Social Psychology of Emotion

Social Psychology of Emotion



Social Psychology of Emotion

Social cognition is a dominant area in psychology that is concerned with the way in which human beings observe, think about, and recall information about other human beings. Humans have conscious and subconscious methods through which they identify, categorize and relate with members of their species and social cognition study is concerned with studying these diverse processes. This essay seeks to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of three appropriate theories in social cognition. The body of the paper will focus on three theories and applications. Applicability will be ascertained by offering relevant real-world examples. The last section will discuss the rationale for choosing social cognition in favor of the rest of the areas in psychology as well as outlining the proposed changes to the selected theories.

Social Cognitive Theory

            Social cognitive theory or abbreviated as SCT is extensively applied in communication, education, and psychology sectors. The theory holds that sections of a human’s knowledge acquisition can be directly connected to examining other people within the setting of social relations, encounters, and external media influences (Roskos-Ewoldsen, & Monahan, 2013). The school of thought claims that when individuals watch a model executing an action and the implications of that behavior, they memorize the succession of events and apply this knowledge to determine successive behaviors (Kostić, & Chadee, 2015). Watching a model can also set off the viewer to indulge in behavior they already acquired. Therefore, individuals do not acquire new behaviors exclusively by attempting them and either becoming successful or failing (Baumeister, & Finkel, 2010). Instead, the existence of the human race relies on the duplication of the behaviors of other people. Depending on the resultant situation that may involve people being rewarded or penalized for their behavior and the results, the spectator may opt to imitate behavior illustrated. The media provides is an influential tool for broadcasting models to a large number of people in numerous environmental contexts (Roskos-Ewoldsen, & Monahan, 2013).

            One of the biggest strengths is that the SCT is closely related to social learning and this makes its application relatively easy and direct. The theory has amassed a massive amount of recognition form various academics because of its simplicity and ease. Therefore, its use is far more diverse compared to the other theories (Roskos-Ewoldsen, & Monahan, 2013). The theory is also evolving and this makes it open to change. However, the aspect of being simple and straightforward also contributes towards its flaw. The theory is insufficient in explaining all the types of behavior given that emotions and thoughts are influenced by several other factors (Baumeister, & Finkel, 2010). Another weakness is concerned with its loose organization and therefore, requires more work in terms of systemization. The theory also has several controversial issues including the necessity of reinforcement for performance and learning and the instability of some self-efficacy expectancies (Kostić, & Chadee, 2015).

            The real world example of this theory is evident in the classroom context. The behavior of children in the classroom is mainly determined by their relations with the class teacher. For instance, when a student raises their hand for permission to go to the restroom and he or she is granted (Baumeister, & Finkel, 2010). In this situation, the rest of the children make a mental note that raising their hands will automatically translate into being given permission. Conversely, a child standing to sharpen his pencil without the teacher’s permission will be punished (Roskos-Ewoldsen, & Monahan, 2013). The children learn from the encounter that permission is necessary for favorable reaction from the teacher (Baumeister, & Finkel, 2010).

Attribution Theory

            Attribution theory is concerned with the way in which individuals understand events and the relationship with their thoughts and actions. This theory assumes that people attempt to find out why people act in a certain manner. In other words, attribute explanations for their behavior. A person looking to comprehend why another individual acts in a something way may attribute several causes to a particular behavior. Attribution typically occurs in three stages with the first stage involving a person observing the behavior (Baumeister, & Finkel, 2010). In the second stage, the person must accept that the behavior was deliberately perpetrated, and the third stage involves the person establishing if the subject was coerced to act in the observed way and in the process, attribute cause to the situation or fail to do so (Roskos-Ewoldsen, & Monahan, 2013). The attribution theory has been extensively applied in education, clinical psychology, and mental health fields. There is a strong correlation between self-concept and accomplishment. As one of the founders of the theory, Weiner noted that causal attributions are highly influential in determining success and failure. For instance, it is difficult to become proud in success, or feel skillful after being awarded an ‘A’ by a teacher who gives only good grades (Baumeister, & Finkel, 2010). Conversely, receiving a good grade from an instructor who awards a small number of high grades after a massive amount of studying creates immense positive affect (Roskos-Ewoldsen, & Monahan, 2013). Learners with higher measures of self-worth and with higher academic achievement have a higher tendency of attributing success to internal, constant, uncontainable factors such as competence.

            One of the strengths of this theory is that it is widely applicable to numerous demographics, individuals and situations. The theory is flexible enough to be interpreted in diverse cases. The second strength of this theory is that it offers an effective recommendation for understanding control within an environment (Baumeister, & Finkel, 2010). The internal and external factors greatly explain how human beings react to different situations. The theory is particularly useful for educators as it allows them to understand the reasoning process for students (Baumeister, & Finkel, 2010). It also assists in developing student-centered approaches for teaching and motivation. However, the theory also has several limitations. While its assertions were solid, feedback has the potential to change the way an individual sees the cause of an event. Another major weakness is that the way an individual and the observer see the same thing may be different. Lastly, cultural, economic and social biases can change perceptions (Baumeister, & Finkel, 2010).

