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  1 Introduction to applied socialpsychology linda steg and talib rothengatter Introduction: social problems and human cognitionand behaviour Socialpsychologyisabasicscienceaimedatunderstandinghumansocialbehaviourandthemotivations,cognitionsandemotionsrelatedtosuchbehaviour.For example, social psychologists try to understand why people so easily givein to social pressure, why people often seem insensitive to the needs of oth-ers, why people become aggressive, why people like each other or why peopleare unhappy even though they seem to have everything going for them. Socialpsychology tries to build knowledge primarily through laboratory experiments,and therefore theories and findings from social psychology may sometimes seemremote from the actual problems in society. However, many, if not most, societalproblemshavesocial-psychologicalaspects,thatis,theyarerootedinbehaviourorhuman cognitions. For example, integration problems may result from conflictsbetween groups and the inherent human tendency to favour one’s own group,and traffic accidents are to a large extent caused by unsafe driving styles andthe unrealistic perception that one is a better driver than most others. Moreover,health problems are related to unhealthy eating habits and a sense of not beingable to control one’s appetite, and environmental problems result in part fromgrowing consumption levels and a tendency to pay attention only to one’s imme-diate interests. Consequently, solutions and prevention of such problems requirechanges in attitudes, values, behaviour and lifestyles (Zimbardo, 2002). Socialpsychologists can play an important role in this respect. Box1.1 illustrates howsocial problems may – at least partly – be managed via behavioural changes.This example demonstrates how social psychologists may help resolve socialproblems and highlights several issues that enhance the social utility of appliedsocialpsychologicalstudies.First,inordertodesigneffectivesolutionsforsocialproblems, we have to understand which behaviour causes the given problem.Applied scientists should focus on those aspects of a social problem whereinterventions would have the most impact in resolving these problems. In ourexample, speeding by moped riders was studied because moped riders are rel-atively often involved in traffic accidents, while, in turn, these traffic accidentsappeared to be strongly related to speeding. Second, it is important to examinewhich factors influence the particular behaviour. Behaviour-change programmes 1  www.cambridge.org© Cambridge University PressCambridge University Press978-0-521-86979-9 - Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Managing Social ProblemsEdited by Linda Steg, Abraham P. Buunk and Talib RothengatterExcerptMore information  2  applied social psychology Box 1.1 Solving social problems via changing cognitions and behaviour Social problem  The Province of Drenthe (in the north of the Netherlands) is concerned abouttraffic safety in the region. Researchers analysed the local traffic statistics, andfound that moped riders are twenty-two times more likely to be involved intraffic accidents than average road users (including pedestrians), and forty times more likely than average car users. Based on this, they decided todevelop a traffic safety programme aimed to increase the safety of mopedriders. They first decided to commission a study in which they examined which factors underlie the high accident involvement of moped riders.  Which behaviour causes accidents?  The research team first examined which behaviour causes accidentinvolvement of moped riders. It appeared that traffic accidents are especially related to traffic violations (e.g., speeding), and not to errors (e.g., by accident not giving priority) or lapses (e.g., not noticing a traffic light) madeby moped riders. Therefore, the research team decided to focus on factorsaffecting traffic offences. More specifically, they decided to focus onspeeding, because the survey study revealed that moped riders generally donot obey speed limits, and they are quite often fined for speeding. Theresearch team assumed that speeding typically results from consciousdecision making. Therefore, they based their study on a theoretical modelthat aims to explain planned behaviour that is under volitional control: thetheory of planned behaviour (TPB) (Ajzen, 1991; see Chapter 2). Factors influencing traffic violations Following the TPB, the research team examined to what extent speeding was related to  attitudes  towards speeding (i.e., the degree to which a personhas a favourable or an unfavourable evaluation or appraisal of speeding),  social norms  (i.e., the individual’s perception of the extent to whichimportant others would approve or disapprove of speeding) and  perceived  behavioural control   (i.e., the perceived ease or difficulty of (not) speeding). Itappeared that moped riders having positive attitudes and strong socialnorms towards speeding were more likely to violate speed limits than those with negative attitudes and weak social norms. Perceived behaviour control was not significantly related to speeding. Policies to increase traffic safety  Based on these results, the research team concluded that traffic safety programmes could best focus on changing attitudes and social norms  www.cambridge.org© Cambridge University PressCambridge University Press978-0-521-86979-9 - Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Managing Social ProblemsEdited by Linda Steg, Abraham P. Buunk and Talib RothengatterExcerptMore information  Introduction to applied social psychology   3 towards speeding. Among other things, they suggested stressing the risksassociated with speeding, so as to make prevalent attitudes more negative.Although the study revealed that moped riders do acknowledge these risks,it appeared that these risks did not outweigh the advantages of trafficoffences, such as feelings of freedom and the ‘kick’ out of not respecting