Basic Principles of Social Psychology
Chuck Huff, St. Olaf College
after Eliot Smith & Diane Mackie (1995) Social Psychology.
There are individual differences in the extent towhich these statements describe
any particular individual. Personality psychology is, in part, the study of
these individual differences. But all people, to some extent, behave in a manner
consist with these social psychological principles
Two Fundamental Axioms of Social Psychology
- The Social Construction of Reality. Each person's view
of reality is a construction shaped by cognitive, emotional, and
social processes. Almost any complex perception (e.g. perception
of another's intent) is a social construction. Many simple
perceptions (e.g. the variation in movement of a light) are also
influenced by the above processes. The extent to which a
perception "feels" immediate is no guide to the extent of
- The Pervasiveness of Social Influence. Other people
influence virtually all our thoughts, feelings, and behavior. This
occurs whether those others are physically present or not, and
whether we recognize the influence or not. We are biased to not
recognize this influence, unless it works in our favor (e.g., as
Three Motivational Principles
These motivational principles guide the social construction of
reality, and the process of social influence. In any particular
situation, they may provide both contradictory and complimentary
- People Strive for Mastery. People seek to understand
and predict events in the social world in order to obtain rewards.
People enjoy feeling competant and effective and will work to
obtain these feelings. People will avoid situations in which these
feelings are threatened. People may distort their actual mastery
to achieve a feeling of mastery.
- People Seek Connectedness. People seek support, liking,
and acceptance from the people and groups they care about and
value. People will behave in ways that will increase liking from
- People value "me and mine." People desire to see
themselves, and other people and groups connected to themselves,
in a positive light. They will collect information in the support
of this motivation, and distort information to conform with
Three Processing Principles
These three processing principles operate together in a mutually
supporting way to guide our cognitive efforts at understanding
ourselves and others.
- Conservatism. Established views are slow to change.
Individuals' and groups' views of the world are slow to change and
prone to perpetuate themselves.
- Accessibility. Accessible information has large
effects. Information that is most readily available has the most
impact on thoughts, feeling, and behavior.
- Superficiality vs. Depth. People ordinarily put little
effort into dealing with information. When specifically motivated,
however, they can be convinced to process information at greater