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Social Psychology

Social psychology is the study of individual behavior and psychological structures and processes as both outcomes of and influences on interpersonal relationships, the functioning of groups and other collective forms, and culturally define macrosocial structures and processes. Social psychologists vary in the theoretical orientations and methods they use, the conceptual distinctions they draw, and the substantive causal linkages they study. Much of the variability in these areas is accounted for by the academic tradition in which a social psychologist has been trained.

Contemporary social psychology has intellectual roots in both psychology and sociology. Psychological social psychologists are guided by social learning theory as well as by orientations such as exchange and role theories. For the most part, their methods consist of laboratory and field experiments, and data analysis is accomplished with quantitative techniques. They discriminate between individual behavior and psychological structures and processes and interpersonal settings. The primary interest of psychological social psychology is the influence of the perceived social environment on individual cognitive, affective, and behavioral responses (Gilbert et al. 1998).

Contemporary sociological social psychology encompasses two major perspectives: symbolic interactionism and personality and social structure. Within symbolic interactionism, other distinctions are drawn according to the degree to which the proponents emphasize consistencies in human behavior as opposed to creative and emergent aspects of behavior, the influence of social structure in placing constraints on social interaction through which concepts of the self and others are formed, and the relative merits of qualitative and quantitative research methods. Considering these perspectives together, sociological social psychologists are influenced most frequently by symbolic interactionism, role theory, and exchange theory. They employ a range of research methods, including social surveys, unstructured interviews, observational techniques, and archival research methods; laboratory and field experiments also are used on occasion. Data analysis is accomplished with both qualitative and quantitative techniques. Distinctions are drawn between individual behaviors, psychological structures, groups and other interpersonal systems, and culturally defined macrosocial structures and processes. Sociological social psychologists focus on the reciprocal causal influences between individual psychological structures and macrosocial structures and processes or those between psychological processes and ongoing interpersonal systems (Cook et al. 1995; Michener and DeLamater 1994).

Implicit in the explanatory constructs sociologists use in investigating patterns of social behavior are individual-level psychological constructs. The concept of culture, for example, frequently is defined in terms of shared normative expectations that are learned and transmitted in the course of social interaction. This definition implies subjective probabilities, evaluative judgments, and processes of symbolic communication through which normative expectations are transmitted and shared. Further, the substantive referents of culture relate to individual-level phenomena such as systems of values, beliefs, and perceptual orientations. In short, definitions of sociological explanatory constructs and the substantive referents of those constructs tend to be abstractions from individuallevel psychological responses and systems, including those relating to cognition, affect, and goal orientation. A full understanding of most, if not all, sociological constructs depends on comprehension of the psychological responses and systems that the sociological constructs connote and from which the soiological concepts can be generalized.

The current state of social psychology is best understood through a description of the range of theoretical orientations and research methods used, the conceptual distinctions that are drawn, and the causal linkages that are investigated by representatives of the two social psychological traditions.

Theory and Method

Social psychologists use a broad range of theoretical perspectives and research methods to study the reciprocal causal linkages between individual-level and social-level variables.

Theoretical Perspectives

Among the more frequently used theoretical perspectives are symbolic interactionism, role theory, exchange theory, and social learning theory.

Symbolic interactionism→ From this perspective, people are perceived as acting toward others on the basis of the meaning those others and their behaviors have for the actors. Those meanings are derived and modified during social interaction in which people communicate with one another through the use of shared symbols. Symbolic interactionism encompasses the notion that people’s ability to respond to themselves as objects permits them to communicate to themselves, through the use of symbols, the meanings that are given to people and objects by the persons who perceive them. Thus, people interpret the world to themselves and respond according to that interpretation. The interpretation of a situation occurs in the course of ongoing social interaction. In short, persons become objects to themselves, interact with themselves, and interpret to themselves ongoing events and objects in the environment.

Proponents of symbolic interactionism vary in the extent to which they focus on the influence of a stable social structure on these processes. Those who deny the significance of a social structure concentrate on the process of cognitive interpretation and the creative construction of behavior that grows out of a person’s interpretation of the ongoing interactive situation. Appropriate to this emphasis, empirical investigations employ observation and in-depth interviewing to the exclusion of experimental and quantitative, nonexperimental methods (the Chicago School). Derivatives of this approach to symbolic interactionism include the dramaturgical school, in which the metaphor of the theater is used to study how people create impressions of themselves during face-to-face interaction, and ethnomethodology, in which theoretical perspective students study the implicit rules governing interaction in particular situation to understand how people construct reality through social interaction.

For those who focus on the significance of social structures to symbolic interaction, the meanings of the behaviors in social interaction depend on the relevance of those behaviors for the socialidentity- related standards by which people evaluate themselves. Individuals interact within a framework that defines the social identities of the interacting parties and the normative expectations that are applicable to each identity as it relates to the other identities in that situation. The behaviors that have the most meaning are relevant for highly placed standards in a person’s hierarchy of values. The more a behavior of a person or the others with whom he or she is interacting validates or contradicts the social identity (male, father) that is important to that person, the more meaningful that behavior will be to him or her. To the extent that the behaviors of others toward a person signify evaluatively significant aspects of the self, it is important to anticipate responses from others. The others whose responses are more likely to signify evaluatively relevant information about the self are significant others (Charon 1998; Couse 1977 Kaplan 1986; Michener and DeLamater 1994; Stephan and Stephan 1990).

