Characterizing Social Psychology
- Social psychology is the scientific study of the feelings, thoughts, and behaviors of individuals in social situations.
The Power of the Situation
- Social psychology emphasizes the influence of situations on behavior. People often find it difficult to see the role that powerful situations can play in producing their own and others’ behavior, and so are inclined to overemphasize the importance of personal dispositions in producing behavior. The two tendencies together are called the fundamental attribution error.
The Role of Construal
- Social psychology also focuses on the role of construal in understanding situations. People often feel that their comprehension of situations is direct, without much mediating thought. In fact, even the perception of the simplest objects rests on substantial inference and the complex cognitive structures that exist for carrying it out.
- The primary tool people use for understanding social situations, and physical stimuli for that matter, is the schema. Schemas are stored representations of numerous repetitions of highly similar stimuli and situations. They tell us how to interpret situations and how to behave in them. Stereotypes are schemas of people of various kinds—-police officers, Hispanics, yuppies. Stereotypes serve to guide interpretation and behavior, but they can often be mistaken or misapplied, and they can lead to damaging interactions and unjust behaviors.
Automatic versus Controlled Processing
- People’s construals of situations are often largely automatic and unconscious. As a consequence, people are sometimes in the dark about how they reached a particular conclusion or why they behaved in a particular way.
Evolution and Human Behavior: How We Are the Same
- The evolutionary perspective focuses on practices and understandings that are universal and seem to be indispensable to social life, suggesting that humans are prewired to engage in those practices.
- Some evolutionary theorists have argued that differences between males and females may be explained by the differential parental investment required of the two sexes. They also talk about other universal characteristics that are more cognitive in nature, including language, which appears at the same stage of development in all cultures, as well as a theory of mind, which also develops early in normal people of all cultures.
Culture and Human Behavior: How We Are Different
- Behaviors and meanings can differ dramatically across cultures. Many of these differences involve the degree to which a society is interdependent, or collectivistic, in its social relations (having many relationships of a highly prescribed nature) versus independent, or individualistic (having fewer relationships of a looser sort). These differences influence conceptions of the self and the nature of human relationships and even basic cognitive and perceptual processes.
- Gender roles and sexual mores differ enormously across cultures. Even within the West, gender and sexual practices diverge significantly. Theorists differ in how strongly they believe this variability is arbitrary versus rooted in economic factors or some other aspect of the objective situation confronting the culture.