The Value of Social Psychology: Working with Local Communities in Santiago de Cuba in 2012
It is recognized by academics and the community of practice that social psychology plays an important role in the everyday life of people, both at individual and at local community level. Recent social psychological research expresses the need to develop a better understanding of what good and effective social support for people looks like. This research report presents the outcomes of a field study by students from the Psychology Stream of the Faculty of Social Sciences of the Universidad de Oriente in Santiago de Cuba. A combination of literature review, face to face interviews and focus group meetings was applied to complete the research objectives. A number of specific approaches were identified as being most important to help members of local communities in Santiago de Cuba to resolve some of their social problems. The results suggest that members of local communities in Santiago de Cuba would benefit from adopting these approaches so they become more self-sufficient and self-confident in addressing their social issues. The findings also suggest that the management and control of emotions can play a vital role in enhancing creativity in people to find solutions to their social problems within the communities of this research. The results suggest that similar outcomes could be achieved in other communities within Cuba.
Attitude, Behavior and Social Psychology
The Faculty of Social Sciences at the Universidad de Oriente (UO) has been a centre of excellence for social sciences research for many years. The faculty and its work are well-known and respected throughout Cuba. The UO wishes to raise its profile and recognition in the area of social sciences and has therefore decided to conduct more research in the form of research programs to achieve wider local and international acclaims for its future work. The UO has gained extensive knowledge over the years in many areas such as social perception and attribution, social influence and the psychology of groups. The University has been considering for quite some time how they can apply this wide array of social psychological theories and research to everyday lives, initially, within the local communities in Santiago de Cuba. It has been difficult to find remedies for individual and societal problems within these communities. It has not always been possible to provide social psychological instruments so that the effectiveness of economic and political endeavors can be increased.
These difficulties have now been overcome through the successful completion of some social psychological research work with some local communities in Santiago de Cuba to improve their everyday lives. It appears that there is a growing need for social sciences to support local communities in Santiago de Cuba on a much wider and more in depth scale. The UO has recognized this opportunity and now wishes to engage proactively in helping communities to benefit from the work of the faculty of social sciences. Theory is important but on its own is not as effective as theory and practice put together. It was the purpose of this research to combine theory and practice for the benefit of local communities in Santiago de Cuba. Depending on funds and other resources it is possible that this work will be rolled out in future to other cities and areas in Cuba. Based on the results of this research, similar results can be expected but not guaranteed.
The actual preparatory and field work to improve the lives of local communities has now been completed. Academic staff and students from the University have applied both their theoretical and practical knowledge and applied these in real life situations, working closely with members of some selected local communities in Santiago de Cuba. The UO has made a major contribution to help solve, or at least ameliorate some social problems within these communities. This new applied research has investigated the causes of social problems and designs. It has implemented practical solutions to address the identified social problems and issues local communities have. Another objective of this research was to increase the levels of pro-social behavior of members of the local communities and measure these a few months after the completion of this research. In this context, pro-social behavior is defined as helping someone without being motivated by professional obligations and that the work is not based on an organization (except charities).
1.2. The Main Research Questions
This research also investigated possible interventions deemed necessary to improve some social issues. This research has now been completed and it is necessary to analyze, evaluate and present the outcomes from this research.. The main research questions for this current research are:
1. Does a potential shortcoming exist between theoretical knowledge and the practical applications of this knowledge in areas of social psychology?
2. How can interventions help to strengthen the validity of current theories?
3. What are the pro-social behaviors and attitudes of the local communities and how can these be developed?
4. What are the perceptions of the local community how social psychology can support them and if this can help solve social problems?
1.3 Literature Review
Social psychology can be applied in everyday life situations such as in the work place, advertising and health. In this context, social psychology is defined as the discipline within psychology that focuses on how social situations determine human behavior (Hewstone, Stroebe and Jonas, 2008). Social contexts develop whenever two or more individuals come together. As humans are a thoroughly social species, large parts of our lives take place in the company of others. We grow up in families, kindergarten and schools. We play in sport teams, attend committees and form work teams. We communicate face to face or via the telephone, letters or E-mail with family and friends, colleagues and supervisors. Social psychology is ubiquitous in our daily lives and this is why social psychology is readily applicable and has been widely applied in the real world. Applying social psychology to some of Cuba’s most pressing social problems and phenomena is developing into opportunities for social psychology to make major contributions to improve the daily life of local communities.
Buunk and Van Vugt (2008) are strong advocates of the practical application of social psychology to make contributions to the solution of societal problems. They consider that social psychology is not only a basic social science that studies the nature and determinants of human social behavior. It is also an applied discipline of almost relevance for all kinds of societal problems and issues. Today social psychological theories are frequently used in a range of scientific disciplines such as environment, business, preventative medicine and management science. It is also used in sub-disciplines of psychology such as clinical, health and industrial/organizational psychology. They further consider that social psychological processes should not be studied just in the laboratory but also in a variety of field settings and with other populations than undergraduate students. They have developed a new practical model for applying social psychology to social issues and for developing intervention programs. They refer to it as PATH methodology (Problem, Analysis, Test and Help).
