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« Ozodi Osuji Weekly Series on Psychology 2006, #23 of 52: Learning Theory | Main | Ozodi Osuji Weekly Series on Psychology 2006, #25 of 52: Cognitive Psychology »

March 29, 2006

Ozodi Osuji Weekly Series on Psychology 2006, #24 of 52: Social Psychology

by Ozodi Thomas Osuji, Ph.D. (Seatle, Washington) --- Social psychology is like learning theory for it assumes that most things human beings do are learned, but learned from other human beings. Other people, including the child’s parents, siblings, peers, teachers, ministers, every person in his group, influence him.

Society posits accepted social behaviors, norms, and teaches children those behaviors. The various units of society: family, peers, school, church, work etc teach the individual approved social behaviors and reward him positively to the extent that he approximates approved behaviors and punish him when he deviates from them.

All known human societies on earth reward their members who engage in pro-social behaviors and punish those who engage in antisocial behaviors. If you do what helps the group survive as a group you are rewarded with social honors, work and money; on the other hand, if you do what hurts other people (steal, kill, rape, etc) you are apprehended, tried and sentenced to jail and prison. Every known society discourages its members from engaging in antisocial behaviors.

Other people influence the individual in many ways than one. In fact, it is difficult to know what the individual does that is not really a product of influence from other people. It is fruitless to debate this issue, that is, what is original in the individual and what is a result of other people’s influence on him; one just assumes that whatever one and other people do is a product of social learning.

Man is a social creature and from the moment he is born is socialized into a preexisting social group. He learns how that group adapts to its environment; he learns his group’s culture and by a certain age has internalized the parameters of that culture and behaves according, and as an adult pretty much does things as other members of his group does them.

The individual speaks the language of his group and language carries the group’s world view and culture; the adult individual speaks like other members of his group do; he walks as his group members’ walk. He does just about every thing as his group members do. Even his mental health or lack of it is rooted in group behavior.

Consider paranoia. If a group is excessively fearful of other people, it tends to teach its children, via modeling and other means of learning, to become paranoid in their behaviors. Until recently, slavery existed in West Africa. People were apprehensive of being caught and sold into slavery. They tended to be very cautious and fearful of their neighbors. They produced paranoid cultures and socialized their children into a generalized paranoid manner of behaving. Group paranoia, follie adieu, is a social phenomenon.

For our present purposes, the salient point is that just about everything human beings do are learned within the group context and understanding how society influences the individual is the function of social psychology.

There are many issues in academic social psychology but those would not concern us in this informational essay. Suffice it to say that folks are products of their society and culture. Even when they think that they are behaving independently, they are, in fact, influenced by their groups.

Stanley Milligram’s study at Stanford University showing how normal proscial students were turned into prison guards who administered electric shocks to other students (those playing the role of prisoners) teaches us that most people can be taught most roles society approves. Nazis taught the average German to be a killer and that is all there is to it. Society has a great impact on us.
In fact, the group is so influential that if a significant number of persons in the individual’s group say that a ruler is ten inches long, instead of twelve inches long, the individual is likely to go along and say so. The individual feels that he must conform to the group to avoid the group’s rejection of him and possible punishment of him.

Most people are afraid of their group’s rejection (it leads to feeling fearful, anxious and arouses existential abandonment issues etc). Most people are afraid of their group’s punishment; society can authorize the killing of the individual. Simply stated, folks do whatever they could to conform to their group’s norms, so as to be accepted by most persons in their world.

It is society that teaches us to become who we are, and the role of individual choice in the matter is often exaggerated. A society that is very entrepreneurial, like the United States of America, teaches its people to become business persons and rewards them if they do so, reward them with material and social success. Thus, folks become business men and women because their society encouraged them to do so, not because they have more innate propensity to become entrepreneurs than other human beings.

You can teach children to be unproductive socialists, as in the former Soviet Union, or productive business persons, as in the USA. It is all a matter of social choice.

If we are a product of social factors, we might as well understand how this phenomenon works, study it and do it consciously. This is the mission of social psychology and sociology.

Our idea of reality, truth, is largely constructed by the society we live in. Reality, sociologists tell us, is a social construct, the current agreement by many persons in the group; perhaps, by the ruling classes of the group. What we call real is the consensus opinion of the dominant members of our society. As such, we really do not know what is real, yet. In as much as society influences even our conception of reality, we had better study how it does so rather than deny the all powerful effect of society on us.

The individual is a product of his group; if he has exaggerated belief in his individualism, he has delusion of independence. In truth, we are controlled by our society.

Social psychology is a necessary branch of psychology; it enables us to understand how the individual came to be the type of person he is. Sociological and biological variables largely influence the individual’s personality and behaviors.

Ozodi@africainstituteseattle.org

Posted by Administrator at March 29, 2006 01:21 PM

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