S O C I A L P S Y C H O L O G Y
PSYCHOLOGY 242 Winter, 1996 R. L. TERRY, Ph. D.
SH 303; EXT. 7316
The field of psychology, defined generally as the scientific study of the thinking, feeling, and acting of individuals (i.e., individuals' behavior and its underlying mechanisms), is partitioned into a number of subdivisions. Each is characterized by its unique set of variables employed to explain behavior. For example, physiological psychology attempts to account for behavior in terms of neurochemical processes; developmental psychology emphasizes maturational and experiential influences which operate through one's life to affect behavior. Social psychology is a subdivision of psychology (and sociology) that attempts to identify the social, environmental, and cognitive correlates of our thoughts, feelings, and actions. As such, social psychology is a scientific disci-pline rather than a self-help field; however, applications to one's life are many.
The discipline of social psychology is the study of individuals in interaction with other indivi-duals, of individuals in interaction with groups, and of groups in interaction with other groups. The term, interaction, is well chosen, since it denotes mutual or joint influence. We will see that seldom, if ever, is there a situation involving more than a single element that is characterized by a simple, one-way type of relationship. That is, virtually all situations are complex to the extent that there are multiple directions of influence. Each element in a situation affects all other elements, or, to put that matter in different words, all elements are important.
The major implication this has for practical purposes is that when considering any situation, one must keep in mind the many types of influence. One can not conclude immediately that people behave the way they do because of their personalities, their motivational structures, the way they were raised, or their pattern of past experiences. It turns out that people sometimes behave the way they do largely because of the social situation in which they find themselves. Therefore, when one wishes to change some aspect of one's life, one had better look also to aspects of the situation rather than merely to the specific people who behave in the situation. In sum, situa-tional determinants of behavior may be stronger than, and may at times override, so-called "person" or dispositional factors.
Behavior which is characteristically human is social. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine any form of human behavior which is not in part socially determined or which does not influence the behavior of other people. Social psychology is the systematic application of basic psychological principles to human behavior. To be sure, many of our psychological principles have been gene-rated from lower animals in confined, carefully controlled laboratory settings. The problem of generalizing from this research to humans is a difficult one. We will have to decide which principles can be generalized, and how far they can be generalized. We will learn that people are not simply "bigger and better" than rats (as some psychologists have implied). And we will learn that social psychological principles have much to contribute to research with lower animals. Some important principles from the animal laboratory have had to be greatly modified or at least seriously qualified on the basis of social psychological research.
Much of the content we will cover in this course will not be entirely new to you. You know implicitly what is meant by interpersonal attraction, prejudice, aggression, group structure, prosocial behavior, etc. We will examine these and other phenomena from a systematic point of view. To a large extent, the course will be a selective review of the representative classic and contemporary literature in social psychology. This means that the treatments of the various con-tent areas will be empirical and theoretical rather than "common sense."
The serious student of social psychology should come away from the course with a greater appreciation of the role of social situational influences on human behavior and thought. It may be trite to say that we do not behave in public as we do in private, but the serious student should learn how vital this point is. It is hoped that this course will not only provide the student with broad, systematic conceptualizations for understanding social behavior, but also insights into how social behavior of one's own and of other people can be modified. An appreciation for social psychological abstractions as well as applications should result.
It is further hoped that the student will develop an appreciation for the benefits and short comings of social psychological research, as well as the ethical implications of human research. Sound decisions are predicated upon sound empirical bases, but there is an ethical price to be paid for laying such a basis.
We will look at a wide range of social behavior--from liking to disliking, helping to hurting, cooperating to exploiting, prejudice to esteem, education to propaganda--to discern what factors are influential. Some forms of social behavior are positive and some are negative. It is hoped that not only will the successful student understand the differentiating factors influencing all social behavior, but s/he will also act upon the value of improving the conditions for the performance of positive forms of social behavior.
We will look at intrapsychic or cognitive activity as well as overt behavioral activity in an attempt to discover how these two forms of activity influence each other. And we will discover how social factors are involved in both levels of functioning.
Because of the number of students enrolled in the class, a lecture format is mandated. There will be too many students to permit a discussion group or seminar, and we do not have the facilities to support a laboratory component. But, hopefully, you will feel free to contribute to the class presentations, and there will be opportunities to experience social psychological research vicariously.
This course has only the single prerequisite of satisfactorily completing a basic introductory psychology or sociology class. The course expectations will incorporate this prior background. We will also assume that you are able to read critically and to write intelligently and creatively. That is, your cognitive skills, but not your psychomotor skills, will be taxed in this course.
The textbook for this course is:
Aronson, E. (1995). The social animal (7th Ed.). New York: W. H. Freeman.
This is one of the most popular and highly acclaimed textbooks in social psychology. It is hoped that you will read for the information it provides and also for sheer enjoyment. It is written in an unusually personal style--almost informal. The advantages of such a writing style are obvious. A disadvantage is that the book does not give a complete picture of the scientific, research basis of contemporary social psychology. To help you appreciate the nature of social psychological research, a book of readings is assigned:
Aronson, E. (1995). Readings about The Social Animal (7th Ed.). New York: W. H. Freeman.
