Being Human: Relationships And You. A Social Psychological Analysis ~ Introduction

The roots of Psychology are international, but so is psychology. A major figure in the history of psychology was the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov. The premier pioneer in the study of childhood development was the Swiss biologist Jean Piaget. The father of the psychoanalytic movement was an Austrian medical doctor Sigmund Freud. Modern European social psychology has made major contributions, for example in the field of social categorization theory. Henri Tajfel and his collaborators made signal contributions to the understanding of group behavior during his tenure at Bristol University, as did collaborators from other European countries.

However, Moghaddam (1987; 1990) described the United States as the “superpower” of academic psychology. In support of this claim he cites the volume of resources available to American scholars. Other observers have also described the US as the major source of academic social psychology, and the “center of gravity” for professional development (Bond, 1988). It would not be inaccurate to state that the vast majority of social psychological research is conducted in North American settings, including Canada. This might therefore be described as the “first world” of social psychology in terms of production and influence on the world scene.

Europe, with Great Britain and France leading in social psychological research, may be considered the second world of social psychology. Generally the university settings are smaller, and funds available not as large as those in the US, but social psychologists in Europe have made distinctive contributions of their own in the development of theory. In particular European scholars give more attention to intergroup behavior (e.g. Doise, Csepeli, Dann, Gouge, Larsen, & Ostelli, 1972), and the wider social context like social structure, and culture (e.g. ideology) (Jaspars, 1980; Doise, 1986). European and some American colleagues tend to criticize American scholars as being too individualistic (e.g. Sampson, 1977) and culture-blind in their orientation, having mainly developed theories that reflect the salient values, goals and issues of the United States that may not be equally valid in other societies, and neglecting other social phenomena like minority influence and social change (Moscovici, 1972).

European social psychologists have developed unique laboratory methodology, the minimal group situation to study the effects of social categorization on intergroup relations (Tajfel, Flament, Billig, & Bundy, 1971), along with observation studies of how people communicate attitudes in natural settings and create shared social representations (Potter and Wetherell, 1987; Van Dijk, 1987; Moscovici, 1981).

The third world of social psychology is found in the developing nations. Psychology in these countries is greatly hampered by lack of funding, and therefore has to rely to a large extent on psychology developed in other countries and cultural settings. There are many problems in these countries, which could benefit from a mature research based social psychology. The social problems of developing countries are to some extent distinctive as they involve issues of poverty, ethnic conflict, and lifestyles very different from the urban lives of the western world (see e.g. Kim, Yang and Hwang, 2006).

In the future we must look to the development of social psychology from all three worlds. There is much in the human experience that we have in common. We are all born into the world as dependent beings, all have to face developmental tasks, including forming families, and finding our social niche. We all face the great existential issues including the transitory nature of life. World psychology can provide insights that are helpful to all societies on these and other problems we all face. There are also specific problems unique to each society and culture. This is where the third world must make its contributions based on patient theoretical development, and empirical research. Reliable and valid empirical findings are superior to any armchair theorizing, regardless of the quality of the theoretical ideas. Only by empirical means can we eventually develop a significant world social psychology. Such a social psychology would describe the processes of social relations, thinking and social influence which would be common to all human beings. May this book be a step toward that noble quest, and stimulate the next generation of students, scholars, and all those interested in the field.

 

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Being Human. Chapter 1: The Theoretical Domain And Methods Of Social Psychology

Social psychological thinking is ancient, but the science described in these pages is modern. There are those who would say “there is nothing new under the sun”. It is true that we owe a great deal to philosophers like Aristotle, Socrates, Plato and many others, who thought about society, and made astute observations. Later scholars however have since put many of these early ideas, to the empirical test. We all have a cultural heritage to which we are indebted for many contemporary ideas.

However, social psychology as a separate field commenced with the publication of two books at the beginning of the twentieth century. William McDougall was the author of An introduction of Social Psychology published in 1908, and in the same year E.A. Ross published Social Psychology: An outline and source book. McDougall was a psychologist and Ross a sociologist, so it’s right to say that these two fields were the parents of social psychology. In fact, typically social psychology is taught in both fields, but with a somewhat different emphasis.

The major issue confronting those early thinkers was how the influence of others affects our behavior. Social psychology often reflects salient concerns in history, a fact that is easily ascertained by examining the major research topics in a given time period. In the early years of the twentieth century, the French revolution was still in the mind of many social thinkers and therefore social psychology placed an emphasis on such questions as why people behave less rationally in crowds. Le Bon said in affect “as individuals people are civilized, in crowds they are barbarians” (Larsen, 1977, p.iix).

