Social psychology is the study of how people's thoughts. emotions, perceptions and behaviour are influenced by their interactions with others. Essentially, it refers to how behaviour changes as a result of social context, whether the presence of others have governed behaviour.
Of course we should still consider that individual differences and personality may be at play as the cause of a change in behaviour. Perhaps you may be thinking that this does not apply to you, that your behaviour holds regardless of the social situation. But be assured, that this happens to ALL OF US and the reason you are unaware of this is that often it occurs without our conscious knowledge. Think of how you behave in a job interview, is it different to how you would normally behave towards your friends? The answer is likely to be a resounding yes.
So why is this the case?
As humans we respond to the subjective interpretation of a situation; what it means to us on a personal level. Hence, individuals can react to physical settings in a different way and change overtime as we experience it differently. Situations are powerful enough to override our personalities and principles that we have built up over our lives. Ironically enough, the more unknown the situation, the LESS we rely on our past habitual ways of responding and MORE on what we believe to be societal norms.
When we have no basis for referral to our previous actions, in some ways, we have no choice but to think of what is socially expected in that situation and simply behave accordingly. We usually adapt our behaviours to the demands of the social situation, especially so in new situations where we take our cues through the observation of others in the same setting.
Impact of Environment
The effect that an environment can have should not be understated. You may be wondering can social factors really cause that much of a shift in behaviour? Think of peer pressure, would it be as forceful as it is if social factors did not wield that much power?
The environment we place ourselves in can cause us to behave out of character, make us conform to behaviour that we previously disagreed with on a molecular level. What is even scarier is that such forces often happen without us knowing about them, we act differently and simply assume that our attitudes have shifted and fail to consider the possible impact the environment has placed on us.
This is why it is possible for perfectly moral individuals to commit heinous crimes when thrusted into a moulding and brainwashing environment. Many a times, these individuals start off like everyone but then as they find themselves trapped in a corrupt environment. They gradually begin to conform to the behaviour observed around them, abandoning their previously held principles that had gotten them there in the first place. Self-awareness
Let's face it, the only way to negate the factors of the environment, is to be more self-aware to understand how various contextual elements can affect your behaviour. It is only through understanding our potential triggers can we mitigate the change we experience.
We need to understand ourselves; our strengths, weaknesses and even potential vices. Doing so will put you in good stead to guard yourself against the situational elements that are upon you,
We need to be conscious of the effect that different social situations bring so that we can not only prepare of them but also be in more control of the change. Change is a wonderful thing, but we need to be the DRIVER of change and not let change drive us.