Week 1: Introducing Social Psychology – Aggression
Why do people do the things they do? How accurate are our common sense beliefs about this? How do our beliefs about causes of behaviors differ for our own behaviors versus others’ behaviors? These are all fundamental questions within the field of social psychology. Social psychology is the study of how the real or imagined presence of others influences our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Specifically, social psychologists study and explain how people perceive social events and each other, how people influence each other, and how people relate to other individuals or groups.
You begin the course with an introduction to the field of social psychology and one of the most important concepts within it, construals. Then, you explore how a social psychological lens can be applied to help explain and even reduce one type of human behavior—aggression.
- Apply theoretical approaches related to social psychology to specific situations
- Analyze factors associated with aggression by applying appropriate models and theories
- Explain how to reduce aggression
- Identify and apply concepts, principles, and processes related to social psychology approaches, theories, and research
Aronson, E., Wilson, T. D., & Sommers, S. R. (2019). Social psychology (10th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson.
Chapter 1, “Introducing Social Psychology”
Chapter 12, “Aggression: Why Do We Hurt Other People? Can We Prevent It?”
Document: Week 1 Study Guide (PDF)
Bushman, B. J., Newman, K., Calvert, S. L., Downey, G., Dredze, M., Gottfredson, M., & … Webster, D. W. (2016). Youth violence: What we know and what we need to know. American Psychologist, 71(1), 17–39.
Saucier, G., Akers, L. G., Shen-Miller, S., Knežević, G., & Stankov, L. (2009). Patterns of thinking in militant extremism. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 4(3), 256–271.
Davidson, J. (Director), & Davidson, F. (Producer). (2003). Bandura’s social cognitive theory: An introduction [Video file]. Palo Alto, CA: Davidson Films. Retrieved from http://ezp.waldenulibrary.org/login?url=https://search.alexanderstreet.com/pexp/view/work/1780107
Scroll down past “Segments” until you get to “Clips.” The relevant video clips are titled The Bobo Doll Experiments, clips 1 and 2 (46 seconds and 28 seconds, respectively). The entire video is approximately 37 minutes.
Discussion: Social Psychological Approach to Insights on Human Behavior
Before you begin to explore aggression and apply concepts from social psychology to it, it is important to examine one of the most fundamental social psychological concepts: construals. A construal is defined as the way in which people perceive, comprehend, and interpret the social world. The concept of construal has its roots in Gestalt psychology—a school of psychology that stresses the importance of studying the subjective way in which an object appears in people’s minds, rather than the objective, physical attributes of the object.
Social psychologists have found that two motives are of primary importance in determining human thoughts and behavior: the need to feel good about ourselves and the need to be accurate. Self-esteem is people’s evaluation of their own self-worth, or the extent to which people see themselves as good, competent, and decent. Most people have a strong need to maintain a high self-esteem. This need can clash with the need for accuracy, referred to as the social cognition motive, leading people to distort their perceptions of reality (e.g., by explaining their personal deficiencies in more positive ways) so as to preserve self-esteem. Such distortions are more “spins” on the facts rather than complete delusions.
Consider, for instance, a man who proposed marriage and had his proposal rejected in front of his girlfriend’s entire family. This person faces a conflict between the need to maintain self-esteem and the need to be accurate. What should he think about being rejected by his girlfriend? He could protect his self-esteem and assume it was not his fault at all that she said no, or he could try to get an accurate assessment of what happened (e.g., perhaps proposing in front of her family was a bad idea; perhaps his relationship was not as solid as he thought) so it will not happen again. Social psychologists study people’s subjective construals of situations and how these construals are influenced by their self-esteem and social cognition motives.
An important application of this study is to better understand aggressive behavior, a social psychology topic that has far-reaching implications for individuals, groups, and society as a whole. One of the most important reasons for studying aggression is the goal of reducing violence. For example, individuals can be counseled to change the parameters of their situation, trained in communication and problem-solving skills, or provided with ongoing interventions such as anti-bullying programs. Social psychologists seek answers to questions such as: In aggressive situations, do people learn to be aggressive or is their behavior a function of their environment? Do some people have aggressive attributes and tendencies or do they become aggressive because of their unique situations? Are individuals from some cultures more aggressive than those from others?
A fundamental difference between social psychologists and lay people is the application of this construal approach in understanding how aggressive situations and other types of behavior arise. Social psychologists recognize and examine the power of the situation in influencing people. Lay people often cite the situation to explain their own behaviors, but they overlook the situation and instead cite personality to explain others’ behaviors. This is termed the fundamental attribution error.
For this Discussion, you consider why some individuals are aggressive toward others and how aggression escalates or can be reduced. You will compare how social psychologists and lay people might each explain various types of aggressive behavior, and in doing so, apply many of the concepts you explored in the Learning Resources this week, including construals, the fundamental attribution error, and the sometimes competing motives of self-esteem and social cognition.
- Review Chapter 1 of the course text, Social Psychology, focusing on how social psychologists would view or attempt to explain a specific situation. Note the example about Edward Snowden on page 16.
- Review Chapter 12 of the course text, Social Psychology, focusing on aggression.
- Consider the following five social situations in which aggressive behavior is demonstrated and how social psychologists versus laypeople might treat each situation:
- A high school or college campus shooting
- An act of domestic violence or child abuse within a family
- Looting of shops and homes after a natural disaster
- Domestic or global terrorism
- White collar financial embezzlement
- Select one of the five aggressive behaviors listed above for your Discussion post.
By Day 3
Post a discussion of the following:
- Select one of the five aggressive behaviors listed in the full assignment directions. How would you explain the aggressor’s behavior if you had made the fundamental attribution error? In other words, provide a dispositional explanation for the aggressive behavior.
- Next, provide a situational explanation for the aggressor’s behavior. What might be the aggressor’s construal, or interpretation, of the situation? Examples of several social situations are described in Chapter 12.
- How is the aggressor’s construal influenced by the self-esteem motive (the need to feel good about ourselves by justifying our behavior) orthe social cognition motive (the need to be accurate by acting on available information)?
- How could the aggressive act be explained by one of the following: the evolutionary view, or the influence of culture, or the influence of gender, orlearning?
- Based on your reading of Chapter 12, what would you suggest to prevent or reduce instances of this specific type of aggression, either at the individual level or at the societal level?
Note: You are required to create a thread for your initial discussion post before you will be able to view other colleague’s postings in this forum.
- Identify the aggressive act you discussed in the subject line of your post.
- Respond to a colleague who discussed an aggressive act that you did not
- Be sure to support the responses within your Discussion post and in your reply with evidence from the assigned Learning Resources.
By Day 5
Respond to at least one of your colleagues’ Discussion postings. Be sure to respond to a colleague who discussed an aggressive act that you did not. Respond in one of the following ways:
- Ask a probing question, and provide insight into how you would answer your probing question and why.
- Ask a probing question, and provide the foundation, or rationale, for the question.
- Expand on your colleague’s posting by offering a new perspective or insight.
- Agree with a colleague and offer additional (new) supporting information for consideration.
- Disagree with a colleague by respectfully discussing and supporting a different perspective.
Important Note: For all Discussions in this course, you are required to complete your initial post before you will be able to view and respond to your colleague’s postings. Begin by clicking on the “Post to Discussion” link and then select “Create Thread” to complete your inital post. Remember, once you click Submit, you cannot delete or edit your own posts, and cannot post anonymously. Please check your post carefully before clicking Submit!
Submission and Grading Information
To access your rubric:
Week 1 Discussion Rubric
Post by Day 3 and Respond by Day 5
To participate in this Discussion:
Week 1 Discussion