Introduction to Social Psychology

Introduction to Social Psychology

Fall Semester
Dr. Rony Berger
Office:  On request



Short description:

Social psychology is in essence the scientific study of human nature or as defined by Allport, "an attempt to understand and explain how thoughts, feelings and behaviors of individuals are influenced by actual, imagined, or implied presence of others"(1968). It covers a breathtaking array of topics including self-perception and self-esteem, inferences about human nature, errors and biases of attribution, judgment and decision-making, reason, intuition and heuristics, emotions and social relationships, happiness, conformity, obedience to authority and compliance, persuasion and attitude change, attraction, interpersonal and romantic relationships, stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination, aggression, altruism, empathy and behavior of groups. Thus, it seems that social psychology touches upon topics pertaining to a variety of areas from art, culture, social work, law and medicine to public policy, politics and international relationships. Social psychology deals with positive or pro-social behavior (self- esteem, self-affirmation, altruism, helping behavior etc.) and negative or anti-social behavior (self-hate, suicide, prejudice, stereotypes, violence etc.) as well as with stability and change in individuals and groups. 

As "social animals" people have long sought explanations for human behaviors, and in that context, one can characterize all human beings as laymen social psychologists. We constantly attempt to understand our behaviors as well as the behavior of others - our family members, our neighbors, our co-workers, our politicians and even our enemies. Furthermore, we often draw conclusions about their motives and intentions based on our latent and subjective theories (heuristics). We even share common beliefs about human nature and explanations regarding social phenomena. We call this knowledge "folk wisdom", a wisdom that is often transmitted through literature, art, fairy-tales, maxims and our historical narratives.  Unlike folk wisdom, social psychology attempts to establish the scientific basis for understanding human behavior by conducting studies and experiments. This empirically-based knowledge helps us uncover the fundamental principles of human behavior (basic science) and then apply these principles to social problems in the real-world (applied science).

While generally social psychology is considered a rather academic profession with a strong focus on theory building and experimental research, this course will emphasize the applicability of the theories and the concepts to current social events. Likewise, students will be required to explore the applicability of the learned materials in their daily-lives via class discussions or class presentations.



Attendance and participation - Attendance in all classes is mandatory (students will be excused only with a special permission by the teacher). Active involvement in class role playing, simulations and discussion is required. Students are expected to make comments, ask questions and partake in the simulations. This is not the course for those who want to be passive!

Reading: For each class you will have to read the "required reading".  The course textbook is: Gilovich, T., Keltner, D., & Nisbett, R. (2011).  Social Psychology, (2nd edition). New York: W. W. Norton. Each class you will be required to read the assigned chapters. Additional reading will be assigned by the instructor.

Class presentations or a short paper: In order to facilitate active learning students (in groups of threesomes) will prepare a class presentation which will last about 30 minutes and will include three parts: 1) A short theoretical exposition; 2) An experiential part (that will involve the students either via an experiment or a simulation and demonstrate the theory or the studied social phenomenon) and 3) A class discussion which will engage the students in relating to the presented material.  Students will be required to consult the lecturer before the presentation and put together a power point presentation. Alternatively, students can do a small (2 page paper) on a relevant topic instead of the oral presentation.

Final Exam: The final in-class test (multiple choice questions) will focus on the material learned in the class and in the reading materials. The questions will require understanding of the material and application to practical situations. Students will receive a list of the topics for the exam in order to help them prepare for the final test.



The course grade will be based on three components:

  1. Class presentation or paper (20%) – The grade to the presenting students will be based on the instructor's evaluation regarding the depth and ingenuity of the presentation as well as the participation of the students in the experiential part and the class discussion.
  2. Final test (80%) – The test will comprise of multiple choice questions which will primarily focus on applicability of the concepts presented in the class.


Bibliography (optional)

  1. Higgins, E.T. (1987). Self-discrepancy: A theory of relating self and affect. Psychological Review, 94, 319-340.
  2. Gilbert, P. (2009). Introducing compassion-focused therapy. Advances in psychiatric treatment, 15: 199–208.
  3. Tversky, A. & Kahneman, D. Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases, Science, 185, 1124-1131.
  4. Weise, D.R., Pyszczynski, R., Cox, C. R., Arndt, J.,  Greenberg, J.,  Solomon, S &  Kosloff., S (2008). Interpersonal Politics: The Role of Terror Management and Attachment Processes in Shaping Political Preferences, Psychological Science 2008 19: 448- 455.
  5. Jost, J.T., & Hunyady, O. (2002). The psychology of system justification and the palliative function of ideology. European Review of Social Psychology, 13, 111-153.
  6. Gilbert, D.T., Pinel, E. Z., Wilson, T.D., Blumberg, S.J., & Wheatly, T.(1988). Immune neglect: A source of durability bias in affective forecasting. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 617-138.
  7. Burger , J. M. (2009). Replicating Milgram: Would people still obey today? American Psychologist, 64, 1-11.
  8. Berger, R., & Gelkopf, M. Heineberg, Y., & Zimbardo, P. (2015). Developing resiliency and promoting tolerance toward the other.
  9. Batson, D. C., &  Shaw, L.L. (1991). Evidence for Altruism: Toward a Pluralism of Pro-social Motives. Psychological Inquiry 2 (2):107-122.


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