Social Psychology

by Robbie Sutton and Karen Douglas


Click on the letter links below to access definitions of all key terms from the textbook.

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Accountability cues
Factors that determine what behaviours people can ‘get away with’ in a social context.

Actor-observer bias
The tendency for actors to attribute their own behaviours to the situation and for observers to explain behaviours in terms of personality traits.

Actual self
How a person is at the present time.

Emotional state consisting of feelings and moods.

Affective forecasting error
The tendency for people to overestimate the emotional impact that positive and negative events will have on them.

Affirmative action
A collective name for policies designed to promote the employment of people from disadvantaged minority groups.

Prejudiced attitudes about a person or group because of their age.

Behaviour primarily intended to harm another living being.

Altruistic punishment
This involves incurring a personal cost in order to harm a person who has defected.

An action that is performed to benefit a person without benefiting the self.

Ambivalent attitudes
Attitudes that are mixed, being both positive and negative.

Ambivalent sexism
Reconceptualization of sexism to take into account the fact that sexism can include both positive and negative attitudes at the same time.

Anchoring and adjustment heuristic
Cognitive shortcut where inferences are influenced by initial knowledge or information.

Anxious/ambivalent attachment style
Attachment style distinguished by anxiety and concern that feelings are not reciprocated.

Applied research
Applies basic research to problems or social issues.

Conflicting parties seek an end to the conflict with the aid of a third (independent) party who studies the situation and imposes a settlement.

Asset matching
Seeking complementary ‘assets’ allows people to exchange what they want from relationships.

Assimilationism/integrationism/colour blindness
The idea that diversity in a society should be downplayed and attempts should be made to downplay differences between groups.

Associative network
Memory model whereby ideas or nodes are connected by associative links.

Associative-propositional evaluation (APE) model
Model asserting that implicit and explicit attitudes are the behavioural outcomes of separate mental processes.

Attachment behaviours
The behaviours an infant will exhibit to stay close to, or be reunited with, a primary carer.

Attachment styles
Expectations that people develop about their relationships, based on relationships with carers as infants and children.

Attentional cues
Features of the environment that draw attention away from the self.

Attitude complexity
The number of dimensions along which an attitude object is evaluated.

Attitude function
The study of why people have attitudes.

Attitude inoculation
Presenting people with weak attitude-inconsistent attacks prior to a stronger persuasive attempt helps people to resist the message. They are in a sense ‘inoculated’ against the stronger influence attempt.

Attitude object
The thing an attitude is about.

Attitude polarization
People’s tendency to evaluate mixed information in a way that strengthens pre-existing attitudes and makes them more extreme.

Attitude scale
A series of questions designed to gauge a person’s attitudes on a topic.

People’s evaluations of aspects of the social world.

A form of social organization characterized by preference for, and submission to, authority.

Availability heuristic
Cognitive shortcut where the likelihood of an event is based on how quickly knowledge or ideas come to mind.

Averageness effect
The finding that people prefer average or prototypical faces to faces that have distinctive features.

Model of cognitive algebra assuming that the overall impression is the average of all the traits on display.

Aversive condition
Any condition that an organism finds unpleasant and seeks to avoid, modify or escape where possible. An array of aversive conditions have been shown to trigger aggressive responses.

Aversive racism
Inner conflict between an egalitarian view and racist impulses can be aversive, such that people avoid contact with specific racial groups.

Avoidant attachment style
Attachment style distinguished by low trust and avoidance of relationships.


Back channel communication
Cues that let the speaker know that a person is listening.

Balance theory
People sharing similar attitudes are likely to reach balance – a positive emotional state. Attitude dissimilarity can lead to negative emotions, a need to restore the balance, or indifference between individuals.

Conflicting parties seek an end to the conflict through a process of negotiation.

Base rates
Factual information about people and categories.

Basic research
Focuses on fundamental questions about people’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

Approach based on explaining behaviours in relation to reinforcement.

Belief in a just world
The belief that the world is a just place in which people get what they deserve.

Benevolent sexism
Apparently positive view of women in which they are seen as necessary for men’s happiness, and superior in a number of ways (e.g., morality).

Biased assimilation
People’s tendency to evaluate counterattitudinal information as biased or unreliable.

Bicultural individuals
Individuals who are able to deal with the presence of two cultural identities (heritage and host cultural identities) at the same time.

Black sheep effect
Derogation of deviant or marginal ingroup members.

Boomerang effect
Lay term for reactance.

Boundary condition
A level of a third variable under which an otherwise observed effect is no longer observed. For example, being insulted by a stranger does not cause the usual annoyance if one is wearing earphones and cannot hear them. A boundary condition means we can expect an interaction effect – the relationship between two variables depends on the level of a third variable.

Process of groups getting together and discussing a problem openly, allowing (many) ideas to flow freely.

Breaching experiment
A technique used in ethnomethodology that seeks to examine people’s reactions to violations of common social norms.

Bystander intervention
The act of helping a person in danger or distress by people who are not its cause.


The release of pent-up aggressive energy through vicarious or symbolic acts of aggression.

Causal attribution
The process of assigning a cause to an event or behaviour.

Causal mechanism
The mechanism, or explanation for one variable causing another.

Central cues
Persuasive features of a message, such as message quality and scientific arguments, that require processing or elaboration by the target.

Central route to persuasion
Processing of a message that occurs when people have the ability and motivation to attend to the message carefully and evaluate its arguments, leading to people being persuaded by central cues.

Central traits
Traits that have greater influence on how people configure their impressions of others.

Classical conditioning
Simple form of learning where a stimulus eventually evokes positive or negative reactions through repeated pairing with another stimulus.

People performing the same task at the same time but not performing the task collectively.

Performing a task in the presence of other people.

Co-verbal behaviours
Nonverbal behaviours that accompany speech and convey information to a receiver.

Cognitive algebra
Approach to the study of person perception proposing that people assign positive and negative valence to various person attributes and combine them to form a general evaluation of a person.

Cognitive dissonance
An unpleasant psychological state that occurs when people notice that their attitudes and behaviours (or their attitudes) are inconsistent with each other.

