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research?
Rescorla, and what did he do that saved so many lives?
Rick Rescorla was the Vice President for Corporate Security for Morgan 7. What is the correlation
coef¬cient, and what does it
Stanley Dean Witter and Company. On September 11, he began his day
tell you?
as usual: rising at 4:30 A.M., kissing his wife good-bye, and catching the
train to work. He was at his desk on the 44th ¬‚oor of the south tower of 8. Where is social psychological
research conducted?
the World Trade Center by 7:30 A.M. He was there when the ¬rst jetliner
slammed into the north tower. He was instructed to stay put and not leave 9. What is the role of theory in
the south tower. He called his friend, Dan Hill, and told Hill that the “dumb social psychology?
sons of bitches told me not to evacuate.” In typical Rescorla style, he ignored
those directions, telling Hill, “I™m getting my people ¦ out of here.” And get
1
Social Psychology
2


his people out he did! Using a megaphone to give instructions, he guided over
10. What can we learn from 2,600 of his employees out of the south tower, following an evacuation plan he
social psychological had developed.
research?
Once Rescorla had his employees out of the building and made sure they
11. What ethical standards were safe, he went back into the south tower, which by this time had been hit
must social psychologists by the second plane, to go after stragglers. Nobody knows how many times he
follow when conducting
went back in or how many stragglers he saved. Rick Rescorla perished when
research?
the south tower collapsed. What we do know is that because of Rick Rescorla™s
actions, only six Morgan Stanley employees lost their lives that day. Due to his
assistance in both the evacuation of the south tower and a building across the
street, Rescorla is credited with saving nearly 3,000 people.



Social Psychology
and the Understanding of Social Behavior
The events that occurred on September 11 in general, and Rick Rescorlaʼs actions in
particular, raise many questions about why things happened the way they did. In the
aftermath of 9/11, many questioned the motives of the hijackers (of¬cially and unof-
¬cially). It puzzles us when we try to ¬gure out why 19 young men would sacri¬ce
themselves to murder 3,000 total strangers. What internal and social forces can possibly
explain such behavior? We also marvel at the behavior of people like Rick Rescorla.
Why did he run back into the burning south tower to save people in need? It causes us
to question whether we ourselves would have the courage to do such a thing.
Most of us are content with coming up with so-called commonsense explanations for
events such as 9/11. For example, we label the hijackers as “evil,” or “disturbed,” or just
plain “nuts.” We conclude that Rick Rescorla was a special person imbued with qualities
that allowed him to do what he did in the face of death. However, as is often the case,
such simple, commonsense explanations do not give us the ¬nal answers to our questions.
Behavior is simply much too complex to be explained in overly simplistic terms. This is
why we turn to science to help us better understand and explain events such as 9/11.
One science that can help us make sense out of the things that happen to us and
around us is psychology, which is the study of behavior and the motives and cognitions
that underlie that behavior. By studying “abnormal psychology,” “personality psychol-
ogy,” and other areas of psychology, we can begin to piece together rational explanations
for events such as 9/11. One branch of psychology can give us a unique perspective on
behavior and perhaps help us best understand events that occur to us and around us:
social psychology. Social psychology is the scienti¬c study of how individuals think
social psychology
The scienti¬c study of how and feel about, interact with, and in¬‚uence one another, individually and in groups. It
individuals think about, interact is the branch of psychology that studies social behavior”the thinking and behavior of
with, and in¬‚uence each other. individuals as they relate to other human beings.
Social psychology provides tools to help you understand things that happen in your
personal life. It can help you make sense of your day-to-day interactions”your friend-
ships, love relationships, interactions at work, and performance at school. It can give you
insight, for example, into why your most recent romantic relationship did not succeed,
and why you ¬nd yourself attracted to one person in your afternoon math class but not
to another. It can also help you understand why you may behave aggressively when
someone cuts ahead of you in a cafeteria line, or why you get annoyed when someone
Chapter 1 Understanding Social Behavior 3

