28 Dec 2017

What Is Social Psychology?

How understanding the way couples interact can

28 Dec 2017

How understanding the way couples interact can help us learn about society as a whole.

Have you ever changed the way you acted when you were in a group? Let a popular opinion change the way you thought? Or even observed the changes people experience when they’re put in positions of power? All of these topics and more are related to Social Psychology and can have a significant impact on individual and interpersonal behaviors. Taking an in-depth look at the science of social psychology can help explain why people do what they do and the implications of those actions.

Social Psychology is a researched based field that aims to explain how the thoughts and actions of individuals are influenced by the thoughts and actions of other human beings they interact with. Different people shape our experiences and the people that are around us at any given time can affect the choices we make.

Social psychology looks at a wide range of social topics, including:
Group behavior
Social perception
Power dynamics
Nonverbal behavior
Couples Counseling

Having a better understanding of how people interact can help us understand the world in which we live.

Social Psychology vs. Sociology:

These two disciplines are often confused as they are very similar. Both Social Psychology and Sociology look at social behavior but sociology looks at it in a broader cultural level. Sociology focuses on the influence of institutions and cultures on human behavior whereas Social Psychology focuses more on interpersonal relationships and how individual people or groups of people affect social situations.

Social Psychology’s influence:

Since popular concepts such as social loafing and the crowd mind were introduced in the late 1800s, Social Psychology has shaped our understanding of how individuals interact with the world. Despite the earliest ideas of this science taking shape from the writings of Plato, Social Psychology really solidified itself after World War II. Events such as the Holocaust helped Social Psychologists understand the effects of social pressures, conformity and obedience and why people can be coerced into following orders to such an extreme level. This event coupled with a few groundbreaking social experiments were the cornerstone of Social Psychology as we know it today.

The Milgram Obedience Experiment:

One of the most well known Social Psychology experiment was organized by scientist Stanley Milgram and was conducted to help understand obedience and power dynamics. It took place in the1960s and was created to help understand why so many people would follow and support Hitler during the Holocaust. A group of men were tasked with asking their “students” questions and has to administer an electric shock when a wrong answer was given. The “students” were in on the experiment, and no actual shock was given, but they acted as if they were in pain and eventually began pleading and begging with the subjects to make the shocks stop. Each time the men paused they were urged by the study’s administrator to press on, eventually being told that “It is absolutely essential that you continue.” and “You have no other choice; you must go on.” Despite the fact that they believed that they were hurting the “students” 65% of the men consented to authority and administered the maximum shock. This was astonishing to Milgram as he believed that his authority wouldn’t have had as much influence on the subjects. This experiment was paramount in helping scientists understand the horrors of the Holocaust.

So the next time you experience “group think” in a meeting or see a teenager engage in dangerous behavior just to impress their friends, know that Social Physiology is at hand. Learning how this powerful science effects us is the cornerstone of understanding how we operate as a society.

Christy Weller, Psy.D., Couples Counseling Boulder. I bring a genuine curiosity, a kind appreciation of where you have been, and a non-judgmental stance so that you feel comfortable exploring your story and making sense of it. I tailor my work to each client and I’m trained in both short-term and long-term therapies.

Leave a comment
More Posts