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Social Psychology Research Paper Outline
II. Theoretical Perspectives and Theoretical Ideas
a. Cognitive and Intrapersonal Social Psychology
b. Symbolic Interactionism
c. Structural Social Psychology
III. Methodological Tools
a. Interpretive Methods
b. Experimental Methods
c. Survey and Interview Methods
IV. Substantive Focus
a. Individuals and Interactions
c. Social Organizations and Social Institutions
Social psychology is an approach to understanding human social relations that focuses on individuals and how their interactions impact social organizations and social institutions. Social psychological scholarship includes a wide range of theoretical perspectives, methodological tools, and substantive applications originating from diverse intellectual schools such as sociology, psychology, economics, education, and business. Contemporary social psychology is best understood by examining its range of theoretical perspectives, methodological tools, and substantive foci.
II. Theoretical Perspectives and Theoretical Ideas
The breadth and range of theoretical ideas in contemporary social psychology reflects the diverse intellectual origins of the various perspectives and approaches. Early discussions of social psychology focused on these distinctive intellectual origins by highlighting the differences between psychological and sociological social psychology. This representation of the field has been critiqued for its perpetuation of artificial boundaries that overlook significant connections between the shared subject matter of sociology and psychology. In 1980 Sheldon Stryker articulated three ‘‘faces’’ of social psychology: psychological social psychology, sociological social psychology, and symbolic interactionism. While each perspective represents unique theoretical ideas, they also inform one another and serve to create a comprehensive understanding of individual interactions and how they impact on the groups to which we belong as well as the environments in which group interactions occur. All three perspectives share a focus on the individual and individual interactions as the explanatory factor for all aspects of social life, such as the creation of stable group structures and the formation of successful social movements. The three theoretical perspectives in social psychology, known more generally as cognitive and intrapersonal, symbolic interactionist, and structural, each represent different origins and intellectual affiliations and maintain a focus on different aspects of the individual and society.
a. Cognitive and Intrapersonal Social Psychology
Cognitive and intrapersonal social psychology originated with the work of experimental psychologists in Germany such as Wilhelm Wundt in the mid nineteenth century and focuses on understanding how internal processes affect an individual’s ability to interact with others. The internal processes most studied in this perspective are cognitive (memory, perception, and decision making) and physiological (chemical and neural activity). Each approach examines a different aspect of how interactions are affected by these internal processes. The under lying basis of the cognitive and intrapersonal approach centers on how individuals store information in the brain in the form of schemas. Schemas represent the way in which people identify objects in their environment by labeling them, which then allows the objects to be categorized. The use of schemas allows individuals to process billions of bits of information from the environment, which then enables them to easily engage in interactions. The more accurate individuals’ understanding of any given social situation, as determined by how well they label and categorize it based on information from the environment, the more successful and easy will be the interaction. The cognitive and physiological approaches in this perspective explore different aspects of the impact of schemas on interactions.
The cognitive approach examines how brain activity specifically associated with memory, perception, and decision making processes affects an individual’s ability to understand the information necessary for engaging in successful interactions. Additionally, this approach also explores how variations in cognitive processes lead to differences in individuals’ ability to interact. The study of memory examines how people categorize events, situations, and others they have encountered previously, helping researchers understand the type of schema constructed and used in particular groups, cultures, and settings. Studying memory allows researchers to directly explore the connection between interactions and how they are labeled. Take as an example a person entering a room and observing two people interacting with each other. If she labels and categorizes the interaction as a romantic interlude between lovers, she is less likely to interrupt than if the interaction is labeled and categorized as a conversation between co workers. Further, if the person entering the room identifies and labels one of the actors as a close friend, her interactions with the two people will be different than if they were simply co workers. Theoretical ideas associated with understanding schemas and memory include stereotypes (the actual categories used in labeling people and situations) and self-fulfilling prophecy (where we act in such a manner as to confirm our initial impressions of people). In studying perception, researchers are interested in exploring how people’s interpretation of information from the environment affects their interactions with others. The study of perception examines the meanings individuals associate with the categories in which events, situations, and people are placed. Key theoretical ideas associated with this approach to studying interactions from a cognitive social psychological perspective include the attributions people make when judging others’ actions and the outcomes of those actions, and the errors in the attributions people make. Finally, decision making research explores how schemas, memories, and perceptions contribute to the ways in which people make decisions ranging from what to wear in the morning to the level of risk they are willing to take in any situation. The decisions made directly impact whether or not an individual is willing to inter act with one person as opposed to another, as well as the quality of the interactions that do occur.
While the cognitive approach examines those internal processes that impact on whether or not an interaction will occur as well as the quality of the interaction once it does occur, the physiological approach explores the ways that specific biological and chemical processes affect individuals’ ability to create adequate and useful schemas, use their memory, perceive things accurately, and then make relevant decisions. The physiological approach in the cognitive and intrapersonal perspective is not normally included in discussions about social psychology, as at first glance its theoretical focus does not directly relate to social interactions. However, recent developments in this approach link it much more closely with the cognitive approach, thereby warranting its inclusion in this discussion. Cognitive and behavioral psychologists, along with neuroscientists, have conducted what are called ‘‘animal studies’’ for over 100 years. The goal of such research is to more accurately explain how particular chemical and biological processes directly impact on cognitive functioning. Technology is now allowing physiologically based researchers in psychology, neuroscience, and sociology to measure and examine the relationship between these chemical and biological processes and associated actions and interactions in humans. Early research in this area focused on non human species due to the ethical issues associated with human experimentation. Newer technologies, such as the portable electroence phalogram (EEG) and the functional magnetic resonance imager (fMRI), allow researchers to study neural and chemical responses to individuals’ actions and interactions. The implication is that such technologies will allow social psychologists to more accurately and directly mea sure social interaction.
b. Symbolic Interactionism
Symbolic interactionism originated from the work of George Herbert Mead and his students at the University of Chicago as well as the work of pragmatic philosophers. While Mead was formally associated with the psychology and philosophy departments at the University of Chicago, his classes on social psychology and social philosophy attracted a large number of students from the fledgling sociology department. One of the sociology students, Herbert Blumer, coined the term symbolic interaction ism and other sociology students were instrumental in publishing Mead’s ideas, after his death, concerning the individual. These ideas center on his discussions of the mind (what makes humans uniquely social creatures), self (how we become uniquely social creatures), and society (how our interactions are affected by social institutions). Mead wrote extensively about issues concerning more macro level social phenomena such as the role of government in funding education and the role of education for socialization, but he is mainly recognized for his contributions to symbolic interactionism. Generally, the symbolic interactionist perspective in social psychology focuses on studying the meanings that underlie social interactions in terms of how they are created, how they are maintained, and how we learn to understand such meanings. Additionally, theorists writing within this perspective argue that individual interactions lead to the creation of formal social organizations and social institutions. Therefore, to understand society, it is necessary to understand the inter actions that shape it and maintain it. There are three main theoretical approaches in the symbolic interactionist perspective, symbolic interactionism, phenomenological, and life course, each of which examines different aspects of these meanings and the self on which they are derived.
The symbolic interactionism approach is most closely related to Mead’s original ideas concerning social psychology and focuses on exploring how meanings are created and maintained within social interactions with the self as the basis for such interactions. The underlying theme of this approach is that individuals create and manage meanings through the roles and identities they hold. It is important to note that each individual holds any number of roles and identities, depending on the people with whom they interact as well as the environment in which they find themselves. Classical symbolic interactionist studies include the work of Herbert Blumer, Charles Horton Cooley, and Manford Kuhn. Blumer elaborated on Mead’s discussion of the social self examining itself as an object outside the individual, while Cooley focused on explaining the process in which the self recognizes itself as an object. Kuhn’s discussions explored different dimensions of the self as a way of explaining individuals’ ability to take on a variety of identities, depending on the situation and the other actors involved. Contemporary developments of these ideas are found in the work of Erving Goffman, Peter Burke, Sheldon Stryker, and their associates and students. Goffman’s discussion of dramaturgy and the presentation of self, among other ideas, examined the ways in which individuals identified the role held in any particular interaction and the expectations associated with that role. Stryker and others explored how roles are linked to individuals’ identity and how meaningful these identities are to people. Burke and associates proposed a more formal theoretical explanation of how different parts of the self are associated with specific identities people hold.
The phenomenological approach originated from European sociology and philosophy, emphasizing the meanings themselves and how such meanings reflect unstated normative expectations for interactions. The underlying theme of this approach is that language, verbal and non verbal, represents the informal and formal rules and norms that guide social inter actions and structure society. The early work in phenomenology, as represented by the ideas of Alfred Schutz and Harold Garfinkel, differentiated between different aspects of how people create social reality as well as operate within already existing social reality. Schutz examined how language and communication represented an intersubjective process of reality creation and maintenance, while Garfinkel explored how people managed reality through the development of ethnomethodology. Contemporary developments of phenomenology are found in the work of theorists such as Howard Becker, Peter Berger, and Douglas Maynard. Through a series of studies, Becker explored the way individuals’ interpretations of social interactions and social experiences reflect their own experiences and unspoken norms for behavior. Berger, along with Thomas Luckmann, is considered the American introduction to Schutz’s ideas and phenomenology. Equally important, Berger and Luckmann also clearly demonstrated how everyday interactions and language create seemingly formidable social institutions and organizations. Finally, Maynard further developed ethnomethodology by focusing on conversation analysis as a way of understanding how social talk creates and represents reality.
The life course approach in symbolic interactionism focuses on how humans learn the meanings associated with interactions throughout their lifetime and the stages that reflect such learning processes. The underlying theme of this approach is that the norms, rules, and values that guide interactions and shape society change throughout individuals’ lives, especially as they move into different social positions and environments. As a relatively newer approach in the symbolic interactionist perspective in terms of identifying as a unique approach, the key ideas can be traced to Mead’s discussion about socialization and Georg Simmel’s ideas about interactions within and between groups. Mead explained how humans become uniquely social creatures in his lectures about the self, where he describes a three stage process (preparatory, play, and game) for humans to learn the norms, rules, and values of the group into which they are born. He argued that by the end of this process, people will have a fully developed self. Simmel’s discussions concerning interactions and groups examined how individuals’ interactions with one another changed as group size, group composition, and social environment changed. Contemporary theorists such as Glenn Elder, Roberta Simmons, and Dale Dannefer, and their students and colleagues, build on these ideas in similar ways. First, the contemporary approaches assume that socialization is a lifelong process that changes as individuals change. Second, theorists in the approach examine both individual level factors and societal factors that contribute to the socialization process. Elder has focused on how socialization is consistent across cohorts of people, varying only in qualitative aspects related to differences in environments and resources. Simmons has examined how the socialization process itself varies depending on individuals’ stage in life, and Dannefer has explored the ways in which groups with which people are associated play an important role in their continuing socialization throughout life.
c. Structural Social Psychology
Structural social psychology originated with the work of economists, psychologists, and sociologists interested in explaining social interactions more formally and mathematically with the goal of creating testable hypotheses. Structural social psychology assumes that social actors are driven by rational concerns centered on maximizing rewards and minimizing punishments. Another related assumption is that interactions based on rational calculations result in formally structured individual, group, and institutional interactions. This approach is related to cognitive and intrapersonal social psychology in the focus on developing formal theories to explain interactions and creating specific hypotheses for testing in experimental situations. More con temporary work in structural social psychology uses more diverse methods such as survey research and participant observation techniques. There are three main theoretical programs that represent this approach: power, exchange, and bargaining studies; social influence and authority studies; and status characteristics, expectation states theory, and social network studies. Each set of studies focuses on different aspects of describing and explaining the underlying structure of social interactions.
Power, exchange, and bargaining studies explore how social interactions can be described as exchanges between social actors with the assumption that individuals rationally calculate the costs and benefits associated with any particular interaction. Exchange studies began with the work of George Homans, Richard Emerson, and Peter Blau. Homans argued that interactions can be better understood as exchanges whereby actors engaged in interactions that brought specific benefits. His work also explored how the need for such exchanges leads to equilibrium between actor and the idea of distributive justice. Blau further specified this work by focusing on the social aspects of such exchanges in terms of how they rely on trust between actors that each person will fulfill his or her unspecified obligations. While Homans, Blau, and others discussed that power arises out of exchanges and that power is not necessarily equally distributed among actors, Emerson and his colleagues specifically explored the development of power, how it is managed by actors, and how power differentiation affects the possibility of future exchanges. More contemporary work building on these ideas is bargaining studies, which specifies how different types of power differentiation affect the bargaining that then leads to actual exchanges. Lawler and colleagues explored the type of bargaining that occurs prior to exchanges, as well as how differing levels of power among participants affect such bargaining. Molm and her colleagues examined how exchanges varied based on inequality of participants and the availability of other sources and actors.
The second set of studies that can be categorized under the structural social psychology perspective focuses on social influence and authority. The underlying theme of these studies is that there are several factors that encourage people to be influenced by others, including the status or position others hold in comparison to themselves and group encouragement of conformity. The classic studies in social influence include Stanley Milgram’s research that examined the effect an authority figure in a position of power has on individual compliance. Milgram found that individuals overwhelmingly obeyed requests to complete a task that ostensibly required hurting another person. Seymour Asch’s studies of group conformity demonstrated that individuals willingly change their answer or opinion when a majority in the group indicates a different answer or opinion. Contemporary ideas build on this base by examining the varying conditions under which compliance to authority occurs, and to what degree others can influence attitude change.
Status characteristics, expectation states, and social network studies examine how social inter actions are based on socially and culturally derived expectations for behavior that people have of one another. These socially and culturally derived expectations are associated with assumed predictions concerning how success fully any individual will contribute to an exchange, or interaction, process. These predictions then determine which individuals are likely to be given the most opportunities for interaction and influence in a group. Originating with the work of Berger, Zelditch, and associates, status characteristics theory explicitly identifies two main types of social characteristics that have expectations for behavior associated with them – diffuse (such as race, gender, class, and ableness) and specific status characteristics (such as job experience, education, and relevant skills) – and it is usually associated with groups working toward achieving specific goals. Expectation states theory argues that those people who hold diffuse and specific status characteristics evaluated as more likely to successfully contribute to achieving group goals will be given a greater number of opportunities for interaction as well as greater social influence among other group members. More to the point, theorists argue, and have successfully demonstrated, that specific and stable hierarchical group structures develop based on these expectations. Contemporary work in this area includes specifying the degree to which different status characteristics affect expectations as well as how such expectations develop and whether actors perceive that such expectations are just. Social network theory and elementary theory build on the ideas of these different approaches in structural social psychology by specifically examining how an actor’s position, relative to another, affects social influence processes as well as the stability of group structure. The underlying assumption of social network theory is that social influence, power, and bargaining are all affected by the way in which actors are networked to one another. Markovsky, Willer, Cook, and their students and associates examine different aspects of how actors are connected to one another and how that affects other social processes.
As the above discussion indicates, the three theoretical approaches in social psychology all examine different aspects of individuals, their interactions, and how their interactions affect groups. Cognitive and intrapersonal social psychology focuses on internal processes that impact whether, and how successfully, interactions occur among people. The insights provided by this perspective help to explain how actors create meanings concerning interactions that then lead to the creation and maintenance of specific social institutions and organizations, as discussed by symbolic interactionists. Finally, structural social psychologists examine how the fluid interactions of symbolic life create formal group structures that then impact on people’s interactions.
III. Methodological Tools
Social psychologists use a variety of research methods with which to explore and explain specific aspects of social interactions as well as test specific hypotheses concerning these social interactions. Each of the three different theoretical perspectives in social psychology is often associated with utilizing only one type of research method – for example, symbolic inter actionists are usually associated with using interpretive methods similar to those used by anthropologists, and cognitive and intrapersonal as well as structural social psychologists are usually associated with using experimental methods. Such a simplistic view of social psychological research does not adequately reflect the breadth and diversity of research undertaken. The diversity of methods used by social psychologists and how they are used to examine specific aspects of individuals, their interactions, and the broader social environment in which they occur highlights the development of a mature scholarly area.
a. Interpretive Methods
Also known as ‘‘qualitative methods,’’ interpretive methods are used to gain an in depth understanding of social psychological phenomena, ranging from individuals to their interactions to the groups and environments in which such interactions occur. The type of interpretive research methods used by social psychologists include participant observation, unobtrusive research utilizing archival documents as representation of individuals and their interactions, and more extensive field research similar to ethnographic research commonly used by anthropologists.
Participant observation research in social psychology ranges from purely observational research to full participation while observing in selected social settings and environments. All types of participant observation research require the researcher to actually engage the setting in which the social interactions occur. Purely observational research consists of the researcher studying interactions in the environment in which they occur without the researcher becoming an active participant in the interactions themselves. An example of purely observational research in social psychology includes Kleinman’s study of a holistic health center in which she attended all meetings, parties, and retreats as an observer only. The other way of doing participant observation research is to study interactions in the environment in which they occur with the researcher becoming an active participant on some level, ranging from engaging in interactions with the actors involved while identifying as a researcher who then exits the environment to return to her own environment, to the researcher who becomes a full participant in the interactions and the environment without identifying as a researcher. In this approach to participant observation research, the researcher conducts short term research as a fully immersed member of the interactions and environment, and then exits the environment after having conducted the research. An example of participatory participant research includes Adler and Adler’s research with a men’s college basketball team in which Peter Adler served as the coach and was an active participant of the group.
Unobtrusive research includes a variety of methods ranging from utilizing archival documents to in depth case studies as well as personal experience, such as in autoethnography. These different methods share two commonalities; first, they focus on understanding how meaning is created and interactions are structured by examining representations of human relations and social life. Second, unobtrusive research does not require interaction with the social setting and its actors in order to understand the creation and maintenance of meanings underlying social life. Unobtrusive research is particularly useful when it is difficult to gain access to the individuals, interactions, or groups being studied. An example of such research includes Gubrium’s study of the diaries of Alzheimer’s patients and their caretakers.
Ethnographic research, typically associated with anthropological research, consists of the researcher becoming a full participant with the actors being studied in their environment for a lengthy period of time. Anthropologists argue that a minimum of one year is needed before the researcher becomes fully informed and aware of all aspects of the groups and culture being studied. Sociologically based ethnographers tend to focus on the quality of immersion in the culture and group being studied, arguing that deep immersion is possible in six months. While there are disciplinary and intellectual differences in determining what constitutes ethnographic research, identifying the purpose of ethno graphic research is consistent among researchers. The purpose of ethnographic research is to gain an in depth understanding of the unspoken and unwritten norms and values that guide individual interactions and group relations. Ethnographers agree that such understanding is only possible by literally living the life of the actors being studied. An example of ethnographic research in social psychology includes Maynard’s study of prosecuting and defense attorneys.
b. Experimental Methods
Experimental methods in social psychology serve as a way to test specific theoretical hypotheses as well as to explore particular aspects of interactions. There are a range of experimental methods, from the quasi experimental study which has fewer strict controls to the fully experimental study with formal control and experimental groups, as well as full control of all variables associated with the study. The full experimental study includes characteristics such as pre study surveys, control and experimental groups, and post study surveys. These studies are most concerned with testing specific theoretically derived hypotheses and thus seek to control all extraneous factors that may impact on the interactions. To do so, full experimental studies rely on random assignment of participants to the different conditions with the goal of increasing internal validity and reliability. Examples of such studies include the status characteristics and expectations studies con ducted by Berger, Zelditch, Ridgeway, Hauser, and Lovaglia. The quasi experimental study is a variation of the full experimental study whose goal includes theory testing as well as exploratory research. There are a range of variations of the full experimental study, from the more naturalistic studies where naturally occurring experimental and control groups are treated as case studies to the experimental studies where control groups and pre study surveys are not used.
c. Survey and Interview Methods
Survey and interview methods used by social psychologists serve to test specific hypotheses as well as explore specific aspects of interactions, groups, and social institutions. Similarly to other areas in sociology, social psychologists use a range of survey tools and interview techniques including self completing surveys, those conducted by the researcher, and in depth interviews. It is worth noting that social psychologists often use surveys and interviews as the second approach as a way of engaging in methodological triangulation. For example, pre and post study surveys are used in experimental studies where the participant will either complete the survey without the researcher present or be asked a series of questions by the researcher. Surveys are also used as the primary data collection tool for studies that examine self esteem and self concept definitions. Interviews are used by social psychologists to collect information to supplement field studies as well as to serve as the primary source of information. For example, in studying social networks of scientists, Eisenberg conducted in depth interviews with participants who also completed a sociometric survey on their own. Many of the early studies conducted by the Chicago School of Sociologists used interviews and surveys to gain an in depth understanding of issues such as inequality and racism.
IV. Substantive Focus
Beginning students in social psychology are often surprised to learn the degree to which understanding the individual and her or his interactions allows them to also explain group dynamics, behavior in social organizations, whether a social movement will be successful, and the seeming durability of social institutions. Similar to the discussion of the methodological tools used by social psychologists, it is simplistic to describe the field as focused only on the individual. The substantive focus of social psychological theory and research ranges from individuals and their interactions to the groups in which they engage to the social organizations and social institutions that shape these interactions.
a. Individuals and Interactions
The study of individuals and their interactions seeks to explore, understand, and explain different aspects of the unique social quality of people. The range of topics includes understanding why prejudice and discrimination exist, the best way to persuade and influence people, and those topics typically found in social psychology texts – interpersonal attraction, helping and altruism, and aggression. The cognitive and intrapersonal perspective explains that the schemas individuals use to process the billions of bits of information from the environment are socially and culturally determined. Therefore, individuals’ understanding of their environment is going to reflect the biases they are taught and their experiences. In other words, prejudice and discrimination are the direct result of the schemas people use and their perception of these different categories. This information, also, pro vides some indication of how to decrease prejudice and discrimination by challenging people’s schemas and perceptions. The symbolic interactionist perspective in social psychology provides useful knowledge with which to understand interpersonal attraction. To ensure that their interactions are easy, people normally associate with individuals for whom the meanings of their roles and identities are similar to their own. Similarly, it has been shown that helping and altruistic behavior is likely to occur in situations when doing so strongly reflects individuals’ values without causing them any harm. Finally, aggression can be explained by studying the power structure that exists among groups of people.
Other substantive topics include examining self concept and self esteem, which can affect whether girls suffer from anorexia nervosa, as well as emotions and how they impact interactions. Whether discussing married partners’ perceptions of one another or predicting who might become foreperson of a jury based on group members’ status characteristics, social psychology allows people to understand the interactions in which they engage as well as others’ actions and interactions. More to the point, understanding the social psychology underlying individuals and their interactions allows people to become far more effective in their own lives. The teacher who avoids com paring students on the basis of their status characteristics is going to be a more effective teacher. The manager who successfully works with all of his or her employees regardless of the power differential between them will be more successful. And, the people who actively engage with people unlike themselves are less likely to be prejudiced. Finally, interactions are important in all areas of social life and can determine the success of an encounter between, for example, doctor/patient, teacher/student, parent/child, and among friends.
