Social psychology is the scientific study of how a person’s feelings, thoughts, and behaviors are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others. In this career path, scientific is used to refer to the empirical method that is used to investigate social psychological occurrences. In the definition of social psychology, the words feelings, thoughts, and behaviors are used to include variables that are measureable within human beings. Furthermore, the terms implied and imagined are used to refer to how we tend to be prone to social influences even when no one is around to observe our behaviors. As a social psychologist you will spend much of your time working to explain human behavior as a result of the interactions that occur from immediate social situations and mental states. Generally speaking, social psychologists tend to have theories that are focused and specific and that are laboratory based and empirical in nature.
Social psychology is a branch of psychology that is interdisciplinary in nature and that works in an effort to bridge the gap between sociology and psychology. Although in the past these two areas were kept very separate by the individuals who were practicing in these industries, in recent years there has been a tremendous effort to once again have these two occupations working on a similar page. In your work it is very likely that you will view a person’s attitudes as global evaluations of a person, place, object, or an issue that are learned. In addition, these attitudes are believed to influence that individual’s thoughts and actions and are viewed as basic expressions of approval and disapproval. It is common for social psychologists to study the structure of attitudes, attitude formation, the function of attitudes, attitude changes, and the relationship that exists between behaviors and attitudes.
Social psychologists typically believe that attitudes that are well remembered and are a main part of our self-concept are more likely to lead to behaviors. Furthermore, the measure of general attitudes can be used to accurately predict patterns of a person’s behavior over time. In recent studies conducted by social psychologists there has been a tremendous amount of focus placed on differentiating between traditional attitude measures (which can be self-reported) and unconscious attitudes. Conversely, some social psychologists believe that attitudes are formed by the strong dislikes and likes that are rooted in our genetic make-up. Although some psychologists disagree with this theoretical approach, it is confirmed that attitudes are commonly created through the process of learning that all individuals go through. In addition, attitudes have been connected to several other disciplinary areas, such as interpersonal attraction, conformity, prejudice, and social perception.
As a social psychologist you should expect to spend much of your time focusing on social cognition. This area of psychology, which has experienced rapid growth, focuses on studying how people perceive, think about, and remember information about other individuals. Within social cognition you may choose to spend much of researching attribution. Attributions are the explanations that we make for a person’s behavior or for our own behavior. It is thought that internal attributions assign a person’s behavior to inner traits like disposition, ability, character, and personality. On the other hand, external attributions are those that factor in situational elements, like the weather. It is also common for social psychologists to study other topics such as interpersonal phenomena, cognitive dissonance, or a person’s self-concept. Also, in addition to your empirically based research, social psychologists work with experimental methods, correlational methods, and observational methods in order to study the topics of this branch of psychology.
‘Man is a social animal’, Aristotle said, and it is amazing to see how well he gauged the dynamics of human relations in a time where education was only just starting to take off. From the moment he is born to the time he dies, people surround a person. These may be complete strangers, friends, family, and even enemies—and one’s relations with all of these are different.
How so? How does one become friends with another? Why is it that we cannot stand some people, and cannot live without some others? What is the fundamental nature of relationships: does it even exist, or is it unique to the bond between any two people? How can we quantify the thought processes of people with respect to other people? These are only some of the questions that a social psychologist explores.
So, a social psychologist works with people, you mean?
Yes. The job of a social psychologist is to not only understand the technicalities in relationships but also pose questions that allow for further exploration into the human psyche. His/her job is to study human nature: how a person behaves in different environments, and how well he or she responds to stimuli around him/her.
But isn’t that the same as sociology?
Not really. A sociologist studies the behaviour of the group of people, on the whole, whereas a social psychologist concerns himself/herself with the inner dynamics. Who is the leader, and why? Who is the one they depend on? How well does each person respond to pressure?
So, what magic do I have to work up to become a social psychologist?
There is no magic that you require, just patience, inquisition, and insight. A social psychologist spends a lot of his/her time with people belonging to different countries, religions, races, and mind makeups. In order to attain a true understanding of each, he/she has to be able to speak and interact in such a way as will break communication barriers. He/she should know how and when to approach people, understand situations, and handle any unprecedented emergencies. This requires tact and patience. Often, the psychologist might not be a part of the group, but only party to the events and dynamics of it. This would require constant vigilance and acute powers of observation.
What kind of educational qualifications do I need to be a people whisperer, then? Every social psychologist begins with earning a Bachelor’s degree in his or her sub-field of interest. However, since the field is qualitative, challenging and evolving, most graduates go on to acquire advanced degrees. The highest one can go is a Ph.D., after which one can choose to enter the field as a professional, or decide to concentrate their talents elsewhere.
Where can I work after getting my degree?
You can choose to either conduct research, join an organization to work as a professional, or become part of a public or private medical practice. The places where one can find social psychologists are government and private research facilities, prisons, correctional facilities, rehabs, schools, colleges, and so on. Additionally, one may also find work with a marketing or advertising firm since a major part of the field requires target market research. Here, one may get the chance to test out products, find out and relay people’s opinions, and suggest changes according to the attitude of the customers towards a particular product. Many social psychologists also choose to disseminate their knowledge by teaching. Apart from the security of a good job, this option also allows a lot of time for personal research, along with funding and resources from time to time.
Okay, I think I get it. But, what exactly is the need of social psychology?
The more you understand people, the better solutions you can come up with for their problems. There is a growing need for psychologists not only in the media, teaching, and medicine but also in the umbrella of social work and crime. By observing the behaviour of people engaged in various activities, and from diverse spheres, such as drug abuse, physical abuse, murder, racism, social deviation, and so on, social psychologists help in going to the root of the issue, and finding optimal solutions to each. Thus, one can also say that social psychologists help in bettering the world by improving on the fundamental units it works with: people and relationships. They help understand the dynamics of communication all over the world. That, in itself, is a satisfying feat.