sits right next to you in a theater when there are plenty of other empty seats. Social
psychology can also help you understand why other people act the way they do. For
example, social psychology can help us understand the forces that led to the attacks on
9/11 and Rick Rescorlaʼs heroism.
Your life also is touched by events beyond your immediate, day-to-day affairs”
events that occur in the community and the nation. Although these events are more
distant, you may still feel strongly about them and ¬nd a link between them and your
personal life. If your friendʼs father were very sick, for example, you might want to
share with him knowledge about a man whose determination kept him alive for six
years. Perhaps the story would encourage him to keep on with his life. If a terrorist
attack happened in your hometown, you would experience directly the consequences
of young men driven to acts of murder by a radical ideology. You probably would hear
many people decrying terrorism and talking about ways to deal with such acts.
In one form or another, all the events of 9/11 represent recurring themes in human
history. Terrorism dates back hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. As soon as humans
began to claim ownership of territory, they began to ¬ght with each other. Humans have
always been both aggressive and altruistic toward one another. Human beings have
always had to ¬nd ways to live with each other. We have always functioned together in
groups; had love relationships; tried to persuade others of our point of view; followed
or rebelled against authority; and sought ways to resolve con¬‚icts, whether through
negotiation or through coercion. We help each other, and we hurt each other. We display
prejudice and discrimination; we even have tried to kill entire populations. History is
a tapestry of the best and the worst that human beings can do. Social psychology can
help us understand these human social events in their in¬nite variety.
Itʼs important to note, however, that social psychologists do not simply wonder and
speculate about social behavior. Instead, they use scienti¬c methods involving care-
fully designed and executed research studies to help explain complex, uncertain social
issues. Social psychology is ¬rst and foremost a science. Through theory, research,
and thoughtful application of concepts and principles to real-life situations, social psy-
chologists provide insights into everyday events, both past and present, as well as those
monumental events that are the stuff of history.
More than any other branch of psychology, social psychology offers a broad per-
spective on human behavior. Rather than focusing on the personal histories of indi-
viduals (as would a personality psychologist), or on how individuals respond to their
environment (as would a strict behaviorist), it looks at how people interact with and
relate to each other in social contexts. It is within these social contexts that a wide range
of behaviors and events fall.

A Model for Understanding Social Behavior
Social psychologists are interested in the forces that operate on individuals and cause
them to engage in speci¬c examples of social behavior. But social behavior is typically
complex and has many contributing causes. Consequently, explaining social behavior
is a dif¬cult task. To simplify this task, we can assign the multiple causes of social
behavior to one of two broad categories: the situation and the individual. According to
a formula ¬rst proposed by Kurt Lewin (1936), one of the important early ¬gures in
social psychology, social behavior is a function of the interaction of the situation and
the individualʼs characteristics, or

Behavior = f (social situation — individual characteristics)
Social Psychology
4

Lewinʼs model of social behavior was inspired by his observation that the individ-
ualʼs perception of a situation is in¬‚uenced by the tasks he or she has to accomplish.
Lewin was a soldier in the German army during World War I. He noticed that as he
came nearer to the battle¬eld, his view of the world changed. Where he once might have
seen beautiful ¬‚owers and beckoning forests, he now saw boulders to hide behind and
gullies from which he could ambush the enemy. Lewin came to believe that a personʼs
perception of the world is in¬‚uenced by what he or she has to do in that situation. He
termed the combination of individual needs and situational factors the psychological
¬eld in which the individual lives (Pratkanis & Aronson, 1992).
According to this view, individuals with different needs and tasks would come to
see the same event in dissimilar ways (Pratkanis & Aronson, 1992). Although Lewin
looked at the individualʼs needs and tasks, he emphasized the importance of social
context in producing the forces that control the individualʼs actions. Lewin was aware
that we often fail to take situational factors into account when we try to explain why
people behave as they do (Ross & Nisbett, 1991). For example, there were undoubtedly
other young men with similar backgrounds to the 19 hijackers. However, their differ-
ing needs and interpretations of the social situation did not manifest itself in an overt
act of mass killing. There were probably many bystanders on 9/11 who heard people
in the burning towers calling from help. Yet, those cries did not resonate in them the
same way they resonated in Rick Rescorla.
Thus far we have seen that the situation and individual characteristics are central
to the understanding of social behavior in a general way. How do social psychologists
de¬ne situation and individual characteristics? Letʼs take a closer look.

The Social Situation
The social situation comprises all in¬‚uences on behavior that are external to the indi-
vidual. A situational factor might be any aspect of the physical and/or social environ-
ment (the presence of other people, real or imagined) that in¬‚uences behavior. Different
individuals will react differently to the social situation.
Sometimes the situation works on us in subtle ways. We may modify our behav-
ior even if there is no pressure on us to do so. We may imagine or believe that we are
expected to act a certain way in a certain situation, and those beliefs can be as powerful
as the situation itself. For example, letʼs say that you are in a restaurant with a group
of friends. You are trying to decide what to order. You are leaning toward the saut©ed
buffalo, but the stewed rabbit sounds good too. When the waiter comes to the table,
you order last, intending to try the buffalo. However, each of your friends orders the
rabbit. When your turn comes, you also order the rabbit. You modi¬ed your behavior
based on your friendsʼ actions, because you didnʼt want to appear different. You felt
and responded to social pressure of your own making!
Situational or social determinants of behavior exist on several levels simultane-
ously. Sometimes the social environment leads to temporary changes in behavior, as
was the case in the restaurant. Ordering the rabbit may be speci¬c to that one situation;
you may never order rabbit again. In other cases, the social environment is a more per-
vasive in¬‚uence and may lead to relatively permanent, enduring patterns of behaviors.
The culture within which a person lives exerts a long-lasting in¬‚uence over a wide
range of behaviors. Culture in¬‚uences the foods we like, how we relate to members
of the other sex, the amount of personal space we require (the area immediately sur-
rounding us that we claim and defend), what we plan and expect to accomplish in life,
and a host of other behaviors. It may also in¬‚uence oneʼs decision concerning ¬‚ying
airliners into inhabited buildings.
Chapter 1 Understanding Social Behavior 5

