In our daily endeavors, we go through social experiences that impact upon our behavior in major ways. The society itself is a conglomeration of many laws, moral obligations, and values that dictates how members should behave (Schueler, 1997). Though we may not agree with some laws set by society, we are forced to toe the line due to the repercussions that may follow.
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Apart from societal regulations, there exist a myriad of other social experiences that affects our behavior and interaction with others. For instance, marriage as a social institution greatly influences behavior in that married men are no longer expected to behave like school boys. Behavior can also be negatively affected by social experiences (Smith & Mackie, 2000). It is the purpose of this essay to examine some basic notions of human interaction through examining depression and alcoholism behaviors as influenced by social experiences.
Brief Overview of Human Interaction
According to Schueler (1997), “…behavior refers to the actions or reactions of persons or things in response to external or internal stimuli” (para. 2). Behavioral psychologists are of the opinion that social influences affect individual behavior, which in turn affects how such an individual interacts with significant others and with the environment (Haeffel, 2010).
Like other social species, individuals live and interact in groups, not mentioning the fact that they largely depend on these social groups for their own survival. There exists a multiplicity of reasons as to why individuals affiliate with each other to form groups (Smith & Mackie, 2000). For instance individuals may come together to raise funds for a sick relative or for business purposes.
Apart from the above stated reasons, it is evidently clear that many factors come into play to attract individuals to each other (Smith & Mackie, 2000). Some of these factors, according to the author, include proximity, similarity, interpersonal rewards, and physical attractiveness.
It is also imperative to note that social groups are founded on both dispositional and situational variables. According to Smith & Mackie (2002), dispositional variables entails the personalities, values, worldviews, and attitudes of the people that are interacting in a group, while situational variables comprise of the particular characteristics of the situation that interacts with particular characteristics of the individual or individuals to produce behavior.
Human behavior & Social Situations: The Case of Depression & Alcoholism
Depression can be described as a common mental disorder mostly characterized by mood swings, loss of interest, guilt feelings, lack of concentration, and feelings of low self-worth (WHO, 2010).
On the other hand, alcoholism can be described as prolonged and excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages that turns out to be injurious to ones health (Book & Randall, 2002). In both examples, human behavior is affected by particular social situations to occasion long-term problems as shown below.
Haeffel & Mathews (2010) posits that “…interpersonal theories of depression emphasize the importance of aversive interpersonal behaviors and decreased social support as risk factors for depression” (p. 282). The interpersonal theories presuppose that some individuals become more susceptible to depression due to a system of behavior that elicits rejection from the mainstream group.
Depressive symptoms are demonstrated as a natural reaction to loss of social support occasioned by the rejection. Here, rejection is the social influence that changes the behavior of an individual, and can be explained using the concepts of human interaction mentioned above.
Specifically, similarity and physical attractiveness factors are likely to contribute to rejection of an individual from a group. According to Smith & Mackie (2000), individuals tend to select their casual acquaintances, spouses, and friends based on some shared worldviews, beliefs, attitudes, and interests. According to the social exchange theory, having like-minded friends and acquaintances is a rewarding experience.
The precursor of depressive symptoms, therefore, can be described in terms of failing to get like-minded friends or being rejected by a group due to the fact that your attitudes and values do not match what the group stands for. One may also be rejected by a group due to his or her physical appearance. Depressive symptoms lead to high school dropout rates, family breakdowns, and suicide, among others (WHO, 2010).
Alcoholism is yet another anti-social behavior that is firmly grounded on social influences. Behavioral psychologists assert that group mentality is one of the leading causes of alcoholism and binge drinking (Book & Randall, 2002). Alcoholism, however, can be triggered by deep-seated psychological or emotional disturbances, but in most occasions, social influence is the likely culprit.
Associating with drinking friends may initially be aroused by the need to belong. According to Baron and Byrne (1994), individuals’ posses a great need to belong to a particular social group for purposes of mutual beneficence. This implies that a group should be able to guarantee more benefits than harm to individual members. Individuals will go to great lengths to make sure that they are not excluded by important others (Smith & Mackie, 2000).
