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Social Expectations: Definition & Theory

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  • 0:01 Social Influence &…
  • 0:30 Stages of Moral Development
  • 3:20 Symbolic Interactionism
  • 4:00 Expectation States Theory
  • 4:50 Stages of Socialization
  • 6:09 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Vidhi Desai
Ever wonder why we care so much about what others think of us? Let's explore the reasons and examine some theories that may have some weight on what our social expectations are.

Group of friends

Social Influences and Institutions Overview

When it comes to family and friends we are close to, we tend to care what they think of us. Our thoughts, feelings, and actions can be influenced by others; this is called social influence. Family and friends are examples of social institutions. Other social institutions are religious groups, mass media, and socioeconomic status groups. All of these can influence how we act, think, and feel. Let this be an overarching thought as we delve into some theories surrounding the idea of social expectations.

Stages of Moral Development

Lawrence Kohlberg found that there are various stages and levels of moral development:

  • The first level of moral development is referred to as preconventional morality, and it includes stages one and two.

When we are toddlers, we are taught what is right and wrong. Stage one is where we learn what is wrong because we are punished for it. For example, if Bob's mother yells at him for getting too close to the hot stove, he probably won't come that close to it again. Stage two is where we learn what is right because we are rewarded for it. If Bob's mother gets him his favorite video game for having good manners at school, he will know that it is a desirable action and will probably continue to be well-mannered.

  • The second level of moral development encompasses conventional morality, and it includes stages three and four.

When in middle school, closer groups of friends begin to form. In stage three, we want to be seen as a good person by others, so we act according to what others think is desirable. For instance, Bob doesn't cut the lunch line because if he does, he might be viewed as a bully or as an inconsiderate person, and his classmates might not want much to do with him. In stage four, we learn to obey laws and rules. When Bob starts watching the news, he sees that people who break laws go to jail. To avoid this, he learns to pay attention to what the rules are and he doesn't break them.

  • Postconventional morality is found in the third level of moral development and includes stages five and six.

In high school and beyond, we develop critical thinking skills. This is where the gray area between right and wrong comes in. Before, it was clear what was right and what was wrong. Now, things get interesting. Bob hears about a neighbor who is poor but needs medicine for his sick children. Instead of paying for the Tylenol, the neighbor steals the medicine from the local drug store. Surveillance cameras catch him, and the police become involved. Now, in stage five, Bob realizes that the law says stealing is wrong, but morally, he knows that his neighbor did the right thing to take care of his sick children. He understands that stealing is wrong but knows this doesn't make his neighbor a bad person. Bob hopes for the best for his neighbor's family.

In a history class, Bob learns about the civil rights movement. He learns about the white men who were beaten severely when they stood up for the rights of black people. Now in stage six, Bob becomes passionate and exclaims, 'I would have stood up for what was right, regardless of what race I was.'

He understands that decisions should be made to benefit everyone and that a decision made to treat someone like less than a person is the wrong one, even if most people are saying that things should be one way that is unjust and the social expectation is that everyone should agree. Those in stage six are able to follow their moral compasses. Kohlberg argued that some people never make it to stage six.

Symbolic Interactionism

This theory states that our self-concept is a result of social experiences and is based on how we think others view us. It is called symbolic interactionism because symbols, such as words and gestures, carry a lot of meaning. For example, Bob got a handshake from the most popular kid at school, so he perceived that he was a part of the in-crowd. He believed that the popular students viewed him as cool, and so he became more confident. Keep in mind that symbols can change over time - back in the day, being heavy meant that a person was wealthy. Now, it is a symbol of poor health. The expectation nowadays is that people practice good habits, such as eating right and exercising to be healthy.

Expectation States Theory

Expectation states theory states that people use available information in order to set expectations for what others can do. The two things that people use to set these expectations are:

  1. Skills and abilities
  2. Other information (such as race, age, sex, socioeconomic class, and education)

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