What Is Social Psychology? - Definition & Professions in the Field

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  • 0:06 What Is Social Psychology?
  • 1:16 Social Psychology &…
  • 5:17 Careers in Social Psychology
  • 6:02 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

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. 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.

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