Role theory→ From this perspective, human social behavior is viewed in the context of people playing roles (that is, conforming to normative expectations) that apply to people who occupy various social positions and interact with people in complementary social positions. As individuals change from one social position to another in the course of a day, they play different roles (as a father, for example, and then as an employer). The roles individuals play also change as they interact with people in different positions (a professor interacting with a colleague, with the dean, and with a student). As people shift roles, they also change the ways in which they view the world, the attitudes they hold toward different phenomena, and their behaviors. Although people identify more with some roles than with others, their ability to play their preferred roles is limited by the contradictory demands made on them by the other roles they are called on to play (Biddle 1986; Turner, 1990).

Exchange theory→ This perspective is relevant to the investigation of the conditions under which individuals enter into and maintain stable relationships. One is most likely to do this when the rewards gained from the relationship are perceived as high, the costs are low, and the reward– cost differential is favorable compared with the perceived alternatives. Rewards (power, prestige, material goods) and costs (interpersonal hostility, great expenditures of money, long hours of work) are defined by personal values. Attraction to relationships is also a function of the extent to which the participants perceive each other as receiving outcomes (rewards) that are appropriate to their inputs (costs). In the absence of such equity, the participants adjust their behavior or way of thinking in an attempt to restore the fact or appearance of equity in a relationship (Molm and Cook 1995; Stephan and Stephan 1990).

Social learning theory→ This orientation addresses how individuals learn new responses that are appropriate in various social situations. The primary processes through which social learning occurs include conditioning, by which one acquires new responses through reinforcement (that is, the association of rewards and punishments with particular behaviors), and imitation, by which one observes the reinforcement elicited by another person’s behavior (Bandura 1986; Taylor 1998).

Methods

Social psychological research employs a variety of methods, including social surveys, naturalistic observation, experiments, and analysis of archival data. Social surveys may be conducted by personal or telephone interviews or by self-administered questionnaires. For the most part, naturalistic observation involves observing ongoing activity in everyday settings (that is, field studies); in participant observation, the investigator plays an active role in the interaction. Experimental research involves the manipulation of independent variables to assess their effects on outcomes. Subjects are assigned at random to the independent conditions. The experiments may be conducted in the laboratory or in natural settings; in the latter case, the experimenter has less control over theoretically irrelevant variables but the experimental conditions are more realistic for the subjects. Archival research involves the use of existing data to test hypotheses. In some instances, the data can be used exactly as they appear, as with some statistical data. In other instances, such as newspaper stories, the data must be converted into another form, for example, for use in content analysis, which involves categorizing and counting particular occurrences (Cook et al. 1995; Gilbert et al. 1998; Michener and DeLamater 1994).

Conceptual Discrimination

The pursuit of the goals of social psychology by scientists from psychological and sociological traditions has entailed the differentiation between concepts at the individual level and the social level.

Individual-Level Concepts

Social psychologists have focused on dynamic psychological structures, intrapsychic responses, and individual behaviors as outcomes of or influences on social structures and processes.

Psychological structures→ At the individual level, psychological structures have been represented as dynamic organizations of dispositions to respond at the intrapsychic level or the behavioral level. More inclusive concepts, such as the personality, reflect the organization of psychological dispositions in terms of a structure of relatively stable cognitive, evaluative, affective, and behavioral tendencies. The concept of the person has been understood in terms of a structure of predispositions to respond at the intrapsychic or behavioral level that are organized around a hierarchically related system of situationally defined social identities. The self has been treated as an inclusive structure of dispositions to respond reflexively at the cognitive, evaluative, affective, and behavioral levels. Less inclusive structures refer to organizations of particular psychological dispositions, such as personal value systems, treated as the hierarchy of situationally applicable criteria for self-evaluation; the structure of attitudes or generalized evaluative responses; and the system of concepts and schemas (structures of related concepts) a person uses to order stimuli (Kaplan 1986).

These structures are treated as components that are related to one another in a stable dynamic equilibrium and at the same time as having the potential to change. The structures of predispositions, when stimulated by internal or external cues, respond at the intrapsychic level or the behavioral level. The predispositions are inferred from the observed behaviors and self-reports of intrapsychic responses to recurrent stimuli in particular situations.

Intrapsychic responses→ These are cognitive (including awareness and conceptual structuring), evaluative, and affective (or emotional) responses to contemporary stimuli, including one’s own or others’ behaviors in particular situational contexts. The current situation may stimulate one to attend to particular aspects of oneself, classify others in terms of group-membership concepts, attribute others’ failures to external rather than internal causes, evaluate oneself as a failure, or experience attraction to other people. Intrapsychic responses are inferred from one’s perceptible behaviors or self-reports of percepts, beliefs, attitudes, and feelings relating to the current situation.

