Psychology - Mr. Duez                                                              Target Sheet - Unit 6 - Social Psychology

Terms to Know:

aggression - behavior that is meant to harm another person or group of people.

altruism - helping others without expecting something in return.

catharsis - release of tension and anxiety associated with pent-up emotions.

conformity - act of adopting attitudes or behaviors that reflect the social norms of a group.

de-individualism - process through which people in groups become less aware of themselves as individuals.

diffusion of responsibility - responsibility that is spread over a number of people, such that each one feels responsibility.

group - two or more individuals who interact with each other, share a common goal, have a relationship that is fairly stable over time, are interdependent, and recognize a relationship between themselves.

group polarization - tendency for a group’s decision to become more extreme than those of the individuals in the group.

groupthink - tendency for tightly knit groups to adopt a unified opinion, ignoring dissent or contrary evidence.

individuation - act of emphasizing individuality.

norms - spoken or unspoken rules that tell us how others expect us to behave.

obedience - act of following orders given by someone in a position of authority.

peer pressure - pressure to conform to others like yourself.

social dilemma - conflict between wanting to do what is best for the group and what is best for oneself.

social responsibility - acting for the good of the group.

Human are social beings. Much of our behavior involves interactions with other people.

When and why do we help others?

When and why do we try to harm others?

How does being part of a group cause us to behave differently from the way we do when we’re alone?

Social psychologists study how we interact with other people, how other people influence our behavior, & how we act in response.

Much of human behavior involves interaction with others, often in groups. Groups have spoken or unspoken rules, called norms, that tell group members how they should behave. Cooperation, competition, conformity, & obedience are aspects of group behavior. Psychologists explore why people help or harm others. Current research suggests that such factors as biology, learning, cultural factors, genetics, physiological state, & influences such as media violence, contribute to a tendencies toward harming others.

The study of social psychology is one of the oldest branches of psychology and is an enormous area of research. This area is most concerned with how the social environment impacts an individual’s behavior. This area is most concerned with how the social environment impacts an individual’s behavior. As more research is performed, we develop a better sense of what social psychology is really all about. Typically, it looks at a variety of attraction, pro-social behaviors aggression, and social influence. Much has been made in the media about many of the findings of social research; however, the area is still filled with much uncertainty.


1. Social psychology refers to how groups influence the behavior of an individual.

2. Attribution theory refers to how we make judgements about others.

3. Obedience and conformity both refer to the influence of others on our behavior.

4. Milgram did studies in social psychology that seem to be on the ethical edge.

5. Behavior can be influenced by the presence of a group.

IMPRESSION FORMATION: The notion of impression formation begins with the premise that, to form an impression, we need to have a target and a perceiver. In such a situation, we often fall back on a preconceived notion of a person or a thing. This is, of course, called a stereotype, and it is something we use all the time to determine how we should behave or what course of action we should take. We form stereotypes in a variety of ways, and they can be positive or negative. The problem with stereotypes is not that we form them (it is probably impossible given the enormity of the human experience not to form them) but that their consequences sometimes lead us to make choices or perform behaviors that are not appropriate.

The cognitive-confirmation bias, for example, has demonstrated that participants are more likely to search for information that confirms a previously learned bias than to seek information that contradicts the bias. Suppose you want to buy a particular car. You will actively seek out information that supports the good aspects of that car and will overlook information that doesn’t support that choice. Likewise, the self-fulfilling prophecy suggests that if you hear something good or bad about a person, you will perceive that skill in the person more than if you hadn’t previously heard that information.

ATTRIBUTION THEORY: One of the things that we do when we are interacting with others is to make guesses, or “attributions,” about the causes of their behavior. We are not perfect in this process, but it doesn’t stop us from doing it. We often make mistakes because of the biases we have.

Fundamental attribution error (FAE) suggests that we tend to make attributions about causes of behavior being internal and not external. In other words, we often believe that someone does something because of who he is, not because of the situation.

Actor-perceiver bias is another attribution error we make. If we are doing something, we believe our behavior is due to external causes; if we are watching someone else, we believe behavior is internally motivated. (Many sports announcers and reporters are guilty of the FAE when they make guesses about the causes of athletic performance.)

Self-serving bias occurs as well, where we attribute causes of behavior to external causes if we fail and internal causes if we succeed. So if we have done well on an exam, we are smart, but if we have not done well, then the teacher made a very tough test.

