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Social Thinking and Social Influence, Essay Example

Pages: 4

Words: 1192

Essay

Introduction

The main focus of Chapter 16 (Coon &  Mitterer, 2013) is how social networks and interactions influence human behavior. The author of the below review argues that in the age of social media, interactive communication, and instant messaging, knowing how human behavior can be influenced by society and networks is extremely important.

Human Interaction in Social Context

The authors first focus on humans’ interaction with their social context. As Coon &  Mitterer (2013, p. 548) argue: “we were born into an organized society”. This indicates that every person learns and adapts to their social environment’s norms and behavior patterns. One’s behavior is determined by their position and role in the society. Being a member of a group provides individuals with a sense of belonging, and pre-determines their roles. The main dimensions of group membership, according to the chapter are group structure and group cohesiveness. One can have several in-groups (groups that they identify with) and out-groups that they observe but do not relate to. The stronger a group cohesion is the more members will feel separate from other groups. Apart from group membership, social status and social norms also determine one’s role in the society. Social status relates to one’s level of power, importance, and influence on others, while norms determine how the individual is perceived by the rest of the people.

Social Cognition

The next question the authors examine is what determines one’s social cognition of themselves and others. The main argument of this part of the chapter is that others do not only influence individuals’ behavior, but their perception of themselves and others as well. The term “social comparison” is introduced: people often check their salary, education level, appearance against others’. This leads us to the Attribution Theory, and its implications on human behavior. According to the theory, people can create assumptions of others and guess how they are going to behave in a given situation. Considering situational demands when attributing individuals behavior patterns is often automatic. As people rarely know the reasons for others’ behavior, they are likely to attribute the reasons to external factors, and this phenomenon is called the “fundamental attribution error”. The final two factors of human behavior are child rearing and media influence.

Attitudes also influence behavior. Some attitudes are acted upon, while others are not, as the person’s perception of immediate consequences suppress them. Attitudes are also influenced by other people, groups, and the society. When somebody makes a decision about whether or not to act upon their attitude, they are likely to consider how their actions would be perceived by the rest of the society. The chapter attempts to answer an interesting question: how can we measure attitudes. Social distance scales are used to measure attitudes towards groups, while attitude scales are designed to measure one’s views on a particular issue. Several groups, politicians, and advocacy groups are working on influencing and changing people’s attitudes today. The main means of changing human attitudes are persuasion, social influence, mere presence, and – the most aggressive method – brainwashing.

Attitude, Belief,  and Behavior Modification

The authors (Coon &  Mitterer, 2013, p. 556) use the below definition to describe persuasion: “any deliberate attempt to change attitudes and beliefs through information and arguments”. It is evident that persuasion provides groups, organizations, politicians, and businesses with the power to influence not only attitudes and beliefs, but also behavior. In case of business persuasion, the main behavior change to be achieved is to become a loyal customer of the company. Politicians persuade people that their programs are intended to improve the lives of citizens, and the behavior change to be achieved is to vote for the party. There are three main principles to persuasion: the person communicating the ideas should be trustworthy and likeable, appear to have nothing to gain from the audience, and being able to appeal to emotions. Many persuasive arguments are designed to reduce cognitive dissonance, through changing one’s attitude, adding consonant thoughts, changing the importance of dissonant thoughts, reducing the amount of perceived choices, and changing one’s behavior.

Social power can also impact and influence people’s behavior and attitudes. There are five different types of power used to influence others’ behavior: reward power, coercive power, legitimate power, referent power, and expert power. An example for reward power can be managers’ power to make employees work harder by offering them a quarterly bonus for hitting their target. Coercive power can be expressed by teachers who maintain order in the classroom, as they can issue detentions for those who do not follow classroom rules. Legitimate power can be used by politicians and organization leaders. Reference power is assigned to people who have managed to lead as example, and expert power is based on one’s knowledge and expertise, for example a researcher who speaks up about a social issue.

Mere presence can also impact others’ behavior. Indeed, people tend to behave different when there are others around than when they are alone. Social facilitation is present in every aspect of life: we tend to perform better when others are present. Social loafing is another phenomenon to consider: when one is not solely responsible for the outcomes of the activity or project, they are likely to work less hard. Finally, one’s personal space and its invasion can affect behavior and attitudes. Every person considers their personal space of a different size, and when interacting with others, this needs to be considered,  just like spatial norms of different cultures.

In the final part of the chapter, the authors examine group behavior and quote several studies. Group thinking has been identified as a dangerous group behavioral pattern leading to misguided decisions. In order to maintain other members’ approval, many people ignore critical thinking techniques, and are hesitant to “rock the boat”. The authors suggest that in order to avoid adverse effects of group thinking, leaders need to ensure that all members are critically evaluating the situation, and avoid revealing their personal preferences or attitudes that could influence others.

Groups and individuals can also be influenced by several well-documented and commonly used techniques, such as the “foot in the door” effect, the “door in the face” effect, the “low ball technique”, and obedience: using authority to make people conform with demands.

The last persuasion technique discussed in the chapter is “brainwashing”. This method is a “forced attitude change” (Coon &  Mitterer, 2013, p. 567), and it considered to be unethical, as the influencer has full control over the environment and messages. Some examples for brainwashing can be found within prisons where people are made to change their beliefs, or in cults that make individuals convert. Both environments are highly controlled, and messages reaching individuals or groups within the community are filtered. Through coercion (forcing others to change their    beliefs and adapt to new norms), leaders can have control over groups and individuals. On the other hand, brainwashing does not change beliefs, only attitudes.

Conclusion

Overall, the chapter provided an overview of different modes of attitude and belief modification, and explained how society, group dynamics, norms, and position can influence individual choices, attitudes, and behavior patterns.

References

Coon, D. & Mitterer, J. (2013) Introduction to psychology: Gateways to mind and behavior with concept maps. 13Th Edition. Cengage Learning.

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