  Chapter 

The science of social psychology aims to understand human social behaviour and the cognitions, emotions, and motivations related to it. Many societal problems have aspects that involve social psychology, making research in this field of utmost importance to solving major problems. Often, the solutions to and prevention of societal problems involves a change in attitudes, beliefs, behaviour and lifestyles. Applied social psychologists focus on the aspects of social problems that can be improved through intervention. They examine which factors influence a particular behaviour and investigate which intervention techniques are appropriate and available.

What is the definition of Applied Social Psychology?

Social psychology is the field that attempts to gain a better understanding of the nature and causes of individual behaviour and thought in social settings. Applied social psychology is the systematic application of constructs, principles, theories, intervention techniques, and research findings of social psychology to the solving and understanding of social problems. Constructs are the individual psychological characteristics that are latent and observable only through the use of questionnaires (ex. Attitudes, values, and norms). Principles are statements that describe how psychological processes function (ex. the foot-in-the-door technique, cognitive dissonance, and the availability heuristic). Theories are integrated sets of principles describing, explaining, and predicting events based on observations. They cannot be considered facts or laws and must be tested.

What are the Major Differences between Basic and Applied Social Psychology?

  1. While basic social psychologists focus on developing and testing theories, applied social psychologists focus on resolving and understanding practical problems. Therefore, theory development is not the main reason that applied social psychologists do research, and they can often use established theories to tackle problems.

  2. Basic social psychologists follow a deductive approach, starting with a theory and examining how it can be used to understand behaviour. Applied social psychologists take an inductive approach, starting from specific problems and examining which theories are best to understand and explain the problem.

Applied studies can lead to theoretical breakthroughs and basic studies can often be conducted in applied settings, making a contribution to applied social psychology.

What is the Correspondence between Basic and Applied Social Psychology?

What about Theory Development and Testing?

Both basic and applied social psychology are interested in the development and testing of theories. Theories can act as a framework to understand the causes of social problems and suggest techniques to resolve them. Applied social psychology can contribute to basic psychology, because studies conducted in the field provide valuable, practical proof. Both are sciences, which means (1) reliance on scientific methods and (2) guidance by important values of science (ex. Accuracy, objectivity, scepticism and open-mindedness). The main goals of science are description, prediction, determining causality and explanation of a phenomenon or relationship.

How to understand behaviour and cognitions?

Individual factors are intrapersonal processes and characteristics. Social factors refer to the actions and opinions of others that affect our behaviour, thoughts and feelings. Situational factors are contextual factors that can affect our behaviour and thoughts. For instance, when the ambient temperature begins to rise, people become more aggressive. Cultural factors include cultural values that affect our behaviour and thoughts. Culture can be defined loosely as the system of shared meanings, perceptions, and beliefs held by people in a particular group. Social and cultural norms strongly affect behavior. For example, it used to be socially acceptable to smoke in the workplace, but such behaviour is now unheard of. Biological factors include the effect that biological processes and genetics have on behaviour and thinking. For example, we prefer characteristics in mates that are associated with reproductive capacity, even if we consciously do not want to have children.

What is the Stanford Prison Experiment?

In 1971, Zimbardo and colleagues conducted a prison experiment. 24 male college students participated, half assigned to be guards, the other half prisoners. The guards were not trained but told to do what they thought necessary to maintain order. Within a few days, those given the roles as guards became aggressive and sadistic, while those given prisoner roles became submissive and frightened. When they thought they were unsupervised, guards escalated their abuse and harassment of the prisoners. Arbitrary rules were challenged by no one. Due to the intensity of the participants’ reactions, the two-week experiment was shortened to 6 days.

What about City Dwellers?

Robert Levine and colleagues studied 23 different cities to determine how friendly and helpful city dwellers were. They found that the more dense the population, the less friendly the inhabitants, regardless of culture. Stanley Milgram proposed the “stimulus-overload theory”, which suggests that residents of densely populated cities cope by keeping neighbours and strangers at a distance and ignoring things that happen on the street.

What about Features?

What are Personal Values?

Values play a role in applied social psychology, specifically in the decisions made over what problems and target groups should be studied. Psychologists should be aware of their own values and how these affect their work. While applied social psychologists strive to improve quality of life, there are many different opinions on what is necessary for a person’s quality of life. Some may strongly value freedom and choice, while others believe in more regulation. Values impact choice of study, but not method.

What about Theories, Intervention Techniques, Research Methods?

With a problem-oriented, inductive approach, applied social psychologists are able to apply many theories, intervention techniques and research methods. Also, since social problems often have many causes, many variables must be considered. Some theories may be more applicable to a particular problem than others. For instance, anonymous behaviour is unlikely to be affected by social influence. In a case like that, theories like the theory of normative behaviour are less likely to apply. Similarly, intervention techniques must be appropriate to the problem. They tend to be more effective when they specifically address factors that contribute to the problem behaviour, and attempt to improve those factors that can be improved. Knowing which factors cause or inhibit certain behaviour is essential in choosing appropriate ways to deal with it.

What is the benefit of Interdisciplinary research?

Since most social problems involve a diverse spectrum of factors, knowledge from many fields must be used when approaching these problems. While an applied social psychologist might not easily gain expertise in these useful fields, collaboration and consultation become useful tools. One problem that arises in interdisciplinary research is that terms and concepts vary in usage between fields, making communication sometimes difficult. Multidisciplinary teams need to take time to understand one another’s contributions, but what tends to result is a very practical solution that takes different perspectives and skills into account.

How use use pyschology In the Field?

Applied social psychologists are more likely to conduct field research. In this sort of research, results are more easily generated but causal relationships are more difficult to infer due to confounding variables.

What is Social Utility?

The social utility of applied social psychology increases when research is directed on fixing the parts of the social problem where the greatest impact can be made. Another issue in social mobility is the ratio of cost-effectiveness of interventions: what results can be expected per money invested? Researchers try to ensure that their results are the strongest they can be, making the most practical difference. Since most applied research is conducted on the behest of an outside organization (like a local government or a sponsoring agency), there is often a time limit and a demand for results. This does, to some degree, limit the researchers: they have less opportunity to take risks and might have little time to think over their study design. When communicating the results of their work, they are more likely to be seen in specialized journals directed towards practitioners in the field of interest than in psychological journals directed towards other scientists. Because of the need for social utility, applied social psychologists often publish in popular magazines, mass media, and in popular lectures. These lectures and publications are often framed towards the uninformed and the policy-makers, and less concerned with the scientific point of view.

What are the Roles of Applied Social Psychologists?

What do Researchers do?

Applied social psychological researchers conduct applied experiments. They study the causes of social problems, understand the most relevant influences on behaviour, and evaluate the effect of interventions on this behaviour. Some interventions (like information campaigns) can be effective when the problem is misinformation. However, when people’s behaviour does not result from ignorance, information campaigns will be ineffective.

What do Consultants do?

Applied social psychologists are commonly employed as consultants, concerned with tasks such as training, managing, marketing, and communication. Within government and business, courses run by applied social psychologists are valuable.

What do Policy Advisers do?

Sometimes applied social psychologists are put to the task of advising policy-makers on ways to change cognitions and behaviour to improve various kinds of social problems.

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