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Whether you prefer a slim or a voluptuous body depends on when and where in the world you live.

Whether you prefer a slim or a voluptuous body depends on when and where in the world you live.

The power of the situation is also dramatically evident in varying attitudes regarding same-sex relationships. Tell me whether you live in Africa or the Middle East (where most oppose such relationships) or in western Europe, Canada, or Australia/New Zealand, and I will make a reasonable guess as to what your atti­ tude is about these relationships. I will become even more confident in my guess if I know your educational level, the age of your peer group, and the media you watch. Our situations matter.

Our cultures help define our situations. For example, our standards regarding promptness, frankness, and clothing vary with our culture.

• Whether you prefer a slim or a voluptuous body depends on when and where in the world you live.

• Whether you define social justice as equality (all receive the same) or as equity (those who earn more receive more) depends on whether your ideol­ ogy has been shaped more by socialism or by capitalism.

• Whether you tend to be expressive or reserved, casual or formal, hinges partly on your culture and your ethnicity.

• Whether you focus primarily on yourself—your personal needs, desires, and morality—or on your family, clan, and communal groups depends on how much you are a product of modern Western individualism.

Social psychologist Hazel Markus (2005) sums it up: “People are, above all, mal­ leable.” Said differently, we adapt to our social context. Our attitudes and behavior are shaped by external social forces.

Personal Attitudes and Dispositions Also Shape Behavior Internal forces also matter. We are not passive tumbleweeds, merely blown this way and that by the social winds. Our inner attitudes affect our behavior. Our political attitudes influence our voting behavior. Our smoking attitudes influence our sus­ ceptibility to peer pressure to smoke. Our attitudes toward the poor influence our willingness to help them. (As we will see, our attitudes also follow our behavior, which leads us to believe strongly in those things we have committed ourselves to or suffered for.)

Personality dispositions also affect behavior. Facing the same situation, differ­ ent people may react differently. Emerging from years of political imprisonment, one person exudes bitterness and seeks revenge. Another, such as South Africa s Nelson Mandela, seeks reconciliation and unity with his former enemies. Attitudes and personality influence behavior.

Social Behavior Is Biologically Rooted Twenty-first-century social psychology is providing us with ever-growing insights into our behavior’s biological foundations. Many of our social behaviors reflect a deep biological wisdom.

Everyone who has taken introductory psychology has learned that nature and nurture together form who we are. As the area of a rectangle is determined by both its length and its width, so do biology and experience together create us. As evolu- tionary psychologists remind us (see Chapter 5), our inherited human nature predis­ poses us to behave in ways that helped our ancestors survive and reproduce. We carry the genes of those whose traits enabled them and their children to survive and reproduce. Our behavior, too, aims to send our DNA into the future. Thus, evo­ lutionary psychologists ask how natural selection might predispose our actions and reactions when dating and mating, hating and hurting, caring and sharing. Nature also endows us with an enormous capacity to learn and to adapt to varied environ­ ments. We are sensitive and responsive to our social context.

9Introducing Social Psychology Chapter 1

If every psychological event (every thought, every emotion, every behavior) is simultaneously a biological event, then we can also examine the neurobiology that underlies social behavior. What brain areas enable our experiences of love and contempt, helping and aggression, perception and belief? Do extraverts, as some research suggests, require more stimulation to keep their brain aroused? When shown a friendly face, do socially secure people, more than shy people, respond in a brain area concerned with reward? How do brain, mind, and behavior function together as one coordinated system? What does the timing of brain events reveal about how we process information? Such questions are asked by those in social neuroscience (Cacioppo & others, 2010; Klein & others, 2010).

Social neuroscientists do not reduce complex social behaviors, such as help­ ing and hurting, to simple neural or molecular mechanisms. Their point is this: To understand social behavior, we must consider both under-the-skin (biological) and between-skins (social) influences. Mind and body are one grand system. Stress hormones affect how we feel and act: A testosterone dose decreases trust, oxytocin increases it (Bos & others, 2010). Social ostracism elevates blood pressure. Social support strengthens the disease-fighting immune system. Wc are bio-psycho-social organisms. We reflect the interplay of our biological, psychological, and social influ­ ences. And that is why today’s psychologists study behavior from these different levels of analysis.

