After reading this chapter, you would be able to: understand what are attitudes, how they are formed and changed, analyse how people interpret and explain the behaviour of others, comprehend how the presence of others influences our behaviour, explain why people help or do not help others in distress, and understand the concept of pro-social behaviour and factors affecting it. Social psychology is that branch of psychology which investigates how the behaviour of individuals is affected by others and the social environment. All of us form attitudes, or ways of thinking about specific topics and people. We also form impressions about persons we meet, and assign causes to their behaviour. Besides, our own behaviour gets influenced by other individuals and groups. In some situations, people show pro-social behaviour, that is, helping the needy and the distressed, without expecting anything in return. Many of these social behaviours seem to be simple. Yet, explaining the processes that lie behind these behaviours is a complex matter. This chapter will describe the basic ideas related to attitudes, social cognition and pro-social behaviour as explained by social psychologists. EXPLAINING SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR Social behaviour is a necessary part of human life, and being social means much more than merely being in the company of others. You may recall from what you studied in Class XI that social psychology deals with all behaviour that takes place in the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others. Take this simple example: if you have to memorise a poem and recite it, you may have no problem in doing this when you are by yourself. But if you have to recite this poem to an audience, your performance might get influenced, because you are now in a social situation. Even imagining that people are listening to your recitation (although they may not be physically present) may change your performance. This is just one example that demonstrates how our social environment influences our thoughts, emotions and behaviour in complex ways. Social psychologists examine various forms of social behaviour, and try to explain their basis. Because of social influences, people form views, or attitudes about people, and about different issues in life, that exist in the form of behavioural tendencies. When we meet people, we make inferences about their personal qualities. This is called impression formation. We are also interested in why people behave in the ways they do — that is, we assign causes to the behaviour shown in specific social situations. This process is called attribution. Very often, impression formation and attributions are influenced by attitudes. These three processes are examples of mental activities related to the gathering and interpretation of information about the social world, collectively called social cognition. Moreover, social cognition is activated by cognitive units called schemas. Cognitive processes cannot be directly seen; they have to be inferred on the basis of externally shown behaviour. There areother examples of social influence that are in the form of observable behaviour. Two such examples are social facilitation/ inhibition, i.e. the improvement/decline in performance in the presence of others, and helping, or pro-social behaviour, i.e. responding to others who are in need or distress. In order to understand completely how the social context influences the individual, it is necessary to study both social-cognitive processes and social behaviour. Social psychologists have shown that one must go beyond common sense and folk wisdom in order to explain how people observe and make sense of their own and others’ diverse behaviours. Through systematic and objective observations, and by adopting scientific methods, it is possible to establish logical cause-and-effect relationships that explain social behaviour. This chapter will give an account of the fundamental aspects of the topics mentioned above. We will begin with a description of attitudes. NATURE AND COMPONENTS OF ATTITUDES For a few minutes quietly do the following mental exercise. Today, how many times did you tell yourself : “In my opinion…” or “Others may say so and so, but I feel…”? What you fill in the blanks are called opinions. Now continue the exercise : how important are these opinions to you? The topics of some of these opinions may be only moderately important to you; they are simply ways of thinking, and it does not matter much to you that others agree or disagree with your views. On the other hand, you may find that some other topics are extremely important to you. If someone opposes or challenges your views about these topics, you get emotional. You may have made some of these views part of your behaviour. In other words, if your views are not merely thoughts, but also have emotional and action components, then these views are more than ‘opinions’; they are examples of attitudes. All definitions of attitudes agree that an attitude is a state of the mind, a set of views, or thoughts, regarding some topic (called the ‘attitude object’), which have an evaluative feature (positive, negative or neutral quality). It is accompanied by an emotional component, and a tendency to act in a particular way with regard to the attitude object. The thought component is referred to as the cognitive aspect, the emotional component is known as the affective aspect, and the tendency to act is called the behavioural (or conative) aspect. Taken together, these three aspects have been referred to as the A-B-C components (Affective-Behavioural-Cognitive components) of attitude. Note that attitudes are themselves not behaviour, but they represent a tendency to behave or act in certain ways. They are part of cognition, along with an emotional component, and cannot be observed from outside. Box 6.1 presents an example of an attitude towards the environment, showing the relationship between the three components. Attitudes have to be distinguished from two other closely related concepts, namely, beliefs and values. Beliefs refer to the cognitive component of attitudes, and form the ground on which attitudes stand, such as belief in God, or belief in democracy as a political ideology. Values are attitudes or beliefs that contain a ‘should’ or ‘ought’ aspect, such as moral or ethical values. One example of a value is the idea that one should work hard, or that one should always be honest, because honesty is the best policy. Values are formed when a particular belief or attitude becomes an inseparable part of the person’s outlook on life. Consequently, values are difficult to change. What is the purpose served by an attitude? We find that attitudes provide a background that makes it easier for a person to decide how to act in new situations. For example, our attitude towards foreigners may indirectly provide a mental ‘layout’ or ‘blueprint’ for the way in which we should behave whenever we meet one. In addition to the affective, cognitive and behavioural components, attitudes also have other properties. Four significant features of attitudes are : Valence (positivity or negativity), Extremeness, Simplicity or Complexity (multiplexity), and Centrality. Valence (positivity or negativity) : The