Theories Of Social Psychology Research Paper

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Social psychology studies how individual people’s thoughts, feelings, and behavior are influenced by other people (Allport 1954). Social psychology’s theories account for how, why, and when people affect other people. Social psychological theories provide networks of propositions, testable by scientific observations, to describe, explain, and predict systematic phenomena in people’s reactions to others. This research paper addresses mid-range theories, not general systems (i.e., Lewin’s entire field theory) and not single phenomena (i.e., the reliable finding that first impressions matter). Because social psychology specializes in mid-range theories, the review imposes a larger framework, providing mere pointers to the theories flagged (see the cited books reviewing theory for detail).



1. Organization Of This Review

Social psychology’s theories each tend to center on one of a few major types of social motivation, describing the social person as propelled by particular kinds of general needs and specific goals. Most reviews acknowledge these motivational roots by reference to broad traditions within general psychology or sociology: role theories, cognitive and gestalt theories, learning and reinforcement theories, and psychoanalytic or self-theories.

As a variant, this review takes a more integrated but compatible premise, based on people’s evolution in a social niche: to survive and thrive, people need other people. Several core social motives arguably result from this perspective. Over the twentieth century, social and personality psychologists frequently have identified the same five or so core social motives, which should enhance social survival (Stevens and Fiske 1995). Belonging reflects people’s motive to be with other people, especially to participate in groups. Understanding constitutes people’s motive for shared social accounts of themselves, others, and surroundings. Controlling describes people’s motive to function effectively, with reliable contingencies between actions and outcomes. Self-enhancing comprises people’s tendencies to affirm the self. Trusting concerns people’s motives to see others (at least own-group others) positively. While these motives are not absolute (other reviewers would generate other taxonomies), not invariant (people can survive without them), nor distinct (they overlap), they do arguably facilitate social life, and they serve the present expository purpose. Within each core social motive, distinct levels of analysis address social psychological processes primarily within the individual, between two individuals, and within groups.

2. Theories Of Belonging: Role Theories

People’s core social motive to participate in group life generates theories that emphasize the place of the individual in the group. Role theories define people’s behavior as a function of their roles, their position in social structures and the expectations attached to that position, all in the context of group norms, the unwritten, informal rules that govern group life.

2.1 Belonging, Within The Individual

Emphatically sociological, role theories describe the effects of group roles and norms on individual self-presentation and self-understanding. In the theater of social life, so aptly described in the dramaturgical theory of Goffman, self-presenting people define the scene, take on roles, and follow cultural scripts. Here, symbolic interaction with generalized others forms the self (Mead), or others’ reflected appraisals construct the looking glass self (Cooley).

People’s motivation to fit into groups sparks strategic impression management (Schlenker) and self-presentation (Jones). Wanting to operate successfully in groups provides goals to convey desired (but not necessarily positive) self-images that are personally beneficial and socially believable, for a given audience. For example, people may ingratiate, presenting themselves as likable; self-promote, presenting themselves as competent; or supplicate, presenting themselves as helpless. When people feel under public or private scrutiny, they become objectively self-aware, in Wicklund’s theory; this awareness motivates matching to internalized social standards. People and situations differ in motivating people to self-monitor; that is, to adjust their behavior to the demands of the social group (Snyder).

Belonging motivates not only selves, but also attitudes and values. Merton’s reference group theory explained how people derive their values from belonging to particular groups or desiring to belong to them. Through face-to-face interaction, reference groups theoretically serve a normative function, defining acceptable standards for group membership (Deutsch and Gerard, Kelley). Some attitudes thus serve a social adjustive function (Katz, Kelman, Smith, Bruner, and White); that is, attitudes and values facilitate belonging.

2.2 Belonging, Between Individuals

Motives to belong and get along with other people appear in theories describing reciprocity: expectating something in return. Cialdini’s compliance principles include reciprocity; people help other people who help them (see Gouldner on reciprocity norms). Exchange theories (see Sect. 4.2) posit that people expect fair outcomes (outcomes proportional to inputs), but later theories proposed different norms, depending on the relationship. Communal-exchange theory (Clark and Mills) describes exchange relationships (equitable outcomes) versus communal relationships (need-based outcomes). A. Fiske’s social relations model theorizes four relationship types and norms: equality matching, communal sharing, authority ranking, and market pricing.

