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Research Areas in Social Psychology


Social Psychology Research Areas

Social psychology research topics including social influence, social perception, social interaction and group behavior.

Image courtesy Michal Zacharzewski
Now that you have a better understanding of what social psychology is (see previous article: What is Social Psychology?), we are going to look at some of the major topics that social psychologists investigate in their research. Many of these topics are related to social influence, social perception and social interaction. The following are just a few of the areas of interest within social psychology.

1. Social Cognition:

Social cognition is concerned with the processing, storage and application of social information. This research area is closely related to the field of cognitive psychology, this research area focuses largely on the concept of schemas. Schemas are our general ideas about the world, how things are and how things work. These mental shortcuts allow us to function without constantly stopping to interpret everything around us. We also develop associations between related schemas, which plays an important role in the thought process and social behavior.

2. Attitudes and Attitude Change:

Another major research area in social psychology involves the study of attitudes. Social psychologists are interested in the components of attitudes, how attitudes develop and how attitudes change. Researchers have described three core components of attitude: an affective component, a behavioral component and a cognitive component. Often referred to as the "ABC's of attitude," these elements describe how we feel, behave and understand.

3. Violence and Aggression:

What causes violence and aggression? Social psychologists are interested in how and why people engage in violence or act aggressively. Research in this area looks at numerous factors that may cause aggression including social variables and media influences. Researchers often look at the role social learning plays in producing aggressive behaviors and actions.

4. Prosocial Behavior:

Prosocial behavior is another major research area in social psychology. What is prosocial behavior? Prosocial behaviors are those that involve helping and cooperating. Researchers often look at why people help others, as well as why they sometimes refuse to help or cooperate. The bystander effect is an example of a social phenomenon in the subject area.

Much of the research in this area was prompted by the murder of a young woman named Kitty Genovese. This case captured national attention when reports revealed that neighbors had witnessed her attack and murder, but failed to call the police for help. Research inspired by the case produced a great deal of information on prosocial behavior and how and why people choose - or sometimes refuse - to help others.

5. Prejudice and Discrimination:

Prejudice, discrimination and stereotypes exist in any social group. Social psychologists are interested in the origins, causes and effects of these types of attitudes and social categorizations. How does prejudice develop? Why are stereotypes maintained in the face of contrary evidence? These are just a few of the questions social psychologists seek to answer.

6. Self and Social Identity:

Our perceptions of social identities and ourselves are another important research area in social psychology. How do people come to know and understand themselves? How do these self-perceptions affect our social interactions? Social psychologists are interested in learning more about how this inner life influences our outer lives and social world. Self-awareness, self-esteem and self-expression are just a few of the factors that influence our social experience.

7. Group Behavior:

The behavior of groups is one of the largest research areas in social psychology. Most people realize that groups tend to behave differently than individuals. These group behaviors are sometimes beneficial and positive, but they can also be detrimental and negative. Social psychologists often look at topics such as group dynamics, leadership, group decision-making, conflicts, cooperation and group influence.

Further Reading:
Leadership Styles
Leadership Theories
Leadership Style Quiz

8. Social Influence:

Social psychologists are also interested in the role that social influence has on behavior and decision-making. Topics such as the psychology of persuasion, peer pressure, conformity and obedience are just a few of those studied in this area of social psychology. Research has helped reveal the power of social influence and has uncovered ways to help people resist influence.

Further Reading:
Persuasion Techniques

9. Interpersonal Relationships:

Social relationships play a major role in shaping behavior, attitudes, feelings and thoughts. Social psychologists study how these interpersonal relationships affect people by looking at attachment, liking, love and attraction. How do close relationships affect individuals? How important are these interpersonal relationships? These are just a few of the questions social psychologists seek to explain.

Further Reading:
Attachment Styles
Theories of Love
Attachment Theory

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