valence of an attitude tells us whether an attitude is positive or negative towards the attitude object. Suppose an attitude (say, towards nuclear research) has to be expressed on a 5-point scale, ranging from 1 (Very bad), 2 (Bad), 3 (Neutral — neither good nor bad), and 4 (Good), to 5 (Very good). If an individual rates her/his view towards nuclear research as 4 or 5, this is clearly a positive attitude. This means that the person likes the idea of nuclear research and thinks it is something good. On the other hand, if the rating is 1 or 2, the attitude is negative. This means that the person dislikes the idea of nuclear research, and thinks it is something bad. We also allow for neutral attitudes. In this example, a neutral attitude towards nuclear research would be shown by a rating of 3 on the same scale. A neutral attitude would have neither positive nor negative valence. Extremeness : The extremeness of an attitude indicates how positive or negative an attitude is. Taking the nuclear research example given above, a rating of 1 is as extreme as a rating of 5 : they are only in the opposite directions (valence). Ratings of 2 and 4 are less extreme. A neutral attitude, of course, is lowest on extremeness. Simplicity or Complexity (multiplexity) : This feature refers to how many attitudes there are within a broader attitude. Think of an attitude as a family containing several ‘member’ attitudes. In case of various topics, such as health and world peace, people hold many attitudes instead of single attitude. An attitude system is said to be ‘simple’ if it contains only one or a few attitudes, and ‘complex’ if it is made up of many attitudes. Consider the example of attitude towards health and well-being. This attitude system is likely to consist of several ‘member’ attitudes, such as one’s concept of physical and mental health, views about happiness and well-being, and beliefs about how one should achieve health and happiness. By contrast, the attitude towards a particular person is likely to consist of mainly one attitude. The multiple member-attitudes within an attitude system should not be confused with the three components described earlier. Each member attitude that belongs to an attitude system also has A-B-C components. Centrality : This refers to the role of a particular attitude in the attitude system. An attitude with greater centrality would influence the other attitudes in the system much more than non-central (or peripheral) attitudes would. For example, in the attitude towards world peace, a negative attitude towards high military expenditure may be present as a core or central attitude that influences all other attitudes in the multiple attitude system. ATTITUDE FORMATION AND CHANGE Attitude Formation One important question that psychologists are interested in answering is : how are attitudes formed? Like many other thoughts and concepts that develop and become part of our cognitive system, attitudes towards different topics, things and people also are formed as we interact with others. However, there are specific conditions that lead to the formation of specific attitudes. In general, attitudes are learned through one’s own experiences, and through interaction with others. There are a few research studies that show some sort of inborn aspect of attitudes, but such genetic factors influence attitudes only indirectly, along with learning. Therefore, most social psychologists have focused on the conditions which lead to the learning of attitudes. Process of Attitude Formation The processes and conditions of learning may be different, resulting in varying attitudes among people. • Learning attitudes by association : You might have seen that students often develop a liking for a particular subject because of the teacher. This is because they see many positive qualities in that teacher; these positive qualities get linked to the subject that s/he teaches, and ultimately get expressed in the form of liking for the subject. In other words, a positive attitude towards the subject is learned through the positive association between a teacher and a student. • Learning attitudes by being rewarded or punished : If an individual is praised for showing a particular attitude, chances are high that s/he will develop that attitude further. For example, if a teenager does yogasanas regularly, and gets the honour of being ‘Miss Good Health’ in her school, she may develop a positive attitude towards yoga and health in general. Similarly, if a child constantly falls ill because s/he eats junk food instead of proper meals, then the child is likely to develop a negative attitude towards junk food, and also a positive attitude towards eating healthy food. • Learning attitudes through modelling (observing others) : Often it is not through association, or through reward and punishment, that we learn attitudes. Instead, we learn them by observing others being rewarded or punished for expressing thoughts, or showing behaviour of a particular kind towards the attitude object. For example, children may form a respectful attitude towards elders, by observing that their parents show respect for elders, and are appreciated for it. • Learning attitudes through group or cultural norms : Very often, we learn attitudes through the norms of our group or culture. Norms are unwritten rules about behaviour that everyone is supposed to show under specific circumstances. Over time, these norms may become part of our social cognition, in the form of attitudes. Learning attitudes through group or cultural norms may actually be an example of all three forms of learning described above — learning through association, reward or punishment, and modelling. For example, offering money, sweets, fruit and flowers in a place of worship is a normative behaviour in some religions. When individuals see that such behaviour is shown by others, is expected and socially approved, they may ultimately develop a positive attitude towards such behaviour and the associated feelings of devotion. • Learning through exposure to information : Many attitudes are learned in a social context, but not necessarily in the physical presence of others. Today, with the huge amount of information that is being provided through various media, both positive and negative attitudes are being formed. By reading the biographies of selfactualised persons, an individual may develop a positive attitude towards hard work and other aspects as the means of achieving success in life. Factors that Influence Attitude Formation The following factors provide the context for the learning of attitudes through the processes described above. 1. Family and School Environment : Particularly in the early years of life, parents and other family members play a significant role in shaping attitude formation. Later, the school environment becomes an important background for attitude formation. Learning of attitudes within the family and school usually takes place by association, through rewards and punishments, and through modelling. 