Unit 1 Social Psychology revision AS level edexcel

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  • Created on: 10-04-13 09:15

The Social Approach

The theory suggests that:

  • Human behaviour is affected by our relationships with other people
  • Human behaviour is affected by our identification with and memberships of groups and society
  • Human behaviour is affected by cultural influences and experiences
  • Human behaviour is shaped through socialisation with a culture and the internalisation of certain cultrual norms and expectations.

The Social Approach explains our behaviour through our interactions with other people in our society.

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Key Terms

  • Agentic State- Where we act on behalf of someone else and give them responsibility for our actions.
  • Autonomous State- Where we use our free will and take responsibility for our actions.
  • Moral Strain- The tension we feel when we do something that goes against our principles but seems to be for the greater good.
  • In-group/Out-group- You believe you are part of a group/ people in your group are part of this but you do not believe you are.
  • Social Categorisation-When people act according to a particular category
  • Social Identification- The act of personally accepting that you belong to a particular group by accepting their norms.
  • Social Comparison-When you compare different social groups with each other.
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Research methods- Survey

A survey can be both a questionnaire or an interview.

A structured interview- A set of questions are asked,the researcher does not deviate away from these questions.

  • Advantages- Can collect the info that the researcher is looking for, there is a standard set of questions so that the study can be repeated- increasing reliability
  • Disadvantages- Can miss important information by moving on to next set question, can be seem as insensitive to the participants responses

Unstructured Interview- The researcher has an idea of what to find out but has no set questions. Each question is guided by the participaint's response.

  • Advantages- Can find out unexpected and interesting information, It allows the participant to guide the interview- higher validity
  • Disadvantages- May produce unwanted or irrelevant data- more difficult to analyse so may lessen validity.Very difficult to repeat so lowers reliability.
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Research Methods- Survey continued...

Semi-Structured Interview- The resercher has an idea of questions to ask but he may change them or add to them following the response given by the participant.

Advantage- Should gain the infromation that the reseacher is looking for so is high in validity.

Disadvantage- Lowers reliability as it is difficult to repeat

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Research Methods- Questionnaire

The questionnaire can produce both QUANTITATIVE and QUALITATIVE data.

Closed Questions- Designed to produce set responses which usually involves ticking boxes or agreeing with statements (Likert Scale)

  • Advantages- produces quantitative data- easier to code and analyse statistically; Can be answered quite quickly compared to other survey methods; can collect large amounts of data; can be repeated easily so has high reliability
  • Disadvantages- may not allow participant to give true answers so lowers validity; can produce social desirability bias; responses are set which lowers validity

Open Questions- Designed to allow the participant to give their own answers in their own words

  • Advantages- produces Qualitative data- rich in detail so higher validity
  • Disadvantages- Difficult to code so cannot be analysed statistically and qualitative analysis takes longer + is open to subjective bias from the researcher; it is unlikely to produce the same results when repeated so is lower in reliability
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Ethical Issues

Deception- Participants should not be deceived unless necessary for the hypothesis. Any consent should be fully informed and the participant should know what they are agreeing to and why

Consent- Participants should agree to taking part im the study and know what they are agreeing to.

Right to Withdraw- Participants should be aware of their right to stop the study at any time or withdraw their data during and after the study with not negative consequences.

Debriefing- Paticipants should be told the true aim of the study, what will happen to their information and offered any help with psychological issues that may have arisen from taking part.

Competence- The person carrying out the experiment should have the experience and qualifications to carry out the study and be aware of possible problems or ethical issues that might arise.

Proctection of participants- The participant should leave the study in the same psychological state as when they entered. No psychological harm or physical harm during it.

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Random Sampling- The most representive as every member of the target population can have an equal chance of being selected for the sample. Names are selected out of a hat or a computer generates a list of random numbers which are selected from the population.

  • Advantage- Truly representative
  • Disadvantage- Difficult to access all of the target population and some may not want to take part.

Systematic Sampling- all of the target population are put into a list and the researcher chooses every nth person.