People’s adherence to relationships over merely self-serving outcomes appears in the dual-concern model (Pruitt and Carnevalle): bargaining elicits both ownconcern and other-concern. People also evaluate outcomes by procedural justice; that is, whether the process itself was fair (Thibaut and Walker, Lind and Tyler). Institutions and authorities especially are evaluated according to procedural justice, thereby eliciting loyalty or anger.

Belonging also appears in leadership theories. Milgram’s theoretical analysis of destructive obedience to authority includes sociocultural contexts of obedience, subtle and progressive commitment, and denial of personal responsibility—all in the service of the group. More benign forms of authority appear in the contingency theory of leadership (Fiedler), describing how leaders influence members most successfully through relationship-oriented, rather than merely task-oriented leadership, though other contingency models (e.g., Vroom) note that effective leadership style depends on context. Transactional leadership (Burns) adheres to norms of leader–member reciprocity, whereas transformational leadership changes the demands of the followers.

Regardless, individuals gain from belonging. Social support theories explain how relationships benefit health and well-being. Main effects models (e.g., attachment, see Sect. 6) suggest a monotonic relationship between relationships and health. Buffering theories (Cohen, House, Sarason) posit that social support undermines the ill effects of stress, if the support fits the stressor.

2.3 Belonging, In Groups

Crowds turn into groups, in Turner’s emergent norm theory, when people cue each other’s behavior. Theoretically, extreme cases result in deindividuation (Diener, Zimbardo); the self lost in the group.

Less radically, people join groups because they are attracted to them, according to group cohesion theory (Hogg); solidarity transforms aggregates into groups (see Moreno’s sociometry). Networks of interaction processes (Bales) define the group structure along task, social, and activity dimensions. Groups valuing cohesion over task effectiveness suffer Janis’s groupthink, faulty decision-making that results from conformity pressures. French and Raven’s referent power and Kelman’s identification both influence through desire to belong. Group-level influence processes depend on the strength, number, and immediacy of people attempting influence (Latane’s social impact theory; Tanford and Penrod’s social impact model). These theories elaborate Zajonc’s social facilitation theory, which describes the presence of others facilitating an individual’s dominant response, benefiting well-practiced skills and undermining less-developed performances.

In organizations, effective performance meets reviewers’ standards, maintains working relationships, and satisfies individual needs, in Hackman’s normative model of group effectiveness. Relatedly, Steiner describes process losses that endanger group productivity, when coordination or motivation fails. Social loafing diminishes motivation in groups (Latane), but social compensation (Williams and Karau) can enhance motivation in groups.

The predominantly positive effects of group belonging all pertain to own group (in-group). Nevertheless, in-group favoritism (rewarding one’s own), not out-group deprivation, poisons intergroup relations. Tajfel’s social identity theory describes how in-group favoritism stems from self-esteem and categorization, the latter expanded in Turner’s selfcategorization theory. These theories hold that categorization into in-group and out-group differs from other kinds of categorization (see Sect. 3) because the perceiver belongs to one of the categories: Mere categorization into groups promotes conflict. In contrast, Sherif’s realistic group conflict theory blames intergroup hostility on competition over scarce resources. If single in-group belonging promotes intergroup conflict, multiple belonging diminishes it, in the theory of crossed categorization (Dovidio and Gaertner).

3. Theories Of Understanding: Gestalt And Cognitive Theories

People’s core social motive to hold a coherent, socially shared understanding has inspired theories that account for various social cognitive processes. Gestalt theories in social psychology emphasize harmonious fit among elements that constitute a coherent whole, hence their influence on consistency theories of attitudes and on schema theories of social perception (see Sect. 3.1). Their descendants, modern social cognition theories, most often focus on dual processes, one automatic and based on superficial, peripheral heuristics or categories, the other controlled and based on systematic, central, deliberation or individuation (see Chaiken and Trope 1999).

3.1 Understanding, Within Individuals

Derived from gestalt psychology, three types of theory focus on processes within the social perceiver: attribution, impression formation, and consistency theories. Other attitude theories and self theories build indirectly on these origins, but still emphasize understanding as primary.

