Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior Section: Content Category 8C

Social interactions
Humans are social beings by nature. Though the sentiment is simple, the actions and processes underlying and shaping our social interactions are not.

The changing nature of social interaction is important for understanding the mechanisms and processes through which people interact with each other, both individually and within groups. A variety of factors―environment, culture, and biology―affect how we present ourselves to others and how we treat them. For example, perceptions of prejudice and stereotypes can lead to acts of discrimination, whereas positive attitudes about others can lead to the provision of help and social support.

The content in this category covers the mechanisms of self-presentation and social interaction including expressing and detecting emotion, impression management, communication, the biological underpinning of social behavior, and discrimination.

Topic Level Key:

The abbreviations found in parentheses indicate the course(s) in which undergraduate students at many colleges and universities learn about the topics and associated subtopics. The course abbreviations are:

PSY: one semester of introductory psychology 
SOC: one semester of introductory sociology 
BIO: two-semester sequence of introductory biology

Please note topics that appear on multiple content lists will be treated differently. Questions will focus on the topics as they are described in the narrative for the content category.

Elements of Social Interaction (PSY, SOC)

  • Status (SOC)
    • Types of status (e.g., achieved, ascribed)
  • Role
    • Role conflict and role strain (SOC)
    • Role exit (SOC)
  • Groups
    • Primary and secondary groups (SOC)
    • In-group vs. out-group
    • Group size (e.g., dyads, triads) (SOC)
  • Networks (SOC)
  • Organizations (SOC)
    • Formal organization
    • Bureaucracy
      • Characteristics of an ideal bureaucracy
      • Perspectives on bureaucracy (e.g., iron law of oligarchy, McDonaldization)

Self-presentation and Interacting with Others (PSY, SOC)

  • Expressing and detecting emotion
    • The role of gender in the expression and detection of emotion
    • The role of culture in the expression and detection of emotion
  • Presentation of self
    • Impression management
    • Front stage vs. back stage self (Dramaturgical approach) (SOC)
  • Verbal and nonverbal communication
  • Animal signals and communication (PSY, BIO)

Social Behavior (PSY)

  • Attraction
  • Aggression
  • Attachment
  • Altruism
  • Social support (PSY, SOC)
  • Biological explanations of social behavior in animals (PSY, BIO)
    • Foraging behavior (BIO)
    • Mating behavior and mate choice
    • Applying game theory (BIO)
    • Altruism
    • Inclusive fitness (BIO)

Discrimination (PSY, SOC)

  • Individual vs. institutional discrimination (SOC)
  • The relationship between prejudice and discrimination
  • How power, prestige, and class facilitate discrimination (SOC)

To support your studies, see the following video tutorials below from the Khan Academy MCAT Collection. The videos and associated questions were created by the Khan Academy in collaboration with the AAMC and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.