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Social Influences on Behavior

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There are many contributing factors that can influence an individual’s behavior, and social psychology helps us understand the manner by which individuals think and how that thought is influenced as it relates to other individuals. Behaviorism is one of the four major schools of psychology that strives to explain the means by which behavior can be learned and developed through environmental factors. “In psychology there have been countless experiments on social behavioral patterns in different sized groups to better assess how individuals will react in a situation with social pressure. These experiments prove a variety of different reactions, from minimal change to extreme changes in social behavior. ”. (Kowalski & Westen, 2011) These studies are vital when attempting to evaluate certain circumstances with the use of group behavior, however, these studies cannot always prepare an individual for all circumstances.

Social behavior changes from day to day, and these changes often go unseen either because the change is to be expected or because it may be thought of as innocent. Some examples where this change can happen would be sexual arousal, lying and stereotyping; all which can be influenced by an individual’s environment or circumstance. Behavior is influenced by external factors as early as childhood, as during an individual’s childhood they develop their behavior on the basis consequences; when they are punished they tend to stray from such behavior whereas when they are rewarded they tend to mimic the behavior that earned them such reward. Obedience is one example of how behavior is affected by consequences, whereas a child acts out of the consideration of proper conduct is punished and a child that conducts themselves within the accordance of proper conduct they are rewarded.

Obedience is the act of carrying out commands in compliance to authority. Stanley Milgram conducted a study in which obedience was measured to an authority through the stimulus of electric shock. These shocks were administered by the subjects to other individuals. Even though the subjects knew that the administering the shocks was the wrong thing to do they did so anyways due to the presence of an authority figure. (Kowalski & Westen, 2009) This experiment proved that how an individual could exhibit blind obedience even when it opposes their beliefs. Obedience is not to be confused with conformity as obedience is influenced by authority and conformity is influenced by social pressure.

A prime example of obedience would be that of Adolf Eichmann, a logistics genius in the Nazi regime who played his part in the slaughter of over six millions Jewish men, women and children during the holocaust. When he was tried for his crimes in 1961 he asked why the Jewish population was so angry at him, as he was merely following the orders of his superior. He claimed that “The orders were, for me, the highest thing in my life and I had to obey them without question”. (McLeod, 2007) Jewish individual were also selected by the Nazi soldiers to carry out orders. They did so through the influence of the Nazi authority as well as the threat of death to them and their families. (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 2011). Of course, there are other external aspects that can alter social behavior besides the harshness of authority.

Another contributing factor that can alter social behavior would be that of the consumption of alcohol. Unlike that of obedience, behavior is influenced by the environmental actions of the individual rather that of another. The behavior when consuming alcohol becomes a result of individual desire rather than individual need. When an individual goes out to a bar with their friends, they tend to behave differently before consumption. Once the individual has consumed a few alcoholic beverages they begin to act differently depending on their personal reaction to the alcohol. Some people get quiet and reserved and become unsociable, some “unwind” and become more sociable, some get angry, some get sad and others get happy. Alcohol influences behavior through its ingredients as all alcohol is made with ethyl alcohol which is efficiently metabolized by the human body. Once the alcohol is consumed it lays in the stomach until it is absorbed into the bloodstream. Once inside the bloodstream is circulates through the entire body affecting all areas that contain water.

The more alcohol an individual consumes the more alcohol that would be in the individual’s bloodstream raising Blood-Alcohol Concentration (BAC). The BAC is not the only factor in deciding how alcohol affects behavior as body weight and sex have been known to be factors of consideration as well. Body weight plays a vital role in determining how much alcohol it would take to intoxicate and individual; someone who weighs 200 lbs. would be less intoxicated than that of someone who is 100 lbs. having consumed the same amount of alcohol. Tolerance is another factor to consider as well, meaning the alcohol is not so easily absorbed into the bloodstream. (“Alcohol And Its Effects On Behavior”, 2015). A person will most likely behave in a most uncommon manner when under the influence of alcohol as their judgment would be hindered, their speech might be slurred and their vision could be impaired.

Other aspects to consider is the setting in which the alcohol is consumed (group or individual) and the environment in the alcohol is consumed (public or private) as someone who is with other people might act a certain way in order to remain sociable because they are among others. One of the associated phenomenon of alcohol consumption would be amnesia which can happen after one blacks out due to excessive consumption of alcohol. Behavior can be easily influenced by an environmental effect of several environmental effects and it is very important for an individual to define themselves throughout society.

However this does not grant permission to base themselves on a group of people, such stereotyping is one of the evils that plague this world today. Obedience is an honorable trait to possess to a point as losing one’s self for the sake of obedience is self-destructive. There is nothing wrong with drinking alcohol with friends, however it should be done so with moderation so as not to let affect one’s self. Even if a general opinion is manifestly wrong, in a group setting many will conform to the idea to possibly maintain harmony within a social setting (Kowalski & Westen, 2009).


Alcohol and Its Effects on Behavior. (2015). Retrieved from
http://www.addictioninfo.org/articles/1890/1/Alcohol-and-Its-Effects-on-Behavior/Page1.html Kowalski, R. & Westen, D. (2009). Psychology (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Kowalski, R, & Westen, D (2011). Psychology (6th ed.)

McLeod, S. (2007). Obedience to Authority. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/obedience.html United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. (2011). Introduction to the holocaust. Retrieved March 19, 2011, from http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005143

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