Heider’s theories of social perception focused on harmonious, coherent wholes: invariance in perceived personality. Heider’s social perceiver, portrayed as a naive scientist, searches for consistencies in behavior, to make coherent dispositional attributions (inferring stable, personal causes). Other attribution theories developed: Jones’s theory of correspondent inference describes how perceivers impute dispositions that fit an actor’s behavior, attributions increased by a behavior’s unique (‘noncommon’) effects and low social desirability. Kelley’s covariation theory likewise notes a behavior’s distinct (i.e., unique) target and its degree of consensus (i.e., desirability) across actors, but adds the observation of consistency over time and circumstances. Extending fundamental theories, stage models (Quattrone, Gilbert, Trope) converged on automatic categorization or identification of behavior, followed by dispositional anchoring or characterization, followed by controlled situational correction or adjustment. These recent theories bring dual process perspectives to attribution theories that emphasized controlled processes.

A second line of person perception theories also originated in gestalt ideas and eventuated in dualprocess models. Asch proposed a holistic theory of impression formation, in which the parts (most often personality traits) interact and change meaning with context. The alternative, an algebraic model that merely summed the traits’ separate evaluations, matured in Anderson’s later averaging model of information integration. Asch’s most immediate heirs were modern schema theories, examining impression formation as a function of social categories that cue organized prior knowledge. Following Taylor and Fiske’s Cognitive miser perspective, social perceivers were viewed as taking various mental shortcuts (below), schemas among them. Eventually, a more balanced perspective emerged, describing perceivers as motivated tacticians, who sometimes use shortcuts and sometimes think more carefully, depending on their goals. One such dual-process model, the continuum model (Fiske and Neuberg), holds that perceivers begin with automatic categories (e.g., stereotypes), but with motivated attention to additional information, perceivers may individuate instead. Brewer’s dual-process model posits automatic identification processes and controlled categorization, individuation, and personalization.

Other mental shortcuts emphasize relatively automatic processes, as defined by Bargh to include being unintentional, effortless, unconscious, and unstoppable. Illustrative theories address influences by stimuli that are arbitrarily salient in the environment (Taylor and Fiske) or accessible in mind (Higgins, Bargh). In Kahneman and Tversky’s heuristics, people estimate probabilities by irrelevant but convenient processes: ease of generating examples (a ailability), ease of generating scenarios (simulation), and ease of moving from an initial estimate (anchoring and adjustment). Norm theory (Kahnman and Miller) posits that people retrospectively estimate probabilities via the simulation heuristic, bringing to mind similar but counterfactual scenarios. Although not a theory, a catalog of inferential errors and biases follows from people’s limited capacity (Nisbett and Ross; see Sect. 4.1).

A third line of theories follows from gestalt approaches. Heider’s balance theory posits that perceivers prefer similarly evaluated people and things also to belong together. This emphasis fits other consistency theories. Most prominently, Festinger’s Cognitive dissonance theory holds that people seek consistency among the cognitions relevant to their attitudes, including their cognitions about their own behavior. Attitudes change more easily than behavior, especially behavior based on counter-attitudinal advocacy, forced compliance, free choice, unjustified effort, and insufficient justification (see updates emphasizing self-esteem (Aronson), accepting responsibility for an aversive event (Cooper and Fazio’s new look), and self-affirmation (Steele). Other consistency theories hold that people seek harmony within and between their attitudes.

Some attitude theories focus on understanding dual processes, downplaying consistency motives. The elaboration likelihood model (Cacioppo and Petty) describes the object-appraisal (understanding and evaluating) function of attitudes, but depicts two modes, depending on motivation and capacity: The peripheral mode processes persuasive communications based on superficial, message-irrelevant cues (such as communicator, context, or format), whereas the central mode processes message content, generating cognitive responses pro and con, which predict persuasion. Chaiken’s heuristic–systematic model similarly proposes a rapid, simple process that contrasts with a more deliberate, in-depth process of attitude change.

Focusing on understanding via deliberate control, far from gestalt perspectives, two subjective expected utility models predict attitude–behavior relations. Fishbein and Ajzen’s theory of reasoned action posits that behavior results from intention, which in turn results from attitudes toward a behavior (evaluating the behavior’s consequences, weighted by likelihood) and from subjective norms. Ajzen’s updated theory of planned Behavior adds a third component to predict intentions, namely perceived behavioral control.

