What is Social Psychology?
Welcome to this Highbrow course about social psychology. In each lesson, you’ll first discover an amazing fact about the human mind and then see how a carefully designed experiment was able to reveal that facet of human psychology.
Before getting into those studies, though, let’s take this opportunity today to get a better understanding of what social psychology is in the first place.
Some people think that psychology is just a bunch of mumbo jumbo. They think that we can understand people perfectly well by simply observing people’s behaviors in everyday situations. The reality is that psychology is a careful science relying on the scientific method and sophisticated statistics to understand how people really think.
So, how would we define “social psychology”? A good place to start is the definition given by Gordon Allport, a pioneer of social psychology:
The scientific study of the way in which individuals’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by the real or imagined presence of other people.
A few pieces of that definition are worth highlighting:
scientific study: Social psychologists use carefully designed studies and statistical analysis to understand questions of the mind. We don’t just sit around writing down observations and musings; we ask questions, collect data, analyze that data, and slowly understand whether these effects are reliable.
individuals: contrary to other disciplines like sociology, which look at societies as a unit, social psychology wants to know how individual people operate within social worlds.
thoughts, feelings, and behaviors: psychology is interested in all three of these things. They are interrelated, of course, but it’s important to understand the full range of human experience.
influenced by…other people: This is what makes it social psychology. At the core, the questions that social psychologists ask (vs. other psychologists) involve the ways in which social factors influence us. We’re social creatures by nature, so other people have a big impact on us!
To define social psychology by example, consider that all of the following (and more!) are topics that social psychologists study: persuasion, opinions, relationships, self-esteem, group decision-making, helping behavior, aggression, self-control, goals, conformity, prejudice, stereotyping, feelings of rejection, cooperation, perceiving other people, social memory, etc.
Over the next nine lessons, you will learn about new, fascinating insights about social psychology and the experiments that revealed them to us. These aren’t the classic studies you may already know about. I want to show you the quirkier side of psychology and get you thinking about how scientific methods can reveal the strange patterns that people follow.
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