Affective forecasting

Predicting how one will feel in the future after some event or decision.


A core personality trait that includes such dispositional characteristics as being sympathetic, generous, forgiving, and helpful, and behavioral tendencies toward harmonious social relations and likeability.


A motivation for helping that has the improvement of another’s welfare as its ultimate goal, with no expectation of any benefits for the helper.

Anecdotal evidence

An argument that is based on personal experience and not considered reliable or representative.

Archival research

A type of research in which the researcher analyses records or archives instead of collecting data from live human participants.

Arousal: cost–reward model

An egoistic theory proposed by Piliavin et al. (1981) that claims that seeing a person in need leads to the arousal of unpleasant feelings, and observers are motivated to eliminate that aversive state, often by helping the victim. A cost–reward analysis may lead observers to react in ways other than offering direct assistance, including indirect help, reinterpretation of the situation, or fleeing the scene.


A way of thinking or feeling about a target that is often reflected in a person’s behavior. Examples of attitude targets are individuals, concepts, and groups.


The psychological process of being sexually interested in another person. This can include, for example, physical attraction, first impressions, and dating rituals.

Autobiographical reasoning

The ability, typically developed in adolescence, to derive substantive conclusions about the self from analyzing one’s own personal experiences.


A behavior or process has one or more of the following features: unintentional, uncontrollable, occurring outside of conscious awareness, and cognitively efficient.

Availability heuristic

A heuristic in which the frequency or likelihood of an event is evaluated based on how easily instances of it come to mind.

Basking in reflected glory

The tendency for people to associate themselves with successful people or groups.

Big data

The analysis of large data sets.

Big Five

A broad taxonomy of personality trait domains repeatedly derived from studies of trait ratings in adulthood and encompassing the categories of (1) extraversion vs. introversion, (2) neuroticism vs. emotional stability, (3) agreeable vs. disagreeableness, (4) conscientiousness vs. nonconscientiousness, and (5) openness to experience vs. conventionality. By late childhood and early adolescence, people’s self-attributions of personality traits, as well as the trait attributions made about them by others, show patterns of intercorrelations that confirm with the five-factor structure obtained in studies of adults.

Blind to the research hypothesis

When participants in research are not aware of what is being studied.

Bystander intervention

The phenomenon whereby people intervene to help others in need even if the other is a complete stranger and the intervention puts the helper at risk.


Persuasion that employs direct, relevant, logical messages.

Chameleon effect

The tendency for individuals to nonconsciously mimic the postures, mannerisms, facial expressions, and other behaviors of one’s interaction partners.


The cultural trend in which the primary unit of measurement is the group. Collectivists are likely to emphasize duty and obligation over personal aspirations.

Complex experimental designs

An experiment with two or more independent variables.


Changing one’s attitude or behavior to match a perceived social norm.

Correlational research

A type of descriptive research that involves measuring the association between two variables, or how they go together.

Cost–benefit analysis

A decision-making process that compares the cost of an action or thing against the expected benefit to help determine the best course of action.

Counterfactual thinking

Mentally comparing actual events with fantasies of what might have been possible in alternative scenarios.

Cover story

A fake description of the purpose and/or procedure of a study, used when deception is necessary in order to answer a research question.

Cross-cultural psychology

An approach to researching culture that emphasizes the use of standard scales as a means of making meaningful comparisons across groups.

Cross-cultural studies

An approach to researching culture that emphasizes the use of standard scales as a means of making meaningful comparisons across groups.

Cultural differences

An approach to understanding culture primarily by paying attention to unique and distinctive features that set them apart from other cultures.

Cultural intelligence

The ability and willingness to apply cultural awareness to practical uses.

Cultural psychology

An approach to researching culture that emphasizes the use of interviews and observation as a means of understanding culture from its own point of view.

Cultural relativism

The principled objection to passing overly culture-bound (i.e., “ethnocentric”) judgements on aspects of other cultures.

Cultural script

Learned guides for how to behave appropriately in a given social situation. These reflect cultural norms and widely accepted values.

Cultural scripts

Learned guides for how to behave appropriately in a given social situation. These reflect cultural norms and widely accepted values.

Cultural similarities

An approach to understanding culture primarily by paying attention to common features that are the same as or similar to those of other cultures


A pattern of shared meaning and behavior among a group of people that is passed from one generation to the next.

Culture of honor

A culture in which personal or family reputation is especially important.

Demand characteristics

Subtle cues that make participants aware of what the experimenter expects to find or how participants are expected to behave.

Dependent variable

The variable the researcher measures but does not manipulate in an experiment.

Diffusion of responsibility

When deciding whether to help a person in need, knowing that there are others who could also provide assistance relieves bystanders of some measure of personal responsibility, reducing the likelihood that bystanders will intervene.

Directional goals

The motivation to reach a particular outcome or judgment.


