Why do people behave the way they do? What causes us to help or hurt others? Why do smart people sometimes do dumb or irrational things? Social psychology is concerned with how social influences affect how people think, feel, and act. These forces also shape the way we perceive ourselves in relation to the rest of the world. For instance, we might engage in upward social comparison where we rate ourselves against people who are better off than us in some way. Does this behavior serve to motivate or discourage us? Under what circumstances are we most likely to thrive and achieve educational, work, and personal goals, and how can we mold our environment to ensure success?
Students will have the opportunity to think critically about the effects of social influence and persuasion on individual thoughts, emotion, and behavior and to analyze the ways that society shapes their own and others’ behavior. How can we elicit positive reactions and avoid being misled by others? We will explore themes related to individuals and groups, conformity and obedience, intergroup relations, and judgment and decision-making. A central idea of this course is that awareness of the lessons of social psychology can be applied in everyday contexts, allowing us to make better choices.