What is Social Psychology

Topics: Psychology, Sociology, Social psychology Pages: 11 (2462 words) Published: October 29, 2014
Social Psychology
and the Understanding of Social Behavior
The events that occurred on September 11 in general, and Rick Rescorlaʼs actions in particular, raise many questions about why things happened the way they did. In the aftermath of 9/11, many questioned the motives of the hijackers (offi cially and unoffi cially). It puzzles us when we try to fi gure out why 19 young men would sacrifi ce themselves to murder 3,000 total strangers. What internal and social forces can possibly explain such behavior? We also marvel at the behavior of people like Rick Rescorla. Why did he run back into the burning south tower to save people in need? It causes us to question whether we ourselves would have the courage to do such a thing. Most of us are content with coming up with so-called commonsense explanations for events such as 9/11. For example, we label the hijackers as “evil,” or “disturbed,” or just plain “nuts.” We conclude that Rick Rescorla was a special person imbued with qualities that allowed him to do what he did in the face of death. However, as is often the case, such simple, commonsense explanations do not give us the fi nal answers to our questions. Behavior is simply much too complex to be explained in overly simplistic terms. This is why we turn to science to help us better understand and explain events such as 9/11. One science that can help us make sense out of the things that happen to us and around us is psychology, which is the study of behavior and the motives and cognitions that underlie that behavior. By studying “abnormal psychology,” “personality psychology,” and other areas of psychology, we can begin to piece together rational explanations for events such as 9/11. One branch of psychology can give us a unique perspective on behavior and perhaps help us best understand events that occur to us and around us: social psychology. Social psychology is the scientifi c study of how individuals think and feel about, interact with, and infl uence one another, individually and in groups. It is the branch of psychology that studies social behavior—the thinking and behavior of individuals as they relate to other human beings.

Social psychology provides tools to help you understand things that happen in your personal life. It can help you make sense of your day-to-day interactions—your friendships, love relationships, interactions at work, and performance at school. It can give you insight, for example, into why your most recent romantic relationship did not succeed, and why you fi nd yourself attracted to one person in your afternoon math class but not to another. It can also help you understand why you may behave aggressively when someone cuts ahead of you in a cafeteria line, or why you get annoyed when someone 10. What can we learn from

social psychological
research?
11. What ethical standards
must social psychologists
follow when conducting
research?
social psychology
The scientifi c study of how
individuals think about, interact
with, and infl uence each other.
Chapter 1 Understanding Social Behavior 3
sits right next to you in a theater when there are plenty of other empty seats. Social psychology can also help you understand why other people act the way they do. For example, social psychology can help us understand the forces that led to the attacks on 9/11 and Rick Rescorlaʼs heroism.

Your life also is touched by events beyond your immediate, day-to-day affairs— events that occur in the community and the nation. Although these events are more distant, you may still feel strongly about them and fi nd a link between them and your personal life. If your friendʼs father were very sick, for example, you might want to share with him knowledge about a man whose determination kept him alive for six years. Perhaps the story would encourage him to keep on with his life. If a terrorist attack happened in your hometown, you would experience directly the consequences of young men driven to acts of murder...
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