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History of Social Thought

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On October 27, 1994, Susan Smith watched her burgundy Mazda

Protege roll into the watery depths of John D. Long Lake carrying

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her two sons, Michael, 3, and his 14-month-old brother, Alexander

Henderson and Fields 1995). One can only wonder what could have

caused a mother to intentionally murder her two beautiful baby

boys. The motive seemed to be that Susan Smith’s wealthy

boyfriend did not want the children. She also stated in her

handwritten confession that she knew he would never love her

(Smith 1994). I can only speculate that she meant he would never

love her as long as she had children. However, I believe that

Susan must have been deeply disturbed to commit such a horrible

In order to better understand this unthinkable act, I chose

to use the psychoanalytic theory from the psychological

perspective. I think this theory can describe Susan’s behavior

better than the cognitive consistency theory because the id, ego,

and super-ego seem to observe mental processes more than the

cognitive consistency theory does.

Using the cognitive

consistency theory would make it more difficult to observe the

mental processes of Susan Smith that I believe are necessary to

understand this crime (Lecture notes, psychological perspective,

cognitive consistency theory). I will also use the social

learning theory under the behavioral perspective because I believe

positive and negative reinforcement can make it more clear as to

why Susan Smith killed her children. I chose not to use the

social exchange theory because, in this case, Susan Smith is not

negotiating anything as social exchange theory explains. It also

tends to be a hedonistic view of the human (Lecture notes,

behavioral perspective, social exchange theory, 2000). The last

theory that will be discussed from the sociological perspective is

the role theory. I believe that it is a most obvious concept that

Susan Smith defyed her status and role of being a mother that our

society accepts. Role theory will be more helpful than symbolic

interaction theory because I believe that Susan Smith had a great

deal of role conflict between being a mother and a girlfriend.

Symbolic interaction theory does not deal with roles, and focuses

more on symbolic communications (Lecture notes, sociological

perspective, symbolic interaction theory, 2000).

The psychoanalytic theory helps us to better understand

personality development of individuals. According to Freud, we

have a bio-sexual origin of personality that consists of two

components. The first is called the Eros, and it is our life

instinct. It is our will to stay alive under any circumstances.

The second component is the Thenatos which is our death instinct.

These are motivators for our social behavior (Lecture notes,

psychological perspective, psychoanalytic theory, 2000). Susan

Smith stated that she wanted to roll into the river along with her

two children, but she decided against it (Smith). Perhaps her

Eros was much more powerful than her Thenatos, or she would have

followed her death instinct and killed herself also. The psychoanalytic theory also states that we have three components

that make up our personality. First, there is the id which

contains our drives, wants, and needs that we are born with

(Lecture notes, psychological perspective, psychoanalytic theory,

2000). The id is sometimes thought of as our unconscious thoughts

that we are unaware of. The second aspect to the personality is

called the super-ego which holds our moral beliefs and norms that

are developed through parental socialization (Lecture notes,

psychological perspective, psychoanalytic theory, 2000). In other

words, the super-ego is not something we are born with, but it

contains morals and values that are taught to us by our parents.

The third aspect to the personality is the ego. This is perhaps

the most important part of the personality because it attempts to

satisfy the id’s desires. It is a neutral mechanism that could be

thought of as the conscious decisions we make on a daily basis

(Lecture notes, psychological perspective, psychoanalytic theory,

2000). For instance, Susan Smith’s id wanted to be with her

wealthy boyfriend. This was her main desire that she was

concerned with. She knew that he did not want children. Her

super-ego knew that killing her children was very wrong.

Therefore, her ego tried to help out her desire to be with her

boyfriend, and her id took over her personality because she

eliminated her children from the picture. Thus, Susan’s super-ego

Social learning theory has operant conditioning aspects to it

that looks to behavior being motivated by rewards and punishments.

It states that our behaviors are motivated to avoid punishments

and optimize rewards. We theoretically do this to gain positive

and negative reinforcement (Lecture notes, behavioral perspective,

social learning theory, 2000). Positive reinforcement is any

pleasant event that we receive by performing a certain behavior.

