Social psychology can be defined as: “the scientific field that seeks to understand the nature and causes of individual behavior in social situations”. (Baron, Byrne & Suls, 1989,p. 6 cited in. McLeod, 2007). Social psychology deals with human behavior, and how it is influenced by social situations and other people around where it happens. It therefore goes deep to deal with the reasons that lead people to react or behave how they do in the presence of others. It also looks at the environment under which some behaviors and feelings occur (McLeod, 2007). In general Social psychology deals with how these thoughts, beliefs, feelings, goals and intentions are constructed, and how they influence how we interact with others in turn. This paper seeks to analyze how social situations affect human interactions from a psychological perspective. The paper will be based on two examples of human behavior changes based on social situation.
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One of the way human behavior changes according to social situation is conformity. According to Kowalski and Westen, (2011) “conformity is the process by which people change their attitudes or behavior to accommodate the standards of peers or groups.” (p. 694). Take a college scenario for example. In college, students are known to do all sorts of things; adventurous, exciting, scary, evil, unlawful, good or simply bad. A student may be forced to do drugs like cocaine, because he has a low self esteem and wants to fit into a certain category or group of students. For example, he may find a group of other students that he wishes to join taking cocaine. The students may ask him to try some. Although he might not be willing, the others may persuade him into doing it. At the end, the student may conform to taking the drug because he wants to fit in.
People with low self-esteem and those usually motivated by a desire for social approval are more likely to conform (Crowne and Marlowe, 1964. cited in Kowalski & Westen, 2011, p. 685). McLeod (2007) says that when an individual changes his behavior it is because of a response to real or imagined group pressure. This pressure comes from the physical presence of others and their expectations. He further adds that when he conforms to group pressure, adverse behaviors like bullying, teasing, criticism and others may follow. According to McLeod (2007) conformity happens if a person conforms to a belief of the majority or position. It occurs because of a need for acceptance, a need to fit, desire to be right, or to conform to social role. There are three types of conformity: Normative, Informational and Ingratiational conformity.
Normative conformity happens when a person gives in to group pressure because they fear being rejected by the specific group. Informational conformity happens when a person needs guidance or lacks knowledge and looks for it in a group. It can also happen when he is in an ambiguous situation and socially compares his behavior with those of a group. On the other hand, Ingratiational conformity happens when a person conforms to please, be accepted or gain favor from other people. (McLeod, 2007, P. 1)
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The precursors of conformity may include the fact that a person can lose or sacrifice his own behaviors and thoughts and instead look upon the groups behaviors and thoughts that he is conforming to. Consequently the individual develops a co-dependence problem.
Associated phenomenon that may occur in conformity could be social facilitation and group think. Group think will occur when individuals in a group do not show their concerns on the decisions, dynamics or the way the group is doing things. This will happen because everyone in the group wants to stay in the group (by conforming). On the other hand, social facilitation in conformity will happen when the individual changes their behavior in response to group pressure, whether imagined or real as said by McLeod (2007).
The other behavior that can be influence by a social situation is obedience. Obedience can be defined as a social influence process where a person follows the commands of an authority (Kowalski and Western, 2011, p.694). For example, a soldier in a military camp may be asked by his senior to lie down on a muddy surface. This might be a punishment or for some other reasons like military practice. The soldier will with no doubt do as he is told. This is because he has been commanded to do so and has to obey because of the situation he is in. This is not something that the soldier has to do or probably likes to do. This is obedience to an authority. It is something that he cannot do if the setting was different. McLeod (2007) says that without a direct order, the person would not have behaved in such a manner. Obedience usually happens when people are reacting to a direct command given by someone else, usually has authority (McLeod 2007, p.1)
A study conducted by Stanley Milgram showed the tendency of obedience to an authority figure, whether biased or not. It also brings to light two types of obedience: constructive and destructive obedience (Cardwel, 2005). Constructive obedience is one that benefits the person as well as the society. This type of obedience helps both the individual and the society. Examples of constructive obedience include obeying a doctor’s prescription. They benefit their health and safety as well as the society due to this behavior. On the other hand, destructive obedience is the exact opposite of constructive obedience. This type of obedience harms the individual and the society. Examples include a suicide bomber who blows up innocent people, the people’s temple mass suicide, the killing of a million Armenians in Turkey in the 1900s, Holocaust murder of Jews by German Nazis (McLeod, 2007). They are mostly based on beliefs.
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The main precursor of obedient is that a person shifts his behaviors and thoughts and waits for the authority figure to determine the acceptable behaviors and/ thoughts. This is evident with soldiers during their operations similar to people like terrorists. Similar to conformity, this will consequently lead to the individual developing co-dependence problem.
The associated phenomenon that may occur with obedience may also include social affiliation. This will happen because the person does not want to defy the command/ authority, and hold behaviors and thoughts contrary to those held by the authority. Similarly, group think will happen because the individual cannot express his concerns about the directive issued by the authority and has to obey.
In conclusion, human interactions will always play a role in how we behave in social situations. This can also affect an individual because he is forced to change his behaviors and thoughts to suit those held by other people as is the case of obedience and conformity. As noted above, care should be taken when changing behavior due to social situational influence because the negative implications can be dangerous.