2. Reference Groups : Reference groups indicate to an individual the norms regarding acceptable behaviour and ways of thinking. Thus, they reflect learning of attitudes through group or cultural norms. Attitudes towards various topics, such as political, religious and social groups, occupations, national and other issues are often developed through reference groups. Their influence is noticeable especially during the beginning of adolescence, at which time it is important for the individual to feel that s/he belongs to a group. Therefore, the role of reference groups in attitude formation may also be a case of learning through reward and punishment. 3. Personal Experiences : Many attitudes are formed, not in the family environment or through reference groups, but through direct personal experiences which bring about a drastic change in our attitude towards people and our own life. Here is a real-life example. A driver in the army went through a personal experience that transformed his life. On one mission, he narrowly escaped death although all his companions got killed. Wondering about the purpose of his own life, he gave up his job in the army, returned to his native village in Maharashtra, and worked actively as a community leader. Through a purely personal experience this individual evolved a strong positive attitude towards community upliftment. His efforts completely changed the face of his village. 4. Media-related Influences : Technological advances in recent times have made audio-visual media and the Internet very powerful sources of information that lead to attitude formation and change. In addition, school level textbooks also influence attitude formation. These sources first strengthen the cognitive and affective components of attitudes, and subsequently may also affect the behavioural component. The media can exert both good and bad influences on attitudes. On one hand, the media and Internet make people better informed than other modes of communication. On the other hand, there may be no check on the nature of information being gathered, and therefore no control over the attitudes that are being formed, or the direction of change in the existing attitudes. The media can be used to create consumerist attitudes where none existed, and can also be harnessed to create positive attitudes to facilitate social harmony. Attitude Change During the process of attitude formation, and also after this process, attitudes may be changed and modified through various influences. Some attitudes change more than others do. Attitudes that are still in the formative stage, and are more like opinions, are much more likely to change compared to attitudes that have become firmly established, and have become a part of the individual’s values. From a practical point of view, bringing about a change in people’s attitudes is of interest to community leaders, politicians, producers of consumer goods, advertisers, and others. Unless we find out how attitudes change, and what conditions account for such change, it would not be possible to take steps to bring about attitude change. Process of Attitude Change Three major concepts that draw attention to some important processes in attitude change are described below : (a) The concept of balance, proposed by Fritz Heider is sometimes described in the form of the ‘ P-O-X’ triangle, which represents the relationships between three aspects or components of the attitude. P is the person whose attitude is being studied, O is another person, and X is the topic towards which the attitude is being studied (attitude object). It is also possible that all three are persons. The basic idea is that an attitude changes if there is a state of imbalance between the P-O attitude, O-X attitude, and P-X attitude. This is because imbalance is logically uncomfortable. Therefore, the attitude changes in the direction of balance. Imbalance is found when (i) all three sides of the P-O-X triangle are negative, or (ii)two sides are positive, and one side is negative. Balance is found when (i) all three sides are positive, or (ii) two sides are negative, and one side is positive. Consider the example of dowry as an attitude topic (X). Suppose a person (P) has a positive attitude towards dowry (P-X positive). P is planning to get his son married to the daughter of some person (O) who has a negative attitude towards dowry (O-X negative). What would be the nature of the P-O attitude, and how would it determine balance or imbalance in the situation? If O initially has a positive attitude towards P, the situation would be unbalanced. P-X is positive, O-P is positive, but O-X is negative. That is, there are two positives and one negative in the triangle. This is a situation of imbalance. One of the three attitudes will therefore have to change. This change could take place in the P-X relationship (P starts disliking dowry as a custom), or in the O-X relationship (O starts liking dowry as a custom), or in the O-P relationship (O starts disliking P). In short, an attitude change will have to take place so that there will be three positive relationships, or two negative and one positive relationship, in the triangle. (b) The concept of cognitive dissonance was proposed by Leon Festinger. It emphasises the cognitive component. Here the basic idea is that the cognitive components of an attitude must be ‘consonant’ (opposite of ‘dissonant’), i.e., they should be logically in line with each other. If an individual finds that two cognitions in an attitude are dissonant, then one of them will be changed in the direction of consonance. For example, think about the following ideas (‘cognitions’) : Cognition I : Pan masala causes mouth cancer which is fatal. Cognition II : I eat pan masala. Holding these two ideas or cognitions will make any individual feel that something is ‘out of tune’, or dissonant, in the attitude towards pan masala. Therefore, one of these ideas will have to be changed, so that consonance can be attained. In the example given above, in order to remove or reduce the dissonance, I will stop eating pan masala (change Cognition II). This would be the healthy, logical and sensible way of reducing dissonance. Festinger and Carlsmith, two social psychologists, conducted an experiment that showed how cognitive dissonance works (see Box 6.2). Both balance and cognitive dissonance are examples of cognitive consistency. Cognitive consistency means that two components, aspects or elements of the attitude, or attitude system, must be in the same direction. Each element should logically fall in line with other elements. If this does not happen, then the person experiences a kind of mental discomfort, i.e. the sense that ‘something is not quite right’ in the attitude system. In such a state, some aspect in the attitude system changes in the direction of consistency, because our cognitive system requires logical consistency. (c) The two-step concept was proposed by S.M. Mohsin, an Indian psychologist. According to him, attitude change takes place in the form of two steps. In the first step, the target of change identifies with the source. The ‘target’ is the person whose attitude is to be changed. The ‘source’ is the person through whose influence the change is to take place. Identification means that the target has liking and regard for the source. S/he puts herself/himself in the place of the target, and tries to feel like her/him. The source must also have a positive attitude towards the target, and the regard and attraction