Social psychology is the study of the dynamic relationship between individuals and the people around them. Each of us is different, and our individual characteristics, including our personality traits, desires, motivations, and emotions, have an important impact on our social behavior. But our behavior is also profoundly influenced by the social situation—the people with whom we interact every day. These people include our friends and family, our classmates, our religious groups, the people we see on TV or read about or interact with online, as well as people we think about, remember, or even imagine.
Social psychologists believe that human behavior is determined by both a person’s characteristics and the social situation. They also believe that the social situation is frequently a stronger influence on behavior than are a person’s characteristics.
Social psychology is largely the study of the social situation. Our social situations create social influence—the process through which other people change our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and through which we change theirs. Maybe you can already see how social influence affected Raoul Wallenberg’s choices and how he in turn influenced others around him.
Kurt Lewin formalized the joint influence of person variables and situational variables, which is known as the person-situation interaction, in an important equation:
Behavior = f (person, social situation).
Lewin’s equation indicates that the behavior of a given person at any given time is a function of (depends on) both the characteristics of the person and the influence of the social situation.