Overview of Social Psychology

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An Overview of Social Psychology

We have all been involved in a situation, at some point, that has left us scratching our heads as to what the hell just happened. Maybe it was someone else’s behavior or maybe it was our own behavior that was outside the norm of acceptable social behavior. Social psychology is the school of psychology that studies the way people behave in social settings. Social psychologists deal with the factors that lead us to behave in a given way in the presence of others, and look at the conditions under which certain behavior/actions and feelings occur (McLeod, 2007). It aims to identify the mental image that people have of themselves. Do some people have limited social abilities, and if so, what in their past can this be attributed to? How much of our thoughts and opinions are influenced by what others think? Is it normal to act one way in private and a totally different way when you’re in a group environment? These are just some of the questions that can be explained with social psychology. In this paper, I will cover the way social psychology came to be its own area of study, the doctors that are considered the “founding fathers” of social psychology, and some of the basic observations that brought about the questions that laid the foundation for what social psychology is today. The roots of psychology can be dated back to Aristotle and Plato. Aristotle believed that people were naturally sociable, which made it easier to live together, stating that, “Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god.” While Plato felt that people were only sociable based on their own personal knowledge and what is common practice in society. One of his quotes states, “Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.” Social psychology is one of many branches that grew from these roots. Webster’s dictionary defines social psychology as the study of the manner in which the personality, attitudes, motivations, and behavior of the individual influence and are influenced by social groups. In the late 1800s German philosophers Lazarus & Steinthal wrote the “Volkerpsychologie,” which focused on the idea of the collective mind, and asserted the notion that personality develops because of cultural and community influences, especially through language (Mcleod, 2007). In regards to American social psychology, the years between 1895 and 1935 are referred to the “early years” of social psychology. In 1895 an American psychologist, Norman Triplett posed the question, “How does a person’s performance of a task change when other people are present?” The thought occurred to him when he noticed that a person riding a bicycle pedaled faster when he rode with other bicyclists compared to as when he rode by himself. He then experimented with having children wind in a fishing reel; he predicted that the children would reel faster in the presence of other children compared to as when they were alone. He was right. This is one of the first known social experiments in the United States (Jahoda, 2007). As for establishing social psychology as its own branch of psychology, that credit goes to English psychologist William McDougall and American sociologist Edward Ross, who each published separate texts in 1908. McDougall considered the individual to be the principal unit of analysis in this new science, while Ross, true to the contemporary sociological social psychology perspective, highlighted groups (Jahoda, 2007). In 1924, a third text was published which went a long way in carving out a distinct identity for social psychology. This text was published by Floyd Allport, who stated that the field of social psychology was in itself a science “which studies the behavior of the individual in so far as his behavior stimulates other individuals, or is it itself a reaction to this...