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Elements of Social Interaction: Role Theory and Conflict, Social Classes, Institutions, and Networks

According to the well-known sociologists Gettyes and Dawson, social interaction is a process by which humans interpenetrate the minds of each other. Other sociologists define social interaction as a process that influences the overt state or behavior of an individual's mind. Social interaction is described as an event that changes the attitude and behavior of the involved parties. It is a relationship involving at least 2 individuals, in which the societal conditions of people's lives are affected or changed. This interaction is the soul of relationships and social life, manifesting as the foundation of societies.

Last updated: Sep 1, 2022

Editorial responsibility: Stanley Oiseth, Lindsay Jones, Evelin Maza

Social Status

The prestige or honor attached to an individual’s position in society is known as social status. This term may also refer to a position or rank held by someone in a group, such as a daughter or a son. Achieved status refers to the social status that can be earned by their own achievements. Ascribed status refers to inherited positions, for example, race, or sex Sex The totality of characteristics of reproductive structure, functions, phenotype, and genotype, differentiating the male from the female organism. Gender Dysphoria.

Both achieved and ascribed statuses meld to define social status. For example, children born to families with high socioeconomic status have an ascribed status; these factors will help them get a better education and a better future, eventually contributing to their achieved status.

Role Theory

The role theory studies human behavior and its expectations and argues that human behavior is guided by expectations, which are held by the individual as well as other community members.

Role Conflict

A conflict among or between roles corresponding to more than one status fulfilled by an individual is known as role conflict. A role conflict usually occurs when an individual is dragged in various directions while they try to respond to the multiple statuses they hold.

Family/work conflict, or the conflict faced by an individual between professional/familial responsibilities and obligations, is the most common role conflict. For example, a mother who works as a doctor will have a role conflict as she has to manage her stressful job with long working hours and night shifts while also taking care of her children.


Culture is a set of values, beliefs, symbols, language, etiquette, art, and rituals that unite a particular society. Learned behaviors are considered the elements of culture. Older individuals pass these behaviors and elements to their children as they grow. This process of learning and passing culture from one generation to another is termed “acculturation.”

Social Class

Societies are arranged in a social hierarchy (social stratification), in which some individuals have more power than others. The main factor corresponding to these social hierarchies is the socioeconomic status, or the social capital or amount of material possessed by an individual.

In a society, people are differentiated based on their power or wealth, which is described by social class.


A collection of people who identify and interact with each other is termed a social group. A social group is united, which means that individuals share values, interests, backgrounds, language, family ties, or social roles.

One of the tactics used by individuals to make assumptions about each other’s identities is called group identification Identification Defense Mechanisms. The manner in which groups operate is known as cognitive heuristics; it could involve legitimate or illegitimate assumptions about an individual.

Social Institutions

Any mechanism or structure of cooperation and social order governing the behavior of a community and the individuals in that community is called an institution. An institution is identified with permanence and a social purpose, which transcends an individual’s intention and life by governing cooperative behavior via enforced rules. Institutions teach individuals in a community how to conform to norms; in other words, they act as socialization forces.

These institutions can be formal or informal. Institutions that have the intention of governing human behavior are considered formal institutions, e.g., the United States Congress. In contrast, institutions that are not designed to regulate conduct are considered informal institutions. Institutions may also be abstract, e.g., the institution of marriage.

Social Networks

The social structure that exists between organizations or individuals is referred to as a social network. It indicates how organizations and people are connected via different social familiarities. These social networks are composed of ties and nodes. An organization or an individual participating in a social network is called a node. The various connections between these nodes are called ties. Ties are assessed in terms of strength, as there are weak and strong ties. Family bonds are considered strong ties and acquaintances as weak ties.

The utility of social networks for their nodal participants is influenced by the size and shape of these social networks. Tighter, smaller networks composed of strong ties will have different behaviors compared with looser, larger networks with weak ties. For example, participants in a small network will be more likely to share information and values, which increases efficiency and decreases creativity; however, in a large, loose network, the nodes are more likely to introduce new opportunities and ideas to members and participants in the social network.

Virtual Worlds

A simulated computer-based environment or an online community is referred to as a virtual world. In virtual worlds, individuals create avatars or online representations. Avatars can interact over the internet under the direction of the owner/creator of the avatar. Both reality and fantasy worlds may affect these virtual worlds and their rules. Examples include topography, real-time actions, gravity, locomotion, and communication Communication The exchange or transmission of ideas, attitudes, or beliefs between individuals or groups. Decision-making Capacity and Legal Competence.


  1. Manstead AS, Easterbrook MJ, Kuppens T. (2020). The socioecology of social class. Current Opinion in Psychology, 32, 95-99. DOI: 10.1016/j.copsyc.2019.06.037
  2. Miyamoto Y. (2017). Culture and social class. Current Opinion in Psychology, 18, 67-72. DOI: 10.1016/j.copsyc.2017.07.042
  3. Kraus MW, Park JW. (2017). The structural dynamics of social class. Current Opinion in Psychology, 18, 55-60. DOI: 10.1016/j.copsyc.2017.07.029

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