Social psychology is a scientific field that studies factors that influence an individual’s behavior, thoughts, and feelings in a social setting. In other words, how does our social environment (other people) influence our views, approach, and actions? How do we influence the proceedings, feelings, and thoughts of others? Unlike other scientific studies, which are concerned with the cause-effect relationship, social psychology further explains why individuals behave in a given way (Gundelfinger, Seidenbecher, and Schraven 6). In social psychology, the concept of a mediating variable between the independent and dependent variables arises prominently in terms of showing why a given action or situation leads to a given behavior or another. Baron and Branscombe’s book, Social Psychology, discusses the concept of mediating variables in the subtitle, ‘further thoughts on causality: the role of mediating variables’ (Baron and Branscombe 26).
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Just like other scientists, social psychologists use experimentation to determine if changes in one variable cause changes in other variables (Baron and Branscombe 26). However, they go a step further to answer the question of why changes in one variable cause changes in the other elements. For example, many studies on the effect of exposure to media or playing video games with violent content have found a causal link between such exposures and increased aggression in those who view media or play video games that have fierce contents (Baron and Branscombe 26). Applying social psychology in the same studies will involve going beyond the experimentation on the cause-effect relationship between exposure to violent media content and aggressive behavior.
Social psychologists have to study why exposure to violent media content leads to aggressive behavior. In this case, the study involves the investigation of other factors other than the independent variable that plays a key part in influencing the outcome of the dependent variable (Gundelfinger, Seidenbecher, and Schraven 24). For example, in the study of exposure to violent media content, social psychologists investigate factors such as thoughts and beliefs together with how such individuals perceive harming others as an acceptable or unacceptable social behavior (Baron and Branscombe 26). If such factors influence the outcome of the exposure to violent media content, they are referred to as mediating variables since they intervene between the independent variable and social thoughts and beliefs to determine the outcome of the dependent variable (Baron and Branscombe 26).
As a scientific body of research, theories play a very important role in explaining concepts in social psychology. Social psychology goes beyond a simple description of social behavior and the world to explain it (Gundelfinger, Seidenbecher, and Schraven 31). In terms of developing different explanations for social behavior, social psychology seeks to develop theories that can explain different events and processes, just like other bodies of science (Gundelfinger, Seidenbecher, and Schraven 26). This observation shows the important role that theories play in social psychology. The process of developing new theories for social psychologists does not differ significantly from other sciences. It includes five steps, as follows:
- Proposal for a theory that reflects the evidence in the existing research
- Bringing together basic concepts and statements and explaining how such concepts are related to helping the theory in terms of organizing the existing information to make predictions of observable events and behavior in a social setting
- Predictions that are made in the above stage are referred to as hypotheses, which are then tested by actual research to determine their consistency with the theory
- Determination of consistency of the results with the theory increases confidence in the theory’s accuracy. A determination of inconsistencies with the theory in the results of the actual research leads to modifications of the theory and further research.
- In the last step, considering the results of the actual research on the hypotheses of the study, a theory is deemed accurate or inaccurate. This result ultimately leads to its acceptance or rejection. Just like other scientific theories, social psychology theories are open for future improvements or more evidence to strengthen or even disapprove them.
The process of developing theories for social psychology is as comprehensive as other scientific theories in other fields. It involves an elaborate process of hypothesis testing, improving the theory, and retesting it until its consistency with the theory is beyond a reasonable doubt. The process guarantees its relevant use in the scientific body of social psychology (Baron and Branscombe 27). Without such an elaborate process, it will be difficult to have confidence in the theories. This situation might result in doubts about their applicability in the field.
Further, similar to other theories, social psychology theories are never proven in the end. However, they are left open for further testing and improvement. This gap can lead to more or less confidence in the theory or even, in some cases, their ultimate rejection. Therefore, just like other scientific fields, it is evident that social psychology uses processes and research methods that make it an authoritative field of scientific research in its own right.
Baron, Robert, and Nyla Branscombe. Social Psychology. Boston: Pearson Education, 2012. Print.
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Gundelfinger, Eckart, Constanze Seidenbecher, and Burkhart Schraven. Social Psychology as a Science. Berlin: Springer, 2006. Print.