Like theories of attitudes and social perception, theories of self-perception emphasize coherence. Self-schema theory (Markus) describes few, core dimensions for efficiently organizing self-understanding. Self-concepts may be more or less elaborate, resulting in respectively more stable and moderate or volatile and extreme self-evaluations (Linville’s complexity– extremity theory).

People learn about themselves partly by looking at others. Festinger’s social comparison theory describes how people strive to evaluate themselves accurately, by comparing their standing relative to similar others, on matters of ability or opinion. Schachter extended this work in exploring the fear-affiliation hypothesis, whereby people under threat affiliate with similar others, perhaps to gauge the appropriateness of their emotional reactions. From this came Schachter’s subsequent arousal-cognition theory of emotion, positing that unexplained physiological arousal elicits cognitive labels from the social context. Although the outside world may anchor self-understanding, other theories describe how the self anchors understanding of the world outside, as in Sherif and Hovland’s social judgment theory, explaining how people assimilate nearby attitudes within a latitude of acceptance and contrast far-off attitudes within a latitude of rejection.

3.2 Understanding, Between Individuals

Moving to understanding in actual interactions between people: although generally these theories do not take an explicit dual-process approach, one set of theories focuses on the role of old, familiar, prepackaged information, whereas another set focuses on the role of newly processed information.

One of the fundamental principles of attraction is familiarity. The Zajonc mere exposure theory describes people favoring people and objects encountered frequently. Similarly, people are attracted to people in propinquity (close proximity) (Festinger, Schachter, and Back), perhaps because of exposure. Although explained in non-cognitive terms, familiarity effects fit the principle of liking those who seem comfortable, safe, and easily understood. Consistent with this view, Newcomb developed the similarity principle of attraction, derived from balance theory (above), to explain the clear attraction to others of shared background, attitudes, etc. Similar others also maximize social influence, in Cialdini’s compliance principles.

Just as theories describe how familiar others are liked, perhaps because easily understood, other theories emphasize dislike of dissimilar others, as in theories of stigma offered separately by Goffman, Jones, and Katz. Category-based theories of impression formation (Sect. 3.1) describe how negative outgroup categories stimulate negative understanding. Moreover, perceivers behaviorally confirm their negative categories of out-groupers, who sometimes affirm the stereotype (see Merton’s theory of self-fulfilling prophecies, Rosenthal’s theory of nonverbally communicated expectancies, Snyder’s theory of Behavioral confirmation, Hilton and Darley’s theory of expectancy-confirmation processes). Mere knowledge of the stereotypes about one’s group creates stereotype threat (Steele), undermining the performance of distracted, frustrated, targets of stereotyping.

Although familiar information tends to reproduce itself, new information has an impact, according to many theories. In noting the informational influence of others, Kelley, as well as Deutsch and Gerard, noted that reference groups can serve a informative or comparative function defining objective accuracy from the group’s perspective. In Darley and Latane’s Cognitive model of helping, people consult social cues at each step of the process of noticing, interpreting, taking responsibility, deciding, and implementing help. Weiner analyzes attributions of responsibility as stemming from information about degrees of control and its internal or external locus. People acquire new information through social learning (Sect. 4.2) that encourages them to help (Berkowitz, Rushton, Staub) or to aggress (Bandura). As people learn by doing, they are socially influenced by self-consistency and commitment, according to another of Cialdini’s compliance principles.

3.3 Understanding, In Groups

In groups, the familiar prior knowledge about own group and other groups is captured by social identity theory and self-categorization theory (Sect. 2.3). In addition, group-level schemas and categories at the societal level take the form of Moscovici’s social representations; shared social understandings make the unfamiliar into the familiar by reference to old socially shared concepts.

People in groups also acquire new information. Some individuals hold power by virtue of expertise or information (French and Raven), evoking internalization (privately held beliefs; Kelman) in those they influence. More generally, persuasive arguments theory (Burnstein) describes how groups polarize shared opinions, compared to individuals, when they receive novel supporting information. Moreover, minority influence (Moscovici) within groups operates partly through minorities’ conviction provoking majorities to systematically process their arguments.

4. Theories Of Controlling: Reinforcement Theories

The core social motive to perceive some contingency between one’s actions and one’s outcomes is a sense of effectance, White’s term, or control, in other formulations, drives a set of social psychology theories concerned with people’s desire to effect certain outcomes. These theories often predict people’s behavior from the economics of reinforcements (rewards and costs). People aware of situational contingencies act to maximize or at least improve their outcomes, in this view.

