Social Psychology

  • Created by: tearcl09
  • Created on: 10-01-15 19:17

Definition of the approach

Social psychology- The study of how behaviour id influenced by the presence, attitudes and actions of other people.

Agentic state- they allow someone else to direct their behaviour, and assume that responsibility passes to that person. Their own consciousness are not in control (subdued)- merely acting as an agent.

Autonomous state- They direct their own behaviour, and take responsibility for the results- they have power.

Moral strain- When people become uncomfortable with their behaviour because they feel it is wrong and goes against their own values.

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Social approach

In-group/out-group- A group that you belong to is called your in-group, and a related group that you do not belong to is an out- group.

Social categorisation- This is an automatic act of putting self and others into groups. It triggers stereotypical beliefs you may have about groups.

Social identification- As a member of an in-group, you absorb the culture of your group, associate yourself with the group's values and norms and notice differences between yourself and people in the out-group. You may emphasise group membership by wearing particular clothes. The group becomes an important part of how you view yourself- it becomes part of your social identity. If the group is doing well you feel good about yourself, but if it is not you may feel bad.

Social comparison- in order to boost your own self esteem, you need your group to appear better than a chosen out-group, so you try to engineer this by making the out-group look bad in comparison. If given a chance to make your group look good, you take it. Conversely you might try and make a member of the out-group look bad. This is in-group favourtism; th out-group denigration is discrimination stemming from prejudice caused by grouping.

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Methodology: The survey


  • A method commonly usied in psychology
  • An umbrella term for a number of research designs
  • Includes interviews and questionnaires
  • Used to investigate specific research questions by gathering self-report data


  • A survey method consisting of a series of written questions for participants to answer, usually by writing them down, often by post


  • A data gathering technique involving asking questions directly of participants and recording their answers
  • It can be un-structured, semi-structured or structured, and is usually conducted face to face (sometimes on the phone)
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Designing surveys


  • Specific testable predictions about what you expect to find after analysing data from participants
  • An alternative hypothesis will state what you are hoping to find between the different conditions which you are testing
  • A null hypothesis states what there will be no such effect, except that found by chance


  • Open questions (where particpants are invited to answer any way they choose and tends to produce qualitative data- words that describes the participant's views)
  • Closed questions (which provided limited choices and gives quantitative data- data that can be reduced to numbers/quantities)

How to conduct it-

  • Pilot study (testing it with a few people first)
  • Size of sample
  • How representative of target population?
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Survey types


  • Structured (there is a pre-set order of questions, leaving little room for the researcher to follow up on answers of interest)
  • Semi-structured (there will be a schedule of questions that should be answered but the researcher will have freedom to follow up on some responses)
  • Un-structured (there will be a research question around which the interview is based but otherwise things are left unspecified, meaning it is very flexable and the researcher can follow up on any answers of interest)


  • Likert type scales (having a scale, normally 1- 5, 1=good and 5=bad, this means that it is a very subjective opinion)
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Qualitative data

Qualitative data


  • more in depth
  • more meaningful
  • rich in detail


  • harder to compare
  • harder to get a reliable conclusion  
  • time consuming 
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Quantitative data

Quantitative data


  • can compare
  • quick
  • put into a graph
  • more reliable 


  • very superfical view
  • does not say why
  • simplistic 
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BPS ethical guidelines


  • Partipants should give informed consent (did they know what they were letting themselves in for?)
  • In studies involving children, informed parental consent should be obtained
  • Payment should not be used to induce risk taking behaviour


  • Intentional deception over the purpose of the investigation should be avoided where possible
  • There must be strong medical or scientific justification for any deception


  • Information provided by participants should be treated confidentially and not passed to others or sold to national newspapers


  • Participants should be fully debriefed
  • Participants experience should be discussed to assess any negative effects
  • Any stress caused by the procedure should be removed
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BPS ethical guidelines 2

Withdrawal from the investigation

  • Subjects should be aware that they have the right to withdraw at any time without penalty
  • This may be done retrospectively by refusing permisson for their data to be used

Protection of participants

  • Participants should be protected from physical, emotional and mental harm
  • There should be the opportunity to contact the investigator at a later date if distress does occur

Observational research

  • Observation should be only carried out in places where people could expect to be observed by strangers, unless specific permission is obtained beforehand
  • Care should be taken about the invasion of privacy


  • Researchers need to be qualified to make judgements, like diagnosis 

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Random sampling


  • This should produce an unbiased sample. 
  • This would involve including everyone in the target population and then selecting a number of these to make up the final sample. 
  • Pulling names out of a hat would be a way to do this.


