Why Social Psychology is Important

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Throughout this course, I’ve noticed that I have personally related to the material numerous times. The subject matter from the modules seems to directly play into something that took place in my past or present or could take place in my future. I think that is the importance of social psychology; social psychology is the study of how our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by our surroundings.

One topic that we discussed in this class that I feel is of extreme importance and use is cognitive dissonance. I think about this important piece of information quite frequently actually; how people will attempt to change their attitudes or beliefs in order to relieve the dissonance (Anupam & Purva, 2008). I think back to the study by Festinger and Carlsmith (1959), they asked students to perform a dull task; the objective of the study was to have the students produce a negative response towards the task. After the students had completed that task, they asked each student to sway another participant into thinking that the task was exciting. A third of the group was paid $1 and the next third of the group was paid $20 while the last group wasn’t asked to sway any participants. In the end, the group that got paid $1 rated the task more positively than those who received the $20 payment. Festinger and Carlsmith (1959) explained this as those who received the $1 payment had to find internal justification to get rid of their dissonance while the students in the $20 payment group used external reward to defend their behavior (Festinger & Carlsmith, 1959).

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I believe that learning about classic and contemporary social psychology issues and research did inform my understanding of real-world issues and problems in two different ways. The first way is noticing that problems simply do not go away, but then to evolve into something different or that society evolves so the problem goes with it. For instance, it’s appalling to think that several dozen people witnessed the brutal attack on Kitty Genovese in 1964 without stopping or even reporting the attack. The witnesses of this brutal attack used two main forces to explain their lack of response: diffusion of responsibility and pluralistic ignorance (Darley & Latane, 1968). However, the case of Kitty Genovese hasn’t been the only situation where the bystander effect has halted people from taking action when someone is in need. In 1983 in Bedford, MA, several men sexually assaulted a woman on a pool table with numerous witnesses yet no one stepped in or reported this horrific act (Chen, 2009). On a larger public scale, the 1986 launch of the space shuttle named Challenger which exploded not longer after take off had NASA reach a consensus that the shuttle was ready for the launch when it was clear that it was not ready (Moorhead, Ference, & Neck, 1991). The second way learning about classic and contemporary social psychology educated my understanding of real-world issues and problems is how we deal with them. After we learn about something and become knowledgeable on that topic, we are able to change the way we think and behave towards it. With the example of the bystander effect, I can now act differently in that situation which could potentially save someone. I can also pass on this knowledge to others whom will be able to do the same.

The trends in social psychological research have been evolving with the time since the 1800s. Starting the in 1980s, the trends within the field shifted to evolutionary psychology and topics of love and relationships. The 1990s seemed to focus on the brain—evolutionary psychology and social neuroscience. The 2000s was about the influence of culture—the internet and non-conscious approaches. The topics in modern times seem to be broadening with positive psychology, religion, intergroup relations and prejudice, emotions, social cognition, and terrorism. I believe that there are many trends and stable topics within the current research that has the potential to improve social welfare. For example, the recent studies on prejudice and intergroup relations will be able to improve social welfare a great deal. It appears to me that in order for social change to take place that time needs to pass; the subject needs to be the topic of conversation and people need time to personally accept the scientific research before improvement is able to manifest.

I believe the APA is doing a wonderful job at the moment to protect the rights of research participants. There are always ethical issues that should be taken into consideration as new design studies are coming into play. With the current trends being based around culture and social media, it’s crucial to keep in mind to not do any harm in any means. Also, competence is crucial. A social psychological researcher who is not competent with social media should not be conducting research and gathering data surrounding the topic.

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