You meet people every day and you form impressions about them. You interact with different individuals in different ways. The behaviour that you exhibit and your way of thinking also greatly changes depending upon your cultural and societal background. Why does all this happen or rather, how does it happen, even without us knowing that we do this? This is what Social Psychology is all about.
Social Psychology is the scientific study of how people’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours are influenced by the actual, imagined or implied presence of others, according to Gordon Allport, one of the pioneering minds in the field of this scientific study. By this definition, scientific refers to the empirical method of investigation. The terms thoughts, feelings, and behaviours include all of the psychological variables that are measurable in a human being. The statement that others may be imagined or implied suggests that we are prone to social influence even when no other people are present, such as when watching television, or following internalised cultural norms. Therefore it is important because it attempts to answer a variety of questions about our behaviour, thoughts and feelings and simply put, why we do the things that we do.
Among the factors that contribute to the importance of social psychology is the fact that it states, that our behaviour is goal-oriented. Essentially our behaviour and interactions are there to fulfil needs. Some common goals or needs include the need for social ties, the desire to understand ourselves and others, the wish to gain or maintain status or protection, and the need to attract companions. Therefore, it says that the way we behave is always driven by our desire to fulfil something. We seek friends, romantic partners, strive to achieve recognition and social status, and understand the motivations that guide the behaviours of others.
To comprehensively understand why we do what we do, we have to look at the individual characteristics, the situation, the context of the behaviour, and the interaction between these two variables. In many instances, people behave very differently depending upon the situation. For example, how can an introverted person assume a leadership role with ease? Why do people behave differently within a group, as compared to how they would behave when they are on their own? Social psychology states that environmental and situational variables are pivotal components of our behaviour. The importance of social psychology in this aspect is, therefore, in helping understand how to analyse situations and behave accordingly.
Our perception and our self-concept are both formed by our social interactions. One method of forming our self-concept is through the reflected appraisal approach, where we imagine how other people may see us. Another way would be through the social comparison process where we think about how we compare to people in our groups. Sometimes we do this comparison in an upward manner where we essentially rate ourselves, against people who are far more accomplished than we are. On other occasions, we may engage in downward social comparison where we contrast our abilities against those who are less able than us.
In a process called attribution, we often try to analyse the behaviours of others. Why did they get angry? Was it something within them like an anger management issue, or did it simply stem from the situation that they were put in?
Another main importance of social psychology is that it attempts to decode and demystify love, a powerful human emotion that has baffled scientists through millennia and continues to. Through various theories that have been dominant through time, psychology attempts to at least understand what love is, why we fall in love and whether there is really something outside of science within the emotion.
So if you are wondering why studying social psychology is so important, the answer, in a nutshell, is that it helps you retain better control over your actions and also helps you understand the actions of others better. This could potentially help deal with a varied group of individuals be it at work, during studies or within your own home. Interested to study social psychology? Then why not enrol on our accredited programme on social psychology and start gaining the skills to help you navigate your social surroundings with more ease?