Theoretical Approaches to Social Psychology

Theoretical Approaches to Social Psychology

A theory is a tool used to help explain an event or a concept. Researchers, such as social psychologists, propose a hypothesis and then conduct studies to validate their ideas. The end result is the formation of a theory. Note: A theory is not a fact; it is only a well-tested idea of how something works. In sound science, researchers are reluctant to state that something is a fact until they have tested it thoroughly over time and from many different perspectives. In fields such as psychology where human behavior is the topic of study, it is difficult to know for sure that a theory is accurately describing or explaining a situation; therefore, researchers are careful with their interpretation of findings and avoid stating that the findings are facts.

From theories, researchers then create models. A model is a structured and real life application of the theory for a specific phenomenon or event. Just as an architect’s model of a building (including lighting, landscaping, and color) helps everyone understand the big picture building concept, models of theories help practitioners apply the theory to the real world. Social psychologists use theories and models to help study and explain how people perceive others and social events or situations, how people influence each other, and how people relate to other individuals or groups.

As you might expect, different researchers and practitioners look at the same event or situation from different perspectives or theoretical approaches. This discussion focuses on the most common approaches or categories of theories used in social psychology.

To prepare for this Discussion:

• Review Chapter 1 of the course text, Social Psychology, focusing on how each of the following social psychology approaches would view or attempt to explain a specific situation (pay close attention to the examples used in the text):

• Motivational theories
• Learning theories
• Cognitive theories
• Decision-making theories
• Interdependence theories
• Sociocultural theories

• Watch the video, “Introducing Social Psychology,” from the Contemporary Videos in Social Psychology DVD. Focus on why people study social psychology and think about the kinds of problems social psychology attempts to solve.

• Next, consider the following three social situations:

• A high school or college campus shooting
• An act of domestic violence or child abuse within a family
• Looting of shops and homes after a natural disaster

• Now, consider the three social situations and think about how each of the social psychology approaches would treat each situation.

Write a discussion of how two of the social psychology approaches might explain one of the three situations. Be brief but clear in your analysis.
Note: Put the two approaches you discussed in the first line of your post.
•    Course Text: Taylor, S. E., Peplau, L. A., & Sears, D. O. (2006). Social psychology (12th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall.
o    Chapter 1, “Theories and Methods in Social Psychology” (pp. 2–31)
•    Article: Resnik, D. (n.d.). What is ethics in research and why is it important? Retrieved July 6, 2008, from
Your choice of one of the following articles:
•    Fournier, A., Ehrhart, I., Glindemann, K., & Geller, E. (2004). Intervening to decrease alcohol abuse at university parties: Differential reinforcement of intoxication level. Behavior Modification, 28(2), 167–181. Retrieved from

•    Stock, R., & Hoyer, W. (2005). An attitude-behavior model of salespeople’s customer orientation. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 33(4), 536–552. Retrieved from
•    Veenstra, R., Lindenberg, S., Oldehinkel, A., De Winter, A., Verhulst, F., & Ormel, J. (2008). Prosocial and antisocial behavior in preadolescence: teachers’ and parents’ perceptions of the behavior of girls and boys. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 32(3), 243–251. Retrieved from
•    Hirschberger, G., Ein-Dor, T., & Almakias, S. (2008). The self-protective altruist: Terror management and the ambivalent nature of prosocial behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34(5), 666–678. Retrieved from

•    Milfont, T., Duckitt, J., & Cameron, L. (2006). A cross-cultural study of environmental motive concerns and their implications for proenvironmental behavior. Environment & Behavior, 38(6), 745–767. Retrieved from
•    Pearson/Prentice Hall. (Executive Producer). (2007). Contemporary videos in social psychology [DVD]. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Author.
o    “Introducing Social Psychology”
Click here to access a transcript for “Introducing Social Psychology”
o    “Research Methods”
Click here to access a transcript for “Research Methods”

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