After reading this article you will learn about the processes which help in understanding social behaviour of an individual.
Perception and Learning:
Social behaviour, in general, involves a complex interaction of learning, perception, motivation and other processes. The fact that most people behave similarly in similar social situations indicates that to a large extent, social perceptions are shared, and social learning experiences and processes are also shared.
Most people in a society tend to perceive others in a similar manner. For example, all of us can tell when somebody is angry and similarly when somebody is sad. Thus, one can see the inter-relationship between learning and perception.
Given similar situations the fact that most people learn to behave alike in similar situations provides the basis for sharing similar perceptions. Thus, it may be seen that to a large extent, our perceptions in a social situation are rendered similar because of the process of common perception and learning resulting from uniform socialisation.
In this context, one may refer to the term stereotyping, which refers to the mechanism by which people come to perceive things in a more or less stable and consistent manner. Thus, our perception of others and also of social events, acquires a certain degree of stability. Stereotypes are, in other words, stable mental pictures.
Of course, sometimes stereotypes also result in undesirable social behaviour. Many forms of social prejudices provide examples of this kind. Thus, people tend to perceive members of other nations, religions and communities in a fixed manner, invariably attributing various stereotyped qualities to them.
For example, people belonging to the working-class look at industrial magnates as exploitative, greedy and luxury loving and tend to ignore individual differences. On the other hand, industrialists tend to perceive the working class as lazy, cheeky, aggressive, etc. Such stereotypes then, explain how people attribute different qualities and traits to themselves and to others.
In recent years, this attribution behaviour has been the subject of extensive research and enquiry. There are certain other basic psychological mechanisms like sympathy and empathy, which also come into operation during social behaviour.
The term sympathy refers to the process by which one is able to share the perceptions, feelings, reactions and experiences of others. The term empathy refers to the process by which one is able to totally experience events as experienced by others.
One may see a complex interplay of perceptual processes and learning processes in social behaviour. In this context, one may also refer to another term, reference groups.
Social perception and social learning always take place within the context of the norms and expectations of particular groups which provide a frame for the validation of one’s own social behaviour. For example, members of the working-class perceive a legislation according to the norms and values of the labour unions. Similar is the process among owners and managers who have their own reference groups.
The existence of reference groups explains how group differences emerge in social perception and social behaviour. Many conflicts such as those between older people and younger people, workers and managers, arise out of these differences.
This is how we often see the ironical situation wherein, the same event or issue is interpreted differently by different groups of people, showing that the same objective reality can be experienced as different psychological and phenomenological realities.
Social behaviour is brought about by almost all the motives inherent in human nature.
Even basic physiological motives such as hunger and thirst depend for their satisfaction on others, especially in the case of infants. Initially social behaviour is acquired in the context of satisfaction of basic motives.
Subsequently, however, motives of an essentially social nature such as belongingness, acceptance, status, etc. come into operation as potent driving forces behind behaviour and much of our social behaviour comes to be governed by these motives.
The power and the affiliation motives are by their very nature dependent on social situations for their satisfaction. To a large extent, these motives are acquired during the process of socialisation and subsequently they influence the acquisition of social behaviour.
Thus, it may be seen that as the individual grows older, social learning and social behaviour come directly under the influence of social motives. Each society or culture contributes differently to the development of these social motives. Thus, in some societies the affiliation motive emerges as being stronger, while in other societies the power motive emerges as stronger.
Motives like affiliation and power express themselves in different forms in different social settings. In some societies the power motive finds expression in acquiring wealth and power and in some other societies expresses itself through the acquisition of spiritual power and in still some other societies through the acquisition of physical power.
The society, therefore, sets both motivational and behavioural norms. Here, again we see the reciprocal and intricate relationships among perceptual, learning and motivational processes in social behaviour.
Norms or Expected Standards:
The factor which influences and motivates behaviour in social situations is the stipulation of accepted ways and types of behaviour. For example a person born in a rural area, on reaching a foreign country, very soon acquires the new ways of dressing, eating and talking. Every society prescribes norms for different types of behaviour. Norms can be very rigid or flexible.
The experiments performed by Asch illustrate how individual behaviour moves in the direction of group averages or standards. Norms evolve gradually in groups as a result of continuous interaction. They provide the means by which a member’s behaviour can be evaluated by the group. Continuous failure to reach the norms or conform to the norms may result in the individual being rejected by the group.
On the other hand, proven readiness to conform to group norms or standards leads to increase in the acceptance of the individual by the group. Table manners, eloquence in speech, etc. are examples of societal norms. Norms are not static, they change depending on a number of factors. As the group expands and acquires new experiences, norms are constantly evaluated and revised.
