Sociology | Society & the Individual
S230 | 3755-3756 | Von Der Haar


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 isnít
working.  I had better try something else.  Iíll drop back a little,
and the first chance I get, Iíll 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
couldnít 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.  Iíll 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 situation.

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 Zandenís 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.