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Social Psychology

Psychology EncyclopediaBranches of Psychology

The study of the psychology of interpersonal relationships.

Social psychology is the study of human interaction, including communication, cooperation, competition, leadership, and attitude development. Although the first textbooks on the subject of social psychology were published in the early 1900s, much of the foundation for social psychology studied in the 1990s is based on the work of the behavioral psychologists of the 1930s. Behavioral psychologists were among the first to call for scientific measures and analysis of human behavior, an emphasis on which social psychologists continue to focus. Social psychologists also study the way individuals behave in relationship to others, and, alternatively, how groups act to shape the behavior of individuals.

As do other scientists, social psychologists develop a theory and then design experiments to test it. For example, Leon Feistinger, an American social psychologist, theorized that a person feels uncomfortable when confronted with information that contradicts something he or she already believes. He labeled this uneasiness cognitive dissonance. Other social psychologists subsequently conducted research to confirm Feistinger's theory by studying individuals who believed themselves to be failures. The psychologists found that such people avoid success, even when it would be easily achieved, because it would conflict with their firmly held belief that they are unsuccessful.

Social psychologists work in academic settings, teaching and conducting research. They also work with businesses and other organizations to design personnel management programs based on their knowledge of interpersonal relations. Social psychologists also contribute their expertise to market research, government agencies, and educational institutions.

Further Reading

Argyle, Michael. The Social Psychology of Everyday Life. New York: Routledge, 1992.

Aronson, Elliot. The Social Animal. New York: W.H. Freeman, 1995.

Bandura, Albert. Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social and Cognitive Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1986.

Baron, Robert A. Exploring Social Psychology. Boston, MA Allyn and Bacon, 1989.

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