Does the environment cause behavior; for example are some cultures more aggressive and war like than others? (Chagnon, 1997). McDougall felt that social behavior could be explained by social instincts, and therefore favored the “nature” explanation. In turn McDougall was influenced by Charles Darwin whose evolutionary theory proposed that the explanation of behavior is found in its contribution to survival. Others, however, suggested that we learn to behave in altruistic or aggressive ways through imitation of others and by the power of suggestion. For example, William James (1890), another influential pioneer, believed that the primary explanation for social behavior is “habit”; we learn our social behavior through repetition, thus emphasizing “nurture”. John Dewey (1922), another early thinker in social psychology, advanced the idea of the environment as a determinant and emphasized situational influences on behavior. These varying ideas contributed directly to the dominant theories which today influence and direct social psychological research and concepts.

1. Theories in social psychology
These early thinkers proposed major all embracing concepts in turn advocated as explaining all social behavior (Allport, 1985). For example, some proposed that hedonism (pleasure seeking) explain all that we do? Other thinkers suggested that we understand human behavior simply as a function of imitation or instincts. This emphasis on all embracing concepts, introduced the problem of “nominalism” into psychology. Do we really understand more by just labeling behavior? Eventually, social psychologists recognized the inadequacy of all encompassing principles and began the development of theories based on the scientific method.

What defines social psychology as a discipline? Allport (1985) suggested that social psychology is “an attempt to understand and explain how thought, feeling, and behavior of individuals are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others” (p.3). In other words, social psychology is the scientific study of social cognition (how people think about each other), how people are influenced by the behavior of others (for example conformity processes), and how they relate to each other through cooperation or aggression.

Some scholars distinguish between a psychological and a sociological version of the discipline (see Hewstone & Manstead, 1995). The latter is said to address more explicitly the interface between the individual and the wider social structure. We think this is an unnecessary and outdated distinction. In fact, Allport also added to his definition that “The term ‘implied presence’ refers to the many activities the person carries out because of his position (role) in a complex social structure and because of his membership in a cultural group”. (Allport, 1985, p. 3). Hence, we agree with Jones (1985) that social psychology is “an excellent candidate for an interdisciplinary field” (p.47). The present book seeks to realize this standpoint. This rationale suggests that the definition of social psychology may be found in the major explanations it has produced of social behavior. This effort resulted in four major theories within psychology, and several within sociology and related social sciences. Read more

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Being Human. Chapter 2. Cultural And Social Dimensions Of The Self

A group of international students is sitting around the dinner table discussing the television menu for the evening. A Norwegian woman student says, “let’s watch the soap, exciting things are happening to the relationships in the show”. A student from Asia disagrees since soaps “show disrespect for social values and relationships”. Someone from the States suggests watching a boxing match since that “demonstrates personal courage and achievement of the up and coming athletes”. The Asian student replies that rather than boxing, watching a team sport like soccer is more interesting. Another supporter of the soap option however, suggests that soap dramas are much more exciting as they deal with relationships, and “that is all there really is to life”.

Cultural and gender stereotypes that are parodied above are addressed in this chapter. Our social selves are partially defined by gender and cultural values, and much else. How do we come to be who we are? How is the self formed and what function does it play in the psychological economy of the individual? Are we motivated to behave in certain ways depending on our social selves? What is the route to well-being; does it help to have illusions about life? Why do we spend so much time and effort trying to impress others, and is impression management adaptable? These and many other issues are discussed in this chapter.

Who we are and where we come from has engaged the attention of philosophers and psychologists for generations. In more recent times the methods of experimental social psychology have been employed in the quest to understand the self and its dominant attributes. The self is defined as a set of beliefs we hold about our attributes and ourselves. We think of ourselves in terms of important personal characteristics like our career choice, our level of competence, and our plans for the future. The latter defines our possible selves. The continuity we feel in life is due to the self-concept. Similarity in personality with siblings, and especially identical twins, is based on common biological heritability that also contributes to self-hood.

Everything important about our lives, our family relationships, our development, the cultural and social context of our lives, all contribute to the topic of this chapter. Self-knowledge provides direction and order in our lives. Since we all fall short in goal attainment, there is a balance between flaws and self-efficacy. These discrepancies directly impact how we feel about ourselves, our self-esteem. Since feelings of self-esteem are also bound up with how others think about us, we perform in the great theater that is life, playing out roles of self-presentation. We want to convince others of our positive qualities and therefore have strong motives to manage the impression we make. We know how to react appropriately to varying situational demands because culture creates the parameters of appropriate conduct. Read more

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Being Human. Chapter 3: Attraction And Relationships: The Journey From Initial Attachments To Romantic Love

Many years ago two boys were walking home from school. They were seven years old, lived in the same neighborhood, but went to different grade schools. Although living close to each other they had not met before running into each other on this day on the road leading up the hill to their neighborhood. Both seemed quite determined to assert themselves that day, and soon they began pushing each other that gradually turned to wrestling, and attempts to dominate. After what seemed hours, the two little boys were still rolling down the surrounding hills as the sun was going down. Neither succeeded in achieving victory that day. In fact, they never again exchanged blows but became the best of friends. Today it is more than 50 years later, and their friendship has endured time and distance. Friendship is like a rusty coin; all you need to do is polish it at times!