Individual Characteristics
Individual characteristics include sex, age, race or ethnicity, personality characteristics,
attitudes, self-concept, ways of thinking, and so on. In short, individual characteristics
consist of anything internal to the person that might in¬‚uence behavior. Physical traits
are individual characteristics that are relatively enduring and for the most part known to
others. Personality characteristics also tend to be enduring, but they are not necessarily
obvious to others. Personality is an area of growing interest in social psychology today
(Larsen & Ketelaar, 1991). Other internal characteristics, such as attitudes, opinions,
self-concept, and so on, can change over time. People often have some choice about
how much of these areas of themselves they reveal to others.
Letʼs consider Rick Rescorla again. What of the other people on the scene who did
not respond to othersʼ cries for help? These individuals were subjected to the same situ-
ational pressures as was Rick Rescorla. However, they did not act in an altruistic way.
Did some combination of personal traits (e.g., desire for self-preservation) and attitudes
(e.g., it is the job of police and ¬re¬ghters to save victims) mix with the situation (e.g.,
¬‚ames roaring inside the building) to produce this different behavior? Since the situation
was similar for others on 9/11, we look to individual characteristics such as personality
traits to understand why some acted in violent ways and others did not.
Another important individual characteristic that is somewhat different from personal-
ity characteristics is the particular way each individual perceives and thinks about his or
social cognition
her social world. Social cognition refers to a general process we use to make sense out
The general process we use
of social events, which may or may not include other people. For example, seeing the
to make sense out of social
events on 9/11 on the news, you probably began to interpret those events, attempting to
events, which may or may
determine a reason for the hijackersʼ behavior. Eventually, you probably began to make
not include other people.
inferences about the motives of the individuals involved and to form impressions of them.
Social psychologists call this process social perception. For example, thinking about social perception
The social processes
Rick Rescorla, who gave his life to save others, may lead you to an inference that he was
by which we come to
a highly empathic, caring person and was not simply doing his job as a Vice President
comprehend the behavior,
for Security. Once you infer these characteristics and form an impression that he was
the words and actions, of
a caring, compassionate person, you then settle on these internal characteristics as the other people.
primary motivation for his behavior.
Social cognition and social perception are central to our interpretation of situa-
tions. When we are exposed to a particular situation, how we respond depends on how
we interpret that situation. Social cognition gives direction to our interpretation. The
decisions we make based on our perception and cognition will in¬‚uence our response.
Every individual has a slightly different view of the world, because everyone has
unique personal traits and a unique history of life experiences. This is because each of
us actively constructs our own view of our social world, based on interpretations of
social information.

Expanding Lewin™s Model
Lewinʼs model tells us that both the social situation (physical setting, the presence of
other people, real or imagined) and individual characteristics (physical traits, personal-
ity traits, attitudes and habitual ways of thinking, perceptual and cognitive processes,
needs and tasks) in¬‚uence social behavior. Lewinʼs model, however, does not specify
how situational factors and individual characteristics ¬t together into a broad, general
model of social behavior. We need to expand on Lewinʼs original model to gain a better
understanding of the forces that shape social behavior. An expansion of Lewinʼs origi-
nal model is shown in Figure 1.1.
Social Psychology
6




Figure 1.1 An
expanded model of
social behavior. How
we act in a given
situation depends on input
from the situation and
individual characteristics
that are mediated by
the processes of social
cognition and perception
and the formation of an
intention to behave in a
certain way.



As shown in this model, input from the social situation and individual character-
istics do not directly in¬‚uence social behavior. Instead, they both contribute to how
we process information via mechanisms of social cognition and social perception.
How that information is processed yields a particular evaluation of the situation. For
example, in the wake of 9/11, controversy swirls around how the site of the World
Trade Center should be used. Some want to redevelop the area, building a new of¬ce
tower to replace the fallen towers. Others see the site as hallowed ground and maintain
that the site should be used mainly for a memorial to those who were killed or injured.
Even those who want a memorial constructed cannot agree on what form that memo-
rial should take. A person (individual characteristics) who opposes redeveloping the
World Trade Center site commercially may interpret the situation (social cognition) in
a way that suggests that it is sacrilegious to the dead and injured to build a new of¬ce
tower. Another person might focus on the economy of the area when supporting the

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