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Yet, despite this fac t, most focus mainly on understanding how and why individuals behave, think, and feel as they do in social situations ones involving the actual presence of other people, or their symbolic presence. Accordingly, social psychology is the scient ific field that seeks to understand the nature and causes of individual behavior , feelings, and thought in social situations. Another way to put this is to say that social psychology investigates the ways i n which our thoughts, feelings, and actions are influenced by the social environ ments in which we live by other people or our thoughts about them (e.g., we imagin e how they would react to actions we might perform). Social Psychology Is Scientific in Nature the term science does not refer to a s pecial group of highly advanced fields. Rather, it refers to two things: (1) a set of values and (2) several methods tha t can be used to study a wide range of topics. In deciding whether a given field is or is not scientific, therefore, the critical question is, Does it adopt the se values and methods? To the extent it does, it is scientific in nature. To the extent it does not, it falls outside the realm of science. the core values that all fields must adopt to be considered scientific in nature. Four of these are most important: Accuracy: A commitment to gathering and evaluating information about the world ( including social behavior and thought) in as careful, precise, and error-free a manner as possible. Objectivity: A commitment to obtaining and evaluating such information in a mann er that is as free from bias as humanly possible. Skepticism: A commitment to accepting findings as accurate only to the extent th ey have been verified over and over again. Open-mindedness: A commitment to changing one s views even views that are strongly h eld if existing evidence suggests that these views are inaccurate. Social psychology, as a field, is deeply committed to these values and applies t hem in its efforts to understand the nature of social behavior and social though t. For this reason, it makes sense to describe it as scientific in orientation. In contrast, fields that are not scientific make assertions about the world, and about people, that are not put to the careful test and analysis required by the values listed above. In such fields ones like astrology and aromatherapy intuition, faith, and unobservable forces are considered to be sufficient (see Figure 1.2) for reaching conclusions the opposite of what is true in social psychology. Social Psychology Focuses on the Behavior of Individuals Societies differ greatly in terms of their views concerning courtship and marria ge, yet it is still individuals who fall in love. Similarly, societies vary grea tly in terms of their overall levels of violence, yet it is still individuals wh o perform aggressive actions or refrain from doing so. The same argument applies to virtually all other aspects of social behavior, from prejudice to helping: t he actions are performed by, and the thoughts occur in, the minds of individuals , although they may, of course, be strongly influenced by other people. Because of this basic fact, the focus in social psychology is strongly on individuals. S ocial psychologists realize, of course, that we do not exist in isolation from s ocial and cultural influences far from it. As we will see throughout the book, muc h social behavior occurs in group settings, and these can exert powerful effects on us. But the field s major interest lies in understanding the factors that shap e the actions and thoughts of individuals in social settings. Social Psychology Seeks to Understand the Causes of Social Behavior and Thought
Be honest: Don t you behave differently toward highly attractive people than towar d less attractive ones? Toward very old people compared to young ones? Toward people who belong to racial and ethnic groups different from your own? An d don t you sometimes form impressions of others personalities and traits from thei r appearance? Your answer to these questions is probably yes because we do often react to the others visible characteristics. however. What it means is that social psychologists are primarily interested in understan ding the many factors and conditions that shape the social behavior and thought of individuals their actions. you may blush with pleasure when you see someone looking at you in a let s get to know each other better kind of way. If your friend is often late and has used this ex cuse before. Hassin & Trope. We are . we are often strongly a ffected by other people s appearance even if we are unaware of such effects and migh t deny their existence (see Chapter 7). Depending on your own personality. THE ACTIONS AND CHARACTERISTICS OF OTHER PEOPLE: Imagine the following events: You are at a party when you notice that a very attractive person is looking at y ou and smiling. the heading of this section states the most central aspect of ou r definition. perhaps. your reactions in this situation will depend strongly on your memories of y our friend s past behavior and your inferences about whether her or his explanatio n is really true. & Gosling. if this is the first time your friend has been late. In fact. Situations like this one call attention to the fact that cogni tive processes play a crucial role in social behavior and social thought. McCall. Twe nge & Manis. Vazire. they can be relatively accurate. feelings. whic h occur hundreds of times each day. your friend said. 2009). we are also often affected by others appearance. and then. In co ntrast. and this pe rson is late. There was a big accident. S o despite warnings to avoid judging books by their covers. Finally. she or he does appear and says. Hey.. Suddenly. up ahead. fall under the four major headings described below. rather than in posed photos (Nauman.g. In fact. Interestingly. you will almost certainly slow down a lot! Instances like these.. And when you spot the state trooper s bli nking light.In a key sense. you may accept it as true. and the traffic was tied up for miles. Most. or if your friend h as never used such an excuse in the past. 2011). a huge number of variables play a role in this regar d. you may be suspicious about whether this explanation is true. Obviously. 1997. & Little. Sorry I forgot all about meeting you until a few minutes ago. Roberts. indicate that other people behavior often has a powerful impact upon us. Will these actions by other people have any effect on your behavior and thoughts ? Absolutely. and inferences concerni ng other people. such as their appearance (e. though. Puts. you see the blinking lights of a state trooper who is in the process of pulling another driver over to the side of the road.g. Now how will you react? Probably with les s annoyance but not necessarily. research findings indicat e that relying on others appearance as a guide to their characteristics is not al ways wrong. as you probably already guess. Burriss. go over and say hello. it plays an important role in dating and r omantic relationships (e.g. 2000) indi cate that we cannot ignore others appearance even when we consciously try to do s o and. 1998). In other wo rds. I m so sorry to be late. let s get acquainted ! You are in a hurry and notice that you are driving faster than you usually do abov e the speed limit. COGNITIVE PROCESSES Suppose that you have arranged to meet a friend. in fact.. How will you react? Probably with annoyance. research findings (e. memories. In fact. Welling. Rentfrow. after 30 minutes you begin to suspect that your friend wi ll never arrive. especially when we can obs erve others behaving spontaneously. in fact. beliefs. this person is looking at you in a way that leaves little room for inte rpretation: that person is sending a clear signal saying. Imagine that ins tead. In addition.
