What is Social Psychology?

Social Psychology is the study of how human beings interact with one another, and the subsequent impact the interactions have.

Social Psychology is a subdivision of psychology that is involved in understanding human behaviors in a social setting. It is important to not necessarily think of the term social as going out and having cocktails with friends. That is a form of socialization, yes. However, the word social in this context is much broader and relates to society, social interactions and encounters between people. 

Areas of socialization that are covered in this class have to do with society, human interaction, behaviors of people in a societal setting, and the responses of people from societal stimulus. Basically, this class aims to observe, understand, and possibly predict human behavior as influenced by one another. 

Text Definitions of Social Psychology

The scientific field that seeks to understand the nature and causes of individual behavior in social situations” Baron, Byrne & Suls (1989).

The study of the manner in which the personality, attitudes, motivations, and behavior of the individual influence and are influenced by social groups” (Merriam Webster, 2007).

“The scientific study of how people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of other” (Alport, 1985).

The branch of psychology that deals with social interactions, including their origins and their effects on the individual” (Google Answers, 2015). This is actually a great definition from our always trusted friend, Google.

Like all fields of psychology, there is some debate over the exact definition of what Social Psychology is. However, all definitions will include the interaction of human beings with one another, and the interaction with their surroundings.

Where is Social Psychology?

Social Psychology is all around us. Ever like to sit and people watch at an airport or coffee shop? Personally, people watching is one of my favorite activities. When people watching, you are observing the behaviors of others in some social situation. At an airport is my favorite place because when people travel they are often out of their comfort zones. When people are out of their comfort zones they often act odd or bizarre, which can be entertaining.

Another great example of Social Psychology is in relationships. Friendships, families, work related, romantic, whatever the type of relationship, SP is present. Take for example the girl or boyfriend that you have. You always seem to be getting into fights. There may be significant reasons for the fighting, communication, jealousy, alcohol, fears, etc. Regardless of the specific reasons, something about your interactions and relationship dynamics are off.

Understanding peculiar behavior is also a part of this class. Riots, shootings, anti-social behavior like crime, rape, and hatred, are all a part of Social Psychology. Attempting to understand human behavior is at the heart of all these issues. Same with love, romance, kindness, and pro-social behavior. Why do people act they way do? A question that is valid for all people.

Those of you who watch the news, whether it is the Fox Fiction Channel, CNN, local news, or maybe you read the Summit Daily. News is almost entirely Social Psychology related. Political issues, crime, human interest stories, or almost anything being reported usually involves the interaction between people or their environment. Social Psychology is everywhere, now as an amateur Social Psychologist, start observing these behaviors and interactions.

What Makes fields are similar to Social Psychology?

Generally there are six social sciences that make up the field of Social Psychology (Baumeister and Bushman, 2012), with two of them being much bigger factors, psychology and sociology.

  1. Psychology: Obviously psychology is a huge part of this class. Psychology is basically the study of human behavior and the mind. A variety of sub-fields of psychology are important including clinical psychology, behavioral psychology, cognitive psychology, personality psychology, developmental psychology, and more.
  2. Sociology: The second major player in Social Psychology is sociology which is The study of the development, structure, and functioning of human society. People are largely a by-product of the culture and society that they are raised in.
  3. Anthropology: The comparative study of human societies and cultures and their development. Similar to sociology, Anthropology looks to understand the culture more so than the individual.
  4. History: The study of past events, particularly in human affairs. Why do we study history? Because history is bound to repeat itself. Many Social Psychology studies look at how and why past events could occur.
  5. Political Science: The branch of knowledge that deals with systems of government. Understanding the impact a government has on people is a huge part of understanding their behavior.
  6. Economics: The branch of knowledge concerned with the production, consumption, and transfer of wealth. Money has a substantial impact on people in some way or another. For some people it is everything, for others, not important at all. 

Why Study Social Psychology?

Observing, understanding, and possibly predicting human behavior is essential to the improvement of our society. If we can learn more about human responses, particularly in their interaction with others, we may be help minimize violence, crime, and improve safety and well-being. Improving our world is paramount as there always seems to be political, social, and economic unrest. If we can better understand one another, maybe this can be improved.

What is social psychology
Lucy Mikita

On a personal level, improving your individual relationships can be a big part of Social Psychology. While changing the world is a huge and lofty goal, changing your life and improving your social interactions is much more attainable. We discussed earlier, having relationship issues can be aided by Social Psychology. If you learn more about the circumstances surrounding your brother, whom you have always fought with, and he does the same with you, improvement can occur.

Also, Social Psychology can help improve the way that you interact with everyone in your life. Maybe there is a girl that you have been scared to talk to ask out on a date. Well, if you pay attention in Social Psychology you might improve your interaction skills with people and build that courage to ask her out! While this class is not necessarily “picking up people at a bar,” it can help with how you interact with human beings, even in that type of setting.

Famous Social Psychology studies and observations include

The Stanford Prison Experiment
The Stanley Milgram Shock Experiment
The Bystander Effect and Kitty Genovese

Concepts Discussed in Social Psychology

  • Attraction
  • Racism/Discrimination/Stereotyping
  • Cults
  • Folklore and Myth
  • Aggression and Violence
  • Group Behavior
  • Attitudes
  • Social Influence
  • Culture
  • Social Norms and Expectations
  • The Self and Social Identity


Allport, G. W (1985). “The historical background of social psychology”. In Lindzey, G; Aronson, E. The Handbook of Social Psychology. New York: McGraw Hill.p.5

Baron, R. A., Byrne, D., & Suls, J. (1989). Attitudes: Evaluating the social world. Baron et al, Social Psychology. 3rd edn. MA: Allyn and Bacon, 79-101.

Bushman, B., & Baumeister, R. (2012). Social Psychology. New York, NY: Pearson.

McLeod, S. (2007). Social Psychology. Retrieved January 19, 2016, from http://www.simplypsychology.org/social-psychology.html