Cognitive load
Condition in which a task demands a person’s attention and thinking capacity, leaving little left for another task. This is often manipulated by experimenters to determine whether a second task requires conscious thought and control.

Cognitive miser
Social cognitive approach, which argues that people will take the least cognitively demanding approach to attributions and social judgements.

Cognitive shortcuts (heuristics)
Because they are cognitive misers, people take shortcuts that provide mostly accurate information most of the time.

Collective action
The pursuit of goals by more than one person. Specifically, it is the coordinated actions of disadvantaged group members in order to change intergroup relations.

Collectives and aggregates
People who share some connection, but there is no psychological value to the connection.

Collectivist cultures
Cultures where people see themselves as dependent on others with characteristics that respond to social situations, and important and involuntary social bonds.

The wish or intention of a person to stay in a relationship.

Common bond group
Groups in which the members have close personal bonds within the group.

Common ground
Shared worldview between individuals.

Common identity group
Groups in which the members have close personal ties to the group itself.

Common ingroup identity model
Categorization-based approach to prejudice reduction asserting that a common ingroup identity will improve intergroup attitudes.

Commons dilemma
A dilemma in which individual interests are served by using a resource but collective interests suffer because the resource is depleted.

Communication accommodation theory
Extension of speech accommodation theory, asserting that people modify their speech style and nonverbal behaviours in conversations to suit the context.

The transfer of information from one individual to another, or from one group to another.

Companionate love
Love characterized by a deep caring and affection for another person.

Comparison level for alternatives
People’s expectations about the costs and benefits they might receive if they were in a different relationship.

Comparison level
People’s expectations about the level of costs and rewards based on previous relationships.

The idea that people seek out traits in potential relationship partners that complement, or add what is missing, to their own.

The process of doing as one is asked or as one is required by regulations.

Computer-mediated communication (CMC)
Communication via the use of computer networks.

A member of the research team who poses as a real participant and is instructed to interact or respond in a predetermined way.

Configural model of person perception
Asch’s model of person perception, which argues that central traits play a greater role in determining the final impression.

Confirmation bias
The tendency to notice or search for information that confirms one’s beliefs and not notice (or even ignore) information that disconfirms one’s beliefs.

The convergence of one’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours with an external standard.

When one (or more) IVs are related to another causal variable, so it is impossible to tell which variable is having an effect.

Conjunction fallacy
The tendency to pay insufficient regard to base rates due to the representativeness heuristic.

Information about the extent to which other people react in the same way to a particular stimulus.

Information about the extent to which a person reacts in the same way to a stimulus on many other occasions.

Construct validity
The association between a measure and an outcome that the measure is designed to predict.

Contact hypothesis
Theory of prejudice reduction, which proposes that prejudice and conflict between groups can be reduced by bringing them together.

Contact theory
Originally Allport’s conception that bringing members of opposing groups together will improve intergroup relations, reduce prejudice and reduce discrimination.

Le Bon argued that this process leads to ideas being ‘spread’ unpredictably and rapidly through crowds.

Contingency theory of leadership
Theory arguing that leadership success is dependent on how task related or relationship oriented the leader is, and the amount of influence they have over the group.

Control condition
In an experiment, the control group is similar to a condition in which the IV is manipulated, except that the ‘ingredient’ that is hypothesized to influence the DV is missing.

Control theory of self-regulation
Theory of the self proposing that people test the self against private standards and regulate their behaviours to meet these standards.

Convenience sampling
Taking a group of participants from an available subgroup (e.g., undergraduate participants).

Conversation analysis (CA)
The study of talk in interactions, which attempts to describe the structure and patterns of conversation.

Interactions between individuals encompassing both verbal and nonverbal communication.

Conversion theory
Moscovici’s cognitive account of how members of the majority process minority messages.

Decisions that sacrifice the person’s interests for the sake of the group.

Cooperative principle
The principle that people follow a set of rules that enable communication to function effectively.

Correlational research
Examines the relationships or associations between variables.

Correspondence bias (or fundamental attribution error)
People’s tendency to overattribute causes to a person and infer that if a person behaves in a particular way, it must be because of some underlying trait.

Correspondent inference
The attribution of a personality trait that corresponds to an observed behaviour.

Correspondent inference theory
Theory arguing that people attempt to infer whether a person’s action is caused by internal dispositions and they do so by looking at factors related to the action.

Counterfactual thinking
Imagining alternatives to reality.

Covariation model
Kelley’s (1967) model of causal attribution, which argues that people typically attribute the cause of behaviour to a factor that covaries most clearly with the behaviour.

Covariation principle
The attribution of events to conditions that tend to be present when the event happens, and absent when the event does not happen.

Critical social psychology
An alternative to mainstream (often termed experimental) social psychology arguing that mainstream social psychology is limited by its focus on ‘universals’ of human nature, which do not exist.

Cross-cutting categories
Subgroups that represent categories that have members outside the immediate larger group.

Crossed categorization
Categorizing oneself or someone else on more than one dimension at the same time can decrease the perception of differences between groups.

A means of achieving complex, labour-intensive tasks by recruiting many people to contribute to the tasks over the internet.

Cultural frame switching
Because languages are learned in different cultural settings, different knowledge structures are learned and this influences thought.

Culture of honour
A culture in which honour and reputation, especially of men, is held to be important, and in which violence is seen as a justified means of defending one’s honour.


Information, observations, measurements or responses that are collected, scientifically analysed and interpreted.

Data mining
The process of automatically searching large volumes of data for patterns.

Participants are informed about the purpose, aims and hypotheses of the research.

Group members emphasize individual (personal) differences rather than group identity.

In social psychology, deception is a case where the participants are misled about the purpose of the research or some aspect of the research.

Decisions that pursue the person’s interests at the expense of the group.

Describing a group as less than human – typically with an animal or machine metaphor.

The tendency for people in groups, or people who are anonymous in some way, to abandon normal constraints on their behaviour and behave in a deregulated manner.

