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Social psychology is a branch of psychology that studies actions, interactions, thoughts, and feelings of people under different social contexts (Kassin, 2013). It is mutually related to sociology. However, both disciplines have evolved differently over the years and deal with different social issues. One of the most important aspects of social psychology is research. Research applies to develop and study various theories that form its basis.
It generates different theories that explain social behavior and different mental states. Social psychology varies greatly from other disciplines of psychology because of its unique approach to study of individuals and its application of different methods of information collection during research. It is important to study social psychology because it improves the understanding of the existence of stereotypes, racism, sexism, and discrimination in the society (Kassin, 2013).
Social psychology is the methodical study of human feelings, thoughts, and actions in relation to their surroundings. Going by this definition, social psychology utilizes empirical methods of study, hence reference to scientific study (Myers, 2010). On the other hand, it involves study of variables that include thoughts and behaviors that are observed in individuals. In the study of social psychology, researchers and professionals use observed influences of certain social situations on humans to explain behavior.
Social psychology establishes a mutual relationship between psychology and sociology (Myers, 2010). In the last century, psychologists and sociologists collaborated in many studies with efforts to develop both fields. However, the disciplines became specialized as researchers pursued different aspects of their respective disciplines.
Differences from other disciplines
Social psychology differs greatly from other disciplines such as clinical psychology, general psychology, and sociology. Social psychology differs from personality psychology because it lays emphasis on the influence of social context on behavior while personality psychology focuses on individual difference between individuals, human nature and similarities between people (Myers, 2010).
In addition, it studies the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that influence individual perception and attitudes. In contrast, social psychology studies how social contexts influence behaviors, feelings, and thoughts (Kassin, 2013).
There is a big difference between social psychology and sociology. While sociology focuses on social influences that form human behavior, social psychology deals with experiences and social issues that explain people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. In addition, social psychology involves interpretation of individual attitudes and perceptions in relation to their social contexts (Myers, 2010).
Sociology focuses on the whole society while social psychology focuses on individuals. As such, social psychology applies as an extended branch of sociology, because it studies how society affects the behaviors, attitudes, and thinking patterns of individuals (Kassin, 2013).
There are distinct differences between clinical and social psychology. Clinical psychology deals with mental disorders that arise from intellectual, biological, emotional, and psychological inadequacies.
Unlike social psychology, it does not focus on the effects of social aspects such as interactions on human behaviors. Clinical psychology deals with the biological effect on human behaviors and thoughts while social psychology deals with social aspects that affect behavior and thoughts (Myers, 2010). Social psychology does not involve study of the causes of emotional or psychological disorders.
Biological psychology focuses on the mechanical aspects of behavior, thought patterns, and attitudes. It is the scientific study of the biological basis of behavior and thought patterns. In contrast, social psychology is the study of the causes of behavior and mental attitudes.
As such, psychologists explain why people interact with others, and why they behave in certain ways (Smith & Mackie, 2007). The two fields are very different. However, they can be used to conduct research that could be used in development of new psychology theories.
The role of research
Research plays a very significant role in social psychology. Psychologists apply different inquiry methods to collect information and data. These scientific methods facilitate testing of hypotheses and theories that explain human behavior and thought patterns (Smith & Mackie, 2007). In addition, they establish important relationships between different variables such as feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Researchers use descriptive research, correlational research, and experimental research methods to attain their goals.
Descriptive research aims to reveal what exists within a certain population such as a certain attitude towards a belief or cultural practice (Smith & Mackie, 2007). However, it does not establish any relationship between variables. Methods used to conduct correlational research include use of surveys and observations. On the other hand, experimental research is used to reveal casual relationships between variables because a researcher can manipulate the independent variables (Smith & Mackie, 2007).
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Social psychology deals with the study of how different contexts influence human behavior, feelings, thoughts, and other mental states. It has evolved differently from other fields of psychology such as clinical, biological, and general psychology. It has a common origin with sociology.
However, the two disciplines evolved to become different fields of study. For example, sociology studies the entire society while social psychology studies individuals. Research serves a central role in psychology because it allows researchers to develop theories that explain human concepts such as behavior and mental states.
Kassin, S. (2013). Social Psychology. New York: Cengage Learning.
Myers, D. (2010). Psychology. New York: Worth Publishers.
Smith, R., & Mackie, D. (2007). Social Psychology. New York, NY: Psychology Press.