Social Psychology

Social Psychology studies the interaction between the individual and ‘the other,’ where ‘the other’ represents an individual or group. A hallmark of the field is the concern with the vicissitudes of attitudes in social situations. Attitudes are made up of cognition, emotion and behaviour, but all are considered from a social perspective.

Social Psychology studies the effects of individual and group influences on the person. The discipline employs the experimental method and to some extent it abides the inferential causality approach as does cognitive psychology.

Typical of their sometimes strikingly bold experiments , social psychologists place subjects into different groups, each representing two or more contrived social situations, such as the degree of social pressure on the subjects to commit an aggressive act. (Experimenters often misinform subjects as to the true nature of the experiment as one of their experimental controls.)

The experimenters then observe any behavioural differences among the subject groups, and may then explain the results with reference to a theory, essentially an inference as to what takes place in the minds of the subjects. Alternatively, the behaviour may be more directly classified as to its type; say, conforming, obedient, or prejudiced, depending on the nature of the social situation manipulated.

Social psychologists study such typical social phenomena as attitudes and opinions. Experiments on persuasion, for example, study the types of argument which are most effective in changing people’s attitudes in a propaganda appeal. Are perceived authorities more persuasive than peers? In the study of obedience, will subjects deliver an electric shock to other subjects simply because they are told to do so by an experimenter? If so, how far will they go in causing pain to others, and how many refuse to obey?

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