On the other hand, negative reinforcement has to do with receiving

a reward by removal of an aversive stimulus (Lecture notes,

behavioral perspective, social learning theory, 2000). We learn

what behaviors elicit rewards and punishments by our own

behaviors. Susan Smith learned that removing her children from

her life became negative reinforcement. She believed she would

gain positive reinforcement which would be the love of her

boyfriend. However, along with reinforcement, there usually comes

punishment. Positive punishment consists of applying unwanted

stimuli, and negative punishment can be defined as the removal of

wanted stimuli (Lecture notes, behavioral perspective, social

learning theory, 2000). Susan Smith’s punishment began as soon as

she realized what she had done. Her confession clearly states how

she was terribly guilt-ridden and had felt miserable about killing

her children (Smith 1994). This could be a form of negative

punishment because her children were permanently removed from her

life forever. After her confession, she was sentenced to life in

prison. This can clearly be seen as positive punishment because

her freedom was taken away from her forever.

Role theory is a theory that helps us to better understand

our social behaviors. We all have roles and statuses in our

everyday lives that pertain to how we live on a daily basis.

However, some people do not follow socially accepted roles and

norms. Among the roles that we have in life, there can also be

role conflict. Role conflict is when our different roles are not

compatible with each other because of the different statuses that

a person occupies (Lecture notes, sociological perspective, role

theory, 2000). Susan Smith obviously had great conflict among her

status as a mother, and her status as a girlfriend. She became

caught up in making a choice to be a mother or a girlfriend. She

most definitely made the wrong decision, one that she will have to

live with forever. Statuses are what we are in life, and roles

are what we do in life (Lecture notes, sociological perspective,

role theory). For instance, one of Susan Smith’s statuses was

being a mother. What is a mother? A mother is supposed to love,

care, and protect her children before anything else in her life.

Susan Smith’s role as a mother was definitely not normal. Perhaps

she was confused about what her role as a mother should be. She

deviated from her role as a mother so dramatically, and it is

almost impossible to understand how a mother could watch her

children die. I believe that she knew perfectly well what her

role as a mother should be, but she chose to be extremely selfish.

There are two types of statuses that go along with role theory.

Ascribed statuses are those that are given to us without a choice,

and achieved statuses are those that we choose or achieve (Lecture

notes, sociological perspective, role theory, 2000). Since being

a mother is an achieved status, it is even more difficult to understand why Susan Smith changed her mind about this status that

was achieved and killed her children. It is hard to believe that a

mother would choose a man over her own children permanently.

All three of the theories discussed previously have been

successful in analyzing Susan Smith’s awful crime. However, I

believe that the social learning theory can best explain this

heinous incident because it seems that Susan Smith was only

concerned with optimizing her rewards. This theory works better

than the others because the other theories were not as clear on

what motivated Susan to commit such a crime. She was so motivated

to receive her boyfriend’s approval and love that she removed her

precious children from her life. In the end, she only received

horrible punishments. Punishments that will be neverending. Not

only will she never be free again, but she is hated among almost

everyone that has heard this horrific story. I believe that Susan

has definitely learned a great lesson by being punished to life in

prison. She did not receive any rewards by killing her children.

This is a story that will make one’s stomach turn, and every

loving mother embrace their child. I don’t think anyone will ever

know what Susan Smith was really thinking as she watched her

children slowly immerse into the murky waters of John D. Long Lake

that autumn day. It seems too difficult to try to understand why

a mother would kill her own children. Hopefully some day we can

fully understand the nature of this crime, and crimes related to

it, so that we may put a permanent stop to innocent children being

murdered by the person that is supposed to protect them the most.

of North Carolina.
Duraam, NC.Reference List
Dr. T., (2000)., SO/PY 442, lecture notes:
Covariation Model of Attribution. University of North
Carolina, Durham, NC
Dr. T., (2000)., SO/PY 442, lecture notes:
Attribution Processes. University of North
Carolina, Durham, NC

Dr. T., (2000)., SO/PY 442, lecture notes:
Attribution Error and Bias. University of North
Carolina, Durham, NC
Delamater, J., & Michener, A. (1994) Social
Psychology.

Cite this History of Social Thought

History of Social Thought. (2018, Jun 23). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/history-of-social-thought-essay/

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