Social phenomena can influence the way individuals think, perceive, and behave. Social psychology is the “scientific study of how people think about, influence, and relate to one another” (Myers, 2008, p. 4). Some of the main central themes of social psychology include: (a) how individuals construe social worlds, (b) how social intuitions guide and deceive, (c) how social behavior is shaped, and (d) how social psychology principles are applied to everyday living (Myers, 2008). Social psychology differs from other related disciplines by the use of experimentation and research to support the main ideas and theories within the field of study. Psychologists will propose theories from observable speculations, to further, imply hypothesis and predictions to be tested and supported through scientific measures. This hub will discuss the definition of social psychology, the differences between other related disciplines, and the research methods involved.
Definition of Social Psychology
The emphasis of social psychology is on human behavior and how social phenomena can influence the way people think, feel, and behave in relation to one another. Accordingly to the Britannica Encyclopedia (2009), social psychology is defined as “the scientific study of behavior of individuals in their social and cultural settings” (para. 1). Social psychology is the study of behavioral reliance and inter-reliance amongst individuals, and the term social may refer to any variable of the individual’s behavior that makes it susceptible to the behavior of another (Markus, 2005). Of the main central themes, social psychology focuses on many different aspects concerning the behavior amongst individuals in relation to one another.
One of the first themes of social psychology explains how each individual may react differently in similar situations due to the fact that each person may think differently about each particular situation. Accordingly to Myers (2008), there is an objective reality, and each individual views it through a personal lens of values, cultures, and beliefs; thereby concluding, each individual may view every life experience differently. Next central theme describes the issue of personal intuitions serving as a guide and as well, a peril (Myers, 2008). Each individual has an unconscious roadmap serving as our main perception of certain circumstances setting the stage for future predictions. Opposing, our intuitions also can be misleading; one may mispredict his or her own feelings, one may misjudge a predicament, or even misread one’s own mind.
Behavior is also shaped by social influences. Certain external circumstances may cause an individual to act beyond the scope of his or her normal expectations. One social interaction may force one to make immoral decisions or to depart from one’s own personal attitudes, beliefs, or values. Personal “attitudes and behaviors are shaped by external social forces” reflecting from each specific situation (Myers, 2008, p. 8). In addition, behavior may be shaped or guided by our own inner forces; personal attitudes, values, beliefs, or cultures about each specific situation at hand. Social behavior also can be shaped by biological tendencies. Biological aspects combined with social perspectives can explain and predict behavior in terms of neuronal and psychological bases of behavior (Myers, 2008).
Last, social psychology principles are applied to everyday living. Social aspects have the potential to enlighten our lives, bring an understanding of who we are and who we can become, how to influence others, and further yet, to help us plan our destiny; we are social creatures (Myers, 2008). Social psychology is all about our lives, our thoughts, feelings, desires, and behaviors.
Social Psychology in Comparison
Social psychology is often compared to other related disciplines, e.g. sociology, personality psychology, or organization psychology. When comparing to sociology, social psychology differs in that it focuses more on individuals with methods of experimentation, and sociology is the study of people in groups and societies (Myers, 2008). Social psychology will place emphasis mainly on individuals and small groups, as opposed to large populations or societies when studying social influences on personality and behavior. In the study of personality psychology, the main focus for the discipline relates to individual differences between different personality behaviors, and social psychology will focus more on situational influences between individuals. Accordingly to Myers (2008), social psychology studies more on how individuals can influence each other and less on individual differences between people.
Organizational psychology studies the different behaviors of employees within the company. The study will focus on specific behavior within the organization such as: motivational factors, teamwork skills, and intellectual advancement within the company. Differing from organizational psychology, social psychology will focus more on dynamic, vast differences amongst communities, rather than specifying a certain restricted location. Organizational psychology can use research to help promote the business or organization in hopes to better understand the employee and relations amongst the organization. Social psychology hopes to understand people as they influence one another using scientific measures of research and experimentation.
Role of Research
Social psychology is a field of science, and for the study to be considered a science, theories need to be supported and proven accurate. The method of research used in social psychology is utilized to test observations, explain ideas, and develop sound theories of application to be used in everyday living. Social psychologists will organize the findings, imply testable predictions, and experiment through numerous methods of scientific models of research. Some of the common used methods include: field research, correlational research, and experimental research.
Field research is defined as the “research done in natural, real-life settings outside the laboratory” (Myers, 2008, p. 18). This method of research may involve observation in natural settings to record spontaneous behavior of individuals in everyday situations. Direct observation can be a valuable tool to obtain reliable results without the worry of bias, interference, or influence from others. Correlational research will search for relationships amongst different variables. Correlational research can help psychologists predict information, but does not prove a definite cause and effect relationship. Correlational research can return a positive relationship; proving that the two variables indeed increase or decrease at the same time, a negative relationship; proving that as one variable increases, the other will decrease, and last, a neutral relationship; proving that the two variables are not related.
Experimental research involves testing two variables in study, manipulating one group and controlling the other, to test and predict a definite cause and effect relationship between the variables in study. This type of research can produce the most accurate effects if done correctly. A psychologist will construe a miniature representation of the situation, manipulate one variable and then another, and finally, study and record the effects on behavior (Myers, 2008). The findings from the different experiments can then be progressed into theories, “an integrated set of principles that explain and predict observed events (Myers, 2008, p. 17), to further be used in everyday social applications.
Vital to understanding human social behavior, the field of social psychology delves into the areas of social perception, social interaction, and social influence. Social psychology is the “scientific study of how people think about, influence, and relate to one another” (Myers, 2008, p. 4). The main central themes of the study cover areas of social constructions, social intuitions, social influences, inner attitudes, biological inheritances, and applicable principles. The area of social psychology differs from other related disciplines by the application of studying individuals in relation to others in areas of influence, perception, and interaction. The science focuses on all aspects of social phenomena and relies on scientific methods to prove and produce sound theories of study. Social psychology utilizes many different forms of research, with the common forms: field, correlational, and experimental. Social psychology is a discipline used to understand, predict, and explain human behavior in relation to the presence of other human beings.
Markus, H. R. (2005). Target article: On telling less than we can know: The too tacit wisdom of social psychology. Psychological Inquiry, 16(4), 180. Retrieved November 18, 2009 from, University of Phoenix, Electronic Reserve Readings , PSY/400–Social Psychology Web site: http://www.apollolibrary.com/ERRNew/ElectronicReserveReadings.aspx.
Myers, D. (2008). Social psychology. (9th ed.). New York: McGraw Hill.
Social psychology. (2009). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved November 18, 2009 from, Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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