Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Theories as Explanation of Social Behavior

Social psychology is the field of study concerned with interpersonal behavior. Its concerns include not only actual interpersonal behavior but any behavior in which the presence of theres is imagined or anticipated. Imagining what the world would be like with out any other human beings gives you some sense of how broad the concerns of social psychology are.

Although the writings of early philosophers and the experiments of 19th century psychologists indicate an interest in social behavior, the beginning of social psychology as a recognized discipline is often set at 1908, when two textbooks titled Social Psychology were published. During the next 30 years, many important developments set the tone for modern social psychology as a research-based discipline, and both research and theory have continued to accelerate.

Theories are set of hypotheses formulated to explain phenomena. The three theoretical approach that dominate current social psychology are role the theory, learning theory, and cognitive theory.

Role theory seeks to explain social behavior by an analysis of roles, role obligation, role expectations, and role conflicts. A role is a socially defined pattern of behavior that accompanies a particular position with in a social context. In recent years, concept derived from role theory have been used to explain a variety of phenomena related to the self and the self-concept.

Learning theory originally limited its concerns to stimuli, response, and reinforcements, concentrating only on events external to the person. More recent offshoots of reinforcement theory include social learning theory and social exchange theory, both of which include numerous cognitive concepts in their models. Thibaut and Kelley's theory of interdependence has shifted the focus from the individual to the interacting dyad, considering the rewards and costs for both partners in an interaction.

Cognitive theory finds some roots in early work by both Gestalt and phenomenological theorist. It has developed much more elaborate concepts of cognitive structure, how ever, often borrowing models from the field of computer technology. Social cognition refers specifically to the ways in which we think about people and the social aspects of our environment.

Theories can be compared on a number of dimensions, including their units of analysis, emphasis on historical or contemporary situations, focus on internal or external events, emphasis on individuals or social structures, and basic assumptions about human nature.

Each theory offers a unique perspective on social behavior, and no single theory explains everything. Our understanding is often increased when we take several different perspectives into account.

Deaux, Kay. 1984. Social Psychology. Cole Publishing Company

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