  • Advantage-Representative of the target population
  • Disadvantage- Difficult to access everyone in target population and some may not want to take part.

Stratified/ Quota Sampling- Participants are recruited using another method until the desired quota (proportion) of each group is reached

  • Advantage- More representative of groups in the target population
  • Disadvantage- may be difficult to fully match the quota making method time consuming
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Sampling- Continued...

Volunteer/ Self-Selecting Sampling- an advert is put out and participants reply and volunteer themselves to take part.

  • Advantage- Easier to recruit participants than other methods- saving time and money
  • Disadvantage- Only certain people will volunteer (confident people, people who can read etc) making it less representative of the target population.

Opportunity Sampling- The researcher asks who is available at the time and willing to take part; can be approaching people on the street or asking friends and family etc.

  • Advantage- Easier and more convenient than other methods
  • Disadvantage- Not a good representative of the target population as the researcher can only ask those who are available and will probably not ask certain people (e.g. aggressive, unwashed etc)
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Content- Milgram

Obedience- Following an order given by a person with recognised authority over you.

Milgram, 1963


  • To find out how far someone would go and obey an authority figure
  • To eastablish a baseline measure of how obedient naive participants would be when ordered to administer increasingly intense electric shocks to an innocent victim.
  • To see if an ordinary person would follow orders even if it meant breaking their ethical code
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Milgram, 1963 


  • 40 Male volunteers selected by advertising in a newspaper for particpants in a study on human memory.
  • Study offered $4.00 as well as car fare.
  • Study held at Yale university.
  • Rigged draw- participant always given the role as teacher and confederate as learner
  • They were both shown the equipment- a shock generator with switches and lights going from 15v to 450v and a chair with straps on wired to the generator.
  • They were seperated and the teacher read the word list and testing the learner with the researcher telling the teacher to give a shock to the learner and increase the schock every time an answer was wrong.
  • The learner's responses were scripted and no shocks were actually given.
  • The learner complained of pain at vairous points and he said his heart was strating to bother him and refused to continue, before going silent at 315v.
  • Researcher consistently encouraged teacher to continue (prods), despite protestations
  • Obedience measured by how far up the generater the teacher went before refusing.
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Milgram- Continued again....

Milgram, 1963


Milgram surveyed groups of people before the researcher asking what level of shock they thought the participants would go up to- most thought the would stop at the point that the victim asked to be released (140v) and believed that a few would go beyond very strong shock.

Every participant went to at least 300v, 14 stopped between 300 and 375. The remaining 26 (65%) went all the way to 450v.


The social setting a powerful determinant of behaviour- We are socialised to recognise authority and to react with obedience. When the participants entered the experiment they were part of the situation and so found it difficult to break away. Having started to obey it became harder and harder to say no.

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Variations of Milgrams study baseline

Milgram, 1963

Milgram went on to conduct several variations to see which changes to the situation would affect obedience.

In the baseline study the learner could not be seen.

  • When the learner could not be seen or heard all participants went up to the end.
  • When the learner was in the same room as the teacher so both seen and heard, only 40% of participants shocked to the end.
  • When the teacher has to physically hold the learner's hand onto the electrode to receive a shock it dropped further to 30%
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Evaulation of Milgram's study

Milgram, 1963

Experimental validity

Participants were led to believe that this was a real experiment as they had the initial meeting with the other participant (the confederate) and they had a rigged draw.

He also staged a sample 45v shock, used convincing equipment and organised cries of pain and wall pounding.

Before the debriefing he asked the participants how painfal they thought the last few shocks were and most participants said extrememly painful.

With all of the obvious stress and tension the participants suffered, all of the evidence strongly suggests that they believed what was happeneing was real.

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Evaluation of Milgram's study- continued

Milgram, 1963

Population Validity:

Milgram's sample consisted of 40 adult males of varied backgrounds

It could be argued that he had population validity only for American Males.

However, Milgram tested females in exactly the same way and found identical levels of obedience.