4.1 Controlling, Within Individuals

Attribution theories that focused on rational understanding by the naive scientist (Sect. 3.1) gave way to theories and mini-theories documenting the shortcut errors and biases of the Cognitive miser (Sect. 3.1). Several of these errors share a focus on belief in human agency. The fundamental attribution error (Ross), correspondence bias (Jones), and the observer part of the actor–Observer effect (Jones and Nisbett) all suggest that people over-rely on personality or dispositional explanations for other people’s behavior. People making attributions about another’s behavior underestimate the role of social situations, a phenomenon first noted by Heider. Theoretically, people explain their own behavior situationally, the actor part of the actor– observer effect.

Nevertheless, other theories emphasize people’s need to believe in their own agency. For example, Brehm’s reactance theory describes people’s resistence to limits on their behavioral freedom and attraction to threatened or constrained behavioral choices. Bandura’s social Cognitive theory and self-efficacy Motivation emphasize individual human agency. Bem theorized that people are as balanced as outside observers; his radical behaviorist self-perception theory suggests that people observe the contingencies controlling their own behavior and infer their attitudes from the pattern of freely chosen behavior. Indeed, people’s intrinsic Motivation (Deci and Ryan, Lepper, Greene, and Nisbett) depends on free choice, autonomy, and interest; it declines when under extrinsic reward (over-justification effect); that is, excessive external control. When people lack a sense of control, theories hold that they may exhibit learned helplessness (Seligman), leading to depression, and mindlessness (Langer), leading to unintelligent behavior, but they may also increase control Motivation (Pittman).

4.2 Controlling, Between Individuals

Various social exchange theories concern outcomeoriented standards for enacting and judging relationships. Homans’s distributi e justice applied elementary principles of operant (Skinnerian) behaviorism to social interdependence, holding that individuals expect rewards proportionate to costs. From this came equity theory (Adams, Walster (later Hatfield), Walster, and Berscheid) that argued that people seek fair ratios of outcome to investment. Although couched in reward–cost terms, inequity theoretically relates to dissonance (Sect. 3.1), creating a drive to reduce it. The exchange idea in relationships developed into interdependence theory (Kelley and Thibaut), that posits that human interactions follow from degrees, symmetries, bases, and kinds of dependence. In Levinger’s stage theory of relationships, people begin with a cost–benefit analysis. Whether close relationships switch (Sect. 2.2) or not (Sect. 4.2) to a nonexchange (i.e., communal) orientation, people in relationships do control their own and the other’s outcomes, addressed by theories of intent attribution (Sect. 3.1), emotion in relationships (Berscheid), and accommodation to disruption (Rusbult). Even outside close relationships, outcome dependence motivates individuation (Fiske), undercutting stereotypes. Control over one’s outcomes appears in a cost–reward model (Dovidio, Piliavin) of helping.

Although motives to control one’s outcomes theoretically underlie most positive relationships, they theoretically also underlie aggression. Excessive control over another person, to obtain desired outcomes, motivates instrumental aggression (Geen), following the frustration–aggression hypothesis (Dollard, Miller, Doob, Mowrer, and Sears). Other formulations carry an explicitly cognitive neoassociationist analysis (Berkowitz) of aggressive patterns. Lack of control, brought on by Environmental stressors (Anderson) enhances aggression, as does social learning (Bandura), whereby people are socialized to imitate successful aggressive acts.

Incentives motivated the earliest frameworks for persuasi e communication (Hovland, Janis, and Kelley), as well as more recent principles of compliance involving scarcity (Cialdini) as a threat to control over outcomes.

4.3 Controlling, In Groups

Group members theoretically analyze costs and benefits at role transitions during group socialization (Moreland and Levine). Interdependence of outcomes defines group life (Deutsch, Kelley and Thibaut, Sherif). Some people control outcomes more than others, placing them in positions of power, defined as the capacity to influence others (French and Raven); although only some bases of power (reward, coercive) explicitly relate to reinforcements, even the others (Sects. 2.3 and 3.2) could be viewed as incentive-based. Pure incentive orientation, however, induces only compliance (public performance, not private belief ) (Kelman).

