Title: Social Psychology
Author(s): Elliot Aronson, Timothy D. Wilson, Robin M. Akert
Year: First published: 1973; New edition published: 01/07/1997
Length: 648 pages
Genre: Psychology, Science, Nonfiction
Get a copy: 1) Search in local bookstores to support small business 2) Amazon
Short Description: They should probably call this book, The Psychology Book. It offers extensive research on the subject of human behavior. Full of examples and research insights, it’s one of the best books about understanding the reason behind a certain act. If you’re looking for in-depth analysis of the human behavior, you will enjoy this book a lot.
The goal of the others was clear when they began writing the book: to capture the excitement of social psychology. The book is enjoyable, fascinating story, about human behavior.
Headed by the person listed amongst the 100 most eminent psychologist of the 20th Century, Elliot Aronson, this renowned text maintains its acclaimed storytelling approach to convey the science of social psychology while making research relevant to students. The authors bring the material under study to life through real-world examples that capture students’ attention and motivate further exploration.
Social psychology comes alive for people when they understand the whole context of the field: how theories inspire research, why research is performed as it is, how further research is performed as it is, how further research triggers yet new avenues of study. Conveyed in a down-to-earth, meaningful way, the authors present the results of the scientific process in a way we can all understand.
Social Psychology by Elliot Aronson, Timothy D. Wilson, Robin M. Akert is more than just a book, it’s a textbook studied in schools. You might think, “Why the hell should I want to read something for students?” Well, for a lot of reasons, but mainly because you can understand yourself and the people around you better. These are just a few of the things you will learn and understand in the book: How we justify our actions; How to maintain a positive self-image; Where do attitudes come from; How do attitudes change; How important is to be accurate.
The way we act in all situations is highly influenced by the outside factors that are currently surrounding us, as well from our former experiences. Each person will act differently depending on his own observations and motives. If the situation is rather unrecognizable, he will mimic the behavior of the majority of the people around him.
I’m quite a fan of social psychology, but to be honest, I fell asleep a couple of times while I was reading the book. Don’t get me wrong though, the book offers really valuable information and the authors did a hell of a research. Simply, the facts, data, stats are too much at some point through the whole book that the reading becomes a bit boring. But only at times.
Before you take my above statement too seriously, I want to mention this: The book aims to help you better understand human behavior, which is extremely valuable information when you communicate with the fellow humans – and we do communicate with people on a daily basis. It’s amazing what the authors are sharing and I will definitely recommend the book to anyone who wants to understand how he can improve his communications skills, or simply what to understand why someone acted in a certain situation.
Notes, thoughts, and essential takeaways that I want to remember from the book. My main goal is to leave you with curated content, to which you can easily return to in the future for reference, that’s also holding the main insights of the book without spoiling what the book is all about:
What is Social Psychology
At the very heart of social psychology is the phenomenon of social influence: We are all influenced by other people in a way. Thinking of social influence, we imagine that one is persuading us to do something against our will. The previous is true but a bit extreme definition. Social influence is what happens when we interact with people. And interacting with people can take many forms: seeing an advertising, reading a book, speaking with someone over the phone, watching a TV show, speaking with someone face-to-face, reading a blog post, watching a video on YouTube. All of those are interactions with other people. Even the commercial you see on the street – the ad itself was created by other humans who want you to believe that their product is better and it will save your life in a way. Often these interactions are an attempt to persuade us to do something we don’t really want to do – Come on, let’s go to the club for a minute – everyone is going.
Social psychology, as a science, is devoted towards understanding and explaining why people behave the way they behave in different situations. And as I mentioned, social influence takes a major part of social psychology.
If you observe your behavior for a moment, you will see that even the mare present of someone around you will influence your decision. If you observe your behavior for a moment, you will see that even the very presence of someone around you will influence your decision in a given situation. Say you’re walking down the street with your wife and you see a beautiful girl walking right towards both of you. You will act differently if your wife wasn’t standing right next to you, right?
Social psychologist are interested in studying how and why our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are shaped by the entire social environment. Taking all these factors into account, we can define social psychology as the scientific study of the way in which people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by the real or imagined presence of other people. Scientist are particularly interested in what happens in the mind of an individual when various influences come into conflict with one another.
The subject is very broad and it’s hard to summarize the essentials. Still, if I can give you one advice, it will be the following: observe your reactions, thoughts, when you’re exposed to an outside influence. Take the needed time to see why you’ve made the decision afterward and learn from your mistakes. For example, if you’re going to the club every Friday because you’re friends make you to – but you don’t really want – see what in their behavior is making you say “yes” and build some sort of shield against this.
Need to Feel Good and Accurate
The below information is something really powerful and understanding it will help you built better relationships with everybody around yourself:
According to the research made by the authors of the book, there are two motives that are of primary importance for people: need to feel good about ourselves and the need to be accurate. Depending on the situation, these two motives either pull us in the same direction or tug is the opposite one. According to Leon Festinger, a social psychology theorist, precisely when these two motives tug is in the opposite directions that we can gain our most valuable insights.
Imagine you’re running a company and you took a decision, yourself, to spend 100,000 dollars on TV advertising. You checked the reports provided by the TV company and you see that the percent of people watching is not enough to say that the money is well spent. At that moment, you can: Either, pull down the ad and save money but admit you’re wrong. Or, continue with the ad, secretly hoping that things will get better over time and prove you’re correct. Most of the people will go with the second decision.
We face similar dilemmas every day. Most of us have a strong need to maintain reasonably high self-esteem. Meaning, that we need to see ourselves as good, competent, and decent as possible. We do everything possible to maintain a favorable image of ourselves. An example we can all relate to is when we post images on different social media channels: we post good, high-quality photos of ourselves. Photos with filters, were we look close to perfect. We will never post a photo where we don’t like ourselves or pics where our apartment looks messy. Rather, we will clean it, take a photo, and then post it. Even though we never look as good as the pics we post on social media, we use this channel to boost our self-esteem and feel good about ourselves.
A key takeaway here will be this: don’t ever try to make the other person look bad or stress on the fact that he is wrong, even though he or she will be wrong in some situations. The best course of action will be to explain what can be improved in his decision. Also, you will never go wrong by saying to the other person looks good today (or compliment him/her about the new hairstyle, new pair of jeans, and etc.).
Is Talent Everything?
Talent is surely an important factor for the success of every person in his particular field but is it enough to bring you all the way to the top?
We inevitably hear these definitions towards people who are obviously gifted: “She’s a natural”; “He’s one in a million.” Still, talent is not the primary thing that can make you an expert or a movie star. Talent will probably guide you to the area. It will show you that you’re good at something without making tons of effort. Still, in order to be truly successful and master the skill, you should double, triple your efforts.
The author’s give a really good example with the best basketball player of all times, Michael Jordan. He was cut from his high school team when he was really young, but instead of giving up, he redoubled his efforts, leaving home at six in the morning to practice before school. When he was accepted to play for the University of North Carolina, which has one of the top basketball programs in the country, he didn’t stop practicing. Instead of resting on his laurels, Jordan constantly worked on his game.
The best players, actors, writers in the world rarely consider themselves as actually the best. Their attitude towards their skills is never that they’ve mastered it. No, they look at what they’ve accomplished and they think of ways to improve in the future. They view their performance as something that can be polished even if they’re currently on the top of the game.
Bottom line is how you see ourselves is what matters. If you think that you’re the best you will put less efforts in the game and in your practice which will inevitably fail you. Accepting your good but that you can improve will help you become better.
How Should Parents Praise Their Children?
Parents and teachers often use rewards to motivate children to do a specific task better, or to simply do something that is going to be good for them in the long run, like reading books.
As explained in the book, several years ago, a professor at West Georgia College, decided to offer a really lucrative reward to children who read a lot. He started a program called Earning by Learning in which low-income children were offered $2 for every book they read. The program was really well accepted by people. Which was quite normal.
Rewards are one of the oldest and most fundamental psychological principles. You give a reward each time a behavior occurs and you hope this will increase the frequency of that behavior. It’s a really powerful motivator. However, does being paid to read change people’s ideas about why they are reading?
The danger of reward programs, such as the example mentioned above, is that people will begin to think they are reading to earn money, not because they find reading to be an enjoyable activity in its own. They consider it work, for which they’re getting paid, not joy. Also, when the reward program ends, the activity, reading in this particular case, will probably decrease.
So, the key question here is: What should parents and teachers do?
According to the studies made by universities and psychologists, the best course of action is to focus on the effort: “If you study harder, read more, for the next test I bet you’ll do better.” The idea of the authors is to encourage a growth mindset, namely the idea that hard work pays off when the going gets tough. Also, along with the praise for effort, it is a good idea to make children feel that they have gained competence in the area: “You worked hard on your science project and really learned a lot; you’ve become quite an expert on ancient history.”
In other words, the message we should try to pass is that through hard work you can achieve more.
Gain Growth Mindset
The way we see, understand, explain our talents and abilities to ourselves, is really important kind of self-knowledge. Some people believe that their abilities are set in stone – they think that they either know how to dance or they don’t, for example. According to social psychologists, this way of thinking is a fixed one – fixed mindset. In this view, we have fixed amount of intelligence, abilities, strength, talent, and so on. We believe, wholeheartedly, that we can’t do anything about our dance skills because God gave us only the basic moves swinging from side to side. Our fixed mindset is telling us that there is no point in even trying to learn how to dance. Our fixed mindset keeps us in the current state for years.
As you probably understood by yourself, the fixed mindset is a bad thing. It doesn’t allow you to advance as an individual. We all have fixed mindset towards certain things and this, in a way, is a good thing. Maybe you don’t need to learn how to dance better. If you’re not a professional dancer you most certainly don’t need to put a lot of work and waste your time. Still, if you’re working as a choreographer, you definitely need to become better over time.
Research shows that the mindset people have is crucial to their success: People with the fixed mindset are more likely to give up after setbacks and are less likely to work on and hone their skills. They think that if they fail it must be a sign that they simply don’t have what it takes, that they don’t have it in them.
On the other hand, people with the growth mindset understand that there will a few (if not many) bumps on the road. However, they don’t see them as ways to bail, no, they view the setbacks as an opportunity to improve through hard work.
Even though the book is full of insights, adopting a growth mindset is my main takeaway from this book. Each day is an opportunity for us to be better, do better. Small improvements every single day will lead to a better life in the long run.
Michael Jordan practiced so hard that he went from a player cut from his high school team to the best player in the world. And by the way, what did his mother tell him when he didn’t make his high school team? “I told him to go back and discipline himself,” she said. In other words, to work harder.” from the book.
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