Nature of social psychology
Social psychology is not only a branch of general psychology it is also considered as a basic social science.
I. Social Psychology as a Science
Social psychology is a science because it evaluates and provides explanations of human behaviour. Scientific method involves systematic and detailed attempts to which includes as follows.
i) The careful collection of observations or data (methodology),
ii) The ordered integration of these observations into hypothesis and scientific laws (theory building),
iii) Tests of adequacy of these laws in terms of whether they can be successfully predict future observations (Scientific experiment and observation).
Social psychologists almost exclusively rely on two types of research- basic and applied. The aim of basic research is to simply increase knowledge about social behaviour; however, applied research is designed to increase the understanding of,and finding solutions to real world problems by using current social-psychological knowledge. In their quest for insight, social psychologists propose theories that organize their observations and imply testable hypotheses and practical predictions.
To test a hypothesis, social psychologists may do research that predicts behaviour using correlational studies, often conducted in natural settings.Or they may seek to explain behaviour by conducting experiments that manipulate one or more factors under controlled conditions. Once they have conducted a research study, they explore ways to apply their findings to improve people’s every day lives.
II. Social Psychology: Focus on Individual Behaviour
The social thoughts and actions are taken by individuals.They might be influenced by the society.But the thought and actions are of the individuals, and not groups. The social psychology has a very strong focus on individuals, and tries to understand the behaviour of individuals. It also tries to understand various environmental influences on social thought and actions, viz.,Culture, social norms, etc. Still the focus of the social psychology enquiry is individual.
III. Understand Causes of Social Behaviour and Thought
Human social behaviour and thoughts are caused by many things. Social psychology would try to understand them. Some important factors are as follows:-
a) Actions and Characteristics of Other Persons
We are affected byvarious actions of others.Our behaviour often gets affected by
other’s behaviour, e.g,
(1) If you are walking in a market place and suddenly you see everyone running,without questioning you, you will also run and later on ask what happened,
(2) If in a party some body smiles at you, you will smile back even if you don’t know that person. Similarly another person’s looks, dress will also influence your behaviour towards that person.
b) Cognitive Process
Our thinking determines what we do in social circumstances.This is studied in the area of social cognitions. Cognition is our thinking process. Our behaviour is determined by what we think while judging another person;we heavily depend upon our memory, information- processing capacities. That is one reason why two people do not respond to the same situation identically. Since two different people think differently about the situations and social realities, they respond differently.
c) Ecological Variables
The physical world around us to a great extend determines our behaviour. Research findings indicate that physical environmental has tremendous impact on social behaviour, for example some people become more irritable and aggressive on hot and humid days, or when in crowd, similarly noise pollution and air pollution too effect our social behaviour adversely.
d) Cultural Context
The culture in which we stay or are born and brought updetermines our behaviour. Social psychologists view that social behaviour does not occur in a cultural vacuum. Culture is sum of values, beliefs, practices, art, language, etc. Every culture has a different belief and value system. For instance,marriage or preference of number of children are influenced by values and cultural norms.
e) Biological Factors
The biological factors influence our social behaviour. They can be understood as physiological factors and neurological factors, genetic factors, and evolutionary factors.The physiological factors contain hormones, functions of various glands, immune system,motor system, etc. The neurological factors include the brain structures, the neural cells (neurons), the neurotransmitters, etc.The genetic factor would contain the study of influence of geneson human behaviour. The evolutionary psychology focuses on explaining the social behaviour as a function of process of evolution. Psychologists like Buss (1990), Nisbett (1990) believe that genetic factors strongly influence our social behaviour like our preferences, behaviours, emotional reactions and even attitudes and values.