EMPOWER COMMUNITY HEALTH - Counseling Services - 617-729-9111

Humanistic Approaches to Positive Growth and Self-Acceptance – Specializing in Substance Use Therapy, Trauma Therapy, & Substance Use Evaluations

Social Psychology


What is Social Psychology?

Defined as the scientific study of the way in which people’s thoughts, feelings, and actions are influenced by the real or imagined presence of other people.

The scientific study of how people think, feel, and behave in social situations.

Social Psychology Compared with Personality Psychology

Individual differences are defined as the aspects of people’s personalities that make them different from other people, individual differences that conform in social situations. WHY??  What makes one conform??

The Power of Social Interpretation:

Social psychology is distinct from other social sciences because of its emphasis on people’s construal’s, or personal interpretations

The Subjectivity of the Social Situation:  

Behaviorism is a school of psychology maintaining that to understand human behavior, one need only consider the reinforcing properties of the environment

Social Cognition:

  • The need to be accurate, Social Cognition is how people think about themselves and the social world
  • Social cognition – the study of the mental processes people use to make sense out of their social environment
  • Self-esteem is a person’s evaluation of their own self-worth
  • Self-perception also influences how your perceive others and how your act on your perceptions
  • Self-concept how one imagines other people perceive them

Social Influence:social-keep [1401705]

  • The effect that words, actions, or mere presence of other people have on our thoughts, feelings, attitudes, or behavior
  • A change in a person’s behavior or beliefs in response to the intentional or unintentional influence of others
  • The study of the effect of situational factors and other people on an individual’s behavior

Other people can influence us either through direct attempts at persuasion, or more indirectly through their presence and the transmission of cultural values


  • Strikes tightly-knit groups
  • Results in hesitation to dissent in order to preserve solidarity
  • Group discussions may cause members to shift to different positions, retaining a sense of open-mindedness, changing perspectives


  • The influence of the social group on an individual.  Peers are the individuals with whom a child, adolescent, OR adult identifies with, who are usually but not always of the same age-group.
  • Peer pressure occurs when the individual experiences implicit or explicit persuasion, sometimes amounting to coercion, to adopt similar values, beliefs, and goals, or to participate in the same activities as those in the peer group.

People are prone to the fundamental attribution error, the tendency to overestimate the role of traits and underestimate the role of the situation in determining people’s behavior:

Attribution is the mental process of inferring the causes of people’s behavior, including one’s own. The fundamental attribution error – we tend to spontaneously attribute the behavior of others to internal, personal characteristics:

  • While downplaying or underestimating the effects of external, situational factors
  • Plays a role in a common explanatory pattern called blaming the victim – an innocent victim is blamed for somehow causing a misfortune
  • Just world hypothesis: the victim must have done something wrong because the world is fair


  • The self-serving bias is the tendency to attribute successful outcomes of one’s own behavior to internal causes, and unsuccessful outcomes to external situational causes
  • Self-Justification is making excuses for oneself or one’s behavior, justifying one’s actions or lack thereof
  •  Self-interests colors or taints are social judgment

How Else Can We Understand Social Influence?

  • Conformity: Changing one’s behavior and beliefs in response to the behaviors of others
  • Compliance: Changing one’s behavior to avoid conflict
  • Obedience: Changing one’s behavior or beliefs in response to the demands of a more powerful person
  • Conformity within a group entails members changing their attitudes and beliefs in order to match those within the group. Those that conform are compliant and obedient. In order to conform there must be a leader within the group or conformity within the group would be less prevalent.  Failure to conform will result in loss of credibility and being outcast from the group.
  • Compliance also occurs within groups (society). One must adapt his/her actions to another’s wishes or rules. Compliance occurs in everyone’s lives. Compliance does not change beliefs. People are compliant daily; following traffic laws, your boss gives you a directive, your Professor gives you an assignment following policy and procedure.
  • Obedience is the act of following orders because these orders are from a legitimate authority. We obey our parents, the police, our bosses, fire-fighters, and on occasion your Professors……

“I was just following orders…..”

Psychological Research Prompted by the Eichmann Trial


  • Accountability is the state of being accountable, liable, or answerable, taking responsibility for one’s actions

You are accountable and responsible for the decisions that you make!!

  • Diffusion of responsibility is the lessening of a sense of individual responsibility for a task when responsibility is shared among members of a group.


  • The term bystander effect refers to the phenomenon in which the greater the number of people present, the less likely people are to help a person in distress. When an emergency situation occurs, observers are more likely to take action if there are few or no other witnesses.

“Kitty” Genovese


“If you are in a crowd and you look and see that everyone is doing nothing, then nothing becomes the norm.” Drew Carberry, (n.d.)Director National Counsel of Crime Prevention

Would “Kitty” Genovese be alive today if just one person acted??