Behavior→ Individual behavior refers to the class of responses that are perceptible to others as well as to oneself. Behavior is distinguished from intrapsychic responses and the stable organization of dispositions to respond (person or personality) that are perceptible only to the self. Behavior includes purposive or unintended communications about oneself or others, helping and hurtful responses, affiliation and disaffiliation with other individuals or groups, conformity to or deviation from one’s own or others’ expectations, cooperation and competition, positive and negative sanctioning of one’s own or others’ behaviors, and the myriad other perceptible responses one may make to oneself, others, or other aspects of one’s environment (Kaplan 1986; Michener and DeLamater 1994; Stephan and Stephan 1990). Behavior is conceptualized as the outcome of socially influenced psychological structures and intrapsychic processes and as influencing social-level variables.

Social-Level Concepts

These concepts include interpersonal systems and culturally defined macrosocial structures.

Interpersonal systems→ Interpersonal systems are defined as those in which two or more individuals interact with each other or otherwise influence each other over a brief or extended period. The interaction or mutual influence is governed by shared normative expectations that define appropriate behavior for individuals who occupy complementary or common social positions in the course of the interaction or mutual influence. The shared expectations may exist before participation in the interpersonal system and reflect the common culturally defined macrosocial structure or may be refined or emerge during the ongoing social interaction or mutual influence in response to the unique characteristics of the interacting individuals or other situational demands. The social positions a person occupies and the interpersonal systems in which a person participates as a consequence may be given at birth or may be adopted later in life according to stage in the life cycle and current situational demands. Interpersonal systems include interpersonal relationships, groups, and collective forms.

Interpersonal relationships are those in which two individuals have an ongoing interaction that is governed by their shared normative expectations. These expectations are derived from social definitions that delineate appropriate behavior for people occupying the social positions that characterize the individuals and emerge in the course of the ongoing social interaction. For example, a married couple’s shared expectations depend on a common understanding of the obligations and rights of a husband and a wife in relation to each other, and the same is true of friends; in addition, in the course of social interaction, specific evaluative expectations regarding what each person in the relationship will and should do in various circumstances develop. Individuals may interact with one another in the capacity of having the same status (such as group member or friend) or complementary statuses (such as husband and wife) or in the capacity of representing conflicting or cooperating groups. Relationships develop through predictable stages. Intimate relationships develop from the awareness of available partners, to contact with those who are thought to be desirable, to various stages of emotional involvement. The accompanying increases in emotional involvement represent increases in self-disclosure, trust, and mutual dependence (Berscheid and Reis 1998; Michener and DeLamater 1994).

A group consists of a number of individuals in ongoing interaction who share a set of normative expectations that govern the behavior of the members in relation to one another. Normative expectations may refer uniformly to all group members as they interact with one another and with nongroup members or to different individuals in their various social relational contexts. Individuals share an identity as members of a group as well as common goals; these goals may include the personal satisfaction gained from the intrinsically or instrumentally satisfying intragroup relationship or from a group identity that evokes favorable responses from extragroup systems. Group members may share norms from the outset and refine or change their expectations over time, or the norms may emerge in the course of member interaction. Groups include friendship networks, work groups, schools, families, voluntary associations, and other naturally occurring or purposively formed ad hoc associations. Groups vary in size, stability, the degree to which interaction among the members is regulated by preexisting role definitions, and complexity of role differentiation as well as the extent to which a group is embedded in more inclusive groups. Groups also vary according to whether the gratifications achieved from participation in a group are intrinsic to the social relationships and are diffuse as opposed to instrumental to the achievement of other ends and delimited.

Over the course of time, groups develop structures characterized by status hierarchies and functional role differentiation, or those structures may be predefined for new members. Status hierarchies reflect the values placed by group members on positions within the group. The individuals who occupy those positions are more or less esteemed depending on the valuation (status) of a position. Individuals who have higher-status positions and are consequently more highly esteemed ordinarily receive greater rewards (as these are defined by group members) and exercise greater influence over group decisions. In formal groups, functional differentiation is indicated by the formal role definitions associated with the various social positions that make up a group. In informal groups, over time some individuals come to be expected to perform certain functions, such as leading the group toward solving a problem (the task leader) or accepting responsibility for relieving tensions and maintaining group solidarity (the social-emotional leader) (Levine and Moreland 1998; Ridgeway and Walker 1995).

Collective forms include publics, audiences, crowds, and social movements. Collective forms are characterized by the mutual influence of individuals in responding cognitively, affectively, and behaviorally to a common focus. Individuals are undifferentiated according to social position: They share the social position defined by their common attention to an idea, person, object, or behavior. The common stimulus, previously learned dispositions to respond to that stimulus, and mutual influences through social contagion, social observation, and emergent norms that govern mood, action, and imagery lead to collective behaviors. Collective behaviors by large numbers of individuals who are not physically proximate in response to mass media and interpersonal stimulation include mass expressions of attitudes (public opinion), attraction (fads, fashions, crazes), and anxiety (panics). Crowd behaviors are collective responses by large numbers of physically proximate individuals who are influenced by social contagion, observation, and the resultant emergent norms. Social movements are expressions of dispositions to behave similarly with regard to a social issue (Michener and DeLamater 1994).