becomes mutual. In the second step, the source herself/himself shows an attitude change, by actually changing her/him behaviour towards the attitude object. Observing the source’s changed attitude and behaviour, the target also shows an attitude change through behaviour. This is a kind of imitation or observational learning. Consider the following example of two-step attitude change. Preeti reads in the newspapers that a particular soft drink that she enjoys is extremely harmful. But Preeti sees that her favourite sportsperson has been advertising the same soft drink. She has identified herself with the sportsperson, and would like to imitate her/him. Now, suppose the sportsperson wishes to change people’s attitude towards this soft drink from positive to negative. The sportsperson must first show positive feelings for her/ his fans, and then actually change her/his own habit of consuming that soft drink (Step I) — perhaps by substituting it with a health drink. If the sportsperson actually changes her/his behaviour, it is very likely that now Preeti will also change her attitude and behaviour, and stop consuming the harmful soft drink (Step II). Factors that Influence Attitude Change Whether attitudes will change, and if so, to what extent, is a question that puzzles many psychologists. However, most of them agree upon the following major factors that influence attitude change : • Characteristics of the existing attitude : All four properties of attitudes mentioned earlier, namely, valence (positivity or negativity), extremeness, simplicity or complexity (multiplexity), and centrality or significance of the attitude, determine attitude change. In general, positive attitudes are easier to change than negative attitudes are. Extreme attitudes, and central attitudes are more difficult to change than the less extreme, and peripheral (less significant) attitudes are. Simple attitudes are easier to change than multiple attitudes are. In addition, one must also consider the direction and extent of attitude change. An attitude change may be congruent — it may change in the same direction as the existing attitude (for example, a positive attitude may become more positive, or a negative attitude may become more negative). For instance, suppose a person has a somewhat positive attitude towards empowerment of women. Reading about a successful woman may make this attitude more positive. This would be a congruent change. On the other hand, an attitude change may be incongruent — it may change in a direction opposite to the existing attitude (for example, a positive attitude becomes less positive, or negative, or a negative attitude becomes less negative, or positive). In the example just given, after reading about successful women, a person may think that women might soon become too powerful, and neglect their family responsibilities. This may make the person’s existing positive attitude towards empowerment of women, less positive, or even negative. If this happens, then it would be a case of incongruent change. It has been found that, in general, congruent changes are easier to bring about than are the incongruent changes in attitudes. Moreover, an attitude may change in the direction of the information that is presented, or in a direction opposite to that of the information presented. Posters describing the importance of brushing one’s teeth would strengthen a positive attitude towards dental care.But if people are shown frightening pictures of dental cavities, they may not believe the pictures, and may become less positive about dental care. Research has found that fear sometimes works well in convincing people but if a message generates too much fear, it turns off the receiver and has little persuasive effect. • Source characteristics : Source credibility and attractiveness are two features that affect attitude change. Attitudes are more likely to change when the message comes from a highly credible source rather than from a low-credible source. For example, adults who are planning to buy a laptop are more convinced by a computer engineer who points out the special features of a particular brand of laptop, than they would be by a schoolchild who might give the same information. But, if the buyers are themselves schoolchildren, they may be convinced more by another schoolchild advertising a laptop than they would be by a professional giving the same information (see Figure 6.1). In the case of some products such as cars, sales may increase if they are publicised, not necessarily by experts, but by popular public figures. • Message characteristics : The message is the information that is presented in order to bring about an attitude change. Attitudes will change when the amount of information that is given about the topic is just enough, neither too much nor too little. Whether the message contains a rational or an emotional appeal, also makes a difference. For example, an advertisement for cooking food in a pressure cooker may point out that this saves fuel such as cooking gas (LPG) and is economical (rational appeal). Alternatively, the advertisement may say that pressure-cooking preserves nutrition, and that if one cares for the family, nutrition would be a major concern (emotional appeal) (see Figure 6.2). The motives activated by the message also determine attitude change. For example, drinking milk may be said to make a person healthy and good-looking, or more energetic and more successful at one’s job. Picture A Picture B Fig.6.1 : Which Picture will Make You More Eager to Buy a Laptop – Picture A, or Picture B ? Why? Rational appeal Emotional appeal (saving money) (caring for your family) Finally, the mode of spreading the message plays a significant role. Face-to-face transmission of the message is usually more effective than indirect transmission, as for instance, through letters and pamphlets, or even through mass media. For example, a positive attitude towards Oral Rehydration Salts (ORS) for young children is more effectively created if community social workers and Fig.6.3 : Face-to-face Interaction versus Media Transmission. Which one works better? Why? doctors spread the message by talking to people directly, than by only describing the benefits of ORS on the radio (see Figure 6.3). These days transmission through visual media such as television and the Internet are similar to face-to-face interaction, but not a substitute for the latter. • Target characteristics : Qualities of the target, such as persuasibility, strong prejudices, self-esteem, and intelligence influence the likelihood and extent of attitude change. People, who have a more open and flexible personality, change more easily. Advertisers benefit most from such people. People with strong prejudices are less prone to any attitude change than those who do not hold strong prejudices. Persons who have a low self-esteem, and do not have sufficient confidence in themselves, change their attitudes more easily than those who are high on self-esteem. More intelligent people may change their attitudes less easily than those with lower intelligence. However, sometimes more intelligent persons change their attitudes more willingly than less intelligent ones, because they base their attitude on more information and