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The 5 differences between social psychology and community psychology

The 5 differences between social psychology and community psychology

July 18, 2024

Although social and community psychology share theoretical frameworks and research methods, each of these disciplines is characterized by particular aspects that are important to know. In this article we will analyze the main differences between social and community psychology , one of its most relevant and vindicating branches.

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What is social psychology?

Social psychology can be defined as the scientific study of the influence of the presence of other people on observable behavior and in the mental contents of specific individuals or groups. The others do not have to be physically present, but also act in an imaginary or symbolic way through social norms and other factors.

Thus, from this aspect of psychology, behavior is understood as an interaction between the variables of a social type that are present at a given moment and the state of the individual. In general, particular attention has been paid to the relevance of cognitive constructs such as feelings, attitudes or intentions.

Among the phenomena and processes most commonly studied by social psychology we find social cognition, attribution of causality to behaviors and events or self-concept (referred to the beliefs of a person about herself), self-image (mental representation of oneself) and self-esteem (emotional component of self-concept).

Most experts believe that social psychology as we know it today arose at the beginning of the 20th century, with the United States as the nucleus. Norman Triplett's experiments on social facilitation were a key milestone; later the School of the Gestalt appeared, and after World War II the interest in the discipline increased.

It is considered that social psychology constitutes the point of union between psychology and sociology , focused to a greater extent on the collectives. Although these two social sciences have acquired their own identities over the last decades, the knowledge of both are equally useful for research and the theory of social psychology.

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Defining community psychology

It is considered that community psychology emerged around the 1950s and 1960s in the United States. During this period the consequences of the Second World War favored the introduction of social policies with the aim of increasing the welfare of the population, particularly in risk groups such as ethnic minorities and veterans.

In general, the work of community psychologists consists of analyze the characteristics, problems and needs of a given population to plan and apply intervention programs with a corrective or empowering purpose. Often the interest of community psychology falls on the less favored groups.

Although we can encompass community psychology within the framework of social psychology, which is broader, in its emergence the movements that demanded a higher quality in public mental health services also had a significant influence. These political claims had a great weight in the Anglo-Saxon world of the time.

In this sense, It is difficult to separate community psychology from its political and claiming side , very linked to movements for the defense of social rights. Thus, community psychology has traditionally worked for the empowerment of marginalized communities, public services and citizen participation in political life.

Community psychology is closely related to other psychological disciplines, including environmental, transcultural and ecological psychology. Likewise, its area of ​​application is intertwined with that which is characteristic of social work, public health, political science, community development and applied anthropology.

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Main differences between both

Given that community psychology can be understood as a subdiscipline within social psychology, there are many similarities between both, especially in relation to the theoretical foundations of both branches.

Thus, community psychology drinks from the knowledge obtained by social psychology and uses it in concrete human contexts.

1. Theory and practice

Social psychology has a mainly theoretical character . The contributions of professionals in this field are used by other psychologists and social scientists in multiple applied disciplines; Community psychology, which focuses almost exclusively on practical aspects of reality, is a very good example of this fact.

2. Main objective

Community psychologists usually work towards the improvement of living conditions or social functioning in specific geographical areas. In contrast, social psychology focuses on understand and predict the behavior of human beings based on their interactions , thus having a much broader character.

3. Focus of analysis

Community psychology acts, by definition, in larger or smaller human groups; Concrete individuals are relevant insofar as they influence the functioning of the collective in question. Social psychology has a group side but also another, perhaps more important, with the individual focus typical of psychology in general.

4. Political ideology

As usual community psychologists have a clear claim to vindication , identifying with ideas and socialist proposals (although evidently in every field there are contradictory exceptions and tendencies). In contrast, social psychologists may prefer to stay out of politics, which has earned them criticism from community psychology.

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5. Relationship with other disciplines

While social psychology tends to contain itself to a greater extent, community psychology has a more interdisciplinary nature: professionals in this discipline usually work together with other social actors and experts in different subjects to solve problems. specific to a group.


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