Social Psychology for AP Psychology

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Mar 4, 2011

Review questions for this study guide can be found at:

Social Psychology Review Questions for AP Psychology

This article deals with how groups affect the individual, how we perceive others and others perceive us, and attitudes and attitude change.

Group Dynamics

Humans have a basic drive to form social bonds with others. A social group is two or more individuals sharing common goals and interests, interacting, and influencing each other's behavior. People occupying an elevator together are not a social group, but members of a girl scout troop would be because they have a pattern of socializing and working together on projects and common goals. Norms are implicit or explicit rules that apply to all members of the group and govern acceptable behavior and attitudes. Norms allow for smooth social interactions because they let people know how they are supposed to behave. Violating these norms can be grounds for exclusion from the group, so the desire to belong will cause some members to act very differently from when they are alone.

Social Roles

Certain social roles or social positions are also characteristic of group membership. In the Zimbardo prison study, Stanford students were arbitrarily assigned the roles of either prisoner or guard. As a consequence of their role assignment, individual behavior changed dramatically in a matter of hours. Although they were well aware that the "prison" was a simulated situation, by the sixth day the experiment had to be halted because of the severe stress inflicted by certain "sadistic" guards who took their roles too seriously. The entire experiment was videotaped and experts in the prison system were amazed at how realistic the simulated situation had become in such a short period of time. Those assigned the role of prisoner were cowering in their cells and one-third of those assigned the role of guard inflicted harsh punishment for the slightest infraction of the rules.

Working together in group situations either in the classroom or in the workplace is a common practice. Certain group members, either by assignment or natural inclination, assume leadership roles while others contribute to the group effort in other ways. All too often, a group member assumes the role of "slacker." This tendency toward social loafing is a result of feeling less pressure to put forth effort when engaged in projects where group evaluations are being made. The "slackers" will leave the work to others who are more personally invested in doing a good job always. These same students or "slackers" tend to exert more effort if they believe they will be evaluated individually. Teachers and employers could ease group tensions by keeping this tendency in mind.

Another phenomenon that arises when people are in large groups is deindividuation. When we are in a large group, we tend to lose some self-awareness. We may engage in behavior that is unusual or uncharacteristic for us because of this group anonymity. This especially occurs when there is a heightened sense of arousal. Antisocial behavior from normally well-behaved individuals may occur in these situations. Let a pitcher hit a batter with a ball for a second time and watch the benches of both teams empty and a fistfight take place. This normative behavior reduces the conflict any one person feels toward acting in such a brutal way. None of the players give much thought to the repercussions. Similarly, when a blackout occurs, we have become accustomed to expect certain groups to riot and loot. Deindividuation can also lead to prosocial behavior, with an unusual outpouring of generosity among virtual strangers all caught up in an emotionally arousing situation.

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