Attitudes and Values:
Our use of the term behaviour has been in a very broad sense. It is not the intention of this article to use this term to mean only actual motor actions. Perhaps, social response would be a more suitable term. Our response to social situations, issues and people can be of different categories.
Sometimes, it involves actual behaviour. If you meet a friend on the road, you greet him. On the other hand, if you find a man dressed in a very peculiar manner you just express your disapproval or surprise. Similarly, if there is an opinion poll as to whether sixteen year olds should be allowed the right to vote, you either agree or disagree.
The above examples are illustrations of opinions. In some societies people believe that one should not work on Sundays and in other societies Wednesdays or Fridays are auspicious days. These are examples of beliefs.
Many of us believe that democracy is the best form of government or that movies corrupt young minds. These are examples of attitudes. It may be seen that opinions, beliefs and attitudes are our responses or reactions to people, events, things and issues of social relevance and significance. Each one of us has certain opinions, beliefs and attitudes.
Of all these different categories, attitudes have the most extensive influence on our behaviour. People have attitudes on 4 variety of issues, ranging from specific to general. Thus, people have attitudes towards religion, democracy, war, other people and in fact towards almost everything under the sun. Inter-group prejudices such as racialism, class prejudices, etc. are nothing but a cluster of attitudes.
Attitudes can be favourable or unfavorable. Thus, we have favourable attitudes towards some issues and very unfavorable attitudes towards others. Such attitudes influence our social behaviour. They determine the way we perceive social reality, the emotions with which we react and also the actual behaviour which we exhibit.
If we have an unfavorable attitude towards a particular group of people, we perceive them in a bad light, experience annoyance, anger and perhaps even hatred and finally react in a negative or hostile manner, either avoiding them or getting them out of our way. It will now be obvious to the reader how influential attitudes are, in determining our behaviour.
An attitude may be defined as an acquired and enduring predisposition to perceive a particular class of objects or persons in a favourable or unfavorable manner. Attitudes are entirely learnt and acquired from experiences and interactions in the social environment. Our attitudes are shaped and nurtured by other human beings as well as movies, magazines, newspapers, T.V., literature, etc. Myths and epics play a very crucial role in shaping our attitudes.
It has been shown by a number of studies that very young children are devoid of social attitudes such as prejudices (caste, class or race), but they acquire them very soon. Such attitudes serve a number of psychological functions.
They facilitate the sharing of perceptions and behaviour, they make it easy to identify oneself with other members of one’s reference groups and above all they make it easy for the individual to perceive others and respond to them. They help to give a clear guideline, and structure to a situation.
Thus, psychologically they are very comforting, but unfortunately often such attitudes make our behaviour and response rigid and unrealistic. They tend to take us away from actual reality. In extreme cases this can make the person totally blind and insensitive to glaring facts and thereby cause disappointment, frustration, stress and other unfavorable consequences.
Attitudes tend to get stabilized and become systematic. They also tend to get generalized. For example, our dislike for one particular social group may get generalized into a dislike of all other social groups. For example, a particular political party may come to believe that all other parties are not patriotic and infuse hatred or dislike for them among the people.
This may result in a very narrow, self-deceptive attitude of the superiority of one’s own group. Terms like ethnocentrism are used to describe such a situation. In more extreme forms this expresses itself as fanaticism. How often fanaticism results in the failure to perceive reality, distortion of reality, denial of reality and even fabrication of reality needs no elaboration.
Psychologically the resulting condition is one of closed mindedness, rigidity, lack of sensitivity to things around, irrationality and in short an almost pathological mental condition. An extreme form of the authoritarian personality is characterised by the above conditions.
In view of the above, it is absolutely necessary that one should always be aware of the influence of one’s attitudes on our behaviour. Our attitudes should be checked and tested against reality.
These attitudes depend on the educational process. An educational system, which is purely verbal and isolated from reality is conducive to the growth of rigid and over-determining values. This is the reason why we talk of experiential learning.
Measurement of Attitudes:
Attitudes constitute an important factor in determining our behaviour. Behaviour patterns are clearly related to attitude patterns. Understanding people’s attitudes will help us to understand and even predict behaviour. In view of this, psychologists have developed a number of techniques by which attitudes can be measured.
It has been shown that by employing these techniques, it is possible to measure the attitudes of people with a considerable degree of accuracy and dependability. Most of these techniques make use of certain verbal statements or questions requiring people to express their degree of agreement or disagreement.
These techniques are usually termed as attitude scales. Psychologists have, over the years, achieved a great deal of sophistication and scientific refinement in developing these techniques. It is not necessary at this point to go into details of these different techniques.
