Course Feature: Social Psychology

PSY 360 Social Psychology analyzes how people influence and are influenced by the real or imagined presence or others, as well as how they interact with and relate to those around them. Topics include social psychology, social cognition, social perception and judgment, attitudes and attitude change, conformity and obedience, group behavior, attraction and intimate relationships, helping behavior, aggression, prejudice, and the application of social psychology to other fields, including the legal system. The concepts learned in this course can be applied to careers in which people work in teams, as well as to situations where it is important to influence or persuade others.

Social psychology is about how individuals influence the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of others. The focus, says Faculty Program Director Amber O’Neil, is not only on the real actions and behaviors, but on perceived and implied presence. She says, “For example, just because a video camera is trained on us it doesn’t mean anyone is actually watching. But the simple presence of the camera still typically changes how an individual acts.”

O’Neil says any student who needs an upper-level social science course or elective to meet graduation requirements would learn a great deal from PSY 360, and they’d also have a lot of fun! Students who take the course have a better understanding of how individual and collective actions and behaviors can have a huge impact on others. Students also learn about behaviors that help and hurt team performance. “This is a great class in which to explore attitudes, prejudice, and discrimination. And finally, you get to practice persuasion and compliance techniques —who doesn’t want to get people to do what they want?,” says O’Neil. She also notes that if you like the The Marshmallow Experiment, you’ll like this class. (In the Marshmallow Experiment, conducted in the 1960s, some young kids struggled with waiting to eat a marshmallow although they knew they’d be rewarded with a second marshmallow if they waited. The test is a good example of temptation and delayed gratification.)

Students come away from the class having gleaned important generalizations based on social psychology. For instance, says O’Neil, “children learn behavior by observing it; if you own something, you believe it’s worth more than when someone else owns the same item; it’s usually just easier to go along with the crowd than to stand up for something, which means we also do stupid things to conform to those around us; and we blame others when we fail…and we blame others when they fail, too.”

Students have been able to relate to and learn from Social Psychology, saying: “This course has helped me better understand myself and my organization, as I was able to apply the principles and theories that I’ve learned to my job.” and “My purpose in taking social psychology was explore how people think, relate and influence one another… So, I think it’s important for me examine these differences—first as it applies to myself, then to my marriage, my other close relationships, and finally with my exchanges with co-workers and others around me.”

Faculty have also enjoyed teaching the course. Elaine Bontempi writes, “When I have taught the course, I always try to encourage the students to think about the material and its application in their own lives, as well as events in the news, then share these reflections with each other. This tends to make the course content more personally meaningful, and students become much more motivated to learn the theories at that point.” Yassir Semmar adds, “I love teaching PSY 360 because students are always excited about exploring topics and concepts that apply to nearly everything they experience daily in personal and professional realms…. I also enjoy teaching social psychology because it provides learners with a platform to empirically investigate and understand the answers to such questions.”

If you’re interested in social psychology, consider signing up for PSY 360 for next semester.