Psychology Jobs > Social Psychologist

We are social animals. Social Psychologists are interested in how we are influenced by others and the world around us. In other words, a social psychologist investigates how a person's thoughts, feelings and behaviors are affected by the people around them. In fact, other people don't even need to be around to have an effect on our behavior. Simply having the belief that someone is around is enough to affect our behavior.

Social psychologists believe that we are not simply the product of our environment or a product of our personalities. Instead we are the result of how these two things interact.

Ideas about social psychology have been around since Plato and Aristotle but it wasn't until after World War II that people began to really think about social psychology. After information about the Holocaust became public, people began to wonder how normal, regular people could perform such horrific actions as the type seen in Auschwitz and Dachau.

Many people consider Kurt Lewin to be the father of modern social psychology. Lewin introduced the idea that instead of human behavior being a product of either nature or nurture, human behavior was a result of an interaction between the two. Lewin also introduced a number of other concepts found in social psychology such as force-field analysis and action research.

Force field analysis looked at forces that blocked something from happening and forces that encouraged something from happening. For example, if you wanted to buy a new car but didn't have any money, then the lack of money would be a blocking force and the need for a new car would be a driving force. Action research meant that a social psychologist would develop a plan for research, then implement that plan and observe the results. The social psychologist would then take these results to further refine the plan of research.

The fundamental attribution error is also known as correspondence bias or attribution effect and the concept was originally developed by Lee Ross in the 1970s. It relates to how people are more likely to attribute behaviors or events happening to someone else as a result of their personality while if the same event happened to us, we would be more likely to blame the environment. For example, if a student does not complete an assignment then the teacher may blame the student for being lazy and not look at any environmental reasons. But, if the teacher is unable to complete an assignment, then the teacher would be more likely to blame environmental reasons.

Floyd Allport is another important figure in the history of social psychology. Allport is viewed as the father of experimental social psychology because of the importance he placed on measurement and theory. Allport also wrote an influential textbook titled Social Psychology which was used for quite some time.

Social psychology continued to progress with a number of important studies done investigating people's behavior. Two of the most famous studies were done by the two social psychologists Stanley Milgram and Philip Zimbardo.

Milgram was interested in investigating obedience and how far people were willing to obey authority figures. Milgram set up an experiment which had three people: a teacher, a researcher and a learner. The researcher and learner were actually part of the experiment and the teacher was the test subject. The teacher was told that the experiment was designed to test memory and that each time the learner got an answer wrong the teacher was required to administer a shock to the learner. In fact, the equipment did not work and the learner only pretended to be shocked.

As the learner got answers wrong, the researcher encouraged the teacher to not only shock the learner but also to increase the voltage. The study showed that all of the participants were willing to deliver a shock of 300v and sixty five percent of the participants were willing to deliver a shock up to 450v. The study showed that people are strongly influenced by authority and are willing to follow the directions of authority figures even in situations where those orders may cause bodily harm.

clinical psychologist job Another famous study done by a social psychologist was the Stanford prison experiment by Philip Zimbardo. In this experiment the subjects were divided into two groups: prisoners and guards. During the course of the experiment, the guards became overly aggressive and the prisoners became more and more submissive and depressed. The experiment was stopped after only six days instead of the planned two weeks because of the behavior of the participants.
Although these two studies are fairly famous the researchers would not be allowed to conduct this type of research today because of ethical considerations. These studies actually led to more stringent ethical criteria for conducting experiments since the studies were fairly traumatic for the test subjects.
Social psychologists have continued to develop research looking at how human behavior is influenced by interactions with other people. These areas include prejudice, aggression, obedience and conformity among others.

The Social Psychologist and Related Disciplines

A social psychologist can often be confused with either a personality psychologist or a sociologist. Although there may be some similarities between these professions, there are also a number of very differences.

Personality Psychologist: A personality psychologist will typically study differences between individuals while a social psychologist studies how the behavior of groups and individuals is affected by the situation that they find themselves in.

Sociologist: The main difference between social psychologists and sociologists is that sociologists typically deal with very large groups such as an entire culture or given population. A social psychologist deals with much smaller groups or individuals. Sociologists and social psychologists may look at the same idea but the scope of their study is very different..

Areas of Research

A social psychologist will perform research into a number of different areas of human behavior. Each area of research will look at how human behavior is affected by other people as well as by the assumption that people are present.

Social Relationships: A social psychologist will study how our social relationships, such as friendship or a marital relationship, affect our behavior, thoughts, feelings and attitudes. Some questions that a social psychologist might investigate is how important these relationships are to our well being as well as how being in love can affect us.

Social Identity: In this area of research a social psychologist will look at issues such as self esteem and self awareness. The social psychologist will look at how our perception of ourselves affects our social relationships as well as how these relationships affect our self esteem.

