Sociology | Society and The Individual
S230 | 3663 | Chris VonDerHaar

In his introduction to the seventh edition of his textbook, Social
Psychology, James Vander Zanden captured the subject matter of this
course.  Written as an entry in a personal journal, he wrote:

I was driving home over a back road when I came upon a guy driving a
new Porsche.  He was going 20 miles an hour under the speed limit.
The road was winding and I could not pass him.  So I said to myself,
"What would it take to get me to speed up if I were driving that
Porsche?"  My answer was, "Tailgate him."  I then moved my car close
behind the Porsche, but it did not seem to have any effect.  I
evaluated my own act, and it seemed to me that I was gesturing in a
way that would get my point across.  So I thought, "This isn't
working.  I had better try something else.  I'll drop back a little,
and the first chance I get, I'll pass him."  When I reached an open
stretch of road that had no oncoming traffic, I accelerated and
attempted to pass him.  But the driver also speeded up so that I
couldn't get by.  Again I appraised the situation and concluded, "I
had better push the accelerator to the floor."  I did so, but the
driver speeded up to prevent my overtaking him.  Frustrated, I said to
myself, "That guy is going to get both of us killed.  I'll just drop
back of him and not try to pass."  I did so.  At this point the guy
gave me the "finger" and raced off in the Porsche.  From the example,
one can see the operation of the selfhood process.  As we engage in
social behavior, we mentally evaluate its product.  We become an
audience to our own actions.  We adopt a state of preparedness for
certain kinds of responses from other people.  We test our behavior on
an ongoing basis and revise it.  Consciousness allows us to reflect on
our behavior and to modify it in accordance with our definition of the

I have chosen this particular example to illustrate the kind of class
this will be for several reasons.  First, of all the topics covered in
this course, students have been most fascinated by the question, "Who
am I?"  And Vander Zanden's example shows how we will attempt to find
that answer.

Beyond that, I want students to grasp a feeling about how we will
approach the study of social psychology in this class.  It is one of
those subjects that you will remember fondly in recalling your college
days.  And, I believe, that is because it is a place where you begin
to understand not only yourself but, as well, the most important other
people in your life.

Building upon an understanding of the "selfhood" process, we will then
proceed to study a number of topics including socialization (how
children learn), attitudes and attitude change, interpersonal
attraction, and prejudice and discrimination.