Social Psychology and Major Social Psychological Theories

major Social psychological theories

Define Social Psychology. Also explain major Social psychological theories.

Social Psychology:

According to psychologist Gordon Allport, social psychology is a discipline that uses scientific methods “to understand and explain how the thought, feeling and behavior of individuals are influenced by the actual, imagined or implied presence of other human beings” (1985).

Social psychology looks at a wide range of social topics, including group behavior, social perception, leadership, nonverbal behavior, conformity, aggression and prejudice. It is important to note that social psychology is not just about looking at social influences. Social perception and social interaction are also vital to understanding social behavior.

Major Social Psychological Theories:

  1. 1.   Psychoanalytic Theory

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) is the founder of psychoanalytic theory. This theory assumes that every person has a given amount of vital psychic or mental energy called libido energy. The libido, the source of this psychic energy and the various channels through which it is expressed, are of utmost importance to personality development. It claims, the mind is divided into two parts, the conscious and the unconscious. The mind is like an iceberg, with the conscious part represented by the portion of the iceberg above the water. That part of the mind of which the individual is aware includes all the information that can be recalled from memory, but even so is much smaller than the unconscious. The unconscious part of the mind consists of emotions, desires, instincts, and knowledge of which the person is not aware. Yet it has an influence on individual’s behaviour.




  1. 2.   Social Learning Theory:

There are a large of number of theories based on the principles basic principles of social-learning theory but for our purpose we will present the basic principles of social-learning theory from which the more specific theories have been derived. Behaviourism is the traditional term used for social-learning theory. Social-learning theory argues that theories of human behaviour must be built on observable events and processes, and reject unobservable mentalistic concepts and processes such as the id, ego, repression, and so on. This theory does not deny the existence of such processes but argues that, because they are unobservable, they are useless in explaining human behaviour. Rather, relationships between observable conditions in the individual’s environment and observable behaviours are the subject matter of social-learning theory.

  1. 3.   Social exchange Theory:

Social-exchange theory is based on learning theory. This theory explains social behaviour in terms of the mutual reinforcement people exchange with each other. It explains how individuals seek to initiate exchanges with others by weighing the “profit” they would anticipate from potential changes with alternative partners. Profit is determined in light of the investment a person must have to be eligible to enter the S        exchange, the costs he or she has to pay, and the reward obtained. If investment, say education; and costs, say time expended; are high, then reward must be high for the exchange to be profitable. The basic principle of exchange theory is that behaviour performed in exchanges that have been profitable in the past will increase in frequency, and those from unprofitable exchanges will decrease. Social-exchange theory attempts to explain social behaviour and thus at times utilizes mental processes to explain the behaviour in question. The existence of a memory and the ability to recall it is inherent in the notion of a history of past reinforcement. Also, the individual’s calculation of the profit level of potential exchanges implies mental processes because possible outcomes are predicted. The heavy reliance on the established principle of learning theory, dified by the inclusion of limited mental processes, has made social-exchange theory -1ry popular as an explanation of social behaviour.

  1. 4.   Cognitive Theory

Cognitive theories of human behaviour stress mental processes, such as – rrceptions, knowledge, ideas, and expectations, as the major determinants of behaviour, “he processes of gathering information, giving it meaning, organizing it into knowledge, .ad similar mental activities are seen as the most important component of human shaviour. The un-observable nature of these mantel events has hindered the empirical isting of cognitive theories. Their existence has to be inferred from behaviours that can e measured, and such inferences are frequently difficult. A number of cognitive theories f behaviour have been developed, but w„e will limit our review to the two most widely Jiscussed theories: symbolic-interaction and cognitive-consistency theory.

