Unit 5 - Social Psychology and Culture

Much of our behavior occurs in interaction with others. How are our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors influenced by others? The others may be strangers we have never met, or people with whom we have on-going relationships. They may be members of formal groups, or members of social categories who may or may not know each other. When we are with others, we first have to define the situation, in terms of who we are in relation to each other, in order to know how to treat each other and what to expect from each other. Are we friends, relatives, or others with whom we have obligations defined by our social statuses and cultural norms? Are we strangers with whom we can engage in some positive exchange, potential enemies who must be cautious, or people whom we can safely ignore?

To make these judgments, we categorize others in social categories, such as race, nationality, gender, age, religion, and social class. We often have stereotypes about people in those categories, which can be negative or positive. These stereotypes provide the basis for our initial thoughts, feelings, and behaviors toward others. We often treat people in ways that elicit responses that appear to confirm our stereotypes. And when our stereotypes are not confirmed, we often say that those people are the exceptions. Research on stereotypes and prejudice and their effects on others, is included in this unit.

People also categorize themselves, often in response to others’ categorization of them, or due to perceived attributes or desired group memberships. They thus develop various identities. These identities have implications for self-esteem, depending on whether the groups are valued or devalued by others. Research on self and identity is also included in this unit

All people have various needs, including physiological, safety, social, status, cognitive, and aesthetic needs. But cultures differ in their emphasis upon various needs and values, and differ in the ways of meeting those needs depending on the physical and social environments. For example, in crowded areas such as parts of Asia, there may be more emphasis upon group harmony. Research on social motives is included in this unit.

To meet human needs, cultures may organize social relations in different patterns, which may be described in terms of dimensions such as association-dissociation, superordination-subordination, and intimacy-formality. Research on patterns of interpersonal and intergroup relations is part of this unit.

Subunit 1
Stereotypes and Prejudice

Subunit 2
Self and Identity

Subunit 3
Social Motives and Behavior in Cultural Context

Subunit 4
Interpersonal and Intergroup Relations