Some of the important techniques developed are Thurstone’s technique of equal-appearing intervals, Likert’s technique of summated rating, Guttmann’s technique of scalogram analysis, Bogardus social distance scale and so on. These techniques are named after the particular approaches employed to study attitudes or after the persons who introduced them.
In recent years, psychologists, particularly social psychologists, have devoted much attention for devising strategies and methods of changing attitudes. Many programmes of social change and development fail to succeed because the people involved do not have favourable attitudes towards these.
For example, supervisors in factories often have fixed attitudes towards workers in general and vice-versa. This often results in mutual hostility and conflict. Solutions to such problems depend on the ability to bring about changes in attitudes.
In view of this, attitude change has become an important area for research and action by psychologists. Several methods such as lectures, movies, interpersonal discussion, confrontations, etc. are employed.
Some important areas where attitude changes have assumed importance, especially in our country, are the areas of family planning, and the use of modem methods of agriculture by farmers. Techniques of attitude change are often classified into individual techniques and group techniques, direct techniques and indirect techniques.
Clinical psychologists also find these areas important in changing people’s attitudes towards psychological abnormalities. Many people do not want to send the mentally ill to psychiatrists or clinical psychologists because of a possible social stigma.
All these examples clearly illustrate the powerful role of attitudes and more so the importance of changing them. Attitudes are often mistaken for wisdom, forgetting the fact that they are highly subjective, unrelated to facts and irrational. While it is not possible or even desirable to prevent attitude formation, attitudes, like race horses, should be kept in check.
Yet another term frequently used in social psychology and of relevance in understanding social behaviour is the term value. Values are similar to attitudes since they also influence behaviour, both social and non-social. They are also acquired as a result of learning and experience.
Like attitudes they also influence our perception, affective responses and even our actual behaviour. But at the same time they differ from attitudes. While attitudes always exist in relation to specific groups of people, objects, events, etc., values are much more general. They are more abstract and general and cover a wide variety of objects, events, and people.
Attitudes always refer to some external groups, objects or practices; values, on the other hand, are more like general guiding principles for life. They provide basic principles guiding large segments of our behaviour. In fact, people tend to develop specific value systems, which provide a consistent frame to behaviour in most situations.
Thus, one may talk of conservative values or liberal values. A conservative individual develops attitudes to different issues and events marked by conservatism. Thus, one can talk of economic values, political values, and so on. Years ago Allport attempted to measure values by developing a tool.
He attempted to measure types of values-theoretical, religious, economic, political and aesthetic. Allport attempted to measure all these values and also study the order of dominance in them. Yet, another attempt was made by the well-known anthropologist Kluckhohn. In recent years, Myers Briggs has made another such attempt.
Values play a very important role in the life of an individual and in society. They are the source or fountainhead, which provide a meaningful way of ordering one’s reactions and responses. This way they often help in minimising and preventing internal conflicts and also raising the ability of an individual to tolerate frustrations and disappointments.
The reader may wonder as to what is the relationship between attitudes and values. In one way, values appear to be very general attitudes determining our responses to many kinds and classes of events, objects and people. On the other hand, it is also possible to look at attitudes as derivatives from values.
Perhaps, this is only intellectual hair-splitting. From a practical point of view this distinction is probably not very crucial. However, one more distinction may be made-values are in general ‘end-directed or goal- directed’. They indicate what we are looking for or what we want to achieve, whereas attitudes usually refer to external objects or events.
Thus, values are, to a large extent, goal-related, whereas attitudes are stimulus-related. It may be seen that values cut across stimulus situations and thereby help to integrate and lend a perspective to our reactions.
The absence of values often results in inconsistent and even anarchic behaviour. In fact, social scientists and philosophers have often pointed out that many social problems today are the result of a failure to develop proper values or, for that matter, any value at all.
Attitudes and values, therefore, constitute important motivating factors in our life, particularly in social behaviour. They determine our perception, emotional experience and also the ultimate response. They give consistency, predictability and stability to behaviour. Thus, they almost become stable parts of an individual’s personality.
They play a very important role in the process of socialisation and in transforming the biological into a social adult. They are acquired through the process of socialisation and, at the same time, influence the process of socialisation itself. Every society or culture tends to project some dominant values or attitudes. The western societies are often characterised as being materialistic and the eastern societies as spiritual and religious.
While one may not agree totally with such generalisations the fact remains that attitudes and values play a very crucial role in social integration. Their importance as motivators of human action is amply borne out by examples of martyrdom in history where people have laid down their lives for the sake of their cherished values. Socrates, Abraham Lincoln and Galileo are a few of the many such individuals who became martyrs for a cause.