Culturally defined macrosocial structures→ The inclusive sociocultural structure provides shared meanings and defines relationships among individuals depending on their social positions or identities in a situation. The social structure is made up of the stable relationships between social positions or identities that are culturally defined in terms of the rights and obligations people who occupy one position have in interacting with people who occupy another position. In the course of the socialization process, individuals learn the rights and obligations that apply to those who occupy the various social positions, and those rights and obligations constitute the role that defines a social position. The inclusive social structure is a system consisting of components that are related to one another in a relatively stable dynamic equilibrium but may change over time as changes in structural positions and their role definitions become prevalent in interpersonal settings throughout the society. The culturally defined inclusive macrosocial structure encompasses systems of stratification, social differentiation according to race or ethnicity, and major social institutions as well as other consensually defined social structures (Kerckhoff 1995).

Causal Relationships

Within a social psychological framework, a person’s psychological structure, intrapsychic responses, and behaviors are viewed in terms of the profound influence exerted on that person by his or her past and continuing participation in interpersonal and social systems. In turn, the person behaves in ways that have consequences for the interpersonal systems and social structures in which he or she participates. Implicit in this framework is a general causal model. Social structural arrangements define systems of shared meanings that in turn define the role expectations that govern behavior in interpersonal systems. A person is born into functioning interpersonal systems and throughout the life cycle participates in other interpersonal systems that together reflect culturally defined macrosocial structures and processes. In the course of a person’s life in the context of dynamically evolving interlocking interpersonal systems, biogenetically given capabilities are actualized; the person learns to view the world through a system of concepts, internalizes needs, symbolizes those needs as values, accepts social identities, and develops emotional cognitive and behavioral dispositions to respond. These relatively stable psychological structures are stimulated by contemporary social situations that have symbolic significance for the individual and thus evoke predictable personal responses. Over time, the same social situations stimulate personal change.

The development of language skills, along with a person’s experiences as the object of others’ responses to him or her in the course of the socialization process, influences the development of a person’s tendencies to become aware of, conceive of, evaluate, and have feelings about herself or himself as well as dispositions to behave in ways that are motivated by the need to protect or enhance the self. The nature of a person’s responses to herself or himself are influenced by past and present social experiences. Those responses in turn influence the relationships and groups in which a person participates and indirectly influence the more inclusive social system, thus intervening between social influences on the person and her or his influence on interpersonal systems and the culturally defined social structure (Corsaro and Eder 1995; Fiske et al. 1998; Elder and O’Rand 1995; Kaplan 1995; Kerckhoff 1995; Krauss and Chiu 1998; Maynard and Whalen 1995; Miller-Loessi 1995).

The substantive concerns of social psychological theory and research reflect detailed consideration of these general processes. These concerns address

(1) the influence of culturally defined macrosocial structures and processes or interpersonal systems on psychological structures, intrapsychic responses, and individual behaviors or

(2) the influence of psychological structures, intrapsychic responses, and individual behaviors on interpersonal systems and culturally defined macrosocial structures and processes.

Social Influences on Psychological Structures

Substantive concerns with social influences on individual psychological structures, intrapsychic responses, and behaviors have focused on longterm social structural influences through socialization processes and contemporary interpersonal influences in interpersonal settings.

Social structural effects→ Social structural arrangements define the content, effectiveness, and style of the socialization experience and thus influence a person’s psychological structures. Individuals occupy social positions by being born into them or achieving them later in life. Each social position is defined in terms of role expectations that specify appropriate behavior for people who occupy that position in the context of particular relationships. As a result of occupying positions, people become part of interpersonal systems that consist of themselves and those who occupy complementary positions. In these relationships and groups people become socialized. Socialization is the lifelong process through which an individual learns and becomes motivated to conform to the norms defining the social roles that are played or might be played in the future that individual and those with whom she or he interacts. Socialization occurs in a variety of social contexts, including the family, school, play groups, and work groups, through the experience of rewards and punishment consequent to performing behaviors, observation of the consequences of behaviors for others, direct and intended instruction by others, and self-reinforcement. The acquisition of language skills permits one to be rewarded and punished through the use of symbolic responses, communicate with others about the appropriateness of different responses, and reinforce responses through the process of becoming an object to oneself and disapproving or approving of one’s past or anticipated behaviors. The cognitive structures used in coding and processing information about one’s own behavior and the hierarchy of self-evaluative criteria also are learned in the course of socialization.

The content of role definitions and the centrality of particular roles for a person’s identity structure depend on stage in the life cycle, role definitions associated with other social positions, and the historical era. The roles that are most central to a person’s identity and contribute most to self-esteem depend on that person’s position in the social structure, including age and gender. During a particular historical period, for example, men may base their self-esteem more on success in the occupational sphere whereas women in the same stage of life base theirs on adequate performance of family roles.

The effectiveness of the socialization process is influenced by more or less invariant developmental stages of cognitive and emotional development in interaction with the varying demands made on the individual at various stages in life as well as by discrepancies between the demands made on a person and the resources that would permit her or him to meet those demands (Corsaro and Eder 1995; Elder and O’Rand 1995; Miller- Loessi 1995).

