Theoretical Perspectives in Social Psychology

Topics: Sociology, Psychology, Behavior Pages: 28 (14050 words) Published: July 9, 2014
 Theoretical Perspectives and Theories in Social Psychology

Man is the only animal for whom his existence is a problem he must solve.

-Erich Fromm

Of existence and the ensuing behavioral patterns that so accompany it, the field of social psychology holds to its credit a variety of affiliated disciplines that collectively contribute to its attempt at scientifically understanding the nature and causes of individual behavior in relation to other individuals, groups and social environments, or—in the words of Gordon Allport—“the actual, imagined or implied presence of other human beings.” (1985) A multitude of topics are encompassed within this discipline, including work on aggression and hostility (Sherif, 1954) obedience (Milgram, 1961), conformity (Asch, 1951), deindividuation and mob-behavior (Zimbardo, 1999), as well as several others, each conforming to the universal hypothesis that human behavior is subject to much change given the single variable of the presence (or lack thereof) of others (Lewin, Lippit and White, 1939; Tripplet, 1897).

Our beliefs of ourselves are, in part, influenced by the way we believe we are perceived by others (Tice and Wallace, 2003) and here illustrates the faint circularity of the argument, for the way others perceive us has a great deal to do with our own perception of ourselves. Social psychology thus also brings in the angle of the influences social phenomena have on our interactions with others, highlighting thus some of the key concepts that play a causative role in both action and self-perception.

Social behavior is viewed as goal-oriented, or driven largely by motivations of either intrinsic or extrinsic value to us, and said goals are inherently influenced by the social and cultural influences of our environment. Interactions with this environment determine the outcomes of the behavior elicited from us—this explains therefore why the way in which we conduct ourselves in different situations (e.g. an academic setting, such as a classroom, as opposed to an informal setting, with ones friends) is largely relative. These social interactions all contribute to creating what is termed as ones self-concept, or self-perception: the various self-images that collectively contribute to form ones sense of identity. Reflecting the appraisal we receive of our presence (or absence) reflects the human tendency of attributing external opinions of us to an internal value of our self-worth; another method of going about this involves ‘social comparison’, in which we base our self-worth in comparison to that of a particular reference group.

The expectations and beliefs we hold about the world (that arise from our interactions with the environment) soon begin to consolidate into a phenomenon known as ‘expectation confirmation’, in which we focus attention solely upon information that provides validation for the pre-existing beliefs and expectations we hold of our social environment. This form of attribution often extends to us assuming that the behaviors of others correspond to their intentions and personalities (a phenomenon known as the ‘fundamental attribution error’), highlighting thus that our socially-constructed perceptions of ourselves with relation to the world are often subject to much cognitive distortion.

The field of social psychology thus makes great use of theoretical frameworks used to investigate and interpret social phenomena, based on empirical findings. A ‘theory’ itself refers to a coherent and logically conceptualized statement expressed as a quantifiable property, and which aims to organize, explain and reliably predict data based on the criteria of scientific skepticism, accuracy, objectivity, and open-mindedness. Much like other scientific fields as well, social psychology follows a standard procedure for the building up of a theory.

Based on existing evidence, the theory—consisting of the basic statements that stipulate how...
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