Demand characteristics
Aspects of a study that participants may interpret as ‘demanding’ a particular response.

Dependent variable (DV)
In an experiment, the DV is the variable that is measured and is hypothesized to be influenced by the IV.

Depressed entitlement effect
The tendency for women, when given the chance to determine their own pay in an experimental task, to pay themselves less than men.

Reductions in negative emotions to violence that ensue from repeated exposure to violent stimuli. Because negative emotions help deter people from aggression, desensitization can lead to increased levels of aggression.

Diary study
A research method that requires participants to keep track of their daily activities or events for a particular period of time.

Diffuse status characteristics
Attributes not directly relevant to the group task but positively valued in society.

Diffusion of responsibility One explanation why bystanders do not intervene is the perception that someone else will.

Direct reciprocity
The case where a person incurs personal cost to reward a person who has cooperated with them personally. Both altruistic punishment and indirect reciprocity encourage people to cooperate rather than defect.

If there is seemingly no relationship between a specific cause and a specific behaviour, the cause is discounted in favour of another.

Discourse analysis (DA)
Analysis of an entire communicative event located in a particular sociohistoric context.

Negative treatment of a group member simply because of their group membership.

Discursive psychology
Language is viewed as social action, through which people construct their social world.

Displaced aggression
Aggression that is aroused by one source but directed at another.

Display rules
Cultural rules governing the appropriateness of expressing emotions in particular contexts.

Information about the extent to which a person reacts in a particular way to a particular stimulus or reacts the same way to many other stimuli.

Distributive justice
Concern with the justness of the outcomes that people receive.

The tendency for people to be able to tolerate mutually inconsistent beliefs by isolating them from each other in memory.

Door-in-the-face technique
A persuasive technique that involves the persuader making a large and unrealistic request before making a smaller, more realistic request that is likely to be successful.

Double-blind procedure
Procedure in which neither experimenter nor participant have knowledge of the experimental conditions.

Downward social comparison
The act of comparing oneself with someone who is perceived to be worse on the relevant dimension.

A negative state of tension associated with an unsatisfied need and motivates efforts to satisfy the need.

Dual process model
A model that advocates for two processes leading to a psychological outcome. For example, the elaboration likelihood model and heuristic-systematic model assert that there are two routes to persuasion.


Ego depletion
The notion that self-control and willpower are a finite resource that can be used up.

The measure of electrical activity in the heart.

The measure of electrical activity in the muscles.

Emblems (quotable gestures)
Gestures that replace or substitute for verbal communication.

Embodiment (embodied social cognition)
An area of study where research shows broadly that bodily states influence attitudes, social perception and emotion.

Emergent norm theory
Theory of crowd behaviour which argues that rather than being a product of randomness and process loss, behaviour in crowds is a result of social norms.

Brief, specific psychological and physical responses to an object or event.

Empathic concern
An emotional reaction to the suffering of others which results from taking their perspective, and which is thought by many researchers to motivate helping behaviour.

The ability of people to take the perspective of others.

Empathy-altruism hypothesis
Hypothesis that when people feel empathy for others, they will be more likely to help that person at a personal cost to the self.

The manufacture, storage, chemistry and biological function of hormones within the body.

The feature of a group that makes it appear a distinct unit that is bound together.

Equality principle
The principle that resources should be distributed equally.

Equity principle
The principle that the outcomes people receive should be proportional to their merit and contribution.

Equity theory
The theory that people are most satisfied with relationships in which the cost–reward ratio is approximately the same for both parties.

Ethics committee
A committee that evaluates the ethicality of research proposals and judges whether they are appropriate to investigate.

Preference for one’s own group, and features of one’s own group, over others.

A method used for understanding ‘hidden’ social norms by analysing people’s accounts and descriptions of their day-to-day activities.

The study of animal behaviour.

Evaluation apprehension
Concern about being evaluated by observers when performing a task.

Evaluative advertising
Advertising that focuses more on subjective opinions and evaluations.

Event-related potentials
The measure of brain response at the onset of a stimulus.

Excitation transfer
A phenomenon that occurs when the arousal from one stimulus is added to the arousal of a second stimulus. The overall arousal is misattributed to the second stimulus.

Experimental research
Examines the effect of one variable on another variable(s).

Extended contact effect
Finding that people are less prejudiced if they are friends with an ingroup member who they know to have good friendships with outgroup members.

A person’s sense that they are obligated to help others, both close and distant.

External validity/mundane realism
The similarity between the situation of the experiment and the situation in which the phenomenon/phenomena of interest occur in everyday life.

Eye contact (mutual gaze)
When two people are looking at each other’s eyes at the same time.

Eye tracking
The process of measuring either the point of gaze (that is, where a person is looking), or the motion of the eyes relative to the head.


People’s concern about their value or standing in the eyes of others.

Facial expressions
Voluntary or involuntary changes in the face that convey information to a recipient in conversation.

Factual advertising
Advertising that uses objective facts to persuade the consumer.

False consensus effect
The tendency for people to see their own behaviours, attitudes and opinions as more typical than they are.

False uniqueness effect
The tendency for people to see themselves as more likely to perform positive behaviours than others.

Feeling thermometer
A rating scale (resembling a thermometer) designed to measure feelings of ‘warmth’ or ‘coldness’ towards people of different groups.

Feelings-as-information perspective
Theory proposing that people often rely on their feelings – often gut instincts – to guide important social judgements.

Field experiment
An experiment that is set up in the ‘real world’. Participants are typically unaware that they are participating in an experiment.

Field study
A type of observational study where the researcher goes into the field to observe naturalistic behaviour.

File drawer effect
The phenomenon whereby studies are not submitted for publication because they either yield non-significant results or results that run contrary to established research findings.

Foot-in-the-door technique
A persuasive technique in which a person makes a small and unobtrusive request before making the larger request of interest.

Force field analysis
Gestalt framework developed by Kurt Lewin to explain human dynamics.

Prior knowledge of a persuasion attempt that often renders the persuasion attempt less effective.

Frames of reference
The range of possible positions/ attitudes/behaviours that people could adopt in a given situation. People use these frames of reference to guide their own thoughts and actions.

