PSYCH101 Study Guide

Unit 7: Social Psychology

7a. Understand major topics in social psychology, including presentation, attitudes and persuasions, conformity, compliance, obedience, cognitive dissonance, prejudice and discrimination, aggression, and prosocial behavior

  • What is cognitive dissonance? Describe an example.
  • What is conformity? Who researched this concept?
  • How are the concepts of stereotype and prejudice related?

The subfield of social psychology is concerned with our behaviors and interactions in a social context. Social psychologists study a number of behaviors, such as how and why we form attitudes, the effect of persuasion and pressure of authority, and aggressive and prosocial behaviors. Some social psychologists are interested in group dynamics, examining for example, how being part of a group can alter a member's opinion about a certain topic.

Social psychologists have coined a number of terms to explain social behaviors. For example, attitude refers to an evaluation or a judgement that we make of a person, idea, or object. Cognitive dissonance means holding two or more opposing views or attitudes. Smokers are a prime example for this, as many are aware of the bad health effects of smoking, yet they choose to partake in unhealthy behavior. In social psychological terms, these smokers would experience cognitive dissonance.

Obedience refers to changing your behavior because of a request by an authority figure. Research finds that we like to please authority figures and/or are afraid of negative consequences, hence, many people are obedient to authority as demonstrated in Stanley Milgram's famous experiment.

Persuasion refers to changing your attitude based on communication with another person. In a group context, conformity can occur when you change your behavior or attitude to align with a group. In a famous study, Solomon Asch found this conformity effect ("Asch effect") when a group convinced a research participant of an untrue fact so much that the participant changed his attitude to conform to the consensus of the group.

Prejudice refers to a negative attitude and feeling toward an individual based solely on one's membership in a particular social group whereas a stereotype is a negative belief about individuals based solely on membership in a certain group, regardless of their individual characteristics. Often, stereotypes are a precursor to the development of prejudice (and discrimination).

To review, see sections 12.3, 12.4, and 12.5 of the textbook, and "Conformity and Obedience".


7b. Describe the theories and research of important social psychologists, including Philip Zimbardo, Stanley Milgram, Albert Bandura, Abraham Maslow, Alfred Kinsey, Solomon Asch, William Masters, and Virginia Johnson

  • What did Stanley Milgram research? What was his design and what were some ethical issues associated with this experiment?
  • What was the Stanford Prison experiment? Who was the researcher who pioneered this study?
  • What did Alfred Kinsey, William Masters, and Virginia Johnson study? What are some similarities and differences in their work?

A lot of research has been done in the field of social psychology, spanning topics such as conformity, obedience, sexuality, motivation, and social learning.

Stanley Milgram researched obedience to authority in his famous study at Yale University. He used confederates to pressure study participants to administer (fake) electric shocks to other people. The participants did not know that the shocks were never administered so many left his experiment assuming they had caused great bodily harm on another person.

Philip Zimbardo conducted the Stanford Prison experiment, in which participants were randomly assigned into the roles of prison guards or prisoners in a fake prison set up in a basement at the university. Zimbardo wanted to explore the power of social roles and norms. The experiment ultimately had to be cut short due to participants' increasingly aggressive behaviors.

Alfred Kinsey, William Masters, and Virginia Johnson studied human sexuality. Kinsey focused on people's sexual behaviors, whereas Masters and Johnson examined the sexual response cycle.

Albert Bandura studied social modeling or observational learning. His most famous study focused on children watching an aggressive act on a video and then having opportunity to replicate the same behavior they watched.

Abraham Maslow focused on human motivation and developed his famous hierarchy of needs. His model suggests that basic physiological and security needs such as food, shelter, warmth, and safety must be met first before a person can focus on inner fulfillment in life. He is also a proponent of the Humanism school of therapy in which clients are encouraged to seek their fulfillment in life.

Solomon Asch focused on group behavior specifically persuading members of a group to change their attitudes even if it's wrong. In his classic experiment, he found a conformity effect ("Asch effect") that occurs when a group convinces a member of an untrue fact so much that that member changes his attitude to conform to the consensus of the group.

To review, see sections 10.3 and 12.4 of the textbook, and "Conformity and Obedience".


7c. Identify the factors inherent in situational versus dispositional influences on behavior

  • What is the difference between situationism and dispositionism?
  • In which type of culture is the fundamental attribution error most commonly found?

People's behaviors are a result of internal (personality traits) and external factors (situations, social context). Situationism is the view that our behavior and actions are determined by our immediate environment and surroundings. In contrast, dispositionism holds that our behavior is determined by internal factors.

Western cultures, such as the United States, favor a dispositionism view, and assume that we are aware of our own choices and behaviors. This may lead us to conclude that a behavior is a function of an internal trait without considering the social context. For example, a person walking down the street and slipping on a banana peel might be viewed as clumsy. Explaining behavior solely via internal traits and not taking the situation into account is known as the fundamental attribution error. Research shows that people of individualistic cultures (cultures that focus on individual achievement and autonomy) are more prone to commit the fundamental attribution error.