Discrimination is behavior that advantages or disadvantages people merely based on their group membership.

Downward comparisons

Making mental comparisons with people who are perceived to be inferior on the standard of comparison.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

The tendency for unskilled people to be overconfident in their ability and highly skilled people to underestimate their ability.

Durability bias

A bias in affective forecasting in which one overestimates for how long one will feel an emotion (positive or negative) after some event.

Ecological validity

The degree to which a study finding has been obtained under conditions that are typical for what happens in everyday life.


Sigmund Freud’s conception of an executive self in the personality. Akin to this module’s notion of “the I,” Freud imagined the ego as observing outside reality, engaging in rational though, and coping with the competing demands of inner desires and moral standards.


A motivation for helping that has the improvement of the helper’s own circumstances as its primary goal.

Electronically activated recorder (EAR)

A methodology where participants wear a small, portable audio recorder that intermittently records snippets of ambient sounds around them.

Empathic concern

According to Batson’s empathy–altruism hypothesis, observers who empathize with a person in need (that is, put themselves in the shoes of the victim and imagine how that person feels) will experience empathic concern and have an altruistic motivation for helping.

Empathy–altruism model

An altruistic theory proposed by Batson (2011) that claims that people who put themselves in the shoes of a victim and imagining how the victim feel will experience empathic concern that evokes an altruistic motivation for helping.


The uniquely human form of learning that is taught by one generation to another.

Ethnocentric bias

Being unduly guided by the beliefs of the culture you’ve grown up in, especially when this results in a misunderstanding or disparagement of unfamiliar cultures.

Ethnocentric bias or ethnocentrism

Being unduly guided by the beliefs of the culture you’ve grown up in, especially when this results in a misunderstanding or disparagement of unfamiliar cultures.

Ethnographic studies

Research that emphasizes field data collection and that examines questions that attempt to understand culture from its own context and point of view.

Evaluative priming task

An implicit attitude task that assesses the extent to which an attitude object is associated with a positive or negative valence by measuring the time it takes a person to label an adjective as good or bad after being presented with an attitude object.

Experience sampling methods

Systematic ways of having participants provide samples of their ongoing behavior. Participants' reports are dependent (contingent) upon either a signal, pre-established intervals, or the occurrence of some event.

Experimental method

A method in which one or more independent variables are manipulated to test the effects on dependent variables.

Explicit attitude

An attitude that is consciously held and can be reported on by the person holding the attitude.

False memories

Memory for an event that never actually occurred, implanted by experimental manipulation or other means.

Field experiment

An experiment that occurs outside of the lab and in a real world situation.

Fixed action patterns

Sequences of behavior that occur in exactly the same fashion, in exactly the same order, every time they are elicited.

Fixed mindset

The belief that personal qualities such as intelligence are traits that cannot be developed. People with fixed mindsets often underperform compared to those with “growth mindsets”


Any member of a lineup (whether live or photograph) other than the suspect.

Foot in the door

Obtaining a small, initial commitment.

Frog Pond Effect

The theory that a person’s comparison group can affect their evaluations of themselves. Specifically, people have a tendency to have lower self-evaluations when comparing themselves to higher performing groups.

Functional distance

The frequency with which we cross paths with others.

Fundamental attribution error

The tendency to emphasize another person’s personality traits when describing that person’s motives and behaviors and overlooking the influence of situational factors.

Growth mindset

The belief that personal qualities, such as intelligence, can be developed through effort and practice.


A component of the prosocial personality orientation; describes individuals who have been helpful in the past and, because they believe they can be effective with the help they give, are more likely to be helpful in the future.


Prosocial acts that typically involve situations in which one person is in need and another provides the necessary assistance to eliminate the other’s need.


A mental shortcut or rule of thumb that reduces complex mental problems to more simple rule-based decisions.

Hot cognition

The mental processes that are influenced by desires and feelings.


A possible explanation that can be tested through research.


Sometimes used synonymously with the term “self,” identity means many different things in psychological science and in other fields (e.g., sociology). In this module, I adopt Erik Erikson’s conception of identity as a developmental task for late adolescence and young adulthood. Forming an identity in adolescence and young adulthood involves exploring alternative roles, values, goals, and relationships and eventually committing to a realistic agenda for life that productively situates a person in the adult world of work and love. In addition, identity formation entails commitments to new social roles and reevaluation of old traits, and importantly, it brings with it a sense of temporal continuity in life, achieved though the construction of an integrative life story.

Impact bias

A bias in affective forecasting in which one overestimates the strength or intensity of emotion one will experience after some event.

Implicit Association Test

An implicit attitude task that assesses a person’s automatic associations between concepts by measuring the response times in pairing the concepts.

Implicit association test (IAT)

A computer-based categorization task that measures the strength of association between specific concepts over several trials.

