Psychology involves understanding and explaining behavior. In the late 1890’s, psychologists began the first experiments in the discipline of social psychology. This discipline has since evolved into a science that attempts to explain human behavior. Scientific methods are used to assist researchers in answering questions related to human behavior. The results of this research are used to understand and explain the relationship between human behavior and social situations.
Definition of Social Psychology
Social psychology is defined as the “scientific study of how people’s thoughts, feelings, and actions are affected by others” (McGraw - Hill, 2011, p.336). Social thinking, social influence, and social relations are components in the study of social psychology. Social thinking involves the way one sees his or herself and others around them. Social thinking also involves one’s beliefs, judgments, and attitudes. Attitudes, or how one sees a particular person, behavior, belief, or concept, are important in the study of social psychology. In fact, attitudes are one of the most central aspects of the discipline (McGraw - Hill, 2011). Social influence includes one’s culture and pressures to conform. One’s social relations include his or her prejudice, aggression, attraction, and intimacy. Social psychologists study the kinds and causes of an individual’s behavior in relation to his or her social situations. Social psychologists attempt to explain the relationship between one’s situation and behavior.
How Social Psychology Differs from Other Related Disciplines
Social psychology is only one branch of psychology. Within the science of psychology, it is closely related to personality psychology. Social psychology is also related to the science of sociology. Social psychology focuses more on the differences in individuals than personality psychology. However, personality psychology focuses more on how individuals view and affect one another (Myers, 2010). In social psychology, it is assumed that situations are the primary factor behind behavior. Using research, social psychologists attempt to relate environmental factors to behavior. Personality psychology differs from these views. Personality psychologists assume that an individual’s disposition in a situation, not the actual situation, is the primary force behind behavior (Blass, 1984).
Sociology and social psychology are intertwined. Social psychology expands on the studies of sociologists. However, the two also have differences. Sociologists study people in groups. Social psychologists focus more on the individual in a group and use more experimentation (Myers, 2010). Sociologists study the social factors that affect an individual. Social psychologists identify why the factors have effects (Thoits, 1995). Sociologists study how characteristics, relationships, and situations influence a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (Thoits, 1995). However, social psychologists explain how and why these factors affect an individual. Social psychologists attempt to understand how a group arrives at a decision whereas sociologists attempt to explain how an individual’s characteristics affect a group’s decision. Sociologists try to explain deviant behavior whereas social psychologists focus more on obedience (Thoits, 1995).
Role of Research in Social Psychology
Research is the “systematic inquiry aimed at the discovery of new knowledge” (McGraw - Hill, 2011, p. 17). Research is an important aspect in the science of psychology. Psychologists use the scientific method in research. By using the scientific method, psychologists propose theories, imply hypothesis, and predict behavior (Myers, 2010). Psychologists use research to explore and relate theories and hypothesis to behavior. Through observation and research, psychologists formulate ideas about an individual’s thoughts, influences, and relations to one another (Myers, 2010).
Psychologist Gordon Allport held the belief that social psychologists studied how individuals influenced and affected others (Thoits, 1995). Within the discipline of social psychology several aspects of an individual are studied. These include cultures, attitudes, beliefs, prejudices, and perceptions. Psychologists answer the questions concerning how one individual affects others by using scientific methods. Because of the research conducted, social psychology is now an important discipline in the study of individuals’ behavior in relation to social situations.
Blass, T. (1984). Social Psychology and Personality: Toward a Convergence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 47(5), 1013-1027. doi:10.1037/0022-35188.8.131.523
McGraw - Hill (2011). Psychsmart. New York, NY: Author.
Myers, D. (2010). Social Psychology (10th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Thoits, P. A. (1995). Social Psychology: The Interplay Between Sociology and Psychology. Social Forces, 73(4), 1231-1243.
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