INTERPERSONAL RELATIONS: What causes attraction? Research has shown that proximity, affect (emotions), similarity, and reinforcement all contribute to attraction. What is interesting about this is that we are not certain which is the most important factor and which is the least. All seem to play a role in attraction, and with more research, we might better be able to tease these variables apart.

Prosocial behavior is when we engage in behavior that leads to some good outcome. Altruism, for example, is helping behavior that is motivated by helping others for the sake of helping. Psychologists became interested in this topic because a great deal of research done in the 1960s and 1970s suggested that people are not likely to help others unless they are alone with that person. If someone needs help and there are many people around, diffusion of responsibility occurs (called the bystander effect): the probability of someone helping another in distress decreases as the number of people available to help increases. (Interestingly, people today are slightly more likely to help because of the well-publicized research on the bystander effect.)

AGGRESSION: Aggressive is behavior that is intended to inflict harm on others. We are aggressive because of frustration or anger. Typically, aggression takes place when the aggressive act does not have an immediate negative consequence. That is, we are aggressive when it appears that we can get away with it. Sometimes, that is due to what psychologists call deindividuation.

Deindividuation is the tendency for people to lose individuality, often because one is a member of a group or because the situation warrants it. Aggression is common in animals. Interesting, only mammals kill out of anger or in an organized fashion, such as war.

SOCIAL INFLUENCE: How does the situation we are influence our behavior? Persuasion is one area that has attracted a great deal of attention. How are we persuaded to alter our behavior?

Several variables can persuade us to alter our behavior:

We can be persuaded to alter our behavior in a variety of ways (through newspapers, television ads) depending on how the persuasive situation is set up.Think of the commercials on TV that are designed to persuade.The makers of these commercials are well trained in persuasion. They target these messages to a particular audience and use the techniques that work best with that audience. On channels that cater to children, for instance, the commercials are shorter (children have a short attention span) and are filled with appealing images (sweets, toys). The commercials on other channels are likewise designed.

One of the more well-studied forms of social influence is obedience. Obedience is performing a behavior because one is told to do so. In Milgram’s famous study, participants “shocked” other participants because they were told to do so. Milgram argued that anyone can be obedient and that obedience is not limited to the lab. He pointed to Nazi Germany as evidence that this is so. We obey because the person telling us to do something is an authority and we assume he takes responsibility. This is not always the case, but it is part of human behavior.

Compliance and conformity are two other types of social influence. Compliance occurs when behavior changes because of a request, not a command or order. For instance, we may allow a salesperson to give us details about a vacuum cleaner after we have inquired about a carpet cleaning. We are more willing to listen to those details since we had initiated a request for the other information. This is called reciprocity. Another form of compliance is the foot-in-the-door technique. If you comply with a small request, you may then comply with a larger request. These techniques have been known for years and have led to a large number of sales for people in the business.

Conformity is slightly different. In conformity situations (such as the famous study by Asch), participants often change behavior (and opinion) when faced with others who make a different choice. Of the numerous studies on conformity, many show that if enough people are engaging in a certain behavior or attitude, it is very difficult for others to resist that and engage in their own - unique (different) - behaviors. Private conformity occurs when we change our behaviors and our attitudes. Public conformity occurs when we change our behavior.

GROUP PROCESSES: Much has been made of the issue of how groups influence behavior: Does size matter, for instance? In fact, it does matter. People are more likely to conform in larger groups. One dissenter decreases the probability that people will conform, but group size matters. If the group is small, social facilitation might occur. That is, our performance can be enhanced by competing (this is why in the Olympics, people run against each other, even though they are really running against the clock).

In groups, we sometimes see social loafing. Social loafing occurs as one member of the group does not “carry his weight.” Groupthink can occur as well, where people have a desire to maintain good relations within the group. The views of the group leader are known early on, and no one is designated to voice a dissenting opinion. Thus, the group reaches a consensus it might not otherwise have reached because of a strong leader at the beginning. This will sometimes happen in juries.

Key Social Psychology Experiments




Key Term(s)

Stanley Milgram

Teacher applied electric shocks when learner did not answer questions correctly

65% of subjects delivered what they thought to be the maximum 450 volts.

Obedience to authority figures

Phillip Zimbardo

Simulated a prison setting at Stanford U and assign roles of “prisoners” and guards

Simulation stopped after 6 days because of actions of sadistic guards and ethical concerns .

Social roles

Role-playing and attitude

Phillip Zimbardo

Replication of the Stanley Milgram experiment except half of women participants wore KKK hoods

Women who wore KKK hoods delivered twice as much electrical shocks as women without the hoods.