A major criticism is that the results cannot be generalised to people from different cultures. Studies testing obedience across the world have yielded similar results, e.g. Meeus and Raaijmakers, 1985.

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Evaluation of Milgram's study- continued...

Milgram, 1963


Milgrams study is reliable as:

  • He ran his participants one at a time
  • He followed a standardised procedure- every participant got exactly the same experience
  • It is possible to replicate Milgram's study- in other cultures and in variations that were done by Milgram himself.
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Evaluation of Milgram's study- continued...

Milgram, 1963 Ethics: The most common criticism of the study concerns the welfare of the participants.

  • They did not know the true aim of the study
  • They were continually deceived
  • They were prompted to continue even when they wanted to stop
  • However, he did ensure there was a thorough debriefing

If Milgram had given the true aim and not decieved them into thinking the situation was real, his study would have been pointless.

84% of participants said they were glad to have participated. Fewer than 2% said they were sorry to have taken part and 74% claimed to have learnt something of personal importance. None of the participants later showed any signs of having been harmed psychologically.

  • Participants could and did withdraw when they defied the experimenter
  • Milgram believed his work would have had wider benefits to society, in that knowledge of how easy it is to follow the route to destructive obedience may lead to avoidance of such incidents in the future.
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Cross-cultural research into obedience

Milgarm was criticised for:

  •  low population validity because the experiment was carried out in the USA in the 1960's when conformity and obedience were high.
  •  low ecological validity as the setting was artificial and so the participants were not behaving how they would be expected to in real life.

Meeus and Raaijmakers carried out a similar study to Milgrams in the Netherlands in the 1980's(20 years after Milgram) using more of a realistic setting of psychological harm rather that physical harm.

Aim- To test obedience when harm would be done but in a more up-to-date, which is less physical but more psychological in nature.

Method-Based on Milgrams paradigm of having a researcher order a naive participant to do something that would be harmful to another person. Participants were asked to harass an apparent job applicant (confederate) to make him nervous while sitting a test to determine whether he would get the job. Participants were told that this was in the context of a research project.

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Meeus and Raaijmakers- continued...

Meeus and Raaijmakers, 1985

Results- 92% of participants obeyed and disturbed and criticised the applicant when told do by the researcher, even though they thought it was unfair and didn't want to do it.

Variations of the baseline included: removing the presence of the researcher and introducing two rebellious peers for the participant (they refused to follow the orders). Obedience dropped substantially in both cases.

Conclusion- Even in more liberal cultures that the USA, people obeyed an authority figure and went against their better nature to do something designed to harm another person.

Evaluation- validity-

  • The researchers felt the task was ecologically valid arguing that psychological violence is more realistic that pysical. However, it was still an unlikely scenario so the task may have lacked experimental validity.
  • The sample was comprised of Dutch adults from the general population and so is representative + the results are consistent with other tests in Europe= population validity.
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Meeus and Raaijmakers- continued....

Meeus and Raaijmakers, 1985 The results support Milgram's findings and so are supported by Milgram also.

Although the level of obeience is higher than Milgram found, this could be explained by the fact that psychological harm was used instead of physical.

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Agency Theory

Milgrams research led to the development of the Agency Theory (a way of explained obedience).

Milgram proposed that human behaviour evolved to include the tendency to obey because rule-based behaviour enables stability in a complex human society.

Behavour consists of two opposing behaviours: Autonomous and Agentic state. We switch between the two.

  • Autonomous state- where we use our free will and take responsibility for our actions
  • Agentic state- where we act on behalf of someone else and give them responsibility for our actions.

Milgram believed that when we respond to legitimate authority we tend to operate in the agentic state.

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Evaulation of Agency Theory

  • The theory helps to explain moral strain- none of the participants in Milgram's study would choose to shock the learner on their own. However when continually told you must do something by someone whose authority you recognise, you do as you are told, even if it makes you feel bad.

