Facts That Matter
Social Psychology is a branch of Psychology which investigates how the behaviour of individuals is affected by others and the social environment.
We form attitudes or develop ways of thinking about specific topics and people. We form impressions about persons we meet. We are also interested in why people behave in the ways they do-attribution.
The combination of social processes like attitude, impression formation, attribution and pro social behaviour is called social cognition.
Social cognition refers to the mental activities related to the gathering and interpretation of information about the social world.
Social cognition of all’ the individuals is affected by the social environment (Societal conditions in the society peace, harmony, trust or aggression, frustration, disharmony and distrust towards individuals, groups, peoples, relationship and social issues.)
Because of social influences, people form attitudes or ways of thinking about specific topics and people. Impression formation is when we make inferences about personal qualities of people we meet. Attribution is when we assign causes to the behaviour shown in specific social situation.
Features of Attitude:
(i) Valence (positivity or negativity).
(ii) Extremeness indicates how positive or negative an attitude is.
(iii) Simplicity or Complexity (multiplexity) refers to how many attitudes there are within a broader attitude. An attitude system is said to be ‘simple’ if it contains only one or a few attitudes and ‘complex’ if it is made up of many attitudes.
(iv) Centrality: This refers to the role of a particular attitude in the system much more than non-central (or peripheral) attitudes would.
In general, attitudes are learned through one’s own experiences, and through interaction With others.
Process of Attitude Formation:
Factors that Influence Attitude Formation:
(i) Family and School Environment particularly in the early years of life.
(ii) Reference Groups indicate the norms regarding acceptable behaviour/ways of thinking, reflect learning of attitudes through cultural norms, noticeable during beginning of adolescence.
(iii) Personal Experiences (direct).
(iv) Media-related Influences. Technological advances have made audio-visual media, school level textbook and the Internet very powerful sources of information
Attitudes that are still in the formative stage, and are more like opinions, are much more likely to change compared to attitude that have become firmly established and have become a part of the individual’s values.
1. Balance or P-O-X triangle (Fritz Heider) represents the relationships between three aspects or components of attitude.
2. Cognitive Dissonance (Leon Festinger) emphasises on the cognitive component. Cognitive components of an attitude must be ‘constant’ (opposite of‘dissonant’), i.e., they should be logically in line with each other. If an individual finds, that two cognitions in an attitude dissonant, then one of them will be changed in the direction of consonance.
Both balance and cognitive dissonance are examples of cognitive consistency which means that two components or elements of the attitude, or attitude system, must be in the same direction. If this does not happen, then the person experiences a kind of mental discomfort, i.e. the sense that ‘something is not quite right’ in the attitude system.
3. The Two-Step Concept (S.M. Mohsin): According to him, attitude change takes place in the form of two steps:
(i) The target of change (person whose attitude is to be changed) identifies with the source (person through whose influence the attitude is to be changed). Identification means that the target and the source have a mutual regard and attraction.
(ii) The source himself/herself shows an attitude change, by actually changing him/her behaviour towards the attitude object. Observing the source’s changed attitude and behaviour, the target also shows an attitude change through behaviour. This is a kind of imitation or observational learning.
Factors that Influence Attitude Change:
Psychologists have found that there would be consistency between attitudes and behaviour when—
(i) the attitude is strong and occupies a central place in the attitude system.
(ii) the person is aware of his/her attitude.
(iii) there is very little or no external pressure for the person to behave in a particular way.
Prejudice and Discrimination:
Prejudices are usually negative attitudes against a particular group, and in many cases, may be based on stereotypes (the cognitive component) about the specific group. A stereotype is a cluster of ideas regarding the characteristics of a specific group. The cognitive component of prejudice is frequently accompanied by dislike or hatred, the affective components of prejudice are more difficult to change.
Sources of Prejudice:
Strategies for Handling Prejudice
The strategies for handling prejudice would be effective if they aim at:
(a) minimising opportunities for learning prejudices,
(b) changing such attitudes,
(c) de-emphasising a narrow social identity based on the in-group, and
(d) discouraging the tendency towards self-fulfilling prophecy among the victims of prejudice.
These goals can be accomplished through:
SCHEMAS and Stereotypes
A schema is defined as a mental structure that provides a framework, set of rules or guidelines for processing information about any object. Schemata (or ‘schemas’) are the basic units stored in our memory, and function as shorthand ways of processing information, thus reducing the time and mental effort required in cognition.
Schemata that function in the form of categories are called prototypes, which are the entire set of schemata or qualities that help us to define an object completely. In social cognition, category-based schemata, that are related to groups of people, are called stereotypes (over generalized, are not directly verified). The inferences you have drawn are not the result of your logical thinking or direct experience, but are based on pre-conceived ideas about a particular group.
Impression Formation and Attribution:
The process of coming to know a person can be broadly divided into two parts— (a) Impression formation and (b) Attribution. The person who forms the impression is called perceiver. (Response to information about the qualities of the target, organises this information, and draws inferences about the target). The individual about whom the impression is formed is called the target.
Impression Formation and attribution are influenced by: