10 Quick Facts About Social Psychology

A blurry crowd of people on a street

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Social psychology is a fascinating topic that has yielded a great deal of research on how people behave in groups. In many cases, the results of several famous experiments contradict how you would expect people to act in social situations.

10 Facts About Social Psychology

Here are 10 things that you should know about social psychology:

  1. The presence of other people can have a powerful impact on behavior. When a number of people witness something such as an accident, the more people that are present the less likely it is that someone will step forward to help. This is known as the bystander effect.
  2. People will go to great lengths to obey an authority figure. People will go to great, and sometimes dangerous, lengths to obey authority figures. In his famous obedience experiments, psychologist Stanley Milgram found that people would be willing to deliver a potentially fatal electrical shock to another person when ordered to by the experimenters.
  3. The need to conform leads people to go along with the group. Most people will go along with the group, even if they think the group is wrong. In Solomon Asch's conformity experiments, people were asked to judge which was the longest of three lines. When other members of the group picked the wrong line, participants were more likely to choose the same line.
  4. The situation can also have a major influence on social behavior. Situational variables can play a major role in our social behavior. In the Stanford Prison Experiment, psychologist Philip Zimbardo discovered that participants would take on the roles given to them to such an extreme that the experiment had to be discontinued after just six days. Those placed in the roles of prison guards began to abuse their power, while those in the role of the prisoners became anxious and stressed.
  5. People tend to look for things that confirm the things they already believe. People typically look for things that confirm their existing beliefs and ignore information that contradicts what they already think. This is known as expectation confirmation. It plays a major role in what is known as confirmation bias, a type of cognitive bias. This tendency to seek confirmation leads us to sometimes avoid information that challenges the way we think about the world.
  6. The way we categorize others helps us make sense of the world, but this also leads to stereotyped views. When we categorize information about social groups, we tend to exaggerate differences between groups and minimize the differences within groups. This is part of the reason why stereotypes and prejudice exist.
  7. Underlying attitudes have a strong influence on social behavior. Our attitudes, or how we evaluate different things including people, ideas, and objects, can be both explicit and implicit. Explicit attitudes are the ones that we form consciously and of which we are fully aware. Implicit attitudes, on the other hand, form and work unconsciously yet still have a powerful influence on our behavior.
  8. Our expectations influence how we view others and how we think they should behave. Our perceptions of other people are often based upon things such as expected roles, social norms, and social categorizations. Because we expect people who are in a certain role or part of a particular social group to behave in a particular way, our initial impressions of a person frequently rely on these mental shortcuts to make fast judgments of how we expect people to behave.
  9. We attribute outside forces for our own failures but blame others for their own misfortunes. When explaining behavior, we tend to attribute our own good fortune to internal factors and negative outcomes to external forces. When it comes to other people, however, we typically attribute their actions to internal characteristics. For example, if we get a bad grade on a paper, it's the teacher's fault; if a classmate gets a bad grade, it's because he didn't study hard enough. This tendency is known as the actor-observer bias.
  10. Sometimes it is easier to just go along with the crowd than cause a scene. In groups, people often go along with the majority opinion rather than cause disruption. This phenomenon is known as groupthink and tends to occur more frequently when group members share a great deal in common when the group is under stress, or in the presence of a charismatic leader.

These are just a few of the fascinating forces that influence our social worlds. Dive deeper into the world of social psychology to learn more about the myriad factors that influence our social behavior, perceptions, and interactions. 

10 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Kendra Cherry, MSEd
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."