Psychology of and Social-Psychology in Literature

Under the heading of literary criticism, many people mistake psychology and social-psychology as approaches that primarily stand on the same stair. The truth is, they don't. Social-psychology, which studies mainly about the correlation between an individual psychological process and their society, is the branch of psychology in literature.
 
© Karl Nicholason
 
Psychology of Literature
 
Literature is an external expression of human’s psychology (Stangor, 2011:6). The creativity of a wordsmith is a result of bundled emotions needing to blow up, and it blows up, then, through literature. An author most likely recreates themselves into fictional characters, retells their experience or passion in a form of fictional plot, and reflects their surroundings in a fictional environment. What is poured down on a literature work is the author’s result of thoughts both consciously and unconsciously. According to Freud, as stated by Wellek (1956:76), an author is originally a man who turns from reality because they cannot come to terms with the demand for the renunciation of instinctual satisfaction as it is first made, and who then in fantasy-life allows full play to his erotic and ambitious wishes.
 
When speaking about a literature work, it is unavoidable to look into the author’s psychology such as their past experience, fear, dream, phobia, trauma, etc. However, psychology in literature does not only apply to the author, but also to the characters they create. To analyse the psychological process of a character, it needs to grab the possibilities of their mind, past experience, and future development, narrated or not narrated, in order to understand them as a whole person.
 
Psychology is a scientific study of mind and behaviour. This study has existed and practiced ever since the Plato era, and then in 1900 when Freud launched his book entitled The Interpretation of Dreams, it started to emerge widely. It is even conducted not only in the psychologist’s study, but also in the literalist’s study because in literature, the role of an author’s psychology matters.
 
Psychology of literature is technically a result of observation towards the author’s or the characters’ mind and behaviour. According to Freud (1900), the unconscious part of the mind plays a large part in how act, think, and feel. He also said, “The best avenue for discovering the content and the activity of the unconscious is through our dreams.” Those dreams might be in different forms, one of which is a literary work. Accordingly, the literary work must be treated like a dream, applying psychoanalytic techniques to the text to uncover the author’s hidden motivations and repressed desires (Bressler, 1994:153).
 
Social-Psychology in Literature
 
Social-psychology in literature is a school of psychology of literature. It studies about how an individual’s behaviour and way of thinking change towards or because of the society. The relationship between one’s psychological characteristics and their society are the objects of this criticism.
 
There are many definitions of the discipline. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, social-psychology is the study of the manner in which the personality, attitudes, motivations, and behaviour of the individual influence and are influenced by social groups. Then, according to Gordon Allport (1985), social-psychology is a study that uses scientific methods "to understand and explain how the thought, feeling and behaviour of individuals are influenced by the actual, imagined or implied presence of other human beings" (http://psychology.about.com/od/socialpsychology/f/socialpsych.htm). 
 
The strong bond of social and psychology may appear in literature. In a literary work, it is sure that the environment in the story influences the characters. They build a cause-and-effect relationship that cannot be separated from each other; and eventually creates conflicts or attitudes towards conflicts. Just like in the real life, characters in a literary work have a psychological process forming their own characterizations, attitudes, behaviours, and motivations. This psychological process is influenced by the society in the story and by the characters’ experiences, goals, and people surrounding such as family, friends, colleagues, etc. They are shaped by the society. As the result, a character’s behaviour is the mirror of the society as reflected in the story. We can get a conclusion, then, that the psychology of a character in a literary work reflects their society, which eventually reflects the society in the real life when the work is created. This chained relationship is the major plot of social-psychology in literature.
 
Dealing with literature, social-psychology has several focuses. They are such as social facilitation, social identity theory, cognitive dissonance, shock experiment, prison study, and attribution theory. They are all sub-disciplines concerning with how the society influences the psychology of an individual in a literary work. Their concern is in line with the definition of Baron, Byrne & Suls (1989) who define social psychology as “the scientific field that seeks to understand the nature and causes of individual behaviour in social situations” (www.simplypsychology.org/social-psychology.html).