Free rider effect
The tendency for people to take advantage of a shared resource without having made an appropriate contribution.

An aversive state that is triggered when individuals are prevented from achieving a goal they are pursuing.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)
A type of neuroimaging scan used by social psychologists to measure the change in blood flow that occurs in the brain during social tasks.


Looking at another person’s eyes.

Gender roles
Shared expectations about how women and men are supposed to behave.

General aggression model (GAM)
Model describing the situational and personality variables that combine to produce human aggression.

Gestalt psychology
Approach proposing that objects are viewed in a holistic sense.

Gestalt psychology
Approach proposing that objects are viewed in a holistic sense. Relevant to attributions, people attempt to understand events or behaviours as a whole by understanding their underlying causes.

Hand and arm movements that accompany verbal communication.

Graduated and reciprocated initiatives in tension reduction (GRIT)
A conflict reduction technique that relies on both groups reciprocating a series of de-escalating actions.

Collection of morphological, syntactic and semantic rules that govern the production and comprehension of a language.

Grammatical gender
Organization of nouns along masculine, feminine and neutral dimensions.

Great person theory
Theory of leadership asserting that leaders have an ideal combination of personality traits that enables them to be effective.

Group action
Behaviour by group members that is coordinated in order to achieve a common goal.

Group behaviour
Behaviour displayed by people who are acting within, and as, a group.

Group cohesion
The extent to which a group holds people to one another (and the group as a whole), which gives the group a sense of unity and commonality.

Group polarization
Group interaction strengthens the initial leanings of group members so that attitudes (and decisions) become polarized.

Group socialization
The process of groups as a whole and group members coming together to meet each other’s needs and accomplish goals over time.

Two or more people who define themselves as a group (having a sense of ‘us’) and who are also recognized by at least one other person.

Group-value model
Model explaining that people care about the status and respect they receive within their social groups. The fairness of outcomes (distributive justice) and the processes (procedural justice) are an indicator of their status.

The mode of thinking that groups engage in when cohesion seems more important than making the right decision and considering alternatives.


Hate crime
An aggressive and illegal act against a person or persons that is motivated by prejudice towards the group to which they belong.

Helping behaviour
An action that is performed to help another person.

Heuristic processing
Processing of a persuasive message that occurs when people use heuristics or cognitive ‘shortcuts’.

Hindsight bias
The tendency for people to exaggerate how much they could have predicted the outcome after it happened.

Hindsight bias/the ‘I knew it all along’ effect
The tendency for people to see an outcome as inevitable once the actual outcome is known.

Hostile media bias
People’s tendency to view counterattitudinal media as biased and untrustworthy.

Hostile sexism
Traditionally sexist view of women that is characterized by the belief that they pose a threat to men’s position.

Publicly supporting an attitude or behaviour and yet behaving in a manner that is inconsistent with the attitude or behaviour.

Predictions that are tested empirically.


Ideal self
How a person would like to be.

Interrelated and widely shared sets of beliefs that typically relate to social or political contexts.

The speech act that is performed by an utterance.

Illusion of control
The belief that we have more control over the social world than we actually do.

Illusory correlation bias
An exaggerated perception of a correlation between two variables. In intergroup relations, the perception that a behaviour is more frequently displayed by a minority than a majority group, when the behaviour is displayed equally by both groups, in proportional terms.

Imagined contact effect
Merely imagining positive encounters with people of minority groups will make people feel more positive towards that group.

Immanent justice reasoning
The superstitious attribution of good and bad outcomes to unrelated good and bad deeds.

Implicit Association Test (IAT)
Reaction time test that measures the strengths of automatic associations between mental representations of objects (concepts) in memory.

Implicit self-esteem
Unconscious, spontaneous or automatic evaluation of the self.

People who threaten the group by fraudulently claiming to be members.

Impression management
People manage the self they present to others, so that they appear to others in the best possible light.

Not articulated; difficult or impossible to articulate.

Independent variable (IV)
In an experiment, the IV is the variable that is manipulated and is hypothesized to cause a specific outcome in the dependent variable.

Indirect language
Use of language in which the intended meaning is not stated explicitly yet is commonly understood.

Indirect reciprocity
This involves incurring a personal cost in order to reward a person who has cooperated with other group members.

Individualist cultures
Cultures where people see themselves as independent entities with independent characteristics and voluntary social bonds.

The process of differentiating between people. This is essentially the opposite of deindividuation.

Informational influence
Social influence that comes about because people wish to be correct and accurate and therefore accept information from others.

Informed consent
Participants need to indicate their willingness to participate in research after being fully informed about what the research involves.

A persuasive technique that involves making the persuasive target like you in order to persuade them.

Term used to describe groups we belong to.

Injunctive norms
Norms that are perceived as being approved of by other people.

Instrumental conditioning
A form of learning whereby a behaviour followed by a positive response is more likely to be repeated.

Interaction effect
Different causes may interact with each other to produce changes in a dependent variable (A and B interact to bring about changes in C).

Intergroup anxiety model
Model arguing that people expect negative outcomes when they interact with, or anticipate interaction with, outgroups.

Intergroup sensitivity effect
The tendency to prefer criticism to come from within the group than from an outsider.

Internal validity/experimental realism
The extent to which a researcher can be confident that the variable of interest produced the results.

Interpersonal distance
The closeness between one person and another.

Used in applied social psychology, these are efforts to change people’s behaviour.

Intimacy groups
Groups that are closely tied together (e.g., family groups).

Intuitive theories
Theories people have about human thought and behaviour that arrive from ‘intuition’. These are also called ‘lay theories’ because they relate to how everyday people think about thought and behaviour.

Ironic monitoring
The idea that monitoring mental content for signs of unwanted thoughts can ironically activate the unwanted thought.


This is said to exist when people treat each other as they are entitled or deserve to be treated.


Kin selection
Acting differently towards members of the same species depending on their degree of genetic relatedness to the self. Kin selection can deter animals from mating, for example, but can encourage them to act altruistically.