The social structure affects the style of the socialization process as well. Higher-socioeconomicstatus parents are more likely than are lower-class parents to base rewards and punishment on a child’s intentions than on actual behavior and to rely on reasoning and the induction of shame and guilt rather than physical punishment. As a family becomes larger, parents are more likely to exercise autocratic parenting styles, while children elicit less attention from parents and develop more independence (Michener and DeLamater 1994).

The end result of the social-structure-influenced socialization process is the development of psychological structures that are stimulated by social-identity-related situations or are evoked more generally in the course of social interaction. Depending on whether persons are born into male or female social positions, they develop different achievement orientations and evaluate themselves in accordance with the success their in approximating the standards of achievement they set for themselves. Individuals in higher socioeconomic classes tend to value a sense of accomplishment and family security more highly than do those with lower socioeconomic status, who tend to put more emphasis on a comfortable life and hope of salvation. More specifically, individuals who are born into a higher social class are more likely to be socialized to value educational achievement and aspire to higher levels of education. Those who achieve at higher levels in school are more likely to interact with others who respond to them in ways that reinforce academically oriented self-images and values that reflect an achievement orientation. Individuals whose occupational status involves selfdirection tend to develop a high valuation of responsibility, curiosity, and good sense, while those in occupational positions characterized by close supervision, routine activities, and low levels of complexity in work tasks tend to develop a high valuation of conformity (Heiss 1981; House 1981; Kohn et al. 1983; Rokeach 1973; Sewell and Hauser 1980).

In general, in the course of socialization people become disposed to identify others in their environment, anticipate their responses, imagine aspects of themselves as eliciting those responses, behave in ways calculated to elicit those responses, and value the responses of others and the aspects of the self that elicit those responses. Radical resocialization, by which an individual unlearns lifelong patterns and learns new attitudes, values, and behaviors, may occur in circumstances in which the agents of socialization have uniform and total control over the individual’s outcomes, as in some psychiatric hospitals, penal institutions, traditional military academies, and prisoner-of-war camps (Goffman 1961).

Interpersonal effects→ The contemporary interpersonal context stimulates self-conceptions and self-evaluative, affective, and behavioral responses. Each social situation provides participants with physical cues that allow them to make inferences about the social identities of the other participants, the role expectations each person holds of the others, and the perceived causes of the behaviors of the interacting parties. These conceptions regarding the situated identities are in part responses to the demand characteristics of the situation and in part the outcomes of the need of one party to project a particular social identity on the other person so that the first party can play a desired complementary role (Alexander and Wiley 1981). The situational context provides symbolic cues that specify the relevance of particular traits, behaviors, or experiences for one’s current situation; it also provides a basis for comparing one’s characteristics with those of other people.

The current social situation defines the relevance of some self-evaluative standards rather than others. The presence of other people, cameras, or mirrors makes people more self-aware and thus stimulates their disposition to evaluate themselves. Certain responses of others (sanctions), in addition to constituting intrinsically value-relevant responses, communicate to persons the degree to which they have approximated self-evaluative standards. In the early stages of development of a group, individuals may be assigned higher-status positions on the basis of status characteristics (such as those relating to age, sex, ethnicity, and physical attractiveness) that have evaluative significance in the more inclusive society. Although these characteristics may not be relevant to the ability to perform the functions for which the group exists, the high valuation of these status characteristics may lead to the assignment of individuals to high-status positions in the group through a process of status generalization (Berger et al. 1989; Ridgeway and Walker 1995). As a consequence of culturally defined preconceptions regarding the merits of various status characteristics, persons with those characteristics are expected to perform better on a group task.

With regard to affective responses, social stimuli evoke physiological reactions that are labeled as specific emotional states, depending on the cues provided by social circumstances (Kelley and Michela 1980). In turn, individuals who label an experience as a particular emotional state selectively perceive bodily sensations as cues that validate that experience (Leventhal 1980; Pennebaker 1980). Social stimuli that evoke psychological distress include contexts in which a person is unable to fulfill role requirements because of the absence of personal and interpersonal resources and the presence of situational barriers to fulfilling the obligations associated with the social positions that person occupies. Other such stimuli are represented by intrinsically distressing aspects of social positions. People may be distressed not only because they cannot do their jobs well but also because of the absence of meaning that their jobs have for them and because of other noxious circumstances correlated with the position (time pressures, noise, lack of autonomy, conflicting expectations) (Kaplan 1996).

Situational contexts define expectations regarding appropriate and otherwise attractive behavior and thus stimulate behavior that anticipates fulfillment of the expectations and achievement of the goals (including avoidance of noxious states such as social reception). In collective forms of interpersonal systems, emergent norms govern actions as well as moods and imagery for publics and crowds and so lead to mass behaviors such as crazes and panics and crowd behaviors such as rioting. The motivation for participation in social movements is influenced by expectations regarding the value and likelihood of the success of a movement (Michener and DeLamater 1994).

