People may wonder what shape their attitudes or why some individuals emerge as great leaders. On the same note, others may think about prejudice and ways of overcoming it. While these are just few issues, which may drive people to social psychology, there are other fundamental areas, which may draw attention to further studies in social psychology and the role of social psychologists. Social psychology emerged as an important part of psychology. One must study social psychology as an independent and specialized discipline in order to understand its ‘macro variables’ like social issues and structures in the society.
Definition of social psychology
Gordon Allport defined social psychology as “a discipline that uses scientific methods to understand and explain how the thought, feeling, and behavior of individuals are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of other human beings” (Allport, 1985). The focus of social psychology is broad. The discipline concentrates on social factors like individual and group behaviors, characteristics, social perception, conformity, prejudice, social perception, and leadership abilities among others. It is imperative to understand that social psychology goes beyond social issues.
The discipline provides different means through which one can understand human behaviors due to factors related to cognitive processes and social conditions. Hence, behavior becomes a fundamental part of an individual in a given environment. In this context, a behavior may emanate from interaction of an individual with his or her environment. Social interaction leads to the development of self-perception and self-concept. Self-concept entails various forms of perceptions that originate from how a person views himself or herself and how others perceive an individual relative to themselves.
Social psychology looks at measurable factors like thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of people. People are prone to social influences, which have led to ‘imagined’ or ‘implied’ factors when describing a given situation.
How social psychology differs from other related disciplines (e.g., clinical psychology, general psychology, sociology)
One must understand how social psychology varies from other related branches of sociology. In most cases, people may confuse social psychology with other related disciplines like personality psychology, sociology, and general sociology. However, social psychology is not the same as other areas related to sociology. While other branches of sociology rely on unreliable accounts, observations, and biased processes of interpretation, social psychology relies on scientific methods and empirical data in order to present accounts of social events. Social psychology researchers do not depend on guess works or general assumptions in order to draw conclusions about individuals’ behaviors. Instead, they conduct experiments in order to understand associations among variables that influence human behaviors.
Other branches like clinical and personality psychology concentrate on traits, habits, thoughts, and characteristics of an individual. Conversely, social psychology looks at situations. It aims to show how social environment and interactions could affect behaviors and attitudes of people.
Sociology and social psychology may have some similarities, but they also have some notable differences. Sociology focuses on social behaviors and other influencing factors at a broad level. Sociologists may study how social structures operate and develop cultures and their impacts on individuals. Psychologists look at conditions that have impacts on individuals’ behaviors (Beer, Chester and Hughes, 2013).
Overall, social psychologists believe in experiments and empirical results based on clear, focused, and specific theories, and not on general observations.
The role of research in social psychology
Social psychology relies on experiments and empirical findings from the laboratory and field. Hence, research is critical for providing answers to social issues and human behaviors under investigation. The researcher must be careful with sampling techniques, design, and data analysis in order to draw a valid conclusion.
Research in social psychology shows how variables influence each other in experimental studies. Researchers may observe participants in a given setting by using control groups. In addition, correlational studies in social psychology allow researchers to present association between studies variables. For instance, the researcher may observe the association between watching violent movies and behaviors of children at a given environment. Research allows social psychologists to provide descriptive accounts of their observation during studies. This is necessary during investigative studies.
Research provides various methods of evaluating social psychology hypothesis, which could be either rejecting or confirming a given study hypothesis (Clarksona, Tormalab, Rucker and Dugana, 2013). Statistics and testing are applicable in these procedures. Social psychologists can only establish validity of their studies through research and data analysis. These processes eliminate results that happen by chance.
Further studies in the field of social psychology also lead to contributions by others researchers and improvement on current knowledge. These studies can support or refute past studies.
Social psychology focuses on mental processes, behaviors, and the mind with specific reference to social interactions and subsequent impacts on others. Social psychology combines both psychology and sociology. This specialized discipline focuses on perceptions, beliefs, and behaviors of people in specific conditions.
Social psychology relies on experiments and empirical data with clear theoretical concepts. This distinguishes social psychology from other related branches of psychology. Constant research has led to expansion of knowledge in the field of social psychology.
Allport, G. (1985). The historical background of social psychology. In G. Lindzey and E. Aronson (Eds.), Handbook of Social Psychology, vol. 1 (pp. 1-46). New York: Random House.
Beer, J., Chester, D., and Hughes, B. (2013). Social threat and cognitive load magnify self-enhancement and attenuate self-deprecation. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 49(4), 706–711.
Clarksona, J., Tormalab, Z., Rucker, D., and Dugana, R. (2013). The malleable influence of social consensus on attitude certainty. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 49(6), 1019–1022.