Influence: A social psychologist can also investigate how we are influenced by our peers and other people we have contact with. A social psychologist studies concepts such as persuasion, conformity, obedience and peer pressure. Research can be conducted looking at how we are influenced by people as well as how to resist this influence. This is particularly helpful when learning how to deal with peer pressure.

Groups: We all act differently when we are on our own or when we are in groups. A social psychologist can study how being in a group can have a positive or negative effect on your behavior. Some areas of group influence that a social psychologist will study include leadership issues, group dynamics, group decision making as well as group violence and cooperation.

Violence: Another area that a social psychologist can investigate is the causes of violence and aggression and how it is influenced by social variables and the media. Social psychologists can look at how individual and group interactions can affect levels of violence as well as whether or not being exposed to violence can increase aggression.

Attitudes and Prejudice: Attitudes and attitude formation is another area that a social psychologist can study. Social psychologists can investigate how attitudes are formed as well as how they change over time or as a result of our interactions with other people. In addition to our attitudes, a social psychologist can also investigate how prejudice is developed and maintained and how it affects our behavior.

Social Behavior: One important area of study is looking at prosocial behavior. A social psychologist will study why we are willing to help people in some circumstances while we are less likely to help people in other circumstances. An example of prosocial behavior that a social psychologist can study is the bystander effect. The theory behind the bystander effect states that if there are a lot of people around, individuals are less likely to offer help since they are waiting for other people to offer help first. These are only some of the areas that social psychologists choose to study and a social psychologist may find other areas of social interaction interesting to study.

Research Methods

In order to study these various areas a social psychologist has three basic methods available to be used: correlational research, experimental research and descriptive research.

Correlational Research: Correlational research attempts to discover if there is any relationship between two different variables. It is important to remember that just because two variables are related to one another does not mean that one variable causes the other. Correlational research simply shows that where one variable is present then the other variable will also be present. For example, some social psychologists have attempted to show a correlation between violence and violent video games.

A social psychologist can use surveys and direct observation as well as use data from other studies to collect information for a correlational study.

Experimental Research: Experimental research is the type of research a social psychologist will conduct if the researcher is attempting to explain the cause of some behavior. To conduct experimental research, a social psychologist will randomly divide the research subjects into two groups. One group will be the control group which does not change and a test group where the social psychologist will manipulate the variable to be studied.

For example, if a social psychologist wants to study the relationship between violence and violent movies, they may conduct a pretest for violence on both groups, then show one group a violent movie while the control group watches a non-violent movie and then retest all the subjects again. The social psychologist will then look at the test results to see if there has been an increase in violence in the group that was exposed to the violent movie.

Descriptive Research: Descriptive research is used by a social psychologist to describe what is already happening in an existing group or population. Descriptive research does not attempt to state if a correlational or causal relationship exists between two variables and instead simply describes what is present in a specific group. An example of descriptive research by a social psychologist would be a survey created to measure existing attitudes to a variety of issues such as the legalization of marijuana, same sex marriage or capital punishment.

The type of research that a social psychologist will use will depend on the reasons for the research in the first place. The social psychologist will decide if he or she wants to establish a correlation or causality between two variables or simple describe a given situation and then choose the correct research method.

How To Become A Social Psychologist

To become a social psychologist you will typically need to get a Ph.D. is social psychology. Although there is a Psy.D. (Doctor of Psychology) option in psychology this is not necessarily a good idea for a social psychologist. A Psy.D. is for people interested in counselling or clinical psychology and is not as research focused as the Ph.D. program.

Since a social psychologist is heavily research oriented a Ph.D. program would be more appropriate and prepare you to conduct independent research in a variety of settings. It will take approximately four to five years to complete a Ph.D. program in social psychology.

Where Can A Social Psychologist Find Work?

A social psychologist can find work in a variety of settings ranging from a university setting to working in the government conducting polls and developing methods to implement various government initiatives.

Many social psychologists attempt to find work in a university where they can conduct research and teach social psychology to students. A social psychologist working in a university will usually run a social psychology lab and focus on publishing research.

A social psychologist can also find work within the government or an NGO conducting research on social issues as well as developing and implementing programs to address various social problems. A social psychologist could also develop programs to increase positive behavior within a given population as well as develop government policies and work on ways to have government policies accepted.

Another area where a social psychologist can find work is with advertising companies helping to develop marketing strategies as well as helping to determine which products will sell better. A social psychologist can also be involved in writing consumer reports.

In addition to advertising companies, a social psychologist can also work in the human resource department of a business developing interview techniques and training programs for staff.

The average salary for a social psychologist is approximately $86,000 per year with a salary range between $53,000 to 116,000 and the job growth for psychologists is expected to continue to grow at a rate faster than the growth rate for most other jobs.

A social psychologist is primarily involved with research and would not be a good choice you are looking to be heavily involved in a clinical or counselling practice. As a social psychologist, you can study why people behave the way they do and develop methods to deal with social issues. If you are interested in research and human behavior then becoming a social psychologist may be a good career choice.