In interpersonal relationships as well, shared expectations govern attraction to others, helping behavior, and aggressive behavior. An individual tends to be attracted to those with whom interaction is facilitated, those who are characterized by socially appropriate and desirable traits (including physical attributes), those who share tastes with and are otherwise like that individual, those who manifest liking for him or her, and in general those who may be expected to occasion rewarding outcomes. Helping behavior is evoked by situational demand characteristics, such as role definitions that define helping behavior as appropriate for people who occupy particular social positions, or by interpersonal expectations that helping behavior by the other person should be reciprocated. The likelihood of conforming to these situational demand characteristics increases when a person perceives that the rewards for doing so will be forthcoming (including personal satisfaction in helping others, a sense of fulfillment in doing what one is called on to do, and approval by others) and that failure to do so will bring negative sanctions (social disapproval, a self-evaluation of having failed to do the right thing). Conformity to demand characteristics that require helping behavior may be impeded if a person perceives that it would involve costs, such as hindering the achievement of other goals. The awareness of potential rewards or costs for engaging or failing to engage in helping behavior is facilitated by situational characteristics such as the presence of observers and circumstances that produce self-awareness. The need to help others is increased by experiences that evoke negative self-evaluations. The resulting negative self-feelings motivate helping behavior as a way of improving one’s self-evaluation (Michener and DeLamater 1994).

Aggressive behavior may arise in response to situational demand characteristics such as perceiving oneself as playing a role that requires aggressive behavior either as a response to intentional aggressive behavior directed toward one by others or simply as a communication of an aggressive stance. Reinforcement by rewards increases the frequency or continuity of aggressive patterns. Rewarding outcomes of aggression include the related rewards of social approval, an improved position in the prestige hierarchy of the group, self-approval, and material gain. Individuals are inhibited from engaging in aggressive behavior when they perceive the act as contrary to normatively proscribed roles or otherwise anticipate adverse consequences of the behavior. These inhibiting effects may be obviated by the reduced self-awareness that results from being part of a crowd, for example, or by the administration of psychotropic drugs (Bandura 1973; Baron 1977; Kaplan 1972; Singer 1971).

In group contexts, role definitions and influences on self-awareness affect individual behavior. The assignment of individuals to higher-status positions in a group and concomitant expectations of higher levels of performance or of the adoption of particular functional roles frequently motivate people to conform to those expectations or lead to the provision of resources that permit them to do so (Berger et al. 1989). When socially induced selfawareness causes people to attend to public aspects of themselves, they tend to be responsive to group influences. When self-awareness causes them to attend to their personal standards, they tend to direct their behavior to conform with those values even when they conflict with group standards. Thus, exposure to cameras induces public selfawareness and increases social conformity, while exposure to mirrors evokes private self-awareness and an increase in self-direction (Scheier and Carver 1983).

The effects of social stimuli on deviant, as opposed to conforming, behavior have been addressed from a variety of theoretical frameworks, including structured strain theory, differential association and deviant subculture theories, control theory, self-theory, and the labeling perspective. Attempts to integrate or elaborate any of these approaches encompass the following ideas (Gibbs 1981; Hollander 1975; Kaplan 1984; Messner et al. 1989; Moscovici 1985). First, individuals who experience rejection and failure in conventional social groups lose their motivation to conform to conventional norms and are motivated to deviate from those norms. At the same time, these individuals are disposed to seek alternative deviant patterns to attain or restore feelings of self-worth. Second, individuals who participate in groups that endorse behaviors that are be defined as deviant in other groups (whether because they seek alternative deviant patterns through which they can improve self-worth or because of long-term identification with a deviant subculture) positively value the ‘‘deviant’’ patterns and are provided with opportunities and the resources to engage in the deviant behavior. Third, individuals with the motivation and opportunity to engage in deviant behavior are deterred by anticipated negative responses from groups that define that behavior as deviant and to which they remain emotionally bonded. Individuals tend to conform to the normative expectations of a group to the extent that they are made aware of the deviant nature of their behavior or attributes, are attracted to the group and therefore are highly vulnerable to the sanctions the group may administer for deviant behavior, are prevented from leaving the group and so freeing themselves from vulnerability to the group’s negative sanctions, identify with the group and thus adopt its normative standards, and internalize the normative standards and regard conformity as intrinsically valuable. Fourth, individuals who evoke negative social sanctions in response to initial deviance continue or increase the level of deviant behavior as a result of the effects of the negative social sanctions on increased alienation from the conventional group, increased association with deviant peers, and increased motivation to justify the initial deviance by more highly evaluating a deviant act. Continuity or escalation of deviant behavior also is likely to occur if motives that ordinarily inhibit the performance of deviant acts are weakened and if a person perceives an association between the deviant behavior and satisfaction of preexisting needs (including the need to enhance one’s self-esteem).

Psychological Influences on Social Systems

The consequences of socially influenced psychological processes may be observed at the interpersonal level and at the more inclusive, culturally defined macrosocial-structure level (Kaplan 1986).

Interpersonal systems→ Intrapsychic responses and behaviors influence interpersonal systems in a wide variety of ways. Among the more salient consequences are those relating to the stability and functioning of groups, intragroup influences, group membership, and intergroup relationships.