thelaw. Also, the research team suggested presenting examples of youngsters who disapprove of speeding in information campaigns, so as to weakensocial norms. will be more effective to the extent to which they target important antecedents of behaviour. Thus, we need to understand which factors cause behaviour. Third, itis important to understand which intervention techniques are available to changebehaviour, taking into account which behavioural antecedents are typically tar-geted by various intervention techniques. In our example, speeding appearedto be strongly related to attitudes and social norms. Thus, interventions shouldbest focus on changing attitudes and social norms related to speeding, for exam-ple, by designing information campaigns that stress the risks associated withspeeding. The involvement of applied social psychologists does not need to stophere. Applied social psychologists can also play an important role in evaluatingthe effects of interventions, by examining to what extent interventions indeedchange behaviour and the underlying determinants, and whether social problemsare indeed resolved. This will not only reveal whether intervention programmesare successful, but also how they may be improved. Moreover, evaluation stud-ies provide unique opportunities to test social psychological theories in real-lifesettings.In sum, applied scientists should focus their efforts on aspects of a social prob-lem where they would have the most impact in improving the relevant problems.This basic principle should be taken into account when deciding which problemto study (in our example: traffic safety of moped riders), which variables to con-centrate on (in our example: causes of traffic violations) and the decision on whatkind of interventions to use in managing the problem (in our example: changingattitudes and norms).This book aims to provide an introduction to the contribution of social psy-chology to the understanding and managing of various social problems, and themethodsusedtoachievethis.Thebookgivesanoverviewofawiderangeofsocialpsychological theories, intervention techniques and research designs that can beapplied to better understand and manage social problems. Moreover, the book aims to demonstrate how knowledge from social psychology has been applied inpractice. When discussing the role of social psychologists in ameliorating socialandpracticalproblems,wehighlighttheroleofhumanbehaviourinvarioussocialproblems, factors influencing such behaviour and effective ways to change theparticular behaviour.  www.cambridge.org© Cambridge University PressCambridge University Press978-0-521-86979-9 - Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Managing Social ProblemsEdited by Linda Steg, Abraham P. Buunk and Talib RothengatterExcerptMore information  4  applied social psychology Definition of applied social psychology  Before elaborating on how social psychologists can contribute to resolv-ingsocialproblems,wewillfirstdefinethefield.Giventhebroadrangeofinterestsofsocialpsychologists,aswillbecomeapparentfromthesecondpartofthisbook,itisnoteasytoprovideaformaldefinitionofsocialpsychology.However,ingen-eral,socialpsychologistsseektoacquirebasicknowledgeabouthowpeoplethink about, feel about, relate to and influence one another, and why they do so. Thus, social psychology  may be defined as the scientific field that seeks to understandthe nature and causes of individual behaviour and thought in social situations.This includes, for example, behaviour and thoughts related to helping, attraction,conflict, prejudice, self-esteem, group processes and social exclusion (Baron &Byrne, 2004). Applied social psychology , in turn, may be defined as the systematic appli-cation of social psychological constructs, principles, theories, intervention tech-niques,researchmethodsandresearchfindingstounderstandoramelioratesocialproblems (Oskamp & Schultz, 1998). Constructs are the building blocks of psy-chological principles and theories. A  construct  refers to a clearly defined indi-vidual (psychological) characteristic that is generally latent and thus not directlyobservable, although it can be assessed through interviews or questionnaires.Examples are attitudes (i.e., whether one evaluates a topic positively or nega-tively), values (i.e., general beliefs about desirable behaviour or goals) or socialnorms (i.e., whether one’s social group disapproves or approves of a particularbehaviour).A  principle  is a statement of how a psychological process works. Principlesdescribe basic processes by which humans think, feel and act. Examples are:     The  foot-in-the-door technique , which involves making a small initial request,followedbyalargerrelatedrequestwithinashortperiod(Figure1.1);generally,those who agreed to the small request are much more likely to comply withthe larger request as well, as compared with those who were not asked to agreewith a small request or to those who did not agree to the small request.     Cognitivedissonance ,whichreferstotheuncomfortabletensionthatcanresultfrom having two conflicting thoughts at the same time, or from engaging inbehaviour that conflicts with one’s beliefs or attitudes (Figure 1.2). When twocognitions(includingbeliefs,emotions,attitudes,behaviour)areincompatible,individuals try to reduce this dissonance by inventing new thoughts or beliefs,or by modifying existing beliefs.     The  availability heuristic , which refers to the tendency to judge the likelihoodor frequency of an event by the ease with which relevant instances come tomind.A  theory  is an integrated set of principles that describes, explains and predictsobserved events. Theories provide explanations for our observations, and enable  www.cambridge.org© Cambridge University PressCambridge University Press978-0-521-86979-9 - Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Managing Social ProblemsEdited by Linda Steg, Abraham P. Buunk and Talib RothengatterExcerptMore information
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