The Major Perspectives in Social Psychology

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Have you ever wondered why people sometimes act differently when they are in a crowd? Or have you ever wondered how society at large influences your own behavior? Social psychologists look at these sorts of questions, but like many other fields within psychology, they often utilize different perspectives when looking at questions about social behavior.

For example, when looking at a problem like aggression, one researcher might take an evolutionary perspective and look at how biology and genetic inheritance play a role in aggressive behavior. Another social psychologist might approach the same problem from the social learning perspective and try to analyze the various environmental influences that contribute to aggression including family, friends, and popular culture.

4 Major Perspectives Used by Social Psychologists

Here are the major perspectives used by social psychologists:

Sociocultural Perspective

  • Stresses the importance of social norms and culture.
  • Proposes that children learn behavior through problem-solving interactions with other children and adults. Through these interactions, they learn the values and norms of their society.
  • Social psychologists using this perspective might look at how cultural norms and social influence impact social behavior. When considering something like aggression, for example, a person taking this perspective would look at how people are socialized to behave aggressively in certain situations.

Evolutionary Perspective

  • Argues that social behaviors developed through genetics and inheritance.
  • Emphasizes the role of biology and gene transmission across generations to explain current behavior.
  • When looking at a social problem such as aggression, a psychologist taking this perspective would consider how genetics and evolutionary influences contributed to the development of the behavior.

Social Learning Perspective

  • Stresses the importance of unique experiences in family, school, community, etc.
  • According to this viewpoint, we learn behaviors by observing and mimicking the behavior of others.
  • In our earlier example of aggression, someone taking the social learning perspective would be interested in how people learn aggressive behaviors from parents, peers, and even media influences.

Social-Cognitive Perspective

  • Supports an information processing model of social behavior, where we notice, interpret, and judge the behavior of others.
  • New experiences can either be assimilated (using already held beliefs to interpret the event) or accommodated (which involves changing existing beliefs in response to the event.)
  • By understanding how information is processed, we can better understand how patterns of thoughts impact behavior.

Use of Perspectives

While some social psychologists tend to have a dominant perspective, many researchers draw on a variety of theories when tackling a question or hypothesis. By understanding all of the many influences that contribute to social behavior, including culture, social learning, genetics, and individual differences, researchers can gain a deeper understanding of the many forces that influence how people think and act in social situations.

5 Sources
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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."