?

Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Social Psychology

Some people say that many of those who go into studies of psychology, do so because they experience some level of psychopathology that makes it difficult for them to relate to other human beings, and so they study psychology to obtain at least some level of working knowledge of how other human beings function, and use that knowledge to be able to function on at least a pseudo-normal level in society.

A basic and related concept presented by my Abnormal Psych professor is that everyone displays symptoms of different psychological diseases, but if the person generally isn't pathological he or she shouldn't freak out about it and make the giant leap to concluding he or she is ill. Thus, the boundaries between pseudo-normal and normal are thin or nonexistent.

Social Psychology was the only college course where the professor: (a) tested us on whether the material we learned came from the textbook or lecture, and (b) curved grades downward, such that my 94% turned into an A-minus or B-plus (don't remember which, and it hasn't really mattered, aside from the sting of diminished reward relative to effort). Aside from that, I found the course to be highly informative with respect to how individuals manage different kinds of social contexts (groupthink, the fundamental attribution error, self-fulfilling prophecies, stereotype threat, attitudes, persuasion and routes to persuasion, the diffusion of responsibility, cognitive dissonance, et cetera). As someone with strong empiricist leanings, I think the field appealed to me more than other subdisciplines like cognitive psychology or developmental psych, because it is rooted in experimental design and testing of human behavior.

There are just two small problems, for me. The first is that, as a field rooted in empirical research, findings generally deal with average behavior, not with individual behavior. And if there's anything I know about individual behavior, it's that it can be tremendously variable, to the point where it's often hard to distinguish signal from noise. It can also be affected and changed through education, which is a hopeful message for negative behavioral attributes (think stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination). So, how useful is it, really, on an individual level? It's also pretty hard to engender goodwill when pointing out someone's self-fulfilling prophecy.

The second problem is, how good are we, really, as individuals, at identifying and characterizing our own behavior and thought processes, as they relate to these identified behavior patterns? A recent, excellent long read might suggest that we're not really good at all at identifying what we know and what we don't know. What I know for myself is, I'm rarely certain, for it seems unwise to be certain after we become aware of how our individual perceptions and moods shape our memories of events.

And so, despite devoting their lifetimes to the study of human cognition and behavior, many psychologists persist in having just as many social abnormalities as the rest of society.

While my academic focus shifted away from psychology and towards animal behavior more broadly, I'm still grateful for the time I spent in the Psych department as an undergrad. If anything, I hope that having learned more about how humans behave, as compared to the behaviors humans hold up as ideals, can help me be a more compassionate and forgiving human being, myself.

Comments

( 5 remarks — Remark )
twoeleven
Nov. 2nd, 2014 12:05 am (UTC)
Social Psychology was the only college course where the professor: (a) tested us on whether the material we learned came from the textbook or lecture, and (b) curved grades downward, such that my 94% turned into an A-minus or B-plus (don't remember which, and it hasn't really mattered, aside from the sting of diminished reward relative to effort).

Huh! (a) is surprising and (b) is just cruel. Did your prof do one of those hard-ass things were the top N students get A's and everybody else gets normed down from there?
rebeccmeister
Nov. 3rd, 2014 05:08 pm (UTC)
I don't actually know what scheme he used in determining his downward curve, and in the grand scheme of things, I shrugged and moved on.

Part of the college experience is learning how to deal with unfair situations, which also means learning to pick your battles. In this case, I figured I learned a lot from the course and I wasn't all that obsessed with my GPA. Plus, I'm sure he got an earful from other students.
thewronghands
Nov. 2nd, 2014 11:03 am (UTC)
Hah, I was just talking about the fundamental attribution error yesterday. (It was discussed in the poly book I'm reading, briefly, which in turn was entertaining because I had mentioned it in giving advice to a friend of mine that's having a hard time of it the day before. When one is in the thick of things, it's harder to see that you're doing that, but sometimes an external observer can help restore perspective there. I've been meaning to blog about it.)
rebeccmeister
Nov. 3rd, 2014 05:10 pm (UTC)
The external observer role seems useful. I've generally stuck with the "friends as therapists" method, but then again, not many of my friends have much in the way of formal psychological education/training. If I lived somewhere where I figured I had a halfway decent chance of finding a good therapist, I'd look.
thewronghands
Nov. 3rd, 2014 11:56 pm (UTC)
Yeah, the only time I have ever gone to a formal therapist was when my parents divorced... it was a mandated step to get myself evaluated to be an emancipated minor. I really thought about it about two years ago (most heartbreaking breakup ever -- I had six breakups in four years, but the last one was epically awful. In 2008 I had six partners, with relationships ranging from a decade to three years long, and everyone thought I was a poly poster girl. Then it was like a horror movie of everyone getting picked off one by one. Ugh.) I thought about it again a year ago (it had been a year and I still wasn't over that last breakup), but failed to find anyone who was poly-friendly, would take my insurance, and, uh, wasn't already a personal friend. :/ So I do have friends that have that training and it's fun to talk about with them, but there's that careful boundary keeping between their professional role and making sure that they get to be friends and not therapists.

Sometimes I still think about going, but yeah, there still isn't anyone suitable. So I sympathize. The "friends as therapists" has still been pretty nice, though.
( 5 remarks — Remark )

Latest Month

April 2018
S M T W T F S
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
2930     

Tags

Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Naoto Kishi