In this essay we shall examine the research on attachment, attraction and relationships. The intrinsic interest in these fields by most people is shared by social psychologists, and attachment, attraction, and love relationships constitute one of the most prolific areas of investigation in social psychology. The early attachment theory advanced by Bowlby (1982) emphasized the importance of the field when he suggested that our attachments to parents to a large extent shape all succeeding relationships in the future. Other research focus on exchange and communal relationships and point to the different ways we have of relating to each other. The importance of relationships cannot be overemphasized since we as humans have a fundamental need to belong. Relationships also contribute to the social self as discussed in the book, and effects social cognition discussed in the same (see: at the end of this article). The variables that determine attraction may be understood theoretically as functions of a reward perspective.

The importance of relationships is demonstrated by findings that show that among all age groups relationships are considered essential to happiness (Berscheid, 1985; Berscheid & Reis, 1998). The absence of close relationships makes the individual feel worthless, powerless, and alienated (Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Stroebe & Stroebe, 1996). Our very humanity is defined by our relationships (Bersheid & Regan, 2005).

1. Attachment: The start to relationships
This chapter is about the development of attachment, intimate relationships between adults, and the road leading toward love relationships. No greater love has a person than giving his life for another. This idea from the Bible brings to mind the passion of deep commitment and the willingness to sacrifice, even in the ultimate sense. This willingness to sacrifice is one manifestation of love, but as we all know there is much more to relationships and love. Read more

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Being Human. Chapter 4: Social Cognition: How We Think About The Social World

Every day we are confronted with situations requiring judgment and decisions. At times, in emergencies, rapid decisions are required allowing little time for reflection. In other situations, the outcome matters greatly and motivates us to carefully evaluate the judgment and consequences of our decision. Social cognition is a fundamental area of social psychology, and refers to how people utilize information in making decisions. Specifically, we will attend to how we select the information, how we interpret the information, and how we organize it to respond to the decision making demand.

In situations involving police or other emergency teams there is little time to evaluate. The police may have fractions of seconds to decide if a suspect is holding a gun or some harmless object and to subsequently decide either to fire to kill, or to pursue another line of action. How does a police officer make such decisions? There are those who would argue that in the case of suspects the police use race to determine whether a suspect is dangerous or not (Singer, 2002). For example, in Cincinnati, USA the police killed 16 black suspects in six years, while no whites were killed in similar circumstances. It seems reasonable to assume that prejudice played a role in these life or death situations in the United States. In other words, faulty decision-making is often a result of rapid response requirements based on often false social stereotypes. We have more to say about stereotypes or cognitive schemas later in this chapter.

On the more positive side, automatic thinking can also save lives. One of the authors recently had an accident, which caused 5 broken ribs, a punctured lung, and the loss of his spleen. He can recall every detail of what happened during the accident, and the efforts made to save his life. The emergency crew went on automatic thinking as soon as they saw his injuries, belting his body in several places, providing oxygen, and after questions about any allergies they started pain medication. In the emergency room there were similar very crisp questions as the surgeon ruled out other problems and directed attention to the needed surgery. This surgeon had a well-established memory of similar injuries and proceeded rapidly to address the injuries, and stabilized patient’s vital signs. As time was of the essence, these professionals were on automatic pilot, as they took steps to administer needed medical services. Automatic decision is rapid and carried to conclusion without a great deal of extended thought and reflection. In this type of social cognition people act as if without thinking, responding to internalized memory and experiences (Bargh & Ferguson, 2000; Sloman, 1996).

There are other occasions when the situation demands a longer and more deliberate evaluation process. How to choose a life partner, what occupation to adopt, what philosophy or ideology to believe in, are best decided on thorough and very careful evaluation. By thinking through all the issues, evaluating potential consequences of our decisions, we can make better decisions, resulting in more contentment over the long run. Although automatic thinking seems to dominate so much of social behavior, we do have the capacity to override the process, and analyze the situation slowly and deliberately.

