Social Psychology

Social psychology is the study of an individual’s behavior in a social context. It is closely related to, though distinct from, sociology. While sociologists study group behavior and social norms, social psychologists study the interplay between group dynamics and individual behavior.

What Is Social Psychology?

People’s behavior can be strongly affected by social dynamics. Social psychologists aim to uncover the ways in which group interactions can affect the behavior of the individual and the ways in which the behavior of an individual can alter the behavior of the group. Topics studied by social psychologists include, but are not limited to:

  • The ways in which group dynamics and social norms can affect an individual’s propensity toward discriminatory behavior such as racism, sexism, and homophobia
  • The study of social cognition– how people think about, remember, and characterize others
  • How a person’s self-concept and self-esteem can be affected by group dynamics, social norms, and interpersonal interactions
  • The study of interpersonal relationships, including parent-child interactions and romantic relationships
  • How the presence–real or perceived– of another person alters individual behavior
  • The study of peer pressure and its effect on the individual

Social Psychology and Popular Psychology

Many popular psychology texts focus heavily on social psychology. For example, works analyzing on-the-job behavior, friendship and romantic attachments address social psychology. Several famous psychology experiments, including the Asch conformity experiments, have addressed the role of social persusasion. In the Asch experiments, people tended to conform to a majority opinion that a task was easy, even when the majority’s opinion was wrong. This experiment has significant implications for understanding political beliefs, marketing and social dynamics. Many other fields, including marketing, political psychology and marital counseling, incorporate elements of social psychology.

The APA publishes the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, which releases research findings in the discipline of social psychology.


  1. Journal of personality and social psychology (n.d.). American Psychological Association. Retrieved from
  2. Yudkowsky, E. (n.d.). Asch’s conformity experiment. Less Wrong. Retrieved from

Last Updated: 08-26-2015

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