Social Interaction Theory, Social Roles & the Presentation of Self

Social Interaction Theory, Social Roles & the Presentation of Self
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  • 0:01 Being Social
  • 0:25 Social Interaction Theory
  • 1:26 Social Roles
  • 2:54 Presentation of Self
  • 4:27 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore fundamental concepts of sociology and discover how strong our need for social groups really is. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Being Social

Humans are social creatures. Yeah, sure, we all need some alone time now and again, but really, we are meant to exist together. And being humans, we feel the need to understand anything that can have such a profound influence on us. Sociology, the academic study of social behavior, seeks to explore this major part of our existence.

Social Interaction Theory

The study of sociology revolves around the idea that we behave in distinct ways when we are in groups. Think about it - when you're alone, you act differently than when you are around other people. Social groups have their own unique sets of behaviors and attitudes. This is summed up in the social interaction theory, which looks at an individual's patterns of actions and reactions in response to other people.

According to social interaction theory, peoples' social behaviors are determined by the social pressures they encounter. What this means is that behavior is partly created in response to our surroundings, specifically our social groups. For example, a person who may normally be too shy to sing in public can change their behavior if their entire social group actively participates in karaoke. Next thing you know, this shy individual is standing on stage belting out their favorite Katy Perry song. How we interact in society can define our behaviors.

Social Roles

Another key aspect of sociology is the position of each individual in society. Your social role, your place in society, is a combination of behavior, responsibilities, rights, beliefs and social norms. All of these factors create a complex network of society. Where you fall within that network defines your social role. In some societies, social roles were very strict, and deviating from your role could be punishable by death. Medieval societies, for example, had laws that peasants had to lower their eyes to nobles because their role was to work and support the lords. Our society is much more lenient about social roles, but they still exist. What is the role of an artist versus a businessman, a teacher versus an athlete?

Everyone has a role in society, a position they are expected to fill. Sociologists examine how social groups develop, define, and maintain these social roles. While social interaction theory is more concerned with the way that an individual responds to social groups, social roles are more about the way that the group defines the individual. Like it or not, social roles come with expectations. The expectations of a society can often force people to conform to social roles whether they agree with them or not.

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