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There are four major perspectives in social psychology. Let’s look at each perspective and how each one might approach a common question in social psychology.

Social Psychology Perspectives

Social psychology is the scientific study of how society affects the way individuals behave, think, and feel.

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That’s a pretty general definition, and as you might imagine, that covers a lot of things. For example, what happens to your behavior when you’re hanging out with your friends versus when you’re hanging out with your boss? How do you feel when you are in a situation where someone more powerful than you asks you to do something that you think might be unethical? What thoughts go through your head when you are paid to sell a product that you don’t believe in? All of these scenarios, and hundreds of others, are covered in social psychology.One thing that you might notice about the questions above is that there are many different ways to answer them. Take the example of selling a product you don’t believe in.

Some people might say that, over time, you might end up convincing yourself that the product is valuable. And, perhaps your thoughts change to reflect that. But, others might say that you don’t really believe, deep down, anything different. Instead, you’ve just changed your thought process to feel better about yourself, even though a part of you might never change.There are many ways to approach social psychology questions.

These approaches to social psychology are sometimes called perspectives. A few common perspectives in social psychology are social cognition, sociocultural, evolutionary, and social learning.Let’s take a common question in social psychology, such as what causes violent behavior, and examine it from each of these perspectives.

Social Cognition

Social cognition is a perspective that believes that we learn behaviors by the way we think about other people’s behaviors. Cognition is just a fancy word for thought process.The social cognition perspective says that we view and interpret other people’s behaviors.

We see the way people act, and then we judge their actions as good or bad. We might also change our belief system if, for example, we notice someone good doing something bad.Take the question above: what causes violent behavior? According to the social cognition example, we might see violence being acted out by cops in a violent movie or video game. We see their actions, and we think, ‘But wait! I thought violence was bad!’ That’s our judgment of their actions.Because our view of them as good guys isn’t in sync with our judgment of their violent behavior, we might change our beliefs slightly. We might say, ‘Well, I guess if you’re trying to stop someone from blowing up an office building in downtown LA, it’s okay to resort to violence against the bad guys.

‘In this way, we’ve learned to accept violence in certain situations. According to the social cognition perspective, this acceptance of violence opens the door for us to use violence.

Sociocultural Perspective

Another perspective that’s closely related to social cognition is the sociocultural perspective of social psychology. In the sociocultural perspective, our interactions with people around us teach us the social norms and rules.

These norms and rules then govern our behaviors.In the question of what causes violent behavior, someone from the sociocultural perspective would say that people learn violence when they see it in the interactions around them. For example, perhaps we grow up in a place where violence is accepted.

At school, a bully trips us as we walk by in the cafeteria, and instead of being outraged, the other students laugh and give the bully a high-five. If we have enough interactions like that, we will come to understand that the rules of society dictate that violence leads to popularity.

Social Learning

Closely related to the sociocultural perspective is the social learning perspective.

Social learning psychologists see behavior as imitation; that is, we imitate the people around us. The major difference in this and the sociocultural perspective is that in social learning, we’re not thinking about norms and rules of society; we’re just imitating behavior that we see from older children and/or adults.Social learning is very easy to understand if you ever spent time with a toddler.

They will imitate the people around them: saying the same things, standing in the same way, and even behaving the way adults and older children in the room behave. The social learning perspective explains violent behavior in terms of imitation – if we see Daddy hit the wall when he’s angry, we might imitate this behavior and hit the wall, too.

Evolutionary Perspective

A final perspective in social psychology deals with evolution. The evolutionary perspective looks at the way we behave in terms of biological processes that have developed to help us survive as a species.Again, let’s take the example of violence. From the evolutionary perspective, violence is a mechanism that has developed through many generations to help us survive. When faced with something that we find threatening, adrenaline pumps through our bodies, making us feel like fighting.

This is a direct response to danger that is in every human, and it can be seen as both the cause of much violence and the result of hundreds of thousands of years of violent people surviving to adulthood.

Lesson Summary

There are four major ways to approach problems in social psychology. Social cognition says that we learn behaviors by seeing, interpreting, and judging other people’s behaviors. The sociocultural perspective says that we learn society’s norms and rules through our interactions with others. Social learning explains behavior as imitation, and the evolutionary perspective says that our behavior is largely guided by biological processes that have developed to help us survive as a species.

Learning Outcome

After this lesson, you’ll be able to explain the ideas behind, similarities and differences of four social psychology approaches to explaining behavior: social cognition, sociocultural perspective, social learning and the evolutionary perspective.

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