AP Psychology Unit 9 Notes: Social Psychology

February 13, 2024
AP Psychology Study Notes: Unit 9

Use these AP Psychology notes to prepare for your exam and review what you learned about Social Psychology. We’ll give you an overview of what happened in Unit 9, including key terms and people you should know for the test. These AP Psychology study notes should be used to supplement what you’re learning in your AP Psych class. More study strategies and expert tips can be found in our latest AP Psychology Test Prep Book.

AP Psychology: Unit 9 Summary

This social psychology unit addresses several important theories that influence how human beings behave in groups, and how group membership impacts our thinking and behavior. Some of the most well-known and influential psychological research studies are described and discussed in this unit.

Social psychology is a broad field devoted to studying the way that people relate to others. Our discussion will focus on the development and expression of attitudes, people’s attributions about their own behavior and that of others, the reasons why people engage in both antisocial and prosocial behavior, and how the presence and actions of others influence the way people behave.

A major influence on the first two areas we will discuss, attitude formation and attribution theory, is social cognition. This field applies many of the concepts you learned about in the field of cognition, such as memory and biases, to help explain how people think about themselves and others. The basic idea behind social cognition is that, as people go through their daily lives, they act like scientists, constantly gathering data and making predictions about what will happen next so that they can act accordingly.

AP Psychology: Unit 9 Key Terms & People

Below, we describe some of the Unit 9 key terms and people you should review ahead of the AP Psychology exam.

  • Attitude: An attitude is a set of beliefs and feelings. We have attitudes about many different aspects of our environment such as groups of people, particular events, and places. Attitudes are evaluative, meaning that our feelings toward such things are necessarily positive or negative.
  • Cognitive dissonance theory: Cognitive dissonance theory is based on the idea that people are motivated to have consistent attitudes and behaviors. When they do not, they experience unpleasant mental tension or dissonance.
  • Compliance strategies: Often people use certain strategies to get others to comply with their wishes. Such compliance strategies have also been the focus of much psychological research. Suppose you need to borrow $20 from a friend. Would you be better off asking him or her for $20 right away, asking the friend first for $5 and then following up this request with another for the additional $15, or asking him or her for $100 and, after the friend refuses, asking for $20?
  • Attribution theory: Attribution theory is another area of study within the field of social cognition. Attribution theory tries to explain how people determine the cause of what they observe. For instance, if your friend Charley told you he got a perfect score on his math test, you might find yourself thinking that Charley is very good at math.
  • Fundamental attribution error: When looking at the behavior of others, people tend to overestimate the importance of dispositional factors and underestimate the role of situational factors. This tendency is known as the fundamental attribution error.
  • Stereotypes: Stereotypes may be either negative or positive and can be applied to virtually any group of people (e.g., racial, ethnic, geographic). For instance, people often stereotype New Yorkers as pushy, unfriendly, and rude and Californians as easygoing and attractive.
  • Prejudice: Prejudice is an undeserved, usually negative, attitude toward a group of people. Stereotyping can lead to prejudice when negative stereotypes (those rude New Yorkers) are applied uncritically to all members of a group (she is from New York, therefore she must be rude) and a negative attitude results.
  • Discrimination: While prejudice is an attitude, discrimination involves an action. When one discriminates, one acts on one’s prejudices. If I dislike New Yorkers, I am prejudiced, but if I refuse to hire New Yorkers to work in my company, I am engaging in discrimination.
  • Contact theory: One theory about how to reduce prejudice is known as the contact theory. The contact theory, as its name suggests, states that contact between hostile groups will reduce animosity, but only if the groups are made to work toward a goal that benefits all and necessitates the participation of all. Such a goal is called a superordinate goal.
  • Social facilitation: A number of studies have illustrated that people perform tasks better in front of an audience than they do when they are alone. They yell louder, run faster, and reel in a fishing rod more quickly. This phenomenon, that the presence of others improves task performance, is known as social facilitation.
  • Conformity: Conformity has been an area of much research as well. Conformity is the tendency of people to go along with the views or actions of others.
  • Obedience studies: While conformity involves following a group without being explicitly told to do so, obedience studies have focused on participants’ willingness to do what another asks them to do.
  • Norms: All groups have norms, rules about how group members should act.
  • Group polarization: Group polarization is the tendency of a group to make more extreme decisions than the group members would make individually. Studies about group polarization usually have participants give their opinions individually, then group them to discuss their decisions, and then have the group make a decision.
  • Groupthink: Groupthink, a term coined by Irving Janis, describes the tendency for some groups to make bad decisions. Groupthink occurs when group members suppress their reservations about the ideas supported by the group. As a result, a kind of false unanimity is encouraged, and flaws in the group’s decisions may be overlooked.
  • Philip Zimbardo: One famous experiment that showed not only how such conditions can cause people to deindividuate but also the effect of roles and the situation in general, is Philip Zimbardo’s prison experiment. Zimbardo assigned a group of Stanford students to either play the role of prison guard or prisoner. All were dressed in uniforms and the prisoners were assigned numbers. The prisoners were locked up in the basement of the psychology building, and the guards were put in charge of their treatment. The students took to their assigned roles perhaps too well, and the experiment had to be ended early because of the cruel treatment the guards were inflicting on the prisoners.

Next, test your AP Psychology Unit 9 knowledge using our free Key Terms Worksheets!