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The Basis of Society, People and Their Social Natures.

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Despite the nature of being social dating back hundreds of years, the study of social psychology is still developing. Psychologists today focus mostly on emotion, cognition, and motivation with social psychologists focusing on their role in our relationships with other people. A few themes of social psychology seen are obedience, aggressive behavior, interdependence, and ethical practices. Each of these points will be discussed in greater depth in the following paragraphs.

Summary Points Obedience

The study of obedience has always held interest for several groups of people including social psychologists. Knowing how someone will respond to a command in terms of obedience or disobedience can be helpful in developing solutions to a myriad of problems such as classroom management, workplace disputes, prison settings, or as mentioned in Milgram’s study, mass genocide.

The idea for this study came from “the destructive obedience demonstrated by Nazi officers and ordinary citizens in World War II” (Kassin, 2017) because of the apparent influence Hitler seemed to have to coerce the Nazis into killing millions of Jews by simply ordering them. Milgram studied how willing participants were to obey an authority figure even when it went against their ethical or moral beliefs by having them administer varying ranges of perceived shock to a subject when given orders (1963). A group of Yale seniors administering the experiment predicted that “an insignificant minority would go through to the end of the shock series” (Milgram, 1963).

Results of the experiment were astounding in that 65% of the participants administered up to the most extreme level of shock (Milgram, 1963) despite obvious signs of physical and emotional duress such as nervous laughter, sweating, stuttering, and in rare occasion, a violent seizure (Milgram, 1963). According to these results, it is apparent that obedience can be imposed on others despite their personal beliefs or feelings.

Aggressive Behavior

Research has also been conducted concerning aggressive behavior displayed by a person or group of people toward another. In a simulated prison study, psychologists set out to determine if hostility in prisons was attributed to the prisoners and guards personalities prior to entry/employment, or if it was the result of a power struggle within the compound (Haney, Banks, & Zimbardo, 1973). Several different hypotheses emerged including the idea that prisoners prone to more aggression and therefore the guards must meet force with force thus increasing the amount of violence and aggressive behavior in prisons. Still others say that it has more to do with the “bad seed” guards who are simply power hungry and abuse their powers (Haney et al., 1973).

Results of the experiment show a variety of reactions to the mock prison setting. Most of the prisoners became extremely passive and some even had to be dismissed for emotional stress and anxiety. The guards ranged from passive and not exerting any control to going beyond the role and becoming creative with the punishments.

Interdependence

Interdependence is the relationship of “two or more interacting actors” having “influence over the outcomes of one another” (Rumble, 2011). We see evidence of interdependence in both Milgram and Haney’s studies. Milgram’s study on obedience (1963) could be analyzed using the outcome matrix mentioned in Rumble’s article (2011). The relationship between subject and teacher follows that each has two options: the subject either answers correctly or incorrectly and the teacher either chooses to shock or not shock the subject. Since the teachers were only to shock on incorrect answers that leaves three possible outcomes for each question given to the subject. They could answer correctly and the teacher would not shock them; this being the preferred option since it does the most minimal damage to both teacher and subject. The other two options are, if the subject answers incorrectly, the teacher could choose whether to shock or not shock them. If they choose not to shock them, nothing would happen other than the experiment would be over, and they would be free to leave. There would be no other penalty or repercussions (Milgram, 1963). However, if they did shock them, the subject would feel pain and it would likely follow that the teacher would feel guilty. The teacher’s choice would be made based on either personal values–not causing harm to others–or social influences–obeying a person in authority (Rumble, 2011).

The results of the majority choosing to complete the experiment show just how much of an impact social influences can have on our choices. Society, even the Bible, has instilled in us that we are to obey people in authority over us ( ), but we have also been taught that it is a “breach of moral conduct to hurt anyone against his will” (Milgram, 1963). These two deeply rooted factors are what caused the resulting distress on the teachers towards the latter end of the experiment. While Milgram allows an example of using outcome matrices, Haney’s study shows how the power of control and dependency can be effective or not effective.

Ethics in Research

Another common theme across the reading is the principle of ethics. Ethics in research have changed since Milgram and Haney did their studies. Milgram’s use of perceived shock could be seen as a violation of moral behavior. Although no shocks were actually given and the experimenters did disclose the truth during a debriefing at the end, the thought that the “teachers” were actually causing pain was enough to cause damage to their physical and mental state. The question remains if the importance of the topic of obedience was enough to justify “exposing participants to possibly harmful psychological consequences (Kassin, 2017).

Haney’s study also raised concerns about the ethical practices involved when conducting experimental research. One could argue that leaving the decision of someone’s basic necessities (eating, sleeping, using the bathroom) in the hands of unqualified people could be unethical. The experiment allowed the “guards” full control over the “prisoners” such that “some of their basic civil rights” would be “suspended during their imprisonment,” and they would not be allowed to induce physical abuse (Haney et al., 1973). However, the students playing the role of the guards became so engrossed in their role that they turned the prisoners’ rights into privileges. Sleeping, eating, or going to the toilet then became “rewards” and required good behavior and approval granted by a guard. Some might say that withholding anything required for substantial life would be in violation of ethical codes.

Conclusion

In conclusion, throughout all of the mentioned articles and reading, we see the themes of obedience, aggressive behavior, interdependence, and ethics. These elements make up the fundamentals of all social psychology research. It is important to understand these basic ideas in order to be able to read and interpret research necessary for the advancement of the field of social psychology.

References

  1. Haney, C., Banks, C., & Zimbardo, P. (1973). A study of prisoners and guards in a simulated prison. Naval Research Reviews, 1-17.
  2. Kassin, S., Fein, S., & Markus, H. (2017). Social psychology (10th ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage learning.
  3. . Milgram, S. (1963). Behavioral study of obedience. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 67(4), 371-378.
  4. Rumble, A. (2011). Interdependence in social interaction. In D. Chadee, Theories in social psychology (191-207). Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

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The Basis of Society, People and Their Social Natures. (2018, September 04). GradesFixer. Retrieved January 29, 2022, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/the-basis-of-society-people-and-their-social-natures/
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