The theory has a lot of empirical support:

  • Milgram's own research supports the theory
  • Hofling's research and cross-cultural research provides similar support
  • Further support comes from Bushman (1988)

On the other hand, not everyone obeys, so there are individual differences. A third of Milgram's participants refused to go all the way to 450v. Some people may smiply not obey orders.

The Agency Theory does successfully explain some real world phenomena. Eichmann's testimony seems to reflect the theory very well:

  • He was following orders
  • He was part of the ruling organisation
  • He did not choose to do what he did and if he didn't, someone else would've
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Evaluation of the Agency Theory- continued...

The Agency Theory can successfully explain abhorrent acts by ordinary people under certain conditions

It could also be offered as an excuse for bad behaviour.

Knowledge of the Agency Theory could help to inoculate against being destructively obedient and safegaurds could be built in to basic training of those most at risk (police,armed forces, etc.) to avoidblind obedience in every situation.

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Prejudice and Discrimination

Prejudice-An attitude towards another person based on little or no actual knowledge of them.

Discrimination- Behaviour towards another person based on prejudice.

Prejudice and discrimination are extremely commonplace in society. Everyone has prejudices but they do not always lead to discrimination.

  • Racism
  • Sexism
  • Ageism
  • Homophobia

= Types of prejudice that could and do lead to discrimination.

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Social Identity Theory

Social Identity Theory- Tajfel, 1970- states that the simple act of being grouped will inevitaby lead to prejudice against another group. This happens in 3 stages:

  • Social categorisation- the automatic act of putting yourself and others into groups, triggering sterotypical beliefs about groups. A group that you belong to is called you in-group and a related group that you do not belong to is an out-group
  • Social Identification- As a member of an in-group, you absorb the culture of your group and associate yourself with the group's vaules and norms and realise differences between you and people in the out-group. The group becomes an important part of how you view yourself (part of your social identity). If the group is doing well you feel good about yourself, if it is not you may feel bad.
  • Social comparison- In order to boost you own self-esteem, you need you group to appear better than an out-group. This is done by making the out-group look bad in comparison. You may try and make a member of the out-group look bad also. This is in-group favouritism; the out-group denigration is discrimination stemming from prejudice caused by grouping.
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Evaulation of The Social Identity Theory

The theory explains real world behaviour- football fan violence.

The theory has evidence to support it-

  • Tajfel's Minimal Group Study
  • Sherif's study (1961)

The theory has useful applications

  • If we accept that prejudice stems from grouping we could tackle prejudice between groups by changing the group boundaries and creating one big in-group.

Downside- It simplifies complex human relations. Groups of people have shared histories involving conflict, often for scarce resources, and so it may be that this histrory influences how we feel about each other and that grouping is just one aspect of it.

Our social identities are bound up in our cultural history and a range of factors affect how we feel about other groups, not just a basic drive to improve our social standing.

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Hofling et al.

  • Hofling et al., 1966 Aim- To investigate aspects of the nurse-physician relationship, specifically what happens when a nurse is ordered to carry out a procedure which goes against her professional standards.

Procedure- A field study involving 3 hospitals in the Midwest of the USA with 1 hospital acting as a control.

12 graduate nursers and 21 student nurses were asked to fill out a questionnaire about what would they do if confronted by the experimental situation

22 nursess from the other 2 hospitals doing normal duties were chosen for the actual field experiment. While alone in the ward, they receive a phone call from an unknown doctor.

  • The nurse is asked to give an overdose of a drug to a patient ( a placebo)
  • The medication order is given over the phone by the doctor (hospital policy requires that such orders are given in person)
  • The drug is unauthorised for use on the ward where she is working
  • The order is given by an unfamiliar voice.
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Hofling et al. continued...

The researcher placed fake pills in bottles labelled 'Astoten 5 mg capsules' amoung the ward's drugs.

Dosage instructions were clearly marked. A written script was used by 'the doctor' to standardise the conversation and all conversations were recorded.

The experiment ended when the nurse complied and went to issue the medicine; refused consistently to give the medicine; went to get advice; became emotionally upset; or if the call went on for more that 10 minutes.

A researcher was on hand to debrief the nurse within half an hour.

