Social psychology is a field that studies a variety of social issues such as group behavior, leadership, social perception, nonverbal behavior, aggression, conformity, and prejudice. It is vital to know that social psychology does not only look at social influences. One needs to understand social interaction and perception to fathom social behavior.
A social psychologist studies the ways in which social perception, social influence, and social interaction affect group and individual behavior. Read on to understand the work of social psychologists, the training and education they need as well as their job prospects.
Some social psychologists conduct research on human behavior. They work in universities or in businesses and government agencies. Others aim to find solutions to real-world issues. Those specializing in applied social psychology can help business recruit and train workers, assess educational programs to find out if specific interventions are effective, look for methods that encourage people to want to reduce pollution, or aid businesses or workers needing help to mediate conflicts.
As social psychologists have the training to combine scientific research methods with their knowledge of human behavior they can work in diverse settings. Numerous social psychologists opt to work in educational institutions such as universities and colleges. They focus on conducting research, teaching, and running social psychology laboratories. Some other social psychologists are employed by the government, hospitals, non-profit organizations, social service offices, and private corporations.
Though some master’s degree holders specializing in social psychology find work, the majority choose to study for a doctoral degree. Those wanting to become social psychologists must major in psychology in their bachelor’s degree. After that they need to obtain a master’s degree in social psychology. While some programs have a two-step process and first award a master’s degree before conferring a doctoral degree, others help you obtain a Ph.D straight away. Most students take between four and five years after graduation to obtain a Ph.D. in Social Psychology.
While there is some overlap between social psychology and personality psychology, important differences set these two areas apart. While a personality psychologist focuses on the individual differences among people, social psychologists focus on how differences in situations affect the behavior of both individuals and groups.
Another source of confusion is that between social psychology and sociology. The two fields though related are not identical. While a social psychologist focuses on the behavior patterns of individuals or small groups, sociologists study very large populations, for instance entire cultures or social groups.
A social psychologist studies the psychology of human interaction. While a clinical psychologist investigates an individual patient’s problems, a social psychologist scientifically analyzes general trends and features that characterize the modes of human interactions (without reference to the individual idiosyncrasies). The field of social psychology covers all human interaction including the relationship between two people and the relationships between many large groups. Apart from understanding these relationships, social psychologists try to use the knowledge so obtained to structure and manipulate socio-psychological processes to obtain specific results.
Most students desiring to become social psychologists prefer to major in sociology or psychology at the bachelor’s level. However, most graduate programs do not insist on this. Rather they expect potential students to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). A social psychologist focuses on research-oriented, non-clinical issues and does not treat patients. Therefore, there is no need to obtain a government license. This also ensures a degree of flexibility in choosing your degree program. Some employers are content to hire someone with a master’s degree--which can be obtained in two years. Other employers, especially those in competitive industries insist on a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in psychology. This takes four to six years to obtain.
A social psychologist can be employed in either the public or the private sector. For instance, advertising agencies employ them to help in coming up with marketing strategies that appeal to the emotions. Corporations employ them or consult them when training managers to be effective and to help foster teamwork. Government agencies take their help when developing programs to reduce negative social activities such as bullying and discrimination, as well as to increase desirable behaviors such as healthy eating and community involvement. A social psychologist has the ability to handle these issues as they uncover generalized patterns and trends.
A new and interesting trend in this field is the study of social psychology in the age of the Internet. The more tech-savvy social psychologists are now examining the interaction processes that are core in chat rooms and social networking sites. They are also studying cyber-bullying.