To What Degree Can Sociology Understand and Predict Social Behavior?
It cannot be stated that sociology can perfectly predict human social behavior due to variances that can occur based on external influences as well as changes brought about through outside events. However, it can get rather close to approximating how people can potentially react based on observed behavior.
Human behavior is, in a sense, predictable due to established patterns that influence their responses and mannerisms to stimuli (Croteau and Hoynes 5). It has been proven that people are driven by particular wants and desires, and this affects how they interact with each other. This notion is extended towards social groups wherein their potential actions are predicted based on the wants and desires of the group as a whole (Goel and Goldstein 87).
This method of approximation is the product of information accumulation wherein countless observations have been combined to produce theorems that help to explain social behavior. This is, in essence, the very heart of the science of sociology since it is composed of numerous observations that have revealed patterns in how people act and react with one another. It this history of observation that gives sociology its credibility to understand, generalize, and predict social behavior since the method of analysis that it performs is backed by a history of observed behavior and the scientific method.
However, it should be noted that the degree that it is capable of predicting human social behavior is limited based on the scenarios that sociological theories utilize. As human social behavior changes based on the evolution of society itself, new situations arise that require the development of new sociological theories to explain them. However, this does not imply that social behavior can change to the extent that all sociological theories become useless over time.
In What Specific Ways is Human Behavior Predictable?
As indicated earlier, human social behavior is predictable to an extent based on what can be defined as predisposed inclinations. Simply put, people tend to have physical, emotional, and social predispositions that are an inherent aspect of what defines them as being human (Tucker 11). This allows sociologists to reasonable predict social behavior based on these preferences to a certain extent.
For example, the concept of irrational exuberance is defined as the tendency of people to model their actions on the behavior of other people. While this may seem to be an illogical action that many individuals would protest against having done, there are instances that show this to be true. This was seen in “Beatle Mania” (the popularization of the Beatles from the 1960s to the 1970s) and the current popularity enjoyed by many celebrities.
Irrational exuberance is, in essence, an extension of the social predisposition towards group behavior wherein people model their actions based on that of the group. If a group says something is popular, there is a tendency for individuals belonging to that group to orient their mindset towards accepting what is good for the group as being something they should consider beneficial for themselves as well. This type of behavior falls under “group dynamics” which is defined as a system of practices as well as psychological processes that are inherent to social groups within a particular society.
In fact, the study of group dynamics even extends to how different social groups interact with one another, and the resulting impact this could have on society as a whole. Through the analysis of group dynamics and predisposed social behaviors, sociologists can reasonably predict how certain groups will act when presented with a particular event. However, this capacity to predict how certain groups react is inherently limited to how sociologists perceive particular social groups.
For example, during natural disasters, one of the more common predictions of human social behavior is the breakdown of boundaries that prevent a person from committing criminal acts. This is due to the perceived “higher need” for survival wherein looting food from a store becomes justified due to the circumstances involved. Examples of this can be seen in numerous instances around the world such as Hurricane Katrina in the United States and Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines where multiple instances of looting and disorderly conduct were noted when it came to obtaining food.
Comparatively, when the 2011 tsunami hit Japan, news broadcasts showed orderly lines of individuals when it came to getting food and other supplies and no evidence of looting whatsoever. This behavior was examined by sociologists, and it was determined that it was the collectivist orientation of Japanese society that instilled a predisposition towards order despite the chaos of a natural disaster. What this example shows is that communities differ significantly from one another, and this influences the type of behavior that manifests.
In What Specific Ways is Human Behavior Unpredictable?
While sociological theories can help to explain generalized human behavior, it cannot account for all possible iterations and, as such, human behavior can be described as being unpredictable in individual cases (Mabry and Turner 280). This perspective on the unpredictability of behavior also fails to consider behavior nuances on an individual level. Just as different human responses make up the totality of group dynamics in a sociological setting, the same can be said about society influencing people on an individual level.
For instance, in Japan, the social setting has a distinct collectivist approach that affects individuals within the country to progress towards group thinking and subservience to the group. However, there are cases where extreme individualism occurs in the form of the “hikikomori” (e.g. Japan’s shut-ins) who eschew all societal contact and stay in their rooms. This significant divergence from the Japanese social norm shows that not all societies can be generalized under a specific theorem or description.
The group dynamic in most cultures is composed of numerous groups, with the interactions between them creating what is known as societal culture. It is the innumerable amount of interactions, combined with the uniqueness of individual behaviors and societal outliers, that make human social behavior both predictable and unpredictable. As such, sociology cannot be stated as being an exact science; rather, it is more accurate to declare that it is capable of giving a close approximation of how people could potentially act when presented with a particular situation.