Implicit measures of attitudes

Measures of attitudes in which researchers infer the participant’s attitude rather than having the participant explicitly report it.

Independent self

The tendency to define the self in terms of stable traits that guide behavior.

Independent variable

The variable the researcher manipulates and controls in an experiment.

Individual differences

Psychological traits, abilities, aptitudes and tendencies that vary from person to person.


The cultural trend in which the primary unit of measurement is the individual. Individualists are likely to emphasize uniqueness and personal aspirations over social duty.

Interdependent self

The tendency to define the self in terms of social contexts that guide behavior.

Kin selection

According to evolutionary psychology, the favoritism shown for helping our blood relatives, with the goals of increasing the likelihood that some portion of our DNA will be passed on to future generations.

Laboratory environments

A setting in which the researcher can carefully control situations and manipulate variables.

Levels of analysis

Complementary views for analyzing and understanding a phenomenon.

Local dominance effect

People are generally more influenced by social comparison when that comparison is personally relevant rather than broad and general.

Manipulation check

A measure used to determine whether or not the manipulation of the independent variable has had its intended effect on the participants.

Mastery goals

Goals that are focused primarily on learning, competence, and self-development. These are contrasted with “performance goals” that are focused on the quality of a person’s performance.

Mere-exposure effect

The notion that people like people/places/things merely because they are familiar with them.

Misinformation effect

A memory error caused by exposure to incorrect information between the original event (e.g., a crime) and later memory test (e.g., an interview, lineup, or day in court).

Mock witnesses

A research subject who plays the part of a witness in a study.

Mood-congruent memory

The tendency to be better able to recall memories that have a mood similar to our current mood.

Motivated skepticism

A form of bias that can result from having a directional goal in which one is skeptical of evidence despite its strength because it goes against what one wants to believe.


The finding that increasing the number of competitors generally decreases one’s motivation to compete.

Narrative identity

An internalized and evolving story of the self designed to provide life with some measure of temporal unity and purpose. Beginning in late adolescence, people craft self-defining stories that reconstruct the past and imagine the future to explain how the person came to be the person that he or she is becoming.

Naturalistic observation

Unobtrusively watching people as they go about the business of living their lives.

Need for closure

The desire to come to a decision that will resolve ambiguity and conclude an issue.

Need to belong

A strong natural impulse in humans to form social connections and to be accepted by others.

Negative state relief model

An egoistic theory proposed by Cialdini et al. (1982) that claims that people have learned through socialization that helping can serve as a secondary reinforcement that will relieve negative moods such as sadness.


Responding to an order or command from a person in a position of authority.

Observational learning

Learning by observing the behavior of others.

Open ended questions

Research questions that ask participants to answer in their own words.


How researchers specifically measure a concept.

Other-oriented empathy

A component of the prosocial personality orientation; describes individuals who have a strong sense of social responsibility, empathize with and feel emotionally tied to those in need, understand the problems the victim is experiencing, and have a heightened sense of moral obligations to be helpful.

Participant variable

The individual characteristics of research subjects - age, personality, health, intelligence, etc.

Perceived social support

The actual act of receiving support (e.g., informational, functional).


Persuasion that relies on superficial cues that have little to do with logic.

Personal distress

According to Batson’s empathy–altruism hypothesis, observers who take a detached view of a person in need will experience feelings of being “worried” and “upset” and will have an egoistic motivation for helping to relieve that distress.


A person’s relatively stable patterns of thought, feeling, and behavior.

Photo spreads

A selection of normally small photographs of faces given to a witness for the purpose of identifying a perpetrator.

Planning fallacy

A cognitive bias in which one underestimates how long it will take to complete a task.

Pluralistic ignorance

Relying on the actions of others to define an ambiguous need situation and to then erroneously conclude that no help or intervention is necessary.


An evaluation or emotion toward people based merely on their group membership.


A process by which a concept or behavior is made more cognitively accessible or likely to occur through the presentation of an associated concept.


The process by which exposing people to one stimulus makes certain thoughts, feelings or behaviors more salient.

Prosocial personality orientation

A measure of individual differences that identifies two sets of personality characteristics (other-oriented empathy, helpfulness) that are highly correlated with prosocial behavior.


The relative closeness or distance from a given comparison standard. The further from the standard a person is, the less important he or she considers the standard. When a person is closer to the standard he/she is more likely to be competitive.

Psychological reactance

A reaction to people, rules, requirements, or offerings that are perceived to limit freedoms.

Random assignment

Assigning participants to receive different conditions of an experiment by chance.

Received support

The actual act of receiving support (e.g., informational, functional)

Reciprocal altruism

According to evolutionary psychology, a genetic predisposition for people to help those who have previously helped them.


The act of exchanging goods or services. By giving a person a gift, the principle of reciprocity can be used to influence others; they then feel obligated to give back.