Schmitt & Buss. 20 . Social psychologists are well aware of the importance of such processes and. because the characteristics they show symmetrical facial features. 2003). The view that biological factors play an important role in social behavior comes from the field of evolutionary psychology (e. Buss. has been subject to the process of biological evolution through out its history. 1997).g. Why do we find some people attractive? According to the evolutionary perspective. and that as a result of this process. behaviors. Buss & Shackelford . and therefore good mates (e.always trying to make sense out of the social world. although social experiences too have a powerful effect... Rotton & Cohn. The result is that over time. Schmit t.g. and this basic fact leads us to engage in lots of social cognition to think long and hard about other people w hat they are like. and so on (e. come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes.. at least to the genetic part of this question. Baek. & Chun. 2008). This change in the characteristics of a species over time immensely l ong periods of time is the concrete outcome of evolution. 2001. and even attitudes are affected. clear skin. Nisbett. as you already know. indeed. how they might react to our behavio r. and vary on wh at sometimes seems to be an almost countless number of dimensions.g.g. Greene.g. Variation refers to the fact that organisms belonging to a given species vary in many different w ays. however. involves three basic components: variation. too. Shaver. shapely bodies. Fiske. Li & Kenrick. Burriss et al. Now. Shah. well-toned. in turn. For instance. (See Figure 1. & Abrevaya. we now possess a large nu mber of evolved psychological mechanisms that help (or once helped) us to deal w ith important problems relating to survival. 2000)? Does exposure to a pleasant smell in the air make people m ore helpful to others (Baron. in fact. This new branch of psychology suggests that our species. and selection. 2011)? Research findings indicate that the physical environment does i ndeed influence our feelings. 2009. these characteristics the ones we fin d attractive indicate that the people who show them have strong immune systems th at protect them from many illnesses (e. Tesser & Martin. 2004. and often inte ract with genetic factors in generating the complex patterns of our social lives (e. Human beings. 1997).. which. & Baum.4 for a su mmary of this process. Tim merman. BIOLOGICAL FACTORS Is social behavior influenced by biological processes and gen etic factors? In the past. such variation is a basic part of life on our planet. find mates.. 1990. Inheritance refers to the fact that some of these variations can be passed from one generation to the next through complex mechanisms that we are only now begin ning to fully understand. 1985)? Do we become more irritable and aggressive when the weather is hot and steamy than when it is cool and comfortable (Bell. 2008. 2004). and behavior.. why they do what they do. by our biological inheritance (Buss. Carton. emotions. to some extent. most social psychologists would have answered no. and pass these variations on to succeeding genera tions. For instance. 1998. conside r the question of mate preference. Gillath. Swann & Gill. 1996). lustrous ha ir are associated with good genes they suggest that the people who possess them are li kely to be healthy and vigorous. thoughts. Fisher. Killeya & Johnson. ENVIRONMENTAL VARIABLES: IMPACT OF THE PHYSICAL WORLD Are people more prone to w ild impulsive behavior during the full moon than at other times (Rotton & Kelley . 2011. 1997) and does that occur on baseball playing fiel ds as well in crowded and largely unconditioned sections of cities (Larrick. so these variables.g. many have come to beli eve that our preferences. like all other s on the planet. social cognition is one of the most important areas of research in the fie ld (e. 2001. inheritance. c ertainly fall within the realm of modern social psychology. How do these become part of our bio logical inheritance? Through the process of evolution.) Social psychologists who adopt the evolutionary perspective suggest that this pr ocess applies to at least some aspects of social behavior. Selection refers to the fact that some variations give the individuals who possess them an edge in terms of reproduction: they are more likely to survive. more and more members of the species possess these variations.
