What is social psychology, and how is it different from other disciplines?

Learning Objectives

• What is social psychology, and how
is it different from other disciplines?

• Why the study of social psychology
is important?

“Man is by nature a social animal”
Aristotle, 350 BC
Stories of the good, the bad, and the ugly..

Defining Social Psychology

”Social psychology is the scientific study of the way in which
people’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by
the real or imagined presence of other people.”
Gordon W. Allport, 1954 ABC’of social psychology – Affect, Behavior, Cognition

Defining Social Psychology

• At the heart of social psychology is social influence.

• Not limited to persuasion, which is a person’s deliberate

• What’s ‘social’ about social psychology?
• Behavior either concerns others or is influenced by others.

• Who is that ‘other’??

• Real or imagined, present or

• Attempts at understanding the nature and the causes of
individual behavior, cognition, and affect in social situations.

• actions and characteristics of others

• cognitive processes

• environmental variables

• societal and cultural context
• biological factors

Where is social psychology among other fields?

Within the social sciences?

Within psychology?

Two Dimensions of Differentiation

The phenomenon

The levels of analysis

1. Phenomenon

What is it that they try to explain?
The goal of social psychology is to identify universal
characteristics of humans that make individuals susceptible to
social influence, regardless of social class or culture.


2. Levels of Analysis


• In case of social psychology, the level of analysis is the individual in the context of social situation.

Social Psychology vs. Philosophy
• Social Psychology vs. Philosophy
• Adress many of the same questions
• But social psychology explores them scientifically

Social vs. Personality Psychology
• Personality psychology investigates inter-individual differences

• Social psychology investigates how do social factors influence individual behavior.

Social Psychology vs. Sociology

• Sociology focuses on the group, social psychology on the individual in social context.

• Properties of human nature vs. properties of societies

Social Psychology vs. Clinical Psychology

• Clinical Psychology: individuals with psychological difficulties or disorders…

• Social Psychology: typical cases of behavior, cognition
and emotion in social context…

• Intersection: e.g., bullying and stereotyping, effects of socially induced anxiety

Social vs. Cognitive Psychology

• Cognitive Psychology: mental processes such as thinking,
learning, remembering and reasoning…

• Social Psychology: looks at these processes in the social context
• Intersection: Social cognition

Basic Principles of Social Behavior
• (Social) behavior is goal oriented.
• There is a continual interaction between the individual and
the (social) situation.

Social Behavior is Goal Oriented

• Daily, surface level goals: go
shopping, studying for an exam,
get a date for Saturday, etc.
• At a broader level, goals can be
categorized into fundamental
motives: to establish social ties, to
understand ourselves and others, to
gain and maintain status, to defend
ourselves and those we value, to
attract and retain mates..

Power of the Situation
Why does it matter how people
explain and interpret events—and
their own and others’ behavior?
Continual interaction between the
individual & the situation

Power of the Situation
Person: Typically refers to the
collection of characteristics a
person carries into a social
situation. Includes physical
attributes, attitudes, beliefs,
preferences, and psychological

Situation: The events outside of
the person, including both the
temporary features, such as
environmental demands, and
long-lasting contexts like

Continual Interaction Between the Individual & the Situation
1. Different situations activate different aspects of the person.
2. Individuals choose their situations.
3. Different individuals respond to differently to the same

Continual Interaction Between the Individual & the Situation
4. Situations choose the individual.
5. Persons change the situation.
6. Situations can change the individual.