Redemptive narratives

Life stories that affirm the transformation from suffering to an enhanced status or state. In American culture, redemptive life stories are highly prized as models for the good self, as in classic narratives of atonement, upward mobility, liberation, and recovery.


The idea that the self reflects back upon itself; that the I (the knower, the subject) encounters the Me (the known, the object). Reflexivity is a fundamental property of human selfhood.

Representativeness heuristic

A heuristic in which the likelihood of an object belonging to a category is evaluated based on the extent to which the object appears similar to one’s mental representation of the category.

Research confederate

A person working with a researcher, posing as a research participant or as a bystander.

Research participant

A person being studied as part of a research program.


Rites or actions performed in a systematic or prescribed way often for an intended purpose. Example: The exchange of wedding rings during a marriage ceremony in many cultures.

Samples of convenience

Participants that have been recruited in a manner that prioritizes convenience over representativeness.


A mental model or representation that organizes the important information about a thing, person, or event (also known as a script).


A memory template, created through repeated exposure to a particular class of objects or events.

Scientific method

A method of investigation that includes systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses.

Self as autobiographical author

The sense of the self as a storyteller who reconstructs the past and imagines the future in order to articulate an integrative narrative that provides life with some measure of temporal continuity and purpose.

Self as motivated agent

The sense of the self as an intentional force that strives to achieve goals, plans, values, projects, and the like.

Self as social actor

The sense of the self as an embodied actor whose social performances may be construed in terms of more or less consistent self-ascribed traits and social roles.


The extent to which the self is defined as independent or as relating to others.

Self-enhancement effect

The finding that people can boost their own self-evaluations by comparing themselves to others who rank lower on a particular comparison standard.


The extent to which a person feels that he or she is worthy and good. The success or failure that the motivated agent experiences in pursuit of valued goals is a strong determinant of self-esteem.

Self-evaluation maintenance

A model of social comparison that emphasizes one’s closeness to the comparison target, the relative performance of that target person, and the relevance of the comparison behavior to one’s self-concept.

Situational identity

Being guided by different cultural influences in different situations, such as home versus workplace, or formal versus informal roles.

Slowly escalating the commitments

A pattern of small, progressively escalating demands is less likely to be rejected than a single large demand made all at once.

Social attribution

The way a person explains the motives or behaviors of others.

Social category

Any group in which membership is defined by similarities between its members. Examples include religious, ethnic, and athletic groups.

Social cognition

The way people process and apply information about others.

Social comparison

The process by which people understand their own ability or condition by mentally comparing themselves to others.

Social facilitation

When performance on simple or well-rehearsed tasks is enhanced when we are in the presence of others.

Social influence

When one person causes a change in attitude or behavior in another person, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

Social neuroscience

An interdisciplinary field concerned with identifying the neural processes underlying social behavior and cognition.

Social or behavioral priming

A field of research that investigates how the activation of one social concept in memory can elicit changes in behavior, physiology, or self-reports of a related social concept without conscious awareness.

Social proof

The mental shortcut based on the assumption that, if everyone is doing it, it must be right.

Social psychology

The branch of psychological science that is mainly concerned with understanding how the presence of others affects our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Social reputation

The traits and social roles that others attribute to an actor. Actors also have their own conceptions of what they imagine their respective social reputations indeed are in the eyes of others.

Standard scale

Research method in which all participants use a common scale—typically a Likert scale—to respond to questions.


Our general beliefs about the traits or behaviors shared by group of people.


A mental process of using information shortcuts about a group to effectively navigate social situations or make decisions.

Stigmatized group

A group that suffers from social disapproval based on some characteristic that sets them apart from the majority.

Support network

The people who care about and support a person.

Survey research

A method of research that involves administering a questionnaire to respondents in person, by telephone, through the mail, or over the internet.

Terror management theory (TMT)

A theory that proposes that humans manage the anxiety that stems from the inevitability of death by embracing frameworks of meaning such as cultural values and beliefs.

The “I”

The self as knower, the sense of the self as a subject who encounters (knows, works on) itself (the Me).

The “Me”

The self as known, the sense of the self as the object or target of the I’s knowledge and work.

The age 5-to-7 shift

Cognitive and social changes that occur in the early elementary school years that result in the child’s developing a more purposeful, planful, and goal-directed approach to life, setting the stage for the emergence of the self as a motivated agent.

Theory of mind

Emerging around the age of 4, the child’s understanding that other people have minds in which are located desires and beliefs, and that desires and beliefs, thereby, motivate behavior.

Trigger features

Specific, sometimes minute, aspects of a situation that activate fixed action patterns.

Upward comparisons

Making mental comparisons to people who are perceived to be superior on the standard of comparison.

Value-free research

Research that is not influenced by the researchers’ own values, morality, or opinions.

WEIRD cultures

Cultures that are western, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic.


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Social Psychology Copyright © by Jennifer Croyle is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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