We are not able to control the minds or the behaviors of others or to predict exactly what they will do in any given situation.
Human behavior is complicated because people are complicated and because the social situations that they find themselves in every day are also complex.
Social psychologists believe that the study of social behavior should be empirical—that is, .
Because social psychology concerns the relationships among people, and because we can frequently find answers to questions about human behavior by using our own common sense or intuition, many people think that it is not necessary to study it empirically (Lilienfeld, 2011).
Although it is easy to ask many questions on self-report measures, these measures have a potential disadvantage.
As we have seen, people’s insights into their own opinions and their own behaviors may not be perfect, and they might also not want to tell the truth—perhaps Sarah really likes Robert, but she is unwilling or unable to tell us so.To better understand this, let’s look at an example of how we might operationally define “Sarah likes Robert.” .Generally, because any one question might be misunderstood or answered incorrectly, in order to provide a better measure, more than one question is asked and the responses to the questions are averaged together.But the social psychological approach to understanding social behavior goes beyond the mere observation of human actions.Social psychologists believe that a true understanding of the causes of social behavior can only be obtained through a systematic scientific approach, and that is why they conduct scientific research.A fuller list can be found here: We’ll discuss the empirical approach and review the findings of many research projects throughout this book, but for now let’s take a look at the basics of how scientists use research to draw overall conclusions about social behavior.Keep in mind as you read this book, however, that although social psychologists are pretty good at understanding the causes of behavior, our predictions are a long way from perfect.For example, an operational definition of Sarah’s liking for Robert might involve asking her to complete the following measure: The operational definition would be the average of her responses across the three questions.Because each question assesses the attitude differently, and yet each question should nevertheless measure Sarah’s attitude toward Robert in some way, the average of the three questions will generally be a better measure than would any one question on its own.Social psychologists are not the only people interested in understanding and predicting social behavior or the only people who study it.Social behavior is also considered by religious leaders, philosophers, politicians, novelists, and others, and it is a common topic on TV shows.