You will note that Aronson edited this book, also. He explicitly selected examples of classic and contemporary social psychological studies which illustrate the nature of basic and applied research. Although some of the readings are quite technical, you will not be penalized if you briefly skip over the esoteric sections, just as long as you get the main ideas from the readings. As for the main text, try to read the assigned selections from the reader with an open mind.
These books are available at the College Bookstore. Specific assignments follow. Be sure to complete the relevant materials before the day on which they are to be discussed. Additional assignments may be made where appropriate, so do not fall behind in your readings. It may not be too difficult to keep up in this course, but it will be hard to catch up. Class lectures will at most parallel the text; it is your responsibility to assimilate the text material.
As a point of caution, although much of the material may seem intuitively obvious to you, do not be led into a false sense of comprehension. The concepts are difficult, and the terminology is troublesome. This is not an easy course (although it is intended to be an enjoyable course). Full understanding can come only from diligent study.
There will be four (4) examinations in this course. The first three are scheduled during class on January 26, February 16, and March 22. These exams will be part objective (50 multiple choice items) and part essay (one short essay item). They will cover the material from the text, the reader, and class, and they will be mutually exclusive. The fourth examination will be scheduled during Exam Week. Half of this test (75 multiple choice items) will be devoted to material covered since the third exam, and the other half (75 multiple choice items) will cover the material since the beginning of the term. The fourth exam, in other words, will be an objective, comprehensive, cumulative final exam. The items will be designed to measure your acquisition of facts (knowledge), your ability to manipulate theoretical and empirical constructs (comprehension), and your ability to apply social psychological materials to new situations (application).
To give you an opportunity to go beyond the restrictions of the course and to apply some of the material covered, a term project is assigned. Briefly, an individualized activity is visualized in which you are to make an observation of some social phenomenon at Hanover (or anywhere else for that matter) and to discuss it from a social psychological point of view. The observation may be of some unique, one-time event (a personal experience; a specific campus happening) or some enduring, on-going phenomenon (regularly occurring feature of campus life).
You might discuss the possible social psychological reasons (antecedents) for the event. What led up to it? Why did or does it happen? What forces brought the event about? You might also discuss the possible implications (consequents) of the event. What effect does it have on you or the system? Any phenomenon can be selected as long as you can discuss it social psychologically, giving evidence that you have been a serious student in class. You should demonstrate such scholarship that the paper could never have been written by anyone who had not taken the course. This is a social psychology assignment, so the course material you bring to bear is more important than the event/ phenomenon analyzed. Use the event as a source of illustrations of important social psychological materials covered in the course. The evaluation will key on the amount and pertinence of the social psychological material incorporated in the paper. This will be an occasion for you to demonstrate your broad, if not deep knowledge of the theories, concepts, and research findings of social psychology.
The final product should be at least 2000 words, typed double space, and handed in no later than the beginning of the April 1st class (no fooling). A full letter grade will be deducted for each fractional day of tardiness (a day begins at the beginning of class).
In accord with College policies, consistent class attendance is expected, but emergency absences must be anticipated. Thus, you will be permitted up to three (3) class absences without penalty. Each additional absence will lower your final grade by 1/3 letter. Absences on examination days and days immediately preceding and following a recess will be counted double. There will be no distinction between an "excused" absence and an "unexcused" absence; to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, a cut is a cut is a cut (but check with me regarding crises or externally imposed conflicts).
The College's policy on academic honesty will be strictly enforced.
Performance evaluations will be computed from the four examinations, the term project, and class participation. The first three exams will each contribute 15% of the final grade. The final exam and the term project will each contribute 25% of the final grade. And class participation will count 5% of the final grade. Remember that excessive class absences can have a significant negative impact on your final grade. The following distribution of scores and letter equivalents will be employed:
Final Range Grade
90% or more A-; A
80% to 89% B-; B; B+
70% to 79% C-; C; C+
60% to 69% D-; D; D+
59% or less F
Schedule of Assignments
Jan 8-10 Introduction
Jan 12-17 Theories of Social Behavior Text: Chapter 1
Reader: Selection 1
Jan 19-24 Social Psychological Research Text: Chapter 9
January 26 FIRST EXAMINATION
Jan 29-Feb 5 Social Influence Text: Chapter 2
Reader: Selections 2-6
Feb 6-14 Attitude Formation & Change Text: Chapter 3
Reader: Selections 7-10
February 16 SECOND EXAMINATION
Feb 19-23 Social Cognition Text: Chapter 4
Feb 26-Mar 1 MIDTERM RECESS (no classes)
Reader: Selections 11-14
Mar 4-8 Self-Justification Text: Chapter 5
Reader: Selections 15-19
Mar 11-20 Hurting & Helping Text: Chapter 6
Reader: Selections 20-24
Mar 22 THIRD EXAMINATION
Mar 25-Apr 1 Prejudice & Discrimination Text: Chapter 7
Reader: Selections 25-30
April 1 TERM PROJECT DUE
Apr 2-12 Interpersonal Attraction Text: Chapter 8
Reader: Selections 31-35
Exam Week FOURTH EXAMINATION