Topic: Elements Of Social Interaction

A role is a set of rules or norms that function as plans or blueprints to guide behavior within a particular society.

Role theory argues that human behavior is guided by expectations held both by the individual and by others in the community.

Role conflict describes the conflict between or among the roles corresponding to two or more statuses held by one individual. The most obvious example of role conflict is work/family conflict, or the conflict one feels when pulled between familial and professional obligations. Take, for example, a mother who is also a doctor. She likely has to work long hours at the hospital and may even be on call several nights a week, taking her away from her children. Many individuals who find themselves in this position describe feeling conflicted and distressed about their situation. 

In role strain, the demands of a single role become overwhelming. A boss may have many responsibilities to juggle, including management, innovation, and organizing events. Both role conflict and role strain can potentially lead to role exit, where an individual stops identifying with a particular role. For example, a boss may become so frustrated with all her responsibilities that she quits her job.


Practice Questions


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MCAT Official Prep (AAMC)

Online Flashcards Sociology Question 4

Online Flashcards Sociology Question 22

Practice Exam 1 P/S Section Passage 9 Question 49

Practice Exam 3 P/S Section Passage 9 Question 52

Practice Exam 4 P/S Section Passage 9 Question 52


Key Points

• A role is a set of rules or norms that function as plans or blueprints to guide behavior within a particular society.

• Roles can be occupational or relational. An occupational role relates to a person’s function (for example, a profession). A relational role governs how the individual behaves towards others (for example, being a father or a boss).

• Role theory is structural functionalist in that it seeks to explain human behavior by looking at what social function is fulfilled by holding a given role.

• We experience role conflict when we find ourselves pulled in various directions as we try to respond to the many statuses we hold.

• The most common form of role conflict is work/family conflict, in which one needs to prioritize familial or professional obligations.

• In role strain, the demands of a single role become overwhelming. A boss may have many responsibilities to juggle, including management, innovation, and organizing events.

• Role conflict and role strain can potentially lead to role exit, where an individual stops identifying with a particular role.


Key Terms

work/family conflict: a conflict one faces when one must choose between family needs and work obligations

role conflict: a conflict between or among the roles corresponding to two or more statuses in one individual

role strain: the stress or strain experienced by an individual when incompatible behavior, expectations, or obligations are associated with a single social role

role exit: where an individual stops identifying with a particular role



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