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Introduction to Social Psychology

Basic Concepts in Social Psychology


The way we perceive ourselves in relation to the rest of the world plays an important role in our choices, behaviors and beliefs. Conversely, the opinions of others also impact our behavior and the way we view ourselves. Social psychology is a branch of psychology concerned with how social phenomena influence us and how people interact with others

Understanding social psychology can be useful for many reasons. First, we can better understand how groups impact our choices and actions. Additionally, it also allows us to gain a greater appreciation for how our social perceptions affect our interactions with other people.

There are some basic aspects of social behavior that play a large role in our actions and how we see ourselves.

  • Social behavior is goal-oriented. Our interactions serve goals or fulfill needs. Some common goals or needs include the need for social ties, the desire to understand ourselves and others, the wish to gain or maintain status or protection and the need to attract companions.

  • The interaction between the individual and the situation helps determine the outcome. In many instances, people behave very differently depending upon the situation. Environmental and situational variables play an important role and have a strong influence on our behavior.

  • People spend a great deal of time considering social situations. Our social interactions help form our self-concept and perception. One method of forming self-concept is through the reflected appraisal process in which we imagine how other people see us. Another method is through the social comparison process whereby we consider how we compare to other people in our peer group.

  • We also analyze and explain the behavior of those around us. One common phenomenon is the expectation confirmation, where we tend to ignore unexpected attributes and look for evidence that confirms our preexisting beliefs about others. This helps simplify our worldview, but it also skews our perception and can contribute to stereotyping.

  • We often believe that a person's behavior is a good indicator of their personality. Another influence on our perceptions of other people can be explained by the theory of correspondent inferences. This occurs when we infer that the actions and behaviors of others correspond to their intentions and personalities. While behavior can be informative in some instances, especially when the person's actions are intentional, it can also be misleading. If we have limited interaction with someone, the behavior we see may be atypical or caused by the specific situation rather than by the persons overriding dispositional characteristics.

Final Thoughts

Studying social psychology can enrich our understanding of ourselves and of the world around us. Continue exploring this subject in the links below to enrich your understanding of social behavior.

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