Taking all of the factors that have been mentioned into consideration, it can be stated that human behavior is both predictable and unpredictable with sociology only being able to give a generalized account of how such practices combine to create observable group dynamics. Do note though that even 100 years ago the science of sociology did not even exist and, as such, predicting the behavior of society as a whole in that time period was considered to be impossible.
However, sociology has been progressing since then which has increased the accuracy of predictions. It is possible that in the future, sociology would become far more accurate through the use of more precise tools and theorems resulting in a clearer picture of how social movements, interactions, and influences manifest and influence society as a whole.
Main Point of Structural Functionalism
Structural functionalism can be viewed as a concept that perceives different societies as consisting of complex systems. These systems are composed of individual parts that work together to stabilize and create a semblance of structure to society. As such, society itself can be considered as an amalgam of different elements that form a functioning whole (Croteau and Hoynes 19). One possible analogy to this is to view society as a body that consists of individual organs that make it work (i.e. heart, lungs, and brain). In essence, social structures such as societal norms, customs, religion, different traditions, and even institutions work together to help society function (Meacham 83).
There is no implicit agreement in place among these various structures; rather, it is more accurate to state that each contributes towards the stability of society as a whole by fulfilling a particular function that ensures the continued existence of the community (Braun 416). In fact, structural-functionalism even advocates that society itself can be described as an ever-evolving organism whose different roles have developed as a result of evolutionary changes that have occurred in society over the centuries. It is this state of constant evolution that has helped to create the various complex societies that can be seen in the present.
Main Point of Symbolic Interactionism
On the other end of the spectrum, symbolic interactionism asserts that society, as it is known today, has been constructed as a result of human interpretation. One way of understanding this perspective is by thinking that people, in essence, act based on how they view their world. As such, it is the subjective meaning people attach to things or actions that are given primacy. For example, everyone knows that smoking is bad for you and can lead to death, yet teens continue to smoke or start smoking despite the risks involved.
The reason they do so is that they initially thought that the act of smoking is cool. Thus, in this case, the symbolic meaning of “an act being cool” overrides the fact that smoking can have terrible consequences on a person’s health. Other examples of symbolic interactionism in action can be seen in the concept of racism which is a symbolic social construct. Since people are inherently the same with ethnicity being an external physical characteristic and not necessarily indicative of one group of people being inherently superior to another, this shows how a constructed interpretation can override common sense.
Main Point of Conflict
Conflict, based on sociology, occurs when people, in pursuit of their respective goals, encounter one another resulting in one actively attempting to deny the other their goal. This process focuses on the conflict that occurs between individuals and between groups and defines society as a constant struggle against other people (Croteau and Hoynes 20).
Which Perspective is the Most Accurate and Useful in Real Life?
Based on everything that has been presented so far, the perspective that can be the most useful in “real life” is that of structural functionalism. The reason behind this assertion is due to the prevalence of social structures that can be seen on a daily basis and how they inherently influence and stabilize society. For example, traditions and cultural values help to set the rules that help to mitigate chaotic or aberrant behavior. Social structures ensure that people understand their roles in society and what function they should have in the grand scheme of things (Welz 640).
Lastly, societal norms help to dictate human behavior to the extent that people know what is and what is not appropriate. These aspects contribute to lay the foundation of how a society operates and helps sociologists to understand the underlying reasons behind particular actions done by individual communities. If you know the social structures, culture, traditions, and norms inherent to a particular society, you are likely to make accurate assumptions regarding their predisposed actions when confronted with a given situation.
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Croteau, David, and William Hoynes. Experience Sociology: 2nd Edition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education Create, 2015. Print.
Goel, Sharad, and Daniel G. Goldstein. “Predicting Individual Behavior With Social Networks.” Marketing Science 33.1 (2014): 82-93. Print
Mabry, Amanda, and Monique Mitchell Turner. “Do Sexual Assault Bystander Interventions Change Men’s Intentions? Applying The Theory Of Normative Social Behavior To Predicting Bystander Outcomes.” Journal Of Health Communication 21.3 (2016): 276-292. Print
Meacham, Michael. “A Review Of The Equality Movement: Problems And Directions For Both Sexes.” Gender Issues 31.2 (2014): 83. Print
Tucker, Patrick. “Youth’s Irrational Exuberance.” Futurist 41.2 (2007): 11. Print
Welz, Frank. “100 Years Of Indian Sociology: From Social Anthropology To Decentring Global Sociology.” International Sociology 24.5 (2009): 635-655. Print