A set of sounds that convey meaning because they are organized according to a set of rules.

Linguistic expectancy bias
Interpersonal version of the linguistic intergroup bias, whereby people describe expected behaviours abstractly and unexpected behaviours concretely.

Linguistic intergroup bias (LIB)
The tendency for people to describe ingroup positive and outgroup negative behaviours abstractly, but to describe ingroup negative and outgroup positive behaviours concretely.

Non-ambiguous (literal) meaning of an utterance.

A grouping of emotions, behaviours and cognitions that a person can experience in intimate relationships.

Lowball tactic
A persuasive technique that involves the persuader changing the terms of the agreement during the interaction by introducing hidden costs. The target accepts the change because they have already made a commitment to the action.


Individual differences variable associated with the tendency to manipulate others for personal gain.

Magical thinking
Thinking based on non-rational assumptions about the ability of events to affect each other in ways that cannot be accounted for by the known laws of physics.

Manipulation check
In an experiment, the researcher takes an additional measure to ensure that the manipulation of an IV has had the desired effect.

Marginal group members (‘deviants’)
People who deviate too far from prototypical group members and group norms.

Masculine generic language
Use of masculine words such as ‘man’ and ‘mankind’ to represent people in general.

Matched guise technique
Technique used to measure attitudes about a speaker based on the speaker’s language use.

Matching phenomenon
The tendency for individuals to choose as partners people who are a similar match to themselves in terms of their physical attractiveness.

Mean world syndrome
Exaggerated perceptions of the frequency of violence and antisocial behaviour that may follow from the consumption of violent media material.

Conflicting parties seek an end to the conflict by negotiating with the aid of a third (independent) party.

This occurs when the relationship between two variables is explained by a third variable (A causes B and B causes C).

Mere exposure effect
The more exposure we have to a stimulus, the more we tend to like it.

Mere presence
Social facilitation effects need not necessarily be competitive. The simple presence of others is enough to facilitate behaviour.

The content and method of the persuasive effort – ‘what’.

A technique in which the results of many studies are combined and analysed together.

Research methods and their underlying assumptions.

Minimal group paradigm
Experimental manipulation that tests the effects of mere categorization on behaviour.

Minority social influence
Social influence processes whereby a minority group (in terms of numbers or power) changes the attitudes of a majority group.

This occurs when the relationship between two variables depends on a third variable (A causes C, but is also dependent on levels of B).

Modern racism
Subtle and less aggressive form of prejudice based on race.

Moral credentialing
Demonstrating one’s credentials (e.g., to be not prejudiced) often means that people will express more prejudice.

Moral reasoning
The extent to which people compare their own needs with overarching moral standards.

Mortality salience
The awareness of one’s own inevitable death.

Motivated social cognition
Acquisition, processing and storage of information that is motivated and affected by goals (Kunda, 1990). A person’s goal may be simply to be accurate, and motivated social cognition leads them to unbiased conclusions. However, the term ‘motivated social cognition’ normally refers to social cognition that is biased by goals. In other words, it refers to the processes by which ‘people are capable of believing what they want to believe’ (Jost, Glaser, Kruglanski and Sulloway, 2003).

Motivated tactician
Social cognitive approach that characterizes people as having various cognitive strategies to choose from – they choose on the basis of personal motives, needs and goals.

Motivational impairment effect
The ironic tendency for the motivation to hide deceit to make concealing deceit less effective.

The ideology that diversity in a society should be acknowledged and celebrated.

Multiple role theory
Theory asserting that it is beneficial for a person’s health and wellbeing to have multiple self-identities.

Mutual differentiation model
Model arguing that people are committed to some subordinate groups and experience ‘distinctiveness threat’ when a superordinate identity looks as though it may replace distinctive subordinate groups.


Naive scientist
Heider (1958a) argued that ordinary people are scientific, rational thinkers who make causal attributions using similar processes to those of scientists.

Individual differences variable characterized by extremely high but insecure levels of self-esteem.

Need for cognition (NFC)
An individual’s need to think, assessed by self-reports of how much they enjoy and derive fulfilment from thinking.

Need for cognitive closure (NFCC)
The extent to which an individual is closed-minded, desiring quick and/or certain answers to questions and resistant to ambiguity or disconfirmation.

Need principle
The principle that the focus should be on what people need to survive and thrive.

Need to affiliate
The motive to seek and maintain relationships with others.

Negative face
A person’s wish not to be bothered.

Negativity bias
The common finding that negative traits are weighted more heavily than positive traits.

Nonverbal communication
Everything that communicates a message but does not include words.

Nonverbal sensitivity
Ability to discern other people’s thoughts, feelings and intentions from their nonverbal behaviour.

Norm of reciprocity
In relationships, this is the norm that if people are to take, they must also give.

Normative influence
Social influence that comes about because people wish to gain the social approval (or avoid disapproval) from others.

Nudge theory
Theory of social influence arguing that people’s behaviour can be shifted relatively easily and cheaply in a more socially desirable direction, by relatively small, subtle situational cues.


The process of doing as one is told by an authority figure.

The view of women as being represented by their bodies.

Observational learning
Individuals’ attitudes (and behaviours) are influenced by observing others.

Opinion-based groups
Groups that are formed around shared opinions.

Optimal distinctiveness
People like to feel unique as individuals but at the same time they feel the need to affiliate with others. They need to find the optimal balance between these needs.

Ought self
How a person thinks they should be.

Term used to describe groups we do not belong to.

Output equity
People like everyone to pull their weight on tasks but generally perceive that others loaf.


Also known as simplicity, this is the extent to which an explanation is simple rather than complex. Simpler explanations are preferred in science, because as explanations contain more parts, the chances that one part is false increase (see also the conjunction fallacy, which we discuss later in this chapter).

Participant observation
Research technique in which researchers observe natural behaviour without intervening. It is often referred to as the field study method.

Partner regulation
Actively attempting to change one’s partner to make them closer to one’s ideal.

Passionate love
Love characterized by intense emotional and physical feelings for another person.

Perceptual fluency
The relative ease of mental operations.

