The sociocultural level of explanation centers around the effects of cultural and social factors and their impact on human behavior


  • Human beings are social animals that have a basic need to belong
  • Social and cultural environment influence behavior
  • Humans desire connectedness and belongingness to others
  • Humans construct conceptions of our individual and social self
  • Human beings' views of the world are resistant to change

Principles of the Sociocultural Level Demonstrated in Theories and Research

Research Methods

  • Naturalistic Observation (Systematic vs. Casual)
    • Overt - know they're being observed
    • Covert - do not know they are being observed
      • When Prophecy Fails (Festinger et al., 1956)
  • Interviews
  • Case Studies
  • Ethical Concerns
    • Use of deception in Milgram's studies
    • Humiliation and potential trauma for prisoner's in Zimbardo's experiment

Sociocultural cognition

Role of Situational and Dispositional Factors in Behavior

  • Actor-observer effect - attribute behavior to situational factors for ourselves but to dispositional factors for others
  • Fundamental attribution error - overvalue dispositional internal factors but undervalue situational external factors
    • I did well on the test because I'm smart (dispositional) not because the test was easy (situational)

Attribution Errors

  • Fundamental Attribution Error
  • Illusory Correlation
  • Self-serving bias
  • Modesty bias

Evaluation of Social Identity Theory (Tajfel)

  • Based on social categorization
  • We categorize as in-group (us) and out-group (them) even when randomly assigned to a group
  • Self-esteem is created by comparing the benefits of belonging to the in-group instead of the out-group
  • Cialdini//et a//l.. (1976) found college football supporters were more likely to represent their winning team by wearing team clothing and other insignia than when the team lost
    • Bias to view group actions as positive because of our human need for a positive self-concept
  • Boys randomly assigned to a group based on their preference for Klee or Kandindsky paintings rated the out-group as less-likeable even though the out-group members were never actually disliked (Tajfel et al., 1974)
    • Further research has shown that group identity alone is not enough to produce intergroup conflict - there must be competition as well
  • Evaluation
    • Describes but does not predict
    • There are situations where personal identity is stronger than the group identity
    • Theory on its own is reductionist because it ignores the interaction of the environment and the self
    • Think about cultural expectations, rewards as motivators, sense of belongingness, rewards used to motivate the in-group

Formation of Stereotypes and their Effect on Behavior

  • Social cognition
    • Stereotyping is a naturally occurring cognitive phenomenon to conserve resources
      • Can be seen as schema processing
  • Stereotype threat (Steele & Aronson, 1995) video
    • Individuals in a situation where they could be judged can inadvertently confirm a stereotype
    • African Americans told that a test of verbal ability genuinely represented their verbal skills performed worse than European Americans
    • When African Americans were told that the test was used to study how problems are generally solved they performed as well as the European Americans
    • Steele (1997) argues that spotlight anxiety is responsible for stereotype threats because the emotional distress and pressure can undermine performance
  • Campbell (1967) two sources stereotypes
    • Personal experience with in-group members and the groups themselves
    • Gatekeepers like the media, parents, teachers and other members of our culture
    • Campbell says there is some truth to our stereotypes and that we generalize an experience with one in-group member to the entire group
    • Criticism - errors in attribution are very common
  • Hamilton and Gifford (1976) claim that illusory correlations are responsible for stereotypes
    • We see a relationship between two variables that actually have no relationship and overestimate a link between the two variables
      • A woman who is awful at driving
    • After the illusory correlation has been made we use confirmation bias to gather more evidence to support our illusory correlation
      • We will tend to find more bad female drivers but ignore female race drivers
  • General evaluation
    • Investigating stereotypes is difficult because of the social desirability effect
    • Researchers are instead using implicit measures of prejudice such as the IAT which has its own array of problems
    • Interestingly, Williams Syndrome individuals do not show racial stereotypes but do show gender stereotypes (Santos //et al//., 2010)

Social norms

Social Learning Theory

  • Social learning involves
    • Attention - pay attention to model
    • Retention - remember behavior observed
    • Motor reproduction - have the ability to emulate the observed action
    • Motivation - observers must want to demonstrate what they have just observed
  • Bobo Doll Studies (Bandura //et al//., 1961)
  • Huesmann & Eron (1986) longitudinal study discovered a positive correlation between number of hours of violent television watched and their levels of aggression as teenagers
  • Canadian children became more aggressive 2 years after television was introduced (Kimball & Zabrack, 1986)
  • Evaluation of Social Learning Theory
    • Helps explain how behaviors can be passed on without trial-and-error learning
    • Behavior can be acquired but not demonstrated
      • Makes it difficult to establish that the behavior is a result of socially learned behavior
    • Cannot explain why some people never learn a behavior despite observation, retention, motor reprodction and motivation

Compliance Techniques

Evaluation of Research on Conformity to Group Norms

Factors Influencing Conformity

  • Culture
  • Groupthink
  • Minority Influence

Cultural norms

Definition of Culture and Culture Norms

Three definitions of culture (Peace Corps, as cited in PBS)
  • Culture: is a shared, learned, symbolic system of values, beliefs and attitudes that shapes and influences perception and behavior
  • Culture: The system of shared beliefs, values, customs, behaviors, and artifacts that the members of society use to cope with their world and with one another, and that are transmitted from generation to generation through learning
  • Culture: all the things that make up a people's entire way of life
Culture Norms
  • Cultural norms are patterns of behavior typical of a specific group normally passed down from generation to generation via observational learning.
  • They can be thought of as traditions like wedding rituals or rites of passage, ways of raising children and views on how to care for the elderly.

Role of Cultural Dimensions on Behavior

  • Individualism/Collectivism
  • Masculinity/Femininity

Emic and Etic Concepts

  • Emic - relates to the intrinsic values of the society that are important to its members
  • Etic - relates to extrinsic properties of a society that are important for scientific observation

Additional Resources