What is social psychology? - summary of chapter 1 of Social Psychology by Smith, E, R (fourth edition)

Social psychology
Chapter 1
What is social psychology?

A definition of social psychology

Social psychology: the scientific study of the effects of social and cognitive processes on the way individuals perceive, influence and relate to others.

The scientific study

Social psychologist gather knowledge systematically by means of scientific methods. These methods help to produce knowledge that is less subject to the biases and distortions that often characterize common-sense knowledge.

The effects of social and cognitive processes

The presence of other people, the knowledge and opinions they pass on to us, and our feelings about the groups to which we belong all deeply influence us through social processes, whether we are with other people or alone. Our perceptions, memories, emotions, and motives also exert a pervasive influence on us through cognitive processes. Effects of social and cognitive processes are not separate but inextricably intertwined.

Social processes: the ways in which input from the people and groups around us affect our thoughts, feelings and actions.
Affect us even when others are not physically present.

The processes that affect us when others are present depend on how we interpret those others and their actions.

Cognitive processes: the ways in which our memories, perceptions, thoughts, emotions, and motives influence our understanding of the world and guide our actions.

The way individuals perceive, influence and relate to others

Social psychology focuses on the effects of social and cognitive processes on the way individuals perceive, influence and relate to others. Understanding these processes can help us comprehend why people act the way they do and may also help solve important social problems.

Social psychology seeks and understanding of the reasons people act the way they do in social situations.

Historical trends and current themes in social psychology

Social psychology is a product of its past.

Social psychology becomes an empirical science

Soon after the emergence of scientific psychology in the late 19th century, researchers began considering questions about social influences on human thought and action.

Social psychology splits from general psychology over what causes behavior

Throughout much of the 20th century, North American psychology was dominated by behaviorism, but social psychologists maintained an emphasis on the important effects of thoughts and feelings on behavior.

The rise of Nazism shapes the development of social psychology

In the 1930s and 1940s, many European social psychologists fled to North America, where they had a major influence on the field’s direction. Significant questions generated by the rise of Nazism and the second world war shaped research interests during this period.

Growth and integration

Since the 1950s and the 1960s, social psychology has grown and flourished, moving toward an integrated theoretical understanding of social and cognitive processes and toward further applications of social-psychological theory to important applied problems.

Integration of cognitive and social processes

The study of cognitive processes became a natural framework for integration both within and outside social psychology.

Integration with other research trends

As the world became more interconnected in the late 20th century and as social psychological research spread to many more regions of the globe, researchers were confronted with findings showing that even what had been regarded as ‘basic’ processes differed strikingly in different nations and cultures.
Other newer theoretical trends are also becoming incorporated into social psychology.

Integration of basic science and social problems

Social psychology regard issues that are important outside the laboratory as both source of theoretical ideas and a target for solutions.

How the approach of this book reflects an integrative perspective

Two fundamental axioms of social psychology

Two fundamental axioms of social psychology

  • People construct their own reality
  • Social influences are pervasive

Construction of reality

The axiom that each person’s view of reality is a construction, shaped both by cognitive process and by social processes.

Pervasiveness of social influence

The axiom that other people influence virtually all of our thoughts, feelings, and behavior, whether those others are physically present or not.

Three motivational principles

  • People strive for mastery
    The motivational principle that people seek to understand and predict events in the social world in order to obtain rewards.
  • People seek connectedness
    The motivational principle that people seek support, liking, and acceptance from the people and groups they care about and value.
  • People value ‘me and mine’
    The motivational principle that people desire to see themselves, and other people and groups connected to themselves, in a positive light.

Three processing principles

  • Conservatism:
    Established views are slow to change

    • Individual’s and group’s vies of the world are slow to change and prone to perpetuate themselves.
  • Accessibility:
    Accessible information has the most impact
    • The information most readily available generally has the most impact on thoughts, feelings, and behavior.
  • Superficiality versus depth:
    People can process superficially or in depth
    • People ordinarily put little effort into dealing with information, but at times are motivated to consider information in more depth.

Common processes, diverse behaviors

In combination, these eight principles account for all types of social behavior, including thoughts and actions that are useful and valuable as well as those that are misleading and destructive.

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Social Psychology by Smith, E, R (fourth edition) a summary


This is a summary of the book Social Psychology by Smith. It is an introduction to social psychology and is about human behaviour in relation to groups and other humans. This book is used in the course 'Social psychology' in the first year of the study Psychology at the

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