Peripheral cues
Persuasive features of a message, such as models, slogans and jingles, that do not require substantial processing.

Peripheral route to persuasion
Processing of a message that occurs when people do not have the ability and motivation to attend to the message carefully and evaluate its arguments, leading to people being persuaded by peripheral cues.

Peripheral traits
Traits that have lesser influence on how people configure their impressions of others.

The unintended effects of an utterance.

Person perception/impression formation
The study of how people make judgements about others, and the information used to make these judgements.

Personal need for structure (PNS)
A person’s preference for structure and clarity in most situations, and level of annoyance experienced by ambiguity.

The process by which a message changes a person’s attitudes or behaviours.

Physical aggression
Behaviour intended to cause physical harm to another living being.

Physical attractiveness stereotype
The tendency for people to assume that physically attractive people possess other socially desirable traits such as warmth and intelligence.

Pluralistic ignorance
A situation where a majority of group members privately reject a norm, but assume (incorrectly) that most others accept it.

Pluralistic ignorance
The phenomenon whereby people wrongly assume, based on others’ actions, that they endorse a particular norm.

Processes by which communicators frame their conversations in order to save the face of their interlocutors.

Positive face
A person’s wish to be liked.

Positive feedback bias
The process of giving more positive feedback (or less critical feedback) on work believed to have been performed by a minority group member rather than a majority group member.

Positive psychology
A movement within psychology that emphasizes how positive aspects of human nature and experience can be enhanced. It is informed by the philosophical position of humanism, which assumes that human nature is ultimately good.

Positive social psychology
Branch of social psychology that focuses on what makes people happy and what contributes to life satisfaction.

An intentional departure from previously dominant approaches of enquiry, emphasizing that apparent realities are only social constructs and are therefore subject to change.

The distinction between what a speaker’s words literally mean and the speaker’s intended meaning.

A negative, affective prejudgement about a group and its individual members.

Primacy effect
Bias in person perception such that people remember (and assign the most importance to) the traits they observe first.

Exposure to stimuli that activate a mental representation of a particular concept, value, goal or object.

Prisoner’s dilemma
Simulated social dilemma used in social psychological research. ‘Prisoners’ have to choose between confessing or not, risking a heavy or light sentence for them and a partner.

Private self-awareness
Awareness of private, personal aspects of the self.

Private self-consciousness
Chronic private self-awareness and concern about private aspects of the self.

Procedural justice
Concern with the fairness of the processes used to distribute justice.

The process whereby people attribute their own characteristics (e.g., attitudes, emotions) to others.

The perception of the body’s position and movement.

Prosocial behaviour
An action that is positively valued by society.

‘Fuzzy’ sets of characteristics that define a group and distinguish it from other groups.

Proximity/propinquity effect
Being or living close to others can facilitate attraction and relationship formation.

Psychological literacy
A set of skills including critical thinking, ethics and social responsibility.

A personality disorder characterized by impaired moral conscience, lack of empathy for others, and sensitivity to fearful and negative stimuli.

Public goods dilemma
A dilemma in which individuals are better off if they do not contribute but the group as a whole is worse off.

Public self-awareness
Awareness of the public aspects of the self and how these aspects may be seen by others.

Public self-consciousness
Chronic public self-awareness and concern about how one looks and is evaluated by others.

Publication bias
The tendency for researchers to report positive results (or those that show a significant finding) differently from those that show negative results (or those that show non-significant findings).


Qualitative methodology
Research approach based on interpretations of data generally obtained by observation, use of archives, or interviews. Data are typically verbal (e.g., spoken or written words), but interpretations of pictures, movement and other behaviours may feature in qualitative research.

Quantitative methodology
Research approach based on the systematic measurement of events or phenomena and the statistical analysis of data.


Type of social influence where people are encouraged to strike out at a society that they are led to believe is fundamentally wrong or immoral.

Random assignment
In an experiment, participants are allocated randomly to groups to avoid any potential effects of participant characteristics (e.g., age, gender) being overrepresented in one group and influencing the results.

Random sampling
Taking a random group of participants from a population (e.g., giving every British adult the chance to participate in a study of British attitudes towards the government).

Deliberately reacting against an influence attempt.

Reactance or negative attitude change
A negative reaction to an influence attempt that threatens personal freedom. This reactance increases resistance to persuasion.

Realistic group conflict theory
Theory of intergroup conflict that explains intergroup behaviour with respect to the need to secure scarce resources.

Rebound effect of thought suppression
The finding that after suppressing an unwanted thought, it can come back stronger than before.

Group members emphasize a common ingroup.

Received pronunciation (RP)
Standard, high status spoken accent.

Recency effect
Bias in person perception such that people remember (and assign the most importance to) traits they observe most recently.

Reciprocal altruism
Animals act altruistically towards members of the same species that have already helped them. This principal gives animals an incentive to help other animals, because it heightens the prospects that they will be rewarded.

Reciprocity principle
A persuasive technique that involves ‘doing a favour’ for a person before asking them to do something for you.

Referent informational influence
Social influence to conform to a group norm because adherence to the group norm defines the person as a group member.

Regulatory focus theory
Theory asserting that people have two distinct self-regulatory systems – promotion, which makes people more approach oriented in constructing the self, and prevention, which makes people more cautious and avoidant in constructing the self.

Reinforcement affect model
This model of attraction posits that we like people who are present when we experience positive feelings.

Relative deprivation
The perception that, relative to others, one is not receiving good treatment or experiencing desired outcomes.

The extent to which the way a variable is measured is likely to yield consistent results.

Representativeness heuristic
A cognitive shortcut where people are placed in categories based on their similarity or resemblance to the category.

Research question
A question that guides the research that is conducted.

Reverse discrimination
Sometimes, people will attempt to deflect accusations of prejudice by being openly or publicly prejudiced towards people in minority groups.

Reverse scoring
A technique used in questionnaires to ensure that participants think about their responses.

Right-wing authoritarianism
An individual differences variable characterized by authoritarian submission, authoritarian aggression and conventionalism.