To review, see section 12.1 of the textbook.


7d. Identify cognitive biases in real-life situations, including the fundamental attribution error, actor-observer bias, self-serving bias, just-world hypothesis, bystander effect, and the lessons learned from the Stanford Prison Experiment

  • What is the fundamental attribution error? Provide real-life examples.
  • What is self-serving bias?
  • What is the bystander effect? Provide real-life examples.

Social psychology is concerned with understanding people's behavior and explaining why we think or behave the way we do. In Western cultures, we are more prone to associate internal dispositions with behavior. The fundamental attribution error highlights this phenomenon and states that people assume internal factors/traits are to blame for others' behaviors rather than taking the context or a situation into consideration. For example, if you are driving on the road and notice the car in front of you suddenly swerving out of control. You might automatically assume that the driver is bad or not experienced without taking the situation into consideration. For instance, the driver may have needed to avoid hitting an animal.

The actor-observer bias expands beyond the fundamental attribution error. In this case, the person still assumes that other people's behaviors are a result of internal traits (fundamental attribution error) but at the same time attributes his own behavior to situational factors. For example, if I do poorly on a psychology exam while my friend aces it, I might blame the fact that the room was too hot or that there was too much noise for me to concentrate.

When we make internal attribution for our successes ("I am an excellent tennis player") and fail to take situational factors into account ("the sun was shining in my opponent's eyes during the match"), we commit self-serving bias.

The just world hypothesis stipulates that we all get what we deserve. So when we walk by a homeless person on the street, we might assume that this person has done something in his life to "deserve" having to live on the street.

When a number of people witness the same event, they are less likely to interfere or act when needed. This is known as the bystandereffect. For instance, people may not offer money or food to a homeless person on the street, assuming that others will.

It is important to note these cognitive biases as they can explain human behavior in social settings. Social psychology thus argues that behavior and actions should be viewed in context.

Philip Zimbardo's Stanford Prison experiment provided a real-life demonstration of the influence of social roles and context. He was forced to cut his simulated prison study short when participants who had been randomly assigned into the role of prison guards became increasingly aggressive and violent over their inmates.

To review, read sections 12.1 and 12.6 of the textbook and "The Fundamental Attribution Error".


7e. Describe the major theories of motivation and emotion, such as the drive theory, Maslow's hierarchy of needs, James Lange theory, Cannon-Bard theory, Schachter-Singer two factor theory, and cognitive-mediational theory

  • What is the drive theory?
  • What does Maslow's hierarchy of needs suggest?
  • What is the Cannon-Bard theory of motivation?

Another focus within social psychology is understanding human motivation, namely what makes us act the way we do.

The drive theory states that when your body moves away from a state of homeostasis (a state of perfect physiological balance), a physiological need arises. For example, when your blood sugar drops (imbalance) because you have not eaten in a few hours, you become hungry and are thus motivated to eat.

While most theories focus on biological and physiological processes to explain motivation and emotion, Abraham Maslow's work includes social motivations as well. Maslow developed a hierarchy of needs which suggests that once basic physical needs such as shelter, food, warmth are met, individuals can address individual and social needs. His work suggests that once physiological needs are met, people can address social needs and find their own realization (self actualization).

Three theories focus on understanding emotions. The James Lange theory states that physiological arousal causes emotions so that if you see a bear in the woods as you're hiking, your body would react (fight or flight) by increased physiological arousal, for example, increased heartbeat, sweating which in turn would make you feel afraid.

The Cannon-Bard theory suggests that both physiological arousal and emotional experience occur simultaneously but independent of each other. For example, if confronted with an intruder, you will feel both fear as well as physiological arousal (sweating, increased heart beat) at the same time.

The Schachter-Singer two factor theory suggests that there is a cognitive as well as physiological component to emotions. Specifically, this theory assumes that we interpret our physiological response based on what we know (cognitive). Drawing on the bear in the woods example above, the Schachter-Singer two factor theory explains that we experience fear because we know that confronting a bear in the woods is alarming.

Lazarus' cognitive mediational theory suggests that emotional responses are a function of our appraisal of the stimulus which is often an unconscious process.

To review, see sections 10.1 and 10.4 of the textbook.


Unit 7 Vocabulary

This vocabulary list includes terms that might help you with the review items above and some terms you should be familiar with to be successful in completing the final exam for the course.

Try to think of the reason why each term is included.

  • Presentation
  • Attitudes
  • Persuasions
  • Conformity
  • Compliance
  • Obedience
  • Cognitive dissonance
  • prejudice
  • Discrimination
  • Aggression
  • prosocial behavior
  • Asch effect
  • Emotion
  • Motivation
  • Fundamental attribution error
  • Actor-observer bias
  • Self-serving bias
  • Just-world hypothesis
  • Bystander effect
  • Altruism
  • Confederate
  • Diffusion of responsibility
  • Prosocial behavior
  • Situationism
  • Individualism
  • Social loafing