It is important to understand social psychology as a sub-field of psychology. The focus is on the thought process and how it is linked to behavior. It is also a study on the impact of other factors that affect cognition and behavior, such as, the environment, culture, social interactions and biology.
A deeper understanding of social psychology enables researchers, ordinary students, and clinical practitioners to understand the science behind human behavior. Knowledge regarding social psychology is an indispensable tool when it comes to understanding human behavior and how to adapt and appreciate the complexities of human societies.
Psychology in the Real World
One way to understand social psychology is through the realization that psychology can be reduced to the theoretical. Therefore, it can reach a point where it is no longer practical and useful.
There is a place to study the abstract and complex ideas related to the human mind and how it functions, but it is also important to learn psychology in such a way that it can be applicable in the practical aspects of life. It would be helpful if parents learn how to cope with their children’s behavior. Business leaders would greatly appreciate the fact that they can understand the behavior of their employees.
It is also important to provide a reliable method of assessing human behavior and deal with the problems detected by psychologists and other members of the mental health profession. One way to understand social psychology is through the explanation found in Barron’s GRE psychology handbook where it was written that “social psychology connects sociology and clinical psychology” (Palmer & Thompson-Schill 178).
The authors clarified this statement by saying “whereas the sociologist is concerned with the study of groups and the clinical psychologist works with the concerns and problems of the individual, the social psychologists studies the behavior of the individual within the group and the effects of the group upon the individual’s behavior” (Palmer & Thompson-Schill 178). In other words the focus is on the individual but the psychologist cannot afford to study this person in isolation.
A more technical definition can be seen in the following remarks: “Social psychology is the scientific field that seeks to understand the nature and causes of individual behavior and thought in to social situations” (Baron, Byrne & Branscombe 1). There is a scientific method in understanding human behavior.
The core values are a) objectivity; b) accuracy; c) skepticism; and open-mindedness (Baron, Byrne & Branscombe 1). This is a systematic approach to understanding human behavior. But the researcher and psychologist always go back to the basics such as the different factors that exist in the external environment and the things that can be observed and felt by the individual.
Biological factors can be linked to the hormones that affect mood swings in a person’s life. It is a well-known fact that women experience a roller-coaster ride of emotions during ovulation periods and when they are pregnant. A hungry man usually exhibits a foul mood as opposed to the happiness demonstrated by a satiated person.
It is also impossible to dissociate a person’s behavior from his or her external world. It is a generally accepted idea that man does not exist in a vacuum. In this planet a human being is constantly in contact with fellow human beings. The social environment plays a major role in the behavior of the person.
The social environment influences a person to speak, walk and think in a certain way. Consider for instance the high crime rate in inner-cities. There is no denying the fact that there is a higher percentage of criminals that came from ghettos and other poor sections of the city as compared to a neighborhood with more affluent residents.
The cognitive process also plays a major role in shaping psychology and human behavior. For example, there are those who are vegetarians while others insist that it is much better to eat meat as opposed to a no meat diet. The difference in behavior and conviction can be traced to the type of information that they have accessed to and able to incorporate into their belief system.
The vegetarian understands the harmful effects of eating meat and privy to information relating to the livestock industry. A person who has knowledge regarding the inordinate amount of drugs and various chemicals injected into cattle can be persuaded to eat only vegetables and fruits. On the other hand the person who realized that no one can acquire the necessary vitamins and minerals from a strict vegan diet may decide to eat meat, poultry, fish etc.
Culture can be a byproduct of the other factors combined such as the cognitive process and social interactions. It is exposure to different elements that can be found in the social environment that enable a person to understand and imbibe a particular culture. Thus, this person behaves in accordance to a cultural context. Consider for instance the Japanese way of eating raw fish. In other cultures it is not acceptable to eat seafood without cooking them. But in the Japanese culture the consumption of raw fish and other delicacies is a sign of sophistication.
According to one commentary, “It is now accepted that we cannot understand behavior unless, right from the start we also consider people’s thoughts, memories, beliefs, attitudes, and intentions … in addition social psychologists have started studying the neutral foundation of social thought and behavior – the field of social neuroscience” (Baron, Byrne & Branscombe 1).
The cutting edge of social psychology is the realization that “behavior and cognition are seen as intimately and continuously linked” (Baron, Byrne & Branscombe 15). But it all begins with cognition.
The thinking process is the doorway that enables a person to process all the different factors that affect human behavior. Thus, it is critically important to focus on this so-called cutting edge of social psychology. Without cognition there is no way to process all these different variables.
For example, the social environment does not make sense without the aid of the cognitive process. The cultural context is nothing more than a set of disjointed variable that does not have meaning. It is the thought process of the individual that provides him the capability to make sense of it all.
The importance of social psychology is seen in the fact that it helps understand the way these social and cognitive factors are processed by the individual. For example, in the case of stereotyping and discrimination against a certain group of people, the cognitive process is initiated and completed automatically.
It is not enough to say that cognition and behavior goes hand-in-hand, it is also important to find out if there is a way to control, manipulate, enhance and adapt to this phenomenon. Thus, there must be a way to improve the behavior of a person when it is deemed destructive and unproductive. At the same time it is important to find out if there is a way to replicate good behavior.
An interesting advice column in The New York Times talks about falling in love, marriage, and the thorny issue of marital infidelity, divorce, and disillusionment. The distinctive reaction of people in this kind of situation is their surprise regarding the fact that they do not know their partners that well. It is also interesting to point out that their behavior and thought process were altered significantly after interacting with their spouse after a certain period of time (Dowd 1).
Another interesting advice column can be found in the lifestyle section of the Washington Post. In the said article the author talked about overprotective parents. She said that parents are driven by fear and therefore it is easy for them to act paranoid when it comes to their children’s safety. The fear stems from a cognitive process and not on the study of verifiable facts. Thus, thinking does not always means thinking scientifically. Behavior can be triggered by simply thinking about certain scenarios (Dickinson 1).
Finally, another interesting advice column can be found in the Daily Herald Tribune. In the said article someone sent the author a letter explaining his problem regarding discrimination. He had an accident that resulted in a disability. This disability made it impossible for him to find work. It is a classic example of how the thought process of employers led them to believe that this applicant cannot provide quality work for the organization. Their cognitive process automatically led them to discriminate against this person (Holder 1).
It has been pointed out that one of foundations of modern social psychology is the belief that cognition and behavior is linked together. This statement has been validated through a review of literature as well as an examination of various advice columns. In the advice columns from three major newspapers, one can find a common link which is the impact of the thought process on the behavior of the individual. It is important to point out that people behave based on a certain set of beliefs even if they are not fully aware of the facts.
Baron, Robert, Donn Byrne, and Nyla Branscombe. Social Psychology. PA: Pearson Education, 2006. Print.
Dickinson, Amy. “Ask Amy: Mom Livid Teenagers Rode in SUV Trunk.” Washington Post. 2011.
Dowd, Maureen. “An Ideal Husband.” The New York Times, 2008.
Holder, Tom. “Fight for Your Chance.” Daily Herald-Tribune. 2011.
Palmer, Edward and Sharon Thompson-Schill. Barron’s GRE Psychology. New York: Barron’s Educational Series, 2009. Print.