Ringelmann effect
The observation that as group size increases, individual effort on the task decreases.

Risky shift
The finding that groups seem to make riskier decisions than individuals.


The process of selecting participants for a study.

Saying is believing effect
The tendency for a person’s memory for individuals, groups or events to be influenced by what they have said about them.

Scarcity technique
A persuasive technique emphasizing (truthfully or not) the rareness of the item in question, thus increasing its attractiveness to the target.

A cognitive structure that represents information about a concept, its attributes and its relationship to other concepts.

A group divides into subgroups that differ usually in terms of their attitudes or values.

Scientific discipline
A branch of study that involves the gathering of data to test hypotheses that are derived from theories.

Scientific method
A method that involves the formulation of hypotheses, based on theory and research, and the testing of those hypotheses.

Secure attachment style
Attachment style distinguished by trust, less concern about being left alone and a secure feeling of being worthy and liked.

Selective avoidance
People’s tendency to filter out information that is inconsistent with their pre-existing attitudes. This increases resistance to persuasion.

Restoring positive self-views when faced with cognitive dissonance.

The motivation to know objectively who we are.

The psychological state of being aware of one’s characteristics, feelings and behaviours.

Cognitive process of categorizing oneself as a group member.

Self-concept clarity
The extent to which self-schemas are clearly and confidently defined, consistent with each other, and stable across time.

The complete set of beliefs people have about themselves.

Willingness to share information about oneself and one’s feelings with another person.

Self-discrepancy theory
Theory that focuses on people’s perceptions of the discrepancies between their actual self and their perceived and ought selves. The theory examines emotional responses to these discrepancies.

The motivation to seek out information that allows one to see one’s self in a positive light.

A person’s subjective appraisal of the self as intrinsically positive or negative.

Self-evaluation maintenance model
Theory explaining how people are able to maintain their self-esteem in situations where they engage in upward social comparisons.

People control how they present themselves, depending on the person (individual differences) and the situation.

Self-perception theory
Theory that people learn about the self by examining their own thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

People make deliberate efforts to create an impression (usually favourable) of themselves to others.

The attempt to match behaviour with an ideal or ought standard of the self.

Beliefs about oneself that help people process self-relevant information.

A problem arising when results in a study become difficult to interpret because participants with certain attitudes or characteristics disproportionately select themselves to participate in the research.

Self-serving attribution bias
Motivated by self-enhancement motives, this is the tendency for people to attribute events to causes that serve the self.

Self-serving attribution bias
Self-other bias, whereby people make internal attributions for positive aspects of the self but external attributions for negative aspects of the self.

Self-serving beliefs
The tendency for people to see themselves more positively (and experience more positive outcomes) than others.

Self-serving bias
Attributional biases that favour the self in order to enhance or protect the self.

The motivation to seek out information that confirms one’s view of the self.

Semantic rules
Rules that determine the meaning of sounds and words.

A monoamine neurotransmitter found in the gut, blood and central nervous systems of humans and other animals. It is involved in the regulation of sleep, appetite and mood. Depressed levels or function of serotonin are associated with increased levels of aggression.

Beliefs about differences between men and women, the roles they perform, and beliefs concerning the appropriateness of these differences.

Sleeper effect
A message that is not persuasive at first (probably due to concerns about source credibility) becomes persuasive over time as the source is forgotten.

Social aggression
Behaviour intended to cause harm to another person’s emotional or social wellbeing without inflicting physical injury.

Social cognition
The study of the cognitive underpinnings of social thought and social behaviour.

Social cognitive neuroscience
Study of processes in the brain that allows people to understand others and themselves, and to successfully navigate the social world.

Social comparison theory
Theory of the self arguing that to learn about, and define, the self, people compare themselves with other people.

Social constructionism
Approach emphasizing the way social phenomena develop in social contexts.

Social creativity
Preserving a positive self-image by identifying and giving weight to dimensions on which they are superior to the high status group.

Social creativity
Strategies that group members engage in to maintain the esteem of the group.

Social dilemmas
Situations in which the interests of the individual are at odds with the interests of the group.

Social dominance orientation
An individual differences variable that measures people’s preference for hierarchy within any social system.

Social exchange theory
How we feel about our relationships depends on our perception of the rewards we gain from the relationship and costs we incur. We also evaluate whether or not we could have a ‘better’ relationship.

Social facilitation
The process by which the presence of others can facilitate behaviour.

Social identity complexity
The extent to which a person’s important social identities or group memberships overlap with each other.

Social identity model of deindividuation effects (SIDE)
Theory of deindividuation phenomena arguing that such phenomena are largely a result of increased group focus rather than a loss of individual focus.

Social identity
The aspect of our self/identity that is determined by our group memberships.

Social identity theory
The theory of group membership and intergroup relations arguing that personal identities and group memberships complete people’s sense of self.

Social influence
The effects that other people can have on our thoughts, feelings and behaviours.

Social inhibition
The process by which the presence of others can hinder behaviour.

Social intellect
Set of skills involving the ability to infer people’s emotions, motives, intentions and personality, and the ability to communicate the same information about the self.

Social learning
People acquire their attitudes (as well as behaviours) often from others.

Social loafing
The tendency for people’s performance to decrease in a group when they are not individually responsible for their actions.

Social markers
Features of language use that convey information about a speaker’s characteristics.

Social norms
Uniformities of behaviour and attitudes that determine, organize and differentiate groups from other groups.

Social ostracism
Being excluded from a group by the consensus of the group.

Social psychology
A branch of psychology dedicated to the study of how people think about, influence and relate to each other.

Social reflection
Ability to derive self-esteem from the successes and achievements of close others, without thinking about one’s own achievement on a particular domain.

Social representations
Socially shared beliefs or widely shared ideas and values associated with our cultures.

Social representations theory
Theory that beliefs about the social world are formed through processes of social interaction.

Social roles
Expectations shared by group members about how particular people in the group are supposed to behave.

Social value orientation
The extent to which an individual is ‘pro-self’ or ‘prosocial’, which determines the extent to which people will be cooperative.

