Applying Social Psychology: the PATH model - Buunk & Vugt - Article


How can social psychology help solving societal problems? 

Almost all societal problems have social psychological aspects and therefore social psychology can help clarify the problem and help to find the solution. This chapter is about the problem HIV/AIDS in Africa. The number of people with AIDS has been rising all over the world. Especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, AIDS is a problem. More than other diseases, AIDS is surrounded by taboos and leads to stigmatization. For adequate help, more money is required than there is available. 

How can we raise money? 

Volunteers set up a campaign to raise funds for medical and psychosocial care for people in Sub-Saharan Africa with AIDS. Some members don't want the campaign to dramatic, because they think that might adversely affect the willingness to donate. Others argue that the campaign should highlight the severe nature of the disease, by emphasizing that the victims are not to blame. One part of the team actively wants to approach the media, the others are concerned about the lack of interest in the topic. Another issue is whether you should use television or make it more personal by going door to door. And should you show donations of others or will that only put people off. 

What is the relevance of social psychology?

A social psychologist knows how to influence people. Based on literature research, he can make specific suggestions on how to set up the campaign. To do that, he must first develop an adequate problem definition, the P-phase of the PATH-methodology. 

What does the Schwartz Model say? 

In Schwartz's model, there are various steps that affect prosocial behavior in people: 

  • Awareness: people must be aware that others need help. The need must be seen as prominent, clear and serious. 
  • Opportunities: people must be aware that there are genuine opportunities to help or change the situation. 
  • Ability to help: people must recognize that they have an ability to provide help. 
  • Personal norms: people must have feelings of moral obligation that hey should help. 
  • Responsibility: people must accept some responsibility for the problem to become involved and want to offer help. 

Literature further suggests that people are more inclined to help when the recipients are considered blameless, because then they are more sympathetic. The more sympathy people evoke, the more help they receive. 

Helping is finally more likely when people are able to identify with the victims. That reduces the distance between the helper and the recipient and encourages people to empathize. 

How can you apply social psychology? 

The PATH model helps social scientists to quickly develop a theoretical based intervention program. There are sometimes obstacles, like when a problem may seem very complex. Besides, finding relevant social psychological literature takes time. Eventually, it is always hard to tell if an intervention will be successful. 

Of what steps does the PATH method consist? 

  1. Problem definition
  2. Analysis, formulating appropriate concepts and developing theory-based explanations
  3. Testing the explanatory process model
  4. Help; developing and evaluating a program. 

What does the step 'problem definition' consist of? 

The problem needs to be described precisely. The problem must be asked sufficiently concrete and it needs to be clear why it is a problem and for whom it is a problem. Further, you must specify the population you want to target with the intervention, the target group. Finally, the key aspects of the problem need to be considered. That is, a good problem definition makes clear that the problem has an applied rather than a basic nature, and is formulated in concrete terms. 

What does the step 'analysis' consist of? 

In this step, you need to come up with social psychological explanations for the problem. First, you need to decide what the outcome variable is, which variable needs changing. 

To address the problem, a social psychologist must read the literature based on two entries. First, the literature is helping, it can tell hem what motivates people to give money. Second, he needs to search for social influence, to learn what influence strategies are most effective. 

You may find different theories. Those theories must be reduced, based on the relevance of the theory, the validity of the theory and the plausibility. To determine the validity of the social psychological theories, it is important to assess the extent to which the typical experiments on which the theory is based represent the real world.

What does the step 'test' consist of? 

A process model must be formulated. This contains the outcome variable that must be influenced and it should primarily contain variables that can be influenced to some extent. All variables should describe the relationship between the variables in the form of a process model. A process model can have many different forms.

What does the step 'help' consist of? 

The final and most difficult step is to move from the process model to an intervention program. The model must contain primarily factors that can be influenced to be able to develop an intervention program. Although some non-influenceable factors, like gender may be very important, you can not build an intervention program around them. In this step, the social psychologist must first come up with as many interventions as possible and then creating a program which is shaped in such detail that it can be implemented. This takes a lot of time. 

What problems can you run in to by applying the theories? 

To apply a social psychological theory is not simple. There are three important limitations in the type of research described, oversimplification, external validity and contradictory evidence. 

  • Oversimplification is when the situation is reduced too much. A single laboratory experiment can never examine the complex interplay of variables in human social behavior. When you oversimplify the theory, you will not show the difference of one factor, compared to another. Although researchers can include a second, third or even fourth variable in their experiments, it is impossible to include all potentially relevant factors in a laboratory experiment.
  • External Validity. All kinds of factors in real life may obscure the impact of the variables that are manipulated. The question is if the results of the study are representative of the real world. Despite the striking results of such experiments, in real life the success of these interventions may be weak or there may be ethical concerns.
  • Contradictory evidence. Studies often produce contradictory findings and those findings may be confusing and difficult to interpret. Mostly, that is because those studies have subtly different methods. You should not take the conclusions from experiments as general truths, but you should carefully examine the experimental paradigm on which a particular finding is based before applying it to the real world. 

What did they conclude? 

The PATH model is a step-by-step approach to address and resolve societal problems through the application of social psychological theory and knowledge. The PATH model should not be used rigid, but it should be an iterative process. You should not strictly follow the steps, but you have to use it to develop a clear problem definition, and a process model that fits the empirical findings.

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Comments, Compliments & Kudos

proofread check :))

this is an awesome summary thanks so much just letting you know there are a few spelling errors/typos throughout the PATH stages/steps sections!

Thank you

Thank you for your kind words. Thanks to your comment, the spelling of the text could be improved. Good luck studying!

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