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When the layperson hears the term “psychology”, they often associate it with psychologists- who they typically sees as individuals who give advice, analyse personality, and help those who are troubled or mentally ill. But psychology can be considered far more than the treatment of personal problems. Psychology tries to explain the mysteries of human nature- why people think, feel, and act as they do. Psychology also studies animal behaviour, using the findings to determine laws of behaviour and to create theories about how humans behave and think.
Definition The modern understanding of the word “psychology” is “mind” (psycho-) and “science” (-logy). Therefore, psychology translates into “the science of the mind”. However, because the mind is an abstract assumption, psychology tends to study behaviour instead, as it is more viable to observe. (Carson, p. 4, 2000) Nowadays, psychology has branched off into many different areas, which could explain why the layperson would find it hard to give a brief but complete description of what it entails.
However, the layperson often sees themselves as detached from the practice of psychology, and assumes that only specialists deal with psychology. They can unwittingly be unaware that they themselves are frequently part of a psychological process themselves everyday through the influence of advertising, media and other means. Social psychology and mass psychology are two areas in which this case could be argued. Social Psychology Social psychology deals with the way in which the individual interacts and behaves with society. It studies human behaviour taking into account people’s attitudes, values, and social influence. (Hogg, p. 12, Social Psychology) Conformity and obedience The fact that our behaviour, feelings and thoughts are strongly influenced by the characteristics of others is easily noticeable.
There are many experiments that have been carried out to prove this, one of the most well known experiments being Solomon Asch’s studies into group pressure. His studies found that individuals, when faced with a consenting majority, would often agree with the rest of the group’s answers to the test, even when they were obviously wrong to start with. When tested individually, without the group, the subjects would always answer correctly (Baron, p. 79, 1999). Therefore it is apparent that individuals are often influenced by people around them.
Their reasons for succumbing to “group pressure” are less obvious. It could have been that they were just “following the crowd” in order not be disliked or victimised by the other members, or it could be that they became convinced by the unanimous opinion. One everyday example of conforming behaviour by the layperson might be driving on the right (left) side of the road, which would be the correct thing to do and would satisfy the expectations of others (except when driving on the continent). Without this incentive to conform, it could lead to a number of accidents. This is why social psychology plays a very important part in everyday life.
Research by Stanley Milgram in the 1960s on obedience showed how social influence could effect moral acts as well as visual judgements like Asch’s studies. By demanding individuals to deliver electric shocks to patients supposedly to lethal levels, Milgram showed that a large population of people would often obey to figures of authority even when they knew what they were doing was morally wrong. When asking the layperson if they would administer lethal electric shocks to patients, their typical reply would be no.
However, according to Milgram’s experiments, and other replications of his experiments around the world, more than half the subjects would go so far as to inflict the fatal shock (Aronson, p. 41, 1988). Attitudes and Behaviour A common assumption is that attitudes determine behaviour. However, there are many that disagree with this statement and claim that they are independent of each other in particular cases. A sociologist named LaPiere, was one of those who said that there was a considerable difference between the two. In his studies in America during the 1930s, he found that restaurants and hotels which said they would not serve Chinese as guests, actually did in practice (LaPiere, 1934).
The study of human behaviour and its relationship with attitudes by methods of self-report (interviews, opinion polls, and attitude surveys) has also been criticised. It has been argued that recording words and opinions cannot necessarily be taken as an adequate substitute for observing actions. It is often hard to identify situations where there is an evident connection between what people say and what they do, and to identify the characteristics of situations where the relationship between the two might be doubtful or non- existent.
The layperson may have firm opinions on politics or other matters, but whether they will act on those beliefs is another matter. Attitudes towards sex is a subject which the layperson may well be aware of, yet the thought of the psychology involved is disregarded frequently. Society’s attitudes about sexuality strongly influence our sexual behaviour and even research on behaviour, because it is considered by many as a taboo, especially for young children. Nevertheless, sex can be a rather complicated psychological area to study, because of the ability of humans to respond in various different ways to erotic stimuli.
Rachman was able to teach subjects to be sexually exited by shoes (Rachman, p. 293-6, 1966) with results similar to Pavlov’s experiments on animal behaviour, which established associated stimuli with the desire for food, or in Rachman’s case, sex. As far-fetched as it may sound, common observation and case histories clearly indicate that human beings have been conditioned to respond sexually to all sorts of stimulus in addition to a member of the opposite sex. Humans have become susceptible to being sexually aroused by clothes, spanking, champagne, parts of the body which have nothing to do with sex, and many other things which probably shouldn’t be mentioned here.