The term social psychology is confusing; after all, isn’t all psychology social? Don’t all psychological issues affect our relationships with others? It turns out that there is a whole field of psychology devoted to the way we interact with our environment and the way that interaction affects us.

What is Social Psychology?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the term as “ the study of the manner in which the personality, attitudes, motivations and behavior of the individual influence and are influenced by social groups. “ Psychology in the broad sense looks at the general components of life, while this branch concentrates on how the individual is affected and affects society.

Breaking it Down

The American Psychological Association has an entire division based on the psychology of social groups and the individual. They explore topics as simple as whether a child without siblings is more self-centered that one with brothers and sisters and as complex as why people are willing to commit atrocities when told to do so by authority figures. There are many areas of research within the division of social psychology. Here are nine of them:

  • Social Cognition – the framework we have of our concepts about society as a whole. Using these concepts, we have a “shortcut” to interpreting issues we face.
  • Attitude – beliefs that we develop that affect our behaviors
  • Violence and Aggression – a study of why violence occurs, including media influence and social “variables” among causative factors
  • Prosocial Behavior – asks us why people help others at times and why bystanders may not help
  • Prejudice and Discrimination – studies how prejudice develops and continues when there is contrary evidence
  • Self and Social Identity – looks at how we perceive ourselves and how we believe others perceive us
  • Group Behavior – studies leadership and group influence
  • Social Influence – looks at peer pressure, conformity and related topics
  • Interpersonal Relationships – a study of love, friendship, attraction and other factors influence behavior

Why it’s Important

This is not just an academic exploration. Some troubling areas of society and culture may be addressed once we can see the issues that create them. For example, how did millions of good people ignore the actions of a prejudiced and aggressive leadership, allowing the eradication of more than six million Jews in World War Two? Other issues may include gang behavior and crime, hate crimes, and other negative behaviors. The psychological field may also shed light upon how positive group interaction such as Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4H and religious affiliations can shape behavior.

Related Resource: Top 15 Most Affordable Master’s in Social Psychology Online Programs

How to Become a Social Psychologist

People who want to succeed in this profession usually have a master’s degree or higher-level degree in psychology. Some schools have specialized degree programs, but students can also earn an advanced psychology degree following course paths that allow them to specialize in one of the major areas of study. These professionals can be found working in hospitals, correction facilities, social service agencies, schools, consulting firms, academic arenas, business and other areas. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists their median salary as $79,010 and says the job growth rate is much faster than average.

Psychology is a discipline that embraces many facets of behavior. The value of social psychology is that it explores the causes of behavior and how it is affected by societal groups and the environment.