat or a mild threat; overhearing nice things or
overhearing a combination of nice and nasty things). Moreover, he can
do this in situation in which everything can be held constant except for
the particular conditions being investigated. He can, therefore, draw
conclusions based on data far more precise and numerous than those
available to the amateur social psychologist, who must depend upon
observations of events that occur randomly and under complex
Date: 2015-01-29; view: 80