Individuals affect both the stability and the functioning of their groups through their behavior. The stability of a group is enhanced to the extent that individuals conform to the expectations other people have of them and thus validate those expectations. An individual contributes to group functioning by playing the roles other people expect her or him to play in the group, permitting others to play their complementary roles. Conformity is influenced by the need for self-approval and the approval of others when the criteria for approval are the group standards. If personal and group standards reflect the value of scholarship, individuals may study hard; if approximation to the standards of a particular social identity (such as male) is a salient basis for self-evaluation, people strive to conform to what they perceive as the role expectations associated with that position. More generally, persons may evaluate themselves in terms of conforming to others’ expectations. A salient value may be to evoke approving responses from others. To that end, a person may behave in number of ways, including conforming to others’ expectations and presenting oneself to others in ways calculated to evoke approving responses. However, a person will strive to conform to group standards in order to approximate self-values only to the extent that success or failure is attributed to the degree of personal effort rather than to circumstances (Kaplan 1995). Conformity is also an outcome of the need for others’ approval. In a group in which the members are highly attracted to the group, conformity to group norms, including those related to productivity, is high. In such cohesive groups, members have greater power over one another than they do in groups where the individuals are less attracted to and dependent on the group (Cartwright and Zander 1968; Cialdini and Frost 1998; Hare 1976). The need for others’ approval is reflected in the use of disclaimers and excuses to mitigate others’ responses to personal behaviors (Hewitt and Stokes 1975; Karp and Ybels 1986; Spencer 1987). A perceived threat to the group increases members’ attraction to the group and conformity to shared norms while decreasing tolerance of deviance.

Interpersonal influence occurs through the use of both overt and covert behaviors. Overt methods of persuasion include the use of information or arguments, the offering of rewards, and the threat of punishment. Covert attempts to influence others are reflected in self-presentation in order to create the impression of oneself as likable or in other ways to manipulate the impression others have of one. Attempts at persuasion are more or less effective depending on the characteristics of the source of the communication, the message itself, and the target of the communication. For example, communications are more persuasive if they come from a number of independent sources each of which is perceived to be expert, trustworthy, or otherwise attractive to the target of the communication, than they are if they occur in mutually exclusive circumstances. The effectiveness of threats and promises in influencing others depends on the magnitude and certainty of the proffered rewards and punishments. When the parties involved in the influence process all have the capacity to reward or punish one another, changes in opinions or behaviors are influenced by bargaining and negotiation processes. Among the possible outcomes, depending on a number of circumstances, are mutual influence, escalation of conflict, accommodation of one person to the demands of the other, and failure of the parties to agree (Michener and DeLamater 1994). In the course of group interaction, individuals develop more extreme attitudes than they held as individuals. This may be due to the pooling of arguments, which adds new reasons for the initially held attitude, or to the social support provided by other group members, which permits the person to be more extreme in his or her opinions with less fear of group rejection (Brandstatter et al. 1982).

Persons are motivated to present themselves in ways that evoke desired responses from others. This is accomplished through a variety of tactics. A significant feature of self-presentation is an individual’s social identity in a situation. By projecting a particular identity, the individual effectively imposes complementary identities on others; if the other people perform the roles associated with those identities, they in effect endorse the identity that the individual wishes to project. This imposition of social identities on others (altercasting) has the desirable effect of affirming the social identity the individual wishes to project. For example, by complying with a reason’s demands or following her or his lead, the others affirm that person’s position of authority or leadership. In addition, people’s favorable responses are intrinsically valued, other rewarding outcomes are contingent on them, and they indicate to a person that her of his public image reflects her or his personal ideals. Self-presentation may be used to create false as well as true images of oneself. The creation of false images (impression management) also is used to evoke responses from others that serve one’s personal needs. Tactics involving the false presentation of self include pretenses that one admires other individuals or share their opinions and presenting oneself as if one had admirable qualities that one does not in fact possess (Baumeister 1982; Tedeschi 1981).

The attraction and maintenance of group membership are a function of the perception by members that group participation is intrinsically desirable or instrumental to the achievement of shared or individually defined goals (Evans and Jarvis 1980). Relationships, as well as larger groups, grow and become resistant to dissolution as the partners become increasingly dependent on each other for need satisfaction, which may lie in the relationship itself or in the role the partner plays in facilitating the satisfaction of other needs outside the relationship (that is, by providing social support). Primary relationships dissolve to the extent that the costs come to exceed the rewards—whether in absolute terms or relative to the cost-benefit ratio that may be obtained from alternative relationships— and to the extent that the costs of remaining in the relationship outweigh the costs (including social disapproval) associated with terminating it (Cialdini and Frost 1998; Kelley and Thibaut 1978; Kerckhoff 1974). Among the costs are perceptions of inequity. Group members tend to compare the relationship between their own contributions to the group and the rewards they receive with other members’ contributions and rewards. Judgments of inequity are made when members perceive rewards to be out of proportion to contributions. Judgments that inequitable states exist stimulate responses to reduce the inequity or at least the perception of the inequity. The inability to redress or tolerate inequitable relationships may lead to eschewing membership in a group (Walster et al. 1978). In general, people select group memberships, when they have a choice, and maintain them in accordance with their value in facilitating self-approving responses. People maintain relationships by whose standards they may evaluate themselves positively and tend not to associate with groups by whose standards they would be considered failures (Kaplan 1986).