  1. 5.   Symbolic-interaction Theory

This theory emerged in the early nineteenth century having roots in philosophy, psychology, and sociology. George Herbert Mead (1934) was the most influential spokesperson of this theory. The focus of the theory is upon human social interaction. Social interaction, the theory assumes, can best be understood by studying humans because people evidently possess the ability to perform the process of thinking, reasoning, and planning, which is not possessed by other animals. Thus, the theory calls attention to cognitive processes and therefore has a psychological base. The approach is likewise very sociological because one of its major concerns is to understand the cooperative dimension of human social behaviour, which was the essence of society in Mead’s view. Human cooperative behaviour is different from cooperative behaviour in animals, which is controlled by instincts. Society (cooperative behaviour) is made possible precisely because humans possess the higher mental process and therefore live in a symbolic world as well as a physical world. Unlike animals, which respond to stimuli directly, people respond to stimuli mediated by their symbolic world. The stimuli impinging upon people are given meaning through cognitive processes and then are responded to according to the attached meaning. This theory suggests that people mentally explore the possible reactions- of others to specific behaviours and use this information to decide how to act toward other people. People, unlike animals, possess the ability to experience themselves in their imaginations. Through role taking, a person places himself or herself in another person’s social role and imagines the other’s reaction to the planned course of action. For example, a person can mentally role play how a teacher, spouse, or friend would feel about a particular behaviour or act in order to decide if the behaviour will likely achieve the desired effect. If the response of the other is similar to what was anticipated, then the other’s behaviour is said to have social meaning. Out of this role taking process cooperative behaviour emerges, and society is created. The degree of consensus between anticipated and actual behaviour is usually quite high but generally is not perfect. Social interaction that always achieves total agreement between anticipated and actual responses would probably be boring however, little or no overlap would produce anarchy or chaos, and cooperation could not occur. Social interaction is ‘seen by this theory as occurring within a common definition of the situation. The role taking occurs within the context of a perceived social setting (tennis game, marriage, or school) and surrounding environment (a ground, home, or street). It assumes that even if the definition of the situation does not reflect social reality, the consequences are real for the people involved. Thus if members of a group believe that another group hates them, then the first group will probably attack the other even though in reality there is no hatred.

  1. 6.   Cognitive-Consistence Theory

Cognitions are those things that each of us uses to make sense out of our everyday worlds. It includes our perceptions — how we perceive and code events and experiences that occur around us as well as the knowledge, opinions, and beliefs, that we hold about ourselves, about our behaviour, and about our environment. The question of how these interdependent cognitive elements, organized together into larger whole has been one of the primary concerns of consistency theory. The assumption that has influenced the majority of the work in this area is that each individual attempts to establish and maintain some degree of consistency or balance among those cognitions that are related to each other. For example, if I am strongly convinced that there is a direct link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer, it would be inconsistent for me to smoke cigarettes. Similarly, if I were to observe a close friend — whom I have previously attributed characteristics of honesty and morality — shoplifting, i would experience inconsistency among related cognitive elements. This theory has the belief that individuals will tend to behave in ways that minimize the internal inconsistency among their interpersonal relations, their intra-personal cognition, and their beliefs, feelings, and actions. The consistency principle holds that the individual does not attempt to behave in ways that would be consistent to his or her own observation. These theories also assume that when inconsistency occurs it is an uncomfortable state. Consequently, it creates pressure within the individual to eliminate or reduce it. Inconsistency or imbalance thus has a motivational quality and may be a major force for attitudinal or behavioural change in the individual. There are numerous areas in which cognitive-inconsistency can occur.

1.       When’ logical inconsistency exists. For example, I believe that all men are mortal but that I, a man, will live forever.

2.       When there is a conflict between actions and self-definitions or cultural mores, for example, I may consider myself a relatively mild mannered and self-controlled professor. If I hit a student in the class, I would feel some psychological imbalance because of my action and my definition of self.

3.       When there is an inconsistency between a cognition and a more encompassing cognition. For example, if I am a secular man but voted a religious political party in the elections. This behaviour would be inconsistent on my part.

4.       When inconsistency is created by conflict between present and past experiences. For example, a person who just stepped on the thumbtack with bare foot but felt no pain. The cognitive elements of stepping on tack but feeling no pain simply do not follow.

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