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What Is a Social Psychologist?

Careers in Social Psychology

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Social psychologists study how social influence, social perception and social interaction influence individual and group behavior. Learn more about what social psychologists do, the training and educational requirements and the job outlook in this brief overview of careers in social psychology.

What Do Social Psychologists Do?

Some social psychologists focus on conducting research on human behavior. These professionals might work in a university setting or they might be employed by businesses or government agencies. Other social psychologists are interested in discovering solutions to real-world problems. Applied social psychologists might help business hire and train employees, evaluate educational programs do determine if intervention strategies are working, search for ways to encourage people to reduce pollution or offer advice to businesses or employees who need help with conflict mediation.

"Social psychologists examine people's interactions with others and with the social environment," explains the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook. "They work in organizational consultation, marketing research, systems design or other applied psychology fields. Many social psychologists specialize in a niche area, such as group behavior, leadership, attitudes and perception."

Where Do Social Psychologists Work?

Because social psychologists are trained to combine their knowledge of human behavior with scientific research methods, job options and work settings can be very diverse. Many social psychologists choose to work in educational environments such as colleges and universities where they conduct research, teach classes and run social psychology laboratories. Other social psychologists work for government offices, non-profit organizations, hospitals, social service offices and private corporations.

How Much Do Social Psychologists Earn?

According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, typical salaries for psychologists vary based upon education, experience, specialty area and work setting. For example, an survey conducted by the American Psychological Association reported the following median salaries for different employment areas for the year 2009:

  • University faculty: $76,090
  • Research positions: $80,500
  • Research administration: $116,343
  • Educational administration: $116,500

What Training Is Needed to Become a Social Psychologist?

While some social psychologists find work with a masters degree, most opt to earn a doctorate degree. In most cases, students interested in becoming a social psychologist should start by earning an undergraduate degree in psychology. The next step is to enroll in a graduate program in social psychology. Some programs follow a two-step process by first awarding a masters degree in social psychology and then a doctorate, but other programs may skip the terminal masters degree and go straight to the Ph.D. For most students, it will take at least four to five years of graduate study in order to earn a Ph.D. in Social Psychology.

How Are Social Psychologists Different from Personality Psychologists?

While social psychology shares some similarities with personality psychology, there are important differences that distinguish the two areas. Personality psychologists generally focus on individual differences between people, while social psychologists are more interested in how situational variables influence the behaviors of groups and individuals.

Social psychology is sometimes confused with sociology, but the two (while somewhat related) are not the same. Social psychologists tend to focus on the behavior of individual people or small groups of people, while sociologists look at very large populations such as entire social groups or cultures as a whole.

Job Outlook for Social Psychologists

One survey that looked at job advertisements appearing in the APS Observer Employment Bulletin between 1991-1996 found ads seeking social psychologists made up 10 percent of all job listings for that time period. However, it is important to remember that social psychologists work in a wide variety of job areas, so individuals with a Ph.D. in social psychology are frequently able to find work in related areas.

Social psychologists who are looking for work can start by checking out job listings posted by the American Psychological Association on their PsycCareers website, browsing listings posted on the HigherEd Jobs website or reviewing the job postings on the Social Psychology Network’s job forum.

References:

Ariel A. Finno, Daniel Michalski, Brittany Hart, Marlene Wicherski, and Jessica L. Kohout. (2010) Report of the 2009 APA Salary Survey. APA Center for Workforce Studies. Found online at http://www.apa.org/workforce/publications/09-salaries/index.aspx

Matthew C. Bell and Adam S. Goodie. (1997, September). A comparative survery of job prospects for the period 1991-1996. APS Observer, 16-18.

Social Psychology Network. (1996). Frequently asked career questions. Found online at http://www.socialpsychology.org/facq.htm

Society for Personality and Social Psychology. (1998). What is a personality/social psychologist. Found online at http://www.spsp.org/what.htm

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