Social Psychology and the reasons for our group behavior

Social Psychology and the reasons for our group behavior

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The Psychology It is a discipline that studies (and applies) the way to improve the quality of people's personal and social quality of life.

As well as the Psychology (without adjectives) studies and helps the individual, the Social psychology studies interpersonal interrelations and worries so that they are functional and positive in the sense of improving the well-being of all.


  • 1 What is and what is not Social Psychology?
  • 2 Compliance with the group, the Solomon Asch experiment
  • 3 Obedience to authority (Stanley Milgram)
  • 4 Role and behavior (Philip Zimbardo and others)

What is and what is not Social Psychology?

We must not confuse Social Psychology with Sociology. The Sociology studies the behavior of groups and organizations, while the Social psychology studies the behavior of the person within the groups and organizations, as well as the interrelationships established and the modification, in a positive sense, of both the behaviors and the interrelationships.

Some behaviors of people are very surprising the collective, political or social alienation of people who do true barbarities and lose all rational references to follow the "unique thought" and the slogans of conduct dictated by this unique thought, however demented and criminal they may be.

Moreover, the surprise that caused this kind of demented behavior in the Nazi movements of the early twentieth century drove the development of Social Psychology: Why are we able to show these behaviors? What should we know in order to be and act as human, rational and social people and not as automatons in the service of "superior" interests?

Despite this development of the Social psychology These fascist behaviors (authoritarian, aggressive and violent) continue to occur in the 21st century, many times on both sidewalks of the same path.

However, on many occasions, the people in the group are unaware of the psychosocial mechanisms, which trigger their own behaviors, while they are known by the group's leaders, making manipulation of social behaviors very easy.

What matters is that we all know these mechanisms to enjoy freedom of behavior (no responsibility without freedom) and avoid alienation and use.

Compliance with the group, the Solomon Asch experiment

Maslow, humanist psychologist, tells us the scale of human needs. Every time we have the needs of a certain level covered (based on the basic vitals) we tend to meet the needs of the immediate higher level, up to and cover the entire scale of human psychic needs.

Once the physiological needs are met, basically food and hydration, and those of safety (among others, not living on the street at the mercy of any dangerous unforeseen) the person has the need for estimation, love and group membership (we are social animals in need of affection). So much that it causes stupor the experiment of Solomon Asch:

Could you say which bar of the three on the right is equal to that on the left?

It seems quite obvious that it is number 2. But what would you say if you were in a waiting room waiting to do a hiring interview and in the same room the employees of the company were discussing it and said that it is number 1? Most experimental subjects prefer to be satisfied, according to the group, and respond the same: number 1.

Obedience to authority (Stanley Milgram)

More chilling than the above is this experiment of Stanley Milgram. This need not to be rejected by the group makes us double its authority to inhuman and sadistic extremes. Just look at the behavior of some Israeli soldiers towards Palestinian children, or the treatment of the Guantanamo guards to the allegedly Taliban prisoners. Or, without going so far, the violent sadism with which some of the police here repress peaceful demonstrations in favor of the Environment or Social Justice.

The milgram experiment it was that the experimental subject, according to the "norms" received from the laboratory authority, had to "punish" by means of an electric shock the mistakes made by a second supposedly experimental subject (in fact a conspiracy to be able to do the first experiment ) in an experiment to analyze your memory.

The first subject, at the controls of a behavioral punishment machine, had to apply an electric shock to the second subject each time he mistook his answer. These discharges would be of increasing voltage for each mistake made, and ranged from a few volts to potentially fatal discharges. All the experimental subjects accepted their work and were increasing the potential of the discharge to each error of the collusion (really did not receive any discharge, but that made an important comedy of pain in each supposed), and it could be seen how an important percentage arrived to "give" potentially very serious discharges and none, when he left the experiment, went to help the subject punished.

For a long time the behavioral psychologists and the pedagogues They know that punishment is useless and, in a very high percentage, they achieve the opposite effect to the intended one. What is effective, to correct a behavioral problem is the reasoning, the conviction, the humanistic reinforcement of the subject and the reinforcement of the desired alternative behavior.

In these times, both supranational political organizations and educational organizations there is a proliferation of counterproductive punishments. Either the authority that advocates them is ignorant or bad: It aims for objectives totally different from those it claims to pretend and for which it theoretically applies punishments.

As he says Philip Zimbardo (probably taken from another author) "In the history of humanity many more barbarities and atrocities have been committed in the name of obedience than in the name of the rebellion".

Role and behavior (Philip Zimbardo and others)

But what makes us behave in these irrational ways? Is it the human nature of those who do it? Is it a genetic issue that determines authoritarian, sadistic, submissive, liars,… determination that cannot be released?

The Zimbardo experiment Prove no. We can all act from authoritarian, antisocial, unfair and sadistic dementia or from human and social responsibility. It's all a matter of the "side" where "the war" takes us. Many times, almost always, police and crime are two sides of the same coin and one and the other could be on the other side if the circumstances had led. "I am myself and my circumstances", and the same could be said of the executioner and the victim or of the members of two confronted groups. What interests us here is to become aware of the fact and avoid being a slave to our circumstances and try to be, rather, the free driver of the same.

Philip Zimbardo and his collaborators made the experiment The role of the prisoner and the prisoner: They were working with a group of American university students. Randomly they selected a group that had to be prisoners of a prison and another that had to represent the role of the prisoners. They began the experiment, which should last three weeks, to an old jail that was no longer used as such. Immediately the prisoners, who wore uniform, dressed in aggressive symbols (high boots, wide belts with thick metal buckles, sunglasses, badges on the pitera, large black sunglasses ... and developed authoritarian, capricious, humiliating and aggressive attitudes towards their peers who played the role of prisoners.They, on the contrary, developed a radical drop in their self-esteem, depression and many psychosomatic symptoms.The thing got so bad that Zimbardo and collaborators had to suspend the experiment before completing the first week of the three planned: After many years, when those students were already mature people, most of them parents, they quoted them again: Both of them still maintained behavioral and psychic sequels of the role of that experience.

The international psychological community has banned experiments of this type. The problem is that our world lives thousands of realities every day, so they are not experiments, but pure and hard reality.

What matters is know these social psychological mechanisms not to fall with their traps or as a victim of them or as an irrational executioner, to not choose our leaders who use these strategies and to report, where appropriate, the cases we know.