Belief in the power of human agency to control outcomes underlies several theories of group-level world views. Lerner’s just world theory posits individual differences in the belief that people and groups get what they deserve. Sidanius and Pratto’s social dominance theory posits individual differences in the beliefs that group hierarchy is inevitable; individuals high in social dominance orientation seek hierarchy-maintaining careers and exhibit high levels of intergroup prejudice; societies high in social hierarchy exhibit highly controlling social practices, including violent oppression, toward subordinate groups. Evolutionary social psychology, coming out of sociobiology (Trivers, Wilson), holds that individuals are motivated to dominate other individuals, to enhance their own reproductive outcomes (Buss, Kenrick).

5. Enhancing Self: Psychoanalytic And Selftheories

People seem motivated to have a special affection for self, and in the West this often takes the form of self-enhancement, whereas in East Asia, it may take the form of self-improvement, but with a certain sympathy for the self’s difficulties. Theories of the special role of the self, especially defense of self-esteem, influenced social psychology first through psychoanalytic perspectives, especially from Freud, of course, but also Erikson, Maslow, and Sullivan. Subsequently, the importance of self-esteem became a non-Freudian truism driving a range of theories at individual, interpersonal, and groups levels.

5.1 Self-Enhancing, Within Individuals

The clearest influence of psychoanalytic theory, the authoritarian personality theory (Adorno, FrenkelBrunswik, Levinson, and Sanford) proposed that rigid, punitive, status-conscious child-rearing practices reinforce unquestioning, duty-bound, hierarchical-oriented obedience. To maintain safety, the child idealizes the parents, leaving no outlet for the unacceptable primitive impulses of sex and aggression. According to the theory, these are displaced onto those of lower status, notably outgroups, leading to lifelong prejudice. Altemeyer’s recent right-wing authoritarianism has revived interest in prejudice as a self-enhancing motivational construct, absent the Freudian backdrop.

More broadly, several Western theories pick up the theme that people think, interpret, and judge in ways that elevate the self. Taylor and Brown suggest that positive illusions about the self, possibly inaccurate, benefit mental and physical health. Kunda describes motivated reasoning that protects self-esteem. Even people with stigmas buffer self-esteem by taking advantage of attributional ambiguity (Crocker and Major), attributing negative outcomes to prejudice instead of personal failings.

More generally, Steele’s self-affirmation theory posits that people need to feel worthy, so a threat to one aspect of self can be counteracted by affirming another self-aspect. Terror management theory (Greenberg, Pyszczynski, and Solomon) holds that people specifically feel threatened by their own mortality, so to allay their anxiety, they subscribe to meaningful world-views that allow them to feel enduring self-worth. Similarly, the ego-defensive function (Katz, Smith, Bruner, and White) of attitudes protects the self from threat, whereas the alue-expressive function of attitudes (Katz) more broadly affirms the self-concept.

The self-discrepancy theory of Higgins argues self regulation aims to attain positive self-feelings and avoid negative self-feelings. Discrepancies between the actual self and the desired ideal self cause depression, at the lack of the positive outcome. Discrepancies between the actual self and the ought self cause anxiety, at the failure of not living up to standards.

5.2 Self-Enhancing, Between Individuals

Various theories argue that people use relationships to enhance the self. Aron and Aron’s theory of self-inrelationship posits that relationship and self-concept merge, presumably affecting self-esteem according to relationship quality. Not all positive features of a close other boost self-esteem. According to Tesser’s self-evaluation maintenance theory, people feel threatened by the success of close others in areas of self-identified competence, but threat diminishes with decreased closeness or identification.

Even interpersonal altruism has been hypothesized to result from egoistic motives, such as negative state relief (Cialdini) that puts an end to the perceiver’s own guilt or sadness at another’s distress. Certainly aggression has been hypothesized to result from self-protective motives. Indeed, Baumeister argues that inflated self-esteem underlies much aggression and violence. More broadly, affective aggression (vs. instrumental aggression, Sect. 4.3) theoretically results from perceived threats to self, as in attributions of hostile intent (Dodge).