  • The group will be unbiased


  • Often difficult to carry out and not all people selected are willing to take part
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Opportunity sampling


  • This method is probably the most widely used as it is convenient. 
  • It will include individuals from the group the research is focused on, but those selected are the ones the researcher is most likely to come in contact with.
  • They may be friends, work colleagues or people who live nearby.


  • Provides easy access to participants and is cheap and convenient


  • Sample is inevitably biased as it is drawn from a small part of the target population. May only include people from your friendship group
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Self-selecting sampling


  • This type of sample is often called a volunteer sample. They are usually chosen by responding to adverts in a newspaper or notice board for example


  • Fairly easy to administer and can access a variety of participants


  • Sample is biased as participants are likely to be highly motivated and/or with extra time on their hands 
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Stratified sampling


  • The sample is a proportional representation of the target population. 
  • You break the population into its constituent groups and recreate a smaller version
  • eg, males, females or age groups


  • Likely to be very represntative of the population if done properly


  • Likely to be very time consuming and difficult  
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To obey someone means to follow direct orders from an individual more often than not in a position of authority. There are three types of obedience in general:

  1. compliance – following instructions without necessarily agreeing with them (an example of this might be wearing a school uniform – although you don’t want to, you comply with the rules and do anyway because it causes you no harm)
  2. conformity – adopting the attitudes and behaviours of others, even if they are against an individual’s own inclinations (an example of this might be the Nazis during the Holocaust, they were instructed to do what they did, and some of them may not have wanted to do it but conformed to the rules anyway)
  3. internalising – this is carrying out orders with agreement

The term destructive obedience refers to the idea of an individual following the orders which they consider to be immoral, which will cause them a lot of distress and regret. This often occurs with conformity.

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Milgram (1963)


  • To investigate how far people will go in obeying an authorative figure. 
  • Also to see if it was just Germans would would have that level of obedience.


  • 40 New Haven men watched a man strapped to an electric chair, then they would be taken to another room where they would have to say a word to the 'learner', if they gave the wrong answer they would have to give an electric shock to the learner- ranging from 15 to 450 volt (30 switches).


  • All 40 of the participants obeyed up to 300 volts
  • Overall, 65% of the participants gave shocks up to 450 volts (obeyed)


  • People are very likely to obey an authorative figure. Even if it means harming another person physically
  • This level of obedience is considered normal
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Milgram evaluation

Generalisability: As only male pp’s were used, and it took place in American, the findings cannot be generalised to other cultures and to women.

Reliability: It was a controlled procedure as it took place in a lab setting – Milgram ensured a standardised procedure was followed, with set prompts and the same confederate (Mr Wallace) being used and the same tape recording. This makes the experiment reliable as the experiment can be repeated and measured for consistency.

Application: This study can be applied to the Nazi’s. They were, like the pp’s, in the agentic state and saw Hitler as the authority figure.

Validity: The experiment required pp’s to give shocks to another person, this is not something people do in everyday life so lacks ecological validity. PP’s may have guessed the experiment was not real and shown demand characteristics. They may have given the shocks because they thought that was what Milgram wanted.

Ethics: In this experiment pps were not protected for harm and incredibly distressed as they believed they killed another person. They also were deceived as they were not told the true aim of the experiment and did not give informed consent. However if fully informed consent occurred the experiment would not have worked. Due to the prompts such as ‘the experiment requires you to continue’ it was difficult for pps to have the right to withdraw, however 35% did leave, so it could be argued the right was given.

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Variation of Milgram (1965)


  • To test whether the rate of obedience in the Milgram procedure would be affected by wittnessing rebelious or obedient fellow participants


  • 80 males (aged 20-50) took part in one of two conditions using the matched pairs design. The first condition was with two rebelious stooges, in the second condition was two obedient stooges that gave shocks without protest (same as Milgram)


  • In the rebelious condition 15% gave the full 450 volts
  • In the obedient condition 72.5% gave the full 450 volts


  • The behaviour of fellow participants makes a difference to the rate of obedience of the participants. 
  • The presence of the rebelious stooges had a much larger affecr on participants
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Variation of Milgram evaluation

  • The procedure is easy to replicate as most variations were in a controlled setting which gives the experimenter control over variables
  • Lacks ecological validity as the task of ‘giving’ electric  shocks to a stranger is not something people encounter in everyday life
  • Procedure may be prone to demand characteristics as participants may have guessed nature of experiment due to  cues
  • However 80% who were surveyed said they believed the shocks were painful and there were also visible signs of mental anguish, e.g. sweating, these signs cannot be faked
  • The studies are not ethical as they put pressure on the participants deceive them and do not allow the full right to withdraw
  •  All participants were thoroughly debriefed and the majority were glad to have taken part
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Meeus & Raaijmaker (1986)


  • To investigate destructive obedience in the everday situation of a job interview
  • To see whether Milgram's findings can be replicated 20 years later in a more liberal Dutch culture


  • 24 participants were payed for their time, it took place in a modern university- thought they were taking part in a study into stress and performance. They had to make 15 increasingly distressing remarks regarding how they were getting on with the test.


