Studying Social Behavior

A photograph of a hand-written, student-genera...
A photograph of a hand-written, student-generated definition of Social psychology. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Social psychology is sometimes confused with sociology. Like the photo above states, social psychology is essentially the study of social influences. That includes behavior in the social setting, but also how groups influence the individual. How do other people affect our thoughts and feelings? Social psychology tries to answer that. Sociology is the study of groups of people. Sociologists work with demographics and study societies and communities. I’ve just finished my class: Principles of Social Psychology, and I enjoyed it immensely.

I’ve done a lot of research for this class. I’ve written about bullying, racism, prejudice, feminism, depression, identity, among other topics. One thing that really comes out after studying social psychology is just how important other people are to our own development. In the United States, we like to focus on individuality and being responsible to one’s self. It is common to hear about how well successful people worked hard, studied, and paved their own way in society. We are instilled with this sense of being on our own. Sometimes we forget that it’s ok to ask for help from time to time!

We are not alone, however, and there is nothing wrong with getting help along the way. Part of living in a society includes a level of commitment to each other. Even if you feel like that commitment is forced, on some level, we all need people as we are social creatures. I personally spend a lot of time alone, but I do have friends and family that I communicate with. Introverts have social needs too!

Studying social psychology has reminded me again how much power we give to other people. We take to heart what people say about us, which can become dangerous if we stop listening to ourselves. Case in point, when I was bullied back in elementary school, it was difficult to ignore the things the kids said to me. I seemed to handle myself alright, but eventually I began to accept the negative things they said about me. I had a set of expectations about life that as long as they held true, I was fine, but once those expectations were violated things changed. It’s probably common that kids have an idealized view of life that can become invalidated once they grow up into adults. It’s not fun learning that your beliefs about life were wrong!

Anyway, to stick with my main point, we rely on other people. There’s no avoiding it. Unfortunately some people rely too much on other people’s opinions. Part of developing a healthy identity requires us to look deep within ourselves, you can call it self-exploration. If you let others tell you who you are, you risk developing a false identity. It’s difficult not to let others define who we are. Commercials try to tell us who we are by convincing us their products will make us better people or perhaps become the person we think we should be. Religion tries to tell us how to live with moral laws that at times can feel antiquated or outdated. Politicians also try to impose their beliefs on us by passing laws or at least attempting too! Heck even science may influence us, though it’s more suggestion than anything else.

I think the most important lesson we can learn from social psychology is that we should define ourselves based on our own thoughts, feelings, and instincts. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen to what other people say about us, but we can’t put too much credibility into what they say all the time. After all, you know yourself better than anyone else.

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