Socialization outcomes
These relate to how members of the group feel about how they functioned to reach the group’s purpose. The most prominent outcome is group cohesion.

Sociometer theory
Theory of self-esteem arguing that people are motivated to maintain high levels of self-esteem and do this by ensuring they are socially included.

The origin of the persuasive effort – ‘who’.

Specific status characteristics
Attributes directly relevant to the group task.

Speech accommodation theory
Theory asserting that people modify their speech style in conversations to suit the context.

Speech act theory
Theory proposing that speakers use language to perform specific actions.

Speech convergence
Speech-style shift towards that of the listener.

Speech divergence
Speech-style shift away from that of the listener.

Spontaneous trait inference
People sometimes spontaneously infer others’ traits from their behaviour without intending to, or being aware.

Spurious correlation
When two variables have no direct connection but it is wrongly inferred they do, because of coincidence or the presence of a third (unseen) factor.

Statistical significance
The measure of the probability that a given finding could have occurred by chance.

Shared evaluations of the ‘prestige’ of roles within a group, the members of the group, or the group as a whole.

A simplified but widely shared belief about a characteristic of a group and its members.

Stereotype lift
The reverse of stereotype threat. Fulfilling a positive stereotype leads to enhanced performance.

Stereotype threat
Fear of being judged in terms of a stereotype and negatively fulfilling the stereotype. Stereotype threat leads to poorer performance on a task.

Stigma by association
The tendency for people to devalue someone because of their association with a stigmatized individual.

Strange situation
Procedure designed to observe attachment relationships between carer and child.

Strength model of self-control
Theory arguing that self-control cannot be maintained for an unlimited period of time and needs to be replenished.

Smaller groups nested within a larger group.

Subjective uncertainty
Uncertainty about who we are and what we are supposed to do, which is alleviated by identification with groups.

Subliminal conditioning
Classical conditioning that occurs outside the learner’s conscious awareness.

Model of cognitive algebra assuming that the overall impression that is formed is the total valence of all the pieces of information.

Superordinate goal
A goal that two (or more) groups can aspire to but that can only be achieved by working together in cooperation.

Symbolic interactionism
Researchers from this perspective investigate how people create meaning through social interaction, how they construct and represent the self and how they define situations when they are with others.

System justification theory
Theory that people’s dependence on social systems for wealth and security motivates them to justify these social systems and see them as fair.

System justification theory
Theory that people’s dependence on social systems for wealth and security motivates them to justify those social systems and see them as fair.

Systematic processing
Processing of a persuasive message that occurs when people pay careful attention to a message.


The recipient or audience of the persuasive effort – ‘to whom’.

Task groups
Groups that come together temporarily to achieve a specific goal.

Temporal comparison
The act of comparing oneself with the way one was in the past, or with an anticipated future self.

Terror management theory
Theory proposing that human awareness of death creates a constant source of ‘existential anguish’ that must be dealt with.

A steroid hormone found in both sexes of many animals, but in amounts roughly 10 times higher in men than in women. It is associated with increased bone and muscle mass. Studies suggest it may be associated with increased risk taking, selfishness and aggression.

That’s-not-all technique
A persuasive technique that involves the persuader making a request but afterwards throwing in some ‘added extras’ to pressure the target to reciprocate.

The male warrior hypothesis
The argument that men who are effective warriors have had an advantage in accessing mates and thus passing on their genes. As a result, through evolutionary processes, men have acquired a psychological makeup that predisposes them to warlike behaviour.

A set of principles that aim to explain a phenomenon.

Theory of conversational implicature
Grice’s theory argues that people are able to understand each other and communicate effectively because they follow various ‘rules’ of conversation.

Theory of planned behavior
Theory concerning how attitudes predict behaviour. It argues that several factors, including subjective norms, attitudes towards the behaviour and perceived behavioural control, determine behavioural intentions concerning the behaviour, and, in turn, intentions strongly determine whether the behaviour is performed.

Theory of reasoned action
Predecessor to the theory of planned behaviour. It did not take perceived behavioural control into account as a predictor of intentions.

Third-person effect (TPE)
The tendency for people to assume that the media have a greater influence on others than on the self.

Thought experiment
The process of thinking about a principle and its consequences.

Performing positive actions towards members of minority or disadvantaged groups as a reaction to the discrimination they suffer. Tokenism may be a genuine attempt to counteract prejudice, or an attempt to deflect the charge of prejudice.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation
Technique that induces weak electric currents in the brain to allow the study of brain function.

Tripartite model of attitudes
A model of the structure of attitudes which assumed that attitudes have three components: cognitive, affective (emotional) and behavioural.

Twin studies
Quasi-experimental studies in which similarities in the behaviour of monozygotic (identical) twins are compared to those between other siblings such as dizygotic (non-identical) twins. Behaviours can be seen as heritable if they are shared significantly more among monozygotic twins. Stronger evidence of a genetic component comes from studies of twins reared apart.


Ultimate attribution error
Tendency to attribute positive ingroup and negative outgroup behaviours dispositionally, and positive outgroup and negative ingroups behaviours situationally.

Universal norm
The culturally universal tendency to use more formal, polite language with people who are higher in status than ourselves, or higher in social distance from ourselves.

Unrealistic optimism
The tendency for people to see themselves as more likely than others to experience good things, and less likely than others to experience bad things.

Upward social comparison
The act of comparing oneself with someone who is perceived to be better on the relevant dimension.

Complete units of speech in spoken language.


Enduring beliefs about important aspects of life that go beyond specific situations.

Late 19th-century precursor to social psychology. The study of ‘the collective mind’.


‘Warrior gene’
A gene responsible for regulating the manufacture of monoamine oxidase A (MAO-A). Some 34 per cent of the population carry this gene, which has been associated with a heightened incidence of psychopathy and aggression among ethnically European samples.

Weighted averaging
Model of cognitive algebra assuming that people assign weights of importance to different traits in different contexts and form an overall impression of a person based on a weighted average.


Yale approach to communication and persuasion
Approach that considers the three factors that influence persuasion – message, source and audience.