Questionnaire- 10/12 graduate nurses, and all 21 students said they would not have given the medication and most believed that other nurses would behave in the same way.

Experimental situation- 21/22 nurses tested started to give the medication. The calls were generally brief without any resistance from the nurses. During the debriefing, only 11 nurses were aware of the dosage limits for Astorgen, none became hostile to the caller and nearly all admitted that they knew they should not have followed these orders as it is against hospital policy- but stated that it was a fairly common occurance.

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Hofling et al. Continued...

Conclusion-  Nurses will knowingly break hospital rules in a situation where a doctor tells them to, even if it could endanger a patients life.


  • High ecological validity- the nurses were unaware it was a test so their behaviour was natural.
  • Unethical- No informed consent, in the debriefing interviews the nurses admitted to feeling shame, guilt and embarrassment. They had their professionalism undermined and were undoubtedly affetced by what happened. They did recieve a thorough debriefing and reassured they acted normally and they were not criticised.
  • High population validity- nurses were those on duty at the time (opportunity), However it can be argued that people in the USA at the time were more likely to obey authority that people from other cultures.
  • High experimental validity- none of the nurses were aware that it was set-up.The experiment did test was it was set out to test, the nature of the nurse/doctor relationship.
  • Reliable-  It was run 22 times and the procedure and conditions remained the same. The results were very similar. However in a field study it is impossible to control all extraneous variables.
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Holfing et al. continued...

The research supports the Agency Theory and backs up Milgram's findings.

The nurses automatically recognised the doctor's authority and responded in most cases without question. The level of obedience was even higher that in Milgram's experiement.

Major criticism- Ethical issues as they relate to the participants but perhaps the ends justify the means.

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Robber's Cave

Sherif et al., 1961 Aim- To see whether it is possible to instil prejudice between two very similar groups by putting them in competition with each other.


  • 22 eleven year old boys took part at a summer camp. They were from similar backgrounds, were well- adjusted and normal.
  • On arrival, they were allocated into two groups.
  • Each group was initially unaware of the other's existence
  • They soon had a distinctive set of rules and ideas about how to behave, had chosen a name and a flag
  • After a week, the groups were made aware of each other
  • Researcher observed that in-group/out-group terms started to be used.
  • Competition was introduced between the two groups ( a baseball tournament)
  • The researchers manipulated the points so they could control the competition
  • Even before the tournament began the groups were fighting with each other and one group burnt the other's flag.
  • The prizes were stolen bythe losing group of the tournament.
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Robber's cave-continued...

Sherif et al., 1961

Results- A strong in-group preference was shown by the boys in each group.

Conclusion- Competition increased prejudice and discrimination, leading to inter-group conflict.


  • High ecological validity- the boys were in a natural environment (field study)
  • High experimental validity- the boys were unaware they were being observed
  • The sample did not represent the wider population, so the study possibly lacked population validity
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Key Issue

Inmates of Abu Grahib were tortured and humiliated by US military personnel who claimed to be 'following orders' . This key issue shows us how prejudice is formed through Social Identity Theory and how obedience can be explained through Agency Theory.

Social Identity Theory

  • Speeches made by the president and key military figures following the attack on the twin towers and the Pentagon gave the public and in-group of being American and 'peace loving' and an out-group of 'terrorist' or Taliban or Al Qaida.
  • Americans were encouraged to identify with their nation in horror and outrage at the attacks and to encourage the military to find the 'evil' people behind the attacks and destroy them
  • Americans were encouraged to believe that they were superior to the Iraqi terrorists- this formed deep rooted prejudice that would be used to justify the behaviour in Abu Grahib.
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Key Issue- continued...

Abu Grahib

Agency Theory-

  • The US military were 'following orders' when they tortured and humiliated the inmates.
  • They claim they were acting in an agentic state and so did not feel responsible for their behaviour and they would be suffering from moral strain.
  •  However, it has to be questioned how much of their behaviour can be justified in this way- were they ordered to do all the acts?
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