Social Psychology’s Principles Are Applicable in Everyday Life Social psychology has the potential to illuminate your life, to make visible the sub­ tle influences that guide your thinking and acting. And, as we will see, it offers many ideas about how to know ourselves better, how to win friends and influence people, how to transform closed fists into open arms.

^holars are also applying social psychological insights. Principles of social think­ ing, social influence, and social relations have implications for human health and well-being, for judicial procedures and juror decisions in courtrooms, and for influ­ encing behaviors that will enable an environmentally sustainable human future.

As but one perspective on human existence, psychological science does not answer life’s ultimate questions: What is the meaning of human life? What should be our purpose? What is our ultimate destiny? But social psychology does give us a method for asking and answering some exceedingly interesting and important questions. Social psychology is all about life—your life: your beliefs, your attitudes, your relationships.

The rest of this chapter takes us inside social psychology. Let’s first consider how social psychologists’ own values influence their work in obvious and subtle ways. And then let’s focus on this chapter’s biggest task: glimpsing how we do social psy­ chology. How do social psychologists search for explanations of social thinking, social influence, and social relations? And how might you and I use these analytical tools to think smarter?

social neuroscience An interdisciplinary field that explores the neural bases of social and emotional processes and behaviors, and how these processes and behaviors affect our brain and biology.

Throughout this book, a brief summary will conclude each major section. I hope these summaries will help you assess how well you have learned the material in each section.

SUMMING UP: What Are Social Psychology’s Big Ideas? Social psychology is the scientific study of how people think about, influence, and relate to one another. Its central themes include the following:

• How we construe our social worlds • How our social intuitions guide and sometimes

deceive us

• How our social behavior is shaped by other peo­ ple, by our attitudes and personalities, and by our biology

• How social psychology’s principles apply to our everyday lives and to various other fields of study

10 Chapter 1 Introducing Social Psychology


Identify the ways that values penetrate the work of social psychologists.

Social psychology is less a collection of findings than a set of strategies for answer­ ing questions. In science, as in courts of law, personal opinions are inadmissible. When ideas are put on trial, evidence determines the verdict.

But are social psychologists really that objective? Because they are human beings, don’t their values—their personal convictions about what is desirable and how people ought to behave—seep into their work? If so, can social psychology really be scientific?

There are two general ways that values enter psychology: the obvious and the subtle.

Different sciences offer different perspectives.

Obvious Ways Values Enter Psychology Values enter the picture when social psychologists choose research topics. These choices typically reflect social history (Kagan, 2009). It was no accident that the study of prejudice flourished during the 1940s as fascism raged in Europe; that the 1950s, a time of look-alike fashions and intolerance of differing views, gave us stud­ ies of conformity; that the 1960s saw interest in aggression increase with riots and rising crime rates; that the feminist movement of the 1970s helped stimulate a wave of research on gender and sexism; that the 1980s offered a resurgence of attention to psychological aspects of the arms race; and that the 1990s and the early twenty-first century were marked by heightened interest in how people respond to diversity in culture, race, and sexual orientation. Susan Fiske {2011a) suggests that we can expect future research to reflect today’s and tomorrow’s issues, including immigra­

tion, income inequality, and aging. Values differ not only across time but also across cul­

tures. In Europe, people take pride in their nationalities. The Scots are more self-consciously distinct from the En­ glish, and the Austrians from the Germans, than are simi­ larly adjacent Michiganders from Ohioans. Consequently, Europe has given us a major theory of “social identity,” whereas American social psychologists have focused more on individuals—how one person thinks about others, is influenced by them, and relates to them (Fiske, 2004; Tajfel, 1981; Turner, 1984). Australian social psychologists have drawn theories and methods from both Europe and North America (Feather, 2005).

