Social Psychology: Thinking, Influencing, and Relating to Each Other
“The line between good and evil is permeable and almost anyone can be induced to cross it when pressured by situational forces” ("Goodreads," 2012). Social psychologist Philip G. Zimbardo makes it clear in this quote that social influences can be very powerful in shaping behavior, an idea at the heart of the science of social psychology. An examination of other key principles that define social psychology will shed light on the nature of the field, while also comparing and contrasting it with other social sciences such as general psychology and sociology. The role of research in social psychology will also be investigated.
According to Myers (2010), social psychology is, first, “the scientific study of how people think about one another (p. 4). Social thinking was studied by Nisbett and Wilson in the seventies in an experiment that demonstrated the halo effect, or the idea that general evaluations about a person will affect judgments over his or her specific traits (1977). A group of students were divided into two groups, with one group watching a video of an instructor with a strong European accent whose demeanor was cold and authoritarian. The other group watched a video of the same lecturer, this time talking in a warm and friendly manner. Afterwards the students were asked to rate the lecturer in terms of physical appearance, mannerisms, and accent, and consistent with the halo effect the “warm and friendly” lecturer was rated as more attractive, his mannerisms as more likeable, and his accent more appealing (Nisbett & Wilson, 1977). We can see how in this experiment participants’ attitudes influenced what they believed and the judgments they made.
Second, social psychology is also the scientific study of social influence (Myers, 2010). In the 1950s, Solomon Asch conducted experiments to demonstrate social influence in the form of conformity. In the experiment, groups of students were...