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Social psychology is the scientific study of how we feel about, think about, and behave toward the other people around us, and how those people influence our thoughts, feelings, and behavior. A fundamental principle of social psychology is that although we may not always be aware of it, our cognitions, emotions, and behaviors are substantially influenced by the people with whom we are interacting.
Our initial judgments of others are based in large part on what we see. The physical features of other people—particularly their sex, race, age, and physical attractiveness—are very salient, and we often focus our attention on these dimensions. At least in some cases, people can draw accurate conclusions about others on the basis of physical appearance.
Youth, symmetry, and averageness have been found to be cross-culturally consistent determinants of perceived attractiveness, although different cultures may also have unique beliefs about what is attractive.
We frequently use people’s appearances to form our judgments about them, and these judgments may lead to stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination. We use our stereotypes and prejudices in part because they are easy and we may be evolutionarily disposed to stereotyping. We can change and learn to avoid using them through positive interaction with members of other groups, practice, and education.
Liking and loving in friendships and close relationships are determined by variables including similarity, disclosure, proximity, intimacy, interdependence, commitment, passion, and responsiveness.
Causal attribution is the process of trying to determine the causes of people’s behavior. Attributions may be made to the person, to the situation, or to a combination of both. Although people are reasonably accurate in their attributions, they may make self-serving attributions and fall victim to the fundamental attribution error.
Attitudes refer to our relatively enduring evaluations of people and things. Attitudes are important because they frequently (but not always) predict behavior. Attitudes can be changed through persuasive communications. Attitudes predict behavior better for some people than for others, and in some situations more than others.
Our behaviors also influence our attitudes through the cognitive processes of self-perception and the more emotional process of cognitive dissonance.
The tendency to help others in need is in part a functional evolutionary adaptation. We help others to benefit ourselves and to benefit the others. Reciprocal altruism leads us to help others now with the expectation those others will return the favor should we need their help in the future. The outcome of the reinforcement and modeling of altruism is the development of social norms about helping, including the reciprocity norm and the social responsibility norm. Latané and Darley’s model of helping proposes that the presence of others can reduce noticing, interpreting, and responding to emergencies.
Aggression may be physical or nonphysical. Aggression is activated in large part by the amygdala and regulated by the prefrontal cortex. Testosterone is associated with increased aggression in both males and females. Aggression is also caused by negative experiences and emotions, including frustration, pain, and heat. As predicted by principles of observational learning, research evidence makes it very clear that, on average, people who watch violent behavior become more aggressive.
The social norm that condones and even encourages responding to insults with aggression, known as the culture of honor, is stronger among men who live or were raised in the South and West than among men who are from or living in the North and East.
We conform not only because we believe that other people have accurate information and we want to have knowledge (informational conformity) but also because we want to be liked by others (normative conformity). The typical outcome of conformity is that our beliefs and behaviors become more similar to those of others around us. Studies demonstrating the power of conformity include those by Sherif and Asch, and Milgram’s work on obedience.
Although majorities are most persuasive, numerical minorities that are consistent and confident in their opinions may in some cases be able to be persuasive.
The tendency to perform tasks better or faster in the presence of others is known as social facilitation, whereas the tendency to perform tasks more poorly or more slowly in the presence of others is known as social inhibition. Zajonc explained the influence of others on task performance using the concept of physiological arousal.
Working in groups involves both costs and benefits. When the outcome of group performance is better than we would expect given the individuals who form the group, we call the outcome a group process gain, and when the group outcome is worse that we would have expected given the individuals who form the group, we call the outcome a group process loss.
Process losses are observed in phenomena such as social loafing, groupthink. Process losses can be reduced by better motivation and coordination among the group members, by keeping contributions identifiable, and by providing difficult but attainable goals.