thinking. Attitude-Behaviour Relationship We usually expect behaviour to follow logically from attitudes. However, an individual’s attitudes may not always be exhibited through behaviour. Likewise, one’s actual behaviour may be contrary to one’s attitude towards a particular topic.Psychologists have found that there would be consistency between attitudes and behaviour when : • the attitude is strong, and occupies a central place in the attitude system, • the person is aware of her/his attitude, • there is very little or no external pressure for the person to behave in a particular way. For example, when there is no group pressure to follow a particular norm, • the person’s behaviour is not being watched or evaluated by others, and • the person thinks that the behaviour would have a positive consequence, and therefore, intends to engage in that behaviour. In the days when Americans were said to be prejudiced against the Chinese, Richard LaPiere, an American social psychologist, conducted the following study. He asked a Chinese couple to travel across the United States, and stay in different hotels. Only once during these occasions they were refused service by one of the hotels. Sometime later, LaPiere sent out questionnaires to managers of hotels and tourist homes in the same areas where the Chinese couple had travelled, asking them if they would give accommodation to Chinese guests. A very large percentage said that they would not do so. This response showed a negative attitude towards the Chinese, which was inconsistent with the positive behaviour that was actually shown towards the travelling Chinese couple. Thus, attitudes may not always predict actual pattern of one’s behaviour. Sometimes it is behaviour that decides the attitude. In the experiment by Festinger and Carlsmith (see Box 6.2), students who got only one dollar for telling others that the experiment was interesting, discovered that they liked the experiment. That is, on the basis of their behaviour (telling others that the experiment was interesting, for only a small amount of money), they concluded that their attitude towards the experiment was positive (“I would not have told a lie for this small amount of money, which means that the experiment was actually interesting”). PREJUDICE AND DISCRIMINATION Prejudices are examples of attitudes towards a particular group. They are usually negative, and in many cases, may be based on stereotypes (the cognitive component) about the specific group. As will be discussed below in the section on social cognition, a stereotype is a cluster of ideas regarding the characteristics of a specific group. All members belonging to this group are assumed to possess these characteristics. Often, stereotypes consist of undesirable characteristics about the target group, and they lead to negative attitudes or prejudices towards members of specific groups. The cognitive component of prejudice is frequently accompanied by dislike or hatred, the affective component. Prejudice may also get translated into discrimination, the behavioural component, whereby people behave in a less positive way towards a particular target group compared to another group which they favour. History contains numerous examples of discrimination based on race and social class or caste. The genocide committed by the Nazis in Germany against Jewish people is an extreme example of how prejudice can lead to hatred, discrimination and mass killing of innocent people. Prejudices can exist without being shown in the form of discrimination. Similarly, discrimination can be shown without prejudice. Yet, the two go together very often. Wherever prejudice and discrimination exist, conflicts are very likely to arise between groups within the same society. Our own society has witnessed many deplorable instances of discrimination, with and without prejudice, based on gender, religion, community, caste, physical handicap, and illnesses such as AIDS. Moreover, in many cases discriminatory behaviour can be curbed by law. But, the cognitive and emotional components of prejudice are more difficult to change. Social psychologists have shown that prejudice has one or more of the following sources : • Learning : Like other attitudes, prejudices can also be learned through association, reward and punishment, observing others, group or cultural norms and exposure to information that encourages prejudice. The family, reference groups, personal experiences and the media may play a role in the learning of prejudices (see section on ‘Attitude Formation and Change’). People who learn prejudiced attitudes may develop a ‘prejudiced personality’, and show low adjusting capacity, anxiety, and feelings of hostility against the outgroup. • A strong social identity and ingroup bias : Individuals who have a strong sense of social identity and have a very positive attitude towards their own group boost this attitude by holding negative attitudes towards other groups. These are shown as prejudices. • Scapegoating : This is a phenomenon by which the majority group places the blame on a minority outgroup for its own social, economic or political problems. The minority is too weak or too small in number to defend itself against such accusations. Scapegoating is a group-based way of expressing frustration, and it often results in negative attitudes or prejudice against the weaker group. • Kernel of truth concept : Sometimes people may continue to hold stereotypes because they think that, after all, there must be some truth, or ‘kernel of truth’ in what everyone says about the other group. Even a few examples are sufficient to support the ‘kernel of truth’ idea. • Self-fulfilling prophecy : In some cases, the group that is the target of prejudice is itself responsible for continuing the prejudice. The target group may behave in ways that justify the prejudice, that is, confirm the negative expectations. For example, if the target group is described as ‘dependent’ and therefore unable to make progress, the members of this target group may actually behave in a way that proves this description to be true. In this way, they strengthen the existing prejudice. STRATEGIES FOR HANDLING PREJUDICE Knowing about the causes or sources would be the first step in handling prejudice. Thus, the strategies for handling prejudice would be effective if they aim at : (a) minimising opportunities for learning prejudices, (b) changing such attitudes, (c) de-emphasising a narrow social identity based on the ingroup, and (d) discouraging the tendency towards self-fulfilling prophecy among the victims of prejudice. These goals can be accomplished through : • Education and information dissemination, for correcting stereotypes related to specific target groups, and tackling the problem of a strong ingroup bias. • Increasing intergroup contact allows for direct communication, removal of mistrust between the groups, and even discovery of positive qualities in the outgroup. However, these strategies are successful only if : -the two groups meet in a cooperative rather than competitive context, -close interactions between the groups helps them to know each other better, and - the two groups are not different in power or status. • Highlighting individual identity rather than group identity, thus weakening