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What Is Social Psychology?

Social psychology is the study of social behavior and the role of social factors on individual behavior. Social psychologists conduct research in laboratory settings to study the relationships between people and situations. This article will tell you more about social psychology.

The Field of Social Psychology

According to the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, social psychology is the field of psychology that studies group behavior, such as group dynamics and interpersonal relationships. It also studies how individual behavior is influenced by social situations. Most social psychologists believe that a person's behavior results from the combination of their immediate situation and their mental state, including their thoughts and attitudes.

Unlike other forms of psychology, which can focus on fieldwork and research in clinical settings, social psychology tends to focus on laboratory experiments. Some famous experiments in this field include:

  • The Asch Conformity Experiments
  • The Milgram Experiment
  • The Stanford Prison Experiment

Important Facts About Social Psychology

Median Salary (2018) $97,260 (for industrial-organizational psychologists)
Job Outlook (2016-2026) 8% (for industrial-organizational psychologists)
Similar Occupations College professor; anthropologist; market research analyst; sociologist; survey researcher; industrial-organizational psychologist
Key Skills Observational; analytical; communication; trustworthiness

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Major Social Psychology Subfields

Like all scientific fields, social psychology has a number of subfields in which researchers conduct experiments. Three popular subfields include the study of attitudes, the idea of self-concept and group dynamics.

Attitudes

Social psychologists define an 'attitude' as a learned expression of like or dislike, such as a preference for one brand of laundry detergent over another. Social psychologists are interested in the social factors that form and change attitudes. They also explore the relationship between attitudes and behavior. Professionals in this field also study unconscious attitudes, which are preferences that individuals aren't aware they possess but express through their behavior. There have been many studies of unconscious attitudes relating to bias and discrimination.

Self-Concept

A person's self-concept is how they view themselves. Social psychologists study which external factors affect one's self-concept, including the thoughts and actions of others.

Group Dynamics

Social psychologists are concerned with how individuals operate within groups. In a group, each person's role and self-concept is influenced by the attitudes and behaviors of others in the group. Group dynamics also encompasses areas of social psychology like crowd behavior and groupthink.

Educational Opportunities in Social Psychology

You can earn a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Social Psychology from a number of institutions, like Ohio State University (OSU). OSU tied with the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor as the top institution in the nation for the study of social psychology in 2013, according to U.S. News and World Report. The program at OSU includes a study of theory, research, and experimental methods. You can also choose at least one area of specialization, like inter-group relations, social cognition or attitude change.