The Key Concepts in Social Psychology
The behaviours you exhibit and the decisions you make are largely influenced by the environment around you. Social psychologists observe how an individual or a group’s behaviour can be influenced by the beliefs and actions of others, which contribute to a person’s decision-making process.
Social psychology provides insight into how social dynamics can be improved and altered for general health and wellbeing. However, to better understand the key concepts in social psychology, it’s important to first analyse how the environment plays a role in shaping each person’s interactions and core beliefs.
What processes are involved in Social Psychology?
Social psychology provides a lens into how group dynamics can influence choices and behaviour through a range of different perspectives. The reasons why an individual may act in a certain way can be determined by their team environment or by the impact of society. A social psychologist will analyse the changes in behaviour differently depending on the situation and background. If there is an extreme case of anxious behaviour, a social psychologist may look at the situation from an environmental perspective, whilst another psychologist will look at how genetics play a role.
To effectively analyse an individual’s behavioural changes within a group, the following factors are examined (Verywell Mind):
- socio-cultural – the impact of social and cultural norms
- evolutionary – the role of genetics and biology
- social learning – the experiences from family and the community.
Social psychologists aim to encourage people to act on their own terms. By identifying whether the behaviour is replicating a social influence or is simply inherited, research is conducted to further analyse the causal factors. The concepts of social influence, group behaviour and social cognition are applied to analyse these factors.
Social influence refers to the way people change their ideas and behaviours to meet the needs of a group. Most people seek acceptance from their peers, employers or colleagues and may encounter social influence on a daily basis. This can have a major impact on decisions and thought processes, especially when everyone else is perceived to be in a place of authority. The opinions of a group or a team are likely to influence behaviour, and this can be factored into the four areas (Psychologist World):
Involves a change of opinion or behaviour in response to real or perceived social pressure. This process can also be known as majority influence or simply termed as ‘yielding to group pressures’[i]. This is where a person relies on being socially accepted.
Refers to a situation where a person openly agrees with a group but privately disagrees with their opinion. These views can be deemed temporary and involve changing behaviour to go along with the rest of the group.
Involves performing an act under the order of an authority figure. This is where an order is given and the influence relies on social power.
- Minority Influence
This is where the minority of people within a group convert the majority to accept their views. This can be seen after a long period of time and starts with the private acceptance of viewpoints that were first expressed by the minority.
It’s important to note that within each concept there is a subset of varying factors. There is no one size fits all option in social psychology, as influence and behavioural changes can happen in many forms.
A group setting can impact a person’s behaviour in a variety of ways. This is referred to as group behaviour, which happens when a person’s decision making, and overall behaviour is influenced within a large or small-group situation. There is a range of reasons why people choose to join a group dynamic, whether it’s for friendship, security, status or control as this involvement satisfies a desired ‘need’ within the person. Whilst there are positive group influences such as work or sporting environments, groups can also influence poor behaviour choices that social psychologists look to uncover. There are three main group factors that can influence behaviour:
- Group Think
Group Think involves making a decision in a group dynamic. In order to make a faster decision the focus is quickly turned to pleasing the majority, resulting in increased pressure and overlooked options.
- Group Shift
Refers to the shift in opinion of a person when surrounded by others who hold an existing stance of position. In groups people are more likely to make riskier decisions because they feel supported, compared to when alone.
Happens when a person lets go of control and goes along with what the group is doing. This can be considered a negative behaviour.
Social cognition focuses on the method of storing, processing and applying information in relation to others. There is a natural tendency to place importance on what others think, which can change a person’s thoughts, feelings and social interactions. This mental process refers to how a person makes sense of the world around them by simply observing others. Social cognition plays out when forming an impression of another person or finding meaning behind another’s behaviour.
Social cognition is something that is developed over a lifetime and can be studied through the lens of childhood development and cultural differences.
Learn the processes involved in human social behaviour
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 Crutchfield, R. S. (1955). Conformity and character. American Psychologist, 10(5), 191–198.