Chapter 13. Psychology in Our Social Lives
Social psychology is the branch of psychological science mainly concerned with understanding how the presence of others affects our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. It is one of the largest sub-disciplines within psychology. There are many specific ways that social psychologists conduct their research.
Attraction, attitudes, peace and conflict, social influence, and social cognition are all important areas of social psychology.
Social cognition focuses on how people think about others and our social worlds. It studies how people make sense of themselves and others, make judgments and form attitudes. One important area of social cognition is understanding how we simplify all of the many sources of information we come across every day. One way we deal with this amount of information is to use heuristics, which are mental short cuts that reduce complex problem-solving to simple rule-based decisions. There are many types of heuristics. Another area of social cognition examines how we make predictions about others and the number of biases in our predictions.
Motivations, moods, and desires can influence our social judgement – our thinking isn’t always logical! Social psychologists also know that much of our behaviour is automatic and outside of our conscious awareness.
Conformity refers to the tendency we have to act and think like the people around us. Normative influence means we go along with others because we are concerned about what they will think of us. Informational influence means that other people are often an important source of information.
Obedience research examines how people react when given an order or a command from someone in a position of authority. Stanley Milgram’s work is some of the most famous work in psychology, and it examines obedience to authority.
Prejudices, stereotypes, and discrimination are another important area of social psychology research. Prejudice refers to our emotions toward other groups, stereotypes are how we think about them, and discrimination is how we behave in regards to those other groups. Old fashioned, or blatant biases, are decreasing. But more subtle biases still exist and are somewhat automatic.
Bystander intervention research studies how and when people help others. A lot of helping behaviour depends upon the diffusion of responsibility. Some psychologists believe evolutionary roots explain our prosocial and altruistic reasons for helping others.
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