Social Psychology/Cognitive Social Psychology
Cognitive Social Psychology is modeled after the perspective of Heider and Gestalt psychology; to understand the 'common-sense' ways in which individuals make sense of the self and the world
- unit of analysis was cognition
- theoretical aim to specify the processes involved in how cognitions are formed, stored, and changed.
- criticism: just what is included under the rubric 'cognitions' is unclear; are believing angels exist and knowing one's telephone number both cognitions? Are they the same or different?
(see Pepitone, Albert. 1999. Chapter in 'Reflections on 100 Years of Experimental Social Psychology'.)
Social neuroscience and Social cognitive neuroscience. These fields engage in the study of how the brain processes, understands, and is affected by the social environment on a neurological level. Social cognition.
Emotion and motivation
Philosophical approaches to the emotions have been around for a long time, written with explanatory depth in such writers as Thomas Hobbes, Aristotle and Jiddu Krishnamurti. Social psychological approaches use these perspectives as launching points from which further theories might proceed.
Hedonistic theory of action
This theory finds its roots explicitly from the philosophy of Epicurus, followed by philosophers like John Locke, Jeremy Bentham, and Ludwig von Mises (among many others). The hedonistic theory (or psychological hedonism) states that human action occurs when:
- The actor is compelled to increase their pleasure by achieving a goal, or
- The actor is compelled to relieve the burden of uneasiness by achieving a goal.
Erik Erikson conceived of a psychosocial developmental theory as an extension of Freudian psychodynamic developmental theory. The psychosocial model, called the "psycho-social theory of the self", is meant to be used to explain the most important variables in bodily development, and how they might relate to socialization. It includes:
- The erogenous zones on the body which provide stimulation. For example, the oral, anal, and phallic zones. Can also be expanded to non-erogenous zones of the body, including cerebral-cortical, loco-motor, sensory-motor, respiratory, muscular, and kinesthetic;
- The psychosexual mode, or the actions associated with each zone. For example, retention and elimination for the anal zone;
- The psychosocial modality, or the social analogy that can be associated with each respective mode. For example, "anal-retentiveness";
- The meaning, or preferred external objects associated with each mode and zone.
With this addition, Erikson made steps towards a developmental theory that was both psychological and sociological. Psychosocial theory helps to explain what kinds of goals the social actor may develop.
All of the above theories have provided models by which we might describe the subject of emotions, but more needs to be said in order for the researcher to explain and predict them. Pivotal questions include, "When and why do people have feelings?", "Are emotions themselves a cause of action, or are they mere epiphenomena (or illusions)?", and "How does the brain work to create social emotions?"
One attempt to explain human emotional behavior has come in the form of affect control theory, which states that people in a situation will try to maintain any initial feelings or impressions that they have, rather than try to change them.
Three schools of the emotions
There are many ways in social psychology that have been used to study emotions. There is the social constructionist approach of James Averill and Rom Harre, and the realist approach of Paul Ekman and his study of facial expressions. In cognitive emotion theories there are the contesting works of Lazarus and Zajonc.
Social constructionist emotion research uses cultural evidence and review of historical documents. For instance, it's hard to find a western equivalent for Japanese emotion of amae. Another example often used is the emotion of acide, which has disappeared from European discourse in the 15th century.
Emotion and sequence
The main debate in the cognitive school has been about the sequence of events. In other words, a main concern has been: does cognition trigger emotion or does emotion trigger cognition?
The conventional view on this issue is that first a person will feel an emotion, and second, that emotion will compel an action.
However, Willam James's theory of the emotions says the reverse: that we first experience physical feelings in our bodies that we afterward interpret as emotions. If one sees a bear in the woods and decides to make a run for it, then one interprets oneself later on as being scared because one's heart, respiration, and feet are functioning faster. Lately Antonio Damasio has revived Willam James' emotion theory in an updated version.
James' theory of emotions can be considered physiological as well as social, for he emphasizes the situational aspects that arouse emotions. Examples William James makes use of include music, aesthetic experiences, and moral judgements.
"These [subtler emotions] are the moral, intellectual, and æsthetic feelings. Concords of sounds, of colors, of lines, logical consistencies, teleological fitnesses, affect us with a pleasure that seems ingrained in the very form of the representation itself, and to borrow nothing from any reverberation surging up from the parts below the brain.[...]
A glow, a pang in the breast, a shudder, a fulness of the breathing, a flutter of the heart, a shiver down the back, a moistening of the eyes, a stirring in the hypogastrium, and a thousand unnamable symptoms besides, may be felt the moment the beauty excites us. And these symptoms also result when we are excited by moral perceptions, as of pathos, magnanimity, or courage.[...]In all cases of intellectual or moral rapture we find that, unless there be coupled a bodily reverberation of some kind with the mere thought of the object and cognition of its quality; unless we actually laugh at the neatness of the demonstration or witticism; unless we thrill at the case of justice, or tingle at the act of magnanimity; our state of mind can hardly be called emotional at all. It is in fact a mere intellectual perception of how certain things are to be called[...]" (Principle of Psychology part II, 468 - 471) all italics added
Recent research by John Allman has suggested that a certain kind of neuron in the brain may be responsible for the social emotions of humans and primates.
The ways in which people perceive and make judgments about events in the world.
- Attribution theory
- This field of social psychology is concerned with the ways in which people explain (or attribute) the behavior of others. It explores how individuals "attribute" causes of actions either to the actors involved or to situations -- in other words, whether or not an observer judges an actor to have had control over the act and its consequences.
- One discovery in this field is that it is normal for people to place blame upon others when some harm befalls them, but they are more likely to blame situations when the harm is upon themselves. Those suffering from depression do not seem to be susceptible to the same error.
- Social comparison theory
- A theory created by Leon Festinger which postulates that people are more likely to compare their own situations and wellbeing to that of those who they are most similar.
- Attitude formation
- An area of research that inquires into the attitudes and values people come to have. One question of particular interest is, "Do attitudes cause actions, or vice-versa?" Two theories which argue this question are reasoned-action theory (Fishbein) and self-perception theory (Bem), respectively.
- Theory of mind module
- Research and experimentation has recently come to suggest that part of the human mind is innately specialized in creating and processing an awareness of other minds. This "module" is thought to be absent for subjects with autism.
- Pattern recognition and chaos
- Human beings have a perceptual inclination towards finding patterns out what they sense, even if what they sense is noise. This desire for pattern-making can also manifest itself in a desire for social and intellectual orderliness. However, the extent to which the perceptual inclination towards orderliness leads to social and intellectual dispositions of the same kind requires further study. It may just as well be said that human beings, in the pursuit of creative endeavors, thrive upon some degree of chaos.
- Types of belief systems
- Belief systems can be structured according to certain variables: systematicity, empirical relevance, adaptability to new information, tolerance of competing beliefs, degree of commitment required to maintain, and style of belief organization.