5 Social Psychology Principles That Mess With You Every Day

5 Social Psychology Principles That Mess With You Every Day

5 Social Psychology Principles That Mess With You Every Day

There are many social psychology principles that explain our every day behavior. We have fallacies and biases that make us think behavior is a simple matter of personal choice. The thing is, research demonstrates over and over that we are not as in control as we like to think we are. Instead, we have these minds that are constantly taking in and responding to the world around us. This means that behavior has much more to do with environment and circumstance than it does personal thinking.

1. Defensive Attribution

The defensive attribution is when we look for what caused an event. Even when events are random or happen by chance, we search for something to attribute as the cause of the event. It makes us pretty uncomfortable to think that things happen randomly in this world. If things are just random and chaotic, then misfortune could befall us at any time. So we alleviate that discomfort by looking for something to blame or explain what is going on around us.


Imagine you see a car accident on the side of the road. As you look at it you start to wonder what caused the accident. You think, well maybe this person was drunk. Or you wonder if it was because it is raining and the roads are exceptionally slippery. You doing this kind of thinking is you making a defensive attribution. If there is some cause for this particular accident you feel safe knowing that it won’t happen to you because you will avoid whatever caused it.


2. Just World Phenomenon

Just World HypothesisThe just world phenomenon is the hypothesis that people think that morally fair consequences happen in response to good or bad events. Essentially, people think that the world is just and balanced. When people do good things, good things happen to them. Or when people do bad things, bad things happen to them. We tend to overlook the many many instances when good things have happened to people who do not deserve them or vice versa. The truth is the world is more random when than we like to think it is and it is often unfair.


One example of the just world phenomenon is our attitude toward prisoners. People tend to think that if someone is in prison they deserve to be there because they did something bad. Often, we overlook problems with our criminal justice system, issues of race or class, and prejudice that might have landed people behind bars even if they are innocent.

3. Outgroup Homogeneity Effect

Researchers sometimes point to the outgroup homogeneity effect to explain biases and problems in our society. Essentially, it is the principle that we see members of outgroups as being very similar to one another. By contrast, we think of members of the group we belong to as individuals. The problem is when we think of others as being similar we tend to evaluate them based on stereotypes we know about their group, rather than considering them as unique people. If you are interested in learning more about stereotypes and prejudice you can visit this site: www.understandingprejudice.org


Think about being on a sports team. It is likely that you thought of the people on your own team as being unique individuals. But how did you view the other team? Most likely you thought of them as a group of mean brutes who you just wanted to beat. You most likely did not think of individuals on the other team. Instead, you viewed them as a homogenous group.

4. Fundamental Attribution Error

The FAE is a principle that says we tend to attribute our own faults to external factors and other’s to internal causes. This means that we cut ourselves some slack when we mess up. But when others do something, we blame them personally for their mistake.


Imagine that you trip and fall. You probably think wow the floor was so slippery! Or, who put that step there? But when you see someone else take a fall, you might find yourself thinking that they are a klutz. When you observe someone trip you are most likely not thinking about all of the external circumstances that caused them to fall.

5. Social Loafing

Social loafing is when people put in less effort when they are in group than they would if they were doing something on their own. If you are doing something by yourself, you know that it is solely your responsibility to get the task done. However, if you are working on something in a group you know that others will pick up your slack. To read more about social loafing click here.


The classic example of social loafing is the dreaded group project at work or school. You are assigned to a group to work on something together. Inevitably a few people put in much less work than the other people in the group. Some members are forced to pick up the slack and the others rely on the group to clean up after them. Instead of taking personal responsibility, some people rest on the other group members to do their work for them.

Social psychology principles pop up all over our lives. After reading this you might start to notice other ways that they play out in your life. If you start to bring attention to how you these things mess with you, you can start trying to correct them!

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