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What is social psychology?

What is social psychology?

May 26, 2024

When we collect information about the teachings and theories that the Social psychology , we can realize that this is a discipline that began to be recognized and developed as such at the beginning of the 20th century in the United States.

Social psychology: definition

The Social psychology it's a branch within psychology that analyzes processes of a psychological nature that influence the way a society works, as well as the way in which social interactions are carried out . In short, it is the social processes that modulate the personality and characteristics of each person.

Also, social psychology is often described as the science that inquires about social phenomena, trying to unravel the laws and principles that govern coexistence between humans. Thus, this branch of psychology is responsible for investigating different social organizations, trying to extract patterns of behavior from the people who make up the group, their roles and the set of situations that modulate their behavior.

What exactly does social psychology study?

The object of study of social psychology are, as we have said, the influence of Social relations about the behavior and mental states of people. To this effect, one of the key theories in this discipline is that of symbolic interactionism . One of his predecessors, George H. Mead, developed a deep study on language, gestures and behavior, as products of interpersonal relationships that allow life in the community and, specifically, their personal face-to-face interactions.

Obviously, in our societies there are organizations and institutions constituted around certain sociocultural conditions that are a product of the interaction between people. Thus, it is not difficult to imagine that there is a collective consciousness that facilitates the understanding of these social articulations.

Social psychology, then, it studies the observable psychological and social processes, which helps us to understand how we act when we are part of groups or societies . Social psychology also encompasses the study of personal attitudes and the influence (bidirectional) with social thought.

Representatives and researchers of social psychology

Let's meet some of the most outstanding representatives of this field of psychology.

August Comte

One of the main representatives of social psychology for its relevance in the emergence of this discipline, is the French sociologist Auguste Comte (1798 - 1857). This researcher was the pioneer in proposing concepts such as positive moral and wonder about several aspects that related the role of the subject in the yes of a society and culture , in addition to not abandoning their curiosity about the psychobiological foundations that also influence human behavior.

Karl Marx

Another of the forerunners of the discipline of social psychology was the German philosopher, economist and sociologist Karl Marx (1818 - 1883). This fruitful intellectual He began to suggest certain concepts and elements that would serve, after his death, to establish the foundations of social psychology . For example, he was the forerunner of a line of research that related the cultural, institutional, religious, material and technical influences on the psychology of the individual.

Among the contributions of Karl Marx to the beginnings of Social Psychology we find the fact that we emphasize that what we think and feel is historically constructed, does not arise from our insides in isolation.

The American school: Mead, Allport and Lewin

To the two intellectuals mentioned above, we can add the enormous influence of those who, this time, consider themselves the founding fathers of social psychology . Three American psychologists: George Mead , Floyd Allport Y Kurt Lewin .

The last of them, Kurt Lewin (in the image), is considered the architect of the so-called Modern Social Psychology, school that eventually built the foundations on which the Psychology of Gestalt would be built. He is also the author of the Field Theory , that explains us that the individual variations of the behavior in relation to the norm are strongly conditioned by the struggle between the subjective perceptions of the individual and the psychological environment in which he finds himself.

So, Lewin concludes that human behavior can only be cognizable within its own environment, in its environment . Behavior, then, must be understood as a myriad of interdependent variables.

Psychological schools that are nourished by social psychology

Social psychology being a vast subdiscipline that addresses multiple processes of interaction between the individual and society, it is not surprising that many psychological schools have based much of their teachings and its developments to this.

For example. we can find different approaches in psychoanalysis, behaviorism, postmodern psychology and the psychology of groups.


The psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud, whose maximum representative, is one of the most traditional schools. Psychoanalysis employs some principles of social psychology as the discipline that inquire about collective drives and repressions, which emerge from the interior of the unconscious of each person to subsequently influence the collective and condition the social.

However, we must bear in mind that psychoanalysis is not part of social psychology nor based on the epistemology of scientific psychology in general.


On the other hand, behaviorism conceives social psychology to the extent that it provides us with data on social influence. Behaviorism focuses on observe and analyze individual behavior taking into account the influence of the social and cultural environment .

Postmodern psychology

The postmodern psychology tries to analyze through social psychology those elements that influence the diversification and fragmentation of society .

Psychology of the groups

From the focus of the group psychology , all collective forms a unit of analysis with its own particular idiosyncrasy. Consequently, social psychology tries to carry out a study weighted between the social and depersonalized and between the subjective and particular .

Famous experiments in social psychology

The most known experiments, research and studies in the field of social psychology are the following:

1) The Bobo doll experiment by Albert Bandura

In this studio it was shown that violence and aggression are learned through imitation . It was one of the pioneering studies in this field, and has been repeated to assess the extent to which exposure to violent content in the media influences the aggressive behavior of viewers.

You can know more about this experiment by accessing this post:

  • "The Theory of Personality, by Albert Bandura"

2) The Experiment of the Stanford Prison, by Philip Zimbardo

One of the most controversial and famous studies in social psychology, consisted of a simulated exercise in which university students acquired for a few days the role of inmates and guards in an artificial prison. Zimbardo showed that, in certain circumstances, people would assume their role to the point of acting in an unethical way . It is a classic study about the power of the social situation.

Discover all the details of this experiment by reading this article:

  • "The Stanford Prison Experiment, by Philip Zimbardo"

3) Asch, Sherif, Milgram ...

Other notable experiments such as the Solomon Asch experiment, the Sherif Cave of Thieves' experiment or the Milgram experiment are also of crucial importance in the field of social psychology.

In an article, we explain these (and other) experiments in detail. You can see it:

  • "The 10 most disturbing psychological experiments in history"

Getting started in the study of social psychology

You can start your journey through this interesting subdiscipline with the excerpt of this documentary:

Bibliographic references:

  • Allport, G.W. (1968). The historical background of modern social psychology.In G. Lindzey & E. Aronson (Eds.) The handbook of social psychology. (2nd ed.) Vol. L.
  • White, A (1988). Five traditions of Social Psychology. Madrid: Morata.
  • Costa, M. & López, E. (1986). Community Health Barcelona: Martinez Roca.
  • Rueda, J. M. (1992). The psychosocial intervention. The community psychologist. Psychosocial intervention, 1, 27-41.
  • Uchelen, C. (2000). Individualism, collectivism, and community psychology. In J. Rappaport & E. Seidman, Handbook of Community Psychology, (65-78). New York: Kluwer Academic.

What is Social Psychology? (May 2024).

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