Sociocultural psychology is a relatively new branch of psychology and is often also termed as social psychology. It however, is a subset of social psychology. A combination of sociology and psychology, this subject studies the effect of social situations in terms of society as a whole and its role in shaping human behavior. The main focus here is the cognitive aspect of human nature in relation to society, and how human behavior is a result of all the social situations it is exposed to. In this article, we briefly discuss what social psychology is and what exactly it stands for.
The Focus of Social Psychology
Social psychology focuses on the fact that our interactions with others in society affect not only our thought process, but also our perception, and the manner in which we make decisions. According to psychologists, our sociocultural thought process begins in childhood and steadily gains momentum as we grow older. Also, the social norms and cultural aspect of society influences the way we perceive other individuals, situations, and our overall personality. This can be explained with an example of how this subject is studied and understood. There has been a longstanding racial prejudice about African Americans by the Caucasians and vice versa. If a family is a strong believer of this prejudice and practices racism in all its aspects, it is likely that a child born in this family will develop the same reaction too. This is because the child's beliefs and thoughts have been developed and based in a manner that is prejudiced right from the start. Unless exposed to a group of people that think otherwise, this child will continue behaving the same way his family does. This is just an example of what is termed as selective perception, a natural outcome of human interactions with society as a whole, and the effect of social interactions on a child's behavior varies among different cultures.
Lev Vygotsky, a popular educational psychologist who focused greatly on the sociocultural theory has suggested three ways in which the sociocultural perspective can affect an individual, beginning during childhood. A child may learn through imitation, by imitating the person he is most exposed to, or admires the most. A child may also learn through instruction or what he has been told is right or wrong, and this instruction is what the child will use to mould his behavior. Finally, a child may learn by being a part of a group the members of which make an attempt to understand each other and live in harmony, or to learn something that will define their group.
Social Psychology vs. Sociology
Social psychology is vastly different from sociology as a field of study. While the latter focuses more on cultures and its influence on society as a whole at the macro level, the former is a study of the effects of societal norms and culture on individual behavior. Therefore, this field of psychology should not be confused with sociology. The history of this subject can be traced back to the events that occurred after the second world war. It was after the gruesome Holocaust that human behavior was viewed with a new approach, i.e. with regard to conformity in society.
In essence, this branch of psychology explains how we create our identity or self-image, and shape our perception. This type of psychology does not undermine the effect of physiological or cognitive influences in shaping individual behavior. However, it believes that only these two elements are not responsible for the way humans behave the way they do. It is what they see, are told, and are taught that makes them who they are, and helps them decide between what they think is right or wrong. There is no way there will be an absolute reality because the concept of reality is marred by individual perception that in some cases, can be very rigid.