the importance of group (both ingroup and outgroup) as a basis of evaluating the other person. More details about social identity and intergroup conflict have been presented in the next chapter on Social Influence and Group Processes. SOCIAL COGNITION ‘Cognition’ refers to all those mental processes that deal with obtaining and processing of information. Extending this idea to the social world, the term ‘social cognition’ refers to all those psychological processes that deal with the gathering and processing of information related to social objects. These include all the processes that help in understanding, explaining and interpreting social behaviour. The processing of information related to social objects (particularly individuals, groups, people, relationships, social issues, and the like) differs from the processing of information related to physical objects. People as social objects may themselves change as the cognitive process takes place. For instance, a teacher who observes a student in school may draw conclusions about her/him that are quite different from the conclusions drawn by the student’s mother, who observes her/him at home. The student may show a difference in her/his behaviour, depending on who is watching her/him — the teacher or the mother. Social cognition is guided by mental units called schemas. SCHEMAS AND STEREOTYPES A schema is defined as a mental structure that provides a framework, set of rules or guidelines for processing information about any object. Schemas (or ‘schemata’) are the basic units stored in our memory, and function as shorthand ways of processing information, thus reducing the time and mental effort required in cognition. In the case of social cognition, the basic units are social schemas. Some attitudes may also function like social schemas. We use many different schemas, and come to know about them through analysis and examples. Most of the schemas are in the form of categories or classes. Schemas that function in the form of categories are called prototypes, which are the entire set of features or qualities that help us to define an object completely. In social cognition, category-based schemas that arerelated to groups of people are called stereotypes. These are category-based schemas that are overgeneralised, are not directly verified, and do not allow for exceptions. For example, suppose you have to define a group G. If you have never directly known or interacted with a member of this group, you will most likely use your ‘general knowledge’ about the typical member of group G. To that information you will add your likes and dislikes. If you have heard more positive things about group G, then your social schema about the whole group will be more positive than negative. On the other hand, if you have heard more negative things about group G, your social schema will be in the form of a negative stereotype. The inferences you have drawn are not the result of your logical thinking or direct experience, but are based on pre-conceived ideas about a particular group. The next time you actually meet a member of group G, your impression of this person, and your behaviour towards her/him will be influenced by your stereotype. It was mentioned earlier that stereotypes provide fertile ground for the growth of prejudices and biases against specific groups. But prejudices can also develop without stereotypes. IMPRESSION FORMATION AND EXPLAINING BEHAVIOUR OF OTHERS THROUGH ATTRIBUTIONS Every social interaction begins with the formation of an impr ession about the person(s) we meet. Public figures and applicants appearing for job interviews are good examples that show it is very important to ‘make a good impression’ on others. The process of coming to know a person can be broadly divided into two parts : (a) Impression formation, and (b) Attribution. The person who forms the impression is called the perceiver. The individual about whom the impression is formed is called the target. The perceiver gathers information, or responds to a given information, about the qualities of the target, organises this information, and draws inferences about the target. In attribution, the perceiver goes further, and explains why the target behaved in a particular way. Attaching or assigning a cause for the target’s behaviour is the main idea in attribution. Often perceivers may form only an impression about the target, but if the situation requires it, they may also make attributions to the target.Impression formation and attribution are influenced by : • the nature of information available to the perceiver, • social schemas in the perceiver (including stereotypes), • personality characteristics of the perceiver, and • situational factors. Impression Formation The following aspects have been found in impression formation : • The process of impression formation consists of the following three subprocesses : (a) Selection : we take into account only some bits of information about the target person, (b) Organisation : the selected information is combined in a systematic way, and (c) Inference : we draw a conclusion about what kind of person the target is. • Some specific qualities influence impression formation more than other traits do. • The order or sequence in which information is presented affects the kind of impression formed. Mostly, the information presented first has a stronger effect than the information presented at the end. This is called the primacy effect (first impressions are the lasting impressions). However, if the perceiver may be asked to pay attention to all the information, and not merely to the first information, whatever information comes at the end may have a stronger influence. This is known as the recency effect. • We have a tendency to think that a target person who has one set of positive qualities must also be having other specific positive qualities that are associated with the first set. This is known as the halo effect. For example, if we are told that a person is ‘tidy’ and ‘punctual’, we are likely to think that this person must also be ‘hard-working’. Attribution of Causality After forming an impression, we often go through the process of assigning causes to a person’s behaviour. This is also a systematic process, as indicated by the researches done on attribution. The following aspects of attribution have been found. • When we assign a cause to a person’s behaviour, we can broadly classify the cause as being internal — something within the person, or external — something outside the person. For example, if we see a person A hitting another person B, as observers we may explain the hitting behaviour by saying that (i) A hit B because A is a hot-tempered person, which is an internal (personality-related) cause, or that (ii) A hit B because B behaved in a nasty way, which is an external, situational his own positive and negative experiences • cause. When people make attributions for success and failure, the causes they give (actor-role), and the attribution made for another person’s positive and negative experiences (observer-role). This is called can be classified into internal or external factors, and also into stable or unstable the actor-observer effect. For example, if you yourself get good marks in a test, factors. Bernard Wiener