Norman Triplett

Looked at the effect of an audience when learners had learned task well or were just learning the task

Audience enhanced well-learned tasks but newly learned ones were impaired by presence of audience.

Social facilitation

Social Impairment

Solomon Ach

Select the line in a group of three that matches stimulus line.

Subjects conformed 1/3 of the time when the confederates voted unanimously.


Normative Social influence

Leon Festinger

Gave two different groups either $1 or $20 to lie about a boring task to future subjects.

$1 group changed their perception of the task from boring to interesting; $20 group did not.

Cognitive dissonance

Bibb Latane & John Darley

Emergency situation created to test people’s willingness to help

People help when alone; the larger the group present, the less likely a person is to act.

Bystander Effect

Diffusion of Responsibility

Muzafer Sherif

Boys’ camp study where an emergency situation required group cooperation

Two previously uncooperative groups worked together to solve the problem

Contact Theory

Superordinate goals

Review Questions:

1. Which of the following is an example of “foot-in-the-door” technique?

(You buy a car because your brother does, You wear a shirt because your friend bought it for you, You face the front of the elevator because everyone is facing front, You buy expensive perfume because the salesperson gives you a small gift)

2. The fact that people are not likely to help someone if they are in a large group is called the

(foot-in-the-door, bystander effect, obedience effect, conformity)

3. Social loafing typically occurs when

(one is alone, one is in a very small group, one is in a very large group, someone forgets about social responsibility)

4. When someone assumes that a person is behaved the way he did because of internal causes, this is called the

(fundamental attribution error, bystander effect, actor-perceiver bias, stereotyping bias)

5. In the research on attraction, proximity, affect, similarity, and reinforcement have all been shown to contribute to attraction. Which is the MOST important?

(proximity, similarity, affect, psychologists are still uncertain)

6. In his famous study on obedience, Milgram argued that people

(were obedient because they were men, were obedient because of the situation, were not obedient because the requests were unreasonable, in general do what they think is right)

7. Which of the following is an example of conformity?

(Your friend says, “Let’s go to the mall,” and you do. / You stop at a red light. / You sing the national anthem because everyone else is singing. / You arrive home when you are told to do so by your parents.)

8. In speed skating, two people skate together, but they are not competing so much with each other as they are with the clock. This is done because psychologists have discovered ______, which suggests that we do better when in the presence of others.

(social loafing, groupthink, conformity, social facilitation)

9. The idea that someone is willing to commit aggressive acts when he is in a group because there is no consequence for his behavior is called

(groupthink, social loafing, deindividuation, social facilitation)

10. We are sometimes persuaded to do something that we wouldn’t normally do. Which of the following is considered to be important as a persuasive tool?

(source of the information, accuracy of the information, direct orders, subliminal messages)

11. If we help someone simply for the sake of helping, this is called

(bystander effect, altruism, social loafing, obedience)

12. People in groups will modify their own behavior to that of the larger group without ever being asked to. This tendency to change behavior to fit that of a peer group is known as

(reciprocity, obedience, the bystander effect, conformity)

13. The fact that people sometimes do things they don’t want to do because they are told to do so is called

(private conformity, obedience, social facilitation, public conformity)

14. The fundamental attribution error occurs when someone attributes causes

(to the environment, to the person, to the group process, to groupthink)

15. The fact that we attribute our success to internal causes and failure to external causes is called

(fundamental attribution error, actor-perceiver bias, self-serving bias, groupthink)

16. In a classic study, it was demonstrated that children who were labeled as potential high achievers outdistanced those labeled as low achievers, even though there was no difference between the groups prior to the study. This is an example of

(fundamental attribution error, groupthink, actor-perceiver bias, self-fulfilling prophecy)

17. The fact that we attribute our errors to the environment and other people’s errors to internal causes is called

(fundamental attribution error, actor-perceiver bias, self-serving bias, groupthink)

18. If you are doing a group project and one member of the group is not pulling his own weight, social psychologists might call that behavior

(bystander effect, altruism, social loafing, deindividuation)

19. Suppose you need help with a homework assignment. You ask your friend, and she agrees. You end up doing very well on the assignment. Later, your friend needs a ride to the airport. Even though you are very busy, you agree. This is an example of

(social loafing, deindividuation, conformity, reciprocity)

20. If you are on a jury, you might find that you have an opinion upon entering the jury room. However, after a while, and after several persuasive arguments, you find yourself agreeing with everyone else. In fact, everyone is very certain about the outcome. This is an example of

(bystander effect, altruism, social loafing, groupthink)