Values also influence the types of people who are attracted to various disciplines (Campbell, 1975a; Moynihan, 1979). At your school, do the students majoring in the humanities, the arts, the natural sciences, and the social sciences differ noticeably from one another? Do social psychology and sociology attract people who are—for example—relatively eager to challenge tradition, people more inclined to shape the future than preserve the past? And does social science study enhance such inclinations (Dambrun & others, 2009)? Such factors explain why, when psychologist Jonathan Haidt (2011) asked approximately 1000 social psycholo­

gists at a national convention about their politics, 80 to 90 percent raised their hands to indicate they were “liberal.” When he asked for those who were “conservative,”

Introducing Social Psychology

three hands raised. (Be assured that most topics covered in this text—from “How do our attitudes influence our behavior?” to “Does TV violence influence aggres­ sive behavior?”—are not partisan.)

Finally, values obviously enter the picture as the object of social psychological analysis. Social psychologists investigate how values form, why they change, and how they influence attitudes and actions. None of that, however, tells us which values are “right.”

Not-So-Obvious Ways Values Enter Psychology We less often recognize the subtle ways in which value commitments masquerade as objective truth. What are three not-so-obvious ways values enter psychology?

THE SUBJECTIVE ASPECTS OF SCIENCE Scientists and philosophers agree: Science is not purely objective. Scientists do not simply read the book of nature. Rather, they interpret nature, using their own mental categories. In our daily lives, too, we view the world through the lens of our precon­ ceptions. Whether we see a moving light in the sky as a flying saucer or see a face in a pie crust depends on our perceptual set. While reading these words, you have been unaware that you are also looking at your nose. Your mind blocks from awareness something that is there, if only you were predisposed to perceive it. This tendency to prejudge reality based on our expectations is a basic fact about the human mind.

Because scholars at work in any given area often share a common viewpoint or come from the same culture, their assumptions may go unchallenged. What we take for granted—the shared beliefs that some European social psychologists call our social representations (Augoustinos & Innes, 1990; Moscovici, 1988,2001)—are often our most important yet most unexamined convictions. Sometimes, however, some­ one from outside the camp will call attention to those assumptions. During the 1980s, feminists and Marxists exposed some of social psychology’s unexamined assump­ tions. Feminist critics called attention to subtle biases—for example, the political conservatism of some scientists who favored a biological interpretation of gender dif­ ferences in social behavior (Unger, 1985). Marxist critics called attention to competi­ tive, individualist biases—for example, the assumption that conformity is bad and that individual rewards are good. Marxists and feminists, of course, make their own assumptions, as critics of academic “political correctness” are fond of noting. Social psychologist Lee Jussim (2005), for example, argues that progressive social psycholo­ gists sometimes feel compelled to deny group differences and to assume that stereo­ types of group difference are never rooted in reality but always in racism.

In Chapter 3, we will discuss more ways in which our preconceptions guide our interpretations. As those Princeton and Dartmouth football fans remind us, what guides our behavior is less the situation-as-it-is than the situation-as-we-construe-it.

PSYCHOLOGICAL CONCEPTS CONTAIN HIDDEN VALUES Implicit in our understanding that psychology is not objective is the realization that psychologists’ own values may play an important part in the theories and judg­ ments they support. Psychologists may refer to people as mature or immature, as well adjusted or poorly adjusted, as mentally healthy or mentally ill. They may talk as if they were stating facts, when they are really making value judgments. The fol­ lowing are examples: DEFINING THE GOOD LIFE Values influence our idea of how best to live. The personality psychologist Abraham Maslow, for example, was known for his sensitive descriptions of “self-actualized” people—people who, with their needs for survival, safety, belonging, and self-esteem satisfied, go on to fulfill their human potential. He described, among other individuals, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Eleanor Roosevelt. Few readers noticed that Maslow, guided by his own values, selected his sample of self-actualized people himself. The resulting description of self-actualized

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