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Introduction: What is social psychology?
Social psychology is a scientific discipline in which social scientists attempt to look at the influence of other people on an individual’s feelings, behavior, and thoughts. In most cases, the presence of other people in an individual’s surrounding is taken to be actual, implied, or imagined (Fiske, 2010, p. 4; Sanderson, 2010, p. 4).
In essence, social psychology revolves around the study of social influence, which is the impact of other human beings on others, and thus people tend to do what others (in their immediate environment) are doing at a given period in time. As a result, the human being(s) that influence one or more persons in the social set-up constitute a social situation.
Therefore, social situations can be anything from one person (bystander) to a group of people (students in a classroom). This paper seeks to analyze the core characteristics of social psychology before looking at the concept of situationism and its relevance to social psychology. Finally, the paper will look at the core social motives and their significance to the field of social psychology.
The core characteristics of social psychology
There are four core features of social psychology including broad scope, cultural mandate, scientific methods, and search for wisdom (Fiske, 2010, pp. 29-34). As noted in the foregoing discussions, the fact that social psychology entails the study of the social influence makes it have a broad scope in many aspects.
Here, it is important to note that social influence exists because people are always motivated to exist and/or comply with different social situations. For instance, social influence is the driving force behind fashion dynamics, career choices, politics, and sports among other human activities or behaviors.
Therefore, since social psychology aims at looking into each of these social activities relative to the conduct of the human beings involved, its scope is not limited to only a few items. As a result, for one to adequately cover the topic of social influence there is the need to break it down into manageable subcategories, which will then form the basis of scientific experiments and other investigations.
On the other hand, social psychology is culturally mandated in that its evolution/development is pegged on cultural changes, which in turn implies that people will devise different social motives in order to survive in the ever-changing/diverse cultures in the contemporary societies.
For instance, in the recent past, if one wanted to predict the behavior of another person, and in turn explain why the latter acted in whichever way, the explanation will be based on religion or tradition. However, with emergence of social sciences, human behavior can be examined and elaborated on the basis of scientific methods, theories, and hypotheses.
Simply put, social psychology and other social sciences provide various scientific explanations, which underpin social behavior and cultures in the contemporary society (Fiske, 2010, p. 33).
Further, scientific methods form the integral part of social psychology in that they aid the development of theories and their validation in order to provide the scientific understanding of human behavior. Moreover, the knowledge base informing social psychology is based on various aspects of the scientific methods including techniques, methodologies, analyses, and standards.
Finally, scientific methods supply the research strategies needed in social psychology. For instance, it is common practice for social psychologists to carry out experimental and observational research studies while observing some stipulated procedures and standards before making final statements about the influence of people on others (Fiske, 2010).
Accordingly, the goals and objectives of any research survey under the field of social psychology are based on the need to search for wisdom. Here, since social psychology intends to tackle practical social issues, it is obvious that the scientific knowledge put forth is meant to build on existing knowledge and making the whole society knowledgeable.
Most importantly, the practical implications of the knowledge gathered from scientific investigations form the key goal of almost all social psychology experiments.
Hence, it is widely believed that if people are made to understand how and why people influence others, perhaps the negative implications of social influence will be ameliorated at some point. Overall, the scientific knowledge obtained in social psychology fits into the much needed wisdom in the world today (Fiske, 2010).
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The concept of situationism underlies the scientific relevance of the social context in investigating social influence. Unlike the belief that social behavior is occasioned by individual personality, Fiske (2010, p. 7) posits that social behavior is a product of people’s immediate surroundings (social context).
Therefore, experiments conducted by Lewin and his students have shown that the impact of situations on social behaviors surpasses individual personalities. In most cases, situations tend to be democratic in that social situations will always influence all the people involved irrespective of their personalities. Therefore, social situations can be used to predict social behaviors.
Unlike ordinary people, social psychologists find situations to be more important than personalities in investigating people’s behavior because of various reasons. First, ordinary people tend to over-rely on personalities more than situations in explaining human behaviors. Secondly, it is widely accepted that the study of personality is a complex topic that should be studied as a single entity.
Moreover, personality theorists tend to disagree on the methods of measuring personality. Thirdly, the personality-based explanation of human behavior is deficient in terms of measuring/predicting specific behaviors in a random situation. Sometimes, situations and personalities taken together have been found to be more accurate in predicting specific behaviors.
Therefore, as scientists, social psychologists find it more appropriate to engage the concept of situationism in explaining and predicting behavior because it is a concept that is usually underestimated in most studies (Fiske, 2010, p. 10).
Core social motives
As noted earlier, for people to survive in a given group, there is the need to devise ways (social motives) that fit into the existing social situation. Therefore, social motives are the fundamental psychological processes, which inform people’s behaviors, feelings, and thoughts in the presence of other people. According to Fiske (2010), the major social motives are trusting, understanding, belonging, controlling, and self-enhancing.
These motives are the product of the interaction between personality and situations unlike other personality predispositions, which predict consistent behaviors irrespective of the underlying situations. Therefore, each of these core motives is important to social psychology because they inform different psychological analyses.
Here, studies have shown that a motive is the driving force behind the behavioral characteristics of a person existing in a given situation (life space). Furthermore, certain defining characteristics of a situation serve to facilitate or hinder the behavioral changes in a person (Fiske, 2010, p. 15).
Accordingly, the situational characteristics acquire either negative or positive values (Valence) depending on an individual’s perception of the situation.
Therefore, there is evidence to suggest that the social motives underlie situationism, which as earlier stated, is an important concept in social psychology. Moreover, social psychologists agree that a person’s motives characterize a psychological situation relative to that individual’s interpretations, and thus form the basis of situationism.
Accordingly, social motives are important in explaining, describing, and unifying various seemingly independent lines of psychological research in that they inform specific theories and research methodologies in social psychology (Fiske, 2010).
However, despite that the motives have not been adopted into research as a framework, there seems to be widespread acceptance of the five motives by both social and personality psychologists. As a result, there is the need to devise ways of incorporating these motives as a framework in future studies involving human behavior and social influence.
Fiske, S.T. (2010). Social beings: Core motives in social psychology (2nd ed.). River Street, Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Web.
Sanderson, C.A. (2010). Social psychology. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Web.