The Social Animal

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“Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally… [or who] does not partake of society is either a beast or a god,” (Aristotle, c. 328 BCE.) Aristotle may have been the first person to articulate the basic principles of social psychology. Elliot Aronson, not the first to write about them, but perhaps a modern Aristotle in his teaching, writing, and research, wrote a book titled The Social Animal. In it, with an emphasis on conformity, he explains eight broad concepts of social psychology, who he is and why he wrote the book, as well as social psychology itself.

Elliot Aronson is quite an interesting man. At 78 years, he has experienced the great depression, civil rights movements, fourteen presidents, four major wars, and a plethora of other great social catastrophes and good fortune. Who better to comment on society than one who has lived through it all? Aronson’s highest degree is a PhD in psychology from Stanford University, which he received in 1959. While studying, he worked closely with renowned psychologists such as David McClelland, Leon Festinger, and Abraham Maslow. Aronson has written sixteen books including The Social Animal which is a 10 volume collection, taught at four universities, developed the Jigsaw classroom method, and refined the theory of Cognitive dissonance (NSU, 2010). Later in his life, Elliot Aronson was diagnosed with macular degeneration; today he is mostly blind. In 1970 Aronson was invited to Stanford University to do whatever his heart desired; he opted to write a book (Aronson ix). Many social psychologists like to call their field “a young science,” as to belittle themselves and lower expectations. The purpose of the volume, according to the author himself, is to elucidate the relevance that social psychology holds and how it may resolve many problems within our society, and answer some of life’s most difficult questions (Aronson, x).

Social psychology as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is “the study of the manner in which the personality, attitudes, motivations, and behavior of the individual influence and are influenced by social groups.” Elliot Aronson gives a much simpler definition: social psychology is “the influence that people have upon the beliefs or behaviors of others.” In layman’s terms, it is how what you do affects others and how what others do affects you.

Social Psychology plays a role in every aspect of life from the moment you wake up to the moment you lay down again to rest. Each and every one of us is an amateur social psychologist in the sense that humans observe and form educated assumptions about social events in everyday life as a basic technique for survival (Aronson, 6). It decides why we like some people more than others, the choices we make, which products we buy, opinions we hold, and so on and so forth. The list is endless, and applies to each and every mammal on the planet identifying as human. Because of the fact that most of us act as amateur psychologists and have preconceived notions about just about anything and everything, many theories regarding society seem obvious. This is due to the hindsight effect, which states that the powers of prediction appear to be magnified once the results are known (Aronson, 7). If a group is asked what kind of weather they predict for the 13th on the 13th their answers would be much more accurate after the fact than if their predictions were collected the day before, on the 12th.

Conformity is an overriding theme in all societal happenings. Oxford dictionary defines conformity to be anything in accordance with a specified standard, or authority. Aronson naturally gives it a more psychological denotation as any change in a person’s opinion or behavior is a result of real or imagined pressures from a person or group. Regardless of where the definition comes, conformity plays a major role in what is, has been, and will be in the future of...
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