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Social psychology is the study of how people act, think, and feel in the context of society. In this lesson, we will learn more about social psychology, what it has in common with other fields of study, and what types of careers are available in social psychology.

What Is Social Psychology?

Think for a moment about how you act when you’re alone.

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Does your behavior change when you’re around your friends? What about when your parents are in the room? How does your behavior change when your professor or boss is observing you?Psychology is the scientific study of how people act, think, and feel. Social psychology studies how people act, think, and feel in the context of society. That is, how people’s behaviors, thoughts, and feelings change because of other people.Think back to the example above. Your behavior probably changes depending on who is in the room with you.

But even when you’re in a room alone, your thoughts, feelings, and even behaviors are influenced by other people: the thought of someone you don’t like could make you feel angry; the fact that you wash your hands before handling food comes from lessons taught to you by your grandmother; that thing that your crush said this afternoon could replay in your mind as you try to analyze it. In all of these cases, society has an impact on you.

Social Psychology and Other Fields

As you can probably tell, social psychology covers a lot of ground! And because it covers so many different things, social psychology overlaps with many other fields of study.Anthropology is the study of human culture. Anthropologists study the beliefs and traditions of society. Their focus is on society as a whole, whereas social psychologists want to study the way society affects the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of individuals.

Think about it like this: Anthropologists might study certain religious traditions, such as the way different Christian churches celebrate Easter. But social psychologists are interested in the individual people’s interaction with society, so they might study how religious people behave differently from non-religious people in certain situations.Sociology has a lot in common with social psychology.

Sociologists, like anthropologists, study society as a whole. But instead of looking at the beliefs and traditions of society, their focus is on organizations and how those organizations impact the individuals within them. Like social psychologists, sociologists are interested in the intersection of society and the individual. But sociologists are more focused on society, and social psychologists are more focused on the individual.For example, imagine that you want to study why so many marriages end in divorce. If you are a sociologist, you will compile all sorts of data on the number of divorces from year to year. You might then compare that information to things going on in society.

For example, you might notice that as the percentage of households where the wife works goes up, so do divorce rates. You might also observe differences in divorce rates across class, race, or religious lines.A social psychologist might approach the problem differently.

Instead of looking at society as a whole and the divorce rates, they might interview many couples who have divorced and many who have stayed together. They could compare the differences in the two types of couples, and after talking to dozens of couples, come up with a theory as to what causes divorce rates to increase. The social psychologist might come up with the same answer as the sociologist, but they have approached it from a different angle.In addition to anthropology and sociology, social psychology has a lot in common with another branch of psychology, called personality psychology. Personality psychology is just what it sounds like: the study of individuals’ personality traits.

Like social psychologists, personality theorists are interested in the thoughts, behaviors, and feelings of individuals. But whereas social psychologists tend to focus on the way the world impacts those aspects of a person, personality psychologists focus on the internal properties of a person and the way those affect a person’s actions and thoughts.Let’s say that we want to study why some people are quiet and introverted and some people are extroverted and tend to be the life of the party. A personality psychologist might look at introverted and extroverted as personality traits that affect behavior; they are interested in what causes these traits.

Is it something in the person’s childhood? Is it a biological trait that we’re born with? A combination of the two?Meanwhile, social psychologists look more at the situation: Is this person more introverted because she was taught that good girls must be quiet and demure? Does that person keep the whole bar entertained because they are Irish American and expected to be fun in bars?Besides anthropology, sociology, and personality psychology, social psychology has some things in common with many other fields. From history to economics, and from neuroscience to law, social psychology has its hands in lots of different jars, so to speak.

Careers in Social Psychology

So, we know what social psychology is, but what do social psychologists do for a living?There are many different types of jobs for people who study social psychology.

Most social psychologists choose to do research and teach in universities, but there are many other options. Some are hired by the government or non-profits to do research. Schools sometimes hire social psychologists to help them improve the school. Some work in corporate America, helping companies choose the best employees and create the most productive work environments. Some of them even work for advertising agencies, using their knowledge to help create ads that will convince people to buy products.

As you can see, there are a lot of options for social psychologists!

Lesson Summary

Social psychology is the study of how people act, think, and feel in the context of society. In other words, social psychologists are asking the question of how the individual’s thoughts, feelings, and actions are impacted by the situation and the people around them. Social psychology has a lot in common with anthropology, sociology, and personality psychology, as well as many other fields of study. Careers in social psychology vary widely, from working as a teacher at a college to working in advertising, for the government, or working in corporate America.

Learning Outcomes

After watching this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Define psychology and social psychology
  • Compare and contrast social psychology with anthropology, sociology, and personality psychology
  • Name some careers for social psychologists

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