Chapter 11: Social Psychology

Intro to Psychology

Social Beliefs

  • Attribution theory: people are motivated to explain their own or others’ behaviors by attributing their causes to situations or dispositions.
    • Situational attribution: attributing to a situation (“situational”, “external”).
    • Dispositional attribution: attributing to the person inherently (“personal”, “internal”).
  • Fundamental attribution error: the common tendency to over-attribute to personality factors and under-attribute to the situation.
    • Particularly prevalent in Western countries, where people think that individuals are responsible for their own actions and dislike the idea that situations have influence.
    • Thinking of a few “bad apples” is comforting, while often it’s the influence of the situation.
  • Social cognition is self-serving.
    • Our thinking is not always primarily motivated by accuracy.
    • We are often more concerned about protecting our ego.
  • Actor-observer effect: we are more likely to recognize situational causes for our own actions.
  • We think we’re better than average (better-than-average effect).
  • We think the world is fair (just-world hypothesis).
    • One common way of restoring this is victim blaming.
  • Downward social comparison
    • Comparing yourself to those less fortunate or less competent
    • Like other social illusions, it has benefits.
  • Illusion of Control
    • “I’ll live longer than the life expectancy”
    • “My marriage won’t end in divorce”
    • “My team will win if I wear my lucky socks”
  • Familiarity effect: the tendency to hold positive attitudes towards familiar people or things.
    • Comfort foods, familiar smells, recognizable commercial jingles.
  • Elaboration likelihood model
    • When we have motivation / available cognitive resources to scrutinize a message, we are more persuaded by the strength of arguments.
      • Central route to persuasion
      • When we are lacking in motivation or cognitive resources (busy, distracted, tired) we are more persuaded by superficial things (celebrity spokesperson, the attractiveness of the person making the argument).
        • Peripheral route to persuasion
  • Cognitive dissonance: the uncomfortable feeling when two attitudes or an attitude and a behavior are in conflict.
    • We need to tell ourselves things to keep cognitive dissonance in balance, and sometimes dismiss evidence to do this.
  • Methods of indoctrination (e.g. suicide bombers, cults):
    • Change their behavior slowly
    • Provide and emphasize one reason for the person’s problems
    • Control their access to disconfirming / dissonant information (family, internet, etc)

Social Forces

  • Norms: rules for how to act in society.
    • Violating social norms brings attention and negative consequences.
    • Conformity: adjusting behavior or attitudes to match social norms.
  • Roles: positions in society that are regulated by norms.
  • Those who justify their own actions often mentally hand over responsibility to authority figures, while those who “do the right thing” take responsibility for their own actions.

Individuals in Groups

  • Groupthink: the tendency for a group to think alike and suppress dissent.
    • Symptoms of groupthink:
      • An illusion of invulnerability
      • Self-censorship
      • Pressure on dissenters to conform
      • An illusion of unanimity
    • Groupthink can be minimized when leaders reward expressions of doubt or dissent
  • Bystander effect: the more people around you, the less likely someone will help you.
    • Reasons for bystander effect:
      • In crowds, we’re less likely to notice emergencies
      • Less likely to interpret events as emergencies
      • Assume someone will take care of it
      • Don’t want to make a fool of yourself in public
  • Deindividuation: losing awareness of your individuality in a crowd; may do destructive things you’d never do on your own.
    • This is responsible for mob violence
  • Factors that help people overcome bystander apathy:
    • You perceive the need for intervention or help
    • Cultural norms encourage you to take action
    • You have an ally
  • The presence of other people can:
    • Influence how we see the world
    • Make us do things you ordinarily wouldn’t
    • Make us more apathetic than we usually are

Group Identity and Conflict

  • Social identities: comprised of groups we belong to, feel emotionally attached to, and are influenced by their rules, values, and norms.
  • In-group favoritism: being more generous (both in thought and deed) with others in your own group.
  • You can undo artificially-created group hostility by having the groups cooperate or pool resources.
  • Stereotype: summary impression of a group.


  • Prejudice: strong, unreasonable dislike or hatred of a group.
  • Sources of prejudice:
    • Psychological - prejudice can ward off doubt, fear, and low self-esteem, and allows scapegoating
    • Social - acquired through friends, relatives, etc
    • Economic - justified by a group’s perceived dominance, status, or wealth
    • Cultural or national - people bond with people in their own ethnic group

Milgram study

Milgram study: participants were told to shock another participant when they misremembered words. The other participant was an actor who was instructed to yell and protest, and eventually fall silent (perhaps due to a heart condition that they mentioned earlier).

65% of participants went to the end of the entire shock panel (labeled “XXX”, 450 volts). Only one participant refused before 300 volts.

  • Milgram variants that decrease obedience:
    • Increased distance from experimenter (experimenter in different room giving instructions over intercom)
    • Increased proximity to confederate (having confederate in same room, or having to administer shocks by hand)
    • Non-university setting
    • Informal dress for experimenter (instead of lab coat)

Harvard Implicit Bias Test

(Test that shows many people associate white with pleasant, and black with negative.)


  • We often rely on cognitive shortcuts.
  • Our tendency to categorize objects.
    • We do this with people as well.
  • Automatic categorization leads to stereotype development.
    • We overestimate differences between groups.
    • We underestimate differences within groups.
  • We can try to inhibit stereotypes, but we are not always successful.
  • Awareness of potential for bias is an important first step.
    • If we deny that we have biases, we can’t correct for them.