5.1 Introducing Social Psychology

Have you ever wondered why people act differently in a group compared to when they are on their own? Or why you would behave differently among your co-workers compared to when you are with some of your closest friends? Or why you may hold prejudice and stereotypes against certain groups and how these may affect your behaviour?

We will consider some of these questions and theories that try to explain these phenomena in this last chapter by turning our attention to social psychology. We will start the chapter by defining social psychology. Definitions and perceptions as to what social psychology encompasses vary substantially. For this chapter, we will work with the definition provided by Kassin et al. (2020):

Social psychology is the scientific study of how individuals think, feel, and behave in a social context. (p. 4)

All three areas, thinking, feeling and behaving are critical to the emergence, escalation and management, and resolution of conflicts. For example, if you have undertaken studies in conflict management, you may have heard about the “ABC triangle”, which is a model that was initially developed by Johan Galtung (1969) to help explain different sources of conflict. A stands for attitudes, which are defined as “positive or negative reactions to people, objects and ideas”. Formation, persistence and changes in attitudes involve both emotions (feeling) and cognition (e.g., thinking). B stands for behaviours and C  for contradiction, which can involve perceived and real contradictions. As the triangle suggests, understanding people’s thinking, feelings and behaviour in conflict is central to the analysis and resolution of conflict, making social psychology extremely relevant to this eBook.

Social psychology has shown that there is a dynamic relationship between individuals and the people around them.  Our social situations create a “social influence”, which then impacts the way we behave. For example, social identity theory proposes that in many social situations, people’s behaviours are motivated by their sense of group membership – their “social identities” – rather than by individual reasons (Ellmers & Haslam, 2012; Tajfel & Turner, 1979). This theory helps to analyse, for example, why people may comply with public health measures during the COVID-19 pandemic. We will revisit this example later in this chapter.

Please watch the following video now and think about how social psychology relates to understanding people in conflict (including what you have already learned in your degree so far and beyond what we mentioned above):

VIDEO: What is Social Psychology? An Introduction [12:41]:

As a more detailed introduction to the topic, please watch the video below featuring social psychologist Dr Madelyn Pardon summarising the essence of social psychology

For some further insights into social psychology, please read:


Defining social psychology: History and principles in Stangor, C., Jhangiani R. & Tarty, H. (2022). Principles of Social Psychology – 1st International H5p Edition. https://opentextbc.ca/socialpsychology/chapter/defining-social-psychology-history-and-principles/

Reflection Activity

To capture some key learnings after engaging with the above topic, you may now wish to engage in a 15-minute personal reflection on social psychology and how it may relate to conflict management. You might want to consider the following prompt questions for your reflection:

  • After reading “Defining Social Psychology: History and Principles”, which social psychology topic interests you most?
  • After watching the video “What is Social Psychology? An Introduction”, think about which of
    • the theories mentioned in the video appear particularly relevant to the emergence and resolution of conflict and why.
    • the experiments discussed do you find most relevant to the study of conflict management and why?
  • Consider a recent situation from your work or private life in which you focused on the characteristics of an individual as the cause for their behaviour. Could you reinterpret their behaviour using a situational explanation? How does the focus on individual versus situational characteristics relate to conflict/conflict resolution?



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Neuroscience, Psychology and Conflict Management Copyright © 2024 by Judith Rafferty is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.