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Social Psychology Theories and Theorists

Social psychology is the branch of psychology that studies our social nature. Social psychologists are interested in how the presence of others influence our thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Those in the field apply basic psychological processes to understanding social cognition - the processes involving in perceiving interpreting and acting on social information.¹

One of the the most important concepts studied in social psychology is that of attribution; the process by which people infer causes of other people's behavior. Everyone is practicing attribution, whether consciously or subconsciously, almost all the time. Kelley’s Theory of Attribution suggests that we attribute the behavior of other people to external or internal causes on the basis of three types of information: consensus, distinctiveness, and consistency(1). We make attributions based on our personal experiences, meaning that these attributions are always partial and biased to an extent. There are two types of attributional biases:

  1. Fundamental attribution error is the tendency to “overestimate the significance of internal factors and underestimate the significance of external factors in explaining other people’s behavior."¹ Three examples of a fundamental attribution error are: (1) people get what they deserve in life; (2 )the actor-observer effect and (3) the self-serving bias. Learn about these and more in this section of BrainMass.
  2. The false consensus is “the tendency of a person to perceive his or her own response as representative of a general consensus."¹

Another popular model studied in social psychology is the elaboration likelihood model of attitude change to explain the effectiveness of persuasion. As illustrated in the attached table, the central route requires critical thinking and the peripheral route associates an argument with something positive.¹

Discover more about interpersonal attraction, social influences, group behaviour, social cognition and attitudes in the Social Psychology section of BrainMass!



1. Carlson, Neil R., William Buskist, and G. Neil. Martin. Psychology: The Science of Behaviour. Harlow: Allyn and Bacon, 2000.

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