suggested a classification which is shown in Figure 6.4. Stable factors refer to those you will attribute it to your own ability or hard work (actor -role, internal attribution for a positive experience). If causes that do not change with time, while unstable factors are those that do you get bad marks, you will say that this was because you were unlucky, or that • change. In making attributions, there is an overall tendency for people to give the test was too difficult (actor-role, external attribution for a negative experience). On the other hand, if one greater weightage to internal or dispositional factors, than to external or of your classmates gets good marks in the test, you will attribute her/his situational factors. This is called the fundamental attribution error. This tendency is stronger in some cultures success to good luck or an easy test (observer-role, external attribution for a positive experience). If the same than it is in others. For instance, research shows that Indians tend to classmate gets bad marks, you are likely to say that her/his failure was because • make more external (situational) attributions than Americans do. There is a difference between the of low ability or lack of effort (observer-role, internal attribution for a negative experience). The basic reason for the attribution made for success, and the dif ference between the actor and attribution made for failure. In general, observer roles is that people want to people attribute success to internal factors, such as their ability or hard work. They attribute failure to external have a nice image of themselves, as compared to others. So far in this chapter, we have factors, such as bad luck, the difficulty of the task, and so on. highlighted the cognitive, or thought-related aspects of social behaviour. Let us now • A distinction is also found between the attribution that a person makes for her/ examine some aspects of actual behaviour that can be observed from outside. BEHAVIOUR IN THE PRESENCE OF OTHERS One of the first observations made about social behaviour was that performance on specific tasks is influenced by the mere presence of others. This is called social facilitation. For example, Reena is about to participate in a music contest. She is very talented, yet she is feeling very nervous about the event. If you were in Reena’s place, would you perform better in front of an audience, or when you are alone? As early as 1897, Norman Triplett observed that individuals show better performance in the presence of others, than when they are performing the same task alone. For instance, cyclists racing with each other perform better than when they cycle alone. With time more details came to be known about this phenomenon. • Better performance in the presence of others is because the person experiences arousal, which makes the person react in a more intense manner. This explanation was given by Zajonc (this name is pronounced to rhyme with ‘science’). • The arousal is because the person feels she or he is being evaluated. Cottrell called this idea evaluation apprehension. The person will be praised if the performance is good (reward), or criticised if it is bad (punishment). We wish to get praise and avoid criticism, therefore we try to perform well and avoid mistakes. • The nature of the task to be performed also affects the performance in the presence of others. For example, in the case of a simple or familiar task, the person is more sure of performing well, and the eagerness to get praise or reward is stronger. So the individual performs better in the presence of others than s/he does when alone. But in the case of a complex or new task, the person may be afraid of making mistakes. The fear of criticism or punishment is stronger. So the individual performs worse in the presence of others than s/he does when alone. • If the others present are also performing the same task, this is called a situation of co-action. In this situation, there is social comparison and competition. Once again, when the task is simple or a familiar one, performance is better under co-action than when the person is alone. In short, task performance can be facilitated and improved, or inhibited and worsened by the presence of others. Many other kinds of social influence have been noticed. For example, if we are working together in a group, the larger the group, the less effort each member puts in. This phenomenon is called social loafing, based on diffusion of responsibility. You will read about social loafing in the next chapter. Diffusion of responsibility, which is often the basis of social loafing, can also be frequently seen in situations where people are expected to help. We will look into this aspect and other factors in helping behaviour in the section that follows. PRO-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR Throughout the world, doing good to others and being helpful is described as a virtue. All religions teach us that we should help those who are in need. This behaviour is called helping or pro-social behaviour. Pro-social behaviour is very similar to ‘altruism’, which means doing something for or thinking about the welfare of others without any self-interest (in Latin ‘alter’ means ‘other’, the opposite of ‘ego’ which means ‘self’). Some common examples of pro-social behaviour are sharing things, cooperating with others, helping during natural calamities, showing sympathy, doing favours to others, and making charitable donations. Pro-social behaviour has the following characteristics. It must : • aim to benefit or do good to another person or other persons, • be done without expecting anything in return, • be done willingly by the person, and not because of any kind of pressure, and • involve some difficulty or ‘cost’ to the person giving help. For instance, if a rich person donates a lot of money that is obtained illegally, with the idea that her/his photograph and name will appear in the newspapers, this cannot be called ‘pro-social behaviour’ although the donation may do good to many people. In spite of the great value and importance attached to pro-social behaviour, people do not show such behaviour very often. Immediately after the Mumbai blasts on 11 July, 2006, the community stepped forward to help the blast victims in any way they could. By contrast, on an earlier occasion, nobody came forward to help a girl on a moving suburban train in Mumbai, when her purse was being snatched. The other passengers did nothing to help, and the girl was thrown out of the train. Even as the girl was lying injured on the railway tracks, people living in the buildings around the area did not come to help her. The question then is : under what conditions, and with what motives do people help others? Research on pro-social behaviour has brought out several factors that affect pro-social behaviour. Factors Influencing Pro-social Behaviour • Pro-social behaviour is based on an inborn, natural tendency in human beings to help other members of their own species. This inborn tendency facilitates survival of the species. • Pro-social behaviour is influenced by learning. Individuals who are brought up in a family environment that sets examples of helping others, emphasises helping as a value, and praises helpfulness, and