  • 92% of participants obeyed the experimenter to the end and made all the stressful remarks


  • The researchers concluded that the level of obedience in their study was considerably higher than the Milgram study.
  • Also it's easier to give psychological damage than it is to give physical damage
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Meeus & Raajimaker evaluation

Generalisability: M&R used pp’s of different ages, and replicates Milgram’s study, however only applies to the Dutch – collectivist cultures may differ – also difficult to generalise due to when it was conducted.

Reliability: It follows a standardised procedure and high control means it can be replicated e.g. pp’s were given a script of insults to give, and the stress levels of the confederate were shown via a screen which was pre recorded.

Application: It explains why people obey in real life e.g. bullying/cyber bullying – psychological harm easier to inflict.

Validity: This study wanted to test the role of culture, however by changing the type of harm too it is difficult to know whether obedience is different in another culture, or simply due to measuring a different concept. Psychological harm may be considered more relevant to real life so has more validity, however it still took place in a lab so may not have ecological validity

Ethics: PP’s were deceived about the aims of the experiment so did not give fully informed consent, they believed the job applicant was real and not a confederate, however they were debriefed at the end and the experiment would not have worked if they had known the aims were about obedience.

Like Milgram, M&R also did some variations. In the researcher absent condition 36% were fully obedient. In the two disobedient confederates variation 16% were fully obedient 

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Hofling et al (1966)


  • To investigate the levels of obedience shown by nurses to doctors in hospitals


  • Took place in 22 different hospital wards (22 female nurses). Dr Smith telephoned the ward asking the nurse to administer twice the daily dose of Astrogen to a patient. Dr Smith said he was running late and would sign the paperwork later. It was also a night shift.


  • 21 out of 22 nurses obeyed the doctors orders and gave the drug
  • 11 nurses did not realise it was an overdose


  • Nurses will obey doctors' orders even when this means going against their training
  • Showing the doctor- nurse relationship is strong
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Hofling et al evaluation

Generalisability: Hofling’s study took place in the USA so may not apply to other cultures; also as it took place in the 1960’s the findings may not be relevant to modern doctor nurse relationships
  Reliability: It followed a standardised procedure as the same instructions and script were used when asking nurses to give astroten, so it can be replicated. A control group was also used which allowed comparisons to be made.
Application:  Changes in nurse training to make sure nurses do not blindly obey, nurses now have greater responsibility and room for autonomy

Validity: It was a field experiment in hospitals where nurses were working at the time on their normal shift, so it has high ecological validity. Nurses were unaware of an experiment so there were no demand characteristics as they were going about their everyday job, acting as they would normally.

Ethics: It was conducted covertly, so no informed consent was given by the nurses. Some were left distressed by the study so lacked protection from harm. However nurses were given a full debrief, results are confidential, and the study would not have worked if nurses had been aware of the study and the drug being a placebo. 

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Sherif et al (1961)


  • To study the orgin of prejudice arising from the formation of social group


  • 22, 12 year old boys were split into two groups and taken to Robbers cave. They were given names, Eagles and Rattles. The groups were encouraged to be competitive towards each other. Finally they were brought together and did activities, like watching films, then moved onto competitive tasks.


  • The groups bonded well in the separate groups, however when there was competition it led to hostility, groups refusing to be with each other.
  • To start with when they were all brought together the activities did not get rid of the hostility, however competitive tasks did


  • Competition is a factor which leads to discrimination between groups. However it can still happen when no competition is there.

  •  If they are in the same group, competition can lower prejudice and discrimination

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Sherif et al evaluation

Generalisability: Difficult to generalise – the boys were carefully selected for the study and had similar family backgrounds and were of similar ability. This means it could be difficult to generalise to those with different backgrounds or from different cultures. 

Reliability: There was careful planning and control e.g. matched participants so that individual differences would not play a role. This allows cause and effect conclusions to be made. They also had reliability due to the consistent findings across these methods, and that different observers had the same conclusion.

Application: Can explain why conflict between rival football teams occur – replace Eagles and Rattles, with Man U and Man City – and it can suggest ways of reducing this – setting a common goal.

Validity: High ecological validity, it was a field experiment, so a study of natural behaviour of two groups of boys. They were not aware of the study, so unlikely to have been affected by demand characteristics. The data was collected using several methods – this helps to ensure they were measuring is valid.

Ethics: There was a lack of informed consent – the boys did not know they were taking part in a study, meaning they were also deceived. Parents were given more information but were told not to visit and check the boys were happy. There is no mention of a debrief.

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