However, neither type of thinking is error free as important information is often missing. Even powerful nations like the US make basic errors despite heavy investments in intelligence. We can observe that it is not information alone that determines inferences, but also ideology. Ideology allows the individual or group to incorporate and accept information. What comes to mind is the obvious fiasco of going to war in Iraq based on the assumption that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. The intelligence services provided accurate information, that there were no weapons of mass destruction program in Iraq. However, since the decision to go to war had already been made, this inconvenient information was not incorporated in the decision-making. At other times, of course, the information we have is not only inconvenient, but also incomplete, ambiguous or contradictory. How we make decisions given the incompleteness of information is the basic question addressed in social cognition. Read more

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Being Human. Chapter 5: Attitude Formation And Behavior

There are many social issues that provoke public debate and engage people attitudes. Around these issues we can observe three components (beliefs, emotion, and behavior) of attitudes are activated. Global warming is an issue with profound implications for our survival and indeed the survival of all species and the planet. Recently former presidential candidate Al Gore received the Nobel Peace Prize for drawing the world’s attention to the dire prospects of our future unless we take decisive action. More and more public opinion (beliefs) is coming around and people are beginning to take serious the warning of the overwhelming majority of the world’s scientists. The beliefs of many common citizens are being modified to recognizing that things cannot go on as they have in the past, and that we must change. Some people have fully engaged their emotions as can be seen in letters to the editors of many newspapers and journals. These citizens feel the warnings at a very personal level and are not just willing to write letters, but also go on marches (behavior) in protest. Environmental beliefs are integrated for many people resulting in changed behavior where they take greater efforts to recycle, install energy saving devices in their homes, and drive more energy efficient cars. The world is changing, but is the rate of change sufficient to avoid future disasters. Only history will tell.

In the above vignette we can see various elements of attitudes and their effect on subsequent behavior, the important topics of this chapter. How did people form attitudes which brought them to the opposing sides of the global warming issue? Were their positions just fleeting opinions? Does the behavior of environmentalists who dissented from the indifference of politicians express more deeply held attitudes reflecting central values in their lives? Do those who express indifference toward environmental disaster hold more conformist attitudes that change with shifting popularity of viewpoints?

For people whose attitudes do not reflect deeply held values, attitude change can indeed occur rapidly. The popularity of president Bush has risen or fallen with dizzying speed. In the time before September 11, 2001, about 50 percent of the American people approved of his administration and leadership. This rose to 82 percent immediately following the attacks. However, by September of 2003 as the war continued to bring causalities, Bush’s popularity dropped back down again to 52 percent. As we write now in 2007, Bush’s popularity has fallen to an all time low. Obviously many who liked Bush in the past were “fair weather” supporters who have changed their views as the causalities and destruction have mounted in the months following the initial attack.

This vignette shows the importance of understanding the formation and structure of attitudes, and how attitudes may be changed. Attitude research is a central topic in social psychology from both the perspective of being salient to our concerns, and a topic we social psychologists started working on early in our history.

1. The structure and components
There is a common agreement among most social psychologists about the presence of three components in attitudes. The affective or emotional component we saw exhibited in the aforementioned vignette by manifestations of anger and contempt for the opposing sides. The second component, the cognitive factor refers to the beliefs that accompany the emotions, for example the newly discovered beliefs about the fragility of the environment. The third component, the behavioral, refers to the behaviors elicited by the affective and cognitive components. In our example attitudes may produce demonstrations for or against environmental policies, but may also be manifested in other behaviors such as participating in election campaigns, or in signing petitions.

Any attitude is composed of these three elements, and is always oriented positively or negatively toward some attitude object. Practically anything you can imagine might be an attitude object. You can have attitudes toward persons, ideas, or things. For example you may be positive or negative toward the leader of your country, a person, toward his policies (ideas), or toward inanimate objects (like posters or flags which symbolize viewpoints). In fact you can have an attitude toward the classroom in which you study. Look around and see if that is not true (Eagly & Chaiken, 1998; Fazio, 2000; McGuire, 1985)!

In general the three components are consistent with each other. A person, who has a positive attitude toward the environment, is also likely to have a set of beliefs that sustain this position, and may behave in a consistent manner. At election time the supporter may vote for environmental candidates, write letters to newspaper editors, or donate money to a favored candidate. Affect, cognition and behavior tend to move in the same direction toward the attitude object.

People may hold complex beliefs with respect to the attitude object, but the overall evaluation tends to be simple. One consequence of this apparent contradiction is that people may easily change certain beliefs, while still maintaining their basic evaluations. Many attitudes are like that, cognitively complex, but simple in terms of overall evaluations. These overall evaluations (positive or negative feelings) are more difficult to change than aspects of the supporting belief system. In the functional psychological economy of the individual, attitudes serve as primers. They make decision making more rapid by allowing for more or less automatic responses. Rapid decision-making is possible because the salient information is held in memory storage and is easily accessible to the person (Judd, Drake, Downing, & Krosnick, 1991; Sanbonmatsu & Fazio, 1990). Read more

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