On the basis of very limited information, we quickly draw conclusions about the nature of people  who are complete strangers to us

  •  Person perception – refers to the mental processes we use to form judgments and draw conclusions about the characteristics and motives of others
  •  Personal perception is an active and subjective process that always occurs in some interpersonal context, which has three key components:

–The characteristics of the individual you are attempting to size up

–Your own characteristics as the perceiver

–The specific situation in which the process occurs


  • Hindsight is the perception of the significance and nature of events after they have occurred, the understanding of a situation or event only after it has happened or developed
  • Hindsight Bias is the tendency people have to view events as more predictable than they really are. After an event, people often believe that they knew the outcome of the event before it actually happened


Propaganda is information of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view, these are ideas or statements that are false and exaggerated and that are spread in order to inflame the populace.

How did Propaganda influence German Citizens during WWII??


  • A stereotype is a simplified assumption about a group based on prior assumptions.
  • Stereotypes can be both positive (“women are warm and nurturing”) or negative (“teenagers are lazy”).
  • Stereotypes can lead to faulty beliefs, but they can also result in both prejudice and discrimination.
  • When prejudice occurs, stereotyping and discrimination may also result. In many cases, prejudices are based upon stereotypes.


  • Prejudice is a baseless and usually negative attitude toward members of a group.
  • Common features of prejudice include negative feelings, stereotyped beliefs, and a tendency to discriminate against members of the group.
  • While specific definitions of prejudice given by social scientists often differ, most agree that it involves prejudgments (usually negative) about members of a group.

Prejudice can be based upon a number of factors including sex, race, age, sexual orientations, nationality, socioeconomic status and religion. Some of the most well-known types of prejudice include:

  • Racism
  • Sexism
  • Classicism
  • Homophobia
  • Nationalism
  • Religious prejudice

Ways to Reduce Prejudice:

  • In addition to looking at the reasons why prejudice occurs, researchers have also explored different ways that prejudice can be reduced or even eliminated. Training people to become more empathetic to members of other groups is one method that has shown considerable success. By imaging themselves in the same situation, people are able to think about how they would react and gain a greater understanding of other people’s actions.

Other techniques that are used to reduce prejudice include:

  • Passing laws and regulations that require fair and equal treatment for all groups of people.
  • Gaining public support and awareness for anti-prejudice social norms.
  • Making people aware of the inconsistencies in their own beliefs.
  • Increased contact with members of other social groups.

What Have You Learned?

Our behavior is influenced by situational factors and each of us DOES have the capacity to resist group or authority pressure


Now that you have seen, now that you know . . . what will you do?

The history of the Holocaust teaches one of the greatest lessons about individual responsibility—the choice that we each have to act or not to act and the consequences of that decision. In other words, what you do matters.  In a century already threatened by an alarming rise in hatred and genocide amidst growing Holocaust denial, the choices that we as individuals make are critical to creating a more just and humane world.   (The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2015)


22 thoughts on “Social Psychology

  1. I read and understood that this elaborated on the different terms used to describe how you feel about yourself and the decisions you make based on the actions of other. for instance, being peer pressured can effect your self esteem. Whether or not you do what you are being ‘forced” to do, you are accountable for your own actions. Everyone who witnesses your behavior and around you has a role, bystander etc. I think that your perception on the world has an effect on your prejudice towards others.


  2. Read and understood. I still find the bystander effect to be shocking though I’ve come to understand it. I’m a fan of social psychology d/t social/behavioral experiments. Some of my favorite includes the Stanford Prison study, A Class Divided, cognitive dissonance experiment, Bobo Doll experiment, Good Samaritan experiment, etc.


  3. Read and mostly understood by connecting the topics/sections to real life situations. During the Holocaust, Jewish people would pretend to be German (not wearing their religious hats, claiming they were German), which is an example of conformity.


  4. Read and understood for the most part. Our personality is highly influenced by our environment. Many of the things like peer pressure, prejudice, stereotypes is a common thing that we see, maybe not a daily basis, but they are around our different environments.


  5. read and understood mostly every section. I believe that this type of psychology can be seen in many people in society anywhere


  6. Read and somewhat understood. I personally think prejudice is the most dangerous social aspect of humans. It can mislead kind people to be hostile toward a group of innocent people. For instance, Walt is kindhearted, but he was initially consumed with dislike towards Asians.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Read and somewhat understood a lot of it is just common knowledge stuff like prejudice, hindsight, accountability etc But i was confused on some parts as well like the power of social interpretation the wording didn’t make it clear

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We would love to think that prejudice and accountability is common knowledge but sadly we know from ignorance that that’s not always true


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: