Social Psychology by Elliot Aronson, Timothy Wilson, and Robin Akert is a textbook that offers a detailed research on human nature. More specifically, why we, humans, do the things that we do.
Even though the text inside this book may “feel” a bit overwhelming at times, the authors did a hell of a job of explaining such a complex topic so simply – the human behavior that is. Full of examples and research insights, Social Psychology is one of the best books on understanding the reason behind a certain action by a person.
The Core Idea:
The way we act in different situations is strongly influenced by external factors, as well as by our previous experience. 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 surrounding people.
The whole concept of the book is to help you better understand people. Why we make certain decision; What motivates us; How our attitude changes; How important is to be accurate; Other interesting stuff related to human psychology. This type of information is extremely valuable when communicating with fellow humans. If you know what drives others, you can easily convince them to do what you want.
Lesson #1: Social Psychology Wants To Translate Human Behavior
At the very heart of social psychology is the phenomenon of social influence: We are all influenced by other people in some way. Thinking of social influence, we imagine that one is persuading us to do something against our will. It’s mostly true, but it’s an extreme definition.
Social influence is what happens when we interact with others. And interacting with people can take many forms: seeing a marketing billboard on the street, 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. In all of these cases, we’re interacting with other people. Even the ads 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 some way.
Often these interactions are an attempt to persuade us to do something we don’t really want to do – to buy something, to go somewhere, even to go to bed with someone we don’t really want.
Social psychology, as a science, is devoted to understanding and explaining why people behave the way they behave in different situations. And as I mentioned, social influence takes a major part in social psychology.
If you observe your behavior for a moment, you will quickly understand that even the mere presence of someone around you will influence your decision in some way. 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 psychologists are interested in studying how and why our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are shaped by the 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 real or imagined presence of other people. Scientists are particularly interested in what happens in the mind of an individual when various conflicting outside factors are all trying to persuade him.
The subject is very broad and it’s hard to summarize the essentials. Still, if I can give you a piece of advice related to social influence, it will be the following: Observe your reactions, and thoughts, when you’re exposed to outside influence. Take the needed time to see why you’ve made a certain decision and learn from your mistakes. For example, if you’re going to a nightclub every Friday because of your friends – but you don’t really want to go – see what exactly in their behavior is making you say “yes” and build some sort of shield against this.
Lesson #2: We Have a Need To Feel Good And Accurate
The information below is really powerful and understanding it will help you build better relationships with everybody around:
According to the research made by the authors of the book, there are two motives that are of primary importance for people: 1) The need to feel good about ourselves and 2) the need to be accurate. Depending on the situation, these two motives either pull us in the same direction or pull us apart. According to Leon Festinger, a social psychology theorist, precisely the moment when these two motives tug us in the opposite directions we can gain our most valuable insights.
Imagine you’re running a company and you just decided to spend 100,000 dollars on TV ads. After a couple of months, you check 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 being spent well. At that moment, you can: stop the ad campaign 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 and we always choose option 2. Why? Because most of us have a strong need to maintain high self-esteem. Meaning, that we need to see ourselves as good, competent, and as 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 the different social media channels. We post good, high-quality photos of ourselves. Photos with filters, where 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 these channels to boost our self-esteem and to 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 that he/she looks good today (or compliment him/her about the new hairstyle, a new pair of jeans, etc.).
Hey there, sorry to interrupt…
Since you’ve come this far, it seems that you are really passionate about books and learning. I’m too! And while what I’m about to say next probably won’t quite excite you, I have to say it…
Look, this is members-only content.
(Already a member? You can log-in using this link, here.)
I digest acres of complex ideas from various books and morph my findings into straight to the point book summaries. The main goal is not only to help you understand the underlying ideas from famous, and not-so-famous, titles. But, also, to help you stay curious, inspired, and well-informed. Above all, though, I want to help you transition from a passive online consumer to an active mindful go-getter with a sense of purpose.
By becoming a supporting member, you’ll unlock a well-curated online selection of book summaries that aim to move you in the right direction.
You can join as a MONTHLY ($7 USD), YEARLY ($70 USD), or PATRON ($100 USD) member. Read more about the membership, here.