            Within the learning context, examinations are normally used to evaluate the competence and abilities of students. Consequently, when a student gets poor grades in an exam, they might probably attribute the failure to poor lessons in the classroom, insufficient time for preparation or little effort (Roskos-Ewoldsen, & Monahan, 2013). This attribution will have a massive effect on their subsequent academic behavior. The student will probably increase the amount of time on his studies, pay more attention in class and put more effort towards understanding the subject.

Self-Efficacy Theory

The self-efficacy theory is closely related to the social cognitive theory. However, it is concerned attempting to explain the origins of motivation, welfare, and personal achievement. The self-efficacy theory claims that unless people consider that their behavior can generate the results they expect, they have low motivation to behave or to persist in the face of challenges (Baumeister, & Finkel, 2010). These individual perceptions affect practically every aspect of human’s lives—whether they think effectively, self-destructively, or positively; the extent to which they have internal motivation and carry on in the face of difficulties; their susceptibility to pressure and dejection; and the life decisions they take. Self-efficacy is a vital determinant of the self-control practices in which people indulge as they perform the essential task of personally amending their actions and thoughts (Baumeister, & Finkel, 2010).

Self-efficacy has received significant use in oncology practice. Self-efficacy has had a great impact on the transformation of focus in health practices in addition to adaptation to diseases and therapy. Specifically, the theory has been applied in the investigation of cancer prevention. Cancer is mostly caused by adopting destructive and unhealthy lifestyle habits. Consequently, changing the perception of individuals towards their health is central in the fight against cancer (Kostić, & Chadee, 2015). Strong images of self-efficacy forecast a plan to stop smoking, increased involvement in screening programs, and lifestyle modification to suit a life with cancer (Baumeister, & Finkel, 2010). Increased self-efficacy is linked to increased compliance with treatment, increased self-care trends, and lower physical and psychosomatic indicators. Therefore, the theory is instrumental in developing programs and solutions that improve patients’ self-efficacy. A real world example of self-efficacy theory is in sports. Most team players find themselves in a difficult stage of the game and have to make an evaluation. Most of the times people see the challenges such as fatigue, the absence of a star player or poor concentration (Roskos-Ewoldsen, & Monahan, 2013). In such situations, having a fair amount of confidence is important as it boosts the motivation levels and allows a person to give their full potential.

Significance of Social Cognition in Psychology

            Social cognition was selected as the preferred area in psychology because of its familiarity, relevance and centrality in the discipline. In the earlier definition, social cognition was described as the study of how human beings interpret, memorize and use information concerning other human beings and social settings. Since the subject is human beings, this emerges as a very interesting and rich topic (Baumeister, & Finkel, 2010). Human beings are the most advanced living things on the universe. Studying the factors that affect and determine their relationships with other members of the same species is important. Subconsciously, many academics and ordinary people constantly question themselves concerning the impressions and indicators given out by themselves and other people. This are of psychology is also popular because of the wide applicability. The results of the study on human beings can be used in nearly all sectors. Being able to understand and to a certain level, predict or even control the actions of people is a powerful skill to grasp. This is just a single instance of the way social cognition determines a single social interaction (Baumeister, & Finkel, 2010). There are numerous other diverse examples in daily contact that are controlled by the same principles. Human beings consume a substantial amount of time daily communicating with other people. This is why an independent branch of psychology is dedicated to assist in comprehending how humans feel, perceive, and act in social situations (Roskos-Ewoldsen, & Monahan, 2013).


The application of all the social cognition theories is evident in different sectors for example, marketing, public health, education, and mass media. One of the common applications involves the recruitment of celebrities to promote and launch products to targeted consumer segments. For instance, advertising companies use a strategy that chooses the appropriate gender, age, and geographical location for models to guarantee the success of different campaign within cities (Roskos-Ewoldsen, & Monahan, 2013). The high rate of success in such HIV campaigns occurs because the targeted people identified with a recognizable peer that eventually emulated the actions to learn safer behaviors concerning sexual relationships. A research conducted by Azza Ahmed in 2009 investigated the possibility of an increase in breastfeeding practices by mothers having children when presented with a breastfeeding educational program inspired by SCT (Baumeister, & Finkel, 2010). The study discovered that mothers in the program displayed significant advancement in their breastfeeding skills compared to women who did not participate in the program.           


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Baumeister, R. F., & Finkel, E. J. (2010). Advanced social psychology: The state of the science. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kostić, A., & Chadee, D. (2015). The social psychology of nonverbal communication. New York : Palgrave Macmillan.

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Roskos-Ewoldsen, D. R., & Monahan, J. L. (2013). Communication and social cognition: Theories and methods. New York: Routledge.

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