showing more pro-social behaviour than individuals who are brought up in a family environment devoid of these features. • Cultural factors influence pro-social behaviour. Some cultures actively encourage people to help the needy and distressed. In cultures that encourage independence, individuals will show less pro-social behaviour, because people are expected to take care of themselves, and not to depend on help from others. Individuals in cultures suffering from a shortage of resources may not show a high level of pro-social behaviour. • Pro-social behaviour is expressed when the situation activates certain social norms that require helping others. Three norms have been mentioned in the context of pro-social behaviour : (a) The norm of social responsibility : We should help anyone who needs help, without considering any other factor. (b) The norm of reciprocity : We should help those persons who have helped us in the past. (c) The norm of equity : We should help others whenever we find that it is fair to do so. For example, many of us may feel that it is more fair to help a person who has lost all belongings in a flood, than to help a person who has lost everything through gambling. • Pro-social behaviour is affected by the expected reactions of the person who is being helped. For example, people might be unwilling to give money to a needy person because they feel that the person might feel insulted, or may become dependent. • Pro-social behaviour is more likely to be shown by individuals who have a high level of empathy, that is, the capacity to feel the distress of the person who is to be helped, such as Baba Saheb Amte and Mother Teresa. Pro-social behaviour is also more likely in situations that arouse empathy, such as the picture of starving children in a famine. • Pro-social behaviour may be reduced by factors such as a bad mood, being busy with one’s own problems, or feeling that the person to be helped is responsible for her/his own situation (that is, when an internal attribution is made for the need state of the other person). • Pro-social behaviour may also be reduced when the number of bystanders is more than one. For example, the victim of a road accident sometimes does not get help because there are many people standing around the scene of the accident. Each person thinks that it is not her/his responsibility alone to give help, and that someone else may take the responsibility. This phenomenon is called diffusion of responsibility. On the other hand, if there is only one bystander, this person is more likely to take the responsibility and actually help the victim. In this chapter, you have learnt about the basic concepts of attitudes and social cognition, and got a glimpse of some forms of social behaviour. In the next chapter, you will read about the influence of groups on the individual. Key Terms Actor-observer effect, Arousal, Attitudes, Attribution, Balance, Beliefs, Centrality of attitude, Co-action, Cognitive consistency, Cognitive dissonance, Congruent attitude change, Diffusion of responsibility, Discrimination, Empathy, Evaluation apprehension, Extremeness of attitude, Fundamental attribution error, Halo effect, Identification, Incongruent attitude change, Kernel of truth, Persuasibility, Prejudice, Primacy effect, Pro-social behaviour, Prototype, Recency effect, Scapegoating, Schema, Self-fulfilling prophecy, Simplicity or complexity (multiplexity) of attitude, Social facilitation, Social loafing, Stereotype, Valence of attitude, Values. • Human beings have a need to interact with and relate to others, and to explain their own as well as others’ behaviour. • People develop attitudes, or thoughts and behavioural tendencies, through learning processes, family and school influences, reference groups and the media. Attitudes have an affective, cognitive and behavioural component, and can be understood in terms of valence, extremeness, simplicity or complexity (multiplexity) and centrality. • Attitude change takes according to the balance concept, cognitive consonance and the two-step concept. Attitude change is affected by characteristics of the source, the target, and the message. Negative attitudes (prejudices) towards a group often create conflicts within a society, and are expressed through discrimination, but there are practical strategies for handling prejudice. • The entire set of processes involved in understanding the social world around us is called social cognition, which is guided by mental structures known as social schemas. One kind of social schema, a stereotype, contains overgeneralised beliefs about a particular group, often leads to and strengthens prejudices. • Impression formation takes place in a systematic way, and exhibits effects such as primacy and recency, and the halo effect. • People also assign causes to their own and others’ behaviour, and to experiences such as success and failure, by attributing internal or external causes. Attribution shows effects such as the fundamental attribution error and actor-observer effect. • Because of arousal and evaluation apprehension in the presence of others, performance of familiar tasks may improve (social facilitation) and performance of unfamiliar or new tasks may decline (social inhibition). • People respond to others who are in need by helping them (pro-social behaviour), but this is determined by several factors. 1. Define attitude. Discuss the components of an attitude. 2. Are attitudes learnt? Explain how? 3. What are the factors that influence the formation of an attitude? 4. Is behaviour always a reflection of one’s attitude? Explain with a relevant example. 5. Highlight the importance of schemas in social cognition. 6. Differentiate between prejudice and stereotype. 7. Prejudice can exist without discrimination and vice versa. Comment. 8. Describe the important factors that influence impression formation. 9. Explain how the attribution made by an ‘actor’ would be different from that of an ‘observer’. 10. How does social facilitation take place? 11. Explain the concept of pro-social behaviour. 12. Your friend eats too much junk food, how would you be able to bring about a change in her/his attitude towards food? Pedagogical Hints 1. In the topic of attitudes, students should be made to understand the distinction between attitudes as such (with the A-B-C components) on one hand, and behaviour related to the attitude, on the other. 2. To explain attitude change, students may be encouraged to think of real-life examples of attitude change, for instance, attempts made by advertisers to promote their products through media. Then discuss whether these attempts to change attitude are actually successful or not. 3. To enable students to understand the relationships among schemas, prototypes and prejudice, give examples of how stereotypes, as forms of prototypes, may lead to prejudice. 4. In the topic of social cognition, students should be able to understand that impression formation and attribution are basic cognitive processes that help in processing information about other persons. The role of schemas has to be emphasised in this context. 5. Social facilitation and pro-social behaviour must be discussed as aspects that highlight the behavioural rather than cognitive aspects of social life.