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Social psychology is the study of the relations between people and groups. Scholars in this interdisciplinary area are typically either psychologists or sociologists, though all social psychologists employ both the individual and the group as their units of analysis.[1]

Despite their similarity, psychological and sociological researchers tend to differ in their goals, approaches, methods, and terminology. They also favor separate academic journals and professional societies. The greatest period of collaboration between sociologists and psychologists was during the years immediately following World War II.[2] Although there has been increasing isolation and specialization in recent years, some degree of overlap and influence remains between the two disciplines.[3]


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Most social psychologists are trained within psychology. Their approach to the field focuses on the individual and attempts to explain how the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of individuals are influenced by other people. Psychologically oriented researchers emphasize the immediate social situation and the interaction between person and situation variables. Their research tends to be empirical and quantitative, and it is often centered around laboratory experiments, but there are some computational modeling efforts in the field.[4]

In its early days, with the exception of sociologists of the day, social psychology struggled for recognition as a social science.[5] One of the earliest psychologists to deal directly with this was William McDougall.[5] Contemporary social psychology is "characterised by a fundamental commitment to the experimental method".[6] While publications on social psychology tend to be dominated by American texts, efforts have been made to balance this by publication of a European perspective.[7]

Psychologists who study social psychology are interested in such topics as attitudes, social cognition, cognitive dissonance, social influence, and interpersonal behaviors such as altruism and aggression. Three influential journals for the publication of research in this area are the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, and the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. There are also many other general and specialized social psychology journals.


Sociologists' work has a greater focus on the behavior of the group, and thus examines such phenomena as interactions and exchanges at the micro-level, group dynamics and group development, and crowds at the macro-level. Sociologists are interested in the individual and group, but generally within the context of larger social structures and processes, such as social roles, race, class, gender, ethnicity, and socialization. They use a combination of qualitative research designs and quantitative methods, such as procedures for sampling and surveys.

Sociologists in this area are interested in a variety of demographic, social, and cultural phenomena. Some of their major research areas are social inequality, group dynamics, social change, socialization, social identity, and symbolic interactionism. The key sociological journal is Social Psychology Quarterly.

See also

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  • Crowd psychology
  • Interactionism
  • Labeling theory
  • List of social psychologists
  • Neuroculture
  • Social neuroscience
  • Us and Them: The Science of Identity (book)



  1. Social Psychology, David G. Myers, McGraw Hill, 1993. ISBN 0070442924.
  2. Sewell, W. H. (1989). Some reflections on the golden age of interdisciplinary social psychology. Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 15.
  3. The Psychology of the Social, Uwe Flick, Cambridge University Press, 1998. ISBN 0521588510.
  4. Sun, R. (2008). The Cambridge Handbook of Computational Psychology. Cambridge University Press, New York. 2008
  5. 5.0 5.1 McDougall, William (1909. First published 1908), An Introduction to Social Psychology (2nd ed.), London: Methuen & Co, pp. 1–2 (n13-14 in electronic fields), http://www.archive.org/stream/introductiontoso020342mbp#page/n0/mode/2up (Note: This and other versions of this title available at Internet Archive)
  6. Jerald Greenberg & Robert Folger (1988), "The Scientific Status of Social Psychology", Controversial Issues in Social Research Methods, New York: Springer-Verlag, p. 1, ISBN 0-387-96571-8
  7. Miles Hewstone & Wolfgang Stroebe, ed. (2004), Introduction to social psychology: a European perspective (3rd ed.), Massachusetts: Blackwell, ISBN 0-631-20437-7, http://books.google.com.au/books?id=V0HxX1Jld54C&dq=%22Introduction+to+social+psychology:+a+European+perspective+%22&printsec=frontcover&source=bn&hl=en&ei=3OTwS6_mMI-gkQXgwd3WBg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CDwQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q&f=false (see Preface to first Edition for context of original publication).

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