The study of groups highlights that the group environment affects individuals and their inter actions. The range of topics for studying groups includes group conformity, group performance, and intergroup relations. Group conformity is a compelling topic as it addresses issues such as why people are willing to engage in illegal activity as part of a gang initiation ritual, or why college students binge drink to the point of death. Symbolic interactionist theory explains how interactions become habitualized within groups, thus creating norms and values for other interactions. Structural theory explains how these habitualized interactions are based on fulfilling members’ needs as well as the stable power structure that will develop in the group. The needs to be fulfilled can range from material needs, such as actually being rewarded something tangible by the group to which individuals are associated, to social acceptance by other group members. Structural theory also explains whether any particular group is going to successfully complete its task due to the types of people in the group and the skills they bring to the group. For example, Olson discussed how the factors that affect individual interactions also affect group cohesiveness and therefore group performance. The group that is more cohesive is more likely to succeed at specific tasks than the group that is not as cohesive.
The broad substantive topic of intergroup relations examines how groups interact with one another and the factors that predict whether such interactions will be successful. Specific examples of such relations are the relationship between rival gangs, or even rival sports teams at any level. Some of the factors that impact on intergroup relations include the cohesiveness of each group as well as the strength of the group’s social identity. Some researchers have explored the ability of gangs to avoid violence in terms of the social networks that connect the two groups and the similarity of each group’s social identity. Symbolic interactionist theory identifies the importance of understanding the meanings other groups share and how they reflect a particular group culture. Structural theory explains why groups would want to cooperate with one another in terms of the resources to be shared and exchanged. The ability to understand group dynamics in terms of social networks, power distribution, and conformity allows individuals’ to more successfully shape group interactions. Groups are important for the social psychologist because they represent the first place where we learn the meanings associated with social life as well as develop a fully developed self and self identity.
c. Social Organizations and Social Institutions
In understanding individuals and their inter actions, as well as how group membership affects those interactions, social psychologists are able to discuss and study social organizations and institutions. Some of the topics examined include social movements and whether they are successful as well as the idea of deviance as a social institution. Studying collective behavior and social movements includes examining motivations for joining in collective behavior as well as the organizations that develop out of members’ interactions. Symbolic interactionist theory explains how people are more likely to join in collective action or a social movement when their own ideology and values match those of the social movement. Additionally, structural theory argues that people become members of a social movement when it provides a benefit beyond any specific cost. In other words, people’s participation in a social movement is determined by social psychological factors.
Social psychological theory also explores social organizations as a form of social network that represents the likelihood of success for the organization. Symbolic interactionist theory explains how institutionalization formalizes the patterns of interaction among members of the organization or social institution, and structural theory discusses how power is distributed within the organization or institution. Understanding the social psychological factors that create, shape, and maintain organizations and institutions allows individuals to more success fully work within them. For example, the person who studies both the informal and formal social networks of the organization is more likely to successfully obtain the necessary resources for his or her tasks. Researchers have used these ideas to explain why some organizations will have a harder time surviving in a competitive market than other organizations. Finally, symbolic interactionists offer a compelling argument that since social organizations and social institutions are created out of individual interactions, it is possible to change such organizations and institutions.
Social psychology is an area of sociology that focuses on individuals and their interactions to explain a broad range of social relations and social phenomena. The area is diverse in terms of the theoretical ideas explored, the methodological tools used to test and explore these ideas, and the substantive foci that extend beyond individual interactions. In understanding the social psychology of everyday life, we can also create new realities in terms of ourselves, the groups to which we belong, and the social organizations and institutions that constrain our actions.
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