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For instance, individuals may initially share an interest in watching football together as a group. Assuming that a particular football fan joins a football cheering group whose members like to take excessive alcohol as they cheer their team, the odds are that this new fan is more likely to fall into the trap of alcoholism as he or she attempts to do what it takes to avoid exclusion by the group.
In the alcoholism example, concepts of human interaction and attraction that may come into play to ensure that the new member is recruited into the activities of the group include proximity, interpersonal rewards, and similarity (Smith & Mackie, 2000).
Individuals are known to spend time with others due to the very simple reason of proximity, not mentioning the fact that individuals tend to select their spouses, friends and acquaintances from other individuals who reside in nearby environments. In western countries, members of drinking clubs are known to control particular pubs in the neighborhood, where they progress their own values, attitudes, perceptions, and drinking culture (Book & Randall, 2002).
The proximity of the pubs is important to the group, and acts as a glue to stick them together in taking alcohol. As such, new members of such groups often pay the price of getting intoxicated to alcohol to gain attention of other members of the group (Baron & Byrne, 1994).
Other individuals may join such groups to gain interpersonal rewards that may not be necessarily material (Smith & Mackie, 2000). This is inline with the social exchange theories, which opines that relationships are founded on reciprocal rewards. In a football cheering group, the interpersonal reward for engaging in alcohol may be as simple as being permitted to travel with the team in football sessions.
In all this, similarity in attitudes and value systems play a fundamental role in keeping the group of ‘alcoholics’ together. As the example reveals, the precursors of alcoholism behavior are firmly rooted in the need to belong to a particular group, the need to gain interpersonal rewards, and the convenience of proximity.
On the other hand, the consequences of the behavior are many and varied, ranging from family breakdowns to emotional breakdowns to health-related complications (Book & Randall, 2002). All in all, the two examples serve to demonstrate how human behavior changes based on social situations or experiences.
The only phenomenon that can be associated with the selected behaviors is groupthink. According to Smith & Mackie (2000), groupthink refers to a type of notion within an extremely cohesive in-group whose affiliates attempt to reduce conflict and reach compromise or consensus without significantly testing or appraising ideas.
This phenomenon forms the basis for an individual to engage in negative activities such as alcoholism basically because other members of the group are doing the same. In some instances, no rationale is used at all to engage in alcohol, and the only excuse offered is that one has to do what the other members of the group are doing to derive the sense of belonging. According to Smith & Mackie (2000) social facilitation and social loafing can only reinforce positive behaviors, which is not the case in the examples used. Conclusion
It is evidently clear that the exhibited behaviors certainly require therapeutic interventions. Both alcoholism and depressive behaviors are known to weigh heavily on the victims’ psychological, social, mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing, not mentioning the fact they present serious health risks to the individuals concerned and their families (Haeffel & Mathew, 2010; Book & Randall, 2002).
Depression can lead to suicide while alcoholism makes an individual to become socially unacceptable by the mainstream society. The victims of these conditions end up being dejected, and may turn their frustration to family members and other close relatives if necessary interventions are not put in place. As such, therapeutic interventions by a competent counselor are needed. In both cases, emphasis should be laid on the social influences that lead to the respective behaviors.
Baron, S.W., & Randall, C.L. (1994). Social psychology: understanding human interaction. Allyn & Bacon.
Book, S.W., & Randall, C.L. (2002). Social anxiety disorder & alcohol use. Alcohol Research & Health 26(1): 345-360.
Haeffel, G.J., & Mathew, A.R. (2010). Inside thoughts and outside influences: cognitive vulnerability moderates the effects of decreases in perceived social support on depressive symptoms. Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology 29(3): 281-300.
Schueler, G. (1997). Social influences of behavior. Web.
Smith, E.R., & Mackie, D.M. (2000). Social Psychology, 2nd Ed. E. Sussex: Psychology Press
World Health Organization. (2010). Depression. Retrieved from <https://www.who.int/>