's Guide to the TOEFL® Test Podcast

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Monday, February 06, 2006

TOEFL® Podcast #18

Lecture on Sociology

Audio Index:
Slow dialog: 1:05
Explanations: 4:43
Fast dialog: 17:35
Comprehension: 19:43

An important theoretical perspective in sociology is the notion of symbolic interactionism. We’ve talked about how we examine social behavior in this course, and how that behavior arises from intentions and motivations—what we might call, uh, “meanings"—and leads to certain events or results. As social psychologists, we try to understand this relationship between the individual mind, the group, and the behaviors that result.

Let’s take a closer look at this idea. Our first task is to determine how our feelings and behaviors are influenced by the actual or implied presence of other humans. My feelings and behaviors are related to and influenced by the people around me, just as yours are. My level of trust, for example, is dependent in part on how you behave towards me, to some extent. Each individual influences the beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors of other individuals in our midst.

The second stage of our study deals with how these same individuals influence the broader beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors of the group around them. There are many ways to do this. We may look at how groups behave, for example, in a school setting—the jocks over here, the good students over there, and so forth. We can look at group behavior in the workplace, looking at issues such as how people are motivated or influenced by the company culture of which they are a part. Our place of work can influence our perspectives on what is considered “normal” and deviant behavior, for example. Note that we are looking here at how individuals and groups interact, whereas in stage one, we looked at individuals influencing other individuals.

The final stage, you may have guessed, is examining how groups are influenced by other groups. Here we have a rich vein of possible subjects. Groups can ignore, hate, or feel a great affinity for other groups, depending on numerous factors.

So far, so good. Now, let’s move on to some practical applications of this…