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What is a Social Psychologist?

If you are interested in using your fascination with psychology to examine human interactions with other people in the social environment, then you should consider becoming a social psychologist. In one of the specialty niches within the diverse psychology field, social psychologists focus on studying how individuals affect and are affected by others. Research in social psychology is essential for fostering a better understand of how group dynamics and social perceptions can have an impact our own decisions and actions. There are a wide array of social psychology topics being studied, such as prejudice, bullying, romance, aggression, propaganda, homophobia, racial bias, and stereotypes. Below we’ve created a broad overview on social psychology to help determine if this niche is the right fit for you.

Social Psychologist vs. Sociologist

Due to the similarity in their names, people often confuse sociology with social psychology even though the two disciplines are vastly different. First of all, social psychology is focused on better understanding the dynamics of interpersonal relationships from the mind of the individual or small group. Social psychologists tend to study individuals to discover generalities in society and human behavior. On the flip side, sociologists look beyond the single person to examine whole populations through a specific lens. Sociological research tends to test theories on social issues by studying groups, cultures, classes, organizations, or social institutions. Although both of these social sciences deal with human behavior, their approach differs greatly.

Where Social Psychologists Work

All social psychologists specialize in using various scientific research methods to provide insight into the influence of social perceptions on behavior, but their work environment can vary. Many social psychologists choose to find employment in academia at universities or colleges to conduct research, teach psychology classes, and run laboratories on social psychology. However, social psychologists can also lead research projects in government agencies, non-profit organizations, hospitals, and research institutions. In some cases, individuals trained in social psychology will even work as consultants in private corporations for building effective advertising campaigns and conducting market research.

Training Required of Social Psychologists

Before starting a career in social psychology, you’ll need to first develop a broad introduction to the field by earning a four-year bachelor’s degree in general psychology from an accredited college. From there, you can specialize in social psychology in graduate school. Some employers will hire social psychologists with a master’s degree, but the majority of organizations will require a doctoral degree. It will typically take four to six years for doctoral students to complete a Ph.D. degree in social psychology, including the independent dissertation research. Licensure is typically not necessary for social psychologists, but those wishing to do so must abide by qualifications within their state of residence and build work experience through an internship.

Since being spurred by social facilitation experiments by Norman Triplett in the early 20th century, social psychology has evolved into a popular specialty area for discovering how the presence of people can affect an individual’s behaviors, emotions, and even mental processes. Social psychologists strive to pinpoint the exact factors that lead us to behave in certain ways within the presence of others. If you take the journey towards becoming a social psychologist, you’ll have the rewarding chance to enrich your understanding of your own relationships and the social world around you.