The nature of the responses that groups evoke from nonmembers is influenced by the nonmembers’ perceptions, evaluations, and feelings toward themselves and others. Negative emotions, such as anger, and consequent aggressive behavior may be directed toward groups when individuals’ interests cannot be served except at the cost of frustration of the objectives of another group or when individuals associate the other group with past experiences of failure. Among the benefits persons may experience at the cost of the other group’s outcomes is increased self-esteem. Aggressive behavior directed toward others deflects anger that might have been directed toward oneself. When the basis of one’s feelings of accomplishment are judged relative to the achievements of another group, aggressive behaviors that lead to the failure or destruction of the other group enhance feelings of pride in one’s own group. Stronger levels of identification with one’s group or social category increase the need to enhance one’s group identity at the cost of adverse outcomes for other groups (Bobo 1983; LeVine and Campbell 1972; Worchel and Austin 1986). The tendency to devalue others as they deviate from one’s own group’s standards increases the justification for negative attitudes and hostile actions toward the other group. The need to justify aggressive attitudes toward another group also frequently leads to biased perceptions that reinforce or validate preexisting attitudes toward that group. Reversal of the process is impeded by the decreases in communication that accompany negative attitudes toward that group. Frequent experiences of observing aggressive responses desensitize a person to the effects of these responses and establish a normative judgment that they are within the expected range of responses.

Other individuals or groups may be the objects of helping behavior, depending on the actor’s intrapsychic responses. Negative affect (particularly negative self-feelings) decreases helping behavior by focusing attention inward and away from the plight of other individuals. Thus, some individuals are less likely to empathize with or even be aware of others’ needs. At the same time, distressful self-feelings motivate an individual to behave in ways that will earn self-approval. Helping behavior may serve this function by fulfilling others’ expectation that helping behavior be offered, conforming to role definitions of helping behavior as appropriate for particular social identities, and conforming to self-values regarding altruistic behavior and thus compensating for feelings of rejection and failure (Dovidio 1984).

Macrosocial structures→ Psychological structures, intrapsychic responses, and behaviors influence the substance of the social structure at any given time and social change over time. Dimensions of personality that reflect evaluative standards affect the positions an individual has in the social structure. High value placed on educational attainment and achievement orientation lead ultimately to educational achievement and high occupational status. Similarly, studies of the relationship between the occupational structure and personality suggest that workers may be selected into jobs because of the fit between their personality characteristics and the requirements of the work situation (Kerckhoff 1989). Individuals who value self direction select occupations that permit the exercise of self-direction, that is, ones that involve less routine, more complex tasks, and low levels of supervision. Persons who place a high value on conformity tend to opt for occupations that are closely supervised, routine, and noncomplex.

The effects of persons as products of past socialization experiences and as stimulated by contemporary social situations on interpersonal social systems and the more inclusive social structure are mediated by the responses of those persons to themselves. An individual influences the current and future functioning of interpersonal systems by becoming self-aware and conceiving of the self in particular ways, evaluating the self as more or less closely approximating personal standards, and experiencing self-feelings that stimulate self-protective and self-enhancing responses, some of which directly and indirectly affect the functioning of the interpersonal or social systems in which that individual participates.

If a person fails to behave in ways that meet self-imposed demands, that person will experience negative self-feelings that motivate him or her to behave in ways that will reduce the selfrejecting feelings. If the person identifies the selfrejecting experiences with particular social identities, she or he may reject the group and define it as a negative reference group, overidentify with the group and reevaluate formerly denigrated attributes as desirable ones, or project undesirable characteristics onto other groups or social categories and act with hostility toward them. Negative self-feelings also may lead to reduced levels of socioeconomic aspirations, occupational change, withdrawal from political participation or association with political activism, and changes in patterns of religious affiliation and participation (Kaplan 1986; Rosenberg and Kaplan 1982). If the circumstances that hinder a person from behaving in ways that earn self-approval and the self-protective responses they stimulate are widespread, the inclusive social structure will be affected. The person’s responses directly affect interpersonal systems, that is, individuals who interact in the context of social relationships and groups that are governed by shared situation-specific, identity-specific, or person-specific expectations. If the individual is motivated to withdraw from or otherwise disrupt the functioning of the interpersonal systems in which she or he participates, the functioning of the other individuals will be similarly disrupted, since others’ performance is contingent on the individual’s conformity to their expectations. However, the functioning of the interpersonal system willbe facilitated if the individual is motivated to conform to the normative expectations that the participants in the interaction situation view as applicable to the person in that particular situational context. If the disposition to deviate from normative expectations is prevalent, disruptions of social relationships will be widespread and the social structure will be less resistant to changes in patterns of response over time. While widespread conformity to shared expectations in particular social contexts has stabilizing influences on the broader social structure, widespread innovation or deviation from them influences the development of new social structural arrangements and definitions.

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This Aricle was Written by
HOWARD B. KAPLAN

This Article was Published in
ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SOCIOLOGY
Second Edition
A Book by

EDGAR F BORGATTA
Editor-in-Chief
University of Washington, Seattle

AND

RHONDA J. V. MONTGOMERY
Managing Editor
University of Kansas, Lawrence

 

 
 
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