this. but they are clearly only one factor among many that influence how we think and act.g. what is viewed as attractive changes over time and is often very d ifferent in diverse cultures (e. and so on. T hese tendencies can be and often are overridden by cognitive factors and the effects of experience (i. at least in the past. Here . we have tendencies to behave in certain ways that. and one that is perhaps a bit more surprising.. (2009) found that people are more likely t o use humor and laugh at humor by others when they find these people attractive than when they do not. 2004).g. The Search for Basic Principles in a Changing Social World One key goal of scien ce is the development of basic principles that are accurate regardless of when o r where they are applied or tested. learning. and at all times now. While they don t usually develop elegant mathematical expressions or equation s. For instance. Presumably.06). For instance. rather. This is a relatively trivial example. too. and how should they be t reated after they do? Cultures differ tremendously in these and countless other . Social psychologists. in physics. first impressions of other people. prejud ice. Buss. Rather.g. But another possi bility is that a sense of humor signals something else: interest in forming new relationships. in press).5). Einstein s equation e = mc2 is assumed to be true everywhere in the universe. and this tends to make humorous people attractive after al l. So yes. more formal dressy attire is stil l expected in other cultures. and we ll describe this research in other chapters. they do want to uncover the basic principles that govern social life. Pettijohn & Jungeberg. aggression. preferences for various ways of attracting people who are al ready in a relationship). it is a sign that the humorous person is availabl e and interested. however. even today. On the other hand. seek such basic princip les. a preference for characteristics associated with good health an d vigor among our ancestors increased the chances that they would reproduce succ essfully.6)? At what age should people retire. depending on the environments in which we live. it merely suggests that because of our genetic inheritance. For ins tance. Why? From an evolutionary point of view. and in the future. 2008). genetic factors p lay some role in our behavior and thought. While casual is accepta ble in almost all contexts in the United States. Griskevicius et al. enhanc ed the chances that our ancestors would survive and pass their genes on to us. we wish to emphasize the fact that the evolutionary perspective does not suggest that we inherit specific patterns of social behavior. Similarly.e... Research by Li et al. helping. it con tends that we inherit tendencies or predispositions that may be apparent in our overt actions. they recognize the fact that cultures differ greatly and that the social world in which we live is constantly changing in very important ways. what is it about humor that makes it a desirable characteristic in others? One possibility is that a sense of humor sig nals high intelligence. and that they perceived people who used humor during spee d dating sessions as showing more romantic interest than ones who did not (see F igure 1. overweight women are particularly desirable in Nigeria but less so in contemporary North America). this p erspective does not suggest that we are forced or driven by our genes to act in sp ecific ways. they have good genes (e.. too: Should teenagers be allowed to date and meet without adult supervision? At what age should marriage occur? Are gifts to public officials acceptable or illegal bri bes (see Figure 1. In other words. helping others. Other topics have been studied from the evolutionary perspective (e. both genders but especially women rate a sense of humor high on the list (e . cultures vary greatly with respect to when and where p eople are expected to dress up rather than dress casually. When asked to indicate the characteristics in potential romantic partners that they find de sirable. in the past. For instance. in turn.. Here s another example. contributed to our preference for people who possess th ese aspects of appearance.g. And the research they conduct is designed to yield such knowledge basic principles that will be true across tim e and in different cultures.. they d like to determine what factors influence attraction. but the same point applies to more important aspects of social life.
the goals of social psychological res earch remain within reach: uncovering basic. 2010).ways. and biological factors. the basic pr inciples of persuasion. environmental. typically. & Watts. and it takes careful note of the fact that social behavior and thought are influenced by a wide range of social. In addition. behavior. The remainder of this text is devoted to describing some of the key findings .. cell phones. people now meet potential romantic partners in different ways than in the past when. the same basic principles apply: Physical attractiveness i s still a basic ingredient in romance. Mason. too. It seeks to a ccomplish this goal through the use of scientific methods. chur ches. or other social organizations. and although influence is now exerted in many ways not possible in the past (e.g. accurate principles of social behavior and social thought is complicated by the existence of huge cultural dif ferences and rapid changes in social life. online dating. they were introduced by friends or met at dances arranged by their schools. Does this mean that the foundations of attr action are different today than in the past? Social psychologists believe that d espite these changes. and this complicates the task of establishing general principles of social behavior and social thought. In short. Social Psychology: Summing Up In sum. pop-ads on the Internet). and many other changes. social psychology focuses mainly on unders tanding the causes of social behavior and social thought on identifying factors th at shape our feelings. cognitive. and thought in social situations. cultural. accurate facts about the social sid e of life that do apply in a wide range of contexts and situations. the social world is changing and very rapidly. although the task of identifying basic. too. Because of socia l networks. remain much the same (Goel.
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