A review of the social psychological literature suggests that when two or more individuals come together, a social context for individuals develops. Social psychology focuses on how social situations, for example, in local communities, determine behavior. It appears that social psychology is everywhere in peoples’ daily lives. This explains why it is readily applicable in the ‘real’ world. Early research conducted by La Piere (1934) suggests that it is not possible to predict future behavior if an individual’s attitude is known. It appears that people do not always behave in a way that is true to their beliefs. What people say and what they do may be different. Fishbein and Ajzen (1975) suggest that behavior may be more accurately predicted if people know about a person's intentions with respect to behaving in a particular way. This is the basic idea behind their theory of reasoned action which takes into account normative beliefs about appropriate and inappropriate behavior and attitudes towards the behavior.
Skinner (1974) suggests that it is valuable to identify the conditions that account for a behavior so that it is possible to change the conditions if changes in behavior are desired. The assessment of functions of behavior can yield useful information with respect to intervention strategies that are likely to be effective. He considers that operant conditioning is a process that helps people to deal with new environments. As long as individuals can see the value for them for behaving in certain ways, for example following changes in the social environment, then it will be possible to change people’s behaviors by influencing them to do so.
Kiesler, Collins and Miller (1969) consider, in the early years, that behavior is a function of attitudes, norms, habits and expectancies about reinforcement. Attitudes alone do not predict behavior. Attitudes together with norms and habits do. Reber (1995) considers that behavior is a generic term covering acts, activities, responses, reactions, movements, processes, operations and so on, in short, any measurable response of an organism. There has been a long and agonizing tradition of attempting to put some set of coherent limits on the boundaries of denotation of this term. The problem has been that as the range of phenomena included within the domain of psychology has increased, there has been a need to expand the boundaries of what can be legitimately called behavior.
Davenport (1999) suggests that human capital comprises all the intangible assets that people bring to their jobs. It's the currency of work, the specie that workers trade for financial and other rewards. It consists of knowledge (command of a body of facts); skill (facility, developed through practice, with the means of carrying out a task); talent (inborn facility for performing a task) and behavior (observable ways of acting that contribute to accomplishing a task.
Allport (1935) considers that attitudes help people to understand the world around them, protect their self-esteem, help them adjust in a complex world and allow them to express their fundamental values (the things that are important to them). He suggests that people can only have an attitude towards a concept that is understood. This view was validated by Katz (1960) who suggests that people tend to act consistently towards an object, for example, if people show respect towards a person, they also are likely to support/follow this person in areas such as political support, invite to dinner, and so on. Their attitude towards this person is thus associated with other similar related social areas.
Maio and Haddock (2010) suggest that attitudes are important. They influence how we view the world, what we think and what we do. They suggest that differences in valence and strength play an important role in understanding the ways in which attitudes influence how we process information and how we behave. Attitudes can also help us express our values, identify with people we like and protect ourselves from negative feedback. They further consider that knowing the primary function of an attitude is important because attempts at attitude change are more likely to be successful when a persuasive appeal matches the function of the attitude.
Ajzen (2005) investigates, for example, why people say one thing and do another, why they behave inconsistently from one situation to another and how people translate their beliefs and feelings into actions. He examines recent innovations in the assessment of attitudes and personality, the implications of those innovations for prediction of behavior, the difference between spontaneous and reasoned processes, and finally, the most recent research on the relations between intentions and behavior. He considers that how we evaluate others can change rapidly depending on events and as new information becomes available about a person or an issue.
Ivancevich and Matteson (1992) suggest that attitudes are determinants of behavior because they are linked to perception, personality and motivation. An attitude is a mental state of readiness, learned and organized through experience, exerting a specific influence on a person’s response to people, objects and situations with which it is related. People have attitudes on numerous topics such as politics and friends. The definition of attitude has certain implications for managers: attitudes are learned, define one’s predispositions towards given aspects of the world, provide the emotional basis of one’s interpersonal relations and identification with others and are organized and close to the core of personality. The behavioral component of an attitude refers to the tendency of a person to act in a certain way towards someone or something. From a managerial perspective, understanding employee attitudes and the cognitions and affect that help shape those attitudes, is important in predicting behavior and in modifying attitudes.
Hodgetts et al. (2010) suggest that social psychology has been around for some time as an applied area of the human sciences that attempts to meet the needs of people in society. Social psychology can also be exciting, particularly when we involve ourselves in the events in the world. Social psychologists have a long history of getting involved in social issues. It appears that social psychology and those contributing to its development can be influenced by, and influence, circumstance. Social psychology is maturing. The discipline is increasingly reaching beyond notions of psychology as science and deeper into the social sciences and humanities. Many social psychologists find themselves working as value-oriented and engaged individuals pursuing socially just outcomes through research and practice.