Social Psychology Studies

The Cognitive Psychology approach aims to investigate our social behaviour: how we behave in (and sometimes because of) the presence of others. In particular, researchers have looked at social influence, that is, how our actions can be affected by others.

Strengths of the social approach


Useful applications to real world events - Milgram helps explain terrible events such as the holocaust, whilst Zimbardo shows how prisons can corrupt decent individuals.

Often high in ecological validity. Field experiments are commonly performed (e.g. Piliavin) and because they take place in a natural environment, the researchers are likely to observe natural behaviour, which can then be generalised with greater confidence.

Weaknesses of the social approach


Explanations can be deterministic - as they can assume that all behaviour is the result of social processes. (Environmental determinism - the belief that all behaviour is caused by our surroundings)

Making experiments ecologically valid often brings ethical issues. For example, participants in field experiments often do not know that they are participating and so cannot give consent.

We often try to please other people in our daily lives, so social psychology experiments are very vulnerable to demand characteristics producing unusual behaviour.

Field experiments can be very difficult to control, so it is easier for extraneous variables to affect the dependent variable, confounding the results.

Behavioural Study of Obedience - Milgram (1963)


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A study of prisoners and guards in a simulated prison - Haney, C., Banks, C. and Zimbardo, P. (1973)


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Good Samaritanism: an underground phenomenon? - Piliavin, I.M., Rodin, J. and Piliavin, J. (1969)


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Experiments in Intergroup Discrimination - Tajfel (1970)


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