Social Psychology

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Social psychology is a concept which focuses on people's thoughts, feelings and behavious are influenced by a social context. Psychologists Baron, Byrne and Suls (1989) define social psychology as "the scientific field that seeks to understand the nature and causes of individual behavior in social situations."[1]


Social psychologists focus on factors that lead us to behave in a certain way due to the presence of others.[2] As a whole, social psychologists focus on the effect of attitudes, persuasion, social cognition, self concept, group dynamics and relations with others.

Milgram (1963)

Milgram studied the effects of obedience on a persons behaviour when an authority figure is present. The experiment that took place involved 40 male participants aged between 20 and 50 years to administer electric shocks to another person.[3]

Milgram (1963) wanted to investigate whether Germans were particularly obedient to authority figures as this was a common explanation for the Nazi killings in World War II.[4]

This experiment is considered unethical on many levels, especially with the use of deception and the harm of participants. However, if this experiment was to be conducted whilst ethically sound, it would not have gained such valuable and truthful results. 65% of the participants were willing to progress to the maximum voltage level of 450 volts, high enough to potentially kill a human.[5]

Milgram concludes that society and culture has taught us to obey authority from a young age, but not how to disobey authority that is morally reprehensible.[6]

Piliavin et al (1969)

Piliavin et al focused on the effect of good samaritanism and referring to the 'arousal: cost-reward' model.

They focused on the effect of a persons physical state and a persons race on their helping behaviour.[7] The procedure of this study consisted of a staged accident on a busy underground train in New York. The independent variables of the 'victim' changed between ill or drunk, and black or white throughout the procedure.

This study is considered unethical because of the use of deception and no informed consent. However, without this the study would lose value and validity. The study found that there was evidence of same race helping behaviour being prominent.[8] The study also found that on 60% of the 81 trials where spontaneous help was given, more than one person offered help.[9]