5.3 Self-Enhancing, In Groups

According to sociometer theory (Baumeister and Leary), people base their self-esteem on their standing in the group; from a broad perspective, this fits the belonging motive (Sect. 2), but the theory also specifically addresses the process of self-enhancing in the context of a group. People’s sense of positive identity theoretically results from group membership (Sect. 2.1). Nevertheless, people balance group identity and personal identity, according to Brewer’s optimal distinctiveness theory, to achieve a positive view of self. To the extent that people incorporate the self-in-the-group (Smith), people will experience emotions on behalf of the group, presumably including groupbased self-esteem. Traditional theories of relative deprivation (Stouffer, Runciman, Crosby) distinguish egoistic deprivation, which assumes that people base their feelings about their own esteem on their standing compared to others, versus fraternal deprivation, which provides the parallel for one’s group standing compared to other groups. In each case, a form of self-esteem depends on gaps within or from a group.

The group as a basis for self-esteem theoretically differs in more individualistic vs. collectivistic cultures (Triandis) or more independent or interdependent cultures (Markus and Kitayama). In relatively individualistic, independent cultures, the self is autonomous from the group, and self-esteem is personal; most theories of self-enhancement result from this North American and European cultural perspective. The autonomous self moves in and out of many groups, with multiple group identities all affecting self-esteem. In relatively collectivistic, interdependent cultures, the self is subordinate to the group, and strives to enhance the group by improving the less important self. The interdependent self remains loyal to few primary groups, which sustain the self.

6. Trusting

Just as people have a special positive feeling for the self, they also have a positive feeling for others, at least in the in-group, all else being equal. Bowlby’s attachment theory argues for the survival value of children having secure relationships, a principle social psychologists extend to adult relationships.

6.1 Trusting, Within Individuals

Matlin and Stang’s Pollyanna hypothesis holds that people perceive and expect positivity across a variety of domains. People especially perceive individual people more positively than comparable groups or entities, in the person-positivity hypothesis (Sears). Given this positive baseline, negative information theoretically differs in salience (Fiske), diagnosticity (Skowronski and Carlston), and motivated vigilance (Peeters and Czapinski). People are risk-averse, according to prospect theory (Kahneman and Tversky). Taylor’s mobilization-minimization hypothesis describes how people react strongly to negative events, but quickly readjust to a moderately positive baseline. Gilbert and Wilson’s durability bias describes people’s ignorance of their own readjustment to baseline after unusually negative (or positive) events.

6.2 Trusting, Between Individuals

All relationships, but especially close ones, depend on trust, according to appraisal process theory (Holmes). Attachment theory, as applied to close relationships (Hazan and Shaver), describes how people vary in trust for others and value for self, resulting in a typology of relationship orientations. Trust benefits relationship quality and longevity. Trust, in an exchange form (Sect. 4.2) constitutes reciprocity (Sect. 2.2); in a communal form (Sect. 2.2), trust constitutes response to another’s needs. When people vicariously experience each other’s emotions, a strong form of communal sharing, they are more likely to help others, in accord with the empathy–altruism hypothesis (Batson, Eisenberg).

In game theory (Luce and Raiffa), trust entails cooperative instead of competitive behavior in mixed motive games, in which outcomes conflict but need not sum to zero. Structural features determine cooperation, according to Deutsch’s theory of trust and suspicion; when people can communicate intent, they trust more. Larger groups enable less trust, according to Yamagishi and Sato’s theory of trust.

6.3 Trusting, In Groups

Shared goals promote trust both within and between groups, in an interdependence theory (Sect. 4.3) analysis. But shared goals also contribute to the identity of the group (Sect. 2.3). Another theoretical account is that superordinate goals require collaborative effort (Sherif and Sherif ) that creates trust and overcomes intergroup divisions. Under optimal conditions, Allport’s contact hypothesis specifies that equal status, cooperative, pleasant, sanctioned intergroup contact reduces prejudice and increases trust between groups. Members of distinct groups may come to view themselves as one-group (Gaertner and Dovidio).

7. Conclusion And Disclaimer

Theories flourish in social psychology, usually accompanied by rigorous programs of research. This review has not evaluated the empirical success of the noted theories, merely recorded some prominent ones. At this count, the 32-volume American Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, the 10-volume European Review of Social Psychology, the 4-volume Personality and Social Psychology Review, as well as social psychological theories appearing in Psychological Bulletin and Psychological Review (by computerized search) amount to just short of 600 separate theories, not to mention the ones appearing only in ‘empirical’ journals or books. The present research paper comprises a series of pointers to theories that reflect both past and current thinking, in a social evolutionary framework of five (plus or minus five) core social motives that facilitate social life.


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