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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: 52

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